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Posts Tagged ‘Word’


One of the joys of being a Presbyterian pastor is voting on changes in the Book of Church Order. While I was a member of the ARP this was a joy I had infrequently. As a member of the PCA, it is one I have more often than I would like.

This summer at General Assembly, we had an Overture to explicitly prohibit the practice of intinction, or dipping the bread into the wine (or more commonly grape juice) when administering communion. I have had some experience in my life with the practice. At times in my youth, the Roman Catholic Church would practice it. How they administered communion kept changing. If you were away for awhile you could safely wonder how it was being done “now”.

http://ts3.mm.bing.net/th?id=H.4547422006740054&pid=15.1I personally do not like intinction. We did dip one Sunday in the church in which I am pastor because we thought we had run out of communion cups. We celebrate weekly communion. It was a pragmatic decision based on our circumstances. It seemed less problematic than withholding the means of grace from the congregation. We actually had a new box of cups tucked away in the Administrative Assistant’s office. Surely the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover our numerous failings that day.

I view intinction as irregular. I refrain from using the term novelty, though in some senses it is appropriate. It is not taught in Scripture, and therefore a novelty. But it is not new. The Eastern Church has practiced it for many a century. It has been practiced at times in the Church of Rome. It does not have an extensive history, as far as I know, among Protestants. Therefore another word we could use is heteropraxy.

The issue for me is this: is it so irregular that we should censure those who practice it?

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No, it isn’t about the immigration issue.  It was Dual Citizens‘ subtitle that interested me: Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet.  I eagerly anticipated the day when I could get a copy and begin reading.  That day come recently and I read much of it on the way back from General Assembly.

Let’s say the anticipation far exceeded the reality.  Jason Stellman is a former missionary who was associated with Calvary Chapel.  He has since discovered Reformed Theology, attended Westminster West and is now a PCA pastor in the Pacific NW.

The forward was written by Michael Horton.  The book reminds me of Horton’s earlier work.  Years ago I used to love Horton’s books.  Not so much anymore.  The problem is not that I have shifted theologically.  I found him to be reactionary and prone to over-correction.  That is how this book reads.

At times you can’t really be sure who he is reacting against.  Evangelicalism is too broad to say “evangelicalism”.  At times I wonder if it is his Calvary Chapel background, but sometimes it is the church growth movement and Rick Warren.  But the end result is a book that was more critical than instructional.  When he is instructive, the book is better.

I was hoping he would develop the reality of the already/not yet regarding worship and life.  He doesn’t really spend much time developing the idea of the already/not yet and how both under & over-realized eschatology plagues the church by distorting our expectations and practices.  That could have been a great book.

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I’ve been working my way through Total Church: a Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community.  So far, it has been mostly positive.  Chester and Timmis rightly perceive many problems with how “church” is done in the Western world in which we live.  Most of their corrections are very good.  A few are frustrating.

They start with the dual call of Scripture to gospel and community.  They argue that the gospel is both word-centered and mission-centered.  It is a message to be believed, and proclaimed.  It is through this proclamation of the gospel words that community is created.  And that gopel word is proclaimed in and through the gospel community.  They build a solid understanding of the centrality of the Word (and therefore the gospel) in ministry.  It is through this message (which declares God’s acts of salvation and their implications) that God saves sinners, sanctifies saints, expands His kingdom, and more.

The church exists both through the gospel and for the gospel.

So they argue for a “train and release” strategy rather than a “convert and retain” strategy so common today.  This is one of the implications of a mission-centered view of the church.

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Finally I’ve had some more time to make progress in Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.  He spends some time interacting with a Roman view of Scripture and then images.  While discussing Scripture, he also exposes the folly of the extreme anabaptist view that created problems during the Reformation.

The authority of Scripture comes from its origin in God.  Often some will say that the Church confers authority on the Scriptures by its recognition of them as God’s Word.  But Scripture is authentic and authoritative even if we don’t recognize it as such.  The issue is whether or not we will submit to God as He has spoken in the Scriptures.

