A Pastor’s Reflections: Prayer or Gossip?
As a pastor I always did my best to encourage my congregation to pray. Prayer is, I believe, one of the lesser-attended subjective means of grace. I suspect that when times get tough people pray, but I often wonder that when times are good do they pray as much? Therefore, I took every opportunity to have people pray. I was really excited when the women of the church wanted to gather on a regular basis for prayer on Saturday mornings, so I certainly encouraged this activity. But I quickly found out that sometimes prayer is really a thin disguise for gossip.
It’s one thing to pour our souls out privately in prayer before our heavenly Father. I can be freest when it’s just me in my “prayer closet.” I can complain, celebrate, wrestle, and lay my soul bare. But the moment that I pray in public, there are certain responsibilities I have. I may think and suspect a lot of things about many people and circumstances, but that is not license for me to voice them publicly, and especially in prayer. Case in point, several of the elders’ wives reported to me that some of the prayers got out of hand at the ladies prayer meeting. One woman prayed something along these lines: “Dear Lord, please help me and especially my husband. He is so lazy. He never does any work. He just sits around and watches TV. He never wants to read the Bible and he is frequently insensitive and mean to me. He never considers my needs or desires. Please convict him of his sinful behavior. Amen.” This may be an appropriate prayer in private, but is inappropriate and even sinful in public.
All too often public prayers are not a genuine venue for offering up our desires and needs before our covenant Lord but a platform for gossip. A good rule of thumb is, if you’re praying for someone, how might your prayer change if they were sitting next to you? If you were guilty of some private sin, would you want a loved-one, apart from your consent or knowledge, sharing your sinful conduct with a large percentage of the church? Granted, this woman was obviously upset about her husband’s conduct. But a more appropriate prayer would have been, “Dear Lord, please help my husband and me to model Christ and the church (e.g., Eph 5:25ff).” In other words, there are appropriate ways to pray about our greatest concerns and needs, even those that are difficult to share publicly.
In the end, just because we are engaged in a holy activity such as prayer, doesn’t mean that we are in a sin-free zone and are incapable of transgression. Be mindful that your prayers are genuine and not a platform for gossip and malicious talk.
Latest Office Hours! Hebrews 13 with Dr. Baugh
The Season 4 series of Office Hours entitled "Jesus is Really Better" concludes with this final episode. This episode features Dr. S.M. Baugh, Professor of New Testament, who takes us through Hebrews 13.
You can find this latest episode here.
Two Kingdoms and the URC
Within the last few months the intesnity of the two kingdoms discussion within the United Reformed Churches of North America has picked up considerable heat with very little light. But one recent bright spot comes from one of WSC's alums, Matthew Tuininga and his post on these matters. Matthew is studying for his PhD on Calvin and the Two Kingdoms doctrine at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He highlights two important issues: (1) when we critique another position, how accurate is our representation? And, (2) how accurate is our theological engagement of the issues? Stated simply, are we accurate, charitable, and helpful to the broader on-going discussion in the church? These characteristics are vital to any subject of discussion in the church.
You can find Matt's post here.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Just Follow the Formula
There are all kinds of formulas in life—formulas for getting rich, getting thin, reaching your life-goals, advancing your career, and successfully managing your time. I think that people often lack the wherewithal to figure things out and so they want specific step-by-step instructions. This type of mentality definitely affects life in the church, but especially child-rearing. It seems like there’s more or less a ten-year cycle in the church that new parenting formulas crop up. People will start talking about the latest parenting methods, whether it’s for infants or older children. I’ve seen books, videos, and even Sunday school curriculum floating around churches all with the promise that if parents follow the simple steps and principles, they will successfully parent their children around the various pitfalls of life. Each time this cycle unfolds I find parents buying-in hook, line, and sinker. But what’s worse is not only do they buy-in to the formula, but they begin to evangelize and encourage, even demand, that others follow suit. On occasions far too numerous to recount I’ve been told, “This is the biblical way to raise a child.”
I remember a family that was very insistent upon raising their children in a certain manner: they homeschooled, because “that was what the Bible demanded,” kept their children from TV, did not allow them to listen to rock music, even of the “Christian” variety, and generally kept them close at hand. And sure, I will admit, early on both children looked like paradigms of virtue, all prim and proper. Later, however, when one of the children turned 18, it was like an exploding atomic bomb. Beneath the surface of propriety, a rebellious heart was just busting at the seams and couldn’t wait until he was legally of age to leave home. Days after he turned 18 he left home, within a matter of weeks eloped and married an older woman with a questionable profession of faith, and then within months was sitting in my living room in need of pastoral counseling. There were accusations of physical abuse, incidents where the neighbors called the police, and reports of marital infidelity. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that this marriage ended in an unbiblical divorce. These parents were convinced that if they followed the formula, they were guaranteed success, but as you can see, something definitely went awry.
The problem with the formula mentality is, the Bible has very little specific advice on child rearing. It says nothing about when to feed an infant or what type of napping schedule the child should have. It never says specifically when and how to discipline a child. When do you discipline, for example, and when do you act in mercy? When do you forgive a child to teach him about grace and when do you let him bear the full brunt of the consequences of his sin regardless of how severe they may be?
There are certainly a number of things that the Bible does say, such as, raise a child in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). But in between the biblical principles of the Christian life lie a variety of ways that parents can raise a child. Bottom line, there is no one successful formula for raising a child. Parenting depends upon many different factors, such as the temperament and maturity of the child. All you have to do is speak sternly to a child and he will burst into tears, while others may require the responsible administration of corporal punishment. Other children are impervious to corporal punishment so other means of discipline have to be employed.
Yes, we have a moral responsibility to follow the Bible’s instructions on child rearing and point our children to Christ through the means of grace. But in the end, child rearing not only calls for the application of the law but of wisdom as well. Sometimes, you answer your foolish child according to his folly, and other times, you don’t answer your child according to his folly. In the end, if there is one sure formula for parenting it boils down to this: regularly expose your child to the means of grace (the reading and preaching of the Word, the sacraments, and prayer) and then get on your knees and intercede on behalf of your child in prayer before the throne of grace. Pray that Christ would lay hold of your child’s heart and never let it go.
Latest Office Hours! Hebrews 12 with David VanDrunen
The Season 4 series of Office Hours entitled "Jesus is Really Better" continues. This episode features Dr. David M. VanDrunen, Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics, who takes us through Hebrews 12.
You can find this latest episode here.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Don’t Counsel or Debate Over E-mail
In the digital age communication is as convenient as ever. We can make a phone call from our cars or the remotest of locations, send an e-mail, or even twitter away till our thumbs get numb. But just because we can do something doesn’t automatically mean that we should do it. As easy as communication is, avoid any serious communication with members of your church via e-mail, twitter, or Facebooks (yes, I know it’s Facebook). Why is this the case? There are three major reasons.
First, digital communication is incredibly impersonal—you lose a lot. There is no eye contact, no voice inflection, no audible form by which a person can determine whether a questionable phrase is intended as sarcasm, compassion, or anger, for example. Second, digital communication is frequently done on the fly. In days gone by people would be very careful about what they wrote because paper was expensive and writing or typing something could take a lot of time. In other words, digital communication is cheap, which means that a person might not give a whole lot of thought to the words that he’s writing before he hits “send” or “post.” This means that someone might quickly fire off some insensitive or thoughtless regrettable words. Third, if you’ve ever been involved in an e-mail discussion or debate, you know that the message thread can get very long and convoluted. In the thousands of words that get splattered onto the computer screen, a person can become lost and confused very quickly, which provides much grist for the anger mill. Bottom line, digital communication is not optimal as a venue for serious communication.
On the other hand, there are a number of reasons why counseling and debate should be handled in person. First, eye contact and body language are crucial in difficult circumstances. A seasoned pastor will be able to tell, for example, when a person is lying merely by reading body language. There are certain “tells” that can alert a person to deceit. Second, in some circumstances, physical contact is crucial. Giving a man a brotherly embrace after serious loss or significant disagreement can be vital to conveying compassion or genuine forgiveness. Third, in debate sometimes forgotten words are best left forgotten rather than “entered into the e-mail transcript” where they fester and cause people to hold on to bitterness.
Yes, digital communication is convenient, but in counseling and debate situations, it’s best to conduct these face-to-face. Sit down over a cup of coffee and counsel or engage in debate. In some circumstances, digital communication may be the only option, though I would sooner resort to a phone call. Leave logistical matters to e-mail (time, place, dates, etc) and conduct serious matters in person.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Disciple Repellant
One of the tasks pastors should regularly engage in is discipling church members and new converts to the faith. There are a number of ways a pastor can do this. He can teach a new member’s class or teach a Sunday School class on a regular basis. But from time to time the pastor will undoubtedly be called upon the disciple one-on-one. It’s in this context that there have been times where I have been extremely disappointed, even to the level that I’ve contemplated ceasing from disicpling anyone. Why, you ask? Well let’s just say that I felt like I was disciple repellant.
Case in point, I once spent the better part of nine months discipling a new Christian convert who was on fire and wanted to learn the Reformed faith. This person was eager to learn and seemed to soak up everything I threw at him. We spent many countless hours studying and discussing the Westminster Confession of Faith. With each step of the way I thought we were making good progress. Shortly after we completed studying the Confession this person, seemingly out of the blue, announced, “I think I’m more Roman Catholic than I am Reformed.” Let’s just say that my enthusiasm tore off across the room like a filled but untied balloon. I nevertheless took this declaration in stride and continued to work with this young man only to have him eventually leave the church. I seriously thought to myself, “Maybe I shouldn’t disciple anyone because it seems like the more time I spend with people, the more I drive them away from Christ.” I wasn’t trying to be funny but was trying to figure out how my efforts to disciple, nurture, and care for members of my church only seemed to turn up weeds and harden the ground I was trying to plow.
As I’ve thought about these disappointing discipleship situations (there was more than one), I have revisited my words and instruction trying to figure out what went wrong. In a number of these scenarios, I have yet to see any positive fruit, even years later. There is certainly the distinct possibility that I was the cause of apostasy, at least in this one above-related example. On the other hand, I have been comforted by the apostle Paul’s ministry. Think of the Corinthian church—what a mess—people were getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper (of all things!), unruly women were disrupting the worship services, a man was having adulterous relations with his step-mother and the congregation did nothing about it! Think about the Galatian churches—Paul personally planted these church only to have them immediately embrace false teaching. I suspect in both of these cases the conduct of the churches grieved Paul to the very core of his soul. So, why, then does the Lord allow these things to happen?
While we cannot peer into the hidden counsel of God, we do know what he has revealed. In this regard we should not forget the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:1-23). Our job, whether as laymen or pastors, is to sow the seed. We tell others of the gospel of Christ and the teaching of Scripture. Some of these seeds will fall along the path, others upon rocky ground, birds will come along and eat some of them, and some of it will fall upon fertile ground, grow, and yield much fruit. What Christ never addresses in the parable is: Who prepares the soil? The parable should remind us that, in the end, Christ must open the heart. Yes, we plant and water, but God gives the increase (1 Cor. 3:6).
In the face of wandering disciples, some of which are heartbreaking, I came to the realization that this was one of the ways God was reminding me of my role. My role in discipleship is fidelity, not success. I must teach, share, and point others to Christ. But only Christ, through his Spirit, can effectually call and write his Word upon the walls of our hearts. Moreover, yes, disciples may wander or even apostatize, but we must remember that as long as the person has breath in their lungs, there is still the hope and possibility that they will repent. Hence, even though our window to disciple may close, our window for prayer remains open much longer. In this respect, we should always continue to pray for disciples.
In the end, don’t think that you’re disciple repellant as tempting as the thought may be. And don’t give up. Remember that Christ calls you to fidelity, not success, and that he is the one who will draw disciples to himself.
Are you called to the ministry?
One of the most common questions that prospective students ask is, "How do you know whether you should be a pastor?" For some assistance with this question, you can go here for a number of on-line resources to help you answer that question. There are several videos featuring Drs. Dennis Johnson and Michael Horton. And if you complete the contact form, prospective students can obtain a free copy of Ed Clowney's Called to the Ministry.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Always Pack Heat
I don’t know why, but the phrase, “Packing heat,” is one of my all-time favorites. Perhaps in our politically correct age making such an admission might invite scorn, but I don’t have violence in mind. I just like the idea that when a person is legally allowed to carry a concealed weapon it’s described as “packing heat.” Another similar expression is, “To come in heavy.” It’s a saying from mob lingo, which means that a person is armed and ready for any circumstance.
Well, my advice to pastors and those who are seeking the ministry is, always pack heat. Always be ready to come in heavy. What do I mean by this? No, I don’t mean that pastors should be armed in the pulpit. Rather, I’m saying that as a pastor, you should always be ready to preach the Word! Why should pastors always be ready to preach the Word? Well, they should certainly be ready to preach on Sundays—this is, after all, the main focus of their calling. But there are plenty of other occasions that arise where a minister may be called upon to preach at a moment’s notice. Don’t be caught unprepared.
For example, you should always have a funeral sermon ready to go. You can certainly fill in some of the details, but be ready a moment’s notice. Sometimes you can prepare for a person’s death because of a long-term illness, but at other times death will arrive without notice and take people by surprise. If you wait until that moment to write a funeral sermon, you’ll be hard-pressed. Instead of being able to devote time to ministering to the people who have suffered loss by your personal presence, you’ll be stuck trying to write a funeral message.
If you ever go on vacation or a trip, tuck a sermon away in your briefcase (maybe even two) and be prepared. Sure, you might not be asked to preach, but I know of a number of cases where ministers on vacations have been approached on Sunday morning to preach a message because they have been identified as a minister! If you find a sermon that you feel really good about, and delivered well, then make a mental note of it and keep a spare copy, or these days, upload it to your cloud so you have easy access to it.
In a word, a good preacher will always be prepared, rain or shine, sleet or snow, day or night to bring the Word of God to bear upon his people. Therefore, always pack heat!
Latest Office Hours! Hebrews 11 with Dr. Baugh
The Season 4 series of Office Hours entitled "Jesus is Really Better" continues. This episode features Dr. S. M. Baugh, Professor of New Testament, who takes us through Hebrews 11.
You can find this latest episode here.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Don’t Make Assumptions
Over the years I have found that people in the church make a lot of assumptions about the people around them. I specifically have in mind the assumptions that people make about singles and married couples without children. All too often I either hear or read people making the assumption that if a married couple does not have children, then they are obviously sinfully neglecting their God-given responsibility to procreate and have children so that they can offer their contribution to fulfilling the dominion mandate. A similar assumption marks those who observe single people in the church. The immediate gut reaction is to assume that the single person must be desperately searching for a spouse and so people try to play cupid to end the single person’s suffering in a life of solitude. In both cases people make invalid assumptions that can sometimes be hurtful or insensitive.
In the case of the married couple that does not have children, we must first recognize that the church does not fulfill the dominion mandate (Gen 1:28) through procreation. After the fall, fulfilling the dominion mandate in this manner became impossible. Through Christ, the last Adam, the church fulfills the dominion mandate through evangelism. The church goes into the world and makes disciples of the nations. The Scriptures have no record, for example, that the apostle Paul had any natural (biological) children, yet he considered the many churches that he planted his children (e.g. Gal. 4:19; 1 Thess. 2:7).
When it comes to childless married couples, our first reaction should not automatically be to assume that they are sinfully avoiding having children. Like Paul’s call for some people to remain single so that they may better serve the Lord (1 Cor. 7:29-34), the Lord may have some couples refrain from having children so they can better serve him. There may be some missionary contexts in certain parts of the world where it would be inadvisable or even dangerous to place children in harm’s way. In other circumstances, some couples desire children very much but for reasons only known to the Lord, they are unable to conceive. Some couples readily accept this circumstance, but for others it is a very painful and difficult providence to endure. To accuse such a couple, then, of sinfully avoiding having children is only to pour salt into a very raw wound.
The same should be said about single people in the church. True, I suspect the vast majority of people in the church will likely end up being married, but there is a small minority for whom being single is a gift from God (1 Cor. 7:38). They are free to serve the church in a way far greater than the married person can (1 Cor. 7:32-33). Our assumption should not automatically be to pair off any single person we find.
Single people and married couples without children are two examples that should remind us not to rush to judgment about people’s motives in life. Yes, there are people who selfishly refrain from having children so they can enjoy the pleasures of life. But in all fairness, there are also married couples that have many children out of a legalistic motivation or to boast about their own perceived fidelity to Christ. In both scenarios, whether children are absent or present, sin abounds. Instead of rushing to judgment, we should look at all people in the church with charity and assume the best (1 Cor. 13:7). We should make an effort, first, to get to know people. Maybe in getting to know a single person, we will find that she is very content in her single life because she is serving Christ, and to try to set her up with a potential spouse is one more aggravation, a distraction from her God-given calling. Maybe in getting to know a childless couple, we will find that they have tried to conceive for years but the Lord has seen fit not to grant them children. In such a circumstance, your charity in judgment will enable you to uncover their painful burden and intercede on their behalf for contentment and peace with God’s Providence.
In the end, whether as a layperson or an ordained minister, patience and longsuffering rather than rushing to judgment will serve you and others in the church very well. Don’t make assumptions.
WSC Alum Brian Lee Serves as Guest Chaplain in House of Representatives
Rev. Dr. Brian Lee, the Pastor of Christ United Reformed Church in Washington D. C., and Westminster Seminary California alumnus, served as guest chaplain in the US House of Representatives. He offered the opening prayer for the pro forma session on April 30th, 2013. He has contributed to a number of on-going discussions about the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, which you can find here. And he's written other related materials, which you can find at the Daily Caller's website here. Much thanks to Matt Tuininga, WSC Alum, for drawing VFT's attention to this event, which you can find here.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Write a Proposal
As a pastor one of the things you can expect is that people will regularly come up with all sorts of ideas and inform you what the church needs to do. When people approached me with numerous ideas, I always had three responses. First, I thanked them for their suggestion, no matter how crazy or sound it was. At a certain level I was grateful that people were thinking about ways to make the church better. Second, I reminded them that I as the pastor could not make decisions on my own authority. I told people that while I was the pastor, I governed the church with the session, with the elders, and all church-wide decisions had to be the action of the session, not of any one individual. Too many churches have benevolent dictatorships or monarchies, and the Bible tells us that pastors and elders rule the church together (1 Tim 3; Acts 15, e.g.). When people heard this, they not only were reminded of this important biblical truth but they were also aware that the elders of the church did their best at overseeing the church. Third, I always asked people to write up a proposal. Why did I do this?
I think far too many people are full of ideas and short on action. They want other people to carry out the work. By asking a person to write a proposal forced them to give careful thought to their idea as well as think about how it might be put into practice. Another benefit of a written proposal is that the person who came up with the idea could ensure that all of the details of their proposal would be written down so nothing would be lost or forgotten. Sometimes in the shuffle of ideas from the one who makes the suggestion, to the pastor, and to the session or consistory, details get lost. There was another benefit to the request to write a proposal—it acted as a weed-out barrier. The people who were genuinely serious about doing things in the church would write up their proposals, but those who were just throwing out ideas seldom, if ever, wrote anything down. I think of all of the ideas I received a good seventy-five percent of them never wrote-up a proposal, so I never carried the idea to the session. This undoubtedly saved the session and me a lot of time and work.
You can certainly act on every idea that you receive, but prudence seems to dictate that it would be helpful to ask people to write-up their ideas in a proposal. There seem to be too many benefits to such a course of action and few drawbacks.
Latest Office Hours! Hebrews 10 with Dennis Johnson
The Season 4 series of Office Hours entitled "Jesus is Really Better" continues. This episode features Dr. Dennis E. Johnson, Professor of Practical Theology, who takes us through Hebrews 10.
You can find this latest episode here.
Recommended Pastoral Reading, pt. 3
Confessional References for the Pastor’s Study
By Rev. Andrew Compton and Rev. Shane Lems
Pastors in historic Reformed and Presbyterian churches need to be well versed in the studies, theology, and language of the creeds and confessions. Of course, Scripture should be a pastor’s primary study and focus, but our confessions are like teachers that give us lessons on biblical truths. And resources that help us read and understand the confessions ultimately help us read and understand Scripture in a deeper, richer way. Here are some resources that we have found helpful in our own pastoral ministries. At the end of each paragraph you’ll find an abbreviation of the confessional reference discussed in the book (i.e. HC = Heidelberg Catechism, WCF = Westminster Confession of Faith, etc.) We also want to note that while we didn’t list them, G. I. Williamson has written helpful commentaries on several Reformed confessions.
William Ames, A Sketch of the Christian’s Catechism (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008).
William Ames (d. 1633), who also wrote The Marrow of Theology, wanted to give seminary students and pastors a brief, helpful, and inexpensive commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism. This book is the outcome. It is short and structured quite succinctly. For example, he typically divides the HC Q/A into a few parts, gives a few lessons from the parts, and then lists “reasons” and “uses” of each teaching (“uses” is application). This doesn’t really read like a normal commentary, but it is a helpful Reformed resource on the Heidelberg Catechism. HC
Henry Beets, The Reformed Confession Explained (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1929).
This is a standard commentary on the Belgic Confession of Faith. Or, from another angle, it is a short systematic theology since it covers the main heads of Reformed doctrine. There are also a few study questions at the end of each chapter. Though it may be tough to find a copy of this book, if you do have it you might not need another commentary on the Belgic Confession since it is so thorough. BCF
Lyle D. Bierma (ed.), An Introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism: Sources, History, and Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005).
This collection of essays on the Heidelberg Catechism is of a more academic bent, but the historical content of the chapters is very informative. Lyle Bierma’s chapter on the sources and theological orientation of the catechism is quite good, highlighting both common ground between Calvin, Zwingli, Bullinger and Melanchthon, but also describing what he calls “key silences” in the catechism. While there is, of course, historical theological debate on these topics, Bierma does an excellent service of provoking discussion of why the boundaries of the catechism were drawn where they were. My favorite part of this volume, however, is its inclusion of the full texts of Zacharias Ursinus’ Large and Small Catechisms, which are nicely formatted for easy study and reading, and are footnoted with references to parallels in the Heidelberg Catechism. HC
Kevin DeYoung, The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism (Chicago: Moody, 2010).
Kevin DeYoung has a very readable writing style and has written this popular book with lay people in mind, winsomely presenting the teaching of the Heidelberg Catechism and showing its relevance to today. Among his intended audience are those who feel that catechisms and confessions are dry, dusty and irrelevant to the Christian life in the 21st century. In his characteristic way, DeYoung shows just how practical and well stated are the questions and answers of the Heidelberg Catechism. In my own teaching and preaching, I have especially utilized DeYoung’s vivid illustrations and application. The lessons are short – almost too short – but teach the catechism in a wonderful and fresh way. HC
Peter Y. DeJong (ed.), Crisis in the Reformed Churches: Essays in Comemoration of the Great Synod of Dort, 1618-1619 (Grandville: Reformed Fellowship, 2008).
This is another collection of historical essays, but serves as an excellent backdrop to the text of the Canons of Dort itself. What is more, the writers intentionally highlight how this history continues to be relevant to contemporary issues the Reformed Churches are facing, covering topics such as Bible translation, preaching, pastoral work, and even recent criticism of the Canons from within the Reformed Camp (e.g., G. C. Berkouwer, A.D. R. Polman, H.R. Boer, etc.). The appendices are a veritable treasure trove of historical data concerning the Synod. Originally published in 1968, the reprint of this classic volume is an excellent resource for one’s shelves. CoD
Daniel R. Hyde, With Heart and Mouth: An Exposition of the Belgic Confession (Grandville: Reformed Fellowship, 2008)
Hyde’s exposition/commentary of the Belgic Confession is a readable contemporary resource. Though aimed at lay people, I have found it to be a good reference in my own teaching. Hyde weaves the text of the confession together with historical theological observations and biblical exposition, enabling readers to get a nice sense of the biblical, historical and theological character of the Belgic Confession of Faith. Study questions at the end of each chapter make this volume a good text for use in small group study. This is a nice companion to P.Y. DeJong’s commentary on the Belgic Confession, The Church’s Witness to the World. BCF
Henry Petersen, The Canons of Dort: A Study Guide (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968).
Henry Petersen’s study guide is a unique resource. Written simply and accessible to even high school age students, I found his writing style to be very readable and his organization of the Canons of Dort to be intuitive and helpful. He intertwines exegesis and theology in a nice way, and draws in the insights of numerous Reformed theologians throughout. Though almost 50 years old and difficult to come by (I see only 2 copies on Amazon marketplace!), it is a fine resource that I consult regularly in my own teaching of the Canons. CoD
Robert Shaw, The Reformed Faith (Ross-Shire: Christian Focus, 2008).
This is an excellent 19th century commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith. It is solid, full of biblical citations, and clearly written. This commentary is also relatively brief; Shaw himself said he wanted to write with “the utmost possible brevity.” When I study the Westminster Confession, this is one of the first resources I take down from the shelf. Those interested might also want to look at A. A. Hodge and R. C. Sproul’s commentaries on the Westminster Confession. WCF
Zacharius Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism (Phillipsburg: P&R, n.d.).
Ursinus, one of the primary authors of the Heidelberg Catechism, wrote this commentary to go along with the catechism. I assume many readers of this VFT blog are familiar with Ursinus’ commentary so I won’t to go into details. Suffice it to say that if you are a preacher or teacher who wants a solid and detailed commentary on the HC, this is probably the first one you’ll want to own and use. HC
Johannes VanderKemp, The Heidelberg Catechism (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage books, 1997).
This is a two-volume set of VanderKemp’s (d. 1718) sermons on the Heidelberg Catechism. I appreciate this resource because it is the best of old-school Dutch Reformed theology. It isn’t always easy to read since it is photolithographed from an old edition, since the language is a bit archaic, and since it is quite long, but it is a solid and detailed resource for Heidelberg Catechism studies and preaching. HC
Thomas Vincent, The Shorter Catechism Explained from Scripture (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2004).
Thomas Vincent wrote this very short commentary on the Westminster Shorter Catechism in 1674. John Owen, Thomas Watson, and other such theologians spoke very highly of this commentary. I appreciate it because it is to the point and full of Scripture references. Vincent first gives the Q/A from the WSC and then breaks it down into further questions and answers in which he lists numerous Bible verses to prove the doctrine. Vincent was also very much concerned with the practical side of doctrine, so he often explains how the truths of the Christian faith are comforting to God’s people. (Those interested in a resource on the Westminster Larger Catechism will want to consider J. G. Vos’ commentary.) WSC
Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2008).
This well-known work of Puritan Thomas Watson (d. 1680) has stood the test of time. It is basically a detailed exposition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism in extended outline form. But it is more than a basic commentary – it is also in many ways a brief systematic theology that is full of Scripture, illustration, and application. For example, after discussing sanctification, Watson explains how to grow in sanctification. I really cannot recommend this book enough. To be honest, it is probably one of my favorite theology books overall. WSC
A Pastor’s Reflections: Your Ministry and Social Media
In last week’s post I addressed the subject of, “Your church and social media.” As a pastor, you should be aware that the digital age is upon you and social media is a venue for observing the conduct of your church. You shouldn’t ignore Facebook and Twitter. But there is another dimension to social media, and this pertains to your own personal life and especially your ministry. Social media is a strange phenomenon, one that elicits Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde patterns. I have met some of the most quiet, shy, and reserved ministers and elders only to discover that they are a Facebook or Twitter beast. You’d never know it that on the world-wide-web this shy and demure person has an entirely different persona—he is “Mr. Extrovert” on social media and e-mail. My own personal theory is that it’s easy to be an extrovert when you don’t have to look someone in the eye, when the only thing you look at it is a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. Regardless of the reasons, I’ve found that ministers can be just as unwise about social media and e-mail as anyone else, which can be a significant problem for your ministry.
When a minister, for example, decides to go on a Facebook rant about everything that is wrong with the most recent decision at Presbytery, he opens himself up to a number of problems. Why is he willing to call out people on Facebook but not on the floor of presbytery? When a person decides to blog about scattered thoughts, some of which are less than theologically orthodox, how much wisdom is there in such conduct? Sure, most ministers wonder about heterodoxy, but to do so in the public eye on Facebook or on a blog lacks wisdom. Now some people might object and say, “Who cares? Lighten up! I mean, really. What’s wrong with venting? What’s wrong with wondering ‘out loud’ about theology?” From one vantage point, there’s nothing wrong with venting or wondering, so long as you’re careful to mind the context.
