Tuesday 27 May 2014

Reformed Truth: from baptism to burial and onwards to heaven!

In Sheffield Presbyterian Church, I am preparing the funeral for a beloved brother, Brian Riley who suddenly died last Saturday at the age of 61. He was an elder in one of the congregations in EPCEW for many years and in the last 2 years he was a member in Sheffield. During the last two years he has been led by God's grace to a wonderful place of spiritual happiness and the last church service he attended, his 74 year old brother became a communicant member, having been baptised a few weeks before, having professed faith in Jesus Christ earlier in the year.

It is at times like this that our reformed doctrine is tested. What is reformed doctrine? It is preparing the saints to live well, to die well, and to bury their dead well, to the glory of God. The funeral will take place next week and the gospel will be preached, hopefully with wisdom, sensitivity and gentleness, in order to get the balance right as many non-Christians will attend. Brian will will then be buried, his body which was made in the image of God will be returned to the earth to await the future bodily resurrection at the Second coming of the Lord Jesus. Right now, Brian is with the Lord, with the saints in heaven.

Our reformed doctrine must focus on heaven, because none of us know when we will be called home, that is those who die in the Lord. Those who die in their sins will not go to heaven. When their eyelids close in death, they will open to unimaginable horrors of everlasting punishment which means we must preach the gospel with all of its warnings. Let me close with comfort for those who mourn the death of Christians.

Isaiah 61:2-3 "To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified” (New King James).

I have found that the Scottish divine Samuel Rutherford is most helpful in times of mourning. Here are two of his sayings.
"I see grace groweth best in winter" and "I know, we may say, that Christ is kindest in his love when we are at our weakest; and that if Christ had not been to the fore, in our sad days, the waters had gone over our soul".

Finally, hear Augustus Montague Toplady from the last verse of the famed hymn "Rock Of Ages". Toplady himself only lived until he was 38 years of age and for many saints of old, the nearness of eternity was often more real than it is for the Western church today.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
when my eyelids close in death,
when I soar to realms unknown,
see Thee on Thy judgment throne;
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in Thee.

Romans 14:8 "For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s".

Saturday 24 May 2014

New Testament Greek: A Great Resource

Contact with the original biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew is important for Christian ministry and for preaching. It is not true to say that people cannot understand the Scriptures without knowledge of these original languages, but for those skilled in them, it gives the opportunity to "mine out" biblical riches in order to better feed the sheep and to preach the gospel. Having contact with the original languages is probably the difference between watching on an older TV set and in having a high definition plasma screen where the image is very sharply focussed.

A number of years ago I was listening to Ted Donnelly preach at his home congregation in Northern Ireland at Trinity, Newtownabbey. He used to lecture Greek at the reformed presbyterian seminary in Northern Ireland and I asked him after the service what Greek Lexicon he would recommend. He immediately answered that "The Lexicon to have, is one by Frederick William Danker who was one of the four men who wrote the famous BADG". The "D" is Fred Danker. I bought this and it has been a real gem for several years. It is to the point, concise and accurate. It is not cheap but it is outstanding and I unreservedly commend it.

The full title is:

Frederick William Danker, "The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament", University of Chicago Press, 2009.

The Amazon link is: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Concise-Greek-English-Lexicon-Testament/dp/0226136159/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1400918574&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=fred+danker+lexicon

Wednesday 21 May 2014

My Journey to the Reformed Faith (joining the dots)

For many, including myself, one reaches a point that to be committed only to the basic Calvinistic beliefs of salvation in the light of the sovereignty of God, is not sufficient to consider oneself to be genuinely reformed. To be truly reformed means that we hold to a reformed doctrine of the church, to a regulated principle for worship and also a biblical view of church government. This led me to presbyterian convictions regarding baptism, being confessional (the Westminster Standards), to a belief that churches should be led by elders in regional presbyteries, and for a love of reformed worship.

John Calvin led a work in Geneva that was simply that. It was a recovery of a biblical understanding of the church. I do not know who reads this blog or where you may be on your journey in the reformed faith. This journey is not a static pilgrimage and once you may arrive at settled reformed convictions concerning the doctrine of the church, this should then lead you ever onwards and forwards to grow in love to God the Father and faith in Jesus Christ.

Listen to Paul's testimony of the church at Colossae: "We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth ..." (1:3-6).

