Do Not Forget Le Chambon (Guinness/Hallie)

 I’ve been impressed with Os Guinness’ book – more of a study guide – called When No One Sees: The Importance of Character in an Age of Image.  It’s basically a study guide on character: the importance of character, character in the crucible, cultural erosion of character, spiritual foundations for strong character, and heroes of character.  In this book, Guinness selected various authors and historical figures to help make his point about character.  These characters include James Madison, Winston Churchill, Plato, Augustine, Martin Luther, Sir Thomas More, and so forth.

In the section on “Heroes of Character,” Guinness notes how celebrities are NOT heroes, and he mentions that true heroes are those who teach us about true character.  One example Guinness gives is the story of the people of Le Chambon, France, during World War II.  These brave people protected more than five thousand Jewish children from certain death in the concentration camps.  Guinness notes, “They were Huguenots, fired by their faith and three hundred years of persecution following the Edict of Nantes.”  In fact, a dozen students in one of the schools there (some who would later become theologians) wrote a letter to a local French leader.  Here’s the letter:

Mr. Minister, we have learned of the frightening scenes which took place three weeks ago in Paris, where the French police, on orders of the occupying power, arrested in their homes all the Jewish families in Paris to hold them in the Vel d’Hiv. The fathers were torn from their families and sent to Germany. The children torn from their mothers, who underwent the same fate as their husbands.  Knowing by experience that the decrees of the occupying power are, with brief delay, imposed on Unoccupied France, where they are presented as spontaneous decisions of the head of the French Government, we are afraid that the measures of deportation of the Jews will soon be applied in the southern zone.

We feel obliged to tell you that there are among us a certain number of Jews. But, we make no distinction between Jews and non-Jews. It is contrary to the Gospel teaching.

If our comrades, whose only fault is to be born in another religion, received the order to let themselves be deported, or even examined, they would disobey the order received, and we would try to hide them as best we could.

Philip Hallie, who wrote about this event in his book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, reflected on this letter:

“Black and white.  The maneuvering between the two obligations to be ‘subject to the governing authorities’ and to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ was past.  The moment had come for the people of Le Chambon to pass their ethical judgment publicly, unequivocally, but without hatred or violence.”

This is indeed a wonderful and inspiring story of courage, faith, and character!  It’s a great read.

The above quotes are found in Os Guinness, When No One Sees, p. 270-272.  As a side, at the time of this blog post there are several very inexpensive used copies of this book on Amazon.  It’s worth the money for sure!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Seminary and Pastoral Character Formation (Miller)

 I’m convinced that face-to-face seminary training is a highly valuable part of the path to gospel ministry.  And of course rigorous studies are a very important part of seminary training.  Future pastors need to know the languages, systematic theology, church history, homiletics, and so forth.  But there is more to seminary than just increasing head knowledge.  A solid multi-year seminary education also benefits a future pastor’s character and conduct.  In other words, extended day-to-day and face-to-face interaction with fellow students and professors is a character shaping experience.  Seminary is for the head and heart of a future minister in Christ’s church.  Here’s how Samuel Miller put it:

…The discipline of the mind, and especially the heart, the temper, and the general character, is among the most important part of professional preparation (for gospel ministry).  …Even if the requisite amount of facts and principles could be crowded into the mind of a young man in six months, or even in six weeks, still one essential object of theological education would be unattained; which is casting the whole man, if I may be allowed the expression, into the proper mould for a minister of religion.  This includes the correction of bad habits; the formation of new and better habits; the gradual discipline and ripening of the intellectual powers; mellowing, softening, and at the same time invigorating, the graces of the heart; bringing down high thoughts of himself; ascertaining his own defects and foibles; learning the value of gravity (seriousness), self-command (self-discipline), prudence, and Christian dignity; studying human nature and the world; studying clerical character as it too commonly has been, and as it ought to be; in short, unlearning many things which have been learned amiss, and correcting many erroneous views, and juvenile propensities, which nothing but time, and suitable associations, accompanied with much observation, watchfulness, prayer, and conflict can possibly, under God, enable him to accomplish.

…If such a young man had read all the books in the world, and heard and treasured up all the learned lectures that were ever delivered, within these or any other walls, he would still be unfit to go forth as a minister of the Gospel – to be a teacher, and example, and a guide in the church of God.  Such a one needs the friendly hints, the fraternal counsel, the gentle Christian attention of a band of fellow students.  He needs to be taught by experience; to be admonished, and mortified, and humbled again and again, before he can be brought to ‘think soberly,’ to feel what his own defects and foibles are, and to acknowledge that others are greater and better than himself; before he can learn habitually to respect the feelings of others, to treat all around him with a delicacy, to be ‘swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.’ And all this is not, ordinarily, to be acquired in a year or in two years.  It is, usually, a slow process; and the longer it can be continued, within reasonable limits, the better.

