Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Sort of God to Whom We Turn, When We Repent

Deuteronomy 33:26–29 shows the graciousness of our God and the glory of turning to Him. This blessing comes at the end of Israel's wickedness and wandering in the wilderness. When even such sinners as they were (and we are) turn to this LORD, we find Him to be One:
Who rides the heavens to help us
Who displays His excellency on the clouds
Who is our refuge
Who bears us up in everlasting arms
Who defends and avenges us

    26      “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,
    Who rides the heavens to help you,
    And in His excellency on the clouds.
    27      The eternal God is your refuge,
    And underneath are the everlasting arms;
    He will thrust out the enemy from before you,
    And will say, ‘Destroy!’
    28      Then Israel shall dwell in safety,
    The fountain of Jacob alone,
    In a land of grain and new wine;
    His heavens shall also drop dew.
    29      Happy are you, O Israel!
    Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD,
    The shield of your help
    And the sword of your majesty!
    Your enemies shall submit to you,
    And you shall tread down their high places.”

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Why (in part) I Sincerely and Deeply Religiously Object to Current Sars-Cov-2 Vaccinations for Myself and My Family

N.B. this article presumes knowledge of and adherence to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Westminster Larger Catechism as accurate summations of Scripture teaching. Those who do not sincerely hold to every part of these cannot be expected to understand how and why my objections are sincerely and deeply held, but this ought not hinder them from respecting the religious sincerity and depth of my objections.

It is becoming apparent that I will need to be giving people the reasoning behind my deeply and sincerely held religious objection to the sars-cov-2 vaccines that are currently available in my country. And, if I am sincerely opposed to the vaccine itself, then I am all the more opposed to its being mandated for others, which actually makes it morally worse to receive it, since I am then complicit in this violation of the conscience of other believers. If the fifth commandment requires of superiors that they not demand that which violates the Scripture-informed conscience of their inferiors, then I also have a duty as an equal not to participate in or comply with such a demand. Thus, even if one is not convinced for himself of the sixth commandment violation, he may yet conclude that his brother's conscientious objection makes it a fifth commandment violation to participate in that which has been mandated.

As the reader can already see, there are myriad considerations for the morality of participating in mandated vaccination at all. The following are a few considerations that are specific to the question at hand. Especially in the third section, which introduces the violation of the sixth commandment with respect to one's own life and health, much more could be said about current approaches to researching, manufacturing, marketing, and administering vaccinations in general (not just with respect to sars-cov-2). However, this would get us into the weeds of what is really a different and unnecessary question than I am trying to answer here.

The biggest problem with sars-cov-2 vaccine mandates is that one can legitimately conclude that he is violating the sixth commandment by receiving the vaccine, regardless of which brand he receives.

One can legitimately conclude that he is violating the sixth commandment by receiving the vaccine, because babies were murdered for the research, development, testing, or production that brought us each of the vaccine variants available. As horrible as it truly is to differentiate between how murder-dependent a vaccine is, I give a little more information below. It was collected some months ago, but going back to lifesitenews, etc., to try to re-produce sources has proved difficult, likely due to "user error." I really never expected to share anything publicly, so this boils down to private notes.

BNT162b2 (Pfizer) used research dependent upon HEK-293. This is an old fetal cell line from a baby that was murdered 48 years ago. As far as I know, fetal cell lines were not used for development, testing, or production.

mRNA-1273 (Moderna) used various fetal cell lines both in development and in testing. The fact that the Moderna offering is much more effective than the Pfizer one presents a microcosm of the moral problem as a whole: is a greater reliance upon murder worth a greater effectiveness in medicinal therapy?

JNJ-78436735 (Johnson & Johnson) uses a cell line from a baby murdered 36 years ago in ongoing production.

One can legitimately conclude that he is violating the sixth commandment by receiving the vaccine, because current vaccinations increase the likelihood of becoming a super-spreader to others. This one takes a little more technical reading ability to understand, because it is based upon this study

Basically, current vaccinations trigger an immune response that produces primarily serum and secretory IgA antibodies. This helps the vaccinated person if he is infected, because he is likely to have a much milder case of the disease. However, this has not been correlated with increased mucosal IgM or IgG antibodies. 

