Monday, 11 June 2018

The Westminster Standards and Delighting in the Christian Sabbath (Part 2)

How do we delight in the Lord for the whole day?

The Lord’s Day is the whole day and not the Lord’s half day or even less the Lord’s quarter day. This day is a gift from the Lord and we are expected to labour to turn our foot from doing our pleasure on this holy day. It is a day to set aside our worldly pursuits and recreations. This day is different to the other six days. Do you live on this day differently to the other six days? Being planted in a church that is committed to preaching in two services helps us to structure our day around the Lord and his ordinances. These include preaching, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. We need to take extra time whwre possible to nourish our soul spiritually. This may include reading some good Christian book, to take time to recharge by devoting this day to extra Bible reading or personal communion with the Lord in prayer.
Christian fellowship can be a means of strengthening our soul as well. However, we need to heed the Creator’s teaching that this is not a day to “talk idly” (Is 58:13). On this day especially, we should put away converation that does not upbuild, or that is frivilous jesting, or unwholesome arguments or in boasting foolishly. It is not that we cannot discuss normal matters, but mere chit-chat is to be avoided. The “rule of thumb” to uphold this holy day of the Lord as honourable could well be Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear”.

How can families delight in this day?
The correct definition of the visible church is “a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world, do profess the true religion, and of their children” (Westminster Larger Catechism question 62). It has been the common practice of the church over 2000 years to have children with their parents sitting through worship services together. It would be wrong to starve children from the primary instrument of communication from heaven, which is preaching. The Lord’s Supper needs to be seen by children, it is a visible sign and portrayal of the gospel. The breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine is a wonderful gift for children as well as all, to understand better the significance of the sufferings of Jesus.
There are some practical matters that could be covered in this subject. Elders, preachers and parents, all need to think through how this day can be maximised. I have heard over the years that some father’s keep their family at home to catechise them, instead of going to the evening service. I am not sure I understand the logic of this decision. I have often maintianed that it would hard not to grow spiritually, if you sit under two well prepared sermons each Lord’s Day. I hope to discuss this whole matter more, in another article, as to how families can delight in this day

Do we call this particular day the Lord’s Day or the Christian Sabbath?

The Westminster Larger Catechism is in my view one of the best Christian documents produced in the history of the church. I would love to see it read, taught and used far more. Earlier I cited question 59 in the Shorter Catechism, but the answer is amplified in question 116 in the Larger. The question asked is “What is required in the fourth commandment?”. Immediately we learn then that this day is seen to be the application of the fourth of the Ten Commandments to “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11).
The Catechism’s answer then, emphasises that this day is “one whole day in seven” and it explains that it is “the Christian Sabbath, and in the New Testament called the Lord’s day”. Thereofre we see that these terms are interchangeable to explain the same blessed gift from heaven. The church are to feast spiritually every seven days on the gospel of Christ, to meet together according to the Lord’s appointment in His calendar and to congregate publicly.

What better for us to close, than with Psalm 92, the Song of the Sabbath (in the Psalm title): “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God” (92:12-13). You cannot flourish by staying at home on the Lord’s Day, but by being planted in the church, worshipping with the Lord’s people.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

The Westminster Standards and Delighting in the Christian Sabbath (Part 1)

Delighting in the Sabbath
What comes to your mind when the phrase “delighting in the sabbath” is read or heard by you? Depending on your upbringing, your background, and whether you are a Christian or otherwise, a whole variety of thoughts may well spring into your mind. For some, the very idea of a sabbath, maybe completley foreign, for others it may conjure up thoughts of a dry form of Christianity. How do you consider the practicing of the Christian Sabbath? Have you considered the Lord’s command and invitation to delight in the Sabbath?

Let me lay a biblical basis at the outset and then let us move to considering some practical thoughts as to how we can mazimise our delighting in the LORD through the whole sabbath day. Sadly, an American Presbyterian minister who is a personal friend of mine, lamented to me recently. He said that “this is the first generation in the history of the USA, that the whole church in the USA has not practiced the Lord’s Day”. The Christian Sabbath is also commonly known as the Lord’s Day and they mean the same thing. Imagine that! In one generation a whole nation has undergone a sea-change in religious practice.

