Plain Vanilla Presbyterian Church
The 10 marks of a “plain vanilla” Presbyterian church. Some are tongue-in-cheek–kinda!
- Lectio continua preaching. If you want topical preaching, then preach through the catechism in the evening.
- Is it a sanctuary or an auditorium?
- Evangelism is inherent in #1, while personal witnessing is commended and encouraged.
- Psalms and hymns sung from the Trinity Hymnal (1960, or 1990 edition) to piano accompaniment, at least.
- Resist the trend toward weekly communion, paedocommunion and intinction.
- Deaconess is not an ordained church office; pastors are men, too.
- If the Bible doesn’t say you can do it in the worship service, then you can’t!
- Congregational participation in worship: a) pray along with the elder during his public prayers, b) sing, recite the creed or Lord’s Prayer and responsively read like you mean it, c) actually hear and heed the Word preached.
- No hand raising until the benediction (but only if you know what it means).
- If you call people “Brother” and “Sister,” everyone will know you used to be a Baptist.
What other marks can you think of?
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.”
Pot Calls Kettle Black
John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and recent host of the controversial Strange Fire Conference, predicted in an interview with Christianity.com that what he calls the “Reformed Revival” will reverse itself in the next few years. He thinks this is so, because he sees so many of the younger generation who seem to be merely adding the doctrines of sovereign grace to their otherwise non-Reformed modes of operation like contemporary worship music, drinking beer, and Arminian forms of evangelism. He says in time, their Calvinist soteriology will fall by the way side because of the contradictory positions they hold.
Watch the video first, then read my comments below:
I find it ironic that this pastor should offer this critique of other pastors when he himself has added the five points of Calvinism to a non-Reformed view of eschatology. Reformed theology, after all, is not the home of Dispensational Premillennialism. Those who embrace total depravity, unconditional election, particular redemption, effectual calling and perseverance of the saints but reject the Covenantal theology in which these doctrines were developed, should think twice before criticizing others for selectively embracing popular elements of Reformed theology without embracing the whole system.
I also find it amusing that he should critique Calvinists for drinking beer. The enjoyment of alcoholic beverages in moderation is historically more Reformed than otherwise.
But I am in agreement with MacArthur that the five points of Calvinism isn’t enough. I would encourage him and members of the movement which a few years ago was called the Young, Restless and Reformed to take another look at the rest of Reformed theology. If it’s so right about the sovereignty of God in election, redemption and regeneration, what makes you think it’s so wrong about eschatology, church government and the sacraments?
Reforming Saint Nicholas Day
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!
The Hermeneutics of Insider Syncretism
On this week’s episode of the Christ the Center podcast (#263, “Insider Movements“), Dr. David Garner is interviewed about his recent article in Themelios, “High Stakes: Insider Movement Hermeneutics and the Gospel,” analyzing the hermeneutics underlying the Insider Movement, a sociological and anthropological approach to contextualizing evangelism without calling on people whose identities are tied to other world religions like Judaism, Islam and Hinduism to disassociate themselves from those religious, cultural and family ties, but to work inside them and transform their approach to those religions in light of the teachings of Jesus. While it is noble to attempt to find a way to minimize the risk of loss or danger a Jew, Muslim or Hindu (for example) may face upon becoming a Christian, it is unfaithful to the Jesus they claim to follow if they would settle for living to distort their new-found faith with the teachings and practices of the religion with which they have previously been associated. Living to syncretize Christianity with non-Christian world religions is not a faith worth living for or dying for.
This movement is clearly in contradiction with the teachings of Jesus to those who would follow him. Jesus carried his cross and died on it for those who believe, and he calls on believers to take up their cross, follow him, and be willing to live publicly for him and, if need be, accept rejection by leaders of other religions, communities and families, even if such rejection includes dying for him.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:34-39 ESV).
