Monday 25 March 2013

Puritan Dissent against Roman Catholicism

With the recent installation of the new pope Francis, it should not be hard to see why the puritans dissented. Pope Francis seemed to delight in praying from the papal balcony to Mary: "Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen". This "prayer" is the famous hail Mary addressing her adoringly, making petitions to her, contrary to all sound wisdom, biblical teaching and the history of Judeo-Christian traditions.

Let us hear the words of the Bible which so evidently dismiss such possibilities of blasphemously praying to Mary or any other saints.

Jesus said before his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension: "Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son".

Listen to the preaching of Peter in Jerusalem: "This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Listen to Paul instructing Timothy who was in the idolatrous city of Ephesus, to guard Christians from attempting to approach God though any other means than Jesus Christ: "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time".

Now I have not even begun to mention the errors of Roman Catholic teaching, such as the office of priests, the assumed supremacy of the office of pope over all Christendom (something that Orthodox churches have never accepted neither Protestants), Catholic mass substituting the Lord's Supper, the use of vestments, incense, statues, and the lack of plain preaching to teach the way of salvation. Imagine if these beliefs and practices were forcibly applied to your church. This is what happened during the times of the puritans. The stakes were high.

The puritans, on straightforward biblical grounds dissented against Roman Catholic teaching, worship and practices (or any Anglo-Catholic practices which were half-reformed). The puritan vision continues because it is a biblical vision and we must give no ground to the Roman Catholic Church which does not bear the marks of a true church. These marks are the preaching of pure doctrine, the right administration of the sacraments, and church order and discipline.

Monday 18 March 2013

Post-Christian England Desperately Needs Puritan principles for Worship

It is vitally important to stress the need for a recovery of biblical worship. The tables need to be turned. The biblical and puritan vision was and is to be concerned with doing things the way God requires things to be done. However, often the "cart is before the horse" and Christians and churches often think to themselves: "what would I like to happen in church worship services?". This is to get things back to front. Without being irreverent, I would like to suggest that we must always ask "what does God like in worship?". However, this is rarely considered and if it is then the conclusions must be based on Holy Scripture.

Worship wars have happened from the beginning, just look at the narrative with Cain and Abel. The onset of the dark ages was the onset of spiritual darkness in the realm of public worship in Europe. Services began to be held in Latin which few understood. Preaching, reading and discussion in the church must be done in the vernacular of that day. This is what makes the proponents of the King James Version of the Bible misplaced, because its language is Elizabethan english. I love the prose of Elizabethan english but we must not produce stumbling blocks to people by making it difficult for them to understand the message of the Bible.

One of the first documents that the Westminster Assembly produced was The Directory for the Publick Worship of God. This document and Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession of Faith lays down for us, the elements of public worship. This is what we call the "regulative principle for worship". It is to set down the "divine institution" of worship and these never change between the first and second coming of Christ.

There are many voices that contend that we are living in post-Christian England therefore they claim that we must find new ways of doing new things. Post-Christian England needs a recovery of puritan worship principles because these are biblical worship principles, not the new worship inventions of men. Fallen man has not changed. Fallen men and women are rebels, they are haters of God and we do not accomodate their whims and preferences for how we worship God. No, it is God Almighty who decides how we worship God.

Here are three worship principles for us all to consider.

I. Worship must be conducted with reverence and godly fear. Hebrews 12:28-29 "Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire".

II. We must only approach God in worship and prayer through the one mediator the Lord Jesus Christ. It is forbidden in the Bible to pray in the name of Mary, angels, saints, or anyone, but worship and prayer must be through the name of Jesus. The Bible contradicts the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and the new pope's public praying on TV which was to Mary. Let us submit to Holy Scripture in 1 Timothy 2:5, "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus".

III. Preaching and the reading of the Scriptures should be the priority of public worship. There is a misconception among some Christians who somehow think that having a good time of singing is to have a good time of worship. Listen to Paul writing to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 1:21 "For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe".

May we all learn of Christ and rediscover puritan principles for worshipping God in post-Christian England and Europe.

Wednesday 13 March 2013

The Puritan Vision: Loving the Glory of God

The chief aim of most of the proponents of the puritan vision was a passion, a zeal, a love for the glory of God. While arid caricatures are often made of the puritans it is a gloss over the real heartbeat of the issues at hand. As the puritan Thomas Brooks wrote on "Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices", he warns his readers of Satan's devices. Satan does not want the puritan vision to be rightly understood and pursued because their vision was a godly vision for a love for the glory of God. Paul the apostle reminds us all: "so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs" (2 Cor. 2:11).

