Category Archives: Westminster Confession of Faith

Craig Troxel on Trends and Biblical Reformation of the Church

Bethel OPC Wheaton Pastor and Author Craig Troxel

Bethel OPC Wheaton Pastor and Author Craig Troxel

Craig Troxel, Pastor of Bethel Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Wheaton, Illinois, will be speaking at Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church’s 2015 DFW Reformation Conference (Nov. 13-14, 2015) on the subject of “With All Your Heart: Thinking (again) About What We Think, Love and Choose.”

Pastor Troxel has spoken on Reformed theology in Texas previously down in Pflugerville, Texas, at our sister congregation, Providence Presbyterian Church at their 2009 Calvin Conference.

IMG_1155Perhaps a few of you who are thinking about attending this year’s conference in Bedford would enjoy sampling Pastor Troxel’s work.

Semper Reformanda: Under Renovation or Seeking

The Emerging Church: The New Voice in the Conversation 

Every Member Matters: The Priesthood of All Believers 

Presbyterian Salsa: Westminster Calvinism’s Recipe for “The Communion of the Saints”

Register for the 2015 DFW Reformation Conference (Nov. 13-14, 2015) at Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church (1810 Brown Trail, Bedford, TX 76021).

Inclusion of Whole Households and Covenantal Continuity

Robert Mossotti

Robert Mossotti, OPC Licentiate

The following is part two of a series featuring OPC Licentiate Robert Mossotti’s August 31, 2014 Sunday School Lesson on Why Presbyterians Baptize Children of Believers, taught at Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church in Bedford, Texas. Read Part 1. Subscribe to Robert’s podcast at SermonAudio.

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“And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him… Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him” (Genesis 17:18-19, 23).

In this passage, we see that Ishmael is commanded to be given the sign of the covenant, even though Abraham knows God’s covenant is actually with Isaac, and not with Ishmael. In other words, Ishmael is admitted into the visible church even though Abraham knows he’s not a member of the invisible church. He knows it—he’s told it by God. God’s covenant is really and truly with Isaac. But since Ishmael is in Abraham’s household, and under Abraham in God’s eyes, he, too is to receive the covenant sign. In other words, if the household principle that we see in Genesis 17 dictates that even definite reprobates like Ishmael are to receive the sign and be admitted into the visible church, then the household principle means that possible reprobates should be given the sign and admitted to the visible church. The greater includes the lesser, if you follow my meaning.

We don’t give children the sign of the covenant because we believe they are elect; we give them the sign of the covenant because that’s what we’re supposed to do, even when it is the case that, even by divine revelation God has told the parent, “My covenant is not with this boy. My covenant is with the boy that Sarah is actually going to have. Now give Ishmael the sign of the covenant.” Abraham knew that Ishmael would not be a member of the invisible church–he was not God’s chosen—Isaac was going to enjoy that position. God told him to circumcise Ishmael, and that’s because of this household principle: the believer is in charge of the household, the parent is a Christian, the parent is in the visible church, and the child is to be admitted into the visible church.

In Genesis 17, in verse 7, we see that the covenant of grace is established on these terms. It is between God and Abraham, and God and his seed after him for an everlasting covenant to be his God, and the God of his offspring. Now in verse 9 of Genesis 17, we can see that Abraham and his offspring are to keep this covenant. Think of Galatians 3:29 here: if we are in Christ, then we are Abraham’s offspring.

Now let’s look at verses 12 and 13 of this chapter.

He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.

These verses reveal that the sign and seal of the covenant of grace was not contemplated by God as being only based on the principle of fleshly descent from Abraham, but on a different principle. It was not only the physical descendants of Abraham who were to receive the sign, it was his whole household. Abraham’s household had slaves and servants numbering in the hundreds (I direct you to Genesis 14:14 to see that). Because Abraham, the head of the household, was a believer, every member of Abraham’s household was to come into the visible church. In the covenant of grace, then, those who are under the authority of the believing head of a household are likewise to receive the sign and seal of the one covenant of grace, and verse 14 of this chapter says that if you don’t, then that person is to be cut off. The uncircumcised child is to be cut off from my people. He is a covenant breaker.