I know it’s easy for me to say, and to criticize those who would find a way around it, but I too have a cross of self-denial to carry if I am to follow Jesus. I must kill my own sin (a struggle which involves suffering and risk of social rejection on my part), and publicly acknowledge Jesus as my Lord and Savior and associate myself formally with his people, the Church (Hebrews 10:25), serving him with my time, talent and treasure–loving, forgiving and giving to my brothers until it hurts. Should the time come that the culture or community in which I live demands that I deny my Lord Jesus Christ, I am called upon to defy such a demand and willingly suffer the consequences in reliance upon the grace and goodness of God, knowing that if such is happening to me, it is no more than what he sacrificed for me.
One of the interesting things about this movement which Dr. Garner points out in the article and the interview is that the intellectual source of such innovation in world missions comes from the same root as the church growth movement–Donald McGavran (d. 1990) and his School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary (formerly the famous School of World Mission).
Donald Anderson McGavran (December 15, 1897–1990) was a missiologist who was the founding Dean (1965) and Professor of Mission, Church Growth, and South Asian Studies at the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. A child of missionaries in India and later amissionary himself (1923–1961), McGavran spent most of his life trying to identify and overcome barriers to effective evangelism or Christian conversion.
McGavran identified differences of caste and economic social position as major barriers to the spread of Christianity. His work substantially changed the methods by which missionaries identify and prioritize groups of persons for missionary work and stimulated the Church Growth Movement. McGavran developed his church growth principles after rejecting the popular view that mission was ‘philanthropy, education, medicine, famine relief, evangelism, and world friendship’ and become convinced that good deeds – while necessary – ‘must never replace the essential task of mission, discipling the peoples of the earth’. [HT: Wikipedia]
While McGavran’s efforts in his time were more theologically conservative and a reaction against liberal missionary trends, a student of his named C. Peter Wagner built on McGavran’s principles and create the church growth movement which has brought us such phenomena as seeker-sensitive worship and the modern megachurch. Incidentally, he is also the one who coined the phrase New Apostolic Reformation for the worldwide sweep of Charismatic and Word of Faith theology with a special emphasis on the restoration of the apostolic office, which movement in America has recently frightened the political Left because so many who would fall under this umbrella have modified the theonomist views of R. J. Rushdoony (for more on that, see this) and declared that they would “take dominion” over every sphere of influence in America.
Syncretism in the name of saving one’s life is no way to spread Christianity. A new generation around the world must hear the age-old truism: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” [paraphrasing Tertullian, Apology chapter 50].
Dynamics of Church Planting | Christ the Center Podcast
Church planting is one way the Lord expands his kingdom on earth. Christ called his disciples to go forth and make disciples of men, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Faithful discipleship is connected with the local church. That point has been debated in and of itself, but the proper means of church planting has been a much more contentious subject.
In this episode, Andrew Moody and Eric Watkins work through several dynamics of church planting. Rev. Moody serves as Evangelist at San Antonio Reformed Church in San Antonio, Texas, and Rev. Watkins is Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in St. Augustine, Florida. Both Eric and Andrew bring experience to this interesting discussion on planting Reformed churches.
Participants: Andrew Moody, Camden Bucey, Eric Watkins, Jim Cassidy
HT: Reformed Forum
By Grace Through Faith (Galatians 2:15-21)
Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church Library
Pastor Joe Troutman preaching at San Antonio Reformed on June 21, 2015. HT: Billie Moody
On Sunday, November 15, 2015, Pastor Joe Troutman preached “By Grace Through Faith” from Galatians 2:15-21.
You are justified in God’s sight not because of what you have done, but only by what Christ has done for you, and imputed to you by God’s free grace.
1. By God’s Free Grace—It doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, all are justified by grace through faith in Christ. Justification is, in God’s Court, your being declared righteous. If our righteousness is filthy rags, then justification by God is a gift.
2. He Pardons All Our Sins—In the case of your standing before the Lord, it is impossible to plead innocence. If you only ever committed the least sin, you stand condemned by the Law, because it is holy, good…
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