Samuel Miller, as quoted in “An Able and Faithful Ministry, pages 178-179.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Afflictions as Sermons (Ursinus)

The Commentary of Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism This morning I happend to run across Zacharias Ursinus’ discussion about affliction in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism.  The entire section is helpful and worth reading.  Here’s a small sample, one that I thought was especially edifying.  I’ve edited a bit in light of the context to make it easier to read.

The godly are sometimes afflicted on account of sin, not for the purpose of making satisfaction to the justice of God, but that sin may be acknowledged by them, and removed [dealt with], through the cross. They are paternally chastised, that they may be led to a knowledge of their faults. These chastisements are to them sermons, and call to repentance. “When we are judged we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” “It is good for me that I have been afflicted” (1 Cor. 11:32; Ps. 119:71). …He corrects and improves the character of the godly through the cross. 

The godly are afflicted that we may be exercised and tried, that thus our faith, hope, patience, prayer, and obedience, may be strengthened and confirmed; or that we may have matter and occasion for exercising and proving ourselves, and that our faith, hope, and patience, may be made manifest both to ourselves and others. When all things go well, it is an easy thing for us to glory in regard to our faith; but in adversity, the grace or beauty of virtue becomes apparent. He that has not been tested by affliction, what knoweth he? “Experience works hope.” (Rom. 5:4.)

 Ursinus, Z., & Williard, G. W. (1888). The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (p. 72-3). Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

A Unified Answer to Life (Schaeffer)

 I haven’t read this whole book yet, but what I have read is quite good: Escape from Reason by Francis Schaeffer.  Here’s one helpful section I read this morning:

…Christianity has the opportunity, therefore, to speak clearly of the fact that its answer has the very thing that modern man has despaired of—the unity of thought. It provides a unified answer for the whole of life. It is true that man will have to renounce his rationalism, but then, on the basis of what can be discussed, he has the possibility of recovering his rationality. You may now see why I stressed so strongly, earlier, the difference between rationalism and rationality. Modern man has lost the latter. But he can have it again with a unified answer to life on the basis of what is open to verification and discussion.

Let Christians remember, then, that if we fall into the trap against which I have been warning [pitting faith against rationality], what we have done, amongst other things, is to put ourselves in the position where in reality we are only saying with evangelical words what the unbeliever is saying with his words. In order to confront modern man truly you must not have the dichotomy. You must have the Scriptures speaking true truth both about God himself and about the area where the Bible touches history and the cosmos. This is what our forefathers in the Reformation grasped so well.

 Schaeffer, F. A., & Moreland, J. P. (2014). Escape from reason. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54014

Reflections On The 2018 Trinity Psalter Hymnal (OPC/URC)

 I grew up in Dutch Reformed circles with the Blue Psalter Hymnal (as we called it).  I came to love many of the Psalms and hymns in that book.  I can still remember my piano teacher assigning me #1 (Psalm 1) for a lesson: “That Man is Blest.”   As a pastor in the URC (United Reformed Churches) I used the Blue Psalter Hymnal for nearly 7 years.  Now that I’ve been ministering in the OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) for five years, I’ve become familiar with the Trinity Hymnal.  I’ve also come to love many of the songs in it such as “Jesus What a Friend for Sinners,” and “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted.”  As good as these two songbooks are, there are some difficult tunes and dated language in them – there is room for improvement in both.

Enter the newly published Trinity Psalter Hymnal (TPH).  This worship book is the result of around 10 years of hard work by many men and women in the OPC, URC, and several other denominations.  The TPH really is a nice coming together of the Blue Psalter Hymnal (URC) and the Trinity Hymnal (OPC).  The first part is devoted to psalms (it’s a Psalter) while the second part is devoted to hymns (it’s also a hymnal).  In the back are both the Three Forms of Unity (Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and Canons of Dort) and the Westminster Standards (Westminster Confession and the two Catechisms).  There are also well laid out indexes of Scripture, topics, and tunes/composers.  The book itself isn’t any heavier or bulkier than any other hymnal I’ve used.

I’ve spent several hours going through this hymnal since I picked it up earlier this week at the joint URC Synod/OPC General Assembly.  I’ve played many of the tunes, read many of the lines, and looked through it quite extensively.  So far, I’m very impressed.  The font is a good size and is readable, the layout is nice, the indexes are helpful, and the psalm/hymn selection is notable.  Publishing a psalter hymnal like this is no easy task; no doubt almost everyone will be disappointed that a few of their favorite psalms or hymns didn’t make it in.  No matter who worked on it, that would always be the case – so I’m not going to be critical about what songs didn’t make it in the TPH.