Has our nation, the United Kingdom fared better? Sadly no. My father grew up in northern Sheffield in the 1940’s. It was a time when chapel buildings were everywhere. Many people professed a commitment to the local chapel, but few went regulalrly in reality. The Sunday School movement continued at that time, with some fervour, and children like my dad, were joyfully sent to this. For many the parents motive was most often to provide a brief respite for the parents. This is not entirely suprising though, when many husbands worked six days down a coalmine. However, in recalling those days, my dad would retell that Christian religion on Sunday was more a matter of what you could not do. You could not play as a child, or ride your bike, or enjoy the day. It was a day to be endured. But as to what this day was really to be about in a Biblical worldview, very few knew, let alone practicing this day as a spiritual delight.

Such memories by many are common. The light and zeal of the church was at a very low ebb, as nominal Christian allegiance remained. As far as delighting in the Sabbath, that idea would have meant little. However, this biblical truth must be recovered, that is, if Christianity is to uphold the vitals of true Christian religion.

Before we go much further, let us briefly look at Isaiah 58:13-14 and we note that this instruction comes “from the mouth of the Lord” and it begins with the tiny English word “If”. “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

These two Bible verses are full of truth. They are worthy of much meditation. The heartbeat of this message is that an attitude change is required which then will lead to a change in the way you live. It is the same principle in that right doctrine leads to right practice which leads to godly living. Are you preared to have an attitude change? One whereby, as a godly man or woman, you will “call the Sabbath a delight” and “the holy day of the LORD honourable”. Do you do this? Let us examine briefly, five simple questions to help us to understand this truth.

Which day is the Christian Sabbath?
The day, we now call Sunday, was formerly known in Bible times as the first day of the week. The early Christians moved their day of worship, one day forward from the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) because this was the day that the Son of God, Jesus Christ,was risen from the dead. The Bible testifies to this: “And very early on the first day of the week” several women went to the tomb and they found the stone rolled away. The angel said to them “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here” (Mark 16:2, 6).
The early church set about to meet on the first day of the week, by divine command and to remember the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. They gathered together to hear the Word of the gospel preached, to enjoy the Lord’s Supper, and to give to the Lord in collections (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor 16:2). John the apostle was banished to a remote Greek Island as a punishment for preaching the gospel, and he called this day in the book of Revelation, “the Lord’s Day” (Rev 1:10).
As the church grew and matured, their understanding of the Christian Sabbath also grew. The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it simply in question 59: “From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath”.

How do we delight in the Sabbath?
The starting point tp delight on the sabbth is to have a love for good and sound preaching. The high point of worship is preaching. Preaching does something to our soul that no other activity in the church can do. A love for preaching will drive you to find a church that will offer you the spiritual meals that you need to live a godly life. On a side note, never move to a new area without first checking out if there would be a church there for you to grow and thrive.
Remember that Jesus of Nazareth announced that “ the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Matt 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5). He loved the Sabbath, he looked forward to it and he practiced it rightly. Rightly meaning with an inward spiritual attitude and not simply a wooden or outward conformity. This contrasted with the Pharisees who were simply concerned with rules. Let us learn of Christ and follow his example.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The Westminster Standards and Reverent-Simple Public Worship

The New Testament teaches a style of worship which is reverent, simple and full of thankfulness. The high point of New Testament worship is the preaching and reading of the Scriptures, in order to elucidate the gospel of Christ. Here are seven principles necessary, if we are to be biblical in a New Testament sense and therefore in a truly Reformed approach to public worship.
Q. 108. What are the duties required in the second commandment?
A. The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has instituted in his Word; particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ; the reading, preaching, and hearing of the Word; the administration and receiving of the sacraments; church government and discipline; the ministry and maintenance thereof; religious fasting; swearing by the name of God, and vowing unto him: as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing all false worship; and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.
This question and answer from the Westminster Larger Catechism is a helpful reminder for us in public worship.