I have several close colleagues whom I trust completely—I know they are vaults when it comes to their discretion and confidentiality. I know I can vent to them or bounce theological ideas off of them when I’m trying to figure something out. I would never have such conversations in a public venue. More importantly, I would never write these things down. My parents taught me an important life-rule: Never write anything down that you don’t want someone else to read. This is especially true regarding the world-wide-web.
Churches looking for pastors now do Google searches on prospective pastoral candidates, and if they don’t, they’d be foolish not to do so. If a person or church Googled your name, what would they find? I know of several situations where a candidate for a church was taken out of consideration because of things that he wrote on his Facebook page. In other words, all of us say things in the spur of the moment, things that after further consideration we recognize were unwise or even sinful. It’s one thing to say things like this and entirely another to write them down for the world to see. Even if you write things and then later delete them, search engines can still have traces of what you wrote in their databases.
Some people might object and say, “Why can’t I be free to express myself and offer my thoughts and opinions?” And this type of objection is correct—you are free to express yourself, you are free to exercise your Christian liberty. However, churches are equally free to exercise their rights by not hiring you because of things you have written. Moreover there is the whole question of wisdom. Should you as a minister reveal your innermost thoughts on a host of subjects? Silence is often the better part of discretion. Why open yourself to criticism, judgment, or even rejection when the wiser path is to keep your questionable thoughts to yourself. Why hobble your ministry by posting questionable content on social media? I know of one pastor who took a vacation with several other families from his church and he posted pictures of his trip. There were pictures of his wife in her swimsuit, pictures of people drinking beer, and general vacation-like activity. A number of people in the church complained about the swimsuit, the beer, and even asked the question, “Why hasn’t the pastor asked me to go on vacation with his family?” A few posted pictures created a lot of questions and discontent in the church that was unnecessary, and in my judgment, unwise.
I have heard a number of experienced and even tech-savvy ministers offer other ministers and candidates for the ministry the following advice: stay off of social media.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Social Media and your Congregation
I feel like a dinosaur because I can remember when the internet was really lame and when e-mail was a novelty. When I was a child I actually used 8-track tapes. If you don’t know what that is, Google it! Anyway, one of the things that has come about with the internet is social media, things like Twitter and the Facebooks (yes, I know that it’s really called Facebook). It used to be that people talked with their friends on the phone and kept their deepest darkest thoughts in their journal in their nightstand. Now, people Tweet and post all sorts of things to Facebook. Personally, I have no interest in such things. Why would anyone care whether I just hit Starbucks and had a half-calf-decaf-mocah-choca-ya-ya? But just because I personally don’t care about or have interest in social media doesn’t mean that I’m totally ignorant about social media or that it has no use for the pastorate.
For reasons that still bewilder me, some people don’t seem to realize that the interweb is called the world wide web for a good reason—anyone can read what you post or tweet, unless you keep things password protected or private through your settings, though Facebook can take your pictures and use them if they want (don’t get me started on that one). People post all sorts of things on-line that, to be frank, makes me question their wisdom. How does all of this bear upon the pastor and his congregation, you ask?
I would regularly, and still do, lurk about social media websites from time to time and peer into people’s Facebook and Twitter feeds. Even though I don’t have a Twitter account or a Facebook page, I still have my ways of seeing these things! Honestly, my “lurking” was usually pretty innocent. I was looking for people in my church to see what they were up to, and from time to time, when I discovered what they were doing, I became concerned. For example, when you find pictures of one of your church members in her itsy-bitsy-tiny-weenie yellow polka-dot bikini, holding a cocktail with a bevy of other similarly clad women, and she has judged that this is a perfectly normal thing to put on the world-wide-web, to borrow a line from Jeff Foxworthy, “You just might have spiritual problems.” Or when you find pictures of one of your church members and his recent trip to Vegas with his friends and there are more bottles of alcohol in the picture than people, “You just might have spiritual problems.” In the former situation, there were significant marital problems, as the scantily clad woman was married, and the latter problem ended up in adultery and divorce, surprise, surprise. In one instance, one person decided to document his adultery and extra-marital affair on Facebook with words and pictures. To say the least, there were definitely spiritual and moral problems in this instance, not to speak of his own wife and children and their embarrassment and suffering.
So what’s the pastoral point of all of this? The point is, whatever people are willing to show others in public is sometimes but a mere fraction of what actually goes on in private. If you’re willing to show the world what you’re doing in “private” by posting it to the world-wide-web, and the pictures look morally questionable, chances are there are problems. Sure, the pictures could be misleading and there might be a good reason to show off your bikini pictures to the world because in reality, deep down inside you’ve got the heart of and morals of Mother Teresa. But as a pastor, when you encounter such things, you’d be foolish to ignore them. The same principle applies to parents, who might stumble across such things when they’re looking at the things their children say and do on the internet.
In the olden days, like 1990, if you heard of one of your church members going on a drunken bender through the “grapevine” (the old fashioned Twitter feed), you would follow-up with that person to confirm what had actually occurred. Yes, your concern would be for their reputation, but as Christians, our concern should also be for Christ’s reputation. The third commandment tells us not to take God’s name in vain (Exo. 20:7). How many Christians, people who bear the name of Christ, essentially take it in vain by their questionable conduct, which they then document and post on-line? Yes, we have our precious Christian liberty, but as Christians, we also have the responsibility to exercise it carefully. And as ministers, when we encounter members of our congregation doing questionable things, we have an obligation to follow-up and keep an eye on things.
So even if you’re not all that tech savvy, keep your digital eyes open. You just might find information on Facebook or Twitter that will alert you to big problems in the life of your church.
Latest Office Hours! Hebrews 9 with Dennis Johnson
The Season 4 series of Office Hours entitled "Jesus is Really Better" continues. This episode features Dr. Dennis E. Johnson, Professor of Practical Theology, who takes us through Hebrews 9.
You can find this latest episode here.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Business in church
One of the things I encountered in my pastorate was people engaged in pyramid marketing schemes and similar types of business ventures. It’s certainly no crime for a person to seek employment in a number of different types of vocations, whether he works for a company or is self-employed. There are some businesses, however, that have a slightly different model, one that requires you as the salesperson to contact all of your friends, invite them over to your house, and sell them your wares, whether it is Tupperware, vacuum cleaners, vitamins and supplements, house-cleaning products, cookware, etc. Initially this seems like a nice way for a person to make some extra money, but upon further examination problems quickly begin to surface, especially when this activity occurs within the walls of the church.
For example, my wife and I knew another couple who were very friendly and expressed their desire to spend some time with us to get to know us better. They initially suggested that we catch a play and then have some coffee afterwards. As the pastor, I was pleased that we would get the opportunity to spend some time with one of the couples in the church. On the day of our scheduled “date,” the couple called us to say that their plans had changed and they couldn’t go to the theater, but could they still come over to the house to hang out with us. Plan B was to watch a movie and then have some dessert. My wife and I saw no problem with this and agreed to the revised agenda. When the couple arrived, things quickly went in a very different direction. The couple unloaded several cases from their sedan and entered the house. They told us that they wanted to show us something before we watched the movie. So my wife and I politely consented. All of a sudden we were in the middle of a sales pitch for cookware. To say the least, I was bewildered and even had to withhold my laughter because of the weirdness of it all.
I began to think to myself, “Well, this is odd, but maybe we can humor them and make a small purchase.” But then this couple gave us the punch line . . . the cookware was only a mere $2,500 and they had a payment plan if we needed one. My wife and I looked at each other, tried to hold the best poker face we could, and politely said, no. Our negative response put a damper on things and the couple packed up their cases and promptly left—no movie, no coffee, no fellowship. And after this whole incident, this couple was quite cold towards my wife and me.
Hopefully this scenario illustrates the problems with this type of business. It’s one thing to go door-to-door to sell your wares and entirely another when you put people in the church in an awkward position, one where they’ll likely say no and you’ll walk away offended. I don’t want to say that people in the church should never conduct business with one another—we can and should. But we also shouldn’t use the church directory as our personal client list either. In fact, in my own church, the elders placed a disclaimer in our church directory as a result of this little fiasco: “This directory is to be used for church-related matters only and not for any other purpose.” People give their contact information to the church for the sake of fellowship and church-information, not so they can sign up to receive sales calls.
Dr. Horton at the ETS Far West Regional Meeting
Our own Dr. Horton will be the plenary speaker at the upcoming meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society Far West Regional meeting, on Friday afternoon, April 19, at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa. His lecture title is, "The Spirit and the People: Evangelical Perspectives."
The link below gives information about registration ($10 for students) for the meeting and/or for the banquet that evening ($15--reservations must be submitted by 4/12), as well as the various papers and presenters throughout the afternoon, after the plenary session that opens the meeting.
This promises to be a stimulating afternoon/evening--please consider attending!
Click here for more information.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Jail and Prison
There are many churches that are filled with respectable people, good, civic-minded citizens. But it may come as a shock to some, but there are some churches that also have members that, for one reason or another, wind up in jail or prison. Given that many churches in this country have nice middle-class members, the news that one of its members has been incarcerated can be a shock. I think that many people shy away from imprisoned people for a number of reasons. But as a pastor, you don’t have the right to ignore any of your church members regardless of where they might be living.
I can remember discovering that one of my church members had been placed in jail. At first, it was a big surprise because on the surface, everything seemed fine. The elders and I had conducted home visits and the family was in church fairly regularly. When they were absent, or when one of the members of the family was absent, there was usually an accompanying explanation—someone was visiting family or was at home sick in bed. So upon hearing the news that this young woman was in jail, I took the necessary steps to visit her. Jail is not as nice as they portray it on TV. As I entered the facility I had the overwhelming sense of claustrophobia—I wasn’t physically or intellectually hobbled, but I definitely felt like I was in a tight and enclosed space. I was searched and went through a metal detector, and then I went to the room with the phone on the wall and thick bulletproof glass, which was scratched and dirty.
As I talked with this young woman I felt like I was finally beginning to get some honest answers to my many questions, though I did speak with the jail officials as well. Once deception enters the picture you should always verify with outside sources. In this case, the jailers told me this young woman had a rap sheet as long as my arm. As I visited her over a number of months, I discovered that she had engaged in some very unwise, foolish, and very sinful activity. This young woman was eventually released on probation, and I made a number of home visits to encourage repentance, but to no avail. As much as she said she was changing her ways, she ended up in jail again for violating her probation. She eventually ended up doing a stint in the state prison.
Regardless of the crime or a person’s state, if he is a member of the church, you as the pastor, and elders of the church, have a responsibility to minister to them. This means regular visits as well sending literature to them when possible (some jail and prison systems are quite restrictive and have all sorts of rules governing how to send prisoners literature). You also have the responsibility to pray and intercede on behalf of such people, and if they are unrepentant, then you need to put them under church discipline. However, there is a sense in which I think that ministers and elders are expected to care for people in prison, but members of the church are a different matter. No one from my congregation took the time to visit this young woman while she was incarcerated. Part of me wonders whether it would have made a bigger impression upon her had a number of church members showed up to visit. This young woman expected me to be there, it “was my job,” after all. When Christ told his disciples, “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matt. 25:36), I don’t think he restricted prison visitation to ministers and elders. Should you become aware of a situation where one of your fellow church members are imprisoned, certainly pray for them, but also give serious thought to visiting them.
Latest Office Hours! Hebrews 8 with Hywel Jones
The Season 4 series of Office Hours entitled "Jesus is Really Better" is back! This episode features Dr. Hywel R. Jones, Professor of Practical Theology, who takes us through Hebrews 8.
You can find the episode here.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Listen, Don’t Critique
One of the biggest problems in Reformed churches, I believe, is that people come to church to critique the sermon rather than listen to it. How so? In Reformed churches there are always a number of theological commandos, people who love to study the Bible, read serious theological works, and encourage and spur others on to improve their own knowledge. These are all good things, however, knowledge apart from humility and love is a dangerous thing as Paul warns us (1 Cor. 8:1). What begins as a thirst and hunger to know God becomes a case of pride and the person no longer comes to eat the meal prepared by the chef but instead comes as the food critic.
Some people will sit down and listen to the preaching of the word, but find problems with the way a text is preached, the illustrations used, the inflection of the pastor’s voice, or the application that the pastor presses. The person will then approach the pastor and raise his or her concerns regarding the “flaws” in the sermon. I can completely understand why pastors find such “counsel” annoying. It doesn’t matter how long he studied in college, seminary, how many hours he invested in exegeting the text, praying over his preparation, or how many hundreds or even thousands of sermons he’s preached over the years. All of this is for naught. In this day and age where expertise has been democratized, all you need is twenty bucks and a website and a person can anoint himself as an “expert” on any subject. I think such a trend is especially true for seminarians—they take one or two classes, have preached maybe three sermons in their whole life, and all of a sudden they’re a preaching expert.
Regardless of the amount of training and study a person might have, we are not supposed to come to church to critique the sermon. We are not food critics but rather pilgrims who need Christ, one greater than Moses, to give us heavenly manna—spiritual nourishment that he brings through the hands of his ordained ministers. Our mindset should be that when we hear the preaching of the word that we are, as the Second Helvetic Confession states, hearing the very living word of God (§ I). We should realize that we have come to listen to the word so that it would critique us, not so that we could criticize the preaching of it. Such is the difference between listening to the sermon and critiquing it—it’s humility vs. pride.
We should also realize that God has established his church in such a way that there are people whom he has assigned to critique the preaching of the word—the elders of the church. The elders have the Christ-given responsibility to guard the purity of the preaching of the word of God. They not only listen but also evaluate and when necessary, hopefully in private or within the confines of the session or consistory meeting, critique the pastor’s preaching.
If you believe, however, that there is a persistent problem with your pastor’s preaching, then there are appropriate steps to take. First, don’t automatically assume you are correct. Maybe your pastor knows more about the text and preaching than you do. Investigate the subject of concern—read, study, and prayerfully reflect. Second, after diligent and prayerful consideration, if you’re still convinced there is a problem, humbly and privately approach one of the members of the session or consistory to make your concern known. Again, be prepared to be corrected—elders of the church are chosen because of their ability to teach and their knowledge of the Scriptures. They might see a gaping hole in your assessment and correct you, and rightly and necessarily so. Third, if the problem still persists, then request to speak with the session or consistory to raise your concerns. Again, be prepared to be corrected. Fourth, if the problem still persists, you have one of several options: (a) live with the problem; (b) peaceable withdrawal; or (c) in accordance with your church order take your concerns to the next level, either presbytery or classis. Again, be prepared to be corrected.
In the end, I suspect that the norm will be that we will not be called upon by Providence to carry a theological complaint to General Assembly or Synod. Rather, our chief responsibility as we carry out the general office of believer is to listen to the preaching of the word, not critique it.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Working hard vs. Working smart
During my time in the ministry I have encountered a number of colleagues that work very hard. However, I think those same colleagues were not very productive. While someone might work very hard on something, it doesn’t mean he will be productive. There is the old cliché, working hard is not the same thing as working smart. I think one of the problems with some ministers is they don’t manage their time well or they create unnecessary work for themselves. For example, a pastor might preach a number of sermon series on different topics that, if done well, requires a lot of prep-work, research, and the like. Starting from scratch on many different subjects takes a lot of time. If you want to teach on the relationship between science and theology, then you’ll have to do a lot of reading that will not be helpful for your next series on the doctrine of justification. The bodies of literature for both subjects do not overlap all that much, if at all. So what’s a person to do?
The first thing you need to do is multitask! Some people believe multitasking is impossible, but they’re wrong. According to the OED, multitasking involves “executing a number of tasks concurrently.” A simple illustration is, walking and chewing bubblegum at the same time. True, there are some people who attempt to multitask and it doesn’t work—they end up doing two things poorly. I can remember my parents telling me to turn off the TV while I was doing my homework. However, not all multitasking is created equal. Fighter pilots, for example, multitask—they manage multiple pieces of information: altitude, attitude (angle of attack), terrain, radar, targets, threats, stores (weapons), fuel, and the like. So, if multitasking is possible, what might it look like for a pastor?
First, recognize that you are in the information business—never assume that what you read or discover will only be used once. When you’re doing casual reading, remember that you can use it for sermon illustrations. When you’re studying theology, you can use it in your sermon prep or teaching. When you find a great quote, document it, and ensure you can find it again. Perhaps consider getting a notebook or using one of the many note-taking apps that are available. I think far too many pastors read useful things, forget them, and have to dig them up again at a later time, which creates more work in the end. There’s a sense in which you’re always doing sermon prep—a useful insight can come along while you’re driving your car or meditating upon the word in your study. Don’t limit yourself as to when you think you might be productive. And never assume you’ll use the information once. If you document and index it, you can ensure you can use it again—multitasking!
Second, if you preach and teach systematically (lectio continua, e.g.), then everything that you’re doing is building accruing theological “interest,” if you will. For example, teach lectio continua through a book of the Bible—do all of your exegetical work, make copious notes, jot down potential illustrations. Once you’ve finished the teaching series, you’ve completed the necessary legwork for a sermon series. What you taught in Sunday School is now the source material for a sermon series in two or three years. When you return to your notes, you will have dramatically cut down your legwork and you’ll only need to review, refresh your familiarity with the text, and you’ve got your material to write your sermons. Your Sunday school prep becomes your sermon prep—multitasking!
Third, when possible, prepare deep! All too often people will do the bare minimum to get by—pastors will read one book, make some notes, and then step into the Sunday school lectern. But when asked to give a lecture to fellow pastors, say at presbytery or classis, they find themselves having to dig deeper and revisit the same terrain they already studied because what was suitable for the layman will likely be shallow and insufficient for serious reflection by fellow ministers. But if you prepare very thoroughly, then you can always trickle a wealth of information slowly and patiently for the uninitiated but you cannot instantaneously generate depth. If you do it well the first time, then you can use the same material in multiple settings—you can regulate how much you reveal of what you know based upon the audience. By preparing deep, you are preparing for multiple scenarios—you’re multitasking!
Fourth, find an area of special interest and stick to it. You can certainly read broadly and for pleasure, but you will find great benefit if you choose an area of specialty and dig deeply. If you read fifty books a year and each one is on a different topic, then you won’t have much depth to your knowledge—you’ll know a little about a lot. But if you devote a third of your reading to your area of special interest, say twenty books out of fifty to one particular topic, chances are you will become an unofficial expert in the subject. The choices are numerous—you can pick one theologian, like Francis Turretin, and read everything you can get your hands on about him. You can pick a doctrine, such as theology proper. You can pick a subject, such as preaching, or even a specific book of the Bible. Again, you’ll find the principle of compounding interest working towards your benefit and your congregation will reap the benefits. You can turn your “leisure reading,” into productive time by studying your area of special interest. Once again, you’re multitasking!
These four suggestions are just a few ways that you can multitask. Always think about how you might work smart. Working hard may look impressive but if it’s unproductive, you’ll burn out very quickly.
Latest Office Hours! An Interview with Mike Brown and Zach Keele
What is a covenant? Is "covenant" something imposed onto Scripture, or does it organically arise from Scripture? What is the covenant of works, the covenant of grace, and the covenant of redemption? How does covenant theology help us make sense of the whole Old Testament? What is the role of the Mosaic covenant in the administration of the covenant of grace? Is there any difference between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants? What is the relationship of those covenants to the New Covenant?
On this special episode of Office Hours, R. Scott Clark will discuss these things and more with two WSC graduates, Rev. Michael Brown, Pastor of Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, CA, and Rev. Zach Keele, Pastor of Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Escondido, CA, co-authors of Sacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explored.
You can find this latest episode here.
Meditations on the Larger Catechism, pt. 27
What’s in a Name?
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.” (Romeo and Juliet, II, ii, 1–2)
Juliet expressed her love for Romeo in these words. Her point was not that she loved the name of Romeo’s family, Montague, but that his name didn’t matter, as it was Romeo whom she loved. “What’s in a name?” Of course in the heat of passion and love we don’t usually express the best theology. Juliet’s dismissal of Romeo’s name for Romeo himself is a false dichotomy. You see, we love Jesus because his name tells us both who he is and what he has done for us: “You shall call his name Jesus, for [because] he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
“What’s in a name?” What’s the meaning of the name of our Savior, Mediator, and Redeemer? Before I explain let me answer an objection you may have or that others may charge. To study the name of Jesus seems to be childish and overly simplistic at best or downright misleading at worst. You see, you might be thinking this is a waste of our time as it is so simple and plain, but that attitude is rooted in a critical attitude. From the fourteenth century’s school of thought called nominalism all the way up to today’s so-called “Postmodernism,” the Western world has been bombarded by the critical thought that words do not have an objective meaning. In a word, it doesn’t matter what Jesus’ name means, after all, we just love the Lord. Why should I spend time thinking about the name when I could be living for the person? “We need deeds not creeds,” we are told today. Yet God calls us to love him not only by our deeds and in our hearts but also with our minds. The angel revealed to Joseph and Matthew wrote this account because the name matters. C. H. Spurgeon once said:
Oh, that Name of Jesus! I could talk till midnight of its depth and meaning, its sweetness, its power; and when the twelfth hour struck, you would say to one another, “Why, it is midnight, and the Pastor is only as yet upon the threshold of his theme!” There is so much to be said about the Name of Jesus that all the tongues of men and of angels would fail to tell the half thereof. It is the joy of Heaven above; and, meanwhile, it is the solace of sorrow below. Not only is it the most majestic Name, the most instructive Name, the most truthful Name, the most powerful Name, the most sanctifying Name, but it is also the most comfortable Name that was ever sounded in this valley of weeping. (Spurgeon, Only a Prayer-Meeting, 186)
So, the Greek Iesous comes from the Hebrew Yehoshua, which means “the Lord saves.” What do we learn from this?
Jesus is Definitely the Redeemer
The first thing that we learn from the name of Jesus is that He is Definitely the Redeemer. This is not a name he chose for himself. We’ve seen that in our own culture. For example, the Cincinnati Bengals’ receiver Chad Johnson changed his own name to Chad Ochocinco. This is not even a name Joseph and Mary gave him. They didn’t pull out the first century equivalent to the baby name books so popular today. No, this is a name God revealed through Gabriel to Joseph and Mary: “Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying . . . you shall call his name Jesus” (Matt. 1:20). God told Gabriel to tell them to name their baby boy, Jesus. Why? Because this name would signify who he was: the redeemer.
And that’s no insignificant fact. God, of course, knew what he was doing. He knew that this name meant something significant. No, that being said, Yehoshua and Iesous were common first century names. So it wasn’t as if this name would have been so scandalous to Jesus’ neighbors. He had an ordinary name among an ordinary town of Nazareth. As archaeologists have revealed, Nazareth was a town with about fifty small homes located in an area of about four acres. In our terms one acre would be like a football field, so Nazareth was the size of four football fields (“Nazareth Excavation”).
But you see God gave this ordinary name to his Son but he also attributed the reality of the name to the child: “He will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The whole history of redemption comes alive in Jesus, then. Here is the Savior promised from after the Fall of Adam, when the Lord God promised a seed to Eve who would crush the serpent’s head by bruising his own heel (Gen. 3:15). Here is the Redeemer whom the Lord promised to Abraham, saying, “And in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). Here is the tabernacle in the flesh (John 1:14). Here is the great sacrifice offered on the Day of Atonement as well as the scapegoat (Lev. 16). Here is the prophet greater than Moses (Deut. 18:15). Here is the warrior greater than Joshua. Here is the judge to end all judges. Here is David’s offspring to sit on his throne forever (2 Sam. 7:14). Here is the coming son of the virgin (Isa. 7:14), the shoot from Jesse’s stem (Isa. 11:1), and the Lord who would rend the heavens and come down from Isaiah (Isa. 64:1). Shall I go on? Jesus is definitely the redeemer.
What does this mean for you? Since he definitely is the Savior, you are definitely to seek for your salvation in no one or no thing else besides him. You are to be content with him and his saving work in your life. You are to rest in him. You are to be bold and confident in bearing witness about him, because he definitely is the one mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). You are to be ready to give a defense (1 Peter 3:15). You are to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13–16).
Jesus Definitely Redeems
The second thing that we learn from the name of Jesus is that He Definitely Redeems. As the angel says, “He will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Let me say a few things about this.
First, Jesus definitely redeems because his redemption was planned. The angel speaks prophetically from the vantage point of Joseph, “He will save.” Yet from God’s vantage point this was a plan that stretched back into eternity. In the Gospel of John we read over and over and over again Jesus’ words that he came to execute a plan that he and the Father purposed from eternity. In Jesus’ bread of life discourse he says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (John 6:36), then Jesus says, “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me” (John 6:39). Again, in Jesus’ high priestly prayer we read that the Father gave Jesus “authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given me . . . I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do . . . I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world . . . Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you . . . I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:2, 4, 6, 7, 9).
Second, Jesus’ Jesus definitely redeems because his redemption is powerful. He actually accomplished what he came to do for those whom he came for. “He will [definitely] save his people.” Paul’s “golden chain of salvation” expresses this best, when it says “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Why? “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:28–30). Listen also to Paul’s words about Christ’s powerful work for this church in Ephesians 5: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25–27).
Third, Jesus’ Jesus definitely redeems because his redemption is personal. “He will save his people from their sins.” He did not come and die for a faceless mass or an idea of a church, but for distinct persons. Let me conclude by having you read how Jesus describes the personal relationship he has as shepherd with his sheep:
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers . . . I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep (John 10:1–5, 11–15).
What’s in a name? Your very salvation.
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Only a Prayer-Meeting, 186.
“Nazareth Excavation Reveals Remains from Time of Jesus,” The Guardian (December 22, 2009). http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/gallery/2009/dec/21/israel-archaeology
A Pastor’s Reflections: Lectio Continua
During the sixteenth-century Reformation one of the standard practices for pastors was to preach lectio continua, chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse, through books of the Bible. At Geneva, for example, John Calvin preached from the New Testament in the morning and the Old Testament in the evening. Despite its common use during the Reformation there are many Reformed ministers who don’t preach lectio continua—they preach small topical series on this or that, or perhaps sections of books, such as sermons on the life of David or Abraham.
On the one hand, it’s definitely good and important that ministers preach the word of God. As simple as it may seem, there are too many ministers who ascend the pulpit each Sunday morning and do not preach the word—a sad but true fact. On the other hand, I think that some pastors are afraid to preach lectio continua for various reasons. But over the years I found a number of benefits to this method of preaching that, I believe, commend its use over other practices.
First, by preaching through books of the Bible you teach yourself and your congregation about whole portions of Scripture. Far too many people in the church, pastors included, do not know their Bibles. They have favorite verses or chapters, perhaps, but seldom are they familiar with entire books. What better way can there be to learn about Scripture than to preach through Romans, verse-by-verse? A side benefit of this is that the more you preach through books of the Bible, the better you will know it. Like compounding interest, your familiarity with the Bible will accrue. You will be better equipped for ministry, counseling, teaching, and preaching. You’ll reduce your sermon-prep time, for example, the more familiar you become with the Pauline corpus.
Second, there are some parts of the Bible that are absolutely necessary and foundational for other parts. Here I have in mind the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Bible. I believe every pastor should make it his goal to preach through the Pentateuch because it is so foundational for everything else in Scripture. Why does the genealogy of Jesus include Abraham’s name? Why was it more than medically dangerous for Jesus to touch lepers? What is the curse of the law? Why did John the Baptist baptize in the Jordan? Why does Jesus appeal to the Noahic flood as the paradigm for his own return at the end of the age? All of these questions find answers in the Pentateuch. Not only will preaching through the Pentateuch give you as the pastor a better knowledge of the Scriptures, but it will ground your congregation in them as well.
Third, it forces preachers and congregations to deal with texts that we might not find appealing, comfortable, or easy. When pastors do topical series, I suspect they will not choose passages that they find theologically difficult or problematic. For example, how many pastors ignore passages that deal with the doctrine of election? If we preach lectio continua, we must deal with whatever doctrines the text presents. We don’t have time for hobbyhorses, unless of course we’re ignoring the text. By preaching the text, it keeps us balanced. Sure, who wouldn’t want to hear about the love of God, but sometimes the text speaks about God’s wrath and justice and we need to hear about it.
Fourth, it was greatly relieving to know that I wasn’t on an “idea treadmill” to try and come up with new and “exciting” sermon series. I could rest knowing that the topic of my next sermon was waiting for me in the subsequent series of verses. In this way, one can say that God decides what you will preach on!