So, the virus may replicate and be expressed in even greater quantities in a person who does not even feel ill. For the young (<60?) to prioritize increased mildness at the risk of becoming significantly more dangerous to others, and especially to the elderly, is significantly questionable from a sixth-commandment perspective.

One can legitimately conclude that he is violating the sixth commandment by receiving the vaccine, because of increased long-term risk to his own health and life. The Mayo Clinic tracking study recently published in Yale University's medRxiv periodical showed an overall effectiveness, from January through July, of 86% for Moderna and 76% for Pfizer. However, for just the month of July this was down to 76% for Moderna and 42%(!) for Pfizer, meaning that Jan–Jun was actually much higher, and the decline in effectiveness has been much more precipitous. 

Despite the cleverness of the new therapies, there is good reason why we have never vaccinated for the common cold, a substantial portion of which is caused by viruses similar to sars-cov-2 (albeit without the gain of function). The emerging data suggest that we are still not able to vaccinate for what is basically an augmented version of the common cold. This may be disappointing to some, but I don't see how it can be surprising.

Much has been made over the last few days of "official" FDA approval for Pfizer, but little has been made of the fact that it also requires findings of long-term and pregnancy studies in 2025 and 2027. This highlights that we thus far know very little about long-term effects, and even when those findings are in, it will not have been very "long-term." 

But it seems to me that there may be rather serious risk. I think that it is indisputable that auto-immune disease has increased significantly for the past thirty years during which I have been observant/aware of such things. It is unique/ingenious that rather than introducing a foreign body for itself to be attacked, these vaccines actually cause the body to produce that which the immune system then attacks. However, with auto-immune response an increasing threat to our health, I suspect that unnecessarily provoking it may have serious, unintended consequences. Besides this, there may be many other risks that just cannot be suspected, because we have not yet observed the outcome and cannot even begin to theorize about mechanism for that outcome. 

So, we have an unknown but possibly significant risk, which is greater for the young (who, on average, have a "longer-term" risk assessment to make), and a quickly decreasing benefit. As risk increases and benefit goes to zero, risk/benefit ratio goes to infinity. One might reason that benefit is not going to zero; but, taken with the two previous considerations of participating in the disregard of lives already taken, and possibly disregarding the lives of those who remain, it is questionable as to whether there is currently "benefit" at all.

In conclusion, another believer is not necessarily under obligation to reason as I have. Still, it's clear that there may be many biblically ethical reasons to be conscientiously against receiving any of the current vaccinations. The fetal murder consideration alone may be enough. And, if it is possible for another believer to have genuine conscientious objection, then I must be opposed to mandated vaccination.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The Ordinary, Every-day Glory of Being a Covenantal Presbyterian

Believers, do you follow God's covenantal way of speaking in the Scriptures and dealing with His people through the ages, by praying and laboring in behalf of all those generations that will come from you?

My wife has an aunt who is into genealogy and just learned of another Hugenot family from which our children are descended. It would be interesting to trace our lineage to learn of the many godly ancestors whose prayers for their covenant progeny are being answered by His marvelous, redemptive grace in our lives. And it is marvelous to think of how those answers might continue to resound for many, increasingly-large generations to come.

Live a few faithful years in dependence upon Christ. Instill in them the faith by God's means and His Spirit's powerful application of it to them. Pray for your offspring. Be forgotten. God will not forget the prayers, the labors, or His promises to which you are responding.

And if you have no children, are you not yet participating in God's keeping of these promises to others? If they are kept only unto you is that faithfulness small? Even so, it is not only to you that they are kept. God's covenantal way of dealing includes within a congregation, whose families and children He responds to as you pray day by day, and whom also you strengthen as a body-part doing its share, by which share the rest of the body is being built up into Him (cf. Eph 4:11–16).

Friday, August 13, 2021

How an Article on Elitism/Classism in Homeowners' Associations Made Me (Again) Deeply Grateful for Family Worship

A friend linked to this article about a homeowner's association that conspired to get rid of a lower-class family renting a home in their neighborhood. Yes, we should beware any group with people in it, especially if it has some compulsory power over other people. But that wasn't my big takeaway from the article. Rather, I was stunned by this ancillary line from the midst of it: "One of the daughters, a middle-schooler, publicly “identifies” as bisexual and eagerly tries to share details about sexuality and the human body with my four children, all under the age of nine. Her outfits remind me of the ruckus over the 2020 French film Cuties."