The goal of being reformed is not to become part of a "reformed club", but to spread the everlasting gospel to the ends of the earth. There can be the danger of reformed doctrinal pride and we must watch for this and humble ourselves before the Lord. However, may we press onwards in our knowledge of Christ, to live our lives for the glory of God and to see God's church shaped according to Scripture and not the ideas of man and man's pragmatic preferences.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Christian Zionism Refuted

In our recent Yorkshire Reformed Ministers Fraternal, we had an excellent paper from Rev. Stephen Sizer. He explored the frail biblical basis of Christian Zionism. The link to the talk from him is: https://www.dropbox.com/s/eif97zudq98q6pi/Zions%20Christian%20Soldiers%20Stephen%20Sizer%20YRMF.mp3

I trust that this will be a helpful resource for those Christians who struggle to see why sections of the church become Israel fanatics or to understand why some Christians wrongly seem to become engrossed in Middle Eastern politics.

The Lord Jesus Christ said: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world", John 18:36.

Monday 12 May 2014

My Journey to the Reformed Faith (becoming settled on the Book of Revelation)

Over the years, I have encountered people who seem to want to put different truths in a king of league table. This is based on the matter of things which are essentials in comparison to non-essentials. Now this basic principle is correct but problems are quickly encountered when truths are placed in the wrong table. One such doctrine known as eschatology, the doctrine of the last things is commonly placed in a lower table in comparison to truths such as the Trinity or the deity of Christ. While it is true that having a right eschatology does not affect your standing with respect to salvation by grace through faith, it cannot be treated as a secondary non-essential doctrines.

Why is this? Well, my experience over the years is that a certain position on the last things, impacts the way you approach the Bible and then seek to interpret it. This is especially true with what is known as a dispensationalist view, one which becomes almost obsessive with the current world events. A friend of mine used to attend a brethren church, but this was before I knew him. He told me that during the Jewish six day war that one of his brethren elders produced a chart in church explaining that this war marked the end of things in this current supposed dispensation. Unfortunately, the war only lasted six days and by the following Sunday the man's chart was useless. However, nothing was said about how wrong the assertions had been the week before and this left my friend re-thinking his eschatology.

Everyone on a reformed pilgrimage will have to re-think some aspect of their eschatology at some stage and a book that has helped many, including myself is "More than Conquerors" by William Hendriksen. This an interpretation on the Book of Revelation; one which is a stable and helpful reformed approach to the doctrine of the last things.

The Lord Jesus Christ said "See that no one leads you astray" and in relation to the doctrine of the last things we must heed this warning. Furthermore, what we believe affects the way we live and our doctrines cannot be separated from our manner of life. Holding to a wrong understanding of eschatology means that people do not work and live as they should to glorify God. I have another blog post that expounds this understanding on the Book of Revelation and the link is: http://kevinbidwell.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=Book+of+Revelation

Friday 9 May 2014

My Journey to the Reformed Faith (discovering John Calvin!)

As I write this blog post, I have affectionately taken a book off my shelf which is called "John Calvin's Sermons on Ephesians". Why did I do that? It is because, if my memory serves me well, the first Calvin book that I read and it was life-changing for me because Calvin lucidly, patiently and faithfully expounds the text of Scripture. At that particular point in my life when I read this book many years ago, I was hungry for God's Word and for spiritual answers, and yet I was struggling to get answers to my questions. Though these sermons were first published in French in 1562, they were fresh and alive to me in the modern era. What does that tell us when some people are always saying we must be contemporary? God's truth, when it is rightly expounded is always timeless and contemporary, even though it may not pander to the modern man's agenda.

It is unusual for someone to be on a Reformed pilgrimage and not to be influenced by John Calvin. Now this idea could be misunderstood so that people may infer that Calvin is a new pope of the Reformed church. This is not true though. I do not consider Calvin's exposition of the Scripture to be infallible and his works are considering answers that are drawn from the Scripture; this method is one of the primary tenets of the Reformed faith. Scripture alone (sola scriptura) is our maxim, so that we consider with Calvin the right interpretation of Scripture.

I commend readers of this blog to read the works of Calvin and I will give three recommendations as a starter.

1. John Calvin's Commentary on Habakkuk will provide a refreshing vision of the sovereignty of God

2. Calvin's Sermons on Ephesians, especially on Ephesians 1:1-14 will turn over any Arminian thinking in your minds because this letter by Paul demolishes wrong thinking concerning God's salvation. God is the initiator of all things.

3. Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. These are a systematising of Reformed Teaching and it is a theological classic.

In closing, I hope that I have whet your appetite to read Calvin, but also to read the Book of Ephesians in the Bible. Hear what Paul wrote 2000 years ago: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will" (Ephesians 1:3-5).