Do these benefits mean that pastors should never preach topical sermons? No. I think there is plenty of room to do topical preaching. In a ten-year period, for example, a pastor will preach nearly 1,000 sermons (if he’s preaching morning and evening). There is more than enough room to preach a number of smaller series. However, I think the bulk of a pastor’s preaching should be devoted to lectio continua preaching for the reasons stated above. After a ten-year period it would be preferable, I believe, to have you and your congregation familiar with the Pentateuch and twenty books of the Bible versus a slew of forgettable topical series.
Meditations on the Larger Catechism, pt. 26
The Necessity of a Human Mediator
We really have a crazy-sounding religion. We confess that God exists as one, yet three. Totally irrational! We confess that one of those three, the Son, became a human by being born of a virgin. What a fantasy! We confess this God-man died on a common Roman cross to take away sins. Keep dreaming! We confess this God-man rose from the dead. Impossible! It’s no wonder the apostle Paul called the gospel “foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:18) and its ministers “fools for Christ” (1 Cor. 4:10). It’s no wonder that when Christianity is compared to Islam and Buddhism, for example, with their common sense approach of works earning rewards that we sound like proponents of a fairy tale. One comfort to us is the fact that our forefathers faced the same ridicule. As Tertullian said in his treatise, De Carne Christi, “On the Flesh of Christ,”
The Son of God was crucified; I am not ashamed because men must needs be ashamed of it. And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And He was buried, and rose again; the fact is certain, because it is impossible (ch. 5).
It’s that absurdity that is our wisdom; it’s that impossibility that is our confidence. In our previous meditation we explored why we need a divine Mediator. Here I want to meditate upon why we need a mediator who is also human. In the words of Hebrews 2, this was “fitting” as the Son of God “had to be made like his brothers” (vv. 10, 17).
Necessary for His Work
The first reason why we need a human mediator is that is was necessary for his work. And there are several facets of this.
To Advance Our Nature
The Son had to be human in order “that he might advance our nature” (Q&A 39). This means that since humanity plunged itself into the cesspool of sin, it could not get itself out even to begin moving itself closer to God. Humanity needed a mediator who would step into the mess with it, and then be able to raise it from sin to righteousness, from earth to heaven. In the words of Hebrews 2, “it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham” (v. 16). Angels already dwell in celestially appropriate form, while we must be led there.
To Obey the Law
We need a fully human mediator who could “perform obedience to the law” (Q&A 39). Since we are incapable of offering to God the obedience he deserves and desires, we need someone else to do it for us, as us. In all my disillusionment during college that led me to study and explore world philosophies and religions, I discovered that this is a unique aspect to Christianity. No other system says that someone else does the work necessary for you. All others says it is up to your reason, your abstaining, and your doing. But we have a God who knows us better than that, don’t we?
To Suffer in Our Nature
And since God is just, humanity must suffer punishment for its inability to obey his laws and requirements. Therefore, if we are to be freed from this sentence, we need a mediator who must himself undergo that suffering. This is why we read that our mediator was made “perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10) and that he become man in order to “make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17). His entire life, we might say, was one in which he not only walked on the straight and narrow path alongside our steps on broad path of destruction, obeying for us; but that while he did so, he also carried our sins and experienced our suffering in body and soul, leading to the cross. He did this for you!
To Make Intercession as a Fellow Human
Finally, another aspect that makes our religion so wonderful is that our Savior and the salvation he gives us is not just a mater of this divine power, but of his human empathy. We read in the New Testament that he has “one origin” with us as humans, and that we are fellow “brothers” (Heb. 2:11). And since we share together in flesh and blood “he himself likewise partook of the same things” (Heb. 2:14). As the Catechism says, Jesus has “a fellow-feeling of our infirmities” (Q&A 39). And with that “fellow-feeling” he makes intercession for us before the throne of God’s heavenly majesty. With that “fellow-feeling” his intercession for us is that much more genuine and comforting to us. He is able to save us because he “ever lives to make intercession” for us (Heb. 7:25). And he intercedes for us, as us.
Necessary for Our Benefit
How does our mediator’s humanity benefit us? The benefit is, of course, that we are saved from sin. In particular, though, there are two ways we can distinguish this benefit.
To Receive Adoption
The first is that because we embrace the eternal Son of God who became man, we are made adopted sons of God (Gal. 4:5). The Son became human that humans might become sons. And now that we are God’s sons [and daughters], “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal. 4:6) And as his adopted children, we are no longer slaves, but full heirs of all God’s riches (Gal. 4:7). We belong to the eternal family of God! We have full access to all the household blessings and comforts.
To Have Confidence
The other benefit is that we no longer live as strangers in utter fear of God, but have confidence to come before his throne—of grace! It is through our mediator, who is both divine and human, that we as God’s sons have confidence to draw near to that throne of grace and call him not only God and Lord, but Father. And we draw near to him in order to ask him for his mercy and grace to help us in our times of need (Heb. 4:16). Doesn’t this move your soul? You see, when we come before our Father, like our earthly fathers, we find that he already knew what we needed and prepared to give it to us according to his lavish love and great grace for us.
“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity.” This story, this doctrine, is totally absurd, isn’t it? Yes, it is, to the mind of reason. Yes, it is, to the ways in which we do business, engage in politics, and operate with our neighbors in day-to-day life. But when we believe this absurd story we become wise in God’s eyes.
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church
Recommended Pastoral Reading, pt. 2
By Revs. Andrew Compton and Shane Lems
In our last post, we recommended books that had to do with the faith and life of the minister of the word. In this post, we give our recommendations on homiletics resources. Again, we realize there are more good homiletics books than these; these are simply some that have been helpful in our own ministries.
Edmund Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961).
I first read this book when I was in my early twenties. I can still remember Clowney’s discussion of how not to preach the David and Goliath story (1 Sam. 17). This biblical discussion of what preaching is all about very much molded me as a young man following the call to pastoral ministry. This reminds me: I should read it again!
William Willimon, Conversations with Barth on Preaching (Nashville: Abigdon Press, 2006).
As a Reformed minister, I seriously object to some aspects of this book on preaching (specifically the Barthian view of the Word and revelation). However, some insights in this book floored me. For example, consider these words of Willimon: “We cannot preach as if this subject matter of our preaching were at our disposal or under our control…the Word of God is not a commodity we pedal” (p. 157). This book would be good for a pastor who would like a strange but fascinating angle on preaching. Or, for a smaller dose of Barth, see his Homiletics. You’ll love to hate it and hate to love it!
Preach the Word ed. Leland Ryken and Todd Wilson (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007).
This book is a collection of homiletics articles written in memory of R. Kent Hughes. Contributors include David Helm, J. I. Packer, Leland Ryken, Philip Ryken, and Don Carson, among others. The topics covered include hermeneutics and preaching, narrative and preaching, pastoral preaching, expository preaching, and the challenges of preaching (among others). I especially enjoyed Leland Ryken’s chapter on the Bible as literature and how it relates to preaching; I also appreciated Carson’s chapter on the challenges for the 21st century pulpit.
Terry Johnson, Leading in Worship (Oak Ridge: The Covenant Foundation, 1996).This book is not a book on preaching specifically; it more broadly covers the topic of standing behind the pulpit – or leading in worship (as the title says). It really is a book for pastors that discusses and explains liturgy – from Sunday morning and evening to baptism to the Lord’s Supper to funerals and weddings, Johnson covers it all. This is a great help for pastors who want to get into the rhythm of biblical and historic Reformed liturgy, which has everything to do with the sermon.
Martin Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972).
I’ll never forget how I ended up with this book. It was given to me by an elder after one of my first sermons as a young pastoral intern. He gave it to me as a nice gesture to say, “You really need some help with your sermons!” Thankfully, the book was helpful and I learned from it. Some parts of the book aren’t applicable today, and some parts I don’t agree with, but it is one of those homiletics books that Reformed ministers should work through at some point in their ministry (I’d recommend sooner than later).
As an additional note, Zondervan republished this volume as a “40th Anniversary Edition” in 2011. The new edition includes added subheadings and editing updates by Kevin DeYoung. There are also additional essays reflecting on Preaching & Preachers by Ligon Duncan, John Piper, Mark Dever, Bryan Chapell, and others.
David Buttrick, Homiletic (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987).
If I’m not mistaken, this book used to be the “bible” for homiletics in mainline churches. I read through it near the end of seminary and found many parts of it to be helpful and applicable. However, some areas were disappointing. I’d recommend this book for pastors who want to study a different form and style of preaching. The book is quite lengthy, so it is not for someone who wants a quick and light read. But it will help the pastor who wants to improve his preaching. The parts he disagrees with will make him think while the parts he appreciates will benefit his own sermon writing and delivery.
Samuel T. Logan (ed.), The Preacher and Preaching: Reviving the Art in the Twentieth Century (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1986).
In our last installment, I drew attention to this volume as it contains several chapters about the Pastor’s Christian life. Relevant to this post, 13 chapters cover the work of preaching, divided into (1) Message Content, (2) Message Form, and (3) The Manner of Preaching. Sinclair B. Ferguson’s chapter “Exegesis,” and Donald Macleod chapter “Preaching and Systematic Theology” are especially profound. The following chapters give excellent insight into the mechanics of preaching: Glen C. Knecht, “Sermon Structure and Flow,” David A. Dombek, “Reading the Word of God Aloud,” and Gwyn Walters, “The Body in the Pulpit.” This collection of chapters is a fine addition to the pastoral library.
Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007).
Dennis Johnson’s book on preaching is a wonderful application of redemptive-historical hermeneutics to homiletics. Johnson surveys the homiletical field, drawing attention to the variety of methods used by Reformed preachers. From there, he makes the case for “Apostolic, Christocentric Preaching,” defending it from the New Testament itself and showing how this approach reflects the strong points of various homiletical methods while avoiding their pitfalls. Part 2 is an excellent practicum, even including various notes from Johnson, describing how this method preaches some particular biblical texts.
Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
This 7-volume set is a magisterial survey of church history, focusing exclusively on how the Bible was preached from the early church until today. It is easy to focus exclusively on our own times and our own communities, forgetting that Christian pastors from other times and other places have also brought God’s word to bear in the lives of their own congregations. Hughes Oliphant Old’s survey provides an excellent opportunity to learn from those who have come before us. A fine feature in volume four is that Old not only gives significant background about a number of preachers during the Reformation and post-Reformation periods, he analyzes several representative sermons by those preachers.
Examples of Sermons/Printed Sermons
Reading good homiletical texts can go a long way in helping one to gain skill in preaching, but reading good sermons is a way to tighten the connection between theory and practice. We have found the following collections dealing with various topics to be particularly edifying and instructive:
• James Montgomery Boice & Philip Graham Ryken, The Heart of the Cross (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1999).
• John Calvin, Songs of the Nativity: Selected Sermons on Luke 1 & 2 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2008).
• Bryan Chapell (ed.), The Hardest Sermons You’ll Ever Have to Preach: Help From Trusted Preachers for Tragic Times (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).
• Iain M. Duguid, Numbers: God’s Presence in the Wilderness (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006).
• Martin Luther, The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther (Baker edition).
• Raymond C. Ortlund, Proverbs: Wisdom the Works (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2012).
• Klaas Schilder, The Schilder Trilogy (3 vols; Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1979).
• Geerhardus Vos, Grace and Glory (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1994).
Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive. Indeed, it is hardly sufficient! We only hope that it draws attention to the existence of books like these with the hope that pastors will seek them out and incorporate them into their own homiletical study regimen – for God’s glory and the good of his church.
A Pastor’s Reflections: You Can’t Go Home Again
Among the different types of people you will encounter throughout your pastorate are those who have just moved into town and are looking for a new church home. This is a very common scenario given our ever-transient culture in which we now live. The idea of someone being born, living, working, and ultimately dying in the same town is a thing of the past. Hence, having new people seeking to join the church as a result of being relocated is a common phenomenon. As much as a blessing it can be to have new families join the church, there is some baggage that these new members might bring.
I particularly have in mind the family that wants to find an exact copy of their previous church. It’s only natural that we will seek what is familiar—if we’ve had a positive experience, then we will usually make this a benchmark for future experiences. If we liked the preaching of our old pastor, then he will become the benchmark for the new pastor’s preaching. The same goes for other dimensions of church life. On numerous occasions I had people tell me, “At our old church . . .,” or, “Or former pastor used to . . .” In many respects this is perfectly natural and understandable. However, it sometimes became a problem when the family wanted me or the church to conform completely to their old church’s ways. I had people flat-out tell me, “You need to do things like our former pastor.”
What people don’t realize is that there is a lot of truth to the cliché, “You can’t go home again.” We build up ideals in our minds and augment memories with impressions and emotions that do not accurately reflect reality. When we leave a church, for example, we might quickly forget all of our former pastor’s foibles and shortcomings, idealize him in our minds, and build him up as being perfect. When we compare him to the new pastor, we’re not making a true comparison based in reality but one fabricated in our minds. Even if we were to return to our old church, chances are, it wouldn’t be the same because reality would come crashing in again and we would quickly rediscover all of the shortcomings we ignored when we moved away.
So, then, how are we to proceed, whether as the newly arrived family or as the one under the microscope of scrutiny? The answer lies in ensuring that Christ and the word of God are our index for what constitutes a faithful church. Does the new church bear the three marks of the church: the faithful preaching of the word, administration of the sacraments, and church discipline? If these three marks are present, then we should not expect any two churches to be alike. Yes, churches can adhere to the same doctrinal and confessional standards, but like people, they can all have different personalities. All churches have varying strengths and weaknesses—where some excel others will fall short, and vice versa. Remember that since we are all redeemed sinners, we all have shortcomings. Every pastor has his flaws, and even if we tend to forget them, we should not set any one pastor up as the index by which all other pastors are measured. Christ alone is our standard.
If you find yourself as the target of unfair comparisons, you’ll simply have to exercise patience. Gently remind newcomers that no two churches are alike and that we should all strive to seek Christ rather than hold up superficial standards by which we measure fidelity and success. In the end, there will be some who will learn these truths but there will always be those who will move from church to church on the fool’s errand trying to go home again and never realize that it simply doesn’t exist. Don’t take such criticism personally and recognize that these types of critical words often reveal more about the one making the complaint than the one who is the target of the harsh words.
Latest Office Hours! Hebrews 7:18-28 with Steve Baugh
The Season 4 series of Office Hours entitled "Jesus is Really Better" continues. This episode features Dr. S. M. Baugh, Professor of New Testament, who takes us through Hebrews 7:18-28.
You can find this latest episode here.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Churchmanship
I think that when many candidates for the ministry imagine life in the pastorate that they most commonly think of standing in the pulpit. True enough, preaching comprises one of the greater portions of a pastor’s responsibility—not only preaching, but preparing, studying, and honing one’s homiletic skills. However, I suspect that few think of the important role that churchmanship plays in a pastor’s ministry.
There is a running joke among many Reformed ministers about long and boring presbytery or classis meetings and the same for meetings of the general assembly or synod. To be honest, there are many times when I’ve contemplated putting a fork in my eye for entertainment purposes because the meeting of presbytery is so boring. Yes, an important point has been made, but unfortunately, not everyone has said it. This means that you often get to hear the same speech multiple times. Or, at least for me, numbers bore me to tears—hand me a financial spreadsheet and my eyes will glaze over. Any time some one gives a financial report I feel like I’m listening to the teacher in a Charlie Brown cartoon, “Wah wah wah, wonk wonk wonk.” It’s all pops and buzzes to me.
My own issues with boredom aside, I cannot stress enough the importance of good churchmanship. In other words, as boring as these meetings can sometimes be, it is vital that ministers are engaged in other levels of churchly ministry. Yes, the local congregation is important and is the most common venue where you will find a minister serving. However, important matters are often discussed and deliberated at the presbyterial and synodical levels. One of the more common ways to serve is on the various committees at the presbytery or general assembly—foreign missions, home missions, Christian education, judicial, appeals and complaints, and the like. Denominations establish committees, for example, that deal with the broader life of the church.
The United Churches of North America (URCNA) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) are currently in the process of creating a new Psalter-Hymnal. The work of this committee is important and, if approved, will likely shape the worship and theology of the next generation. This is just one example as to how serving at the level of presbytery or general assembly can impact the life of the church. Yes, you have been called to serve in a local congregation, but you have been ultimately called by Christ to serve the church at large, and being a good churchman is one way that you can carry out this aspect of your pastoral ministry.
Meditations on the Larger Catechism, pt. 25
The Necessity of a Divine Mediator
“No offence, but Muslims love Jesus as much as Christians do.” On December 19, 2001, this is how John Casey, a Cambridge scholar, entitled an article in the Telegraph on the issue of Christian and Muslim theology. How could he make such a claim? The the Qu’ran teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin, was sinless, was a prophet, worked miracles, ascended into heaven, and is coming again to judge the living and the dead. Yet there is something missing from that description. There is no crucifixion or resurrection. What else? According to the Qu’ran, Jesus is not divine.
The big question, then, is whether it is necessary that our mediator between God and us be divine? In a word, the answer is yes, for without divinity he could not be our Savior. Why? The Scriptures teach that only God can save: “I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior” (Isa. 43:11). For Jesus Christ to save us from our sins he must be God.
We see this in Q&A 38 of the Larger Catechism, which weaves together a tapestry of biblical doctrines about The Necessity of a Divine Mediator.
To Sustain His Human Nature
The necessity of our mediator being divine is to sustain his human nature: “that he might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God, and the power of death” (Q&A 38). This means that since every sin against an infinite God must receive an infinite punishment, even if a sinless man like Jesus wholly kept the law his entire life in thought, word, and deed, he would not be able to bear the weight of God’s punishment against the sins of the world. All his life and especially at the end when he carried our cross through the streets and on the cross, Jesus was bearing our sins. This was like having the weight of the world upon him. And on top of that the punishment of God’s justice was added, which was like a final weight to crush anything underneath it. No human, however perfect, is able to bear that weight. Only God can sustain the weight of God’s wrath.
To Give Worth to His Work
Jesus’ divinity is also able to “give worth and efficacy to his sufferings, obedience, and intercession” (Q&A 38). Even if Jesus obeyed, his obedience would only be a human, creaturely, and therefore finite obedience. An infinite justice needs to be satisfied with an infinite payment. Therefore as divine, Jesus’ obedience, death, and intercession has eternal worth. Because of this, you can trust him to completely and sufficiently satisfy your eternal needs of salvation. As we sing,
“My hope is built on nothing less,
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”
To Satisfy God’s Justice
Not only does the divinity of our mediator allow him to sustain the wrath of God and give worth to his self-offering, it also allows him to “satisfy God’s justice” (Q&A 38). An infinite God has an infinite justice towards every sin. This is why in the law the Lord God prescribed all the various the offerings that his people could bring, to cover their sins and to give them hope. But because these were continually offered day after day, year after year, generation after generation, one final sacrifice that had the intrinsic ability to satisfy this justice had to come. And it did in Jesus. Do you realize that without the infinite merit of a divine-man mediator you are still in your sins? This is not just a doctrine; this is what determines your destiny.
To Procure God’s Favor
Another reason our mediator must necessarily be divine is “that he might…procure God’s favor” (Q&A 38). Since only the Lord himself can save, only the Lord can bring us into a state of grace. As Paul says in Romans 8:3–4, what the law could not do God has done by sending his Son. If Jesus is not divine then you can have no assurance that you have had God’s favor earned for you. You will be in perpetual doubt, wondering if it was accomplished, if Jesus’ words, “It is finished,” apply to you.
To Purchase a People
His divinity also means that he was able to “purchase a people” (Q&A 38). Who saved Israel out of Egypt? The Lord certainly used Moses but he was only a means, a minister. The Lord saved them (Ex. 20:2). The prophet Isaiah uses the language of the Exodus to describe how the Lord would save his people again (Isa. 63:7–64:12). Jude mentions that “again,” writing, “Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt” (Jude 5). Just before that Jude called Jesus “our only Master and Lord” (Jude 4). Jesus is the assurance to us that we who believe are a part of his people, his church.
To Give the Spirit
He is necessarily divine so that he is able to “give the Spirit to [us]” (Q&A 38). When he was exalted at the right hand of God, as the God-man, he received the Spirit to then send down to his church (Acts 2:33) to do the wonderful work of drawing sinners into the church. As those who trust in our divine Savior, we are filled not with a spirit of fear, but the Spirit of God, who is a Spirit of power, and of love, and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7).
To Conquer Our Enemies
As God, Jesus our mediator is also to “conquer all [our] enemies” (Q&A 38). At his crucifixion he conquered the Devil (John 12:31; Col. 2:15), at his resurrection he conquered death (1 Cor. 15:54–57), and at his ascension he conquered all powers arrayed against us (1 Peter 3:18–22). Without a divine mediator doing this, we would live in fear of death, the Devil, and hell. But as the writer to the Hebrews teaches us, our powerful Savior has destroyed us from the devil, who held the power of death, and freed us from the fear of death in which we lived as slaves (Heb. 2:14–15).
To Bring us to Everlasting Salvation
Finally, our mediator needs to be divine so “that he might…bring [us] to everlasting salvation” (Q&A 38). His divinity has sustained the wrath of God against him because of our sins. His divinity gave infinite value to his work on our behalf. His divinity has satisfied God’s eternal justice against our sins. His divinity has procured God’s favor of us. His divinity has purchased us to be a part of his people. His divinity has given us the Holy Spirit. His divinity has conquered all foes against us. And his divinity makes him able to “save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him” (Heb. 7:25). Our divine Jesus not only brings us eternal life already in this life, preserves us in that eternal life, and will one day persevere through us to the end and bring us beyond the gates of splendor.
Why is it important for Jesus to be God? Without this being his identity, you would have no Savior.
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church
A Pastor’s Reflections: Family or Church First?
One of the challenges that pastors face is the dilemma of when to put family or church first. Many within the church never face this dilemma. When there is a church event or function it doesn’t really register in the minds of many, and if there is a scheduling conflict, family always comes first. If there’s a soccer game for one of the kids, well, they will miss the church picnic—there’s hardly a thought given to choosing one over the other. For the pastor, on the other hand, the dilemma appears quite regularly.
Unlike the member of the congregation, the minister typically has to be at most every church function. Unlike the member of the church, the pastor has many other duties to serve the church that will take him away from his family, such as session or consistory meetings, pastoral visits, counseling sessions, meetings of presbytery or classis, and meetings of general assembly or synod. In a number of these scenarios the tyranny of the urgent can also press in. The pastor will frequently face people who desperately need help immediately or the emergency session meeting comes without notice because a problem has quickly arisen in the church, and like a fire, is burning out of control. The pastor’s daughter may have a soccer game, and regrettably, the pastor will have to miss the game due to the scheduling conflict. The pressure upon the pastor in these scenarios is greater, I believe, than the layman’s job. It’s one thing to turn down a late-night meeting for work because money-making can wait. It’s entirely another thing to turn down an emergency counseling appointment with someone who has just lost a child to suicide. I liken the pastor’s calling to an ER doctor—sometimes time is of the essence in a way somewhat differently than for other vocations. So what is the pastor to do?
First, the pastor needs to be acutely aware of the needs of his family and church. He can never assume that his family can suffer absence. There are too many pastors out there who have neglected their family to serve the church and have paid a costly price—it should be no surprise that PK’s (preacher’s kids) are some of the biggest hell-raisers out there—their fathers are seldom present. On the other hand, the pastorate, unlike other vocations, is a regular call to die to one’s self and to carry the cross of ministry—the pastorate involves sacrifice. The pastor’s family will undoubtedly have to sacrifice the presence and participation in family life in ways that other families in the church will not. Given the challenges of the pastorate, I have heard on numerous occasions, and I have asked the question myself, candidates for the ministry asked: “Is your wife supportive of your pursuit of ordained ministry?” If the wife is unwilling to sacrifice, then a man’s ministry is usually hobbled from the outset and often doomed.
Second, you and your wife should discuss and prioritize your schedule regularly. Do not assume that everything is ok at home and that you can always run off to minister to others. If you make this assumption you can quickly find yourself coming home to a house in tatters and have to take a leave of absence or even demit the ministry to tend to your wife and children. I have seen this happen multiple times. If you don’t take care of the church under your roof, chances are your family and your ministry will suffer.
Third, as a member of the church, be mindful of the pressures that are placed upon the pastor and his family. Ensure that he is able to spend quality time with them. Does the pastor have adequate time for vacation? Does he have the finances to get away? It just might be necessary to tell your pastor, “We’ll be fine—you need to go to your son’s baseball game and spend some time with your family.” There will always be church fellowships and meals, but the window of opportunity for a pastor to minister to his own children is a narrow one.
In the end, setting priorities calls for wisdom, but there is a sense in which the pastor must put his family first. If his own house is not in order, then he will be unable to minister to others.
Follow Office Hours!
The Season 4 series of Office Hours entitled "Jesus is Really Better" is past the halfway mark! If you haven't been tuning in, now is the time to do so! Grab your bible and follow along with our host, Dr. R. Scott Clark, and various faculty members of Westminster Seminary California.
Listen to these episodes, and catch up with Season 4 here:
Introduction to Hebrews with S. M. Baugh
Hebrews 1 with S. M. Baugh
Hebrews 1-2 with Dennis E. Johnson
Hebrews 2:1-13 with Dennis E. Johnson
Hebrews 2:14-18 with Joel E. Kim
Hebrews 3:1-6 with Joel E. Kim
Hebrews 3:7-4:13 (Part I) with W. Robert Godfrey
Hebrews 3:7-4:13 (Part II) with W. Robert Godfrey
Hebrews 4-5:10 with W. Robert Godfrey
Hebrews 5:11-6:12 with David M. VanDrunen and Michael S. Horton
Hebrews 6:13-7:10 with Dennis E. Johnson
Hebrews 7:11-18 with Dennis E. Johnson
You can also listen to every previous episode with our WSC Media mobile application for iPhone and Android.
Subscribe to Office Hours in iTunes.
Listen to all the episodes here!
Latest Office Hours! Hebrews 7:11-17 with Dennis Johnson
The Season 4 series of Office Hours entitled "Jesus is Really Better" continues. This episode features Dr. Dennis E. Johnson, Professor of Practical Theology, who takes us through Hebrews 7:11-17.
You can find this episode here!
Meditations on the Larger Catechism, pt. 24
How Did God Become Man?
“Jesus Christ is the sum and quintessence of the gospel; the wonder of angels; the joy and triumph of saints” (Watson, A Body of Divinity, 161). He is, as we saw in Q&A 36, the mediator of the covenant of grace between God and man. The question for us to meditate upon is how did he become this mediator?
In turning to the Gospel narratives, recognize something startling about what they say concerning Jesus’ birth. Neither Mark nor John chronicles the birth of our Lord. Mark, in fact, jumps right into the action with John the Baptist and Jesus at the Jordan River. John begins his Gospel “in the beginning” and then says “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) before moving into the testimony of John the Baptist to Jesus. Only Matthew and Luke, then, deal with Jesus’ birth, that is, how the Son of God was born in human flesh to be our mediator.
Let me say a word about this since you will no doubt watch some documentary type shows during the Christmas television season. Most often than naught these shows will be littered with critical and radical scholars who doubt that Jesus was even born. They will use the so-called “different” accounts above as evidence of this: “Don’t you see, Mark and John don’t even mention his birth, while Matthew just says it happened, but then in Luke you have an angel announcing the whole thing.” Let me assure you that this is the Word of the Lord and that these accounts are not contradictory but complimentary.
The question we need to meditate upon, therefore, is How Did God Become Man?
According to the Will of God
How did God become man? The first aspect of the answer is that it was according to the will of God. We see this in these words: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God” (Luke 1:26). That little phrase, “sent from God,” certainly reveals to us that everything that is about to be accomplished is the will of God.
What is the will of God? It helps us finite creatures to distinguish between his decretive will and his preceptive will. His decretive will is a way of saying everything he determined in his secret council in eternity while his preceptive will is everything he desires and reveals. With the birth of our Lord we are dealing both with God’s decretive will, which he determined from before the foundation of the world, and his perceptive will that is revealed to us in the pages of the Word.
God’s will, then, is eternal. Just to pause and ponder the fact that before there was time and before there was anything else but God, God thought of us should absolutely humble us, should absolutely fill us with awe, and should absolutely fill us with praise.
And since this will is God’s will, it is immutable, that is, it is unchanging and immovable. The devil certainly wanted to change the course of history, yet God’s will remains the same.