“… the testimony of the Spirit is more excellent than all reason.  For as God alone is a fit witness of himself in His Word, so also the Word will not find acceptance in men’s hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit.  The same Spirit, therefore, who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us that they faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded.” (I, VII, 4)

God spoke through the prophets by the Spirit.  The same Spirit must work in our hearts that we accept those words as God’s.  Bare reason is insufficient due to our fall into sin.  God must illumine us (2 Cor. 2-4).  So the Spirit speaks and authenticates God’s Word.

The authority of God’s human messengers, the prophets, was strengthened by the miracles they performed.  Here we see the idea of miracles as authentication of God’s true messengers.  This idea is behind the Reformed view of cessation of the gifts.  Not all Reformed people affirm this view, nor does Calvin go there.  But the roots of Warfield and Gaffin’s views are here.  Fulfilled prophecy is another basis for affirming the authenticity and authority of Scripture.  These are things the Spirit will illumine for us as we read that we might believe that Scripture has divine origins and is authoritative.

But what captures my attention is Calvin’s joining Word and Spirit.  This emphasis is lost in our day and age.  On the one hand there are those who think that bare reason is sufficient to understand Scripture.  On the other there are those who think that the Spirit thinks apart from Scripture.  Calvin argued that we only rightly understand Scripture through the work of the Spirit, and that the Spirit speaks thru the Scriptures.

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It was a fight to read this chapter because I was fighting a migraine at the time.  But it served as a good reminder that progressive sanctification is not automatic, nor easy.  There is no passivism to be found in the Bible.  Hebrews 11 is full of people who acted because they believed.

Anyway, Ryle addresses why this is a good fight (1 Timothy 6:12).  He notes the horrible consequences of war in our world.  Consequences that have not changed.  People may choose to be pacifists when it comes to earthly conflicts.  But in our internal battle against sin, no Christian may be a pacifist or appeaser.  We are all to be soldiers of Christ.

Keep in mind, the battle is not between nations, or religions or theological squabbles.  The battle in view is the battle with the flesh, the world and the devil.  “But with a corrupt heart, a busy devil, and an ensnaring world, he must either ‘fight’ or be lost.”

Interestingly, he quotes “the wisest General that ever lived in England”.  I wish I knew to whom to attribute this great quote to, but: “In time of war it is the worst mistake to underrate your enemy, and try to make a little war.”  I can think of some politicians that need to read it.  But the point Ryle is making, and we need to hear, is that we must not underestimate the flesh, the world and the devil.  It is not a minor skirmish, or ‘police action’ or ‘act of terrorism’.  The battle against sin is a full-time, full-blown war.  It is not a hobby, or an option activity for the ‘serious’ Christian.

“Where there is grace there will be conflict.  …. There is no holiness without a warfare.  Saved souls will always be found to have fought a fight.”  This should cause us to recognize our own weakness before our foes.  How we need the work of Christ progressively applied to us by the Spirit through faith!  How we need to recognize it is all of grace, even as we dig in or press on.  We will feel the heat, and pressure, if we are to be purified and transformed.  As John Owen has said, “Be killing sin or it will kill you.”

The key, as Ryle notes, is faith.  Not generic faith- but a faith in Jesus.  We trust in his “person, work and office” as revealed by Scripture and portrayed in the Gospel.  We need our Prophet to reveal our sin, our Priest to cover our sin, and our King to kill our sin.  Faith is also rooted, as Piper often notes, in God’s promises.  We are to believe, and act upon, God’s promises for grace.

We are not alone in this fight, or at least should not be.  Sadly we tend to isolate ourselves from the very helps God has provided.  We have allies in the Word and Spirit.  God has joined them together (Calvin & Owen among others) though sinful men drive them apart.  We have allies in one another (Ephesians 6 speaks of tight ranks to oppose the foe).  Do not go it alone, but stand by your brothers and sisters.  And in the words of a great coach, “Fight, fight, fight!”

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