The Importance of Attidude in Confessional Subscription

Over at Reformation 21, Carl Trueman asks,

I wonder: do good churches go bad because they appoint closet liberals to the ministry? Or do they go bad because they appoint good people to the ministry who do not understand the nature and importance of confessional subscription and who will therefore, wittingly or unwittingly, help to water down the very mechanisms established by the church to preserve the gospel for the next generation?

Trueman highlights a very important detail concerning confessional subscription that is often left out of the discussion – the attitude with which one subscribes. Subscription should be a matter of conviction, not convenience.

Check out his essay here.

Praying God-Centered, Scriptural Prayers

Is your church committed to prayer? Are you committed to prayer? These can be difficult questions, as Robert Murray McCheyne noted, “You wish to humble a man? Ask him about his prayer life.” I do not wish to humble you about your prayer life, but to encourage you in your prayer life.

As I have been preaching through Romans 8, I have been thinking and reflecting quite a bit on prayer. In Romans 8, one of the ways the Apostle Paul describes the Spirit-filled life is as a life of prayer. “Living by the Spirit,” “being led by the Spirit,” and having “the Spirit of adoption” are expressed in our Christian pilgrimage as we cry out “Abba! Father!” (13-15). The Spirit leads us to glory by uniting us to Christ so that we follow his path of suffering that leads to glory (17), a suffering that leads us to “groan inwardly” as we endure and wait for our redemption (23). Throughout the struggle of our pilgrimage, the Spirit helps us in our weakness by interceding for us when we are so confounded that we don’t even know how to pray for ourselves (26).

As Iraneaus once said, “We live in a veil of tears that is an engine of soul-making. In this life, we Christians are being made into saints, and it takes suffering to make saints.” The life of faith – the Spirit filled life- is a life of prayer. And a life of prayer is a Spirit empowered, persevering, patient, engagement with the world, the flesh and the devil, that is encouraged by the knowledge of God’s purposes for his people. If we are going to find any aid, if we are going to find any help, if we are going to find any comfort, we must look outside ourselves – we must look to Christ. And one way to do that is through prayer. Continue reading

Is the Mystery Gone?

Is the mystery gone? No, I’m not talking about your relationship with your spouse – I’m talking about your relationship with God. I have been thinking about his question for some time now, for I have a strange vocation. I am a pastor – which means that I have been called to be a steward of God’s mysteries. This provides me a great deal of time reading God’s words and praying in private, as well as, leading my church in worship and adoration of God through reading, preaching, praying, and administering the sacraments twice on Sunday. But all this time around God’s truth can be difficult – and one of the primary struggles is not allowing the divine mysteries to become common-place. But this is not just a problem that minister’s face – this is a trial that we all face, as I have been reminded from my current sermon preparations for preaching through Habakkuk.

The very history of the church, going back to the Old Testament is that the people of God have always tended to forget God and what he has done for us. Continue reading

The Eucharistic Prayer

Recently I had the joy of attending the first annual Reformation Worship Conference where I got to hear Hughes Oliphint Old, T. David Gordon, Terry Johnson, Jon Payne, Mark Ross, Paul Jones, and David Hall speak on a whole host of different topics concerning worship.  My favorite lectures were those by Dr. Old on the reformation of worship in the 16th century.

One of the themes that was developed through all the lectures was the importance of prayer in the reformers’ worship.  He noted that as the reformers recovered the truth of scripture, they used the scripture to reshape how they worshiped.  The reform of liturgy was centered on ministering the word of God to the church and this included using prayer as a means of the ministry of the word.  In their prayers, then, the reformers sought to fill their prayers with scripture.  In their recovery of biblical worship and prayer, they noted that the Bible contained different kinds of prayer and sought to institute these different types of prayer throughout the liturgy in appropriate places.