The opening question of the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) clarifies this vision. Question 1 WLC. What is the chief and highest end of man? 
Answer. Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

The last question of the WLC ends with the same note by focussing on the glory of God. Question. 196. What doth the conclusion of the Lord's prayer teach us?
 Answer. The conclusion of the Lord's prayer (which is, For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.) teaches us to enforce our petitions with arguments, which are to be taken, not from any worthiness in ourselves, or in any other creature, but from God; and with our prayers to join praises, ascribing to God alone eternal sovereignty, omnipotency, and glorious excellency; in regard whereof, as he is able and willing to help us, so we by faith are emboldened to plead with him that he would, and quietly to rely upon him, that he will fulfill our requests. And, to testify this our desire and assurance, we say, Amen.

The works of the puritans bear witness to this zeal for the glory of God. Just think of just three of John Owen's works which are titled "Communion with God" or "The Glory of Christ" or "The Holy Spirit". A zeal for the glory of God should consume the church, its office-bearers and our worship. Do you desire the glory of God in the church above all else? Are you prepared to work and labour to reform the church to its instituted pattern which includes God-centred worship with simplicity and reverence?

Let us join together in prayer for the recovery of this apostolic and puritan vision for the church, most especially in the UK and Western Europe while trusting for God's help. That age-old motto of the reformation was often Psalm 124:8 "Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth".

Saturday 9 March 2013

The Puritan Tradition: To Be Continued ...

The body of puritan literature is immense. J. I. Packer describes in his book called "Among God's Giants" (now republished as "A Quest for Godliness") that those puritan pastors were like "American Redwoods" in theological stature. There has been much discussion in recent decades as to the exact definition of the word "puritan" but also the time-frame that they filled. While it is true that the name "puritan" was originally a slur term, the principles that the puritans stood for are not so complex. These can be summarised under three main headings, of which there are three main puritan and New Testament ideals. These ideals all relate to the church; the puritan tradition and the church are inextricably linked. These goals were:

1). To contend for the purity of doctrine
2). The purity of public and family worship
3). The Purity of church government

With respect to the purity of doctrine, the apex of the puritan movement was the production of the Westminster Standards, which comprises one confession of faith, and a smaller and larger catechism. In my view, these provide the best summary of the Christian faith in the English language. They have since been translated and used in many other languages, such as German or Korean, enforcing the idea that they comprise international biblical doctrines for worldwide usage.

Another point is the time-frame of the puritans. It is best to realise that the puritans represent a historical moment in primarily British church history between 1560 and 1660, approximately. Sometimes you read of someone claiming that Charles Spurgeon or some other famous preacher, as being "the last Puritan". I would like to challenge such an assertion. Why? It is because the puritans do indeed represent a particular time frame and secondly because there is no such "last puritan". Why? Puritanism represents three main biblical ideals which should be contended for in the church until the second coming of Christ. The puritan tradition is to be continued ...

Listen to Jude 3: "Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints". The puritan ideals should form part of the churches great commission in every generation. I do not mean through looking back to the puritan writers only, but through contending for the church, this is a living a vision. A vision that has "hands and feet" as it were. Will you join this vision?

Monday 4 March 2013

Jonah's Second Call

I am currently preaching through the Book of Jonah. There are many lessons to be found in preaching through this book, ones that you do not necessarily discover simply from reading it. This was true of the latest sermon for me, one which was on Jonah's second call. In Jonah 3:1-2 we read: "Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you' ". What do we learn from this?

We learn that God's purposes do not change? The LORD had called Jonah in 1:1-2 and that purpose did not change. It was Jonah who had to change. What were the Lord's purposes as revealed in this book?

1. God's purpose was to use Jonah
2. God's purpose was for Jonah to preach to Nineveh
3. God's purpose was that he would only preach the message that he was given
4. God's purpose was to save Nineveh.

We read the following in Jonah 3:4-5 "Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, 'Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!' And the people of Nineveh believed God".
The main point that I would like to draw out is this. Jonah was a preacher and the means that God uses to bring forth salvation is primarily the means of preaching. Mission agencies, mission theologies, certain church groups and others often want to downplay this means of God. It is God's permanent purpose in the time of Jonah and now, to send trained men to preach the message of God. How often do we hear from Christian leaders about the uniqueness of 21st Century culture as if we are somehow living in a unique culture? Some people talk often that people today cannot listen to sermons, or that we are living in a post-Christian culture and so forth. Their conclusions often end up with the wrong outcomes. This is often to conclude that we must try "new methods" but often it leads to neglecting the necessity for preaching, by men who are called, equipped and sent by God.

God's purposes have not changed! It is by the foolishness of preaching that some are saved. Any missionary endeavour which fails to give preaching the primacy will not produce the fruit which God requires. We have no authority to deviate from the Lord's prescribed methods. If there was ever a potentially godless and hostile audience, it was Nineveh, the capital city of the barbaric Assyrians. Jonah was a preacher. Amos was a preacher, as were Isaiah, Jeremiah, Malachi and Haggai. What more shall I say of Peter, Paul and of course the Lord Jesus Christ. Listen to the apostle Paul:

"For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe" 1 Cor. 1:21. Let us make sure that we never concede to people who choose the wisdom of this world and in doing so they "drum down" the necessity for public, declaratory preaching for the salvation of sinners.