Wednesday 31 December 2014

The End of 2014: The Sad Spiritual Condition of the United Kingdom

As 2014 draws to a close, a sad chapter in the history of the United Kingdom begins. One of the disadvantages of having such a blessed spiritual past, such as this nation has had, one that at one time was so committed to Christianity and the sending of gospel missionaries around the world, is that the dismantling of the Ten Commandments for everyday life seems all the more worse. Who could have imagined that in 2014 that we could expect better moral guidance from Russia than from the government of the UK? I know that the UK government take the moral high ground, but it is baseless, it is post-modern humanism based upon subjective assumptions, all in the name of democracy. Who knows what democracy means in such a time of flux? Democracy in the UK now enforces its new moralism upon all and it discriminates against all who disagree with her.

Let me give two examples of the sad spiritual condition of the United Kingdom.

1. The passing of the same sex couples legislation.

In the summer of 2014, the UK government to their great delight, passed this landmark bill. All major parties united together to move Britain into a new era. The Bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, till death they do part. This biblical truth has not changed, but the UK government now openly contradicts biblical law at its most basic point.

It will take wisdom and courage for true Christians and true churches to make their stand against secular anti-Christian and humanistic forces. We can and must positively promote the biblical view of marriage, even though when we do so, the world will wrongly charge us with being bigoted. This is a dictionary definition of bigoted: "Having or revealing an obstinate belief in the superiority of one's own opinions and a prejudiced intolerance of the opinions of others". We must therefore, in humility, defend the biblical position on marriage and with courage against a bigoted opposition.

However, we must realise that this UK government is not happy to simply protect vulnerable individuals and I certainly do not advocate homophobia or the bullying of people with contrary opinions. But the UK government now want to positively discriminate and actively promote its new definition of same-sex marriage in all levels of education, civil services, the NHS, Universities, and of course the government's vehicle for change, the BBC. This is where the challenge really lies as Christians consider how best to respond to the ever-widening net of secularism on the frontline of life and their vocations.

2. The unveiling of the first woman bishop by the Church of England

Liberalism is Christian religion that places its own opinions above the plain and express teaching of the Bible. The Scripture is clear in its teaching that: "If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife ..." (1 Timothy 3:1-2). How then can the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby announce that he is delighted that the first woman bishop will soon be in post? It is because the senior hierarchy place their opinions higher than those of the written Scriptures. It is impossible to be a woman bishop, or to submit to the authority of a woman bishop and to be faithful to Jesus Christ the head of the church at the same time. Another crisis continues in the State Church.

Three ways to pray for the United Kingdom

People from around the world read this blog and I would urge you to cry out to the Lord for mercy for the United Kingdom. This nation is truly in a moral mess and it is a mission field today: we need the Lord's intervention. Here are three ways to pray.

1. To pray for the UK government as the apostolic command requires in 1 Timothy 2:1-3.

This is so that the church may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. We are not looking for an easy life, but let us pray that MP's and those in high positions of authority, that they would be converted to the One, true and living God. The sober warning of Jesus drives us to our knees in prayer for them. John 8:24 "For unless you believe that I am he [the promised Christ and only Saviour] you will die in your sins".

2. For the recovery of the authority of Scripture in the congregations of all kinds of denominations

According to 2 Timothy 3:16-17 there is no other safe guide for the church than the written Scriptures. Nothing short of a grass-root's return to the sufficiency and authority of the written Scriptures, ones which are to be obeyed, loved and kept will be satisfactory. Anything less than this means the church will live in rebellion to the Lord and the Lord does not bless rebellion.

3. For the Lord to raise up labourers for the harvest (Matthew 9:36-38).

Pray that the Lord would raise up men who are called to be faithful pastors in God's church. Men who know the gospel and men who know how to preach the gospel and care for the flock of God. With that note, let us be sober minded in prayer regarding the sad spiritual state of the United kingdom, but let those who heed this warning seriously respond, and respond in faith and with much prayer. May the Lord restore the fortunes of Zion in the United kingdom again (Psalms 14:7, 53:6, 126)!!

John Calvin said in his own day: "“nothing is more ruinous to the Church than for God to take away faithful pastors”. Do you agree with Calvin on this point because this is vital for the health of the church? In the midst of spiritual decay in his own generation, Calvin never seemed to lose sight of the sovereign hand of God, something we must not lose sight of also. He also wrote that: God “preserves the Church by unknown methods and without the assistance of men” ... “the Church will always rise again, and be restored to her former and prosperous condition, though all conclude that she is ruined”. Let us be encouraged with this, but let us apply this truth as well by praying to our Sovereign Lord.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Young, Restless and "not really" Reformed

There was a book written by a man in the USA called Collin Hansen, around 2006, with the title "Young, Restless and Reformed". The title itself is gripping and so is the material in that book, which records the growth of a Calvinistic approach to the Bible, most especially in the USA. For this we are indeed thankful. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was the pastor of the largest church in the world in London, but at his death he died a disappointed man, being the witness of a doctrinal downgrade in his own day. He knew that those old doctrines he held would one-day make a comeback. Spurgeon wrote: "The doctrine which is now rejected as the effete theory of the Puritans and Calvinists will yet conquer human thought and reign supreme. As surely as the sun which sets tonight shall rise tomorrow at the predestined hour, so shall the truth of God shine forth over the whole earth" (Iain Murray, "The Forgotten Spurgeon", p 190".

I deem that we are seeing something of a recovery of what Jeremiah called the "ancient paths" (Jeremiah 6:16) in our day and we are thankful for it. My vantage point is of the state of evangelical and reformed churches in the UK mainly, though I am no expert. But I say this, to make the point that I am not commenting on the situation in the USA, though what I say may be relevant. I heard Mike Horton comment in a conference in 2013 on this so called "young, restless and reformed movement" and he made a good point; he said "there is one thing for sure, it is restless". This got me thinking.

There is a recovery of reformed thought in the UK and especially in England and Wales and yet there is the need to define what the word reformed has historically meant. I will briefly summarise what the idea of being biblically reformed has historically conveyed and then I will make a few brief assessments of the "state-of-play" in England, if I may.

A summary of what the word reformed has historically meant

To be reformed has historically meant a re-shaping of the church along three lines; its worship, doctrine and church government. Each of these three areas are to be shaped by a maxim to do only what Scripture commands. This ties the church to biblical faithfulness, but we do not interpret the Scriptures in a vacuum. To believe in the reformation cry for "Sola Scriptura" does not mean that we interpret the Bible without any aids. As a friend of mine Andy Young, recently stated in a conference, we need three compass points: "history, reformed confessions and the Bible".

Therefore, to be reformed has meant a commitment to a biblical pattern of church government, an apostolic pattern. The early church had a church government composed of elders and deacons. The elders were responsible for the governance and teaching, with the deacons being responsible for practical care and compassion. These churches were not isolated and independent and the final court of appeal was not solely a congregational meeting. There was a connectionalism which was vital for accountability and the spiritual well-being of the wider church. There should always be an enthusiastic commitment to a reformed confession and they should be used to teach the church. Nominal confessional commitment often is the seed-bed for a doctrinal downgrade.

Also public worship must be consciously shaped by a commitment to a regulative principle for worship. This means that it is Scripture that mandates what we do publicly. This view has been fraught with some difficulties, because some groups want to splinter off with divisive moves and to assert that unless every church does things exactly the way they prescribe, then they will not endorse them. This can be prideful, but a general principle must be upheld by all, that the Scripture is to direct our affairs in worship.

The "state-of-play" in England

There is widespread independency in England and also in Wales. This independency is almost proud of its defence for independency and it arose out of the liberalism which wrecked good denominations. As a result people came out of liberal denominations and often formed independent evangelical churches, sometimes they were called a "Free Evangelical Church" which meant "free" from denominations. These churches were rightly committed to biblical inerrancy, the major points of doctrine such as the resurrection of Jesus and in being committed to conservative hymn singing and preaching. However, church government varied in its application, most of these churches were baptistic in their thinking and the doctrine of the church had not been as well thought through as it should have been.

We are thankful for their stand against liberalism. However, after a generation, many of these churches and other types of churches as well, have had to ask themselves; what is the way forward? The choice before many churches has been to stay alive which often means one of two things: Either a return to the teaching of the Scriptures in matters of doctrine, worship and government or to seek to be contemporary and calvinistic (note my small "c") to win people to themselves.

My observation is that many preachers in England and Wales have promoted and have also endorsed a "young, restless, contemporary and 'not really' reformed position". The move to be contemporary has meant a downplaying of reformed confessions. Reformed confessions and creeds may not be rejected in such situations, but they are never mentioned, such documents simply gather dust on shelves. The term a regulative principle for worship is never mentioned because this could arouse their members to ask difficult questions, such as "why do we have to sing at least one Stuart Townend song every week?" or "why have you done away with using Psalm and hymn books? or "why has the pulpit been replaced with a music stand?". Similarly, church government is never mentioned, but it is just assumed that the way they do things is biblically based.