By the Power of the Holy Spirit
How did God become man? The second aspect of the answer is that it was by the power of the Holy Spirit. You see, Gabriel promised some pretty stupendous things in Luke 1:30–33: you will conceive, you will bear a son, he will be great, and he will sit on David’s throne. There was only one slight problem: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) In fact, Mary was betrothed to Joseph and they had not yet consummated their marriage. You see there were really two problems.
First, how would the Son of God become a man unless he was born of a woman? This is why the Holy Spirit was needed as the agent of conception. We read in Luke 1:35, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”
Second, how would the Son of God remain untainted from sin if he were born of a woman? There are only two options. First, we can say that Mary was immaculately conceived herself, and that she was free from original and actual sin. This is the view of Rome. Second, we can let God be God and understand that the Holy Spirit’s ineffable work was precisely to keep Jesus from sin.
What this shows us is how far God would go to secure our redemption. He works through means but he also works above means. He worked through means by sending his Son to be born of a virgin, as the prophet Isaiah proclaimed, but the Lord also worked above means in conceiving in Mary in a miraculous way. Behold your God, my friend!
Through the Means of Mary
How did God become man? The third aspect of the answer is that it was through the means of Mary. Let me focus in on the aspect that God worked through the ordinary means of childbirth to bring his eternal Son into the world he originally made.
I want you to notice the language of the Catechism where it says that the Son of God “[took] to himself a true body” (Q&A 37). Why this precise language of “true” body? This guards us against the Docetists of the ancient church and even some Anabaptists during the Reformation, who either said Jesus only appeared to be a human or that his humanity was not like ours, but was “celestial flesh.”
Notice also the precise language in Q&A 37 of “a reasonable soul.” What is that all about? A reasonable or rational soul is a way of saying he was and is truly human not only in body, but in every way we cannot see. This became an issue back in the fifth century with a popular teacher by the name of Apolinarius. He taught that in the Incarnation the Son of God assumed a true human body and what he called a lower soul. This meant he was like all other creatures with a body as well as some immaterial aspect to his being. But instead of what is called a rational or reasonable soul, which is what distinguishes us from animals, Apolinarius said the eternal Word took the place of that higher soul. In the end, this meant that Jesus Christ had less of the humanity that we have.
Notice also that the Catechism says the Son was born “of her substance, and born of her” (Q&A 37), meaning, Mary. The angel said the Son would be conceived “in your womb” and born of her, and Elizabeth praised Mary and “the fruit of your womb.” What this means it that Jesus derived his human nature from his mother, Mary, and therefore is like unto us in every way, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).
This is our mediator—truly God and truly man. He is our gospel; he is our wonder; he is our joy; he is our triumph.
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church
Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (1692; repr., Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 2000).
And the winners for the Horton Book giveaway are . . . (drumroll)
And the winners for the Horton Pilgrim Theology book giveaway are . . .
Justin C. of La Mesa, California and Tad G. of Grand Haven, Michigan
Congratulations! And thanks for all of the entries we received! For our winners, your books will go out in the post very shortly. We hope you all continue to read VFT!
Recommended Reading: Unity and Continuity in Covenantal Thought
J. V. Fesko
One of the regular questions I receive is, What book would you recommend to study the history of covenant theology? Up until now there have been very few books that took a comprehensive survey of covenantal thought in Reformed theology in the 16th and 17th centuries. There have been some books on individual figures, which are certainly helpful, but nothing comprehensive. I can now say that this gap in historical theology has been ably filled by Andrew Woolsey in his Unity and Continuity in Covenantal Thought: A Study of the Reformed Tradition to the Westminster Assembly, recently published by Reformation Heritage Books.
Woosley's book was originally his two-volume doctoral dissertation written at the University of Glasgow in the late-80's. Though many works of this period were marked by the Calvin vs. the Calvinist argument, one that has now been thoroughly disproven, Woosley's work happily avoids this unfortunate cul de sac.
If you're interested, you can pick up a copy of the book here. I've read it cover to cover and found it an engaging and interesting read.
Tolle et lege! Take up and read!
Seminary: a Wife’s Perspective
By Gina Davis
Seminary has been one of the best experiences for our family. My husband Nick began attending Westminster Seminary California three months before we got married and has a year and a half left. I love our life as a seminary family for many reasons. Not only because I have met some of my best friends here, but I also have seen my husband transform into such an amazing man and have been able to learn so much from him being a student. Before Calvin (our son) was born I was working at the front office of the seminary and also at the White Horse Inn on campus. Being able to meet and interact with Nick’s professors, the staff, and the families of the school has helped me to further appreciate the training he is receiving.
With this life of being a seminary wife comes many challenges as well. I have watched my husband spend entire nights writing papers for multiple classes, study for finals with a mound of books surrounding him, have seen him stress and pray over sermon prep for 80 + hours every time he is asked to exhort and have helped him with hundreds of flash cards for both Greek and Hebrew. It also means being ok with your dining room table, dressers, coffee table, car, trunk, and nightstand being cluttered with books on a daily basis. Being a seminary wife means being able to realize that although Nick does not have a single full-time “job” and spends much of his time at school studying, he is in a season of preparation for what we believe the Lord has called him to. I can remember many nights where I would be mad at Nick for studying or not working more, but by God’s grace I have now embraced this season and have even grown to love it! I find myself now dreading the idea of him not being in seminary and I also never look forward to graduation each May because that means some of our closest friends must graduate.
Yes seminary is very demanding and time consuming, but watching Nick read God’s Word to Calvin and hearing him ask “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” I am further reminded of how sweet it is and what a blessing it is to have a husband who desires to serve the Lord and his family. Lord-willing one day I will be able to hear my husband preach the Gospel each Sunday and I know that the preparation and training he is receiving at Westminster is vital for him to be able to preach and teach God’s Word for such a time as that. Until/If that time comes I will enjoy him leading us in family worship and having conversations with him about what he is going through in class.
Even if your husband is not in seminary, I am sure you have had to endure the sacrifices of being a wife to a sinner. Everyday I battle with being patient, understanding, and kind to him despite how my day has gone. My prayer is that God would continue to sanctify me through my marriage and through this season of our life together.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Everyone Doesn’t Respond the Same Way
Our culture places a high premium on tears. Watch a Barbara Walters or Oprah Winfrey interview of someone who is confessing a great wrongdoing and people will tune in to wait for the water-works. If a person confesses to a crime but doesn’t shed a tear, people will likely question the person’s honesty and transparency because their eyes were dry. I think a similar mindset exists in the church. If the pastor preaches a powerful sermon or if the congregation sings a powerful hymn or psalm, I think people expect to see tears. After all, if you’re emotionally moved, you’ll naturally cry, right? If you don’t cry, then quite obviously you’re emotionally bottled-up and refuse to let the Spirit take hold of you.
As common as such sentiments might be, I think they are entirely wrong-headed. I know, I know, some will read this and think that I’m out to defend the frigid temperatures of worshipping among the “frozen chosen,” a moniker that Reformed churches have picked up for their style of worship—we don’t clap, cry, say Amen, or emote in any way—worship is an intellectual exercise! Far from it. Rather, after serving in the pastorate for quite some time I have found that for every person there is a different way of responding to God’s word, whether in its reading, preaching, or singing. Yes, I would see people moved to tears from the pulpit. On the other hand, I would see people sitting quietly, seemingly unaffected by the word. Yet, those same people would come to me after the worship service and tell me how much the word of God moved and stirred their hearts. I always held a poker face (that’s very important in the pastorate), but as they would tell me this I did my best to hide my surprise. I often thought, “Really?! You were moved? I couldn’t tell!”
But that’s the whole point—every one is different and not everyone will respond in the same way. If you place an emotional straight-jacket on your church and expect people to conform to certain norms, you will be quickly disappointed and mis-read your congregation. The Scriptures speak of people who shed many tears, but their sorrow wasn’t genuine (Heb. 12:17). Tears are not the sacrament of a changed heart, the visible sign and seal of an anguished and healed soul. Hence, get to know the people in your congregation individually and pray that the Lord would move them to praise, repentance, or whatever response is appropriate regardless of how many tears they might or might not shed.
Meditations on the Larger Catechism, pt. 23
The Mediator of the Covenant of Grace
Although the Westminster Assembly did not choose to use the text of the Apostles’ Creed and to exposit its individual articles within its two catechisms, the Larger Catechism still follows the structure of the Creed. Having dealt with the Triune nature of God (Q&A 7–11) and the works of God the Father (Q&A 12–35), the Catechism now deals with the works of God the Son (Q&A 36–56).
In particular, Q&A 36 speaks of the Son of God as The Mediator of the Covenant of Grace.
The Problem to Knowing Him
When question 36 begins by asking, “Who is the Mediator of the covenant of grace?” it is vital for us to pause and consider the problem of knowing this Mediator. There are so many doctrines, ideas, and theories about the identity of Jesus Christ. It has been so ever since the days of the apostles. When Paul wrote to young pastor Timothy in Ephesus, he instructed Timothy to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies” (1 Tim. 1:3–4). There were all sorts of doctrines running rampant through Ephesian culture, least of which was the nature of God and how he saves humanity. Again, Paul stated that “certain persons, by swerving from [the goals of his good doctrine], have wandered away into vain discussion” (1 Tim. 1:6).
The problems we face in knowing the truth about the Mediator come in the form of Islam, which says Jesus was born of a virgin but that he was a mere man. It comes in the form of Mormonism, which says Jesus is the spirit brother of Lucifer as well as a separate divine being. It comes in the form of Jehovah’s Witness doctrine, which outright denies the eternal divinity of the Son. It comes in the form of “prosperity” Christianity, which uses Jesus as a magic incantation for sordid gain.
This is why Paul exhorted Timothy, and all Christians like him, to “wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience” (1:18–19). Are you a spectator of this war or a soldier in it?
The Proclamation of Knowing Him
Paul also went on to proclaim that we can know this Mediator, saying, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). What does this mean? In calling him a “mediator,” Paul utilizes covenantal language. In covenants there are two parties or sides. In the covenant of grace there is God on the one side, so to speak, and as Q&A 31 already said, there is Christ and in him all the elect on the other side. This describes the covenant in its most pure essence. In terms of its administration, Paul speaks simply to us sinners for our benefit, saying the two parties are God and man. Hence the Catechism says, “The only Mediator of the covenant of grace is the Lord Jesus Christ.”
How can we know God? Through Jesus Christ in the bond of fellowship we call a covenant. In calling him a mediator, this means Jesus Christ represents us as humans before the God who not only has made us, but who invites us into his covenant.
But why does Paul say the mediator between God and man is “the man Christ Jesus?” This is such a fascinating description for our benefit. Paul speaks this way in order to assure and comfort us sinners. How so? First, by calling him “the man Christ Jesus,” he has a point of contact with us who are human. God is the Creator, we are the creatures; God is infinite, we are finite. He is different than us. But we can come to know him through means of a mediator who is like us. Jesus Christ is the one whom, “in the fullness of time became man” (Q&A 36; citing Gal 4:4). Second, by calling him the “one mediator,” we are assured that Jesus Christ knows how to represent us before the “one God.” He can stand between God and us on God’s terms as a perfect man. He knows how to represent us as sinners before a holy God. He knows how to represent us and all of our needs before the God who can meet them all. Third, this also means that he can represent God to us, lowly sinners. How? Because he is also true and eternal God. As the Catechism says, summarizing a plethora of Scripture, he is “the eternal Son of God, of one substance and equal with the Father” (Q&A 36).
As our divine and human mediator, we have one to stand between God and us who “was and continues to be God and man, in two entire distinct natures, and one person, for ever” (Q&A 36). What a God we have! What a mediator we have!
The Purpose for Knowing Him
Finally, as we meditate on the truth of who our mediator is, this motivates us to meditate on the life we calls us to live. What is the purpose for knowing our mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ?
First, we are called to a life of faith. Paul speaks of faith as the act by which we embrace Jesus Christ to be our mediator, but he also speaks of faith as an ongoing activity of the Christian life. Knowing the Savior savingly means having a “sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5).
Second, we are called to a life of love. As Paul says, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart” (1 Tim. 1:5). Love to Christ and love to our neighbors is the result of the cleansing of our hearts by the mediator’s work on our behalf. He loved you so; do you love him? He loves his people so; do you love them?
Third, we are called to a life of perseverance. Are you “holding faith and a good conscience” (1 Tim. 1:19)? Are you continuing to place faith in the mediator? Are you continuing to love him? The Christian who is drawn into covenantal relations with God as Father through the mediator, Jesus Christ, enters a lifelong pilgrimage from one degree of faith to another in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church
Faculty Conference Audio and Video
If you didn't get a chance to come to WSC's recent faculty conference this past January, fear not! We have just uploaded our faculty conference video and audio. You can find it here.
Click on the link and watch or listen! There are some terrific addresses on the importance and significance of the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism.
If you like these videos, pass the link on to your friends and family--hit that "Like" button like a little kid beating a wack-a-mole at an amusement park arcade!
Recommended Pastoral Reading, pt. 1
Recommended Pastoral Reading
By Rev. Andrew Compton and Rev. Shane Lems
A good book is sometimes a pastor’s best friend. Books don’t fall asleep during sermons, they don’t bicker with one another, and they generally sit quietly in a room not bothering anyone. Of course, pastors aren’t called to shepherd books, but people. Yet a good book encourages, teaches, challenges, and sometimes even convicts a pastor and helps him shepherd God’s people more biblically and effectively. A good book is like a teacher.
In this series of web articles, we are going to share with readers some books that have been instrumental in our own pastoral ministries. We hope to recommend books that cover topics such as a pastor’s personal life, his shepherding duties, preaching, church life, and also other topics such as theology and history.
Obviously our recommendations are limited; no doubt many of our readers could come up with a list of their own. However, sometimes pastors need book suggestions from fellow pastors. This list is geared toward that end.
Part 1: The Pastor’s Christian Life
Thomas Watson, The Godly Man’s Picture (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1999).
This is a masterpiece by Watson that explains the many different characteristics of a godly man. For pastors, these are characteristics to pray for and strive towards – characteristics and Christian virtues that Watson draws from Scripture. Read this book and mark it up well; it will also be a good resource for preaching on the topic of godliness.
Thomas Murphy, Pastoral Theology (Willow Street: Old Paths Publications, 2001).
Although a bit dated (published 1877), this book by Murphy is something like a short seminary course on the pastoral ministry put into writing. In chapters 1-3, Murphy discussed topics such as pastoral piety, prayer, and study. These three chapters (along with the rest of the book) continue to be a great resource for the pastor in his Christian life.
John Newton, Letters of John Newton (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2007).
My first exposure to Newton’s writing was in a small book that contained several of his previously published letters. Since they magnified God’s grace and were written in such a pastoral manner, I ended up purchasing Newton’s Works so I could read many more of his letters. Wherever you may find Newton’s letters, I strongly encourage fellow pastors to purchase, read, and mark them. In them you will find the writings of a wise Christian pastor who very much understood what it means that God saves sinners. An added bonus of Newton’s writing is his discussion of his own spiritual ups and downs as a pastor, and how he fought through them by God’s preserving grace.
William Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002).
A pastor needs to have his pastoral furniture thrown around now and again. Willimon’s book does just that. We pastors shouldn’t just read books that preach to the choir, so to speak. Written from a Barthian-Methodist perspective, this book will not leave readers with a warm fuzzy, but it will provoke some great pastoral thoughts. I appreciated Willimon’s chapters on 21st century ministry and the pastor as disciplined Christian.
Tim Chester, The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness (Nottingham: IVP, 2006).
Three words that unfortunately fit in the same sentence are “pastor” and “too busy.” Since we live in a world where people are entirely too busy, the pastor should lead the way in redeeming the time and not lose his head in busyness. This book will help a pastor redeem the time in a biblical way. In fact, it is helpful enough that it makes me want to do a brief sermon series on the topic. I encourage pastors to get this book to help them avoid being caught up in the rat race. (By the way, there is a place and time for leisure in the pastor’s life.)
Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2007).
This excellent book by Bridges will help pastors fight the sins that are so prevalent and common in many Christian lives – including their own. In Respectable Sins, Bridges discusses the sins we tolerate such as anger, anxiety, discontentment, worldliness, and so forth. As usual, Bridges also explains how the gospel helps us fight these sins. This book is helpful because it essentially will help the pastor get the log out of his own eye and teach others how to do so as well – with Christ front and center.
William Bridge, A Lifting Up for the Downcast (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2001).
Psalm 42.11 is the biblical touchstone for this book by Puritan William Bridge. Since a pastor will go through temptations, affliction, dark valleys, and violent storms in his ministry, he needs to prepare ahead of time for such difficulties. Though not exactly easy to read in every part, there is enough wisdom in this book that I recommend it as a sort of help to persevere through spiritually difficult times in the pastoral life.
Andreas Kostenberger, Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011).
I appreciated this book because it has everything to do with being a solid Christian scholar-theologian. Pastors should be both scholars and theologians, but there is a wrong way to go about these tasks – and there is a right way. Kostenberger does a fine job applying biblical principles to the area of study, writing, and “doing” theology and research. Pastors should get this book to help them to be solid, levelheaded, and wise scholar-theologians.
Quentin Schultze, Habits of the High Tech Heart (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002).
Pastors have to know how to use and view technology, from smart phones to Skype to sears.com. Not only should pastors know how to use technology so they will not be used by it, they should also be able to give wise advice about this topic to parishioners. Schultze’s book is a great resource on how to use technology with wisdom and moderation. I would like to see an updated edition of the book, since much has changed in the last ten years, but the book is still a great place to start when thinking of technology and ethics.
Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1983).
Bridges was an Anglican minister in England who wrote this work on pastoral ministry in 1830. It is one of the most thorough, biblical, and practical books ever written on this topic. Bridges discusses many different aspects of the pastoral ministry including the origins, the call, the work, the trials, the successes, the failures, the studies, and so on. It is rather difficult to read in some places, but since it is well outlined and brief in some places, it is a good resource to slowly work through part by part. This is one of my favorite pastoral ministry books.
Samuel T. Logan (ed.), The Preacher and Preaching: Reviving the Art in the Twentieth Century (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1986).
This edited volume wears a number of hats in the pastor’s library. As it relates to the aim of this post, chapters 1-4 are especially appropriate. The chapters are “The Minister’s Call” by Joel Nederhood, “The Preacher and Piety” by Erroll Hulse, “The Preacher and Scholarship” by James Montgomery Boice, and “The Whole Man” by R.C. Sproul. As time passes and we get into the routine of our work, it is easy to lose sight of the weighty nature of our calling. Reading a chapter from this volume every couple of weeks prevents us from missing the forest for the trees. Meeting preparation, bulletin printing, visitation, denominational business – even counseling and sermon preparation can become the individual trees in our work. How important it is to see them yet again as part of the forest of this great calling!
Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker, A Portrait of Paul: Identifying a True Minister of Christ (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010).
Writing in the Puritan tradition, Ventura and Walker examine Colossians 1:24-2:5 in an effort to better understand how the Apostle Paul himself viewed his own ministerial task. With careful exegesis, vivid prosody, and concrete application, they help us to see how our pastoral work is not so far removed Paul’s. Certainly he had an apostolic call that we do not, but Paul’s pastoral ministry has more overlap with our own than it might seem given the nearly 2000 years that separate us. Ventura and Walker offer a challenge to pastors to pursue excellence in our calling so that we might best honor Christ and that we might best shepherd his flock.
Benjamin B. Warfield, The Religious Life of Theological Students (Published as a pamphlet by P&R Publishing, and as part of Warfield’s Selected Shorter Writings, edited by John E. Meeter and also published by P&R Publishing).
Recently John Piper and D.A. Carson wrote the book, The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor. And yet just over a century ago, Warfield delivered an address at Princeton Theological Seminary describing a similar reality: pastors are called to be learned and academic, as well as godly and pastoral. In this short piece, Warfield encourages us to go about our work as a distinctly “religious exercise.” As we deal so regularly with divine things and thereby face temptation to view those things as common, Warfield warns us that this is a great danger. And yet he notes that it is only a danger because it is a great privilege. Oh that our studies might never fill our minds without also penetrating deeply into our hearts!
Latest Office Hours! Hebrews 6:13-7:10 with Dennis Johnson
The Season 4 series of Office Hours entitled "Jesus is Really Better" continues. This episode features Dr. Dennis E. Johnson, Professor of Practical Theology, who takes us through Hebrews 6:13-7:10.
You can find this episode here!
A Pastor’s Reflections: Listen to your Wife
The role of the wife in your pastoral ministry should always be unofficial. In other words, it’s important to remember that you, not her, are the one who has been called and ordained by the church to serve as a pastor. On the other hand, your wife has a unique unofficial function that many others serving in other vocations do not have. For most men, their wives do not regularly accompany them to work, ever. For the pastor, while there are session meetings and counseling sessions where his wife is absent, his wife goes with him to work every week! The wife will typically attend church with her husband which means that she is at work with her husband—she sees many of the same things that the pastor sees, but from a different perspective, and at other times, she will see many things the pastor will never see.
Let me illustrate this observation with several examples. My wife would sometimes serve in the nursery during the worship service. She saw what happened in the nursery when I could not—I was in the sanctuary leading the worship service and preaching. She would alert me to things, such as certain individuals always serving in the nursery, which meant that they wouldn’t be in the church service. Or she would alert me to some mothers congregating in the nursery during the worship service—they were basically playing hooky. Keep in mind, my wife wasn’t purposefully spying or investigating but simply alerting me to things I wouldn’t normally see. I was able to take appropriate steps to address these issues.
In another instance, my wife alerted me to problems in a family long before I ever received formal notification. To put it simply, women see things somewhat differently than men do. There are many things in this life to which men are blind and literally bumble around. Men can be unaware, for example, that a woman is flirting with them—this is something that a wife can instantaneously spot a country mile away. Along these lines, my wife spotted one of the wives in our church one Sunday—this woman’s clothes were a bit more form-fitting than usual, her hair was done-up very nicely, she was wearing make-up, more so than usual, and my wife noted that she had slimmed down. I just thought she was dressed nicely, my wife, on the other hand, privately and discreetly told me, “If I were a betting woman, I’d say she was having an affair.” At first, I was surprised and thought my wife was being a little too judgmental, so we talked about it and she explained that to see dramatic changes like that in a woman’s dress, comportment, and weight was often an indicator that other things were going on in her life. I left the conversation unconvinced and told no one else about it. Six months later I was surprised and a bit chagrined that my wife was correct. This woman eventually personally confessed to the session that she was engaged in an affair and that it started around the time that my wife had noted her change in appearance.
All of this is to say, for those of you who are married and are in the pastorate or headed there, I suspect one of the reasons why you married your wife was because you value her judgment and wisdom. It would be foolish, therefore, to ignore what she has to say about the things she observes in the church. You do not have to divulge or break any confidences in order to be a good listener, to listen to what your wife has to say about what she observes in the church. You don’t have to ask your wife what she observes either. You simply have to engage your wife in regular conversation about life in the church and then listen to what she has to say. Chances are you will find valuable observations and insights to which you are blind or lack the ability to perceive.
And our winners are . . . (drumroll)
Today we're announcing our winners for the book giveaway of Dr. Fesko's Christian's Pocket Guide to Growing in Holiness: Understanding Sanctification. Congratulations to Ronnie B. of Lillburn, Georgia and Bob H. of Bethlehem, Pensylvania! Your books are on their way!
For those of you who didn't win, thanks for submitting your entries and don't fret. There still another opportunity to win. If you've already entered, then you're still entered for our next book giveaway. What is it, you ask?
Wait for it . . . we've got two copies of Dr. Horton's latest book, Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples. If you haven't yet entered for a chance to win a book, you can find the entry form here.
We'll let this contest run for the next week and close our entry period by next Tuesday, and we'll announce our winners shortly after that.
Meditations on the Larger Catechism, pt. 22
One Bible, Two Testaments
For many of us who have discovered the Reformed expression of the Christian faith after years in other traditions, “covenant theology” was one of the most eye-opening facets of it. It was more than just another part of theology, though. It was like getting a new pair of glasses. The old way we saw the Bible with Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament was like an old, worn out pair of glasses with scratches and lots of scuff marks. This new pair allowed us to see clearly that our one Bible has two complementary testaments.
Of course many will say that this is a theological grid that we’ve imposed upon the Bible. We can take heart, though, that our ancient forefathers such as Justin Martyr and the Epistle of Barnabus viewed the scriptural understanding of its own diversity within unity. During the Reformation men such as Heinrich Bullinger and John Calvin read the Bible in this way to explain how Old Testament saints were saved and why we baptize children, speaking of the one covenant of grace despite varied times and places in which that covenant was expressed.
The Westminster Larger Catechism follows this ancient Christian and classic Protestant way of reading the Bible, of seeing God’s one story with its various acts. What it says is that we have One Bible, Two Testaments.
First, when you read your Bible, recognize its unity. There is one covenant of grace, that is, one plan and story of God the Creator becoming the Redeemer of sinful humanity.
One example of this is in Romans 11. In seeking to answer the conundrum that because most Jews rejected Jesus this meant God’s promises failed, Paul gives two images to describe God’s ancient promises to the Israelites and the fulfillment of them to the Gentiles: “If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches” (Rom. 11:16). These images both are meant to impress upon us the unity of God’s work from ancient times through the present.
The first image is that of bread. If the firstfruits of the dough is holy, then the entire batch of bread is holy. There is one batch of dough. Like a baker, God cuts off the first portion to make a loaf; if it is acceptable, then the entire batch will be acceptable. This is his way of saying that God has one plan of salvation. Those whom he called to be his holy people, beginning with Abram, and all those to follow partake of the same calling, the same salvation.
The second image is that of a tree. If the roots of a tree are holy, then the entire trunk and branches are holy. The roots are the patriarchs; the branches are all who draw nourishment from them. Paul goes on to explain in more detail this image in verses 17–24. Despite the fact that there are two kinds of branches, natural (Jew) and wild (Gentile), the wild branches that are grafted onto the tree in place of those natural branches pruned off because of unbelief partake of the same roots.
The theological truth of this is that when we read our Bibles from Old through the New Testaments, we are reading the story of one God, one Savior, one means of salvation through faith, and therefore one people despite their chronological, geographical, and racial differences.
This is not to diminish diversity. This one covenant of grace is administered by God and lived by his people in distinct ways throughout the story of the Bible. As the Catechism says, “The covenant of grace was not always administered after the same manner, but the administrations of it under the Old Testament were different from those under the New” (Q&A 33).
In the Old Testament
When the Catechism speaks of “the Old Testament” it is speaking of everything in the story prior to the coming of Christ, from God’s first promise in Genesis 3:15 through the prophets who preached of the coming Savior.
“How was the covenant of grace administered under the Old Testament?” (Q&A 34) It was administered “by promises.” For example, the promise of the seed of the woman to come (Gen. 3:15) gave hope of restoration; the promise that all the nations would be blessed through Abram’s seed (Gen. 12) gave hope for all the world to partake of salvation. It was administered “by prophecies.” Isaiah prophesied a Savior to come who would be God with us (Isa. 7:14). Jeremiah prophesied a Savior to come who would be his people’s righteousness (Jer. 23:6). Ezekiel prophesied a Savior to come who would be his people’s king and shepherd (Ezek. 37:24). It was administered “by sacrifices,” such as the offering of the firstborn (Ex. 12), the daily morning and evening sacrifice (Num. 28), the ongoing sacrifices by the people for their sins (Lev. 1–7), and the annual Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). It was administered “by circumcision.” This was the ritual that the Lord prescribed to Abraham and continued throughout the generations of the Israelites as the means by which his people were distinguished from the nations (Gen. 17). It was administered “by the Passover.” This was the sacrifice and meal before the exodus from Egypt that was remembered yearly by all Israelites (Ex. 12).
All of these means of the Lord administering his covenant of grace with his ancient people “fore-signif[ied] Christ . . . to come.” And all of these “were for that time sufficient to build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they then had full remission of sin, and eternal salvation.”
In the New Testament
In the New Testament, “when Christ the substance was exhibited” (Q&A 35), we have the reality of all the promises concerning the Messiah. We have the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning his coming. We have the accomplishment of the once for all sacrifice. We have the end of circumcision. And we have the perfect Passover lamb in Jesus Christ.