1. Simplicity
"For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you" 2 Cor 1:12.

2 Cor 11:3 "But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ".

It is amazing how the fallen-ness of mankind struggles with the beauty of simplicity, especially in worship. When will we learn that public worship is not according to our personal taste preferences, but according to the Lord's divine worship pattern revealed in Holy Scripture.

2. Reverence and awe
Hebrews 12:28-29 "And thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire".

3. Without distractions and gimmicks
When we observe the instructions given by Paul to Timothy the emphasis is on preaching. Nothing can replace preaching to pass on the content of the faith. How often churches seek extras to compensate for preaching, but nothing can replace Holy Spirit empowered preaching "out of the Scriptures".

4. Centred on the holy character of the Lord and the one mediator Jesus Christ

"For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time", 1 Timothy 2:5-6.

5. Thankfulness in prayer
"Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship" Hebrews 12:28-29.

6. Anchored in Scripture read and explained through Preaching
"And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ”, Acts 17:2-3.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 17:2–3). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
1 Timothy 4:13 "Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching".

7. Led by qualified ministers who are called and qualified men meeting the biblical qualifications of elders
Titus 1:5-9 "For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it".

Perhaps you may go through my small list and think that some things are missing. What about singing you may say? Good point! Singing has its place but the NT makes very little mention about singing in the NT church. Sometimes singing is disproportionately emphasised in sections of the church. Let us keep things in balance. May we desire public worship with preaching as its high point but an approach that resonates with simplicity, reverence and awe.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

The Westminster Standards and Family Worship

I first learned about family worship from the relatives of my Dutch wife. Observing families The Netherlands read the Bible, sing and pray together, after the evening meals, set me on a new course for life. It has been a joy for our family to read, hear and discuss the Bible after evening meals and this time has been one of the places our children have learned to pray. It is important that children learn to pray and not only listen to the parents pray. This is a safe environment for learning.

An ideal document for family worship is the Westminster Shorter Catechism. In the new book called "The Westminster Standards for Today" , there is an excellent essay by Rev Chad Bailey called "The Westminster Standards and Family Worship: Maintaining True Religion in the Home". Chad humbly and clearly explains the blessing of such historic practices and the book is worth the price for this essay alone.

We must pray for the joyful recovery of family worship in our own generation. Family worship must never replace involvement in the church and fathers must not absent themselves from public worship services by excusing that they are stopping at home to catechise their children. Children belong to the Lord and the church has its place to instruct children, beyond the family structures, to support, encourage and disciple children under the oversight of elders and parents.

"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" Ephesians 6:1-4.

' “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates' Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

Let us pray with faith for a global recovery of family worship for covenant parents and children, for the glory of God!

Monday, 14 May 2018

Recovering the Lost Art and Practice of Catechising

What do think of when you hear the word "catechise"? Perhaps for some they think of nothing because they are located in a part of the church which does not use the word "catechise". For others, what do they think? For some this is something restricted to family worship, where parents pass on the Westminster Shorter Catechism to children, but is catechising primarily for children? The answer is no, it is not primarily for children, though they are not excluded.

The church needs to recover the passing on the Christian faith by teaching the faith. We have two magnificent catechisms, the Shorter and Larger Westminster Catechisms and "the dust needs to be
blown off them", as it were, metaphorically speaking. With the new edition of the Westminster Standards for Today published by EP, there is a new format which is fresh, accessible and easy to use. Let us all "jump into the river" of catechising, no matter what kind of church you are part of. This includes catechising for yourself. The question and answer format of the Westminster Larger Catechism means we can examine ourselves more clearly and objectively and enjoy the process as you learn more of the Christian gospel.

Lamentations 5:21-25 is a timely prayer: "Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may be restored!
Renew our days as of old— unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us".


We want to return to the ancient paths. John Calvin when he published the Catechism of the Church of Geneva stated that in its dedication that this catechism was "nothing else than the use of things which from ancient times were observed by Christians and the true worshippers of God, and which were never laid aside until the Church was wholly corrupted".

The Rev Ronald Christey recounted: "There was a day in Scotland — the best days, some folk think — when a minister or a catechist gathered families together in a home and catechised them — probed their understanding and experience of Scriptural truth, encouraged them to express themselves. Such catechetical instruction was a source of spiritual strength. Where is that done now? Hardly anywhere".

