Friday, April 9, 2021

Some very good pastoral advice on the church's responses to the response to Covid-19

From the minutes of the 36th Council of the Reformed Churches of Brazil, March 22–26, 2021. They are a product of mission work by the Canadian Reformed Church. Article 75 is a response to one of their congregation's request for help in navigating government orders in connection with covid-19. May the Holy Spirit give to the undershepherds of His church wisdom and boldness to instruct and practice according to His Word.

ARTICLE 75. Request for advice and pastoral guidance on how a Christian's posture should be, as well as that of his church, in the face of the current pandemic moment of Covid-19. The internal commission, which was responsible for organizing a compilation of the advice given by the delegates, according to Article 34 of these Minutes, presents its work to the Council. The following delegates ask that it be recorded that they did not give any of this advice: Pr. Madson Marinho and Pb. Josemir Lopes. The advice given by the delegates of this Council to IPSEP IR questions is:

1. On the nature of the pandemic: we can say that we are facing an unprecedented real health crisis, or that we are experiencing the advance of an anti-Christian front, which wants to take advantage of the health crisis to stop the worship and worship of the true God? And what to do in the face of this?
● Some delegates responded that, although we are in a health crisis, we are not in the biggest one, as there have been much worse ones. Others said that there is no health crisis, as they believe that the virus does not have the power of lethality as disclosed. The real crisis is economic and not health related.
● Delegates generally believe that the virus has been used to curtail people's freedom, including freedom from public Sunday worship.
● In this circumstance, an attack of evil against the church of the Lord is visible, an anti-Christian force, which has used the present health crisis to prevent the worship of the church. This has revealed the great antithesis in the world: the forces of evil and the church.
● When the Church faces such persecutions, it clings to the gospel. With this, the church must continue to fear the Lord, trusting the Scripture, being simple as the dove and prudent as the serpent and announcing the gospel.
● The Church must live in the “old normal”, and always attesting to the information given to her.
● In the face of all this, the church must move forward trusting in the Lord.
2. On the restrictions on public worship: to what extent should we accept the State's determinations regarding its interference in Sunday public worship? Is it lawful to stop conducting public services in person and adopt the so-called “online services”? Would celebrating services in person under restrictive decrees break the fifth and sixth commandments?
● The church should only follow the State's instructions as far as it does not exceed the limits of its task established in the Word of God, and when it does not hurt the conscience in the Lord.
● Christ is the only head of the Church who knows what is good for her.
● The State cannot legislate about worship, as it does not have the authority to interfere in
Church issues.
● “Online” services are not services. Such “on-line” services are a breach of the 2nd commandment, since it is a form of worship different from the way God prescribed. Worship is a
irreplaceable gathering.
● Some delegates spoke about freedom of conscience to justify the absence of face-to-face meetings.
● In the Bible, the Church is never prevented from solemn meetings as a whole, but only the infected individual, such as OT lepers.
3. About mandatory vaccination: how should we proceed regarding the mandatory vaccination, since there are risks to the health of our siblings and ethical issues involved, such as the use of aborted fetus cell lines for testing? Should councils advise their members on this issue?
● The mandatory vaccine is an abuse, a violation of freedoms.
● Some vaccines against covid-19 can cause more harm than the disease.
● There is early treatment.
● We are being used as a “laboratory experiment”.
● The vaccines presented are not safe, as they have had adverse reactions and involve an ethical issue regarding the use of aborted fetus cell lines.
● Because of the danger that the vaccine can offer, taking it is a breach of the 6th commandment: “A light exposure to danger”
● Councils should warn their members of the danger of getting the vaccine and instruct them as to the ethical damage involved in this.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

A summary help for examining ourselves

One of our congregants writes: "What is examining yourself before the supper? All my life growing up it was an examination of your heart if you were in sin and a resolving to not sin again, repenting of that sin, and trusting Christ to forgive that sin. But I'm wondering if that's what examination truly is supposed to be."

When we were reforming our practice of taking the Lord's Supper at a former call, our Session had me preach an extensive series of sermons, and I preached at least two that I can remember on 1Corinthians 11:28. If I can find those sermons again, I will try to link them here. That text is as follows:

But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

The verb for examining is borrowed from the court room and means both to present and to acknowledge evidence. But evidence of what? In the context (both the Scripture context of 1Corinthians 11 and the applicational context of taking the Supper) this means several specific things:

Evidence that we are able to eat and drink in (by) remembrance of the Lord Jesus (1Cor 11:24–25). This means that you are one who looks to Him in faith. One who knows Him to be the second Person of the Godhead Who became flesh for your sake. One who knows Him to have died for your sin, risen again, ascended, and is now sitting in the midst of the throne of glory (1Cor 11:26). You look to Him alone for your salvation, and you look to Him for all of your salvation.