This is all established by divine appointment, so we maintain that only by divine appointment it may be altered, according to Galatians 3:15-17, which we read at the beginning. Nothing has changed with respect to this principle in the New Testament church, which is why the whole household was granted the sign and seal of the one covenant of grace during the days of the apostles. We see this same principle of household admission to the visible church. It is still in effect in the New Covenant administration of the one covenant of grace. The New Testament, therefore, does not need to be careful to point out that children are being baptized in order for us to baptize children. We must only be careful to point out that households are being taken into the New Testament church, which, indeed, the New Testament is careful to do in many instances. So the household principle of Genesis 17 is carried over into the New Covenant, and because it is, we believe it is appropriate to baptize the children of believers.

Regarding whether the New Testament explicitly mentions the baptism of infants, I would direct you to sermon Pastor Troutman preached on Joshua chapter 5. The grown men of the children of Israel who invaded Canaan all had to be circumcised as adults. That’s because their parents in the 40 years in the wilderness never circumcised them like they were supposed to. If we just looked at Joshua 5 and we did not look at prior revelation—Genesis 17—one would mistakenly assume that only adult males were to be circumcised because there is no explicit mention of children being circumcised in Joshua chapter 5. But one must look at the Abrahamic administration of the one covenant of grace to understand that children are to receive the sign, too. That’s why, as a matter of literary inclusion, if you will, the writers of the New Testament didn’t go out of their way to say that infants are being baptized as well because the explicit household principle comes into play and the rest is assumed. Because people who are coming into the church as the apostles preached the gospel are all adults, that’s what gets explicit mention in the same way that the adults that went into Canaan got explicit mention that they were receiving the sign of the covenant, and you would have to go prior to that, into earlier revelation, like we’re trying to do now, to establish that it’s children as well as adult males.

We’ve covered a lot of territory about the distinction between the visible and invisible church. We know from John 15 that even branches that are fruitless are for a time united to Christ externally only to be broken off later and cast into the fire, Jesus says, like the thorny and rocky ground in the parable of the sower, or like the bad fish in the parable of the dragnet, many reprobates are, in fact, in the visible church by profession, and, as we know from the Scriptures, by birth as well, and we have the explicit example of Ishmael and Esau. That’s important to keep in mind: baptism is not an assertion that this person is elect, it’s a rite of admission into the visible church, not the invisible church.

Visible Church Membership for Covenant Children

Robert Mossotti

Robert Mossotti, our summer intern at Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church in Bedford, Texas taught a Sunday School series on Ecclesiology. All of the lessons are available online here. They’re also available on Robert’s SermonAudio page here. My favorite lesson in the series was the following on the biblical case for infant baptism and the Reformed inclusion of the infant and unbelieving children of believers into church membership. The following is a transcript of his remarks, lightly edited at some points. I hope you find it as helpful and enlightening as we have. You can listen to this particular lesson online here. We begin with his introductory remarks regarding principles that govern our interpretation on this issue, and an exposition of Paul’s words regarding covenants from Galatians 3. The rest will follow in the coming days and weeks.

Why do Presbyterians baptize babies and count them as members of the visible church?

Let’s restate some principles first, before we get into some passages.

The visible covenant community is the visible church—Old Testament and New Testament—and what makes it visible are the sacraments. These place a mark on the church to identify it as belonging to the Lord. The sacraments mark God’s people off from the world. Another principle we have to keep in mind is that there is only one covenant of grace in Scripture. The covenant by which Abraham and the Old Testament church were saved is our covenant, too. By God’s grace, in the Scriptures we are all called children of Abraham through faith. There is no essential difference between the Old Covenant church and the New Covenant church. There are differences, but no essential differences. No differences as to substance, just form. The church is one across all the ages, because the covenant of grace is one. To embrace the one idea is to embrace the other. If you accept that there is one covenant of grace throughout Scripture by which we are all saved, then you have to accept that the church is one across both Old and New Testaments. We affirm this over against dispensationalism, which maintains an essential difference between Israel and the church. So the Abrahamic Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant (the one at Mount Sinai mediated through Moses), and the New Covenant are all different  administrations of the one covenant of grace. In section 5 of chapter 7 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Mosaic Covenant is called an administration of the covenant of grace. Alright, now that those principles have been stated, let’s go to Galatians 3.