Jeremiah 6:16 'Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it’ ".

Monday, 7 May 2018

Teaching the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms

One of my life goals is to disseminate the Westminster Standards as widely as possible. By this I am especially referring to the Westminster Confession of Faith along with the two Catechisms. Without doubt, one of the greatest needs today is for doctrinal teaching. This also includes the need for reformed churches to teach the people in the church the truths of the Westminster Confessions.

People can never be expected to simply imbibe truth, but we all need constant positive teaching. Indeed the Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the church requires this as he gave his commission at the end of Matthew's Gospel:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20).

Make disciples ... and teaching go "hand in hand" and teaching means to actively and positively instruct. Preaching is part of worship and indeed it is intended to be the high point of worship. However, there is the need for the church's office bearers to pass on the content of the Christian faith to the church in detail as well. This is why there are many different words for preaching and teaching in the New Testament.

Some of the main verbs for passing on information by authorised office bearers are:

To preach (kērussō)- which means to declare or to herald the truth of God like the representative of a king. This word occurs more than 60 times in the New Testament.

To evangelise (euangelizō)- this word means to bring good news or to announce good news. It is commonly used in connection to the bringing forth of the gospel (Romans 1:1, 1:9, 1:16).

To witness (martureō)
- this verb means to bear witness to facts and it is from this Greek word that we also get the word martyr. However, this verb is concerned with testifying to the facts of the gospel, namely the facts of the death, burial, resurrection, ascension and second coming of Jesus Christ.

To teach (didaskō) - as already mentioned this is a different word from the verb to preach. To teach means to spell out in no uncertain manner, the truth of the gospel, so that people can understand. It is not simply heralding, but in explaining truths.

To preach and teach using a catechetical method (katēcheō): This is found in Luke 1:4 which records "you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught" and the word taught is the word to catechise. This important Greek word means "to impart information" (Luke 1:4, Acts 18:25, 21:21, 21:24) and "to instruct" (Romans 2:18, 1 Cor 14:19, Gal 6:6). It is the work of the church in relation to this Greek word that I most want to highlight in this blog post.
Here are some questions for all of us to consider.

What are we doing in the church to impart the information of the church's apostolic doctrine, as summarised in the Westminster Standards?
How can we find avenues to impart this information in the church?
What opportunities can we create in the church's monthly calendar to impart the information of the Westminster Larger and shorter catechisms?

This is my prayer for the rich content of the Christian faith to be passed onto church members. Let us pray for this to happen in our own generation.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Learning to Promote Good Christian Books

Since around 2001, I have been involved in promoting and selling good Christian books. When I have read excellent Christian and Reformed books, I often thought that these books were so good that they needed to be read by others.

There is power in the printed page. Of course this means the Bible as well, but when I refer to the printed page, this also includes excellent Christian books. The question for all of us then is, how can I promote good books? We need to grow as Christians beyond just thinking about ourselves and indulging ourselves only in good reading. How can we encourage others to grow in Christ through quality reading choices.

Sometimes in a conference good books may be offered at a good price and we need to think how perhaps we can give away books to other people, rather than only thinking about our own personal library or reading list.

Here are a few pointers, in order to grow in promoting good Christian books to others.

1. Pray about how you can grow in this area.
2. Recommend books to others verbally and do so with passion and enthusiasm.
3. If you are a pastor, have a quarterly book of month that your church sells. It is better to focus on one book than to have a table of books with a wide choice. We do not want a church book table to look like a jumble sale.
4. The best way for books to be bought and read is by a recommendation, especially publicly. Just ask Iain Murray or George Verwer, men who have moved more books than anyone I know.
5. Buy good books and give them away. Generosity is a Christian grace, one that we can all grow in.

"By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others" 2 Cor 9:13.

6. If you have access to Facebook or Twitter or another forum, including newsletters, use these to promote books. And dare I say do not use them to simply promote yourself!

I hope that in this small blogpost, that it can envision you to change the world through promoting, selling and giving away excellent Christian literature. Go to it and enjoy it!