Evidence that you are coming to feed upon Him Himself (1Cor 11:24). You are one who is needy of the life-giving, strengthening, energizing virtue that comes to you through Christ's body. That comes to you through the reality that He has taken on human flesh that you might be united to Him (Heb 2:14–18). That comes to you through the reality that you are united to Him in His death—the penalty against you has been cancelled, and who you were outside of Christ is dead and gone (Rom 6:3–7). That comes to you through the reality that you are united to Him in His resurrection—who you are now is a new creature altogether, and one who walks in newness of life by the power of His resurrection life (Rom 6:3–5, 9–11). Jesus is your life, and your life is for Jesus.

Evidence that you are coming to drink the cup of His covenant, the new covenant in His blood (1Cor 11:25). A covenant is a public thing with public acknowledgement and public obligations. You're a member of His church. In Christ, you are set apart from the world. In Christ, you are set apart unto God. In Christ, you are bound to Him and to His people. This binding you have acknowledged with your mouth, declaring your bond to Him and to His mystical body on earth, This bond you recognize by committing yourself publicly to all that He puts you under obligation to do by purchasing you with His blood. This bond you recognize by confidence that He will keep all of His promises to you, as He has testified that He will do by His blood. In Jesus, you are bound to His church, and in Jesus God has bound Himself to you.

Such evidence the Bible often describes in terms of fruit. Fruits in keeping with repentance (Matt 3:8). The fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22–26)—especially of love to the brethren (1John 5:1–2). The peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb 12:11–14, 1John 5:3). Fruit that comes only (and aboundingly) by abiding in Christ (John 15:1–8).

Every Lord's Day Eve, we would do well to turn to our crucified and risen Redeemer and look to Him again in all these ways and for all these things. You might do well to print this off as a help or use that excellent summary from our larger catechism (part of the guide to the Supper that is included in each week's worship booklet at Hopewell):

Q. 171. How are they that receive the sacrament of the Lord's supper to prepare themselves before they come unto it?
A. They that receive the sacrament of the Lord's supper are, before they come, to prepare themselves thereunto, by examining themselves of their being in Christ, of their sins and wants; of the truth and measure of their knowledge, faith, repentance; love to God and the brethren, charity to all men, forgiving those that have done them wrong; of their desires after Christ, and of their new obedience; and by renewing the exercise of these graces, by serious meditation, and fervent prayer.

Two points of counsel that I wish to emphasize about doing this.

First, the examination itself should renew our desire for more of the Spirit's work in our lives. Self-examination should be an exercise of renewing our commitment to repentance. Finding that these fruits are present in your life ought to cause you both to be thankful to Christ, Whose Spirit has given them to us, and to judge as too little whatever we have done for such a wonderful Savior as He is. 

If we wait until the table to renew our commitment, we will be playing catch-up and have the wrong focus at the table. When you come to the dinner table at home, you should not at that point start becoming hungry. You should come already hungry. The dinner table is the place to find the solution to that hunger and to relish and enjoy the supply that God has given in the food that is there. 

One of the reasons that the apostle tells us not to bring this kind of hunger to the Lord's Table (1Cor 11:34), is that we are to be not physically hungry but spiritually hungry when we come. When we obey the command to examine ourselves, the Holy Spirit uses it to foster the spiritual hunger with which we should be coming to relish and enjoy Christ Himself as the supply for our spiritual need.

Second, renewed commitment to repentance must drive us to Christ for renewed supply of that repentance. As we look for things like hunger for Christ, together with love of the brethren & neighbor and forgivingness toward them, and obedience to God's law as Christ's law, there is a great danger of thinking that the question is whether there is "enough" of one or more of these in you to qualify you for the table. "Is there enough?" is the wrong question. That idea is exactly the opposite of the gospel sufficiency of Christ and your utter neediness of Him. You will never have "enough" of any of these things. 

So, look for fruit with the expectation that however small and poor it is, yet it has been given by the love and almighty power of God the Holy Spirit applying Christ to you, and He is giving you this Supper as a means by which He continues and increases this work in you. But when we come with the question "is it there?" we will always see that it is not enough, and we will be reminded that Christ Who put it there is where we can get more.

So by this biblical way of "examining ourselves," we will be seeing our ongoing and great neediness of Christ. Self-examination is one way that Holy Spirit stirs up our hunger for the Lord Jesus, and then we bring this hunger to the Lord Jesus's own table where, by the Holy Spirit's work at the Table, He fills us up upon Himself.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Why use NKJV in the public ministry?

 I firmly believe WCF 1.8

The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal unto them. But, because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that, the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner; and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.

In part, that means that though I prepare from the original languages, and sometimes highlight things from them that are more clear/emphatic in the original, I am very desirous that I not undermine folks' confidence in the English text. Translation is scripturally/theologically required.

But take a look at that this part again:

being immediately inspired by God, and, by his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical

Authentic=preserved by God unto the church throughout the ages
Autographa=not given to us, in the wise providence of God, and not particularly related to whatever is on the oldest textual documents currently available.

Confessional Presbyterianism officially takes an Ecclesiastical (Majority) Text position over-against a Critical Text position. 

The NKJV is actually textus receptus based, which isn't quite the same thing. But, for widely available English translations, it requires the least "correction" in the New Testament text. There's more to say, when there is more time/space to be used for it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

More Simplicity, Less Outward Glory, but More Fullness, Evidence, and Spiritual Efficacy

WCF 7.6 Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.