I appreciate the fact that there aren’t a lot of very high notes that few people can sing.  I saw a few high E’s, but not many.  I also noticed that there are many familiar tunes – tunes I know well from the Blue Psalter and from the Trinity Hymnal.  It is worth mentioning that the OPC/URC wrote and copyrighted many of their own songs (words) and set them to familiar tunes.  I’m glad to see a decent selection of baptism and Lord’s Supper hymns, and it’s always nice to see a good balance of ancient hymns and modern ones.  Many of the composers are familiar: Martin Luther, John Newton, Augustus Toplady, James Montgomery Boice, and so forth.

I have to admit I was a little disappointed to see some older/archaic language still used.  Of course, sometimes the poetry in the songs restricts any change.  However, for one example,  Psalm 42C’s title is “As Thirsts the Hart….”  To be fair, most of the language is updated and modernized, which I appreciate.  At the same time, it’s good to see the gender language remain in line with historic Christianity and happily, not many phrases of the old songs have been changed much at all.

One last note: some of the Psalms in the TPH are very long.  For example, Psalm 89A is 17 stanzas which makes for a total of four pages and 102 lines (if my math is right).   Psalm 78 is also four pages long and has 27 stanzas.  I belive it would have been better to split Psalm 78 into four selections: 78A, 78B, 78C, and 78D.  There are a few other Psalms like this – ones that are three or four pages long.  This is a very minor complaint, to be sure, but it is worth pointing out.

All in all, I’m excited to start using these Trinity Psalter Hymnals in worship.  I’m guessing God’s people here (and elsewhere) will quickly come to appreciate this wonderful new resource to help us worship our Triune God together.  That’s what it’s about, after all: lifting our voices to our God who is worthy of praise, honor, and glory!

Trinity Psalter Hymnal, OPC/URC (Willow Grove, PA, 2018).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Don’t Give Up On A Sinner! (Spencer)

I was recently reading part of A Pastor’s Sketches again and I found a paragraph I had marked up quite a bit.  Turns out I had blogged on this already (May 2017), so I thought I’d post it again.  Here it is:

Sometime around the middle of the 19th century a woman spoke to Rev. Ichabod Spencer about the things of the Christian faith.  After the discussion, the woman was interested in becoming a Christian.  Spencer met with her many times over the next two years.  Over and over Spencer told her about sin, repentance, faith in Christ, and what it means to be a disciple.  Over and over he showed her the verses about these truths.

For reasons only God knows, she was very slow to believe.  She just couldn’t quite commit.  Spencer had talked to her so many times he became weary of talking to her; he even was tempted to tell her, “I’ve said everything that needs to be said.  Don’t see me anymore.”  It got to the point where he was annoyed when he saw her coming to talk, which made him feel guilty about it.  He never did turn her away simply because he knew the agony she was in.  Spencer noted that he had never spent so much time talking to an unbeliever about the faith.  To make a long two-year story short, by God’s grace the woman finally did come to faith, as did her husband, her sister, and some of her friends.  After telling this story, Spencer wrote this:

“Ministers ought never to despair of the salvation of any sinner.  To despair of any one is just the way to make him despair of himself.  Many have been ruined in this way, probably.  We ought to expect sinners to repent – and treat them accordingly.  Who shall limit the Holy One of Israel?  It took me long to learn the lesson, but I have learned never to give up a sinner.  We must urge the duty of an immediate faith and repentance, as the Bible does so continually; but we must be careful to enjoin this duty in such a manner that, if it is not immediately done, the individual shall not be led or left to cease seeking God.  Many a sinner turns back, when just at the door of heaven.”

Ichabod Spencer, A Pastor’s Sketches, II.III.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Knowledge, Love, and Wisdom (Huss)

  John Huss (b. 1369) was one of the forerunners of the Reformation.  Well before Luther’s day Huss called out many of the abuses and errors in the church: hypocrisy, corruption, the sale of indulgences, and so forth.  Huss was a very powerful preacher and a bright student of the Word, but he wasn’t the leading scholar of his day.  I appreciate his view on knowledge and the Christian faith:

First of all must we learn that which is most necessary to salvation, that which stimulates us to love; for we should learn not for vainglory or curiosity, but to the edification of ourselves and our neighbor, and to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. There are some who wish to know in order that they may be known of men, and that is degrading vanity; there are others who wish to know for the sake of knowing, and that is curiosity; and there are still others who wish to know in order to sell their knowledge for wealth and honor, and that is ignoble desire for gain. But there are likewise some who desire to know in order to edify, and that is love; and still others who desire to know in order to be edified themselves, and that is wisdom.”

 Kuhns, O. (1907). John Huss: The Witness (pp. 41–42). Cincinnati; New York: Jennings and Graham; Eaton and Mains.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015