The apostle Paul is going to give us in this passage a principle of covenant theology. A principle of Interpretation of Covenants, of Application of Covenants, the Nature of Covenants. Paul says not only biblical covenants, but all covenants. Let’s go to Galatians 3:15.

“To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void” (Galatians 3:15-17 ESV).

In verse 15, this idea of “ratified” in the ESV comes from the Greek word kuro’o, and Bauer-Danker, the premier Greek lexicon or dictionary defines it as “to confirm, to ratify, to validate or to make legally binding.” Although the covenant of grace goes all the way back to Eden, note that Paul is saying here that it was not ratified until Abraham. Now note that in verse 15, Paul begins with a general principle of covenants. Then, as he moves down through verses 16 and 17 he applies that general principle of covenants to the particular case of the Mosaic administration of the one covenant of grace—that’s what he means by the Law coming in. Paul says that once the covenant of grace was ratified at the time of Abraham, no modifications may be introduced even by later administrations of the covenant of grace, including the Mosaic administration.

So, it is because there is only one covenant of grace throughout Scripture that we Presbyterians apply the sign of admission into the visible church to the children of believers, for we are not free to change the way the covenant is administered. It is not because the Reformers didn’t sufficiently push off from Rome that we baptize babies, it is because of our covenant theology which we receive, we believe, from the Scriptures. It is also because the covenant of grace is one across the various administrations that we need not seek for proof of continuity between the Abrahamic administration and the New Covenant administration of the one covenant of grace. In fact, because of the underlying unity of the one covenant of grace across the ages, which cannot be altered once ratified, says Paul, that we actually would need to find evidence in the New Testament that God intends to change who it is who receives the rite of admission to the covenant community. Because of the underlying continuity of the one covenant of grace, it is discontinuities, and not continuities, between the Old Covenant and New Testament administrations, that need positive proofs from the New Testament. We don’t have to go to the New Testament and ask if there are specific cases where it says in explicit terms that babies were baptized. Because of the underlying unity of the one covenant of grace, you have to look for a command to no longer give the sign of the covenant of grace to the children of believers. The underlying unity drives the belief that we assume continuity unless there is evidence in the New Testament of discontinuity.

So the absence of explicit revelation in the New Testament on whether children are to be included in the visible church actually works in favor, not against, the inclusion of children in the visible church. Because of this principle of covenant administration, the default setting, says Paul, is covenantal continuity. But, in fact, we can find more evidence than just these principles of covenant theology that the children of believers are to be included in the visible church as members.

Analyzing the Character and State of the PCA

“The Christian Curmudgeon” was a member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) since its founding. He recently left the PCA for his own reasons and is now ministering in the Reformed Episcopal Church. In the past few weeks, you may have noticed that The Aquila Report has posted two articles expressing the growing concern over the state of the PCA. In light of this, The Christian Curmudgeon has written a very helpful post characterizing the various theological and practical trajectories represented by the first generation of the PCA. The point being that the PCA was never intended to be a strictly confessional Reformed denomination. This sheds light on how they got into the chaotic state they are in today. Read his informative post, “I Don’t Have a Dog in this Fight, But That Doesn’t Keep Me From Having an Opinion.”

Reforming Saint Nicholas Day

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Saint Nicholas privately giving to save poor girls from slavery.