In his lecture on John Knox, he emphasized Knox’s contribution to the reform of liturgy and the use of prayer in Knox’s directory for public worship, the Book of Common Order (1560).  Continue reading

Reformation Liturgy for Evening Service October 31, 2010

On Sunday evening, we remembered the 493rd anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the doors of All Saints’ Church in Whittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517, which created the spark that would become the blaze known as the Protestant Reformation. To try and help the church see our Reformation roots in worship, we utilized one of the first Reformed liturgies that was developed for providing distinctively Reformed worship. I put together a liturgy that was based on the initial reforms instituted by Martin Bucer in Strasbourg, which have been recorded in his work Grund und Ursach from 1524, together with later insights from his reforms in his 1537 and 1539 liturgies.

To maintain some semblance with our normal service we included an explicit call to worship and response at the beginning of the service. So in the liturgy below, Bucer’s liturgy begins at “Confession of Sin, Pardon, and Thanksgiving.” Bucer began with the Confession of Sin because he believed that Reformed worship was premised on the recovery of the ministry of the Word of God. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ’s ministry was built on the ministry of John the Baptist, which was a ministry calling sinners to repent. If Christ’s ministry was built on calling for repentance, and Reformed worship was a continuation of Christ’s ministry of the Word, then the worship service should be built on repentance and confession of sin. Continue reading

>First Annual Reformation Worship Conference

>This coming fall, October 21-24, the first annual Reformation Worship Conference will be held at Midway Presbyterian Church.  The purpose for this conference is:

The speakers include Hughes Oliphint Old, Terry Johnson, Jon Payne, Mark Ross, Paul Jones, and David Hall.  The conference opens with a Hymn Festival led by Paul Jones and then doesn’t stop for three days!

Check out the website where you can find more details here.

>The Inextricable Relationship Between Covenant Theology and Preaching

>Here are some helpful thoughts on the relationship between covenant theology and preaching.  Over at the Greenbaggins blog, insights from Hughes Oliphant Old are being provided on preaching from the history of the church.  Old says, 

If Craigie is right, then we have in the covenant theology of the Pentateuch the rationale for the reading and preaching of Scripture in worship – namely, that it is demanded by a covenantal understanding of our relationship to God and to each other” (p. 29). If the people are in a relationship with God based on a covenantal agreement, then it is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of that relationship that the terms of the covenantal agreement be regularly read and interpreted to the people.

This statement is very helpful today, given the current distaste for preaching.  Many today would rather have a conversation or be lead in a discussion group, rather than have an ordained man (one approved by God-1 Thess 2.4) proclaim the truth of God in the authority of God.  Interestingly, there is currently a prominent “Reformed” theologian who has built his theological system around the notion of God as the covenant Lord, who has argued that there is no biblical defense of preaching as a monologue from a single preacher to a congregation who listen, and, therefore, preaching can come in the form of conversation or even drama.

The doctrine of the covenant, then, is inextricably related not only to preaching, but how preaching is to be accomplished.  The covenant helps us to understand that God has addressed his people and requires his people to respond.  God continues to address his people, and continues to address them through the covenant, so there continues to be a need for the covenant to be proclaimed – and that is what preaching is.  The covenant establishes the need for and provides for the right means for preaching.  We are not left to ourselves and our imaginations to try and figure out the best way for the covenant to be proclaimed and administered among God’s church. 

This is not to say that God has not provided a way for the covenant to be displayed and played out before a congregation.  If drama you seek, then start practicing the sacraments.

>"An Alternative Plan for PCA Renewal" from the Presbytery of Northwest Georgia

>Coming from the Presbytery of Northwest Georgia of the PCA is an overture I can support.  The men of the NWGP have provided 17 points for renewal in the PCA–points that promote reformed practice in addition to Reformed theology.  Kudos to the men of the NWGP for stating such a clear, biblical and confessional response that is irenic and profitable.  There is no need to leave confessionalism behind in order to do Reformed ministry, rather, what is needed is a robust commitment and engagement in Reformed theology, piety, and practice in the life of the church in worship, nurture and missions.  We have a rich perspective–why not put it to use?  We don’t need to be less or other than what we are, and how can we reproduce Reformed churches if we are less than Reformed in the process?  Our ministry should reflect the God-centered, covenantal theology of our standards,

 . . . the remedy to our denominational maladies is not the implementation of what some see as a fairly complex, mildly therapeutic, sociologically savvy strategic vision. Rather, what the PCA needs – in fact, what every NAPARC denomination always needs – is a clear, uncompromising call to biblical and confessional renewal, renewal that is on God’s terms, not man’s.