However, a truly biblical position and a correct expression of "being reformed" (note the present continuous participle) is an ongoing work, it should not lead to being stationary. There has arisen through the side-door of the church in England and Wales, a "young, restless and 'not-really' Reformed" breed of churches, in my opinion. I welcome blog comments and I welcome people disagreeing with me as well, especially if they do so in a calm and godly spirit. Feel free to add a comment if you read this blog.

Monday 8 December 2014

Book Review: "Confessing the Faith: a Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith" by Chad Van Dixhoorn

This companion volume for a reader of the Westminster Confession of Faith is heartily welcomed. Chad Van Dixhoorn is not only the world’s expert on the minutes and papers of the Westminster assembly, but he is also an ordained minister and a church practitioner. He is not writing this volume with a detached view of theology. Far from it. His writing style seeks to engage the reader with the doctrines of this Confession and he does so intelligibly and with a lively style.

Following on from the "Foreword" by Carl Trueman, Van Dixhoorn introduces his own book and he writes of the Westminster Confession that “perhaps it is the wisest of creeds in its teaching and the finest in its doctrinal expression” (xix). A chapter in the book is devoted to each of the 33 chapters in the confession and the author imposes his own nine headings to summarise the confession’s teaching. These headings are: Foundations (1-2), The Decrees of God (3-5), Sin and the Saviour (6-8), Salvation (9-18), Law and Liberty (19-20), Worship (21-22), Civil Government and Family (23-24), The Church (25-31) and Last Things (32-33).

Van Dixhoorn has developed a helpful writing style where he inserts good “pithy comments” and “turn of phrase” at appropriate moments. For example in his explanation of the clarity of Scripture he writes that “mapping the high points of the Bible is tiring work” (22). Again on the texts and translations of Scripture, he wonderfully summarises: “The Bible we have is authentic” (23).

This book contains a freshness which can only serve to further recover confessional Christianity in our generation. The chapters on the Law, the Christian Sabbath and the Communion of the Saints may be useful starting points for those contemporary Christians and ministers who have been brought up with a reformed background and yet somehow they feel they can improve the "state of play" by down-playing key reformed doctrines. On the other hand, we must not think that this book is the final word on the doctrines of this confession. This is simply a reader’s guide, an introduction, and a companion for those who desire to teach the confession or to understand it better. “Tolle lege”; pick up and read, both this book and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Monday 1 December 2014

Book Review: "A Trinitarian Theology of Religions"

"A Trinitarian Theology of Religions" By Gerald McDermott & Harold Netland
Oxford University Press, pp 336.

Star Rating: 4 out of 5

The church is indebted for the contribution made by this book. I cannot think of another book which intelligently interacts on an academic level, from an evangelical perspective, with the many aspects of religious pluralism which are found in many parts of the world, including the West. This book is published by the highly acclaimed Oxford University Press and this alone causes me to pause in thankfulness. It would have been unthinkable in the 1950's to have evangelical scholars publishing on such a topic by such a publisher. This shows how far the influence of evangelical scholarship has advanced, by the grace of God, in the last sixty plus years.

The target audience of this book is primarily the evangelical world and the authors seek to competently handle two opponents. The first are wild liberal claims that move on a syncretic trajectory, the second are narrow-minded evangelicals who refuse to even talk about other religions with a kind of bigotted blindness. Indeed the opening chapter gives a masterful explanation of the bounds of what it means to be evangelical  (pp 4-6), and also a summary of the three possible responses to religious others: exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism (pp 12-21). This book contends for the exclusive claims of the gospel, but it does so responsibly. Our theology affects our attitudes, and these need to be biblical in order for the church to win religious others to the gospel.

Perhaps, the weakest link in this book is chapter 2 on "The Triune God". While I greatly welcomed the chapter on the subject, it left me with the impression that the authors assumed too much knowledge that the readers already held on the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity is a non-negotiable for such a book, because this marks out the Christian God as unique among the many other claims for deity. However, greater explanation of the foundational aspects of the Trinity should have been given, in the same helpful way that the opening chapter outlined foundational material.

There are five further chapters and each one upholds the exclusive claims of the gospel, while interacting with many different religions and religious leaders. Such religions as Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, as well as individuals such as the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Ghandi and Confucius. A highlight section is found in chapter 4 on "Salvation and Conversion". The growing but unbiblical claims of universal salvation are tackled "head on". The idea of a universal salvation is swiftly rejected, and everlasting punishment is unashamedly defended. Evangelicals are no longer immune to liberal claims, as Rob Bell's book "Love Wins" proves. However, this book refreshingly summarises: "For the biblical and especially New Testament authors, hell is not a problem but a solution" (p 181).

The influence of Jonathan Edwards is felt throughout this book because Gerald McDermott is an advocate of Edwards and he uses him without "trying to smooth off the rough edges" of his favourite theologian's clear sighted view of sin, judgment and hell. Perhaps a return to reading some of Edwards' sermons such as "The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners" could embolden the church to preach clear truth in our own generation.

Monday 24 November 2014

Christians should seek a sensible approach to Christmas

Sometimes I get asked what my view of Christmas is, as a Christian minister. How would you answer such a question? My answer is that I have a sensible approach to Christmas. You may or may not agree with me, but at least you may find some things helpful in this blog post. It is clear, I am sure for any committed Christian to agree that the current "state of play" regarding the world's view of Christmas is one that is unacceptable. For the world it is a time for drunkenness, self-indulgence, TV, parties and such like, not least an excessive degree of materialism. It is the fruit of a society lost in sin, one that has lost its spiritual bearings, so it becomes an opportunity to sin ever more excessively. The original purpose of Christmas and the coming of Jesus to save sinners is lost by them, somewhat deliberately. In fact many Muslims openly object to any Christian emphasis in schools and secular head teachers are often very willing to remove such religious ideas with their secular worldview.

John the apostle gives us a clear warning in 1 John 2:15-17 "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever".

Therefore, Christians need to guard against being swept away with excessive materialism and worldliness at this time of the year and we must not "dance to the world's drumbeat" of revelry. However, should we as Christians reject Christmas outright, as some assert a so-called Pagan festival? Well I can respect Christians who may take such a view, one of simplicity without Christmas, but we must recognise the realm of conscience for all Christians. Paul the apostle had to handle matters of conscience in the church and we can read what he says in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8. To one Christian, the notion of Christmas and its meaning may be fine to another it is not needed. Both camps need to respect one another's conscience.

We must not forget the worldwide unity of the church of which we are part of. Christians around the world have sought to emphasise two key redemptive truths in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. These are the incarnation and the death of Jesus upon the cross. From the third/fourth century the church have chosen to celebrate what is now Christmas as the time to emphasise the incarnation and Easter for the cross. We do not know when Jesus was born in Bethlehem but the coming into the world of the only-begotten Son is a marvellous wonder. The Apostles Creed reminds us: "I believe in the one, holy catholic [universal) and apostolic church".

Despite the worldliness of our Western culture, I am content to join with other Christians around the world to emphasise (I choose this word rather than celebrate) the incarnation. Sometimes people appeal to the Puritans to denounce any association with such things as Christmas. However, this is poorly researched historically. The Westminster divines were not necessarily opposed to Christmas, indeed men such as Rev. Stanley Gower (former minister of Hill Top Chapel and a Westminster divine) would break their normal sermon series to preach topical sermons at times such as Christmas.

My position is hopefully a sensible one, whereby I think it is appropriate to sing certain hymns that magnify the incarnation of Jesus and preach some sermons to teach the joy of the coming of Christ Jesus into the world. As far as nativity plays in the church, I do not see that these are to form part of our worship. I do maintain that we should joyfully emphasise the upholding of the Lord's Day as a biblical command at all times of the year and that Christians should delight in the Sabbath weekly (Isaiah 58:13-14). A downgrade on the Sabbath can sometimes lead to adopting the church calendar instead of the weekly Lord's Day with two church services.

In closing, let us think of the joy of heaven at the coming of the Son to save sinners from the Gospel of Luke, 2:12-14: "And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Reformation Christianity Today (conference for men) 2014

Reformation Christianity for Today Conference (this is a conference for men)

Dates: 12th-13th December 2014

Venue: Hill Top Chapel,Sheffield, S9 2AD (this is where Sheffield Presbyterian Church meets).

Exploring the ‘Nitty Gritty’ of the Doctrines of Grace and Reformed Theology


For more information please contact Song Tsai:

Monday 10 November 2014

Memorising Bible Verses

From the time of my being a new Christian, I was introduced to the importance of Scripture memorisation. At the time of my conversion, communism was a global powerhouse and many Christians suffered time in jail, in places such as China, Russia, Vietnam and elsewhere. The proposition to consider at that time was: if you spent time in prison without a Bible, how would you survive spiritually? I set out on a journey to commit to memory individual verses, which I then progressed to whole sections of Scripture and at one stage I even attempted to memorise the whole Book of Ephesians. To the relief of many readers, you will be pleased to know that I never completed this. Once I had memorised the whole book of Ephesians, I found that I kept forgetting early portions of it and I had to start again, but the whole exercise was and is spiritually profitable to this day.