As much as I love the Reformed tradition, some of its more extreme instincts, in my humble opinion, lead it to throw out the baby of the communion of the saints with the bath water of Roman Catholic superstition. One case in point is the memory and example of the saints of the past. Not wanting to retain a Romanist veneration of the saints, we neglect the important and edifying discipline of gleaning from the history of the church the graces of the saints conveyed to us in the annals of church history. This may lead us to keep an eye on the historic church calendar, but we do not have to allow the entire worship of Christ to be distorted by this. There are ways to corporately remember the faith and works of the saints without violating the regulative principle of worship. What it takes is a little ingenuity on the part of Reformed congregations—their members under the informed supervision of their sessions.

The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 26, “Of the Communion of Saints,” presents the biblical principles that go along with the communion of believers with Christ by the Spirit through faith, and with each other in love.

All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by the Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory (1 John 1:3; Eph. 3:16-18; John 1:16; Eph. 2:5-6; Phil. 3:10; Rom. 6:5-6; 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12): and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces (Eph. 4:15-16; 1 Cor. 3:21-23; 12:7,12; Col. 2:19), and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man (1 Thess. 5:11,14; Rom. 1:11-12,14; 1 John 3:16-18; Gal. 6:10). [WCF 26.1, as adopted by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church]

With regard to this section of the confession, there are gifts and graces to be communicated by one believer to others. This does primarily intend to apply to all living believers who are physically present among the saints in their generation of the church militant. But just as our confession transmits to us the corporate Reformed understanding of biblical faith, piety and practice, so can church history communicate to us the benefit of the gifts and graces of great Christians of the past who are now numbered among the church triumphant in heaven, with whom we are lifted in the Spirit on a weekly basis to join them in worship of Christ.

In one sense, this takes place all the time in one Reformed church or another as pastors illustrate the teachings of Scripture with examples of the works and experiences of saints of the past. By so appropriating their examples in the exposition and application of the Scriptures to us, I submit that we are benefiting from the gifts and graces of these historic saints, and so are experiencing the communion of saints even with them, if only in a sense. If the teaching ministries of Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, Warfield, Machen, etc., continue to build up and instruct the church, why not the lives and works of those who published nothing, as their lives are recorded in church history?

One of the Scripture proofs in the section of the confession above is Romans 1:11-12,14. In this passage, the apostle Paul expresses his desire to commune with the saints at Rome.

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

If Paul desired to impart a spiritual gift to the Romans in person, for his strengthening with the Romans in their mutual faith in the Person and Work of Christ, he certainly did impart such not only to them, but also to all Christians who would follow to this present day, twenty centuries later in his writing the most comprehensive exposition of the gospel of Christ in his letter to the Romans.

Paul’s grace was the grace of apostleship. Other ministers of the gospel have spiritual gifts to impart which are outworkings of this Pauline gospel. In the case of Nicholas, the grace of generosity to the poor among his parishoners has been communicated to us today through sixteen centuries of church tradition. If we may demythologize the traditions of St. Nicholas’ “wonder-working” intercessions, among other fanciful traditions, what we find remains is the kernel of a godly example of generosity on a par with that first lived by Christ in his state of humiliation. As Paul wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV). Saint Nicholas was rich, and he used his wealth to relieve the poverty of those in his ministerial care. Truly, Saint Nicholas  excelled in the grace of giving, taught in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. His example can help us learn how to live out the teaching of this passage.

It seems to me that due to the Reformed tradition’s utter rejection of corporate recognition of such great saints from church history, depriving ourselves and our congregations of their gifts and graces, are we not also neglecting a sense of communion with those professing Christians, whether Protestant or Catholic, who do recognize these days? We may be appropriately divided from Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians over essentials like justification by faith alone, or other Protestants over important doctrines like the sovereignty of God in the gospel, ecclesiology and the sacraments, but we can at the very least affirm the validity of, rather than despise, their edifying themselves with the gifts and graces of the saints of the past. We could furthermore, I propose, go a step further by not only affirming them in their commemoration, but perhaps exemplify a “more perfect way” of doing so in the context of Reformed theology, piety and practice.

