Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The Westminster Standards do not Support Arminianism or Hyper-Calvinism

The church, in order to be biblical and orthodox, she needs to be committed to the two "O's". What are these two "O's"?
They are:
Orthodox
Outward-moving in vision

It is not enough to be orthodox in doctrine, but the church must be outward-moving in her vision. Not static! Never static! It is possible to hold orthodox doctrine, so you think, and yet be unorthodox, because you are static and failing to show interest in reaching out to the lost. My two suggested "O's" are not perfect, but they get us all thinking, I hope.

As a younger Christian I read two terrific books by Iain Murray of the Banner of Truth. They were about Spurgeon being against Arminianism and also Hyper-Calvinism. These twin dangers are always around when there is any kind of Reformed recovery. We need to be aware of both. For example you can say that you tick all the boxes about Reformed doctrine and yet hold to sub-conscious hyper-Calvinism where due to a certain view of the doctrine of election that you do virtually nothing to make Christ known. Similarly, you may hold to particular redemption and yet be an Arminian in practice, in thinking that the kingdom of God will expand by the use of man-made methods. The dangers are very subtle for all of us.

However, the character of the Lord is outward-moving. The Lord our Father sent his only-begotten in His love and then the Holy Spirit was sent at Pentecost to spread the gospel and build up the church around the world. The Westminster Standards (the Confession along with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms) provide a biblically balanced theology. We should read the chapter in the confession on the Eternal Decree, but then pray the Lord's Prayer with the explanation of the Westminster Larger Catechism. Here is Question 191 to explain the second petition.

Q. 191. What do we pray for in the second petition?
A. In the second petition, (which is, Your kingdom come,) acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel-officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted: that Christ would rule in our hearts here,18 and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him forever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends.


We need to pray and work as the Lord spoke through Haggai in 2:4 "Work for I am with you declares the Lord of Hosts".

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.