Psalm 119 carries many exhortations for the people of God to be committed to the written Word of God. Hear the words of Psalm 119.

Verse 9: "How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word".
Verse 11: "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
Verse 16: "I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word".

Here are several suggestions for Scripture memorisation.

1. Memorise the Scripture portions with its name name and address. What I mean by this is that we should memorise the Bible verse and its location reference. For example 1 John 5:12 "whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life".

2. Choose a good translation for memorisation such as the ESV, NASB or NKJV.

3. Write down a verse on a memory card and carry it around with you for 2-3 days and read every time you have a break and commit it to memory. Once you have done this take another card and do the same again and choose a variety of verses to strengthen your soul.

4. Try to memorise the whole of Psalm 23, The Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Apostles Creed and then recite them regularly.

5. Commit verses to memory by reciting them out loud. This is a very effective way of memorising because your ears hear it, your eyes see it and your mind is hammered into shape and is renewed by the diligent and joyful art of Scripture memorisation.

Those who claim to hold to reformed doctrine should be above all "people of the Book". May this be said of you to the glory of God. Enjoy!

Friday 31 October 2014

What songs should the church sing?

This blog title seems so harmless and yet. And yet, so many battles are constantly fought over which kind songs should be sung in the church. I am not sure that I have clear answers for each matter, but my initial comments are these.

Let us be in balance with Scripture. How many times is singing mentioned in the New Testament? It is only a handful of times and here are some of the references: Acts 16:25, 1 Cor. 14:15, Ephesians 5:19, James 5:13, Colossians 3:16, Matthew 26:30. There are also the songs of accomplishment that are sung in heaven, as recorded in the Book of Revelation as well.

However, we must keep things in perspective. In the New Testament, during the expansion of the gospel, we do not find that singing is a primary distinguishing mark of missionary activity and yet today, in some circles, singing receives a highly prized status. It is not uncommon to hear that churches, and now evangelical and reformed churches, that they must sing the latest songs written, as if we need to prove that we are not out-dated. So it appears that singing new tunes, with the latest Christian song-writers is supposedly a mark of being contemporary, progressive, and relevant to the times we live in. This sounds like a persuasive argument, but it needs examination theologically, exegetically and pragmatically.

One of my favourite verses that relates to the content of our singing in the church, is to be found in Ephesians 5:19. It reads: "Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart".
Let us make some comments on this teaching, as given here by Paul.

1. Singing is expected in the church.

2. The content of our songs matters, because we are to "address one another" with these songs.

3. Addressing means that there is a teaching and learning component, as well as encouragement, as we hear the words of what people sing.

4. There is a variety of content of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. In Sheffield Presbyterian Church, we have an inclusive psalmody position. We believe that psalms should be part of our singing but not exclusively. Some have worked hard to try to use this verse to say that each word is another way of saying a different kind of psalm. This is not persuasive in my opinion. If we are to address one another, then this must include truth in the light of the incarnation and teaching of Jesus Christ, his resurrection and the Holy Trinity. These are not found in their fulness in the Psalms.

5. It is hard to hear people's words that they sing, if they are being drowned out by a band with a loud PA pressing down on the congregation.

6. Congregational singing is required in the church, but this is not to be a sing-along-to-a-band.

7. We have no sense in the Word of God that songs and singing are to be a method to lure people into the church. The Songs of Zion to be sung by the church, are for the church, to glorify God and to encourage one another in the truths of the gospel.

Immediately, blood pressures may rise as you discuss singing in the church, and this tells me that music and singing are emotionally powerful, either for good or not for good. Let us remember that the church must be a worldliness-free-zone. We are not afraid of technology, but we are not trying to project ourselves as being "with it", in order to to gain credibility points. If Christians are confused on these matters, then elders must come back to first principles to teach people a biblical foundation, and this includes matters of singing. The reformed church reforms itself according to the principles of Scripture, not pragmatism.

Monday 27 October 2014

Three new books to consider reading

At the London Presbyterian Conference, followed by a special meeting at Sheffield Presbyterian Church, three books sold out or sold very well at the book table.

These were:

Chad Van Dixhoorn, "Confessing the Faith: A Reader's Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith".
Sinclair Ferguson, "From the Mouth of God; Trusting, Reading and Applying the Bible".
Iain D. Campbell, "The Wondrous Cross".

This blog is not simply intended to recommend books, however I do not underestimate the power of the printed page. Written materials can be life-changing and I am not ashamed to make good book recommendations. We need a church that is a thinking church and therefore one that is loving God with the whole heart, soul, mind and strength.

Hear the words of the Lord Jesus Christ in Mark 12:28-31: "And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these”.

Did you notice that our minds are included in loving God? This aspect has dropped out of some sections of Western Christianity and it must be recovered. Why not pray that you would love the Lord God in all four of these areas: your heart, soul, mind and strength?

Friday 24 October 2014

Ligon Duncan's sermon preached at Sheffield Presbyterian Church, October 2014

Ligon Duncan preached at Sheffield Presbyterian Church on Monday 20th October 2014. It was a most heart-warming and sound exposition of one of Paul's prayers found in Ephesians chapter 3.

The link is as follows:

I unreservedly commend this sermon to you and I trust that it will profit you spiritually.

In the work of the gospel,

Kevin Bidwell

Monday 20 October 2014

London Presbyterian Conference 2014 Recorded Talks

It is amazing how much work and preparation goes into things such as conference organisation. This was certainly the case for the London Presbyterian Conference 2014 for Rev. Darren Moore and myself, with the help of many other people. None-the-less we trust that it was profitable to many people, on many levels.

The talks of each session can be found on the Sheffield Presbyterian Church website:

They will also appear in the coming next couple of weeks on the EPCEW website also. I especially recommend session one by Ligon Duncan on "The Inerrancy of Scripture". For those who are involved in teaching people, in whatever is your vocation, then notice Ligon's lucid, simple teaching style. To teach with such clarity and simplicity is indeed a great skill.


Tuesday 14 October 2014

London Presbyterian Conference 2014

This is the second such conference hosted by the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales in the last 2 years. This year the them is "Building by God's Design" and the the topics are based upon the three doctrinal markers of our denomination. These are;

1. Biblical inerrancy
2. The Westminster Standards
3. The Great Commission

The main preachers are Ligon Duncan, Andy Young, Bill Schweitzer and Ian Hamilton. There is a website of the details, times and venue and this is:

The address and details are:
Saturday 18th October 2014 11:30am – 4pm, £5 on the door (free for concessions)

Regent Hall, 275 Oxford Street, London W1C 2DJ

The sermons will be on the EPCEW website after the event.

Monday 6 October 2014

Reading good books can change your approach to Christianity and life

It is hard to estimate the power of the printed page. It may be the power of the electronic page also today, but the "power of the pen" or key board cannot always be measured or over-estimated. God has revealed himself to humanity through his Creation, the rainbow in the sky, the many languages of men which testify of God's miracle at the Tower of Babel and of course ... the Holy Scriptures. In many ways, outside of the coming of Jesus Christ, who is God's only begotten Son, the ways of God are preserved for us through the living word of God which abides for ever (1 Peter 1:23).

However, we are not left to figure things out for ourselves with approximately 750,000 words, which are found in the English Bible. We must recognise that we have 2000 years of church history and teaching, to draw on rich historical and theological resources. Reading the right books can send us on a rich doctrinal trajectory, one which can be life-changing. Perhaps one of the biggest heresies is when you think that you have got it all or that there is little spiritual knowledge that you have not been exposed to.

Let put a spiritual challenge before you. I am going to recommend five Christian books for you to read. I challenge you to read at least two on the list and I would be very surpassed if you remain in the same spiritual condition. Here are five books to begin with.

1. The Sovereignty of God by Arthur Pink
2. The Mortification of Sin by John Owen
3. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Martyn Lloyd-Jones
4. Romans Chapter 9 Martyn Lloyd-Jones
5. A Hole in our Holiness by Kevin deYoung

I wanted to also commend John Owen on "The Holy Spirit" because so many people misunderstand altogether the work of the Holy Spirit and confuse things with their own sensual emotions. However, these five books are enough. I hope they can be a blessing to your soul in order to help you to better understand the treasures of God's word, ones that are to be found in Holy Scripture.

Can you remember some of the phrases of the Lord Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world?

Mark 12:24 "Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?".
Luke 24:27 "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself".
Luke 24:45 "Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures".

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Worldliness does not Belong in the Church

When I hear of various stories of what happens in certain professing Christian churches, it is hard to categorise or label such churches sometimes. All manner of things happen today in the name of Christianity; ranging from alligator shows to attract non-Christians (I hope they do not get loose), to liturgical dramas, to a full rock n' roll band to perform for the masses, as they sing along. How do we respond to such things? How do we respond when we open the pages of the Bible and fail to see any of these things occurring in the New Testament churches?