Many Reformed churches are happy to commemorate Reformation Day on a yearly basis. We promote our commonly held Protestant distinctives, displaying our unity with Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist and Baptist Protestants. We also take it a step further and do it in a Reformed way. If we can do it with the memory of the works of Saint Martin Luther, why can we not do it with others like Saint Nicholas? Today is Saint Nicholas Day. December 6 is the anniversary of his death. It is on this day that Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches commemorate his life and ministry in their various ways. Yet the Reformed ignore it, although many of them have borrowed from the Anglicans at Christmas and found a way to bring into greater conformity to the Refomred confessions the Anglican Service of Lessons and Carols.

I say we should find a way to bring into greater conformity to our confessions the commemoration of the life and ministry of Saint Nicholas (read all about him here) and so reform  in a more winsome and attractive way, the commercialized specter of Santa Claus, rather than merely turning up our noses to it and saying “Bah! Humbug.” Saint Nicholas is the world’s favorite saint. Sure, they’ve refashioned him in their own image, but we shouldn’t just leave him to them. Let us keep alive the true Saint Nicholas, who currently enriches our Christmas seasons with his emphasis on sacrificial generosity to the poor, and perhaps, through such edifying efforts build bridges over which some of the elect may find their way into the communion of saints through faith in Christ by the power of the Spirit and love for one another, and we can learn from Saint Nicholas how to better minister to the needy among us, as well as in the world, without feeling like we’re capitulating to some liberal “social gospel” or postmodern version of progressive “social justice.” Let us reform Saint Nicholas day and perhaps in his providence the Lord will use us to reform the way Christian charity is done in a more perfect way.

Happy Saint Nicholas Day!

Sermon Notes: Crossing the Jordan, Part 1

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The following are notes from the sermon I heard yesterday, October 13, 2013 at Mid Cities Presbyterian Church. The sermon is called “Crossing the Jordan, Part 1,” and is based on Joshua 3:1-5. Rev. Joseph L. Troutman preached the sermon. Some of the material below is original to me, however.

1Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. 2 At the end of three days the officers went through the camp 3 and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. 4 Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” 5 Then Joshua said to the people,“Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”

The big idea of this sermon is that the gap between God and Man is caused by our sin, and is bridged only by Christ, who is God with us.

1. Follow Me (verses 1-3) they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan The distance between Shittim and the Jordan River is about 12 miles. The trip took about a day.

and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. Day 1:Their arrival, there for partial day; Day 2: “Lodged” all day; Day 3: There a partial day before crossing the river. Similar to the timing of Christ in the tomb–he wasn’t in the tomb for precisely 72 hours, but part of the first day, all of the second, and rose before sunup on day three.

Condition of the Jordan River, see verse 15: (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest) It was springtime, and the river was turbulent.

“As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.”

The ark of the covenant symbolized God’s presence. It was holy because God is holy. In the Bible, all visible signs of spiritual truths are so closely associated with the spiritual truth that it is identified as if it were the spiritual truth. In the Hebrew text of Joshua 3:17, the ark is not only called the ark of the covenant, but the covenant itself. This is why some mistake baptism as the thing that actually saves, and that the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper are actually transformed into the literal body and blood of Christ. The sign is called by the name of the reality, but the sign only points to the reality; the sign is not the reality. That’s why, in chapter 27, section 2 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, it reads:

There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.

In a sense, the ark was treated by the Israelites the way the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are treated by Bible-believing Christians today.

2. A Safe Distance (verse 4)

Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it,

Two thousand cubits is about three thousand feet–over half a mile. This distance which the Israelites were to keep between themselves and the ark of the covenant symbolizes the distance between the holy God and sinful humanity. Although God was with his people, their sins still separate them from him; however, the Levites were graciously allowed to carry the ark, and thus the priesthood does its job of mediating between the holy God and sinners. They represent the people to God, and thus he is near his people while keeping a safe distance for the good of his people. This nearness of God with Man, while at the same time being separate from them is ultimately bridged in the person of Jesus, our Great High Priest.