My takeaway: because middleschoolers are now evangelists for perversion (in this case to four children under age 9), our children must be equipped with what to do when they begin to be verbally sexually assaulted (that's what we would have called this 20, maybe even just 10, years ago) in their driveways by prepubescent neighbors. It actually makes me thankful not to live in a neighborhood at all, to be honest.

If you do live in a neighborhood in 2021 America, your children have to be predator-aware. They have to have protectors (even older siblings, or at least older siblings-in-Christ) with them at all times.

In addition to that, our children need to be able to explain simply that we are created by God in His image, and that God made boys and girls to be different, and that how a man and woman come together is something that they don't want to hear about now, because they plan to discover it one day with their wife (or husband).

Our children should be able to call things wicked, to admit that they themselves are wicked, and to tell about the only good Man Who is also God—and that this man died for wicked people and welcomes them to be completely forgiven, if they will give themselves up and belong to Him instead.

At the earliest possible age, our children will need to develop the spiritual grace of charitable thought and speech toward the same people whose abominable ethics they will have to simultaneously ruthlessly assault

Frankly, I know few adults, even among elders in the church who are skilled in both of those aspects. The churches have been derelict in the training up of children for generations, and this new generation of children desperately need that training.

I know that I repeatedly bang the drum for family worship, but the above topics of needful instruction are the kinds of things you get opportunity to talk to your children about, right from the Bible, if you're just going straight through it in at least a couple different places. 

If you have regular family worship, and an article like this is fresh in your mind, it won't be more than a couple days before your Scripture-commanded habit brings you across a passage that at least gets you to the conversation in the right way. What else are you going to do? Hold a dozen family meetings a week, every time there is some crazy new thing in the culture? If you are one of the few who still has sit-down family meals with intentionally-led conversations by dad, you have another way in (and by all means, use it!), but it will lack the benefit of already being together under the Word as the topic comes up. 

If you're having regular family worship, you are already prepared for this in such a way as you could hardly improve upon tactically for your parenting. For example, if mom or dad is giving everyone a verse or more from Proverbs in the morning, and dad is leading some sort of systematic/longer family worship together in the afternoon or evening, you already have the necessary family meetings planned, and best of all they will already be established in the unassailable hope of the gospel.

There you are, dealing with something horrible and tempted to feel defeated in your spirit, but instead you will be doing so in the midst of having come to God through the blood and righteousness of Jesus. 

You will be doing so in the midst of adoring your all-wise, all-powerful, covenantally-loving, perfectly faithful God—conscious that your discussion now depends upon Him, and that your children's application of it and benefit from it depends upon Him. 

And you'll be practicing that dependence as your talking about such things flows from His own perfect and powerful Word. And you'll be crying out to Him for that benefit as you pray together. And you'll be singing your confidence in Him to give it as you sing together.

The fact of the matter is that every generation has desperately needed this family worship. Because every generation has desperately needed this redeeming God and Savior. And this is one of the great means by which He glorifies Himself before our hearts and works out His redemption and salvation in our lives.

So, I've got several things that I've been reminded that I need to address my children, ages 3 to 18, about. And, although I do feel in my soul the apostolic cry, "who is sufficient for such things?!," I'm glad also to feel the apostolic confidence, "our sufficiency is of God." He's got this. And family worship is a big, instrumental part of how.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

The Body of Christ Needs Divine Strength for What's Coming

Just saw in a local social media group, "the body of Christ will need divine strength for what's coming." That's true. 

We also need divine strength just to repent from our sins. Or to believe the gospel and be justified in Christ. Or to worship in spirit and truth every Lord's Day together, or every day in our homes. Or to be content with nothing. Or to be content with an abundance. 

And that's just special/saving grace stuff. We need divine strength to use our minds, to breathe, even just for our atoms to hold together. 

When the Christian (and the church) begins to live his whole life as a continual dependence upon divine strength, he will be prepared for those prospects that arise that more intensely make us to feel the need for divine strength.  

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Leaving a Church Well

Last week, I reflected a bit upon this article in a FB post. Since many are understandably avoiding that platform, I copy my thoughts below. May the Lord use it to bless His church.