In discussion with some Christians recently, it has become clear in my mind that some professing Christian churches have become very worldly. Therefore, their events may well attract the world, but these events do not produce Christians. We must ask ourselves some basic questions again and again. These questions include: "what is a Christian, how are our sins forgiven, and what is a church?".

The head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ said this to his disciples: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34-38).

Someone once said that the church is like a ship and this world is the sea. A ship on the sea is fine, but if the water gets into the ship, it is a disaster. How true this metaphor is. If the world gets into the ship, it is doomed to sink, it is game-over. Just like the people in Hong Kong who are rising up and rejecting anti-democracy principles enforced upon them, it is time for Christians all over the world to rise up and reject worldliness in the church. Remember that if you are in a ship and water is leaking in and you say nothing, then you face the danger of potentially perishing with ship, even though it was not your fault for the water leakage, but yet you said nothing. You refused to raise the alarm.

Listen to James 4:4 as a stark warning."You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God". Let us call "a spade a spade". Many things happening in parts of the church today, are nothing more than worldliness. The church must be salt and light instead!

Saturday 27 September 2014

How should students consider their involvement in a church while away from home studying?

We at Sheffield Presbyterian Church have students at both Universities in Sheffield and so as a minister I get regular updates of student life on campus. It is amazing how many professing Christian churches can all compete with one another, each offering their "wares" and then promoting themselves as to why they are best suited to meet the needs of students. I wonder how many students are instructed by their parents or their home churches as to what to look for in a church and what their attitude should be to church attendance. Here are a few pointers.

For Students

1. Remember that Jesus said "I will build my church ..." (Matthew 16:18), therefore your involvement in a church while studying should be serious minded and not to be seen for your own convenience.

2. The Bible teaches how we should shape our work lives. The Fourth of the Ten Commandments explicitly instructs all people to "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8-11). The Christian Sabbath is the first day of the week which is Sunday. This is a day for worship, for Christian fellowship and for rest from your work, such as essay writing, revising and time in the library. The Lord knows that our minds need mental refreshment, but more than that we are commanded to worship the Triune God. Therefore, excusing yourself that you cannot wake up in the morning is obviously an inadequate excuse for only attending the evening service of worship in the local church you commit to.

3. When considering a church, do not look for excitement or simply for a church where lots of other students necessarily go. Two crucial aspects to look for are the church's commitment to preaching sound doctrine, and a biblical and reverent approach to worship. All too often students look for the church with the biggest band which sing the coolest songs, but if that is our measuring rod, we really must "open our Bibles" and ask ourselves, "is that what Jesus instructed the church to do to make disciples?". There is the ever-present danger that worldliness enters the church and worldliness will not produce godliness.

For Churches with Students

1. It is good to be aware of the social needs of students who are away from home, ones who are perhaps away from home for the first time, but churches should not orient their programmes around student activities only. Students should be integrated into the normal life of the church and not treated with some special status.

2. Seek to encourage students to be involved in the Christian Union on campus and to play a positive role, while exhorting them to remember that their studies should not suffer with an unbalanced lifestyle.

3. Encourage students to get integrated with regular families and not only to congregate with fellow students at church.

I think that my own views as a minister are sometimes counter-cultural and out of step with the wider church, but we must think seriously about these matters, when as reformed churches we have a high view about the church. Paul wrote to the young Christians at Thessalonica: "but test everything; hold fast what is good" (5:21).

Saturday 20 September 2014

Sheffield Student Church Search

If you are a student who is coming to Sheffield and you are looking for a church or if you are already in Sheffield as a student and you are also looking for a church, then seriously consider coming to Sheffield Presbyterian Church.

Our meeting place is opposite the English Institute of Sport in the Don Valley area of Sheffield. We meet in a beautiful 17th Century Chapel which was built in 1629. Our worship is God-centred where preaching is the high point of our services. These ideas which shape the structure of our worship are classic biblical and reformed in their understanding of the need of the church and the requirements that Scripture places upon the church for the church.

Our website is:

The Don Valley tram stop is a few minutes walk and there is a bus stop outside. In addition we have our own car park.
We look forward to welcoming you.

Kevin Bidwell
Minister of Sheffield Presbyterian Church

Thursday 18 September 2014

The Roman Catholic Church has never "changed its spots"!

This may seem like an unusual blog post, but is it really? True biblical and reformed doctrine should always warn of doctrinal error. If you have ever read the "Institutes of the Christian Religion" by John Calvin or the writings of English puritans such as Thomas Watson, you will have noticed that they are replete with warnings regarding the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

The title of this blog post is taken from Jeremiah 13:23 "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil". The principle taught in this verse, is that without true and genuine repentance, a people or a religious system will continue as corrupt as ever. This was true of the professing people of God in Jeremiah's day, as it is true of the Roman Catholic Church today. (This does not mean that all branches of Protestantism are today without error, because some forms of Protestant liberalism bear no mark of biblical Christianity either.)

Rome has appointed a new Pope, one who comes across as a nice man, someone who can relate to the ordinary man or woman, but the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is as dangerous as ever.

Let me give five areas of false teaching by the Roman Catholic Church which reveal that they continue to be a false church, one whose "Spots" have never changed".

1. The Roman Catholic mass claims to involve a physical change of the bread and wine into the literal physical body and blood of Jesus. Protestants have taught for centuries that this teaching is heresy, one that is utterly false and this is also a denial of the gospel of God. Priests do not and cannot repeatedly offer up Jesus on an altar. Listen to Hebrews 10:14: "For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified".

2. The office of the Pope as being the supreme bishop over the church is false. The church is to be governed by elders, under the guidance of the Scriptures and teaching that is in accord with the church's creeds and confessions.

3. The idea that the Pope is the alone infallible interpreter of teaching for the church is false.

4. Praying to Mary and the Saints is idolatrous. At the inauguration of Pope Francis, he publicly prayed to Mary while then also praying the Lord's Prayer. Such confusion is utterly and totally wrong. For a professing Protestant Christian to consider the Roman Catholic Church as harmless or as equally valid to a biblical church, is to wholly misunderstand the teaching of the Bible. The First and Second Commandment states that we will shall have no other gods and that we shall not make a graven image. Bowing down to altars, statues and to the mass itself is tantamount to idolatry.

5. The preaching of true doctrine is altogether absent in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a works based religion founded upon works based righteousness which enslaves people to a cycle of confession to a priest, with a repeated coming to the Eucharist administered by a Catholic priest, for perpetual renewed justification. This is darkness and it is system that fails to lead people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, as Jesus is offered in the gospel.

I guess that many professing evangelicals in the West have bought into a post-modern view, whereby there is no absolute truth and this has blurred the discernment of many. Our aim is to win Roman Catholic followers to the gospel, but a warning must be sounded in each generation to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Listen to Paul in writing to the Galatian Church.

Galatians 1:9 "As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed".

Galatians 2:16 "Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified".

Let us be content with blessings of the gospel and also be warned of the mysticism and superstition of the Roman Catholic Church.

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Prayer is a means of grace

There is a wonderful balance to the teaching of the Westminster lArger and Shorter Catechisms. These documents bring out the doctrines of Scripture and are therefore international in their usefulness. There are three things which have been passed on by the church to succeeding generations of disciples. These are the teaching of the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer. Question 88 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks a vital question which is: "What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?". The answer is: "The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation".

In Acts 2:42 we recognise some of the fundamental activities and commitments of the infant church in Jerusalem. These were a steadfast devotion and commitment to:

I. The apostles' doctrine or teaching
II. Fellowship
III. The breaking of bread
IV. Prayer

While a commitment to the apostles' doctrine must have priority and this must be the basis for the other three, we must not neglect or downplay the importance of prayer as a means of grace. I have heard it taught that prayer is not a means of grace but that we simply pray in response to the word and sacraments but this is incomplete doctrinally.

The Larger Catechism makes it clear in its detailed questions on prayer, that we are to pray to God only (not to Mary, saints, angels of false gods). We are to pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ and it is by the Holy Spirit, the one who helps us (questions 181-182). Paul writes from a prison cell when he wrote to the Philippians and he instructs the church: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" 4:6-7). Clearly through the act of praying biblically and in presenting our requests to God, there is then a communication of God's grace to the church with the result of restored peace, instead of anxiety. The peace of God is communicated by Christ Jesus to the church through the means of prayer.

Here are two examples from the writings of John Calvin which explain his understanding that prayer is a means of grace.

"Prayer digs out those treasures, which the gospel of the Lord discovers to our faith" (Institutes III:xx2).

"We [are] permitted to pour into [God's] bosom the difficulties which torment us, in order that He may loosen the knots which we cannot untie" (Genesis I:489).