3. Consecration (verse 5)

Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”

The people must set themselves apart from unclean things, as well as from common things. God is holy, so they must be holy. God is clean and he is uncommon, therefore, so should the Israelites make this spiritual fact ceremonially visible in the same way the ark makes the presence of the Lord ceremonially visible. They were to wash their clothes and abstain from sex, as in Exodus chapter 19, which gives a good description of the way the people must consecrate themselves and keep a safe distance from Mount Sinai, and the severity of the consequences if they do not.

the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it.Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.”

Similarly, Christians should see themselves as called out from the unclean and the common, to be God’s chosen possession.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

“…for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” Miracles are a sign of God’s power announcing that the observer is in the presence of God. Christ himself so far surpasses Old Testament miracles that if we are unaffected by the fact of his incarnation, righteousness, substitution for us on the cross, his resurrection and ascension to be enthroned on the right hand of God the Father, this speaks ill of our spiritual condition. Jesus, the God-Man bridges the gap between the holy God and sinful humanity, and consecrates those who repent and believe that they might draw near to God to serve and worship him.

An Ordinary Reformation

WHI Ordinary Banner

Westminster Confession of Faith 1.7. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

Westminster Confession of Faith 5.3. God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure.

Westminster Confession of Faith 18.3. This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance; so far is it from inclining men to looseness.

If everything in the Christian life is “dynamic,” “epic,” “impactful,” “powerful,” and “extraordinary,” then the extraordinary becomes the expected norm, rather than the exception. It’s easy to see that with such high spiritual expectations, disillusionment is sure to follow. For this reason, I’d like to direct you to a series of episodes of the White Horse Inn called “Ordinary.” Along with concepts like “sovereignty,” and “predestination,” one of the unsung distinctive doctrines of Reformed theology is the way that God ordinarily works through ordinary means in our lives by His Word and sacraments. He reveals himself and his work of redemption to us in the Scriptures, grants to his chosen regeneration, faith, justification, repentance, sanctification, communion with him in grace and assurance. That he ordinarily does so through the “ordinary means of grace” (the Word read and preached, the sacraments and prayer), means that, indeed, in extraordinary circumstances, he is free to work by extraordinary means. The extraordinary nature of these means should be our first hint that this will not be what Christians should expect every Sunday during their so-called “worship experience.” Take some time to listen and be reformed to a liberatingly ordinary Christian spirituality.

Courage in the Ordinary

Ordinary Excellence

Extraordinary Gifts Through Ordinary Means

The God of the Ordinary

Thankful for the Committee on Christian Education

I just finished watching the latest video uploaded to the Reformed Audio YouTube page, Rev. John Galbraith, Address at GA on 75th Anniversary of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The Rev. Galbraith, age 98 at the time of the delivery of this address back in June of 2011, was in attendance and stood to vote for the founding of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church on June 11, 1936. The extent of his service to the church is outlined in the introductory material under the video on the YouTube page as follows: 

Rev. John P. Galbraith, founding member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1936 and retired minister, addresses the General Assembly of the OPC’s Committee on Christian Education on the 75th Anniversary of the OPC on June 11, 2011. Rev. Galbraith graduated from Westiminster Theological Seminary in 1937 (where he studied under J. Gresham Machen until his untimely death) and was ordained to the gospel ministry that same year. During his 75 years as a minister in Christ’s church, Rev. Galbraith served as the pastor of three OPC churches, clerk of the OPC General Assembly for six years (1940, 1984-88), General Secretary of the Committee for Foreign Missions for thirty years, General Secretary of the Committee for Home Missions, and on numerous other denominational committees. In this address, at the age of 98 years old, he reflects on the mission of the OPC and God’s goodness to the church for 75 years, as well as challenges the church faces. Introduction by Rev. Danny Olinger. For more of Rev. John Galbraith, please visit www.reformedaudio.org/Galbraith