The substance of the covenant of grace is the same in both Testaments, but how is the one covenant of grace now administered? It is administered in two basic, ordinary, simple, and unadorned ways: preaching of the Word and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
This gets to the heart of a struggle we may have as Christians. When we read our Old Testament, we may ask ourselves, “Why doesn’t God show himself visibly like he did then? Why doesn’t he just thunder his voice from heaven? Why doesn’t he show us dramatic signs and wonders anymore?” What we need to learn again and again is the irony that although the Word and sacraments are ordinary means, as the Catechism says, in them “grace and salvation are held forth in more fullness, evidence, and efficacy, to all nations” (Q&A 35). We no longer need the dramatic; the drama has been performed in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we come to that realization, we use the new pair of glasses God has given us in seeing the one story through all the twists and turns. Thank him that you now live in this age of fulfillment. Take advantage of your situation. Read the one story, meditate upon the one Savior’s action in it, and find your place in the story as a participant.
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church
A Pastor’s Reflections: Pew Widows
I think few people give thought to the reality that pastor’s wives are pew widows each Sunday. What everyone else in church takes for granted, sitting with your spouse and family, is something that the pastor and his family cannot do. There is a certain comfort and benefit of sitting with your family. Not only do you have the company of your spouse or loved one, but you can have the benefit of having your spouse assist you with the children. Training a young child to sit quietly in church can be a real challenge. As a seminary professor, I now know first hand that standing in the pulpit is often a lot easier, in some respects, than sitting next to a fidgeting four-year-old. My wife and I often trade off or go to a man-to-man defense with our children. I take the oldest and my wife takes the younger child. We will then switch for the evening service. That way, if one of us misses part of the service because we had to escort one of the children out to discipline them, we have a good chance of catching the whole service in the evening. The same can’t be said for the pastor’s wife who often has to sit alone or parent solo in the pew.
Sitting alone in the church, though in the midst of a group of people, can be a lonely experience. And parenting solo in the pew can be a very frustrating experience. There was a stretch in my wife’s life where she was hardly able to listen to a complete sermon because she was working with our oldest, either feeding him, disciplining, or changing him. After a while, missing worship even though you’re in the building, can be discouraging.
If you notice that your pastor’s wife is sitting alone, offer to sit with her. If you notice that your pastor’s wife is parenting alone in the pew, offer to help out. Offer to feed or care for the child. As odd as it sounds, sometimes a child will be better behaved for someone else than for the parent.
A pastor’s family has to sacrifice a lot so that he can serve the church. One concrete thing you can do is assist the pew widow in whatever way you can.
Latest Office Hours! Hebrews 5:11-6:12
The Season 4 series of Office Hours entitled "Jesus is Really Better" continues. This episode features Dr. David M. VanDrunen, Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics, and Dr. Michael S. Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, who take us through Hebrews 5:11-6:12.
You can find this episode here!
Meditations on the Larger Catechism, pt. 21
How is the Covenant of Grace Gracious?
Words are such a delicate thing. The weakest word can communicate the most powerful truth. Yet strong words can also become impotent. This can happen when we use words as clichés so often that their impact is lost upon our minds and affections. One such term is grace; one such cliché is covenant of grace. How often do we debate the definition of a covenant? How often do we distinguish different kinds of covenants? Yet in these necessary tasks we can so easily forget the meaning of that little word, grace.
The issue in Q&A 32 of the Larger Catechism is not whether there is a covenant of grace or what it is, but rather, “How is the grace of God manifested in the second covenant?” How is the Covenant of Grace Gracious? I want us to feel the impact of that word grace in relation to the covenant God makes with us sinners.
In its Provision of the MediatorThe covenant of grace is gracious in its provision of the Mediator. As the Catechism says, “he freely provideth and offereth to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by him.”
Unlike the covenant of works between God and Adam, in which there was no mediator, after humanity took the plunge into sin the Lord God provided a Mediator between himself and our sinful race. What is a Mediator? It is a person who comes between two opposing parties. And so we read that “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). In the covenant of grace God provides Jesus Christ to be our Mediator between God and us freely. He is “between” us as Jesus steps into the gap between a holy God and a sinful people, in order to bring them together in reconciliation. Jesus is very simply “the mediator of a new covenant” (Heb. 9:15; 12:24). God provided this mediator for us freely, meaning, that God was not constrained to do this. For example, after threatening death to Adam for disobedience we read of the Lord God freely providing a sacrifice of animal skins to cover the sins of the first family (Gen. 3:21).
In the covenant of grace God also offers Jesus Christ to be our Mediator between God and us. It’s not just that God provides him out there, but he offers a Mediator to us here. This offer is expressed so beautifully in these words:
Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price. (Isa. 55:1)
This Mediator is offered to “all nations” (Matt. 28:19), to “the whole creation” (Mark 16:15; KJV), and to “every nation…all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev. 7:9). This is a serious and sincere offer of life and salvation, reconciliation with God through this Mediator. As Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
In its Provision of the Holy Spirit
The offer must be received, though. Thus in the covenant of grace, God “requir[es] faith as the condition to interest them in [Christ].” We must have an “interest,” meaning, a communion and participation in the Mediator who is offered. But how is it gracious to require us to do something to receive Christ?
That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. The covenant of grace is gracious also in its provision of the Holy Spirit. God “promiseth and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect.” This is important to grasp just how gracious all of this is. God graciously offers his Son as a Mediator and God also graciously provides the Holy Spirit so that we receive the offer. In a sense, God holds out Christ to us in his hand and the Holy Spirit enables us to grasp Christ with our hand. That hand is metaphorical of our faith.
The Spirit has been given to us for this purpose: “to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces.” As Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9). Whether “this” refers to salvation in general or faith in particular is inconsequential, as Paul’s point is that everything God requires for salvation, God provides; it is gracious; it is a gift; it is free. In particular, the necessary condition of faith is given to us as a gift. Again, in Paul’s words, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29). Notice that. It’s almost as if Paul is saying faith as a gift is a given; it’s suffering that he goes out of his way to prove is granted by God.
Just as the Spirit was given to us for the purpose of enabling us to embrace Christ for justification, so too he was given to us for sanctification: “to enable them unto all holy obedience.” One of the promises of the new covenant according to the prophet Jeremiah was just this. As the Lord himself said, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jer. 31:33).
This obedience is “the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God.” As James said, our good works are the evidence of our faith: “I will show you my faith by my works” (Jas. 2:18). Our good works are also an expression of our gratitude to God for his saving us from sin. We “who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart” (Rom. 6:17).
This obedience is also “the way which [God] hath appointed them to salvation.” Our obedience cannot be said to be necessary for our justification, as it is impossible for dead sinners to hear and obey God. Yet, obedience is necessary for the justified believer as “the way…to salvation.” What the Catechism is doing here is to use “salvation” in its broad denotation. It is not speaking of justification. Justification is not the whole of salvation; salvation encompasses justification and sanctification, and ultimately glorification. Obedience, then, is the heartfelt response to the grace of God by the child of God who is on his or her way to eternal fellowship with God.
Grace, my friends, is no weak word, and the covenant to which it is attached is no cliché. These are the words of life to us, mere beggars.
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church
Latest Faculty Publications!
WSC has two newly released faculty publications. The first is by Mike Horton, Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples. This is a terrific book for people who are just beginning to study theology and are looking for a simple explanation of Christian doctrines.
The second book is by Dr. Fesko, who is one of the co-editors of the Handboek Heidelbergse Catechismus, which if you haven't already noticed, is published in Dutch. So for all of you Dutch-readers, or for those of you who know people who prefer to read in Dutch, this book is for you! It's a terrific resource for understanding the history, doctrine, and abiding relevance of the Heidelberg Catechism. And fret not, the German edition will be released in May, and God willing, the English version will appear soon!
Tolle et lege! Take up and read!
It's been a while since we've had a book giveaway and the powers that be thought it was high time we did one! The first giveaway is for two copies of Dr. Fesko's A Christian's Pocket Guide to Growing in Holiness: Understanding Sanctification, which was just released here in the States. Two winners will be chosen from among those of you who enter the contest.
Here's how to enter: follow this link, VFT Book Giveaway Entry Form, and fill it out. That's it! We'll announce our winners next week, Thursday, January 31st.
And stay tuned, as we'll have a follow-up giveaway after this one . . . the tension mounts . . .
A Pastor’s Reflections: Don’t Read E-mail on Sundays
Among the regular activities I have is reading my e-mail—I love mail in all forms. Like many, I am wired—I always have my e-mail up when I’m using my computer, I have a smart phone, and if I’m in the car, I’ll have my wife read me my e-mails while I’m driving. I like the thrill (yes, I know I’m odd) of wondering what will arrive—what mystery awaits as the computer chimes and a new message arrives. But on the other hand, I also learned that it was best, as difficult as it might be, to ignore e-mail on Sundays. Why, you ask?
From time to time I would receive an ill-timed e-mail on Sunday morning—someone was informing me of something I didn’t want to hear: a complaint about the church, an announcement that they were leaving the church, or something along those lines. Naturally I would be periodically distracted throughout the day while I was trying to worship and observe the Sabbath. Sometimes I would be in the middle of preaching a sermon and the annoying e-mail would come to mind. So I decided that if I received an e-mail related to church matters, I would leave it until Sunday evening after church or Monday morning.
While its true that we can’t completely isolate ourselves from everything around us on Sundays so we can focus upon Christ, there are certain measures we can take to ensure we aren’t distracted. I think with the exception of the worship service, often Sundays look like any other day. We play games, read books, watch television, turn on the ball game, surf the web, and we don’t make a diligent effort to engage in activities that promote the Lord’s Day, such as reading our Bibles, praying, fellowshipping with the saints, and engaging in works of mercy. I also think the whole issue of distraction is likely becoming a greater challenge in church, even in worship, as smart phones and tablets are making their way into our lives. People now bring their phones and tablets to worship because that’s where they have their Bibles. Ok, fair enough. But what about the e-mails, texts, tweets, and whatever other digital data that cascades into our lives in the middle of worship?
While we may never completely disentangle ourselves from the concerns and distractions of the day, we can certainly make an effort to minimize them. Like my avoidance of e-mails on Sunday, we can turn off, unhook, or disconnect from the digital world so that it doesn’t prove to be a hindrance to worship and observing the Lord’s Day. How can we feast upon the sumptuous meal of word and sacrament if we are nibbling upon the digital snacks that creep into our lives, even in worship? Everything else in this life pales in comparison to the satisfaction that Christ alone provides through the means of grace. The e-mail, tweets, facebook, and texts can wait.
Meditations on the Larger Catechism, pt. 20
God’s Secret Covenant
We finally come to the glories of our redemption with question and answer 30. Yet I hope you have appreciated this feature of the Larger Catechism. It has spent so much time dealing with the creation, humanity’s fall, and the problem of ongoing sin like a gardener would prepare soil. Now into that soil will be planted and watered a beautiful garden of the doctrine of our salvation in Jesus Christ. To use another illustration, the relationship of sin to salvation is like that of a canvas to paint. Without a background canvas upon which to paint no masterpiece could be created.
To meditate on this question and answer focus your minds and hearts on Psalm 25:14. Listen to that verse: “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.” Note well that word “friendship.” Its root speaks of a secret. In the context of one person communicating a secret to another it comes to have the connotation of an intimate friendship between two people. Note also how the poetry of the two lines in this verse fit together. “Those who fear” the Lord are those to whom the Lord “makes known” this “friendship” and “covenant.”
So what is this covenant, God’s Secret Covenant? Who are they who experience it? Do you know the Lord’s secret? Have you become his friend? If so, how are you to respond to this? These are the kinds of questions Psalm 25:14 brings to mind and which question and answer 30 of the Larger Catechism seeks to give answers.
What is this Covenant?
In contrast to the “Covenant of Life” (Q&A 20) or “Covenant of Works (Q&A 30) that God made with humanity in the Garden, and which humanity in Adam breached, the covenant spoken of in Psalm 25:14 is another covenant. Despite Adam’s sin, “God [did] not leave all men to perish in the estate of sin and misery, into which they fell” (Q&A 30). What a God we have! Instead, this is a “Covenant of Grace.” It is not a covenant of life on the condition of the personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience of Adam (Q&A 20), but it is a covenant that graciously bestows that life upon those who have not personally obeyed, who have not perfectly obeyed, and who have not perpetually obeyed. It is not a covenant based on your works, but a covenant of grace despite your works. This why the Catechism goes on to say that it is rooted in the “mere love and mercy” of God and that it “delivereth [the] elect out of” the estate of sin and misery “and bringeth them into an estate of salvation” (Q&A 30). Amazing grace, how sweet the sound! What is this covenant? It is a personal, perfect, and perpetual friendship with the Lord who invites us into it by his grace.
Who are its Members?
With whom does the Lord make this covenant? Who are its members? The Catechism has a wonderfully rich answer to this question that brings together many strands of biblical teaching: “The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed” (Q&A 31).
Since Adam failed, God sent forth anther Adam to prevail. One man disobeyed and so another came to obey. So ultimately this covenant is made with Christ. Notice that it’s not said to be made with the eternal Son, since he and Father, along with the Holy, dwell in eternal blessedness and love. Instead, the covenant of grace is made with Christ, the incarnate Son, who came to be the second Adam in real history.
In Adam, we are regarded as covenant breakers; in Christ, believers are regarded as covenant partakers. Thus, in Psalm 25:14 David speaks of those who are in this friendly relationship with God. Hence the Catechism adds that those who are in Christ eternally as the elect as being the members of the covenant of grace.
All this speaks from the eternal, ultimate perspective. Yet we also know from Scripture that from our vantage point, this covenant is administered with real people, who are sinners. This means that we also speak of the covenant of grace as being made with those who make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ also with their households. We see this prior to the Old Covenant with Abraham, his children, and his entire household (Gen. 17); we see this posterior to the Old Covenant, under the New Covenant in Jesus Christ, with professors and their children and their households being regarded as members of the covenant of grace (e.g., Acts 2; Eph. 6).
How Should We Respond?
What does all of this mean for us who belong to the covenant of grace? First, this is a cause of joy and praise to those who were God’s enemies but are now his friends; who were once far from him, but are not close to him in intimate fellowhip. In the words of Psalm 111, because the Lord “remembers his covenant forever” (v. 5) and “commanded his covenant forever” (v. 9), we are to exclaim, “Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart” (v. 1); we are to shout, “Holy and awesome is his name!” (v. 9) In the words of Paul, because we are “in Christ” we can bless the Lord: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3).
Second, this should be a cause of fervent prayer for our children who belong with us to the administration of the covenant. Pray for the Holy Spirit to cause them to be born again. Pray for the Holy Spirit to grant them repentance and faith. Pray for the Holy Spirit to implant in them a desire to stand up and profess the Lord’s name.
Third, this should also be a cause of fervent prayer for and evangelism towards those who are lost, those who are strangers, and those who are friendless in their relationship with the God who made them. Look at what God has done for you; do you not want that for everyone else?
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church
Latest Office Hours! Hebrews 4-5:10 with Dr. Godfrey
The Season 4 series of Office Hours entitled "Jesus is Really Better" continues. This episode features President W. Robert Godfrey, Professor of Church History, who takes us through Hebrews 4-5:10.
You can find this latest episode here.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Never Answer the Back Door
I was probably an exception to the general rule, but I was a single pastor for a while. When the time came for the congregation to announce publically my engagement to the congregation I quickly discovered a new dimension of pastoral life—the back door. What is the back door? Literally within minutes of my announcement a few people in the church warmly greeted my fiancé and then unloaded a lot of information upon her—personal, private, information. Within an hour of my engagement announcement I quickly discovered a few personal facts about some people in my church of which I was previously ignorant—broken marriages, and significant struggles with sin. To say the least I was shocked and surprised. But I quickly learned that people are often afraid to talk directly to the pastor or the elders about problems, and instead they will talk to the pastor’s wife. In other words, people will not knock on the front door, they will discretely go to the back door in the hopes that they can drop off their “package” without anyone noticing.
My wife soon adjusted to her unofficial role as the “back door” to my office and would report to me whatever information people told her. My wife would tell me about a problem or complaint that she was given and then asked me, “Are you going to do anything about this?” I kindly answered my wife, “No. I don’t answer the back door.” In other words, I wanted discretely to teach the congregation that if they had a problem or complaint, that they needed to speak with one of the elders or me directly. It was inappropriate to involve my wife or one of the elder’s wives with such matters. The pastor and elders are ordained to handle counseling, problems, and complaints in the church, not their wives. And more pointedly, the church hires the pastor, not his wife, to handle these situations. If a man was working for Apple Computers and had a problem, wouldn’t it seem odd for his co-worker to call his wife to handle the situation?
While I never “answered the back door” and did not accept packages there, I did keep tabs on the situations that my wife would bring to my attention. But the simple truth of the matter is, we have to learn to deal directly with difficult situations we find in the church. We can’t dodge problems by satisfying our nagging consciences by burdening the pastor’s wife.
If we have a counseling issue or complaint, we should first pray about the situation to determine if it calls for further action beyond prayer. Then, if convinced that we must speak with someone, then we should respectfully take it to the pastor or elders directly.
Meditations on the Larger Catechism, pt. 19
Our Estate of Misery
Q&A 23, 27-29
When I was younger I used to think it would have been nice to be born into a family full of riches. Perhaps you did—or do—as well. Now that I am more mature I am thankful I wasn’t, though. Why? Now I appreciate what I have I look back and compare life now with life before. This is also true with us spiritually. If we were born merely sick from sin and not dead in sin or if we were born slightly defected by the Fall of Adam but we still had an untainted free will, we would not appreciate our salvation as much. To know that you were a totally lost, hopeless sinner who has now come to experience God’s abundant grace fills the heart with thankfulness. It means that we grasp our life before Jesus Christ was harder, more painful, and full of sorrows spiritually; but knowing that is worth it because we have come to know God in Jesus Christ.
As question and answer 23 says, we were born into “an estate of sin and misery,” that is, into a condition of our existence (Oxford English Dictionary). Having meditated upon the sinful condition of our existence we now meditate upon the miserable condition of our existence, Our Estate of Misery.
First, let us come to realize its problem. We were born into a situation like the Israelites, of whom the Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering” (Ex. 3:7; NIV). We, too, were born enslaved to another master, namely, Satan. Later, the psalmist described this situation of the Israelites as “dwel[ling] in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in misery and chains” (Ps. 107:10).
This problem of our existence is why the Catechism describes our misery with the following descriptions. We were born with “the loss of communion with God” as we are no longer his created friends in covenant with him, but his enemies (Rom. 5:10). We were born with “his displeasure and curse,” as he hates all workers of iniquity (Ps. 5:5). We were born “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). We were born “bond slaves to Satan” (2 Tim. 2:26). What a striking description of our true nature as sinners outside of Christ! Our existence was one of not serving the Lord, but serving Satan. We were born “justly liable to all punishments in this world, and that which is to come.”
Let me apply this in a way that might not seem so obvious. One of the challenges those of us who were converted later in life are going to face, whether we have children now or later, is that we want our children to experience the liberating message of the gospel as we experienced it. One of the things we see in Scripture and history is that while the first generation experiences something in a powerful way, inevitably the second generation has a let down and takes that previous experience for granted. The temptation for us, then, is to become content that we were converted or that our children were baptized, are “in the covenant,” are being catechized, or are around their Christian peers. As churches we all need to be in serious prayer for each and every child that is born into the church that they, too, would come to know the greatness of their sin and misery from the depths of their souls so that they, too, might experience the wonder of grace.
Its Punishment Now
Second, as we meditate upon our estate of misery let us come to realize its punishment now. There are two kinds of punishments in this world: inward punishments that we may not necessarily see and outward punishments that we do see (Q&A 28). Every human born into this world outside of Jesus Christ suffers and experiences in this life the internal miseries of blindness of mind (Eph. 4:18), a reprobate sense, meaning, consciously knowing life is being lived outside of Christ (Rom. 1:28), strong delusions as a result of sin and Satan (2 Thes. 2:11), hardness of heart (Rom. 2:5), horror of conscience of knowing God is wrathful towards them (Isa. 33:14), and vile affections, such as those Paul describes so graphically in Romans and that are so prevalent today (Rom. 1:26).
In this life there are also outward punishments that all children of Adam experience. First and foremost is the curse of God upon the creation because of Adam’s sin. All creation is groaning to be liberated from its frustration (Rom. 8:19–22). And all of us experience this every day. There are also all other evils that we feel in our bodies, with sickness and disease. There is the evil that befalls our names when we are slandered and dragged through the mud. There is the evil that we experience in our “estates, relations, and employments,” meaning, in every corner and crack of our lives. Finally, there is death itself that last enemy of all (1 Cor. 15:26).
How should we then live, as those delivered from our natural estate of sin and misery? First, since we know that everything is under the control of our Almighty and Fatherly God’s providence, we are to entrust ourselves to him wholly. Sin exists in us and in the world and evil is going to befall us; but trust in your God in the midst of them. Second, we should be moved to fear and tears for the sake of the lost around us. Are we praying for God to convict the lost of their estate? Are we living holy lives before them to show them another way of living? Are we boldly opening our mouths when we have the opportunity to share with them the good news? They need it not just because of what they are suffering now, but because of what they will ultimately suffer.
Its Punishment Later
This leads to our final point of meditation about our estate of misery: let us come to realize its punishment later after this life, in the world to come. And when we do, what we believe theologically must become a part of us practically. The terrible punishments of eternity are just that: terrible!
Those who choose their miserable estate over that offered in Christ will experience “everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God” (Q&A 29). Notice that. Hell is not the absence of God, but the absence of the comforting presence of God. It’s not that God is not there, but there he is only there to the unbeliever in justice, vengeance, and wrath.
Those who choose their miserable estate over that offered in Christ will experience “most grievous torments in soul and body without intermission in hell-fire forever” (Q&A 29). There will be no relief. There will be no pause. There will be no chance for change.
Oh brothers and sisters, do you appreciate your estate of riches in Christ? Do you realize what you have left behind and what you have gained?
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church
Faculty Conference Preview: David VanDrunen
It's the final countdown! Just a week to go before our annual faculty conference, The Whole Armor of God.
Here's a preview of Dave VanDrunen's lecture:
Throughout the Scriptures God's people respond to God's revelation with confession, sometimes with a confession that God himself gives them and sometimes spontaneously. Confession is in fact the proper response to the revelation of God and his salvation--the one who confesses that Jesus is Lord and believes in his heart that God raised him from the dead will be saved. Christians today ought to be eager to confess their Lord and his work. But it is crucial that confession not be an end in itself. Confession must be grounded in the truth, and therefore must spring from the Scriptures; confession is secondary while Scripture is primary. Confession must be at the heart of our communal Christian life, but for it to be worthwhile we must grasp and embrace the Scriptures that underlie and vivify our confession.
If you haven't yet registered for the conference, click here!
Faculty Conference Preview: Scott Clark
Dont' forget, we have our annual faculty conference coming up in a little more than a week! Here's a preview of Scott Clark's lecture:
When we think of the Reformation, we think of the recovery of the good news of free acceptance with God for Christ’s sake alone. That perception of the Reformation is certainly correct. What is less well known is that almost as soon as the gospel was recovered it was attacked.
In the 1520s Anabaptists rejected the Protestant gospel on the ground that it would lead to careless living.
By 1530 there was a Lutheran theologian teaching that we are accepted by God on the basis of the indwelling Christ within us.
In 1547, Rome decreed that anyone who confessed justification by grace alone, through faith alone is eternally condemned.
In the early 1550s a leading Lutheran theologian was teaching that good works are necessary as a condition of righteousness before God.
In the same year the Heidelberg Catechism was published, a leading Lutheran theologian was denying that all of Jesus' perfect obedience was for us and is imputed to us. This denial of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ would open the way for some to later say that Christ makes it possible for us to be saved but we must do our part.
In 1562, when Frederick III commissioned the Heidelberg Catechism, the confession of the Gospel by the magisterial Protestant churches was clear enough but on the picture on the ground was not so clear. Further, the Palatinate church had been through two revolutions in the previous twenty years. In 1543 they were Roman Catholic. By 1553 they were Protestant and ten years after that they were about to become confessionally Reformed. The churches needed a clear, unambiguous articulation about what Scripture teaches concerning the most important questions of the Christian faith and life. Nothing is more important than the question of how we are right with God and nothing is clearer in the catechism than the confession of the good news of free acceptance with God in Christ.
To find out more information about the conference, click here.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Messiah Complex
One of the great dangers in the pastorate is that a minister might develop a messiah complex. What do I mean? Most well-respected pastors have many people that look up to them for a number of reasons. Certain men have been identified as suitable ministers because their lives are exemplary—they are models of godliness and piety. Pastors are often wise and offer sage counsel to those in need. They are typically supposed to be very knowledgeable about the Bible, something that many in the church long to study, know, and understand. These are all good and desirable things.
The pitfall comes, however, in that when so many people begin to look to the minister as the “go-to” person on many different issues, the pastor can easily develop a messiah complex. In other words, the pastor can deceive himself into thinking that he can solve any problem that comes his way and that if people only listen to him, things will run smoothly in the church. Confidence in God’s word and the power of the Spirit to transform lives can easily shift to arrogance and pride in one’s own abilities to fix things. This situation easily can arise in the sphere of counseling.
In pastoral counseling people will often come to the pastor distraught with their lives in tatters and looking for spiritual wisdom and guidance. In these scenarios I always began my counseling sessions with a reminder both to the counselee and me. I told the person that I would do my best to help them with their problems, which typically involved the following steps: (1) doing a lot of listening; (2) identifying the root sins behind a person’s problem(s); and (3) pointing the person to Christ through word, sacraments, and prayer. These three basic steps are the core foundation to solving any counseling issue. This is not to say that every problem is easily or quickly solved, but at their core, all problems involve these three steps. I would tell my counselee these steps to remind us both that the person who would ultimately solve their problems was Christ, not me.
I would tell my counselee that our sessions together would be limited because I did not want the person to become dependent upon me, like a patient visiting his psychologist on an unending regular basis. In such a scenario the doctor becomes the answer to the problem. As a minister, I was merely present to assist a person in diagnosing the problem—I constantly wanted to remind myself that the Holy Spirit applying the word was ultimately necessary for convincing the person of their sin and that only Christ could sanctify the sinner.
When pastors forget this truth, Christ alone saves, they can quickly fall into the messiah complex. In the end, a pastor should constantly pray that he would always be a signpost to the Messiah—like John the Baptist, “May I decrease and he increase.”
Faculty Conference Preview
In case you haven't heard, WSC is hosting our annual faculty conference, January 18th and 19th, entitled, The Whole Armor of God. The Conference is celebrating and covering the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism. The Conference speakers include: W. Robert Godfrey, David VanDrunen, Steve Baugh, Scott Clark, J. V. Fesko, and Mike Horton.
Here's a preview of Steve Baugh's message:
The Belgic Confession opens by stating, “We all believe with the heart and confess with the mouth that there is one only simple and spiritual Being, which we call God . . .” while the Heidelberg Catechism opens with the question, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” These highlighted terms and the overall interests of these historic documents have led to the title of my talk: “The Helmet of Salvation: Confession and Comfort” (Eph. 6:17). I will focus especially upon the activity of confession in the Scripture and what that means for us today. We will look particularly and in some detail at the passage in Romans (Rom 10:8–13) which the Belgic Confession quotes in its opening statement (Rom 10:9). What we will find is that public confession of our faith leads to our comfort “in life and in death.”
If you haven't already registered for the conference, you can find more information here. And while face-to-face is always best, if you can't make it, don't forget that we'll be live streaming the conference. We hope to see you there!
A Pastor’s Reflections: Migraine Mondays
Few people have the opportunity peer into the life of the pastor—a real behind-the-scenes glance of life in a pastor’s home. Some television shows in the past have dramatized what life in a pastor’s home is like, but they’ve often presented a very inaccurate representation. I remember watching one show where the pastor was preparing his sermon in his office and one of his children interrupted him. What I thought was funny was that the shelves behind his desk were packed with what looked like photo albums, not serious scholarly books on theology and the Bible. Television portrayals aside, what is life like for a pastor on a given Lord’s Day?
I would typically ensure that I had a good night’s rest and get to bed at a responsible time on Saturday night and then get up early, around six, on Sunday morning so I could study and review my sermons and Sunday School lecture. I would make whatever refinements I deemed necessary and then join my wife for breakfast afterwards. After a full day of meeting people, talking, impromptu quick counseling, preaching two sermons, leading the two worship services, teaching Sunday School for an hour, and then talking with people after both services, to say the least, I was wiped out. At the end of the day I felt like I did after a long five-mile run—physically spent. My wife and I would come home, unwind, eat a light dinner and turn in for the night.