Monday 1 September 2014

"No minor thread": The fourth of the Ten Commandments

Perhaps the "acid test" of someone's knowledge of the 10 Commandments is to ask them how they practice the fourth commandment. If their eyes look glazed and they do not even know what you are talking about, then it is a plain indication that the 10 Commandments are little understood by them at all. However, in recent decades there has been a "termite-like erosion" of orthodoxy among evangelicals who claim to uphold a reformed confession. In the USA today, it is not uncommon for men to be ordained to the ministry and to make what are deemed to be minor exceptions to the Westminster Confession, such as the Christian Sabbath. In the UK, the reformed Baptists seem to have been losing their nerve fast on points such as the Christian Sabbath and the place of the law in the church. Perhaps they wrongly think that these things are antiquated and if they "shed this load" it will lead to new church growth. The question is then; what kind of growth will it produce in such "panic button" moves?.

Philip Ross examines the biblical and theological basis for the threefold division of the law in his book called "The Finger of God". He rightly challenges those men who enter Christian office, especially reformed and presbyterian men, who make exceptions to the Christian Sabbath and he challenges men who claim that the rejection of the Sabbath is a "minor point or exception".

He writes: "Were the Westminster Confession a garment, you would not want to pull this 'minor thread', unless you wanted to be altogether defrocked. And perhaps the reason that some people pull at this thread is because they regard the confession as more of straightjacket than a garment. Unbuckle the Sabbath, and you are well on your way to mastering theological escapology" (page 5).

Listen to the Lord rebuking and exhorting the Old Testament saints who actively sought to "unbuckle themselves from the Sabbath". Isaiah 58:13-14 “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 honor 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.”

Delighting in the Lord and delighting in the Sabbath are connected, but few contemporary evangelicals seem to make this connection today. Listen to the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 12:8 "For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath".

Let us all examine ourselves in this matter of the fourth commandment and let us pray for ourselves and others for the recovery of the practice of this commandment in the church.

(For further reading, I recommend a book by Joey Pipa called "The Lord's Day").

Wednesday 27 August 2014

The British Museum and the Bible

I recently visited the British museum and what a rich historical resource this place is! For Christians and lovers of the Bible, this would make an inspirational visit for anyone. It is probably best to be informed before a visit and there is a good book available published by Day One Publications called: "Through the British Museum with the Bible Third edition (Day One Travel Guide)". This would provide helpful information ahead of a visit.

Here are three things that I found stimulating on my recent visit.

1. To look at Greek and Roman seal stones. These were used as a form of identification and ownership and Paul the apostle picks up this New Testament time imagery and applies it to the gospel. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22: "And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee". Also look at Ephesians 1:13, 4:30; Romans 4:11, 1 Cor. 9:2; 2 Tim. 2;19 and also in the ministry of the Lord Jesus, John 3:33 and 6:27.

2. A golden crown/wreath was on display in the Greek historical section. These were used in the Graeco-Roman world in sporting events and in religious ceremonies. Presumably as a mark of honour. The theme of being given an eternal crown that does not perish is to be preferred. Of course many crowns were made of plant material and rarely perhaps of gold. The golden one is in the museum because it has survived 2000 years unlike plant-material crowns. Hear Paul takes up this crown/wreath imagery in 2 Timothy 4:8: "Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing".

3. In one section of the museum, I came across the "Cyrus Cylinder". This clay cylinder is inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform with an account by Cyrus, king of Persia (559-530 BC) of his conquest of Babylon in 539 BC and capture of Nabonidus, the last Babylonian king (this is copied from the British museum website at:

For those lovers of the Bible, you will know that king Cyrus is spoken of in the Book of Daniel in the Bible. All historical and archeological finds always confirm the truth and integrity of the Bible to be the very reliable word of God. Daniel 1:21 "And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus".

For those people reading this blog who may not be Christians or who may not be familiar to the Bible, let me encourage you to visit the British museum. However, I urge you also to accept that the Bible is unique among any literature among humanity. It is a book which cannot be categorised because it is the revelation of the One True God. The author of the Bible is God Himself, who inspired men across centuries to teach us the way of salvation. This is how Jesus Christ described the teaching of the Old Testament writings: John 10:35 "And Scripture cannot be broken".

Saturday 23 August 2014

Our response to teaching on the Ten Commandments reveals our biblical and reformed orthodoxy

This last week at our midweek meeting at Sheffield Presbyterian Church, we looked at some of the Ten Commandments. We did so by looking at the Westminster Shorter Catechism. We studied the seventh to the tenth of the commandments. It was a joy to hear people's comments, questions and their delight at the discussion of such a topic. This sparked off in my mind how that teaching on the Ten Commandments is a good tester of biblical and reformed orthodoxy.

The Law of God summarised in the Ten Commandments has so many blessings and benefits for the church, when it is rightly understood. For those who rightly understand the law of God, there is a realisation that the Decalogue reveals our sin which is always needed and this provides a spiritually healthy antidote to sin. The law restrains us in our propensity to hypocrisy, sin, latent darkness and unrighteousness. The law reveals God's attributes and of course Jesus Christ who perfectly fulfilled the law in our place and the Lord expects us to use the law as our code of living in this sinful world. God's love is revealed in the law of God and much more.

How we then respond to the law of God, often reveals much. How do you respond to teaching on the law of God? Is it a "yes, but ..." which leads to a seeking to minimise the law's demands? Is it a "yes, but ..." which then falsely asserts that the law is not needed in the church? Instead, a biblical response is found by the author of Psalm 119 and Paul the apostle in the Book of Romans. How do these men respond to the revelation of God's holy law?

Psalm 119:77 "Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight".
Psalm 119:97 "Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day".
Romans 7:22 "For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being".

These verses express what should be the response of the mature, righteous and godly man or woman. How do you respond? If there is a genuine lack of delight in God's Ten Commandments, why not pray about this and ask the Lord for help? Maybe you have wrongly understood the Lord's teaching on the law, maybe you have adopted some teaching on the law of God which gives you what your natural desire is, which is to be free from God's law. And yet, such an attitude is an unbiblical position. Let us walk humbly to follow the Lord, knowing that it is by grace that we follow the Lord, but His grace points out the law of God to us, to be a light for our path and a guide for our feet.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Recovering the Ten Commandments in the Church Today

Historical theology is a key subject for the church. Solomon warned us in Ecclesiastes 1:9 that "there is nothing new under the sun". Through almost 2000 years, there have been three things which the church has used in the West, to pass on the content of the faith to each succeeding generation. Do you know what they are? It has been teaching on the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer. It is important that teaching on these basic elements of the Christian faith are taught today in the church.

The reformed documents and confessions of faith sought to teach these three things, but they filled them with biblical content, in contradiction to the false teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. The Apostles' Creed provides the basic structure for Calvin's Institutes and the Westminster Confession. The Westminster catechisms essentially expound the core doctrines of the Apostles' Creed, followed by a thorough exposition of the Ten Commandments and then prayer based on the Lord's Prayer.

Someone once remarked to me that we will either recover of dismantle the reformed and biblical heritage. When the church hides, neglects of falsely teaches that the Ten Commandments has no binding significance on the church or is not needed, then that church has fallen into doctrinal decline. Romans 6:17 explains that there is content to the faith to be passed on to every succeeding generation: "But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed". The word teaching is the Greek word "didachē" implying the content of the Christian faith.

The biblical standard of teaching has always required a correct understanding of the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue) and it is amazing how this provides shape to the church, to our personal faith and our approach to the subject of worship. The connection between a church's understanding of what is worship changes when the law of God is understood. It is no longer simp lying a personal experience but it takes on a God-centred approach with guardrails to protect us from our sinful tendencies, which constantly desire to introduce new but sometimes unhelpful practices into public worship.

To be reformed is to truly know, understand and agree with Paul in Romans 7:22 "For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being". Can you say that with joy? Do you understand what Paul is saying here in Romans 7:22. If not, then why not pray that the Lord would you and the church where you are a member the right understanding concerning God's holy law. Psalm 119:18 is a great prayer: "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law".

Wednesday 6 August 2014

The place of the moral law in the church needs to be urgently revisited by the church!

It is hard to know where to begin on this subject. When we consider the implications upon the church when the moral law is downplayed, rejected, or considered to be overtaken by the law of love, so that Christians decide themselves as to what is right and wrong and so forth, the scope of unhelpful influences that ensue are huge.

Jesus said that: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven" Matthew 5:17-19.

However, despite this warning against relaxing the commandments of God, it is not uncommon for some Christian teachers today to reject the moral law and the Ten Commandments for the church outright. Some say this apparently due to their fear of producing legalism. However, there is a problem with this argument. Legalism is adding to the commandments of Scripture and this idea to do away with the Ten Commandments, actually removes the obligation upon Christians to obey the Ten Commandments as a rule of life.

My little blog posts are not going to resolve this crisis, but I hope to get some people thinking. There is one group of people though that I would like to squarely challenge. These are those Christians and churches who claim to be reformed while also rejecting the moral law as having ongoing obligation for the church. And do you know what I have observed? The first step to the weakening of the foundations of the moral law for the church is often the downplaying of the fourth commandment and the Christian Sabbath.