The preface is helpful in explaining that those who disagree with the Strategic Plan do not disagree because they are not in favor of missions, but because they believe that God has promised to bless certain means, so the ministry of the church should be focused on those things, and not on things that God has not promised to bless,

Many believe that the current problems in the PCA have less to do with cultural irrelevancy and insensitivity, and more to do with a lack of confidence in the sufficient, efficacious means that God Himself has promised to bless for the health and extension of His kingdom. Perhaps we – the PCA – should examine ourselves, and ask ourselves some searching, even convicting questions – questions that may help us to recognize our current problems: Why the upturn in topical, loosely textual, media/story driven sermons? Why the downturn in exegetical, Christ-centered, lectio-continua Bible preaching? Why the upturn in focus upon missional broadness, social programs and eco-gospel ministry? Why the downturn in substantial prayer in public worship? Why the absence of congregational prayer meetings? Why the upturn in focus upon women possessing greater roles in worship and denominational leadership (“direction and development”)? Why the downturn in sessions boldly calling men to lead their families and Christ’s Church (i.e. public worship, family worship)? The main goal or plan of the PCA for the next forty years should be a courageous, God-centered, joyfully reverent return to Reformed Faith and practice, as set forth in the Westminster Standards and her sister confessions (e.g. The Three Forms of Unity). This is a call to renewal that we should all be able to get behind.

 It is not new in the tradition of American Presbyterianism to want to divorce orthodoxy from orthopraxy, a la, the “doctrine divides but ministry unites” chorus of the new school/old school debates of the nineteenth century, so no one should be surprised to see this manifested again.  But it is because this is not new that we must understand that it apparently is not going away and there is once again a need for a loving, irenic and faithful response.

You can read the entire overture here.  Let me add my “Amen!”

>Why Has Guilt, Grace, Gratitude Become Guilt, Guilt, Guilt?

>Many are aware that the historic way of breaking down the Heidelberg Catechism, even the Christian life itself, can be summarized with the three-fold description Guilt, Grace, Gratitude.  But for some reason today, it seems like I talk to a lot of people who do not experience this three-fold description, but rather, their experience of the Christian life seems to be Guilt, Guilt, Guilt.  Understanding our guilt before God is certainly necessary and a good thing, but it’s not everything.  In fact, guilt is supposed to take us to the cross where we find the objective work of Christ, and then subjectively embrace it by faith so that by grace, we can rejoice in salvation and walk in the newness of life–guilt leads to grace and grace leads to gratitude.

With this purpose for guilt, and with such amazing grace, why is it that so many Christians feel so guilty all the time?

At his blog today, Kevin DeYoung asks this question and provides four basic reasons why he thinks so many Christians feel so guilty:

  1. We don’t fully embrace the good news of the gospel.
  2. Christians tend to motivate each other by guilt rather than grace.
  3. Most of our low-level guilt falls under the ambiguous category of “not doing enough.”
  4. When we are truly guilty of sin it is imperative we repent and receive God’s mercy.

DeYoung believes that this constant guilt is dangerous because it can harden one’s conscience and even lead a person to ignore his conscience.  This constant feeling of guilt, which can sear the conscience, can lead people to ignore actual sin from which they need to repent, and hence, miss out on the salve of the gospel, which is what they need.

DeYoung believes that grace is the answer:

 . . . the best preaching ought to make sincere Christians see more of Christ and experience more of his grace.  Deeper grace will produce better gratitude, which means less guilt. And that’s a good thing all the way around.

Yes it is, but why limit the prescription just to preaching?  Why not offer all the means of grace that Christ affords his church?  Yes, preaching is important, necessary and foundational, but seeing in communion what is spoken in a sermon is also important, necessary and beneficial.

Do you seem to feel guilty all the time?  The bread that came down from heaven makes himself available for you to feed upon him, and hence, be invigorated by the heavenly realities in him.  Maybe you’re not eating enough.