During this past year, many folks had extended seasons of visiting with us, and often arrived completely fed up with their home church. We urged all of them only to assemble with us so long as it helped them keep their current membership vows, and to "go back" as soon as possible in good conscience. 

Some developed convictions in their time with us that made going back impossible; others thought they had, but were able to overcome the difficulty by adhering to godly principles. These last did not increase our membership, but they felt like the biggest spiritual "wins."

So, one thing I would add to this article: engage your elders to guide you through identifying the congregation to which to transfer. 

Not every Session will do this, but many will. It is, after all, how Jesus shepherds you, and what Jesus has called them to do. You may even find that working together with them enables you to continue keeping your vows where you are; Sessions grow; members grow. If you can't bring yourself even to ask, this probably says more about you than about them. 

And not only will working together on this edify both of you, but when it comes time for them to commend you to another congregation and Session, they will be much more enabled to do so with a good will. And when you have opportunity to visit back, you will not have burned your bridges.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Gracious, Wise, Mighty Speech

A "Reformed homeschooling mama" recently asked: "how do you all deal with toilet humour in a 4 year old boy? He will have days where it’s all he seems to joke about and I feel as if I’m constantly telling him that kind of thing is not funny!!"

Because this touches on a part of our Eph 6:4/Deut 6:5–9  duty that I believe few think about, I took the time to republish my answer here. If Christians today would band together and heed God's Word on this, what a generation of mighty and wise speakers God might be pleased to produce from our children!

Col 4:6. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.

Eccl 10:11–13. A serpent may bite when it is not charmed; the babbler is no different. The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious, but the lips of a fool shall swallow him up; the words of his mouth begin with foolishness, and the end of his talk is raving madness.

Phil 4:8–9. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

Eph 5:1–5. Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

From their first beginning to speak, it's good to talk to them about the importance of words—how God set apart words as His own means of creating, and communicating Himself, and bringing us to faith, and sanctifying us; how He calls the Son the Word; how a big part of our being made in His image is using words; what a tremendous responsibility this is, then, to speak always that which is with grace like God does, edifying, helpful, glorifying.

Where it connects to your current situation is that "toilet" stuff is something that we still share with the beasts. God made us out of the dirt, that we might be ever humble before Him. And especially that we might marvel that God the Son became like we are, subjecting Himself to have one of these dirt-origin bodies, and even to have to use the toilet—though the Bible never speaks about when He did so, which is a good clue to us that this is not one of those kinds of speaking that builds up and gives grace. But the Lord Jesus humbled Himself! And the fact that we have to use the toilet humbles us too.

So this is something that you mitigate on a continual basis, positively emphasizing the right and noble use of all of our speech. 

The reason his potty talk grates upon you is that believers intuitively know this, but sometimes can't quite put our fingers on it. If you are primarily engaging at the point of potty talk, then there will be a big gap missing in the foundation of helping him use his speech well on the whole. You may even find yourself provoking his fleshliness by emphasizing what he cannot do, rather than appealing to something that you are praying that the Spirit is producing in his heart: a recognition of and desire to please a heavenly Father Who has adopted him, a Redeemer Who has purchased him, and a Spirit Who has indwelt him. 

Of course, if we are going to teach our children to use words this carefully and intentionally in the love and service of God, then we ourselves will need to be aiming at the same and practicing the same. The Lord help us to do so!

Monday, April 12, 2021

Would an Unbeliever Be Comfortable in Your Church?

1Corinthians 14:24–25
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.

Boy does that sound uncomfortable!

Every church should be a church where unbelievers are loved. No church should be a church where unbelievers are comfortable. This is the least loving thing toward them. 

And, if unbelievers are comfortable in our churches, then believers too can be sure that they are being made comfortable with their own remaining unbelief.

Enriching Our Understanding of Baptism from Deuteronomy and Joshua

Deut 31:5–6
The LORD will give them over to you, that you may do to them according to every commandment which I have commanded you. Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”

Matt 28:18–20
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them.  When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

Josh 1:5–9
No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

When we line these texts up together, we can see how Moses leaving Joshua behind is the background for the language of what has often been called the "Great Commission." Only now, instead of conquering all the nations, the mission is to make disciples of them. Just a few things to note as we compare the passages:

The strengthening and encouragement of baptism. "Some doubted," Matthew tells us. Surely, based upon the repeated commands to be strong and courageous, Joshua and the people must have been tempted to doubt. The evangelist tells us that Jesus responded to this doubting with Word and sacrament. 