One of the unfortunate fruits of this theology has been the cancelling of the evening service for church worship. I truly believe that if you are hungering and thirsting for righteousness, then you will not be trying to reduce your opportunities for worshipping the Triune God, for fellowship with the faithful, and to sit under sound preaching. But this active reduction in weekly church attendance has become all too common, while most people in the West have more time on their hands than ever. People have more spare time, more leisure time and holiday time than ever, and yet there is a strong emphasis in some quarters to make church attendance simply a matter of a gracious choice and not a biblical duty.

More will need to be said on this subject, but for the serious minded who would like a book to read on this subject, I would like to recommend one by Philip S. Ross, called "From the Finger of God".

Friday 1 August 2014

Sanctification and the Heidelberg Catechism (Part Two)

Sanctification and the Heidelberg Catechism, Part Two

2. Does the third-use of the law play a significant role in the Christian life?

The HC gives serious and careful attention to the requirements of God's law as a guide for the Christian life (Q. 92-113). This section does not teach sinners how to live in order to be saved, as if salvation could be earned by works of the law. Rather, it teaches those who are already saved through faith in Christ how to "behave towards God" and "what duties we owe to our neighbor" (Q. 93). 

God's law not only restrains, exposes, and condemns sin, it also instructs those who are united to Christ how to love, honor, please, and obey God--how to live as faithful citizens of Christ's kingdom. The HC explains that good works are "only those which proceed from a true faith" and are "performed according to the law of God, and to his glory; and not such as are founded on our imaginations or the institutions of men" (Q. 91). The law, therefore, serves to give God's children wisdom and direction for Christian living. We do not set the rules or make them up as we go. 

Ursinus states in his commentary on the HC that while the chief efficient cause of conversion is "the Holy Spirit, or God himself," the "means or instrumental cause of conversion [which includes sanctification in his use of "conversion"] are the law ... the gospel, and again, the doctrine of the law after that of the gospel." He goes on to explain that 
The preaching of the law goes before, preparing and leading us to a knowledge of the gospel: "for by the law is the knowledge of sin." (Rom. 3:20) Hence, there can be no sorrow for sin without the law. After the sinner has once been led to a knowledge of sin, then the preaching of the gospel follows, encouraging contrite hearts by the assurance of the mercy of God through Christ. Without the preaching there is no faith, and without faith there is no love to God, and hence no conversion to him. After the preaching of the gospel, the preaching of the law again follows, that it may be the rule of our thankfulness and of our life. The law, therefore, precedes, and follows conversion. It precedes that it may lead to a knowledge and sorrow for sin: it follows that it may serve as a rule of life to the converted.  It is for this reason that the prophets first charge sin upon the ungodly, threaten punishment, and exhort to repentance; then comfort and promise pardon and forgiveness; and lastly, again exhort and prescribe the duties of piety and godliness (Ursinus, Commentary, 472-- emphasis mine).

This "third-use" of the law, therefore, when taught and preached faithfully, in no way negotiates the gospel of grace or introduces a new form of legalism. Rightly understood, legalism seeks to add something to the grounds of our justification-- the merits of Christ supplemented by our own. Thus, to preach the law as a guide and rule of life for those whose faith is resting in Christ alone for salvation is not legalism. And while it is true that "even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience," we nevertheless "with sincere resolution" are called to "begin to live, not only according to some, but all the commandments of God" (Q.114). Q. 115 is key to this discussion:
Q. 115: If in this life no one can keep the Ten Commandments perfectly, why does God have them preached so strictly? 

A. First, that throughout our life we may more and more become aware of our sinful nature, and therefore seek more eagerly the forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ. Second, that we may be zealous for good deeds and constantly pray to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that He may more and more renew us after God's image, until after this life we reach the goal of perfection.  
According to the HC, the strict preaching of the law of God is meant to shows us our sin, drive us to Christ, and by the Spirit lead us in the way of growing devotion and obedience to the Lord.  Ursinus lists several "uses of the law" for the regenerate in his commentary on Q.115. 

1.     "The preservation of discipline and outward obedience to the law." As mentioned above, the faithful preaching of the law, along with its threatenings will help to keep God's people "in the faithful discharge of their duty."
2. "A knowledge of sin." Ursinus writes that "the law is to the regenerate a mirror, in which they may see the defects and imperfections of their own nature ... lead them to true humility before God ... continually advance in true conversion [i.e. sanctification] and faith ... and become more and more conformed to God and the divine law."
3. "A rule of divine worship and of a Christian life." Ursinus states "for although the law be also a rule of life to the unregenerate before their conversion, yet it is not to them a rule of worship and gratitude to God, as in the case of the regenerate." 
4. "That the exposition of the law delivered to the church may teach that God is, and what he is."
5. "The voice of the law sounding in the church is an evident testimony, teaching what the true church is, and in what true religion consists."
6. "It admonishes us of the image of God in man ... in the original righteousness which was in Adam, and is again restored in us by Christ."
7. "It is a testimony of eternal life, still future, in which we will perfectly fulfill the law."
8. "In nature perfectly restored and glorified after this life, the law will also have its use." Here Ursinus explains that a "knowledge of the law" will still remain in the elect in heaven that they might demonstrate perfect and personal obedience as did Adam before the fall (All quotes in this section from Ursinus, Commentary, 613-615).   

The HC clearly teaches a "third use" of God's law for the believer, and in no way does this third-use, understood properly, undermine the gospel. Indeed, the Heidelberger heralds a gospel that saves from the terrible wages of sin and saves unto a life of spiritual growth and holiness.    

3. Are Christians meant to be active and earnest in their quest for spiritual growth?

Yes! Rather than encourage passivity ("let go and let God") the HC teaches that Christians are called to actively and earnestly exercise faith in Christ through the means of grace (Q. 65-82; 116); that is, to "diligently frequent the church of God" on the Sabbath in order to "hear [God's Word], to use the sacraments, and publicly to call upon the Lord" (Q. 105). Moreover, the HC exhorts believers "more and more to hate and flee from [sin]" and "live according to the will of God in all good works" (Q. 89-90). By the preservation and indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, God's redeemed children are called to "constantly and strenuously resist our foes till at last we obtain a complete victory" (Q. 127). We are as "members of Christ by faith ... with a free and good conscience" meant to actively "fight against sin and Satan in this life" (Q. 32). In light of the finished work of Christ, God's people are to "earnestly desire to have their faith more and more strengthened, and their lives more holy" (Q.81). There is more to growth in Christ than merely looking back to our justification. 

In contrast to an apathetic view of sin, the HC exhorts believers to take this godly approach: "That even the smallest inclination or thought contrary to any of God's commandments never rise in our hearts; but that at all times we hate all sin with our whole heart, and delight in all righteousness" (Q. 113). Therefore, far from teaching a form of passivity in relation to personal holiness, the HC exhorts believer to fight and toil in the strength of the Holy Spirit. 

Final Thoughts

The HC is a marvelous Reformed confession that faithfully teaches the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the new life that is adorned with the fruit of the gospel-- a life of growing, grateful obedience and conformity to Christ through God's Spirit and Word. Therefore, the HC's teaching on justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone is NOT undermined by its equally robust instruction on growing holiness, obedience, and piety in the Christian life. In fact, the gospel is magnified by the promise that "it is impossible that those, who are implanted into Christ by a true faith, should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness" (Q. 64).

As we have seen, the biblical concepts of holiness, obedience, piety, progress, duty, and perseverance are viewed by Ursinus and the HC as characteristics of the Christian life. Again, let's be clear: these characteristics or fruit or good works are not an attempt to perfect by the flesh what was begun in the Spirit (Gal. 3:3)? That is often the charge laid at the feet of those who preach and apply the imperatives of Scripture (even when the gospel indicatives are boldly heralded week after week!). No, progressive sanctification is a work of God's free grace whereby through the Spirit's use of the appointed means of grace (i.e. Word, sacraments, and prayer) believers are driven to Christ and thus die more and more to sin and live more and more to righteousness. Believers are not passive in this work of sanctification. On the contrary, believers toil, struggle, fight, run, and press on in the Spirit's strength and power (cf. Phil. 2:12-13; 3:12-16), and this is motivated by gratitude for the work of Christ as well as other key motivating factors such as God's glory and the threatenings of the law. To downplay or marginalize progressive sanctification in our churches, therefore, is not only to deny our Reformed confession, it is to deny the clear teaching of Scripture.   

Well-intentioned preachers in their zeal to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and avoid legalistic tendencies sometimes unwittingly advance a kind of soft antinomianism by not preaching the third use of the law. By doing this they fail to instruct their congregations on how to live the Christian life. Unlike the HC, they give very little attention to God's law as a guide for believers. There is only a plea to "look to Christ" and all will work out in the end. It's overly simplistic, however, to make "believe in Jesus" or "glory in your justification" the only imperatives when the Bible itself is full of divinely inspired instruction for God's people on how to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called" and to "grow up in every way into him" (Eph. 4:1b, 15b).  

