Tuesday 21 July 2015

Maintaining and Developing a Sense of "Awe" at the Glorious Gospel

I considered calling this blog post "the Amazing Grace of the Glorious Gospel", but I went with the above title, though both would communicate something of what I hope to explain. In all of our pursuit for the soundness of doctrine, and we must pursue this, we must ensure also that we do not lose sight of a sense of "awe" at our God, the gospel and his work of grace in our lives.

Romans 3:24 "And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus".

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

Firstly, we must not lose sight of our sense of awe and gratitude for God in saving us, justifying us (declaring us no longer guilty in God's sight based on the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ) and in redeeming us. There is a great danger for all of us, that we can fall into a measure of self-righteousness and pride the longer we go on in the Christian life. As we grow in sanctification, may we not forget what we once were. We so easily forget what we once were as Christians, many of us often forget that we were once muddled in our thinking and our way of life, but the Lord perseveres with us and he changes our lives.

Paul had to remind the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 6:9-11 "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God".

Therefore, may we be reminded what we once were: "And such were some of you"; to guard against pride and to be renewed in our amazement and "awe" of God's purposes for us through the gospel.

Secondly, Hebrews teaches us that there is an "acceptable worship", which means that it is possible to approach the Lord in the church with unacceptable forms/elements of worship. This would deserve a whole article in itself, however Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession of Faith explains the right elements of worship. Hebrews 12:28 asserts that true and biblical worship should be marked with "reverence and awe". While it is common to talk about a lack of reverence in public worship in some Christian circles, it is almost never heard that there was a lack of "awe".

Our churches may be Reformed in their approach to God using the biblical elements of worship, there may be a sense of reverence and yet there could well be lacking a sense of "awe". It would seem probable, in the light of Hebrews 12:28, that "reverence and awe" need to be considered together. They are naturally different Greek words and "reverence" emphasises something of the fear of God while "awe" emphasises fear, but also wonder in the knowledge of the Lord's attributes. We may stand at the bottom of the Alps and say that the "mountains were awesome". Have we lost a sense of awe in our public worship in the West? Surely a fresh emphasis on the Three Persons of the Trinity will help us in our worship, but this is not all that is needed.

In all of our pursuit for spiritual growth, for doctrinal knowledge, in reading theological books, in our personal devotions, may we pray for both reverence and awe of our God, in equal measure. May we wait and see how our Lord will answer such a prayer. Surely a sense of "awe" is much needed for the church in the West in our time.

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Recovering the Westminster Confession of Faith

The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) was one of the primary documents produced by the Westminster Assembly. The WCF was first published in 1646 in English, but since then it has travelled around the world and it has been translated and used by Church denominations in many languages. Why? Well, as Psalm 100:6 reminds us that "God's truth (also translated faithfulness) endures to all generations". Truth is eternal and so are biblical doctrines, such as justification, when they are grounded in Scripture as their expression. There is a rich enduring quality of the truth in the WCF.

The WCF was designed to codify and put in writing a summary of the Apostles's Doctrine for the church to subscribe to and adhere to. The Westminster Assembly cleared matters concerning the church's doctrine, but also in matters of worship and church government.

What are some of the significant reasons for recovering the Westminster Confession of Faith?

1. Its expression of biblical doctrines is outstanding. We could say, it is "without peer" as John Murray believed. Its contact within a church enriches us, so that we can express much better, biblical truth.

2. It provides a standard by which preachers and church office holders are to be trained, examined and ordained. If we do not have the WCF, then what will we use instead? It was not uncommon at the time of Charles Haddon Spurgeon for church's to replace a commitment to a Reformed Confession with a 8-10 point Statement of Faith. A doctrinal minimalism which asserts simple truths in matters such as the Trinity, Scripture, the church, baptism and so forth. However, a Statement of Faith is wholly insufficient for the church in my view. You cannot call yourself a Reformed Church if you only hold a Statement of Faith. You cannot call yourself a Reformed church if the ministers and elders are not bound to uphold a Reformed Confession. The church needs to be protected and a robust and enthusiastic commitment to the WCF goes a long way for this to happen.

3. The WCF is an open document, therefore, if a church subscribe to it, they can hold preachers and office bearers accountable. This is important to "walk in the light" before people. One person said during membership classes at Sheffield Presbyterian Church, that they had been in a church for 6 years before they really found out what the pastor really believed. He had obviously kept his "cards close to his chest". When we subscribe fully to the Westminster Confession, everything is out in the open.

4. The WCF provides a platform for church unity and stable church government. If all the elders confess the WCF, it builds harmony and unity, not division.

5. It provides security for church members. They know what is the basis of the church, something that is often not made clear to church members.

Would you like to know more about congregations committed to the Westminster Confession of Faith? If so, do contact us through the church website (www.sheffieldpres.org.uk). However, this is not my main point for writing this blog post. My main aim is exactly and unashamedly what this blog title says. My aim is for a recovery of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Ps For further reading: G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith (P & R).

R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession, (P & R).

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Why should "preaching" always be called "preaching" in and for the church?

Over the years, since I have been converted, I have observed that many sections of the professing Christian church have sought to rename and rebrand the act of "preaching". It is as if everything needs to be revisited every generation to attempt to improve the "state of play", but is the Bible the source of these changes? Words are important, just ask any government, lawyer or marketing company. Words frame action. For example, sometimes preaching is rebranded as "sharing" or a more popular notion is that of giving "talks". But, do these phrases produce a different mode and style of communication for the church?

If we look briefly at the five commissions given by the head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ in the four Gospels and Acts, we will discover what are the commands he has given for his church.

1. To teach (Matthew 28:19)
2. Proclaim (Mark 16:15)
3. Proclaim (Luke 24:47)
4. Feed my sheep (21:17)
5. You shall be my witnesses (Acts 1:8)

Therefore, the primary actions in making known the truth of the gospel and to feed God's sheep is through teaching, which is explanation with clarity, and preaching which is declarative. Preaching conveys the idea of authority, it is a message from God to be heralded, to be proclaimed and then to be received by the hearers. There is a judgment from God upon those who persist in refusing the call of the preached gospel, which is to repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15). For those who refuse to repent, they will die in their sins and endure eternal punishment from God Almighty.

My question is: Why would we want to exchange the language of the Lord Jesus, that of "preaching and teaching" for very different words. Jesus did not say to his church "go into all the world and "give talks" or go and "lead discussion groups" or go and "share my love". He could of, but he did not.

Perhaps the issue is bound up with authority and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ and his written Scriptures. I do not believe that anything can substitute the act of preaching of the gospel, for the benefit of the church and of the world. Nothing else truly satisfies the inner-desires of sheep than the preaching of sound doctrine. We thank God for the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, but they must always be accompanied with preaching and teaching. Do you go to a church that is committed to preaching? If not, are you really being fed spiritually? May we pray to the Lord of the harvest that he would send forth labourers who would "preach in season and out of season" (Matthew 9:38 and 2 Timothy 4:2).