In his address, Rev. Galbraith comments that J. Gresham Machen’s “two pillars” of the church are that 1)The Bible is the Word of God, and 2) It Must Be Obeyed! Built upon these pillars, the young denomination would organize the Committees on Home and Foreign Missions in order to “speak to those who are without,” and underscores how that it is the mission of the Committee on Christian Education to “speak to those who are within”–to teach the teachers. He goes on to urge the OPC to watch out for the inclusivism which ultimately destroyed the PCUSA, and commends toward that end a firm committment to the Westminster Standards as our corporate confession of our ultimate guide, the Bible. Finally, upon his conclusion and stirring recommendation, those in attendance rise to sing “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name.”

You will be challenged and encouraged to renew your faith in and obedience to the Bible in this address.

Creeds and Confessions in the Contemporary Church | Christ the Center Podcast

On this episode, we welcome Rev. Dr. Carl R. Trueman to discuss the important role of creeds and confessions in the church through his book The Creedal Imperative. Dr. Trueman is the Paul Woolley Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary and Pastor of Cornerstone Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Ambler, PA. Dr. Trueman brings his critical thought and historic sensitivity to this important plea to many conservative evangelicals.

Participants: , , Jared Oliphint

audio

HT: Reformed Forum

Union with Christ and Justification

Happy Reformation Day! October 31, 2011 marks the 494th anniversary of the legendary event considered the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation when Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, nailed the Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences(commonly known as the 95 Theses) to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. In the years that followed, Luther lead the movement to reform the church’s understanding of what the Bible teaches about the doctrine of justification by God’s grace alone, received through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. The Lutheran tradition would build on Luther’s work on justification, and they placed it at the center and starting point of all of the benefits of the redemption purchased

Purchase your Martin Luther T-Shirt from ReformationShirts.com

by Christ for his people. But biblical reformation of soteriology didn’t end with Luther and the Lutherans. The Reformed movement also grew alongside of the Lutheran movement, and while both were co-belligerents against the Roman doctrines of justification and the other benefits of redemption in Christ, they differed on the most biblical way to systematize these truths.

Friday on the Reformed Forum’s podcast, Christ the Center, Camden Bucey, Jim Cassidy and Jeff Waddington interviewed Dr. Lane Tipton, the new Charles Khrae Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dr. Tipton was allowed two hours to spell out the differences between the Lutheran and Reformed approaches to justification and many current issues related to this essential aspect of Protestant theology, such as whether Dr. Michael Horton’s academic work on the subject is moving Reformed theology toward a more Lutheran, and therefore,according to Dr. Tipton, semi-Pelagian doctrine of justification. Listen to the podcast at this link

I was introduced to Reformed theology by Michael Horton’s materials and the Lord used his parachurch ministries Christian United for Reformation (CURE) and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE) and the White Horse Inn radio show to gradually bring me around to embrace it. I will certainly be looking forward to a future Christ the Center program in which Dr. Horton responds to Dr. Tipton’s characterization of his work on justification and the other benefits of redemption in Christ. More public dialogue on this ought to take place, IMHO. At this point, Dr. Tipton’s case sounds convincing and more in line with the Reformed confessions and catechisms, as opposed to Dr. Horton’s efforts to, as I once heard him state on the air, build a kind of ecumenism between Reformed, Lutheran and Anglican traditions. I can see how some synthesis may be taking place in that effort. But what do I know?

Reformata, Semper Reformanda!

 

My Favorite Sport!

Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers

I’m one of those especially unfortunate fellows who grew up with a love-hate relationship with sports. I played several sports on several little league teams as a child, and played plenty of sports in the streets of my neighborhood. My lack of skill then is probably the chief reason I do not follow sports today, although I do tend to catch the Super Bowl, mostly for the commercials. My new membership in a Reformed church and their biblical and confessional (we view these two adjectives as synonymous) emphasis on delighting in the Lord on the Lord’s Day may have implications for the Super Bowl in the future. All I can say is, thanks be to God for digital video recording.