Therefore, in light of the biblical doctrine that we find in the HC (and the Westminster Standards), may our churches faithfully trumpet forth the gospel of Jesus Christ and the God-glorifying, Spirit-empowered, Christ-abiding, Word-centered life of progressive sanctification.    

Rev. Dr. Jon D. Payne is the organizing pastor of Christ Church Presbyterian in Charleston, South Carolina, and co-editor of A Faith Worth Teaching: The Heidelberg Catechism's Enduring Heritage (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013). 

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Saturday 26 July 2014

Sanctification and the Heidelberg Catechism (Part One) by Rev Jon Payne

Following a recent conversation with Rev Jon Payne, I have requested his permission to publish an excellent article which he has recently written onto this blog. It was published on the Reformation 21 and Gospel Reformation Network websites recently. I hope that you will find this subject profitable. It is easy to hold to reformed doctrine and an easy view of sanctification instead of a reformed view of sanctification.

Exploring the Heidelberger's robust doctrine of progressive sanctification

In the recent and engaging discussions on the doctrine of sanctification, I have found it interesting that some in my own denomination, The Presbyterian Church in America, are quicker to reference the Heidelberg Catechism (HC) than the Westminster Standards to assert their views on this crucial issue. But why? Could it be that some view the HC as less demanding in its teaching on progressive sanctification, law, piety, and good works in the Christian life? The HC is invoked to assert, among other things, that gratefulness is the sole motivation for Christian obedience, and that the only effective way to cultivate real spiritual growth is to look back to our justification in Christ. However, these views - often touted as the Reformed position - are supported neither by Scripture nor the HC.

So what does the HC teach about progressive sanctification? Is gratitude the only legitimate motivation for Christian obedience? Does the third-use of the law play a significant role in progressive sanctification? Are Christians meant to be active and earnest in the pursuit of spiritual growth? Before we answer these questions, let's take a moment to consider a little background on the HC.

A Most Beloved Catechism

The Heidelberg Catechism (1563) ranks as one of the most beloved Reformed Confessions since the days of the Protestant Reformation. Its warm piety, pastoral tone, and gospel-driven approach to the Christian life make it a favorite among Reformed believers everywhere. Personally, I refer to it often for doctrine and devotional purposes.

Written primarily by Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583), the HC is a masterful exposition of the gospel. The main divisions of the 129 questions and answers -- guilt, grace, and gratitude -- underscore the biblical fundamentals of salvation through faith in Christ. These three divisions are set forth in Q.2 which asks, "What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?" A. First, how great my sins and misery are; second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance."

The third division, namely, "how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance," is found in questions 86-129 and is a wonderful exposition of the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer. This section follows, of course, the magisterial, Gospel-heralding exposition of questions 1-85 which includes an explication of the Apostles' Creed and the nature and efficacy of the preached Word and sacraments (c.f. Q.65, 70, 81). Rather than minimizing the role of prayer and the Ten Commandments in the sanctification of the believer, the HC makes these divinely appointed means of grace an important, necessary, and required part of the Christ-centered, Spirit-enabled process of progressive sanctification (Q.115-116). With this background in mind, let's consider a few of the important questions posed above.

1. Is gratitude meant to be the only motivation for Christian obedience?

The HC teaches, without question, that gratitude for redemption in Christ is the chief motivation for Christian obedience (Q.2). Gratitude is indeed a cardinal theme in the HC as it concerns good works and obedience. Good works are described as "fruits of thankfulness" (Q.64). The Christian's Spirit-enabled obedience should surely flow from a heart bursting with gratitude for what Christ has done on our behalf-- his sinless life, propitiatory death, and Hell-conquering resurrection to deliver us from the wages of sin. Through His sufferings, "especially on the cross," Christ has "delivered me from the anguish and torments of hell" (Q.44). We overflow with thankfulness when we consider our justification through faith in Christ, the fact that even though each one of us has "transgressed all the commandments of God ... God, without any merit of mine, but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me [through faith] the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ ... as if I had never had had, nor committed any sin; yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me" (Q.60). Gratefulness, therefore, is a defining mark of the Christian. But it is overly simplistic to assert that gratitude for our justification is the only biblically or confessionally recognized motivation for Christian obedience. Rather, there are other factors, in addition to gratitude, that motivate Christians unto obedience and good works. Take, for example,

A. The Glory of God: Is there any doubt that God's glory motivates the believer unto obedience and good works? The HC asks in Q.91, "What are good works? A. Only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to His glory ... ." As God's redeemed children, we obey God that He would be "glorified in all our words and works" (Q.99). Individually, our obedience should be motivated by a passion to "glorify Him with my whole heart, so that I renounce and forsake all creatures, rather than commit even the least thing contrary to His will" (Q. 94)-- and additionally, "that we may so order and direct our lives, our thoughts, words and actions, that Thy name may never be blasphemed, but rather honored and praised on our account" (Q. 122; cf. Matt. 5:16). In this same vein, the Westminster Standards declare that God's glory is man's chief end (WSC Q. 1), and the apostle Paul states "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (I Cor. 10:31). According to Scripture and the Heidelberg, the glory of God motivates believers to obey his commands.

B. A Desire to be Holy: Another biblical motivation that the HC recognizes for Christian obedience and spiritual growth is the desire to reflect the holiness of God. Christian baptism, according to the HC, reinforces this point as it represents "the remission of sins freely, for the sake of Christ's blood which He shed for us by His sacrifice on the cross; and also to be renewed by the Holy Ghost, and sanctified to be members of Christ, that so we may more and more die to sin, and lead holy and unblamable lives" (Q. 70 - emphasis mine). God's redeemed children are called to imitate and reflect their Father's holiness by manifesting "the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God" (Phil. 1:11; cf. Eph. 5:1). After a stirring exposition of the gospel in I Peter 1:3-12, Peter states: "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy'" (I Pet. 1:14-16). Therefore, a clear motivation for every Christian's obedience is the sincere desire to be like their heavenly Father, to show forth the family resemblance--manifesting an always imperfect yet growing measure of Spirit-wrought holiness in their lives (Q. 114). The redeemed rejoice in the good news that Christ "gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14).

C. Fatherly Discipline and Warnings: In Ursinus' commentary on Q.115 he states that one reason for the strict preaching of the law, including its sober warnings is, in part,
"in relation to the godly, because on account of the weakness and corruption of the flesh, it is useful and necessary, even to them, that the threatenings of the law, and the examples of punishment set before them, may keep them in the faithful discharge of their duty. For God threatens severe punishment even to the saints, if they become guilty of sins of a shameful and grievous nature (Ez.18:24)" (Ursinus, Commentary On the Heidelberg Catechism (Phillipsburg, NJ: Reprint, 1852), 613-614).

This line of thinking corresponds with the HC's reference to divine punishment and the "heavy wrath of God" as deterrents to disobedience for the believer (Q. 102; 112).

Paul writes that church discipline is not only intended for the censure (and potential restoration) of the offender (I Tim. 5:20; cf. Q.85). It is also meant to foster godly fear in the hearts of onlooking believers-- to encourage them, by God's grace and Spirit, to walk more circumspectly according to God's Word. In addition, the Scripture provides sober warnings to believers throughout, in part, to motivate them unto obedience. Isn't the book of Hebrews full of such solemn warnings (e.g. Heb. 2:1-4; 3:7- 4:13; 10:19-39)?

It is precisely because God loves his children that he provides "useful and necessary" warnings for "the faithful discharge of their duty." For both Scripture and the HC, then, these warnings are biblical motivations for godliness (cf. Q.102).

In addition to gratitude, these three key motivations, namely, the glory of God, a desire to be holy, and the Father's sober warnings, are legitimate motivations for Christian obedience found in the HC. Of course, there are many others. Other motivations include the fostering of God's praise, the deep and growing assurance of faith, and the hope that "others may be gained to Christ" as our lives show forth the fruit of the gospel (Q.86). Once again, gratitude is without a doubt the chief motivation for Christian obedience in the HC. However, it's not the only one.