Monday was typically supposed to be my day off, though it was sometimes anything but restful. Given the physical and emotional stress of the previous day, I frequently found myself laid up in bed nursing a migraine headache. I don’t think that many people in the church realize how stressful Sundays can be for the pastor. As the pastor you want to make sure that you meet and speak with as many people as you can. Sometimes, you have to deal with difficult issues on Sundays, though not directly. In other words, if you know about a brewing problem with one family in the church, and perhaps have given them a private reprimand or corrective counsel, seeing them on Sunday can be awkward or uncomfortable. Preaching can be incredibly stressful. Yes, you do your best to rely upon the strength of the Lord and the unction of the Holy Spirit, but ministers can often be plagued by doubts. “Have I exegeted this text correctly?” “Are these illustrations appropriate?” “Why are so many people dozing off while I’m preaching?”
One of the indicators of my “pulpit-stress,” typically unnoticed by most people, except for perhaps my wife, was the hole I wore in the front of my dress shoes. I would place my right foot perpendicular to the floor so my toe was pointing straight down and then I would move my foot back and forth. No one usually saw this fidgeting because the pulpit shielded me from the congregation, but I soon had to replace my shoes. I’ve since conquered that nervous pulpit-tick. The point is, Sundays can be stressful for the pastor. So, naturally, my body would decompress by letting off steam with a nice raging migraine headache. I know that I was not alone in this, as I have conferred with colleagues over the years who have shared similar experiences.
If my experience is at all common, this means that your pastor is probably under similar stress each and every Lord’s Day. You may not notice it, but Sunday can be a vice-grip on the emotional well-being of your pastor. This is perhaps one of the contributing factors to the resignation rates of pastors. This glimpse “behind-the-scenes,” if you will, should encourage you, I hope, to be in constant intercessory prayer for your pastor. Pray that the Lord would give him peace and the energy he needs to minister faithfully word and sacrament to God’s people each Sunday.
Meditations on the Larger Catechism, pt. 18
Our Estate of Sin
Quick; what’s the first thing you think of when I say the word “estate?” Got it? Now let me take a wild guess and say that you probably thought of the word sale, as in estate sale, right? To us materialist Americans, an estate is the sum total of our lives that we can pass on to our children, with the help of a living trust or will. In a word, we think of an estate as what we have.
There is an older use of the word, though. We may have no doubt it even exists. The Oxford English Dictionary gives us this use of the word speaking of a condition of our existence. Our estate is not our accumulation, then, but our condition; not what we have, but what we are. Our Catechism explains the biblical data concerning the fall of Adam by saying it has placed us into a new condition of existence: “an estate of sin and misery” (Q&A23).
Our lives are characterized by sin, which John described in 1 John 3:4 as “lawlessness.” Our condition is to be lawless, meaning, both that we do not keep the law but in fact break the law. This is why the Catechism defines sin as a “want [lack] of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God” (Q&A 24). Not only was Adam and Eve plunged into this estate but “all that proceed from them” by means of “natural generation” (Q&A 26) also enter this state of existence. What does it mean that Our Estate of Sin is a condition of our lives?
The Guilt of Sin
To be in an estate of sin is to be under the guilt of sin. We know from Romans 5:12–21 that when Adam sinned, we sinned. In Ephesians 2:4 Paul says this in another way: we were “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:4). By “nature” Paul means the way we are.” Spiritually speaking, we are “by nature” sinners. This means that this is just the way we are. We were born this way.
What a weighty thing this natural state of ours is. We are “by nature children of wrath.” This does not mean that we are naturally angry with people, but it means that we were born under the wrath of Almighty God. When was the last time you, as those who trust in Jesus and who have joined yourselves to his church, meditated and reflected upon the reality of God’s wrath and judgment upon the unbelieving? Pail does this in 2 Thessalonians 1, where he says
“God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (1:6, 7–9).
Our natural estate of sin should cause in us awe and reverence at what God is like. It should also cause heartfelt gratitude that God has saved us from this estate. It should cause deep concern for the lost because this is their predicament.
The Lack of Righteousness
To be in an estate of sin is to have the lack of righteousness. The Catechism speaks of “the want [lack] of that righteousness wherein he was created” (Q&A 25). This means we were born lacking the original righteousness of Adam. He was created upright; we are born fallen. In Ephesians 4:24 Paul exhorts God’s people to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” What Paul says about us we can read backwards as being true of Adam. What Paul means, then, is that when we come to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith we regain something that we had lost. What we lost was that original righteousness and holiness, which Adam had. In Christ we are re-created. This is why Paul says of all humanity outside of Christ, that “none is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). What does this lack of righteousness look like? It means that “no one understands” rightly the God who made them and that “no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11). It means that “all have turned aside,” “become worthless,” and, therefore “no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:12). It means that “their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness” (Rom. 3:13–14). It means that “their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known” (Rom. 3:15–17). Finally, it means “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18). This is an estate you do not want to belong to.
The Corruption of Nature
To be in the estate of sin is to have the corruption of nature. Corruption is defined by the Catechism as being “utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually” (Q&A 25). In Ephesians 2:1 Paul simply uses the term “dead.”
We were born not only with this guilt and lack of righteousness, but also with a corrupt nature. This “original sin” is who we are as humans. And from it “proceed[s] all actual transgressions.” Before Christ came to save us we actually walked in the deadness of our nature and transgressions against God, we followed the world’s ways, and we followed Satan’s ways. We lived in the passions of our flesh, we carried out the desires of our bodies, and the desires of our minds.
What a sorrowful state we found ourselves in! We a heinous state our neighbors are in! This is a state of undeniable guilt. This is a state of total unrighteousness. This is a state of utter corruption. O how sorrowful. O how lamentable. O how pitiful. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church
Latest Office Hours! Hebrews 3.7-4.13 with Dr. Godfrey, Part II
The Season 4 series of Office Hours entitled "Jesus is Really Better" continues. This episode features President W. Robert Godfrey, Professor of Church History, who finishes taking us through Hebrews 3:7 to 4:13.
You can find the episode here.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Reformer’s Syndrome
Among the many theological ailments that can strike in Reformed churches, “Reformer’s Syndrome,” is one of the more troublesome. What is “Reformer’s Syndrome,” you ask? Reformer’s Syndrome is the personal belief that you are a sixteenth-century reformer, reincarnated for the present day, ready to take on all forms of authority regardless of how inane and convoluted your ideas might be. How does this happen?
When people come into the Reformed church, they are initially dazzled by the heady history of the Reformation. They read of Martin Luther’s confrontation with the Roman Catholic officials at the Diet of Worms where he was commanded to recant his views but he responded, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” Some legends say that Luther turned his back to the gallery, held his hands up in the air like a victorious bullfighter, and triumphantly marched out of the room.
Naturally, when people read of such things, they are inspired, and want to do equally great things all for the glory of God. But I like to remind my students, if you look at church history, theologians like Augustine, Luther, Hodge, or Machen, and the conflicts they engaged in, are somewhat rare. Chances are God will call us to more humble and mundane service. Keep in mind, when all of life is lived coram Deo (before God), there is a sense in which nothing in life is mundane—all can and should be done to the glory of God. But if we’re looking for notoriety and the recognition and praise of our fellow man for how great our service to the Lord is, then we can quickly become infected with Reformer’s Syndrome.
We begin to believe our theological cause, no matter how ridiculous, is like Luther’s stand at Worms. I have seen a number of people ride their theological ponies all the way to the General Assembly of my denomination and have scratched my head in bewilderment as to why they wanted the highest court in the church hear their case. In these situations people have labored for years going through the appeals process and each step of the way have their cases rejected. Their circumstances could have been resolved by a simple admission of guilt for a minor infraction or by being willing to suffer a wrong (1 Cor 6:7).
Is it possible, therefore, that you could be the next Martin Luther making your stand at Worms? Sure, I suppose so. But is it likely? Probably not. When we begin to think that we’re the next incarnation of Luther or Machen, perhaps we should seek the counsel of trusted friends, a pastor, or a session, and check to see whether our crusade is a legitimate one. Another question to ask is, “Is the gospel at stake?” While this question is not a sure-fire litmus test, it certainly can cause us to meditate upon the nature of our cause. If the gospel is at stake, then proceed. But if you are the chief beneficiary of your cause, then prudence dictates that you surrender. Beware, therefore, of Reformer’s Syndrome and remember that above all else we should seek the way of the cross, which to the world, and even many within the church, will appear like foolishness. But such is the wisdom of God compared with the wisdom of man (1 Cor. 2:1-7).
Meditations on the Larger Catechism, pt. 17
In Adam’s Fall, We Sinned All
“In Adam’s fall, we sinned all” (New England Primer, 14). This famous line of Benjamin’s Harris’ 1690 New England Primer expresses the basic Christian belief that Adam’s sin had dreadful consequences for the rest of us. We need to meditate upon this regularly. I know it is not popular, I know it is not good for your self-esteem, and I know it doesn’t make you feel comfortable, but we must do it. Why? We need to do this because Scripture makes frequent mention of sin. We need to do this because it humbles our pride and exalts the grace of God. We need to do this because it actually benefits our souls by making us open vessels for the Lord to work within us.
In dealing with sin, we reach a transition point in the Larger Catechism. Questions and answers 1–20 explained the nature of and works of God in creation and providence. In questions and answers 21–29 it focuses on the nature of human sin.
The first point we learn about in questions and answers 21–23 is Adam’s sin. We read in Genesis 3:1–7 the root cause of Adam’s sin lay in the wrong exercise of his own free will (Q&A 21). We read the means of Adam’s sin in the crafty instigation and temptation of Satan (3:1–4; Q&A 21). We read the nature of Adam’s sin as a transgressing of the commandment of God in eating the forbidden fruit (3:5–6 cf. 2:17; Q&A 21). It’s this last point that Paul especially dwells upon in Romans 5:12–21. There he gives us an inspired theological reflection upon the events of Genesis 3. Notice that Paul speaks of the nature of Adam’s sin as being threefold.
First, the reality of Adam’s sin was disobedience. Paul speaks of Adam’s sin being a “trespass” (5:15, 16, 17, 18). When we read the word “trespass” we may think of a fence that says, “No Trespassing.” This means you are not permitted to go beyond this boundary. What’s important to know is that if you do, it is not an innocent overstepping; it is a conscious decision. As Paul describes Adam’s trespass, it is “disobedience” (v. 19).
Second, the response of God to Adam’s sin was condemnation. Paul says that God judged Adam after his trespass (5:16). What did this judgment mean? It meant condemnation—the execution of the threat God had made earlier (5:16, 18).
Third, the result of Adam’s sin was death. Paul says “many died through one man’s trespass” (5:15) and that “death reigned through the one man” (5:17). Because of this, the Catechism uses the historic language to describe Adam’s sin: he “thereby fell from the estate of innocency” (Q&A 21). And what a fall it was for him, for his wife, Eve, and for us.
This leads to the second point we learn in Genesis 3 and Romans 5, which is our sorrow. Note well the link between Adam and us. Paul says, “Sin came into the world through one man” (5:12); “many died through one man’s trespass” (5:15); “death reigned through that one man” (5:17); “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (5:18); “by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (5:19). Adam brought disobedience, therefore condemnation, and therefore death to all humanity to come. Because of him, we are born disobedient. Because of him we are born under condemnation. Because of him we are born already preparing for death. Because of him, we are “brought…into an estate of sin and misery” (Q&A 23). What a sorrowful state we are in!
The question we need answered is why? Why did Adam’s sin bring us such sorrow? Why did his trespass bring sin to us? Why did his disobedience bring condemnation to us? Why did his sin bring death to us? Why does Paul say all of this came “through the one man?” The reason is that God created Adam to be a representative. What he would do or would not do would have effects upon everyone else to come. This is why the Catechism says “the covenant [of life” was “made with Adam as a public person.” This meant that he was created in covenant with God “not for himself only, but for his posterity, all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation” (Q&A 22).
So what is the benefit of spending any time meditating on Adam’s situation in the Garden and his subsequent sin? Behind all the details we see the fingerprint of our all wise, all gracious God. For just when the devil thought he had caused the irreparable ruin of our race, God’s master plan was already set in motion. You see Paul embeds a mysterious phrase in the midst of his meditation on Adam, whom he says was “a type of the one to come” (5:14). We may read that and say, “Wonderful, Adam was a foreshadowing of Jesus.” Then we go on a wonderful redemptive historical journey through Scripture to see this. This is true. But I want you to see the “aha” moment that will make you say, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Rom. 11:33) Even before the fall, God had so purposed that Adam was already a type of the one to come. In being a representative the plan of our salvation was already in place. If Adam obeyed, we’d be in glory; if Adam disobeyed, the means of our entering glory was already established.
We affirm that in Adam’s fall, we sinned all. But we also affirm that Jesus’ obedience overturns Adam’s disobedience. We affirm that Jesus’ justification overturns Adam’s condemnation. We affirm that Jesus’ life overturns Adam’s death. Adam: your disobedience, condemnation, and death pale in comparison to the obedience, justification, and life of Jesus! And so we sing:
Man’s work faileth,
He is all our righteousness;
He, our Savior,
Set us free from dire distress.
Through his merit
Light and peace and happiness.
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church
The New-England Primer: A Reprint of the Earliest Known Edition, with Many Facsimiles and Reproductions, and an Historical Introduction, ed. Paul Leicester Ford (NY: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1899).
Latest Office Hours! Hebrews 3.7-4.13 with Dr. Godfrey
The Season 4 series of Office Hours entitled "Jesus is Really Better" continues. This episode features President W. Robert Godfrey, Professor of Church History, who begins to take us through Hebrews 3:7 to 4:13.
You can find this latest episode here.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Book Allowance
I have found it to be true, that as a general rule, people do not like to pay for maintenance, whether it is for their home or car, for example. Replacing the air conditioner on your home can be very costly, and after you’ve spent thousands of dollars, at least on the surface, you don’t have much to show for it. Sure, you’ve got a shiny new box sitting outside your home, but you can’t drive it, wear it, or eat it. The same goes for changing the oil in your car. You can spend $35 (or so), unless you have the time, gumption, and energy to change it yourself, and when it’s all said and done, you don’t really notice the difference. Your car handles the same. But if you don’t replace your defunct air conditioner or oil in your car, you can pay a steep price—you can find yourself walking to work on a hot, sweltering day!
The same can be said about preachers and sermon preparation. A good preacher typically has a good library. A good library consists of many books on a wide-range of subjects—exegetical commentaries, books on theology, church history, apologetics, preaching, and the like. A good library is necessary because, as well trained as a minister might be, when he gets his spiffy new diploma upon his graduation, it is not an ending but a new beginning—it is his license to learn. This means that as skillful as he might be in exegeting the Scriptures, he needs to consult commentaries and other resources to confirm his exegesis, learn, and sharpen his knowledge.
The problem is that few people in churches recognize the dynamic between a good library and good preaching. I think many people look at theological books as if they were pleasure reading rather than necessary tools—what a shovel is to a ditch-digger a library is to a minister—he can’t function properly without a good one.
Sadly, over the years, I have watched a number of pastoral calls fail to include money for books. Or if they do include money for books, it is a paltry sum. Would you expect a chef to create a sumptuous meal but not supply him with the necessary food to make the meal? Or to borrow a biblical analogy, I think far too many churches expect their pastors to make bricks without straw.
Just like the oil in your car, you might not notice the immediate pay-off, but a well-read pastor is a well-equipped pastor—one who can preach well informed, biblically accurate, faithful sermons. Churches should not expect their pastors to take their own money, though thousands of pastors do, to purchase books. If the church benefits from the preaching of the word, then part of the cost of “doing business,” if you will, is to ensure the pastor has an adequate library. And keep in mind, the pastor needs to have sole access to these books. They should not be part of the church’s library where other people might check the books out. A pastor needs to be able to have them on hand, mark them up, make notes in them, and even purchase books that would bore the average church member to tears but is crucial for the proper understanding of a theological subject.
Hence, if your church doesn’t have line-item in its budget for your pastor’s books, respectfully inquire why it doesn’t. At a minimum, if it is financially able, a church should invest at least $1,200 per year ($100 per month) in their pastor’s library; a better amount might be $200 per month. This higher amount is especially true for freshly minted pastor who needs to build a library. This might sound expensive, but the spiritual dividends far outweigh the financial investment—one that benefits not only the preacher’s labors but the people in the pew who hear the preaching on a weekly basis. If you are a pastor who receives such a benefit, do not squander it! Use it well—study hard and diligently prepare each week to bring the word of God to your congregation.
Meditations on the Larger Catechism, pt. 16
Abundant Providence to Adam
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever” (Ps. 136:1). God in his goodness and covenant mercy has created and continues to provide for all that his creatures need. What a good God he is! If we know the abundance providence of God after the Fall of Adam into sin, how much more so did Adam in the Garden of Eden? This is essentially what question answer 20 of the Larger Catechism asks us. In Genesis 1:26–2:25 the Lord God sets before Adam his blessings, goodness, and favor. The Puritan preacher, Thomas Watson, described it like this:
He was placed in the garden of God, which for the pleasure of it was called paradise…He had his choice of all the trees, one only excepted; he had all kinds of precious stones, pure metals, rich cedars; he was a king upon the throne, and all the creation did obeisance to him…Man, in innocence, had all kinds of pleasure that might ravish his senses with delight, and be as baits to allure him to serve and worship his Maker. He was full of holiness. Paradise was not more adorned with fruit than Adam’s soul was with grace…Adam had intimacy of communion with God and conversed with him, as a favourite with his prince” (A Body of Divinity, 130–131).
Meditate with me on God’s Abundant Providence to Adam.
A Provision of Abundant Life
The first aspect of this abundant providence to Adam is a provision of abundant life. God took dust from the earth and gave it life by his breath, making it him (2:7). Then we read of God’s putting him in the garden that the Lord himself planted (2:8, 15). In that paradise garden Adam was called to care for it (2:15), which the Catechism describes in seventeenth-century English “to dress it.” He was given care for and dominion over the animals (1:28). He was given the fruit of the earth to eat: “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food…And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food…You may surely eat of every tree of the garden” (1:29; 2:9; 2:16).
A Provision of Abundant Help
The second aspect of this abundant providence to Adam is a provision of abundant help. Adam would not be alone. So God brought Adam all the animals to name (2:19). Yet none of them was suitable for him to be a true helper (2:20). In response, the Lord created a woman out of Adam to show her closeness to him (2:21–22). Adam responded by joining himself to her alone (2:23), leading to the proverbial saying, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast [“cleave;” KJV] to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (2:24). This is why the Catechism says God provided for Adam by “ordaining marriage for his help.”
A Provision of Abundant Fellowship
The third aspect of this abundant providence to Adam is a provision of abundant fellowship. We see four ways in which man has fellowship in the garden. First, in man’s creation he is related to the earth in being made from the earth (2:7). Second, when God made Adam he spoke personally to him: “And the Lord God commanded the man” (2:16). Third, we see it in the fact that the Lord brought the animals before Adam (2:19). Yet the most clear way this is seen is in the fact that the “cleaving” of the husband to his wife is the term used later in the unfolding of revelation of Israel’s cleaving to the Lord. The close, intimate, loving, and vital fellowship between man and woman is a picture of a much closer and much more important relationship—communion with God. Here is how the King James utilizes this word “cleave” throughout Deuteronomy of Israel’s fellowship with the Lord: “Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave…Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him…That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days (Deut. 10:20; 13:4; 30:20).
A Provision of Abundant Rest
The fourth aspect of this abundant providence to Adam is a provision of abundant rest. At the end of the creation narrative we read of the Sabbath. Its original intention was stated so clearly later in redemptive history by our Lord when he said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). The Lord God gave the Sabbath to Adam as a beneficial day, for his refreshment in the presence of God after six days of hard labor.
A Provision of Abundant Glory
The fifth aspect of this abundant providence to Adam is a provision of abundant glory. Summarizing a history of exegesis, the Catechism says God provided for Adam by “…entering into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience, of which the tree of life was a pledge; and forbidding to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.”
The very fact that the Creator entered into a covenant with his creature by “voluntary condescension” (Westminster Confession 7.1) shows us the abundant provision of the Lord. But even more, we see the overwhelming abundance of the Lord in promising that if Adam was personally, perfectly, and perpetually obedient to God’s law, he would inherit life. And God even gave a sign of that life in the tree of life. Whether this life was continued earthly life in the presence of God or eternal life, the Catechism does not answer, as this was a serious debate of the time (Herzer, Drawn Into Controversie). Yet what all agreed on was that the reward for Adam’s far outweighed the obedience; the blessing super-abounds beyond all Adam’s obedience.
Nevertheless, we know how this story turned out. Adam was disobedient. As Watson said of Adam and us, “His teeth watered at the apple, and ever since it had made our eyes water” (A Body of Divinity, 131). Yet thanks be to God for his abundant provision in Jesus’ promise: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church
Mark Herzer, “Adam’s Reward: Heaven or Earth?” in Drawn Into Controversie: Reformed Theological Diversity and Debates within Seventeenth-Century British Puritanism, ed. Michael A. G. Haykin and Mark Jones (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011), 162–182.
Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (1692; repr., Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 2000).
A Pastor’s Reflections: Accountability and the Truth
Part of my pastoral ministry involved making regular visits with the members of my congregation. My elders and I did our best to visit every household in the congregation once a year. There were and are a number of benefits to doing this. First, it allowed me as the pastor to get to know my sheep. It is very difficult to get to know people if the only interaction you have with them is on Sunday when you spy their faces from the pulpit or when you see them across the buffet line at church lunch. I would spend a portion of my visit with the household getting to know them. Second, it was an opportunity for me as the pastor and my elders to be present in a home before there was trouble. It is a bit difficult to enter into a home for the very first time when you have to deal with a problem. People might not trust you, know you, or be willing to listen to your counsel because you have not established much of a relationship with them. True, regardless of these things, members of a church have the biblical responsibility to submit to their elders (Heb. 13:17), but knowing your sheep certainly helps.
However, one of the things that I quickly noted was that when holding members accountable to their profession of faith, accountability was only as good as the truth. What do I mean? On a number of occasions I would observe a family and instinctively know that something was wrong. I saw certain behavior that led me to believe that there were spiritual problems. When an unmarried couple, for example, is very “hands-on,” in public, showing a great degree of public affection, then chances are such behavior is merely the tip of the iceberg—what they do in public is a fraction of how they’ll conduct themselves in private. I visited with such people and flat out asked them about their sexual purity, and I typically received answers, that on the face, were correct—they denied wrong-doing.
I also typically asked the members of my congregation, “Are there any significant struggles, or sins, that we can assist you with, pray for you, and hold you accountable?” I typically received negative replies to this question with the assurances that all was well. Apart from any specific hard-evidence, and only unfounded suspicions, I had no other choice than to take people at their word.
The problem was, that in a number of cases people were telling bald-face lies. In due course my elders and I found out about significant sin—in certain cases there were long established patterns of gross sin and deceit. Our spiritual lives, in some ways, is like a sewer system—if you don’t maintain it, things will eventually back-up and run out into the streets. If you don’t confess your sin, seek the accountability of your pastor and elders when needed, it will eventually catch-up with you. What is within our hearts eventually, for better or worse, comes out.
Hence, accountability is only as good as the truth. If you want to grow in your sanctification, you have to be honest with Christ, yourself, your family, and your church. When you’re honest and admit your sins, your need for Christ, and your need for assistance, then you can begin to deal with your need for repentance and greater sanctification.
Meditations on the Larger Catechism, pt. 15
Upheld by Providence
The God of the Bible is the God who has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass from all eternity and who in human history brings all his plans to reality through creation and redemption. This means he surely is not absent, but present in all the affairs of his creation. And because he is present, he personally guides the beginning to the end, inauguration to consummation. We call this personal presence in the turning of time God’s providence. Meditate with me for a moment on the fact that all things are Upheld by Providence from a precious verse on this subject, Hebrews 1:3: “he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
First, consider the doctrine of providence in Hebrews 1:3 in terms of its person. We read that, “he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Who is this he? This is an intriguing question since question and answer 18 of the Larger Catechism says that “God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures; ordering them, and all their actions, to his own glory.” Ordinarily Scripture attributes the work of providence to God the Father (Matt. 6:25–33). It does this for our simplicity sake. Yet the Scripture’s teaching gave rise to the theological maxim: opera trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt; the external works of the Trinity are indivisible. This means that the works of creation, providence, and redemption are the works of all three person of the Holy Trinity. And we see an example of that in Hebrews 1:3, which attributes providence to the Son. Notice the context of this statement. The author is arguing for the superiority of the Son over everything in the Old Covenant—angels, Moses, the priesthood, the sacrifices, and the temple.
As the Son, as the heir of all things, as the one through whom God created the world, as the radiance of God’s glory, as the exact imprint of God’s nature, as the purifier of sins, as the ruler at God’s right hand, and as the one superior to angels, Jesus Christ upholds all things by his powerful word (Heb. 1:1–3). This is hardly the Jesus of The Da Vinci Code and of pop anti-Christianity today, who was supposedly made God by ancient Christian councils. He is God, and therefore along with the Father and the Holy Spirit he is the upholder of all things. This means he, along with the Father and the Spirit, is worthy of our praise, world without end. Amen.
Second, consider the doctrine of providence in Hebrews 1:3 in terms of its place. “He upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Where does the Son exercise this personally present work? He does so in “the universe,” as the ESV states. This is a sense of the literally phrase, “the ages.” Yet to say “the universe” does run the risk of conveying to our warped minds the idea of something static. Did the Son uphold the universe at one point, does he uphold it every once in a while, and will he do so at some time in the future? On the contrary, to say the Son upholds “the ages” is to say something dynamic. He has, he is, and he will always uphold the successive seconds, minutes, hours, days, years, decades, centuries, and millennia of the universe. He does this for all things, in general, and most importantly for the child of God, he does this for my history, in particular. Truly, “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” as the children’s song celebrates.
Finally, consider the doctrine of providence in Hebrews 1:3 in terms of its power. “He upholds the universe by the word of his power.” The power of the Son is shown in that word “uphold.” Everything in all times and in all places is upon his shoulders, or better, in the palm of his hand. As Paul says elsewhere in Colossians 1:17, “in him all things hold together.”
The power of the Son is also seen in the means he uses to uphold everything in the palm of his almighty hand. He upholds all things not by exerting himself, as if he were the Greek Titan, Atlas, upholding the world on his shoulders. Instead, he upholds all things merely by his word—his powerful word. As in the creation, so in providence, when the eternal Son made man speaks, it is so!
Do you realize what this means for you? You can entrust your entire life to Jesus. You can entrust your children’s lives to Jesus. You can entrust your daily affairs and needs to Jesus. You can entrust everything that concerns you to Jesus. There is nothing too problematic, nothing to insignificant, to our powerful Savior. This also means that you can pray to Jesus in times of need. Since he was intimately involved in your estate in the incarnation, taking upon your flesh and blood, undergoing temptation in your place without sin, and since he continues to be intimately involved in his providential care in your life, he knows you; he cares for you. He is not an aloof Savior, but an intimate and powerful Savior. Therefore “cast[…] all your anxieties upon him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). And because the person of the Son cares for you, as he does all the place of this universe in all its ages, he is able to powerfully turn all evil to your good, and ultimately “to his own glory.”
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church
Latest Office Hours! Hebrews 3:1-6 with Prof. Joel Kim
The Season 4 series of Office Hours entitled "Jesus is Really Better" continues. This episode features Joel Kim, Assistant Professor of New Testament, who takes us through Hebrews 3:1-6.
You can find this episode here.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Christ Loves Us All
Over the years in the pastorate I can truly say I met all kinds of people—big rig drivers, business people, fighter pilots, nurses, doctors, former professional football players, mothers, parents, children, and the like. But I can say, without a doubt, that some of the most challenging people to deal with in the church were those that suffered from mental illness. One of the effects of living in a sin-fallen world is that there are illnesses of all types, including those of a mental nature.
On a number of occasions I would be engaged in pastoral counseling and people who suffered from mental illness would ask me if I would recommend to them that they should stop taking their medication. I certainly was sympathetic, as I suspected with most medications, those that are for mental illnesses have some unpleasant side effects. Regardless of what some might think of psychotropic medication, i.e., those who believe all mental illness is the result of sin rather than physiological problems, I always told counselees to listen to the advice of their medical doctor. I have training in theology and Scripture, not in medicine. I did not want to meddle in things for which I had no competence or training. I know little about human anatomy, physiology, or pharmacology except that aspirin and cough syrup are useful when I have a cold. But medical issues aside, I would always point such people to Christ, give them the gospel in counseling, walk them through the Scriptures to show them their sin and Christ’s grace and forgiveness, and encourage them to make use of the means of grace—word, sacrament, and prayer.