 In light of my lack of interest in sports, I am fond of informing folks that “my sports are politics and religion,” which probably tells people I can relate even less to them, when they may already see me as a socially challenged individual who doesn’t follow sports. It is for this reason that you may not be surprised by my interest in the following lecture series that was held at Christ Reformed Church (URCNA) in Washington, D.C., called “Christianity & Politics,” which is yet another venue for the Westminster Seminary California faculty and alumni, among others, to focus our attention on their attempt at recovering the Reformed notion of the Two Kingdoms approach to the relationship between “Christ and Culture.” A timely offering in this year of presidential politics.

 Here’s their introduction to the series, speaker bios and links to the lectures:

Why We Confuse Church & State

Separation of church and state?

 Whatever you may think of the contemporary application of our first amendment freedom of religion, Christianity and politics are ever confused in our national consciousness. Preachers seek influence in the political sphere; politicians manipulate and calculate the faithful in their constituencies.

What are the faithful to do? How should we understand our callings as citizens, both on earth below and in heaven above?

 Christianity & Politics presents a range of speakers approaching this topic from a range of perspectives while discussing topics as diverse as the mission of the church, the place of evangelicals in American political culture, natural law, and the spirituality of the church.…

Lectures [were] sponsored by Christ Reformed Church, and [took] place in our place of worship, historic Grace Reformed Church, home of President Theodore Roosevelt….

 Speakers

MICHAEL HORTON is the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, Host of the White Horse Inn radio program and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is a minister in the United Reformed Church.

 MICHAEL GERSON is an opinion writer for the Washington Post and former head speech writer and senior policy advisor to President George W. Bush.

 DARRYL HART is Assistant Professor of History at Hillsdale College, author of numerous books, and blogs on religion and public life at oldlife.org.

 TERRY EASTLAND is the Publisher of The Weekly Standard and an elder at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland.

 BRIAN LEE is the pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Washington, DC (United Reformed Church). He is a Guest Faculty at Reformed Theological Seminary and formerly worked on Capitol Hill, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Department of Defense.

 DAVID VAN DRUNEN is the Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Seminary California. He is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and holds a Law Degree from Northwestern University School of Law.

 DAVID COFFIN is the Senior Pastor at New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Virginia.

 Audio

Michael Horton

The Great Commission (Sermon on Matthew 28)

The Great Commission and Social Justice — (Q&A Session)

 

Michael Gerson, Darryl Hart, Terry Eastland

The Future of Evangelical Politics (roundtable discussion)

 

Brian Lee

The Primacy of “Church” in “Church & State” (Sermon on Romans 12)

“Govern Well?” or “Be Governed”? — (Q&A Session)

 

David VanDrunen

Natural Law and Christian Politics — (Q&A Session)

 

David Coffin

The Biblical Doctrine of the Spirituality of the Church (Sermon on John 18)

The Historical Doctrine of the Spirituality of the Church — (Q&A Session)

 

HT: Christ Reformed Church Presents

The Scriptures’ Guardrails on Divine Sovereignty, Human Responsibility, etc.

Westminster Seminary California has posted what is probably my favorite article by Dr. Michael Horton, their J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology. The title is “Reformed Theology vs. Hyper-Calvinism.” It deals with how Scripture presents passages that relate both concepts. The great contribution of Reformed theology has been to attempt to properly interpret each in the light of the other, allowing, for example, the passages on the sovereignty of God to prevent us from falling off one side into sheer Pelagianism, and the passages on human responsibility from falling off into Hyper-Calvinism.

Many foes of Reformed theology are guilty of mis-characterizing it in terms of what is formally classified as Hyper-Calvinism. They refuse to notice that Calvinists are just as critical of Hyper-Calvinism as moderate Calvinists and Arminians are. This article helps the reader see the difference between the two.

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