The Gospel Reformation Network's Article V rightly states:

"We affirm that gratitude for justification is a powerful motivation for growth in holiness .... but deny that gratitude for justification is the only valid motivation for holiness, making all other motivations illegitimate or legalistic" (See GRN Affirmations and Denials at

Rev. Dr. Jon D. Payne is the organizing pastor of Christ Church Presbyterian in Charleston, South Carolina, and co-editor of A Faith Worth Teaching: The Heidelberg Catechism's Enduring Heritage (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013).
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Monday 21 July 2014

Forrest Gump Spirituality

Most of us have probably seen the 1994 Tom Hanks hit movie, Forrest Gump in which the titular character shares his experiences and reflections on life and society with various people on a Savannah park bench.
   As the story goes on, Gump often shares with us little insights and maxims from his mother, which invariably begin, “Mama always said...”
   For many who have been reared in a “pseudo-Christian Culture” such as the United States, we have a tendency to assume that the values and norms that we have known, lived under, and been taught are universal and transcendent truths and “Christian.”
   Sadly, this is not always the case. For instance, you may have been told that it’s okay to tell a “little white lie” if it means not hurting someone’s feelings. God’s word, by contrast, tells us that God is a God of Truth, hates liars, and demands that His people love the truth so much that they forsake lying.
   Many people who call themselves Christians live out a spirituality that consists simply of what they were taught by their parents and the traditions of their society. But is that where Christians are supposed to learn how to live as His people? Yet many in our society have a religion that consists of little more than “my mama always said...”
   True Christianity is found and learned from God’s word, the Bible. The Bible teaches us that every culture is imperfect, riddled with sin, and doomed to pass away. Because of this, God’s word confronts every culture with its sins, failings, and shortcomings as it calls the people of every culture to embrace Jesus Christ offered in the gospel and follow His commandments.
   As Presbyterians, we must not be crippling our growth in grace by living a “Forrest Gump spirituality” that consists only of traditions and sentiments of the past. We must be constantly looking to Christ and His word to see if the traditions and values that we hold dear are actually from God or merely of man’s devising.
   One of the problems that has continually dogged the Church is that as persecution dies down, the saints become increasingly comfortable with the culture and the church begins to increasingly resemble the culture. The only defense against this is a robust and disciplined love for God’s word, not simply the “idea” of God’s word, but the actual words, sentences, paragraphs, teachings and themes of the Scripture.
   Do you love God’s Word? Is your Christianity, your piety founded upon a faithful study of the words of Christ? Do you make time to know your Bible? Or is your religion simply that of traditions and customs? A religion that resembles the culture is not a religion of the Christ who was crucified for offending the traditions and customs of the society in which He lived. We must each ask ourselves and evaluate is my religion based on “my mama always said” and “I always thought” or “God says in His word?”

This was written by a friend of mine Rev. Ryan Biese who is the minister of Winona PCA church in Winona, MS. He wrote this for his church bulletin and after visiting with him I asked him if I could post this on my blog. I hope that you enjoy it.

Friday 11 July 2014

Liturgical dances are not the way forward for the church!

In recent times, I have encountered a new phenomena which is the use of liturgical dances in public worship. This kind of thing is sometimes included in churches as a means of facilitating the worship of God. But does it actually achieve its intended purpose? I have never personally seen this in the West, but while our family served oversees, I found it to be a common occurence in Kenya. Why would good churches go down such routes?

In talking to various people, ones who have observed churches sliding away from biblical faithfulness by introducing such novelties into public worship, there appear to be two primary causes of this phenomena.

1. Some churches become more concerned about people outside the church than those already in the church. Therefore, they seek ways to attract non-Christians, while abandoning their duty to feed the sheep.

2. Pragmatism drives the agenda rather than by searching the Scripture for biblical directives.

On a pragmatic level, watching a bunch of amateurish women performing a choreographed dance, dressed in lively colors, would seem at best a distraction, at worst a cause of stumbling. This is not the apostolic method and in my opinion it acheieves nothing in communicating the gospel to a lost and dying world. These liturgical dances move the church on deviant paths trod by the church in the Middle Ages, ones which sought visual means to communicate instead of preaching. Let us ask two questions.

1. Did Jesus and the apostles use such methods in their ministries? The plain answer is no, but they could of. In Ancient Greek cities there were always amphitheaters which were used for dramas and visual performances, but these worldly methods were never used.

2. What does the Scripture teach regarding liturgical dances in public worship? There are no references of such things. Yet many well meaning Christians sit in churches which conduct themselves in ways not becoming of the church of God. In my experience when churches seek such methods such as dances, puppets, handing out balloons and free hair cuts, then there is a slide away from a confidence in God's primary method for gospel advance. This is the preaching of the gospel. If you are sat in a church that talks about sharing and not preaching, perhaps you should consider seeking out a church that is committed to preaching sound doctrine instead.

Listen to three passages from the Book of Acts.
Acts 8:5: "Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them Christ".

Acts 17:2-3: "Paul went in, as was his custom and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying 'This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ'".

Acts 28:30-31: (Paul in Rome) " He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance".

Preaching the message of the gospel was the primary means for extension in the New Testament church and it should be ours also today. There is no mention of novelties such as liturgical dances in the New Testament, so why would any church that is faithful to the Lord God even consider such a possibility? May congregations return to solid paths using solid methods which is a joyful commitment to preaching in our worship services in season and out of season.

Thursday 3 July 2014

Thoughts on the latest Noah Movie

I have to confess that I am not a huge movie expert, but on a recent flight I had the opportunity to check out the latest Noah movie starring Russell Crowe. I had heard mixed reports from different sources and ironically I have been preaching through Genesis in our evening services at church. The story of Noah is therefore fresh in my mind. So, what were my impressions of the movie?

As a Christian, I was not impressed by the opening line that "in the beginning there was nothing" and then the narrative of Genesis is unfolded in a way that I could not reconcile with the biblical record. Fallen creatures that look like deformed transformers with rock skin, apparently helped fallen man to build huge cities. There is Gandolf style mysticism and magic inter-twined,and Noah kills people in self-defense in the hostile world that he lives in pre-flood. It was a huge surprise to find that Hollywood had no problem in including an adopted daughter into Noah's family though the biblical record does not have any such details.

From a non-theological point of view, the movie was not impressive, I got bored and I admit that I did not finish the whole film. It was like watching a low-budget "Lord of the Rings" movie, but without any of the impressive scenery and thought of the "Lord of the Rings". Its deviation from biblical truth, its bizarre imagination that bore little resemblance to Noah's godliness, and the poor quality of style means that I do not endorse this movie whatsoever.

What are some learning points? Hebrews 11:7 reminds us of Noah's faith: "By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith". The first lesson should be to draw us all to the faith of Noah from the biblical record. This is because he walked by faith in the midst of loneliness, with a lack of spiritual fruit from his warnings to his fellow men, and he spent just over a year in the ark before he stepped out into the new world after the flood. Faith always requires us to walk into a degree of the unknown, trusting the Lord. Therefore, Noah's example should encourage the church in our own day.

The second lesson for me is that the world cannot be trusted today to faithfully handle biblical narrative. In times past, credible movies of the life of Moses, and stories such as Ben Hur, moved millions of people to simply acknowledge historically based narratives. Today, Hollywood and the world have so departed from truth in their post-modern fantasies, that they cannot be trusted to handle Bible stories or truth itself.

Thirdly, the Lord Jesus taught explicitly that Noah did not know the exact time when the floods will come, so also we will not know the time when Jesus returns but we must be ready. In the time before the Lord Jesus returns to bring final judgment upon this world and all of its inhabitants, then the world's population will behave the same as in Noah's day. Matthew 24:38 "For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man". Therefore, do not be surprised by the world's indifference to the gospel, Noah faced the same. However, let us look to the Lord for great fruitfulness, and pray that God by his grace would save some, those who will come into the Lord's ark of salvation, before it is too late.

Friday 27 June 2014

Book Review: Charles Hodge by Don Fortson

This short biography brings the life of Charles Hodge (1797-1878) out of what will be “relative obscurity” for most readers. It is written in a way that is interesting, accessible, helpful and theologically engaging. Hodge’s life spanned such important events in the life of America as the Civil War, the emancipation of slavery and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. In the church, his association as a teacher of theology at the renowned Princeton Theological Seminary for half a century is what he is most known for. There is perhaps no equal to Hodge in the history of the Reformed church in North America because he trained almost 3000 students who became gospel ministers, missionaries and professors.

This accessible biography carries great potential use in that it will introduce the readers to whole range of doctrinal debates, ones which Hodge had to get involved with. These diverse issues include the revivalism of Charles Finney, debates over church polity with James Henley Thornwell, the necessity or otherwise for the rebaptism of Roman Catholics and the church’s connection to national politics. Hodge’s life provides a “lens” through which to view a range of topics that have ongoing and perpetual significance.

This giant in the faith was unashamedly Calvinistic. He was also unashamedly presbyterian. However, this does not mean that readers will agree with every stance that he took on the many debates and issues that he got involved with. On some matters, one may deem he was too soft, on others, maybe he won the day due to his huge influence rather than due to holding the right line of doctrinal logic. It is this reviewer’s opinion that the debates that Hodge held with Thornwell on church polity are perhaps a case in point: Hodge won the vote at the General Assembly, even though Thornwell presented a stronger argument.

In sum, this book is highly recommended and enjoyable. It will introduce the next generation of Christians to the necessity for sound doctrine in a time-frame spanning from Archibald Alexander to B.B. Warfield. Hodge as a man is someone to be followed, in that he emulated a passion for academic rigour concerning the Word of God along with pastoral warmth and care. The Reformed church needs robust theological training for its future ministers and hopefully this book will further spark desires for a theologically educated ministry within evangelicalism in the U.K.