I must say, however, that there were some occasions where all efforts of counseling were absolutely futile. I do not write what follows in an effort to be disrespectful or insensitive, but there is no way you can reason or counsel a person who has lost his mind. On a few occasions I found myself trying to encourage a person to seek medical attention and act rationally, only to be met with mindless babbling, wandering about, ranting, and generally bizarre behavior. At one point I was trying to get one person admitted to the hospital and security personnel threatened to arrest this individual, and I encouraged them to do so if it meant that the person would get treated faster. My desperate attempt did not work, though the member of my church was eventually admitted and treated. Years later that member would later be diagnosed and die from brain cancer—I suspect that this perhaps played a role in this person’s mental state.
I’ve often wondered what good my efforts to counsel such individuals ever accomplished. And I’ve come to a few general conclusions. First, sometimes in such circumstances God in his providence is teaching the counselor, not the counselee. Dealing with people with mental illness requires patience and love, something that can be in short supply. Sometimes you simply have to spend time with people who suffer from mental illness and show them the love of Christ. Second, while the person suffering from mental illness might be in a fog unable to recognize your counsel or efforts to assist them, family and relatives are not. Family and relatives often stand on the sidelines and watch, take notes, and hopefully see the love of Christ manifested to their loved ones. Third, it taught me, and still reminds me, that Christ loves every member of his bride, the church., Even in the midst of mental illness, Christ still loves us. It is a great personal assurance to me that, even if I might lose my mind and become lost in a mental haze, Christ never forgets or fails to love me or anyone in such a condition. It is reassuring that Christ extends his love to his bride not only through the means of grace but through the care, patience, and love of others within the body of Christ and that one day, all of our frailties, whether sin-induced or by-products of the fall manifest in our frailty, will be eliminated—our tears will be wiped away and we will suffer no more.
Free Resources on Preaching Christ
Free Resources on Preaching Christ from WSC--All in one place!
We've bundled our best resources for pastors on one convenient page: "Him We Proclaim: The Art and Science of Preaching Christ." Here you'll find articles, audio, and videos related to what WSC does best--teach the art and science of preaching Christ and His Gospel for the good of the Church.
Latest Faculty Publication! Fesko on Sanctification
WSC's latest faculty publication, just released in the UK and soon to be available in the US shortly after the new year is Dr. Fesko's, A Christian's Pocket Guide to Growing in Holiness: Understanding Sanctification (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2012). Here's the blurb from the back cover:
No true Christian wants to keep on sinning. Yet the battle seems unwinnable. For every slain opponent two more emerge from the shadows. And to make matters worse, an endless stream of pundits are on hand with conflicting combat tactics: 'Try harder. Do more.' 'It's a matter of mind over matter.' 'Imitate Christ. Ask, What would Jesus Do?' 'Take a break. Even if you yield to every known sin, you're still a winner because Christ has forgiven everything.'
In the Bible we find a more coherent and realistic approach to growing in holiness. Victory over sin does not come to the spiritual sluggard. Effort is essential. Even so, self-transformation is not possible. 'Sanctification is by faith alone in Christ alone.' The gospel is not just for day one of the Christian life; it's for the whole journey.
How do we grow in holiness? We grow through the word of God and prayer and sacraments. This book will help us find the benefits of growing in Christ for which there is no substitute.
The book is a brief little book that has an introduction, and chatpers on sanctification defined, applied, and undermined. It has a concluding chapter with suggested books for further reading on the subject.
Tolle et lege! Take up and read!
A Pastor’s Reflections: Hospitality
One of the lost and dying arts in the church these days is the practice of exercising hospitality. In days gone by people in church regularly planned to exercise hospitality on the Lord’s Day. They would plan ahead, invite people over for Sunday lunch, and fellowship with Christ’s people on the Lord’s Day—a foretaste of the eternal fellowship we will one day share. Families also used to prepare a sufficient amount of food so that they could invite visitors to the church over to lunch. In other words, the church regularly exercised and practiced hospitality.
Perhaps because Sabbath-observance is a dying conviction within the Reformed community, or maybe its our increasingly individualistic time in which we now live, fewer people and churches are exercising regular hospitality. Perhaps another contributing factor to this trend is that pastors don’t set a good example for their own congregations in this area. Or perhaps it’s because some churches are so big that pastors can’t possibly conceive of being able to show hospitality to the entire church. Regardless of the reasons, this shouldn’t be the present state of affairs in the church.
As a pastor, I had a small enough congregation that my wife and I were able to show hospitality to most everyone in our church. At the beginning of the year my wife and I would sit down with our church directory and make a plan to invite and host each household in the church for some sort of fellowship. Sometimes we served a weeknight dinner, Sunday lunch, or desert and coffee. Due to scheduling conflicts, there were some households we simply weren’t able to have over for a more intimate setting but we were able to host them for a church-wide social event. I know of one pastor who told me that he and his wife hosted approximately 1,000 people per year from their church! We never hit such numbers but we did manage to host most everyone in the church.
I was and am a firm believer in pastors exercising hospitality because it is a vital dimension of ministry. A pastor’s relationship to his congregation must extend beyond preaching and one-on-one counseling. A pastor will have a difficult time getting to know his sheep if the only time he sees them is on Sunday morning as he peers down upon them from the pulpit or when they visit him in his study for counseling. It is also important for a congregation to get to know their pastor. I can say that my wife and I had numerous occasions to visit with members of the church because they invited us over for a meal. Hospitality is conducive fellowship, and fellowship is conducive to building the bonds of unity within the church.
As a pastor, make hospitality a regular part of your ministry. Don’t be misled into thinking that you have to be a great chef or serve a fantastic meal. While food is helpful it is not essential to hospitality. When I was single, I would buy salad in a bag, a Stouffers lasagna, and a loaf of French bread, and voila, I had a meal and the means to invite someone over for a meal. On other occasions I simply bought some nice coffee and a fancy desert, and again, had the means to exercise some hospitality. If you have to, get a bag of Dorritos and a six-pack of Coke, and you’ll be good to go. It’s not about the food, it’s about the fellowship. If churches don’t have a hospitality line-item in their budget for the pastor, they should consider adding one. This way, the pastor can afford to spend the extra money to feed the church (my colleague who fed 1,000 people per year had a line-item in his budget for it).
In the end, breaking bread with your church is one of the best ways to get to know them, serve them (literally), and show them your care and love.
Latest Office Hours! Hebrews 2:14-18 with Prof. Joel Kim
The Season 4 series of Office Hours entitled "Jesus is Really Better" continues. This episode features Joel Kim, Assistant Professor of New Testament, who takes us through Hebrews 2:14-18 discussing what it means for Jesus to "share in flesh and blood" and to be delivered from bondage to the fear of death.
You can find this episode here.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Life Happens in Church
In Reformed churches there is great care and attention given to the idea that the worship service is a time of joy but it is also supposed to marked by solemnity. After all, we are meeting with the triune God. When we think of Isaiah, who fell upon his face in the presence of our thrice holy God, or Peter, who upon recognizing his own sinfulness, fled the face of Christ out of shame, we do not want to approach our merciful covenant Lord with a flippant attitude. Jesus is our Lord, husband, brother, and as the old hymn states it, our friend. But just because Jesus is our friend, and we have boldness to enter into his presence through prayer and the means of grace in corporate worship doesn’t give us license to turn the worship service into an informal thing.
When I would preach, I was, and still am, very mindful about the amount of humor that I will intentionally inject into a sermon. I believe the use of humor is appropriate in preaching, so long as it seasons the sermon and does not overtake it. Pastors are supposed to be preachers, not comedians. If the congregation gets too used to laughing during the worship service because of the pastor’s funny jokes, then they can come to expect to laugh at church rather than seriously weigh the gravity of the law and marvel at the wondrous grace of the gospel of Christ.
That being said, sometimes life happens in the church. What do I mean? Well, there are some circumstances that are simply beyond the control of the pastor, elders, and congregation. I can think of the frequent and sometimes laughter-inducing incidents involving children over the years. I would often smile, and still do, when I would hear a child try to keep up with the rest of the congregation as we said the Lord’s Prayer or when we were singing a hymn or psalm. Sometimes I would be the source of laughter as I would misstate something in my sermon. I don’t recall saying anything terribly awful, though I’ve seen a few YouTube videos of pastors making some serious verbal gaffes in the pulpit that sent ripples of uproarious laughter throughout the sanctuary. On one occasion, I was baptizing a child, and as I held him in my arms his bottom happened to positioned directly in front of my lapel microphone. Well, you can guess what happened—the tiny infant child let loose with one of the loudest bursts of gas I have ever heard. I suppose the sound system made it sound a lot worse than it actually was. Let’s just say that I hoped with all my heart that he was wearing a very sturdy diaper! The child’s mother’s face turned four shades of red—she was horrified. The child’s father was slightly less chagrined, though I think his face didn’t change colors.
What is the pastor to do in such circumstances? Pretend it didn’t happen? Rebuke the child? Scowl at the congregation? Perhaps I did the wrong thing, but I laughed. I also told the parents in front of the congregation, “Don’t worry about it. It’s fine.” I think the congregation laughed a bit over that one. We all gained our composure and then proceeded with the baptism.
As important as it is to maintain the solemnity of our worship services, we should remember that life happens, and sometimes, by God’s sovereign ordination of “whatsoever comes to pass,” (no double entendre intended, seriously, I promise!), life is funny, and it’s ok to laugh in worship. We should rejoice that God has created us with the capacity to laugh and be filled with joy and that we can even experience that joy in worship.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Never Counsel a Woman Alone
One of the regular tasks of a pastor is to offer counseling for members of the congregation. Over the years in my counseling I dealt with a number of issues ranging from the mundane to the outright bizarre. I always did my best to offer people biblical advice, teach them what the word of God had to say about their questions, and instruct them about the importance and necessity of biblical wisdom. As much as I enjoyed helping people in my church, I had a self-imposed policy that I would never counsel a woman alone. Why did I, and still do, hold such a conviction?
Over the years I have heard and know of too many instances where pastors have compromised their personal integrity by falling into some sort of sexual sin, which sometimes innocently started in the pastor’s office as a woman sought counseling. What started off as counseling drifted into other things and eventually led sinful conduct. How does such a pattern occur and why?
In pastoral counseling, if it is to be effective, people must lay themselves emotionally and spiritually bare. They must tell the truth, divulge their thoughts, emotions, tell the pastor things, perhaps, that they have not told anyone else. Pastoral counseling is a venue where the pastor and the member of his congregation become emotionally intimate as the details of a person’s life are laid out in the open. In such circumstances, when a woman opens her heart it is quite natural for the pastor to want to console, comfort, and offer assurance to a suffering person. It’s at this point where the lines from genuine pastoral concern and lust can become very blurry and grey, and before you know it, concern and pastoral care becomes lust. Lust then gives birth to action and the pastor and his counselee transgress the seventh commandment. Given these dangers what is a pastor to do?
While lust often lurks in the heart, invisible to the people around you, it is difficult to act on that temptation when someone else is present in the room. In such a situation the pastor and counselee have no room to give in to temptation. This is not to say they should shelter their lust so long as they don’t act on it—absolutely not. When recognized, anyone who becomes aware of his sin should take immediate action to repent of it and seek the forgiveness of Christ. But what we are considering here is preserving the integrity of the pastor-counselee relationship when the counselee is a woman.
I always made an effort to have one of my ruling elders present with me when I offered counseling to a woman in the church. If the woman was married, I always insisted that the woman inform her husband, something I would verify, so that she was honoring her husband’s spiritual authority. The same would go for a young woman who was still living under her parents’ roof. When one of my elders wasn’t available, I would ask my wife to sit in on the counseling session, or at least be in the next room within earshot so she could hear the conversation (I did this, of course, with the consent of the woman I was counseling). On one occasion I had an unscheduled drop-in and I ended up standing in the drizzle on my front stoop while I talked for a few minutes with a young woman; I offered her some brief counsel and then encouraged her to set up an appointment where someone else could be present. I worked at home and did not want my neighbors seeing a young woman enter my home when my wife was not present. I was happy to get soaked in the rain rather than send a very misleading message to my neighbors.
I went to great lengths because of several factors. First, pastors need to protect the sexual purity and integrity of their sacred office; it is precious—far too many pastors take it for granted and their lax attitude renders them liable to failure. Such failure harms not only their personal reputation but the reputation of their office. I remember reading about a poll conducted in the late-eighties during a time when several high-profile pastors were caught in sexual scandals; the poll revealed that the people surveyed had more respect for prostitutes than they did for ministers.
Second, ministers must be zealous to protect the honor of Christ. They have been called by Christ to serve him and protect the flock—defend, feed, and care for Christ’s sheep. They haven’t been called to take advantage of Christ’s flock. Sexual scandal has terrible long-lasting effects upon a congregation.
Third, the pastor has to be honest with himself. I never wanted to think that I was above sin and that I was incapable of violating the seventh commandment. In a word, I don’t trust myself. I, therefore, did not want to set myself up for sin when it could be easily avoided.
So for these reasons, I never counseled a woman alone.
Latest Office Hours! Hebrews 2.1-13 with Dr. Johnson
And we're back with the Season 4 series of Office Hours entitled "Jesus is Really Better." This episode features Dr. Dennis Johnson, Professor of Practical Theology, who takes us through Hebrews 2:1-13.
You can find this episode here.
A Pastor’s Reflections: They Shoot Pastors, Don’t They?
One of the more challenging tasks for the minister is standing in the pulpit and delivering a sermon. I once read that public speaking is feared more than death itself, but some might be under the impression that the preacher is at ease and does not fear mounting the pulpit after many years of practice. While I can’t speak for others, personally, I still, after fifteen years in the ministry, have a degree of apprehension when I step into the pulpit on any given Sunday. After a few minutes in the pulpit, though, my anxieties usually subside, I can settle down, and focus on preaching the word. But this doesn’t mean that my anxieties and fears are permanently banished from that moment forward.
When a preacher closes his Bible and offers the pastoral prayer, that moment, in many ways, is when the fun begins. The pastor will lead the closing hymn, offer the benediction, and then descend the pulpit and head to the back of the sanctuary to stand at the door and great people as they leave. It’s when you stand at the back door that you can be filled with anticipation, “Did people appreciate the sermon?” But you can also be filled with a small degree of fear, “Did people think the sermon was terrible?” Granted, these aren’t all consuming thoughts, but I suspect they do cross the minds of preachers as they great their congregations.
Often one of the most common greetings is simply a smile and, “Hello.” There are some who might offer a few brief words of encouragement or thanks for the message—I always appreciated such remarks. After all, after preparing for numerous hours, sometimes hours that hit double-digits, you want to know whether people even heard the message. I also appreciated congregants who had questions about the sermon. This told me they were listening. But not every person who has something to say about the sermon has encouraging words.
There are those who make comments about the sermon that make you wonder if they were reading the same text that you preached from. I would sometimes scratch my head in amazement and be somewhat disappointed. But the type of comment I always dreaded was the critical remark. Perhaps it’s my frail, self-centered, tendency, but critical remarks always weighed ten-times more than the compliments. A number of people might offer compliments about the sermon but it would be the critical remark that would echo in my mind for days on end. It was always a frustration when someone would disagree with a point or observation that I made, and my own remarks were based in hours of research, reflection, and examination of the text in Greek or Hebrew, and the critic’s remarks were usually offered on the spur of the moment. It made me sometimes wonder, “Why do I spend so much time preparing if all of my work can be seemingly swept away with one shallow comment?”
One of the more unsettling things that regularly happened to me during my sermons was instantaneous feedback. Over the years I began to learn how to read the faces of the people in my congregation. I could discern facial reactions that indicated contentment, joy, or even disagreement. I had one person who would, close her eyes, lift her face, and smile, when she liked what she heard. This same woman would cross her arms, frown, and look sternly at me when she disagreed with what I was saying. At first, this unnerved me, and even rattled me. It took me a few moments to regain my composure and press on. I soon grew accustomed to it and learned how to continue preaching even in the face of such instant criticism.
All of this is to say, ministers must be prepared to accept criticism for their sermons. And ministers should not live or die by the comments (positive or negative) they receive. With many comments, you have to be prepared to ignore them, not out of pride, but out of the firm conviction that you have prepared well. With other comments, you have to be humble enough to take the criticism and adjust your preaching. Knowing when to ignore and when to adjust requires wisdom and humility—something only Christ can give you. In the end, pray that Christ would grant you the conviction to stand on the truth regardless of the feedback but also the humility to accept correction and rebuke. Though you may know the biblical passage before you better than most in your church, you do not have a corner on the market when it comes to the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. An elder, a single mother, or even a child, might ask a question or offer critical remarks that reveal that there was something you failed to consider. In the end, if your concern is to point others to Christ, including yourself, you’ll never be afraid to learn more about the Scriptures, regardless of who teaches you.
Doctrine of the Two Clarks?
Here at WSC we don't take ourselves too seriously, so it should be no surprise that Dr. Glomsrud celebrated Reformation Day by dressing up as his favorite theologian. Who is that, you might ask? Well, of course, it's Dr. Clark! Rumor has it that Glomsrud was able to obtain Dr. Clark's clothes from an insider so that his look was completely authentic, even down to the reading glasses perched on the nose, hat, and boots! Nice! Not only do we have the doctrine of the two kingdoms, but now we have the doctrine of the two Clarks!
Horton on the Two Kingdoms
For those of you interested in the historic and confessional Reformed doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, Dr. Horton recently participated in a round-table discussion with faculty members from Covenant College at Lookout Mountain, Georgia. You can find a report by Matthew Tuininga, a grad of both Covenant College and WSC here.
Latest Office Hours! Fesko on Galatians
Office Hours talks with Dr. J. V. Fesko, Academic Dean and Professor of Systematic Theology and Historical Theology, about his commentary on Galatians from the Lectio Continua Expository Series on the New Testament. Listen to find out what Paul's letter to the Galatians was about and hear Dr. Fesko engage with the new (yet rather old) perspectives on Paul.
You can catch the episode here.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Christians Are Sinners Too
As the pastor of a small congregation, I was initially surprised by the high number, at least to my mind, of church discipline cases I faced over the years. In rather short order, my session and I faced quite a few difficult issues. Some were common, such as a husband leaving his wife, one member who struggled with sexual addiction for many years, or the young couple who was dating and living together. But other situations didn’t seem quite common. I had to visit one member in prison on multiple occasions. I dealt with spousal abuse, though it wasn’t always clear who was being abused, the wife or the husband. In another circumstance, all I can say is that the situation seemed like it was more appropriate for the Jerry Springer show rather than my little church.
As I ruminated over these various pastoral counseling situations I looked around at the churches in my area and wondered how frequently, or infrequently, they dealt with such issues. I scratched my head and asked myself, “Is my church any more sinful than the other churches down the street?” As I compared my own situation against the Scriptures, I began to realize in a first-hand way that Christians are sinners—just because they’re in the church doesn’t mean that they stop sinning. Perhaps it’s the fact that people get dressed up for church that sends the message to the world that “everything’s ok . . . nothing to see here . . . move along.” But look, for example, at the Corinthian church—that is one congregation that I would have turned down the call had the session extended it to me. What a mess. Though they were sanctified in Christ (1 Cor 1.2) they were guilty of significant sexual sin (1 Cor 5) and boasting about it, rife with divisions (1 Cor 1), had unruly people in worship (1 Cor 14, 11), and were getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11)!
But after reflecting upon the Corinthian congregation I was struck by two things. First, as obvious as it is, Christians are sinners. One of my colleagues here at the seminary likes to remind us, “We not only believe in total depravity, we practice it too!” In other words, it should not surprise us to find sin, even gross sin, in the church. It should sadden and grieve us, but not surprise us. Second, though Paul was the one who had to bring correction, reproof, and discipline, he was always keenly aware that his own standing was not as a result of his own moral superiority but rather the grace of God. Paul was the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim 1.15).
As a pastor you must constantly pray for humility—the ability to remember that you are where you are in life by God’s grace. You will regularly encounter the opportunity to think that you are better than the people around you because chances are you will deal with some pretty awful sin. Gross sin, sadly, will not be in short supply. But as a pastor, you must remember that you minister to a congregation of sinners.
Pray, therefore, on behalf of pastors. Pray that Christ would make the preaching of the word, the administration of the sacraments, and if necessary, the use of discipline effective. And in the end, you can rejoice with the apostle Paul that even your congregation, as sin-laden as they might be, is nonetheless sanctified in Christ Jesus.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Never Preach to One Person
When I first entered the pastorate I told myself never to preach to any one person in the congregation, and it seems like Providence confirmed this decision time and time again. I would be in the throws of my weekly sermon preparation and as my message would develop I would begin to think, “Oh! This is a perfect message for so-and-so—they’ve been struggling with this particular problem and this is precisely what he needs to hear.” Without fail, the person would not be in church on Sunday.
After having this happen a number of times in my first two years of ministry, I picked up the phone and called a colleague to vent my frustration. He chuckled and noted that the same thing frequently happened to him. But he also told me, “Don’t think that Sunday is when people are sanctified. Be prepared for a lifetime of ministry to your congregation, one where you will see them struggle with certain sins and shortcomings for years. Be prepared to labor at great lengths and be long-suffering. Over time, you will see Christ sanctify his people. It just probably won’t happen in one day as a result of one sermon.”
My colleague’s point was not to sit idly by as people wallowed in gross sin—of course not. There are necessary steps for the minister in such circumstances, such as church discipline. However, he was telling me that people might struggle with, for example, a lack of assurance, for years. Was I prepared to preach, in season and out, and wait upon Christ? This is something that I regularly prayed for—patience. I had to ask the Lord to give me the patience I needed to wait upon him so that he would sanctify people on his time table and not my own. I noted the irony that in all of this, the Lord was sanctifying me—teaching me greater patience, long-suffering, and faith.
But the point does still stand—never preach to one person in the congregation. The needs of one person, in my opinion, never outweigh those of the congregation. Preach the text that lies before you and think of the needs of your flock as a whole. If you decide to single out one individual (I’m not suggesting that a preacher would call out a name from the pulpit!), chances are you will leave the rest of the congregation behind. There is certainly a time when you leave the ninety-nine in pursuit of the lost sheep, but such action is best left for one-on-one counseling, when you can be direct but not give the impression that you’re trying to embarrass someone publically.
Preaching can be funny in that, if you preach the text, sometimes you’ll be surprised at the results. You may think that one person needs to hear its convicting message but then be shocked at what other people will say to you after the service. In other words, never forget that the ultimate application of your message is performed by the work of the Spirit, he who moves about like the wind, and whose activity cannot be predicted. In this respect it is a great relief that the efficacy of your message rests upon the Spirit of God.
Latest Office Hours! Hebrews 1-2 with Dennis Johnson
Office Hours continues with the Season 4 series entitled "Jesus is Really Better" on the Epistle to the Hebrews. This episode features Dr. Dennis Johnson, Professor of Practical Theology, who begins where Dr. Baugh left off.
You can find this latest episode here.
A Pastor’s Reflections: No Time for Prayer?
Among the many activities in the life of a church, prayer is one of the more important. The Shorter Catechism defines prayer as: “An offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies” (q. 98). My own experience is not necessarily indicative of the church at large, at least I hope so, but as much as people said prayer was important, their actions revealed that prayer was actually not that important. I can say this because the church’s mid-week prayer meetings were some of the most sparsely attended events.
Turnout was always hearty whenever food was served, but whenever prayer was on the schedule, it was like people-repellant. Only the most dedicated of the church attended, and even then, sometimes it was myself, my wife, and one or two of my elders in attendance. Perhaps low-attendance was due to the busy schedules that many of us now carry? Perhaps the lack of attendance was a consequence of the traffic in a busy metropolitan city, which made travel in the evenings a real chore. The nagging question, however, that always stood in the back of my mind was, “Is anyone praying at home right now even if they’re not attending the meeting?”
I think one of the bigger challenges in the life of the church is convincing people that individual time in prayer is important, but so is corporate prayer. Yes, churches spend time in corporate prayer in worship, which is vital to a church’s spiritual health. However, there should be time dedicated in the life of the church where people fully grasp the first-person plural pronoun of the “Our Father,” in the Lord’s Prayer. That is, they need to realize that they are not alone and that they are part of a body, one that is supposed to pray together, hence, the famous prayer begins with, “our,” and not just, “My Father.”
All too often we are self-absorbed in our own struggles and challenges and don’t realize that others in the body of Christ are suffering to a greater degree—with illnesses, depression, or in other parts of the world, persecution and tremendous suffering. In prayer we are able not only to bask in the grandeur of the marvelous triune God that we serve, but we are also able to take the focus off of ourselves and intercede on behalf of others.
As a pastor, I always prayed that my congregation would discover the riches of prayer, but at least while I was leading it, the Lord didn’t seem to answer my prayers. This doesn’t mean, however, that pastors should stop praying for their churches—sometimes much of a pastor’s ministry is spent hidden away in his prayer closet interceding on behalf of his flock. Only Christ knows of his prayers and concerns. And sometimes pastors must wait years, decades, before the Lord will answer his prayers. But such is the nature of the pastorate—we who are called should not expect instantaneous success, like placing a prayer in a microwave and taking it out, piping hot, after sixty seconds. Instead, ministers should realize that they are committing to a lifetime of ministry and prayer, sometimes with no immediate visible results.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Watch Out for Loudmouths
Over the years I’ve run into many people who love and embrace the Reformed faith. Everyone’s story is a bit different—some found out about the Reformed faith through books, others through ministries, such as Ligonier or the White Horse Inn, and still yet others have grown up in the Reformed church. One of the classes of people I avoid, however, is the loudmouth. As a pastor I’ve found that there are usually at least two types of people: people who quietly serve and others who tell you all about what they know.
There were a number of people over the years who were raised in the Reformed church, love the Westminster Standards, and knew their Bibles very well. The interesting thing, though, was that they never told me any of these things. When they came to church they were quiet and reserved, and when a sign-up sheet went around looking for volunteers, they signed up without fuss or muss. A number of these people served, for example, in the children’s Sunday School—a task that many avoid like the plague. As cute as children can be, being locked in a small room with toddlers can strike fear into the heart of the most stouthearted believer in the Providence of God!
On the other hand, there were people who came to the church and within the first few minutes of our conversation I knew the books they were reading and the theologians that they respected, as well as the theologians they disrespected. I also often knew of the theologians that these people personally knew—they’d be dropping names like rain in a noisy gutter. And one of the things that struck me was how desperate these people were to tell me how Reformed they were.
I think I can say that in every case, the loudmouth ended up leaving the church and in a number of cases caused significant trouble in the church. Why was this pattern true? I think that people who truly know their Reformed doctrine don’t have tell others how much they know or who they know. They’ve been gripped by the grace of Christ and want to serve the church. The people who want everyone else to know what and who they know, on the other hand, have yet to mature. They haven’t grasped what Paul has taught regarding knowledge, namely that it puffs up (1 Cor 8.1), though undoubtedly they will tell you that they know that knowledge puffs up.
Part of the danger with loudmouths is they haven’t recognized that knowledge divorced from love is empty; this is why they frequently cause trouble in churches. Their ultimate concern isn’t for Christ and his church but themselves. They are more interested in having everyone know how knowledgeable they are instead of simply serving Christ in quiet humility in the knowledge that our Savior, in the end, is the only one who truly knows. While it ultimately calls for wisdom, when in doubt, keep what you know to yourself and quietly serve in the church and pray that Christ would keep you humble.
Latest Office Hours! Hebrews 1
Office Hours continues with the Season 4 series entitled "Jesus is Really Better" on the Epistle to the Hebrews. This episode features Dr. S.M. Baugh, Professor of New Testament, who explains Hebrews 1 and offers guidance when reading (or better, hearing) the letter as a whole.
Listen to this episode here.
A Pastor’s Reflections: Everyone Says They’ll Submit
I can remember having a conversation with one of my elders as we were reflecting upon the vows of membership. In my denomination, we have four membership vows, the last of which says something to the effect, “Will you submit to the authority of the session, and if you’re found wanting in life or doctrine, submit to its authority in Christ?” My elder noted, “You know, everyone always says they’ll submit, but when it comes down to it, it seems like few do.” I thought about it for a moment and believed he was and is correct.
