Tuesday 24 September 2013

What does it mean to be reformed?

Jesus said "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" John 4:24.

At a recent Yorkshire Reformed Minister's Fraternal, Mostyn Robert's delivered an excellent paper on "What does it mean to be reformed?". He outlined some major themes which mark out whether a church is rightly, historically and biblically reformed, or not. He made many valuable points and one such point was to ask whether the use of the term "reformed" was losing its meaning as did the word evangelical a few decades ago. What did he mean by this? Well he explained that many people and groups are quite happy to use the term reformed, but when you begin to examine what they mean by that, it turns out that they have never really understood biblical and reformed theology.

Let me give you an example. The doctrine of the sovereignty of God, that God is in control of all things, including our salvation, is probably the starting point for most people when they are awakened to a fresh doctrinal pilgrimage. However, the truth that God is sovereign takes time to work through all of our thinking. The sovereignty of God must be worked out in our understanding of the church, in the sphere of public worship, and in all matters of faith and doctrine.

However, many groups today eagerly promote themselves under the label "reformed" and yet pursue flawed ideas for worship, the church and evangelism. Sometimes you look on and you have to ask yourself some serious questions to make sure that you remain biblically orientated. It is common for people to mentally ascend to a reformed confession and then for them to pursue Arminian methods in worship, faith and practice. If a church is committed to a reformed confession then this should be a living document, not one that simply gathers dust on the shelf. Here are three testers to ask people, in order to find out if they are reformed according to a historic definition.

1. What is your understanding of worship? What is the high point of worship?
2. What is your understanding of church government and how should churches should be led?
3. What is your understanding of a church's doctrine and how is that played out in the life of the church?

There are many teasing questions that we could further explore. For example, can a church claim to be reformed while having women doing "lay Bible readings" during a church service? Can a church rightly be adopting reformed theology and having a "rock n'roll style of music to help get the crowd going and to attract people to themselves? The whole question of music needs to be revisited because there has been a worldly invasion of music into the church which oftentimes is an Arminian attempt to draw people, a kind of new Finney-like method. I may have lost you there, when I wrote a "Finney-like" method but I am referring to the revivalist Charles Finney.

There will be more to say on this blog regarding these topics in the coming time, so watch this space, and be assured that my goal as a presbyterian minister, is to pastorally help people. To help people navigate away also from unbiblical doctrines of men as well. The spiritual needs of our nation are urgent and let us look to our sovereign God in prayer concerning all things.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Sheffield Students looking for a good Reformed Church

Sheffield Presbyterian Church would like to give a warm welcome to all students in Sheffield to come and visit us. Our website is www.sheffieldpres.org.uk

We meet next to a tram stop (Meadowhall South/Tinsley) near to the Meadowhall Shopping centre which is just 15-20 minutes from the University tram stop near the city centre. Our services are at 11.00am and 4.00pm (at The Source). We are committed to biblical preaching. Perhaps you have never visited a Presbyterian church before and we would like to invite you to come and worship God with us. Our style of worship includes preaching, the reading of the Word of God and the singing of songs with good biblical content.

We have a young man from the USA called Ben Wilkerson who is working with students on behalf of our church and we hope that you can meet him also.

Monday 2 September 2013

Engaging with Keller: One of my Favourite Chapters in the book is ...

Having read the whole book, I personally found that I was sharpened regarding each of the key doctrines discussed in it. Indeed this is the main aim of this book. Each chapter does indeed "Engage with Keller", but each chapter goes beyond Keller, and rightly so. Each chapter seeks to engage the reader, to test his/her assumptions on each doctrine discussed.

One of my favourite chapters in this book is chapter 5 by Richard Holst which is called "Timothy Keller's Hermeneutic: an example for the church to follow?". Why do I like this chapter so much? It is because Holst contends for the use of good sense in handling Scripture, something which is not as common as we think, and that can also include some within a reformed circle. Of great value is Holst's explanation of the "Westminster Hermeneutic" on pages 173-176 and this is well worth reading, especially by preachers and elders. There are several principles that are illuminated for us.

The Principle of Principles: "the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself (WCF 1:9)".

Principle 2: The analogy of Scripture, where "all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all (WCF 1:7) ... then such things should "be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly (WCF 1:9)".

Principle 3: The analogy of faith (the rule of faith) is not based upon private interpretations but it should be built upon sound exegesis. WCF 1:10 summarises this idea: "The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined; and in whose sentence we are to rest; can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture".

Therefore, our exegesis is not done in a vacuum, because we have so many faithful exegetes who have gone before us and these should be consulted to help us safeguard the church from speculations or the introduction of new and novel doctrines.

Holst writes in his conclusion that "expounding and applying Scripture is a huge, sometimes crushing, responsibility" (p 190). This should be the attitude of every minister of the Word. I hope that you enjoy this chapter and remember two Biblical proverbs in doing so.

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another (27:17).

Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly (16:22).