Thursday 20 August 2009

Have We Forgotten Something About John Calvin?

As many people will be aware this year is the 500th anniversary since the birth of John Calvin and many conferences are devotong sessions to the impact of Calvin's life and teaching. In all the excellent seminars and conference talks I wonder if we have forgotten something about Calvin. What is it? Calvin's doctrine of the church.

Calvin's Institutes ranks among one of the most influential works in the history of the church and it is made up of four books. The fourth book is all about the doctrine of the Church and yet I have not seen a single article or paper commenting on this aspect of Calvin. I would say that if we do not understaand Calvin's doctrine of the church then we do not understand this Reformer at all. Reformation was all about re-forming the church back to its apostolic pattern. So, whata are some of the aspects of Calvin's doctrine of the church.

1. A fourfold government of pastor's, elders. deacons and doctors (this means teacher, and especially those given to the training of pastors). The deacons were responsible for practical mercy and did not form the spiritual government. The spiritual oversight was given to ruling elders and the minister. The minister was trained, examined and equipped to preach pure doctrine and administer the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper.

2. The Sacraments were very important. This involved a covenantal view which included the baptism of infants...not so popular among Reformed Baptists today. Could it be that the neglect or silence concerning Calvin's doctrine of the church, actually relates to the suppressing Calvin's view of the Sacraments? Could it be that we tend to 'pick n mix' from Calvin's theology? In reality Calvin's theology and doctrine of the church were an interconnected and integrated whole. If we do not understand Calvin's ecclesiology we probably do not understand Calvin because the whole purpose of the Reformation was to re-form the church back to the apostolic pattern.

Maybe we need to re-think ecclesiology in England because the best summary of the Christian faith in the English language are the Westminster Standards and these were made in England, yet almost unknown at this time in this country. The need for contemporary reformation is immense and at times overwhelming. Yet if we learn from Calvin he did not shrink from the task and copied the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ who said that 'new wine ' has to be put into 'new winsekins (Matthew 9:17)'. Calvin recovered the wineskin and gave the church a framework to build, nothing new, but a recovered apostolic pattern and doctrine (Acts 2:42).

Tuesday 18 August 2009

What Do I Think About the Book Called 'The Shack'?

I was preaching in Germany recently and a lady at the church where I preached, who ran the bookstall asked me what I thought about the book. In German it is called 'Die Hutte' (I Think) and I gave my opinions which were not too favourable but I thought I need to read it to give an informed judgmnent.

The front of the book claims that over seven million copies are in print and the back cover has some dramatic and glowing recommendations. The evangelist J. John declares that 'this is the most heart-warming inspirational story I have ever read in decades'. Eugene Peterson the author of the controversial Bible paraphrase 'The Message' states that 'this book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress did for his'. Wow!! Stunning recommendations.

I have to admit that so far I have not finished the book and I do not need to; at one stage I broke down in tears that so many 'professing' Christians are deceived and mislead by this blasphemous book. The book is fiction and it portrays the Triune God as three human beings where God the Father is an African-American woman, God the Son is a Middle-Eastern handy man and the Holy Spirit is an Asian woman. Need I say more! This book is not Christian and it represents a god made in the mind of the author Wm. Paul Young; merely a god made in the image of what the author would like God to be like. So, what is the problem?

1. It Breaks the First Two, of the Ten Commandments.

A. "You shall have no other gods before Me (Exodus 20:3)
B. Ex 20:4 "You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 "You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

This leads people to an unbiblical image of a false god; this is idolatry.

2. There is no mention of Sin

It seems that all that matters with this false god is that all that counts is a relationship founded on love. Jesus displayed his love by dying for sin and taking the wrath of God in the place of sinners (Romans 5:1-9). There is no mention of sin, righteousness or judgment which Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would convince the world of (John 16:7-10).

3. This Book is a Test of our Discernment

If someone read this book and they have no problems with it I would have to say a number of possibilities exist. Either they are:

a. A new Christian
b. Not a Christian
c. A Christian that has lost all sight of biblical discernment (1 John 4:1)

Maybe this book is a good self-test of where we stand before the God of the Bible. I can confidently say that this book is blasphemy, a portrayal of a false god and in no way is the book remotely comparable to Pilgrim's Progress.

Monday 10 August 2009

Have We Forgotten Some Things?

There seems to be so many things that the English church has forgotten that it is hard to know where to begin in explaining this. Most likely my experience among English Christians will be repeated in many countries around the world. Imagine that you and I go to your local city centre or a Christian conference to survey Christians and ask them some questions. Here are some possible questions.

Question: What is the Lord’s Day?

Answer: Commonly many people would have no concept that the day we call Sunday is what the Bible calls the Lord’s Day. The Jew’s observed Saturday but Christ rose from the dead on Sunday and ever since this day has been a day when Christians have gathered for worship, in remembrance of the resurrection of the Son of the Living God.

1Corinthians 16:1 ¶ Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also.
2 On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come.

Acts 20:7 ¶ And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul [began] talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.

Question: What is worship? Or, how do you worship God?

Answer: This question will receive a whole range of answers but most of them will include the idea of music, anointed songs and a sense of the presence of God. In other words it often involves a sense of us engaging with God with our feelings, often with a gifted musician to get us there. However this is a departure from a historic understanding of worship. In Reformed Churches the high point of our worship should be listening to faithful preaching out of the Bible and the whole service is worship. Worship is not restricted to singing, though congregational singing is part of our worship.
The whole idea that when we sing is the only time when are worshipping would be rather strange to most Christians over 2000 years. Worship includes the reading of the Bible (not poems and Christian books), prayer, congregational singing, preaching and the right administration of the sacraments which are: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Question: How important is preaching on the Lord’s Day to the church’s edification?

Answer: I will answer this from one of the Reformer’s called Heinrich Bullinger who wrote:
‘The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God. Wherefore when this word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; that neither any other Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven’.

Bullinger rules out what would commonly be understood to be prophetic words, sharing of ‘pictures’ and people claiming to speak on behalf of the Lord. This alone would cause quite a vacuum in many congregations if they were restricted to the Bible alone!!
The word recover means ‘to get back something that is lost’ The Church has forgotten and lost many things and we need to pray for a recovery of biblical truth in the land where we live.