The Word is His declaration that all authority in heaven and earth belongs to Him. And then He puts a sign of that authority, the seal of the covenant/kingdom, upon everyone whom He separates into His church from those nations: baptism. Our baptisms announce that Jesus, Who possesses all celestial and earthly authority, has claimed a special authority over us. 

The place of commandments in the Christian life. Many Christians are uneasy about the language of obedience and commandments. Some of that is good—we must renounce any idea that our obedience to commandments is worthy of any reward or praiseworthy to be proud of it. But if we are resistant to the idea that commandments are central to the Christian life, then we are resistant to Christ's own version of Christianity. 

Just as the path of enjoyment of the blessing unto which God had saved Israel was the path of obedience to God's commandments, so also as Jesus sends the apostles into the world to bring about the nations' enjoyment of the blessing unto which He has saved us, Jesus says "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you." Recognizing Jesus as the Triune God of the Bible, and that all sound biblical commandments are His, is a core component of Christianity. 

And we see here that He attaches it to our baptism. Our baptism is designed to strengthen and encourage our faith in Him. But it also presses upon each of us Christ's rightful demand to complete, exhaustive obedience to Him.

The source of strength in the Christian life: God has given us Himself. In the Old Testament context, the LORD promised His own fellowship to attend Joshua and Israel upon their mission and in their obedience. Here, we see that Jesus Himself is Yahweh, Who is with us. The Spirit is His Spirit. Jesus is with us always not only by way of His divine nature, in which He fills all in all, but also in His Spirit's mediating unto us His presence and fellowship as the risen Redeemer, the God-Man. 

Thus by giving us this Triune Name (singular name, not plural!) by which to be baptized into the name of Jesus Christ, Jesus assures us that we who look to Him in faith have His constant accompaniment by His Spirit. The Father is with us in the Son, and the Son is with us in the Spirit. Here is the strength and comfort and joy of the Christian as he lives out a life of consecrated obedience: "and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

Clinging to the LORD v.s. Following Your Heart

Deut 29:14a,19–20
I make this covenant with you [...] so it may not happen, when he hears the words of this curse, that he blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall have peace, even though I follow the dictates of my heart’—as though the drunkard could be included with the sober. “The LORD would not spare him; for then the anger of the LORD and His jealousy would burn against that man, and every curse that is written in this book would settle on him, and the LORD would blot out his name from under heaven.

Deut 29:29
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

Deut 30:6
And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

Deut 30:19–20
I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”

What a dangerous (and accursed!) thing it is to follow our hearts! (Deut 29:14a,19–20)

But we have a remedy. The LORD our God, Who works all things according to the counsel of His secret will, has given us His revealed will. (Deut 29:29)

He is the One Who can and will circumcise our hearts to love Him with all our heart, so that we will live. (Deut 30:6)

And He has given us "those things which are revealed" as the means by which we come "to love Him and obey His voice and cling to Him" instead of obeying and clinging to the dictates of our hearts. (Deut 30:19–20)

Cling to Him!

What We Need Is Christ!

In the evening sermon on April 11, we saw that Philippians 2:9–11 is drawing on Isaiah 45:21–25 to declare that Jesus is Yahweh—the Name that is above all other names—because He has saved us, and only the Lord can save.

That's basic, Christian doctrine. Only the Lord can save. Only the Lord can sanctify. And He does this by giving to us Himself.

But it is functionally denied by many in the churches. A discussion with someone who has rejected the biblical and Reformed prohibition against images of the Lord Jesus (cf. WLC 109) inevitably touches upon how we mightn't use them for worship, but how helpful they can be for instruction. As HC 98 rightly recognizes, that sort of reasoning is rubbish, precisely because it is God Who must choose how to teach His people.

The same is true when it comes to manmade additions to the public worship of God, the following of the church calendar, etc. It seems like otherwise Reformed people suddenly fall back upon how helpful or meaningful they find it. But that makes us the judges of what is helpful or what is meaningful. It's the same mistake that others make with the images.