All too often it seems like people are all too happy to join a church, and they do so believing (I hope) that they’ve found a good church—one that preaches the gospel, administers the sacraments, and properly administers discipline. When they join I suspect that, for the most part, they do so with a mind that they are in agreement with the doctrine and practice of the church. And everything is peachy until there is some issue of disagreement.
When I write of disagreement, I don’t have in mind the insignificant quibbles, though people in the church, pastor, elder, and church member alike, can and do make mountains out of mole hills. Rather, the challenge often comes when the session has to confront a person with his sin. Over the years I can remember conducting pastoral visits with people in my church and I would normally encourage them to make regular use of the means of grace—to attend worship, heed the preaching of the word. However, there were always some who did not regularly attend worship. Interestingly enough, these are also the same people who had significant spiritual problems. Nevertheless, I would make a visit to their homes and gently encourage them, “You need to come to church. How can a person gain nourishment if he refuses to come to the table and eat, or lift his hand to feed himself?”
If Christ is the manna from heaven, then we regularly, daily, but especially through the preaching of the word in corporate worship on the Lord’s Day, need to hear solid preaching if we hope to grow in our sanctification. I was doing my best to point this out, but such counsel was perceived as “legalism” and “lording authority.” To be honest, I thought such responses were simply a rebellious heart blowing smoke to try and distract the elders from the real issue. What happened in a number of occasions is that this type of person eventually left the church.
One of the reasons many Reformed denominations have a membership vow that includes submission to the session (or consistory) is because, though we are redeemed by Christ and regenerated, we still struggle with sin. And sometimes, in our struggle with sin, we need accountability—we need someone to tell us, “You’re sinning!” We also need godly counsel so we know how to remedy the situation. Would a patient suffering from cancer tell his doctor, “You’re hounding me!” because his physician tells him to take his medication or else he’ll die?
When we join a church, therefore, we should be prepared to be held accountable by the session. True, some sessions and pastors do lord their authority over their churches, but this is not always the case. We should always pray that the Lord would give us all the humility to heed godly counsel, especially when we are sinning, such as the unwillingness, apart from a good reason, of not regularly attending worship.
Meditations on the Larger Catechism, pt. 14
Meditations on the Larger Catechism
God’s Making of Man
We live in a time in which our humanity is misunderstood, at best, and under attack, at worse. Our consumer society is rooted in the philosophy that greed is good, that “it’s not personal, it’s business,” and that he who dies with the most toys wins. The proliferation of pornography, sexuality, and libertinism is rooted in a hedonistic philosophy in which pleasure is the goal of life and there are no consequences for our actions. Sadly this has led so many young girls to become mothers and has taught boys to treat girls like object to be used and tossed away. Worse yet is the philosophy that treats the termination of new life as a choice merely to be exercised. President after President profess the name of Jesus Christ yet shrug their shoulders and say of abortion, “It’s settled law,” while refusing to obey God’s law. Congress presides over this scourge all the while beginning each day in the name of God with prayer. The Supreme Court that gave us this interpretation of the law audaciously begins the hearing of each case, “God save the United States and this Honorable Court.”
This is why we need to know what we believe and why we believe it. Concerning the nature of our humanity, the Word of God in Genesis 1–2 teaches us of God’s Making of Man.
The first point Genesis makes about God’s making of man is that it was the climax of his creative work. The Larger Catechism picks up on this when it says, “After God had made all other creatures…” As we read the narrative of the creation week we realize that there is something more going on than just God creating and ordering all things. Creation is moving somewhere. Why is God creating form on days one through three? Why is he filling those forms in days four through six? Why are the trees bearing fruit? Why are the lights made to mark times and seasons?
The reason is in 1:26. Here there is a dramatic shift in the narrative. Here the climax of creation is found in the creation of humanity. This is evidenced in that humans are the last of God’s creation, but also because instead of God speaking his fiats, that is, his powerful commands (“let there be”), he has a personal conversation, “Let us.” Finally, the impersonal refrain, “and it was so,” is replaced by “God created” three times. There is something special going on here. Thus the master artisan of whom Job spoke prepares to make his greatest masterpiece. The climax of creation is man. All that God is doing is to make a place for his image-bearers to live and to serve him.
What lessons can we take away from humans being the climax of creation?
First, we learn here of the overwhelming love of God in creating us. That God actually made anything, that God decided to make us, and that God took so much care, so much time, so much concern to form and fill his world for us, is a testimony of his love. To this we sing, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). When Isaiah sought to comfort Israel, who had rebelled against God, he said, “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name” (Isa. 54:5b).
Second, we learn that as the climax of his creation, God created us especially for communion and fellowship with him. Unlike the rest of creation, which he simply spoke into existence, he shaped us from the ground and personally breathed into us his own breath (2:7).
The second point Genesis 1–2 makes about God’s making of man is the constitution of man. We learn several things about what makes us human here.
First, God created the constitution of humanity as male and female. There is a beautiful poem in 1:27 that says,
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him,
male and female he created them.
This means that as far as our humanity goes, men and women are equal. While we know that Scripture says in the church there is a certain order and that only men may serve in an official capacity as minister, elders, and deacons (1 Tim. 2), nevertheless men and women are equal. This is true not only in terms of their humanness, but a wonderful reality is that in Christ “there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). In speaking to Christian husbands, Peter tells them to live with their wives “in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). They are co-heirs of the grace that gives us eternal life.
Second, God created the constitution of humanity as body and soul. As for the body, man was made from the dust of the earth (2:7) while the woman was made from the side of the man (2:21–22). One use of this truth is that we as humans are closely related to the earth since we came forth from it. And while we certainly do not worship the earth as a mother goddess nor is our religion the new fangled fad of “greenianity,” nevertheless we do need to be stewards of what God has given us. How much more since God will renew and resurrect the earth in the new heavens and the new earth (Rom. 8:18–25; Rev. 21–22) As for the soul, the Catechism says that God “endued them with living, reasonable, and immortal souls.” We see this particularly in 2:7 where the breath of life makes man a living soul.
Third, God created the constitution of humanity in his image and likeness (1:26–27). One of the best ways to understand this is to acknowledge that what Adam damaged by his sin is being renewed by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. What Adam defaced Christ renews. In Ephesians 4:24 Paul says we have learned in Christ that we have “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Since we are being renewed in righteousness and holiness this means that Adam’s original creation in the image of God was to be made with these blessings. In Colossians 3:10 Paul contrasts our former life outside Christ with our new life in Christ. We must not lie because that was a part of our old nature that we put off. Instead, we have put on the “new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”
The final point to notice in God’s making of man is the crowning. Appended to the LORD God’s conversation about making man in his image and likeness is the fact that he gave humanity dominion over the creation: “And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (1:26). Since Genesis 1 is a record of God building his kingdom on earth, he places his earthly prince over it rule it, to take care of it, and to bring glory to his Maker. The Psalmist ponders this in Psalm 8:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas. (Ps. 8:3–8)
Beloved, you were made just a little lower than the angels and you were crowned with glory and honor by God himself. What a privilege! What an amazing truth about our humanity! Do not, then, live inhumanely. Do not think of yourself as a consumer. You are an image-bearer of your Creator, made to be the climax of his creation to bring him glory in body and soul.
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church
A Pastor’s Reflections: Four Words That Frighten Christians
Life is filled with lessons, at least for those who pay attention. One such lesson involves the dreams and assumptions that I had as a seminarian and how those same dreams were challenged once I was in the pastorate. Like many who enter seminary with the hope of one day pastoring a church, I knew that there would be opposition to the gospel outside the church. Unbelievers are, as Paul writes, “fools,” those who deny God’s existence, hate him, and suppress the truth in unrighteousness. I also figured there would be opposition to the gospel from those within the church who were only interested in creating trouble—false teachers. When I graduated and found myself in the pastorate, I found trouble from the two usual suspects, unbelievers and false teachers. There was a third suspect that caught me off guard—the well-intending, gospel-believing, person—the genuine Christian. It came as a surprise to me that godly Christians were also a source of opposition to the ministry of the gospel. How so? I think this type of in-church opposition can be described by four words that frighten Christians: Christ, wisdom, and Christian liberty.
How is it possible that Christians would be fearful of Christ? How can one saved by Christ be fearful of him? The simple answer to the question is, sin. All of us, no matter who we are, still struggle with sin. This means that we struggle with our submission to Christ’s authority. I think that many Christians have the assumption that when they come to church, they do so to have their beliefs and values affirmed. Certainly this is the case. After all, those who believe in the Scriptures as the word of God want to hear it preached. However, I think that we can become easily forgetful of the abiding presence of sin, our struggle with it, and our continued need for sanctification—further conformity to the image of Christ. If we forget these things, then we can easily find ourselves fearful of Christ.
When Christ tells us that we must take up our crosses and follow him, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christ bids us to come and die. Dying to one’s self is not an easy or appealing thing. This means that at some point during our lives, we should come into contact with the resurrected and ascended Christ through the means of grace and he will show us through the law how we fall short. He will reveal our sin to us and show us our need for his righteousness. For those who think they have arrived, that they have little need for greater sanctification, they will think that the medicine offered in the gospel, if you will, is for some other ill person, not them. They will flee Christ out of fear, perhaps unconscious or even unexpressed, because they believe the gospel is for sinners, not for saints.
I found that people at times would accuse me of preaching too much Christ and not spending enough time telling the church what they should do. Such people were fearful of Christ and the grace of the gospel, the gospel that tells us, believe and you will do, not, do so you will believe. A simple test to determine whether we might fear Christ and his gospel is to ask ourselves whether we have ever been offended or convicted by something we have heard from the pulpit. If we have never been offended or convicted of sin, then chances are we might be present in body but our hearts are far, far away, from the voice of Christ speaking in the Scriptures. How can a redeemed but nonetheless sinful person never hear a word that convicts him of his sin? Either he is perfect and no longer in need of the sanctifying work of the Spirit, or the preacher is not preaching the word, both law and gospel, or the person in the pew simply flees from Christ when he hears his voice. Like the bulimic who feasts upon a sumptuous meal and then purges, so the one who flees Christ feasts upon the word only to purge it out of fear.
In many respects a fear of Christ drives the fear of the second word for many Christians, wisdom. Why would Christians fear wisdom? Stated simply, far too many Christians want someone to tell them what to do. Out of a fear of Christ, Christians will flee to the law thinking that they can find answers there. To be sure, the law is an absolute essential part of the Christian life in all of its functions: the civil (the standard of moral government known through nature and Scripture), the pedagogic (that which condemns sin and drives us to Christ), and the normative (that which guides us in our knowledge of what is pleasing to God and therefore instructive for the Christian life). However what often happens is that people run past Christ and head straight for the law apart from him. What they fail to see is that the law has very limited capabilities and functions.
The law only condemns, it cannot save. Only Christ through the Spirit saves. Apart from Christ the law is our enemy. Only Christ through the Spirit can make the law our friend and guide. Think of the lepers that roamed the wastelands of Christ’s day—the law only condemned them as unclean; it was powerless to cleanse them. Only the touch of Christ healed, cleansed, and restored them. The restoration of the lepers gives us a window into the nature of our redemption but it also shows us why the law is insufficient for every circumstance in life.
The law can certainly give us guidance for many moral decisions, but the Scriptures themselves tell us of the insufficiency of the law. Think of Solomon and the two women who fought over the child. There was no law written for a time when two prostitutes claim the same child as their own. Solomon did not consult the law but instead made a wise decision. The same can be said of the Proverb that says, Answer a fool according to his folly and do not answer a fool according to his folly. Is this a hopeless contradiction—one upon which we have been impaled? Or is the Bible telling us that there are situations in life that call for wisdom? There are many Christians in the church who absolutely shudder at the thought of wisdom. They want formulas, commands, and instruction for every situation in life. I think it disturbed some when I would counsel one family to pursue home schooling and another to seek public education. Why is there not one standard for everyone? The simple answer is, because life calls for wisdom. Moreover if we understand that the treasures of wisdom are hidden in Christ, then we will realize that many situations in life call for us to reflect upon the teachings of the Scriptures and then apply those teachings all the while seeking guidance and direction from Christ through prayer and the means of grace. Christians in similar circumstances might come to different conclusions—one family may choose to adopt a child and another might not. One person might choose to invest in the stock market and another might not. One presbytery might choose to ordain a man to the ministry and another presbytery might decide not to ordain a very similarly qualified man. One may choose to go to a movie while another may not. Life calls for wisdom—seeking the mind of Christ.
But this brings us to our third and fourth words: Christian liberty. This is a cardinal teaching of the Scriptures, but one that all too many Christians forget. Rather than seeking assurance and comfort in Christ and in seeking his mind (wisdom) for the Christian life, people seek respite in uniformity. Life seems so chaotic, especially in the pluralistic society and culture in which we live. So people in the church assume that if we all believe in the same Lord and the same gospel, then we should all look the same. We should all dress the same, home school our children, use the same curriculum, discipline our children alike, have large families, and have the same theological views on a host of different subjects. If we can get on the same page, then we can have unity. The problem is that to achieve this sort of lock-step unity, people inevitably have to go beyond what the Scriptures teach. Though the Scriptures say nothing about home schooling vs. public schooling, movies, dating, and the like, people create rules about these things, whether implicitly or explicitly. Perhaps you have encountered this type of phenomenon?
You visit a church and very quickly you are informed, “All of the families here in this church home school.” Or there is pressure to conform to the practices of the majority of the congregation: “Your wife shouldn’t work. It’s sinful, you know.” Difference in views or practice is not perceived as another alternative but as dissension, rejection, and rebellion against the status quo (a status quo, keep in mind, that most in the church view as the “biblical way of life”). What often ends up happening in such circumstances is that spirituality is no longer measured by God’s word, the law and gospel, but by these other practices about which the Scriptures say little to nothing. In a word, many Christians fear Christian liberty—the idea that Christ alone is Lord of the conscience and that we may not impose, pressure, or ostracize anyone who does not conform to our created system of rules, however well-intentioned they might be.
I think these four words (Christ, wisdom, Christian liberty) strike fear in the hearts of many believers because they exude the supremacy and sovereignty of Christ and his gospel of free grace—something that we love to embrace but find ourselves fighting against because of the abiding presence of sin. The siren of our old man whispers to our souls that there has to be something at which we excel, some patch of our lives where Christ is not needed. Like the allure of returning to Egypt for pots of meat, we are tempted to return to a life of bondage under the law. We therefore seek shelter in our own abilities rather than beneath the wings of Christ. We seek comfort in following rules rather than seeking the mind of Christ. We find solace in uniformity of practice rather than in the lordship of Christ.
As a minister of the gospel it took me some time to realize these things, both in my congregation and in myself. It takes constant prayer to Christ that he would sanctify, grant his wisdom, and create in me a submissive heart. My elders and I constantly fought to keep the church identified as one that centered upon Christ and his gospel. We did not want to be the home schooling church, the political church, the anti-movie church, the courtship church. Rather, as in Paul’s instruction to the congregation at Rome that struggled with being the meat-eating or vegetarian church, Paul insisted that they had to be a church grounded upon Christ and his people in spite of whatever differences of opinion might exist among them.
Pastoral Ministry Wednesdays!
Tune in each Wednesday for practical and theological reflections upon pastoral ministry. This series will give people frank confessions, counsel, and advice about life in the pastorate. But at the same time, these posts are not just for pastors or for those considering full-time ministry--they are for anyone in the church. So often people in the church don't know what life is like from the vantage point of the pulpit. This series will hopefully give some insights from this angle in the life of the church.
If you've missed them, there have been two posts so far, which you can find here:
Contentment in Ministry
Children Decide the Important Things.
In this series my hope is not only to provide insights into the challenges and joys of ministry, but equip people in the church to know how to pray and look out for their pastors.
Children Decide the Important Things
Over the years I watched a number of people come and go through the doors of the church. In our mobile, vagabond, anchorless time, people move from job to job, city to city, and church to church. Given the mobility of a culture, say in comparison with a generation ago when a person might work for one company in the same city and live in the same house for his entire life, people move around. So there were some who left the church because of job transfers. In fact, I had a stretch where more than a dozen families relocated because of job transfers over a two-year period. Most of the time I could understand the job relocation. The situation, for the life of me, that I simply have never understood were the families that left the church because their children were not happy.
I can remember sitting before a number of families over the years who would come to me, “Pastor, we really love the church and find the preaching to be edifying . . .” On the heels of such a statement, I could hear that the person’s breath was not finished and that there was a conjunction just around the corner, “but . . .” Once they let the conjunction drop, I knew it would be followed by an excuse for leaving the church, “Our children just aren’t happy here.” I was certainly concerned, so I would naturally ask the family about the specific nature of their children’s unhappiness to which I received the following explanation: “Our children find the Sunday School boring. Plus, we know at other churches there is children’s church, which we think will be much better for them. They also have many other programs and such.”
Now in one sense, I certainly do not begrudge the idea of a parent wanting to make his child happy. As a father myself, I make every effort to ensure that my children enjoy life. At he same time it always stupefied me how parents would decide to move to another church because their children were bored. I even had one family admit to me that the preaching at another church was undoubtedly weaker, but they wanted the children to be happy. I know what some of you are thinking, “Poor man. This fellow doesn’t understand that the parents weren’t being honest. They were using their children as the scape goat because they didn’t want to own up to the fact that they were the ones who were unhappy.” True. This scenario is certainly a possibility. However, I determined that the parents were being honest because of two factors.
First, at times I would visit the children’s Sunday School and see first-hand bored children, with their hands holding up their drooping heads, as they sat there in a catatonic stasis, all the while their classmates were laughing, engaged, and seemingly enjoying themselves. Second, I often talked with the parents who were engaged, soaking in the material in the adult Sunday School class, and seemingly being edified by the preaching. So a lack of transparency aside, why would parents let their children make one of the most important decisions in their lives?
Would an adult entrust to a ten-year-old child her choice of what medical doctor to visit? Would an adult allow a child to choose the type of medication to consume to treat an ailment? Would an adult allow a young child to make investment choices for a 401k? While adults would not entrust these important decisions to their children, they nevertheless let them make the choices about where they should go to church. And the decision is not based upon whether the church bears the three marks (preaching of the word, administration of the sacraments, or administration of discipline) but upon whether the child is entertained. I think this type of decision also reveals an unstated but nevertheless present belief in the broader church—serious theology is for adults—children come to church for entertainment. Could this be one of the contributing factors to why so many young people graduate from high school never to return to church again?
So many children are taught that excitement and boredom form the poles of the economy of how life is evaluated. Rather than teach children about the truths of the gospel, the condemnation of the law, the promises of the gospel, and blessings we receive through Christ and the Spirit, all too many children look to evaluate life the same way they would a theme park.
Latest Office Hours! Union with Christ
Office Hours talks with Dr. J. V. Fesko, Academic Dean and Professor of Systematic Theology and Historical Theology, about his book Beyond Calvin: Union with Christ and Justification in Early Modern Reformed Theology (1517-1700). Listen to the latest episode to find out why Calvin is not the sole representative of the Reformed tradition, and why more attention should be given to others such as Peter Martyr Vermigli, Girolamo Zanchi, William Perkins, John Owen, Francis Turretin, and Herman Witsius. Such men, among many others, prioritized justification over sanctification within the scope of union with Christ. Having trouble with some of these terms? Listen now to Office Hours!
You can find the episode here.
Meditations on the Larger Catechism, pt. 13
Meditations on the Larger Catechism
What are Angels?
Q&A 13, 16
We’ve all seen them, right? Angels, that is. You know, those chubby little children with wings; those cute Precious Moments statuettes; those little guys on your shoulders—one reminding you of good and the other tempting you to what is bad. From the downright silly to sentimental to seriously wrong, from what is found in bookstores and heard on daytime talk shows, angels are big business in our time. This just goes to show how important they are to people’s mindset.
Our Reformed and Puritan forefathers thought they were important, too. The Belgic Confession of Faith in its article on creation spends one long line on the creation of the world but an entire paragraph on good and bad angels as well as a rejection of errors about them. The Westminster Larger Catechism also gives a basic exposition concerning angels. So what are angels?
In Hebrews 1:1–14 we read one of the most poetic and powerful descriptions of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. The writer contrasts angels with our Lord. Angels are glorious, but our Lord is most glorious. They have an excellent name, but he a name that is “more excellent” (Heb. 1:5). They are spirits, but he is the Son. They are servants, but he is the Lord. Yet while the apostolic author seeks to show the superiority of the Son, he does reveal some basic knowledge about angels.
They Serve the Lord
The first thing Hebrews 1 reveals is that angels serve the Lord. In the words of the Larger Catechism, “God created all the angels…to execute his commandments” (Q&A 16). There are two reasons why they do so.
First, they serve the Lord because they were created by the Lord. In contrast to the only begotten and firstborn Son, Hebrews says, “Of the angels he [God] says, ‘He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire’” (Heb. 1:7). Here the writer quotes from Psalm 104, which extols God for his created works. A part of that creation is the host of angels. They were “made.” Paul also makes this contrast. God has “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13–14). This Son is then extolled: “For by him [the Son] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16).
One of the ways this is so important is with the infatuation today for angelic guidance. There are book galore that tell stories about how angels gave messages to people, how angels saved people from danger, and how angels guided people’s lives. And the purpose of these books is that you would seek them out to do this for you. Let me say to you as unequivocally as possible: Jesus Christ is the one who speaks to us through his Word; Jesus Christ is the one who saves us from sin and from danger; Jesus Christ is the one who guides our lives. Do not seek the creation to do this, seek the Creator!
Second, they serve the Lord because they were elected by the Lord. Just as among humanity, so too in the angelic realm God’s decree of election and reprobation was operative (Q&A 13). When Q&A 16 says that the angels are “subject to change,” the proof text that is offered is 2 Peter 2:4. There Peter describes the effect of a prior decree of God. Some angels sinned against God and therefore were cast into hell. We see the same thing in Jude 6, which speaks of “angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.” On the contrary, Paul speaks of “elect angels” in 1 Timothy 5:21. All angels, of course, were created to serve the Lord, but it is those especially, chosen by grace, that serve him.
Let me pause and reflect upon a practical benefit of this. This means you need not fear demons as if they were almighty beings. They are created. They sinned. They were punished. And most importantly, the Lord within you is greater than them! As James 2:19 says, “Even the demons believe [there is one God]—and shudder!”
So how precisely do these elect angels serve the Lord as the result of their election?
First, by worshipping the Lord: “And when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him’” (Heb. 1:6). Recall how this happened. When our Lord was born, who heralded his birth with a song of praise? The angels: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is well pleased’” (Luke 2:13–14). Their worship calls us to worship as the four living creatures surrounding the throne of grace in heaven cry out, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev. 4:8)
Second, by executing the Lord’s commands: “Of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels winds, and his messengers a flame of fire’” (Heb. 1:7). The writer describes angels as if they were the wind and fire. The wind and fire are elements of creation, which the Scriptures describe as executing what God commands. When the Lord wanted to redeem his people, he sent a strong east wind that blew all night to split the Red Sea in two. When the Lord wanted to judge Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness he sent fire from heaven to do his will. It is the same way with the angels. They are sent forth like the wind, they execute the Lord’s commands like the fire.
Why is this so important for us to meditate upon? If the angels serve God in worshipping him and in obeying his commands, we who have been redeemed from sin by God’s grace need to do so even more, praying, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
They Serve the Elect
The second thing we learn about angels from Hebrews 1 is that they serve the elect: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14) How marvelous it is that they who serve the Son serve us.
We see their service to the elect in announcing to Mary the birth of the Lord himself (Luke 1), in ministering to our Lord in the wilderness after his fasting and temptation (Matt. 4), in announcing the resurrection of the Savior (Matt. 28), in announcing the soon return of our Savior after his ascension (Acts 1), in releasing Peter and John from prison (Acts 5; 12), in guiding Philip to preach to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8).
But how do they minister to us, now? Pay close attention to Hebrews 1:14. The angels are servants of the Lord for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation. The author is speaking not of our reception of salvation now, but our reception of salvation not yet. In this life we have the promise of receiving an eternal inheritance. But we only receive that inheritance completely in the life of come. The angels serve us by assisting us in our life of perseverance so that we might endure to the end and receive our inheritance: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master . . . Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:21, 34).
John Calvin described this ministry of the angels towards the elect as the “heavenly hosts [being] assigned to be their servants to see to their salvation.” He went on to say, “It is no ordinary pledge of God’s love for us, that He keeps them busily working for our sake. From this there comes an extraordinary confirmation of our faith that our salvation is beyond danger, guarded as it is by such defences. God has the best possible consideration for our infirmity in giving us such helpers to resist Satan with us, and to put forth all their effort in every way to care for us (Commentary on Hebrews). God in his love has sent us angels, who are “mighty in power” (Q&A 16), to guard us from the assaults of Satan and to help us in our fight against him. This ministry is summed up in the words of the Psalmist, who in Psalm 91:11 spoke of their protection: “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Ps. 91:11–12).
May God grant that we serve him even as the angels. May God grant that we fight against all the assaults of the world, the flesh, and especially the devil even as the angels serve us in this fight.
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church
John Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews, trans. William B. Johnston, eds. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), 12:17.
Latest Faculty Publication!
WSC's latest faculty publication comes from Dr. Fesko and is titled, Christ and the Desert Tabernacle. The book covers the Exodus narratives that give the plans for the construction of the desert tabernacle and demonstrates their connections to Christ and the church.
Scott Swain, the Academic Dean, and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at RTS Orlando offers this back-cover comment:
In this book, John Fesko expounds biblical teaching about Christ's tabernacle-building project with the skill of an exegete, the discernment of a theologian, and the voice of a pastor. The result is a volume that is sure to promote greater understanding, admiration, and service of the One who declared: 'I will build my church' (Matt 16:18).
Keep your eyes peeled (as painful as it might be), as the bookstore will have the title in stock very soon. For more information, you can go to the publisher's website here.
Contentment in Ministry
I know of a number of pastors over the years who have served Christ’s church quite faithfully, some for numerous years, even decades. What everyone can easily perceive is the number of years that a pastor has served. Watchful eyes in the congregation will mark the passing anniversaries and alert other members of the church that important markers are soon upon them, five, ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty, or forty years. Thoughtful congregations want to mark these anniversaries and do so with celebrations, plaques, or even special gifts.
On several occasions, though, I have known of pastors who have been somewhat disappointed at the lack of recognition they have received from their churches. After serving in the ministry for thirty years some have expected a nice all-expense paid vacation, a sizeable bonus, or perhaps even something more generous given the affluence of the congregation but they have been disappointed at the somewhat paltry recognition, at least in their eyes. At first glance some might think that the pastor is a bit selfish for thinking along these lines. After all, why should he expect a handsome gift for his service?
Well, what many in the church do not realize is that pastors often labor under very difficult circumstances. They work long hours. For example, few know that a faithful pastor will prepare anywhere between ten to twenty hours to deliver a thirty-minute sermon, and some pastors preach two sermons a week. Few people know that pastors often counsel people when they are at their worst moments in life, suffering from great loss, committing great sin, or inflicting division upon the church. These scenarios can be very draining upon the pastor. I can remember on a number of occasions talking to members of my church at all hours of the night because life doesn’t occur during office hours but around the clock.
In addition to this few realize that the pastor’s family lives under constant scrutiny, “What movie did you watch?” “What did your children do?” “Why is your wife wearing that dress?” And when I once pulled up in a rental car, which was necessary for traveling to denominational meetings, and someone commented, “Gee, we sure seem to pay you a lot more money than we need to!” After multiple years of this type of pressure and faithful humble service, I think it’s somewhat natural that a pastor might think that his congregation would want to recognize his faithful and humble service. But the truth is, many congregations do not recognize the service of their pastor.
All of this is to say that for anyone who believes he is called to serve in the ministry, he has to realize that seeking to be obedient to the call of Christ and performing his ministry coram deo must be the sole-driving force of his ministry. His aim must be to seek the approval of Christ himself. The only thing, in the end, that can truly satisfy the pastor’s heart is Christ’s, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” In other words, pastors, indeed all Christians, must seek contentment in Christ and not the approval of man. If pastors thrive off of the recognition of their congregation, they will quickly run out of spiritual energy and motivation. But if his sole source of contentment comes from Christ, then when recognition and gifts come, he will give thanks, and when no one but Christ recognizes his sacrifice and service, he will give thanks. Therein lies the contented heart, and therein lies the heart of a pastor.