Tuesday 29 May 2012

The Works of James Henley Thornwell

James Henley Thornwell was born in 1812 and he was a great spiritual leader among Southern Presbyterians in the southern part of the USA. Douglas Kelly in his book Preachers with Power: Four Stalwarts of the South (Banner of Truth, 1992) describes Thornwell's ministry, especially his preaching, as 'logic on fire'. Thornwell died in 1862 and due to his being on the losing side during the American Civil War he is little remembered. His works were printed by the Banner of Truth in Four Collected Volumes in 1974. Sadly this hard back edition has long been unavailable. It would be good if a publisher could reproduce Thornwell's works for the benefit of the church and it is a reminder that we need good reformed publishing in every generation. The perpetual danger is that the writings of excellent men soon become lost. This was true in the time span between the death of Charles Haddon Spurgeon and the end of the Second World War in England. Spurgeon had an extensive theological library but within 60 years, it was virtually impossible to get hold of reformed theological books anywhere in England. How fast decline can happen!

I am about to get hold of volume 2 and volume 4 of Thornwell's collected writings and I cannot remember a time when I was so eager to get a book in my hand. Do you read good books? Do you pray for the Lord to put good books in your hand? Do you read books with excellent theological content? Perhaps there will be some more blogs on Thornwell in the coming time.

Saturday 26 May 2012

Is an Internet Church Biblical?

This last week I received a newsletter from someone who was encouraged by a so-called 'internet church'. This comment was made:'Almost every night a zealous Christian has meetings with his "internet church". Scores of his members come on line at the same time; they can see him as he teaches the Bible and prays with people. Unbelievers also come and he answers their questions. He is planning soon to celebrate Holy Communion with his members. He will explain who is eligible to partake in the sacrament and then following his instructions, all will share in the bread and wine together'.

How do you react when you read this? This comment regarding the 'internet church' raises questions as to 'what is a church?'; 'who is eligible to be a Christian minister?'; and 'what are the marks of a true church?'. The Lord Jesus Christ spoke to his disciples and he explicitly told them: 'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it' (Matthew 16:18). One of the confusing things at the moment is that many groups of people use the word 'church' but they may not meet the biblical requirements to justify the name 'church'.

The Reformers had to contend with this matter due to the rampant falsehood and idolatry that was flourishing (and still does) within the Roman Catholic Church. They argued for three marks to identify a true church. These marks are:

1. The preaching of pure doctrine, that is heard and loved.
2. The right administration of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper).
3. A well-ordered and disciplined church (and this includes a biblical pattern of church government).

The necessity of a reformed confession was seen as vital for the ministers to adhere to, be trained by, and to uphold, the Apostles' doctrine (Acts 2:42). It may be easy to set up an 'internet church' but what is the doctrine of such a preacher, what are his doctrinal standards that he adheres to, and who examines him to see if he is qualified to teach the people of God?

With respect to administering the Lord's Supper, it is requisite for elders to examine people and not just to leave it to an individual's conscience. What then of baptism for an internet church? Will these internet leaders get people to baptise themselves? To do such a thing would be heretical. God sends men, in the flesh and though we may benefit from the internet, the internet is not a church. We worship a personal God and personal relationships within a living community of the people of God is the plan of the Triune God. Regarding the third mark of the church, how can a radio-pastor, or an internet-pastor administer church discipline? It is safe to conclude that the whole idea of an 'internet church' is on a slippery foundation and it is indeed not a biblical idea. If these things are not clear then, let us pray and ask the Lord to help us all by the grace of God.

Let all things be done decently and in order. 1 Corinthians 14:40.

Thursday 10 May 2012

"Oh How I Love your Law!".

'Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day' is an exclamation by the author of Psalm 119 (verse 97). The question is 'could you say the same?'. How many Christians in 2012 could exclaim "Oh how I love God's law!"? I think not so many because we often do not rightly understand the role of the law of God. This article aims at getting Christians to become excited concerning the law of God and the theological importance of the doctrine of the law of God. Immediately, upon writing such a sentence, I can imagine people thinking that I am driving at legalism. This kind of thinking demonstrates how the role of the law of God for the church has been undermined and wrongly taught. Legalism is adding to the commands of Scripture and/or seeking a righteousness before God through the keeping of a law of any kind.

Now let us make a start on expounding the doctrine of the law of God. Two aspects of the law of God are vital for us to be able to rightly understand and apply the law of God.

1. The Threefold Division of the Law

Teachers of the church have historically understood that there is a threefold division of the Old Testament law of God. These divisions are:
A. Civil
B. Ceremonial
C. Moral

The civil aspect of the law was for Israel to be governed as a theocracy until the Messiah accomplished his redemption. The ceremonial law was the system of sacrifices and Old Testament regulations for worship to be exercised until Jesus Christ fulfilled his mission as the mediator of the new covenant (Hebrews 10:19-23). The moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments and as the Westminster Confession states 'the moral law doth forever bind all' (WCF 19:5). We are to love the whole law but especially the moral law because this is our rule of obedience to God, as Christians.

The Three Uses of the Law (for the Church)

Since the reformation, the truth has been established that there are three main uses of the law. These three uses can be summarised under three heads using the letter 'R' as a memory aid. These are:

1. Restrain
2. Reveal
3. Rule of Life

When we confuse these aspects, we end up with a form of Christianity which is out of balance with Scripture. The law of God is to provide a restraint for sin both in the church but also society. The law of God reveals both sin and God's answer to sin, the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul wrote to the Church at Rome: 'Through the law comes the knowledge of sin' (Romans 3:20b). The third use of the law is perhaps the one use of the law which has been debated the most and is often dismissed. It is that the law of God, the Decalogue (The Ten Commandments) are to be the rule of life for the church.

In conclusion when we become unclear concerning the law and also when we wrongly apply the law we end up in confusion. However, in my estimation the biggest problem concerning the law of God among Christians in the UK, is a total neglect of the subject of the law of God altogether. Moral standards even becomes downgraded to a band worn by people asking 'What would Jesus do?'. We know how the Lord Jesus would answer that question. "Take that band off and obey the Ten Commandments". Obedience to the Ten Commandments is not the path to eternal life but it is the path to obedience before God. Forgiveness of sins is found only in the name of Jesus of Christ and his shed blood on the cross, however let us repent of living in total neglect of the law of God so that we can say 'Oh how I love your law' and so that we can pray 'open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law' (Psalm 119: 97 and 18).