Because I am desperate for God the Spirit to attend the ministry with His power, and convinced that we have nothing in or from ourselves that can glorify God or do good to His people, I'm unwilling to add anything that hasn't come from His Word. This means that sometimes people's love for those things of a merely human origin has led to a dissatisfaction with the ministry. So be it. It is only my flesh that wants them to find my ministry satisfying anyway; in the Spirit, my desire is that they would be satisfied with Christ in the ministry. 

And I know that we are complex beings, and that for those who genuinely love Christ, it is very easy to confuse ourselves about what it is that we are finding satisfying—especially because He has been merciful and gracious and met us often, even when we were doing things that were from us and not from Him. That of course doesn't justify what we are doing, and it becomes a judgment from God if He gives us over to thinking that our religious traditions are justified by how "helpful" we think they have been.

But there is one thing that has occasionally happened to show this most starkly. Someone will find that the Lord is meeting them in the means of grace. He will see that the Lord is meeting his family as well. He will see the effects that Christ is producing in him, and in his family, and in the congregation around him. So far so good. I'm not thinking, in this article, about those who go to church merely to feel spiritual things or do spiritual-feeling things. It's no use to reason with such an one from the glory of Christ or from our desperate need for Christ.

But even for someone who genuinely loves and needs Christ, but has been exposed to manmade traditions (from worship-set Christianity to Episcoterianism or anything in between) there will be some manmade thing that he just gets to missing so much in the worship. Or some manmade religious tradition. And eventually, he will reason that he can go elsewhere, still get the means by which Christ gives Himself to us, but also get those things that he has so intensely been missing. 

He doesn't see it, but when one begins to reason this way, God's providence is discovering to him that he doesn't feel Christ Himself to be enough. And at immediately this point of spiritual need, he is being tempted to remove himself to a church where utter dependence upon Christ is not entirely driving worship and ministry decisions. It's the opposite of what he needs.

It's like the man with his purported Jesus pictures. His feeling that they are helpful is itself an indicator that, to grow and mature himself out of such feelings, he needs the real help of the real Christ by the real Spirit, which we can only rightly seek by the means that He Himself has given.

Now, I've been discussing what we need because I hope to help those who feel pulled by what they feel is helpful or meaningful to them. But what we need is really only of secondary importance. The issue of ultimate importance is what glorifies God. What God says to do. Refusing to sin by adding to that. Refusing to add to that sin by reasoning that our additions are good. 

But when we weigh such questions, we discover that finding manmade religion helpful or meaningful is itself an indicator that what we need at that moment is not to indulge our inclinations but that help which is opposite our inclinations.

The reason that these two things intersect is because in God's marvelous grace, He has been pleased to glorify Himself by making Himself our Help. What a marvelous and generous and glorious God He is! And what fools we are who think that we can add to either His grace or His glory.

What men need, when they find manmade religion helpful, is this glorious God Himself, by only that religion in which He has chosen to be glorified by giving Himself.

"I Can Die Now" (Leaving Behind Christians Who Leave Behind Christians)

 It's easy, when even the most spiritual in the church often act or reason in surprisingly fleshly ways, to give in to unbelief and discouragement... have any been converted under my ministry? Been strengthened and gladdened? Grown? God forgive me for such thoughts. And even is the answer were "no," would that not be His business? Mine is to honor Him by caring for them in His way.

But I just popped into the house and found three of my progeny studying busily away. And I know from our interactions that a big part of why is that the Spirit of grace has been growing them in doing all as assigned by the Lord and for His glory. 

"I can die now."

That's a weird first thought to have when you see three of your children doing their homework. But if the ultimate thing in such a fleeting life is to honor the eternal God by obedience, surely the most lasting earthly work is to be used by Him to produce more such creatures. I'll be dead soon. 

Whatever temporal things I produce, or they produce, will eventually be burned up in the transition to the New Heavens and the New Earth. Physically burned up or metaphorically burned up doesn't ultimately matter does it? Even if metaphorical, the point of the metaphor is: consumed and eliminated.

But I will be forever. And they will be forever. And image-bearers will be left behind whom God will give birth or new birth or both through us. What do I really want out of life? God Himself. What legacy do I really want? To honor God by obeying Him, and to leave behind Christians who honor God by obeying Him and who leave behind such Christians. That's pretty much it.

I can die now.

Or as Solomon wrote after having "done it all" (including, remember, the building of the Temple!):
"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all." (Eccl 12:13)

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.