There is a gospel (new testament) principle of simplicity at the core of what Christ's finished work has done to our worship. 

The Priest is now in heaven. The sacrifice has been performed once for all. He sings through His people's mouths and accompanies it by His work in the heart. His blessing is proclaimed by preaching, and in His royal-priesthood's admonishing one another in song and showing forth His death until He comes. 

The very simplicity of the Christian worship assembly's liturgy announces, "the substance of these things is not so much here as it is in glory, where we are seated with Him, and where He presents us, and from where He preaches and He sings and He gives us Himself!" (cf. Heb 2:10–13, Eph 2:4–10)

Whatever extra formality is added upon earth mutes this announcement and obscures this reality. When we worship in simplicity and purity, we are not exulting in simplicity and purity but rather exulting in God through Christ. If, lacking the Spirit-given faith to perceive Him, we attempt to dress things up with that which we think will better present Him to ourselves, we unwittingly muddle the very means by which the Spirit is ordinarily pleased to give that faith.

When once God deemed it good to give Himself through the voice on the mountain as fleshed out by the inscripturated pattern given to Moses, His people frequently thought this might be enhanced by various locations and images, which came to be enshrined in their traditions. But God said that doing so is to "hate Him," and indeed He hated their worship (cf. Deu 4–5). They could only have the true God by way of the given worship.

Now, God has deemed it good to give Himself through the finished work of His only-begotten Son, personally led by the God-Man from the throne of glory and grace. The true "worship war" is not so much among varying preferences of men as it is between the gospel simplicity in which Christ is held forth and whatever hiding of Him from true Spiritual view comes by man's sophomoric (indeed, idolatrous) additions to that simplicity.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

We Need a Luke 2 Shepherd Song with Some Real Terror in It—To Point Us to the Eschatological Joy in It!

We are enjoying the kindness of our merciful God on our annual seaside holiday.

Trying to anticipate what we might get in worship this week (often a sketchy proposition on holiday) to address in family worship times, it seems that the minister has been preaching through Handel's Messiah (at least it's full of Scripture!). He has hit all the Isaiah passages. If he doesn't change gears, likely candidates include Mal 3:1–3, Luk 2:8–14, Zec 9:9–10, Psalm 2, 1Cor 15:20–22/51–57, Rom 8:31–34, Rev 5:9–14.

In opening the Luke passage, we considered the sheer terror these shepherds must have known: not just one warrior of heaven's army, but God's very glory itself enveloping them, and then the thundering host of an entire battalion of heaven.

And yet, their fear was stayed by the mighty word that because of the Savior, Christ the Lord, God's most heavenly glory was actually for their peace rather than their destruction, expressed in His goodwill rather than enmity!!
Luke 2:8–17
8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.
No wonder, then, that what they were most excited about at the manger was that this sign had successfully verified this fact: by virtue of the Savior, we will stand in the presence of His glory not with exceeding terror but with great joy. He came not only that we might be forgiven, but that we might be preserved and perfected, so that on that day when we stand before Him, He will have made us faultless, and we will be filled with His joy!

This of course prompted reflection upon Jude, vv20–25
20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
22 And on some have compassion, making a distinction; 23 but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.
24 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,
And to present you faultless
Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,
25 To God our Savior,
Who alone is wise,
Be glory and majesty,
Dominion and power,
Both now and forever.
So, we brought this back full circle to how much we have been enjoying His mercy. Not in ignorance, like so many poor ones 'round us for whom our hearts ache at the terror which awaits them. We enjoy all of these mercies, because we know that they are subsidiary to THAT great mercy—that we have a Savior in Whom all God's doings toward us are peace and goodwill. And one day, that greatest of all mercies will be to stand in the presence of His glory, faultless, with great joy!

I don't merely wish you contented moments and wholesome pleasures. I pray for you that they would be for you not illusions that precede horror, but foretastes that precede the exceeding gladness of sinlessly enjoying the full display of His glory.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

God's Means for God's Children: Reflections on His Covenant Faithfulness to His Covenant Children in My Home

My Google Photos just shot me a spread from when my eldest were 2 and 1. In some ways, I remember those days better than I remember last year. What I remember most is how quickly the Spirit made those little hearts and minds latch onto His Word. Strong faith in Christ and love for God and man developed so early in them.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Six Reasons I'm NOT About to Quit: Counting As JOY Christ's Wise and Sanctifying Providence in the Ministry

So, a man whom I have been underwhelmed by in his church-planting and cultural-expertise guru-ship has published yet another article about how hard and horrible it is to be in ministry. I see articles like this from time to time. And I do have some sympathy with them (though I wonder how much of it is fleshly rather than of grace).

But, how is the necessity of applying gospel gratitude any different for pastors than it is for believers in every other calling? And, just in case any of our dear congregation happen to read the original article or something like it and worry/wonder if their own pastor feels this way, I want to be on the record expressing my gratitude to God for them and appreciation for their love of Him and of me as His servant among them.

Six reasons I'm NOT about to quit: