The Standard for True Piety and Godliness (Kuyper)









Sometimes when one Christian sees another Christian’s practices of piety he or she thinks, “That’s a good practice, I should do it.” At one level, this isn’t a bad thing. Those who follow Jesus in faith and obedience should be good examples for others who follow him. On a different level, however, this can be dangerous since the ultimate standard for piety and godliness is not found in one person’s specific practices, but in Scripture. In other words, if one Christian wakes up early to pray for an hour each day, while that’s a very commendable practice, it’s not binding on other Christians. Furthermore, other Christians should not feel badly if their practices of piety and godliness don’t match up with other Christians’ practices of piety because Scripture is our ultimate standard.

Abraham Kuyper addressed one aspect of this topic quite well in a chapter of his devotional, To be Near unto God. Here’s a section from it:

There is an evil among devout friends of the Lord, which must be resisted. In spiritual things each desires to impose a law of his own upon the other. Piety is said to be bound to a given form. One’s own way of piety must be the standard for every one else. Minor differences may be tolerated, but in the main the same sort of piety must manifest itself in all God’s children alike. And so it follows that the piety which they practice is the standard for all their spiritual examination and criticism.

…Our fathers used to say, that this is putting oneself in the place of the Word of God. Not from oneself, nor from any saint whatever, but exclusively from God’s Word the standard must be derived which determines geniune childship, and the true gold of our godliness. These censors did not deny this; only they tried to show that God’s Word posits the claims and marks of true grace, which they themselves imposed upon you, and which they sternly applied in their own circle. But one thing they forgot, and this became the cause of all this injurious spiritual unnaturalness; they did not see, that God’s word, as in every thing else allows play-room in the spiritual life for very great diversity, and in this very diversity seeks strength.

If now the spiritual life of piety is forced into a selfsame mould, the work of man counteracts the work of God; then there ensues spiritual unnaturalness, painted flowers, but no real flowers; then no virtue goes out from it, and this sort of imprinted piety does not bring one nearer to God, but rather builds up a wall of separation between the soul and God

…As God clothes the lilies of the field differently, so he weaves an own spiritual garment for each one of his children.

Abraham Kuyper, To Be Near unto God, ch. 88.

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

Reading Scripture Like the Ethiopian Eunuch (Calvin)

 The Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 can teach us today quite a bit about reading Scripture.  While on the long ride home from Jerusalem to Ethiopia, this man was reading Isaiah (presumably someone else was driving!).  He kept reading even though he didn’t understand it all.  When Philip asked him about the text, the eunuch admitted he needed someone to guide or lead him in reading the prophet.  He asked Philip about the text as they sat together there in the chariot.  Luke tells us that Philip answered by preaching the gospel about Jesus beginning with Isaiah 53.  I really like how John Calvin commented on this:

Most excellent modesty of the eunuch, who doth not only permit Philip, who was one of the common sort, to question with him, but doth also willingly confess his ignorance. And surely we must never hope that he will ever show himself apt to be taught who is puffed up with the confidence of his own wit. Hereby it cometh to pass that the reading of the Scriptures doth profit so few at this day, because we can scarce find one amongst a hundred who submitteth himself willingly to learn. For whilst all men almost are ashamed to be ignorant of that whereof they are ignorant, every man had rather proudly nourish his ignorance than seem to be scholar to other men. Yea, a great many take upon them haughtily to teach other men. Nevertheless, let us remember that the eunuch did so confess his ignorance, that yet, notwithstanding, he was one of God’s scholars when he read the Scripture.

This is the true reverence of the Scripture, when as we acknowledge that there is that wisdom laid up there which surpasseth all our senses; and yet, notwithstanding, we do not loathe it, but, reading diligently, we depend upon the revelation of the Spirit, and desire to have an interpreter given us.

 John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 354.

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

Governed by Our Own Logic: Hyper-Calvinism (Lloyd-Jones)

 There are various ways to define hyper-Calvinism.  For example, we might explain it as a system of doctrine that rejects the free offer of the gospel based on a low view of man’s responsibility.  We might also explain it in terms of biblicism or rationalism.  Some have rightly called this the quest for illegitimate religious certainty.  This approach is the avenue Lloyd-Jones took in his discussion of learning and believing the doctrinal truths of Scripture:

I must not hesitate to believe a doctrine because I cannot fit it in; neither must I reject a doctrine because I cannot understand it. If this is the truth of God, and the thing is clearly taught, then I am to accept it whether I understand it or not.

…We must never allow ourselves to be governed by our own logic or by our own desire to have a perfect system. It is a danger to which we are all exposed. We instinctively like to have a complete system; we do not like gaps or ragged edges. It is again because we are all philosophers. It is because the philosopher always wants a complete whole, wants to be able to understand everything, wants to be able to state everything, and we are all like that. The danger is, you see, that we press our own logic and our own schemes to a point which goes beyond the teaching of the Scripture. At that point we are again guilty of sin and of error. We must give full weight to every statement of Scripture. We must never minimise one or ignore it in order that our scheme may be complete.

I could give you many illustrations of that. There are people, for instance, who have always been described as hyper-Calvinists, and that is their trouble. They go beyond the Scripture and are driven by their own logic and by their own arguments, and they claim things which cannot be demonstrated from the Scriptures. They are so anxious to have a perfect scheme that they fall into that very subtle and dangerous trap.

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God the Father, God the Son (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1996), 39.

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

A Balanced View of The Christian (Stott)

 If you follow Jesus and want to learn more about yourself as a Christian one excellent place to turn is 1 Peter 2:1-17.  This is that great text where the Apostle calls God’s people living stones, a holy priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, etc.   It’s really a gold mine for understanding our identity as Christians.

John Stott has some great comments on these verses in The Radical Disciple.  In fact, chapter 6 of the book is a discussion of 1 Peter 2:1-17.  I like how Stott brings it all together at the end of the chapter:

My readers may well have been wondering why I have entitled this chapter with the one word ‘Balance’. The reason should now become clear. We have followed Peter in the six metaphors which go to make up the portrait he paints of the disciple. Here they are again:

• as newborn babies we are called to growth,

• as living stones to fellowship,

• as holy priests to worship,

• as God’s own people to witness,

• as aliens and strangers to holiness,

• as servants of God to citizenship.

This is a beautifully comprehensive and balanced portrait. These six duties seem to resolve themselves into three couplets, each of which contains a balance.

We are called to both individual discipleship and corporate fellowship…worship and work…and pilgrimage and citizenship.

First, we are called to both individual discipleship and corporate fellowship. Babies, although born into a family, have their own identity. Even twins are born one by one! But the primary function of the stones used in building is to be part of something else. They have surrendered their individuality to the building. Their significance is not in themselves but in the whole. So we need to emphasize both our individual and our corporate responsibilities.

Secondly, we are called to both worship and work. As a priesthood we worship God. As God’s own people we witness to the world. The church is a worshipping, witnessing community.

Thirdly, we are called to both pilgrimage and citizenship.

In each couplet we are called to balance, and not to emphasize either at the expense of the other. Thus we are both individual disciples and church members, both worshippers and witnesses, both pilgrims and citizens.

Nearly all our failures stem from the ease with which we forget our comprehensive identity as disciples. Our Heavenly Father is constantly saying to us what King George V kept saying to the Prince of Wales, ‘My dear child, you must always remember who you are, for if you remember your identity you would behave accordingly.’

 John Stott, The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2012).

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

God Is Strong to Carry Your Burden (Luther)

  Martin Luther’s exposition of 1 Peter 5:5-11 is a very helpful commentary on the Apostle’s words.  I was especially encouraged by his comments on verse 7: all your anxiety place on him because he cares about you (my translation). Here are some of Luther’s notes:

Let not your burden rest upon yourselves; for ye cannot bear it, and must finally perish beneath its weight.  …But, confident and full of joy, cast it from you and throw it on God, and say: Heavenly Father, thou art my Lord and God, who didst create me when I was nothing; moreover hast redeemed me through thy Son. Now, thou hast committed to me and laid upon me, this office or work, and things do not go as well as I would like. There is so much to oppress and worry, that I can find neither counsel nor help. Therefore I commend everything to thee. Do thou supply counsel and help, and be thou, thyself, everything in these things….

Let him who would be a Christian learn to believe this. Let him practice and exhibit faith in all his affairs, bodily and spiritual, in his doing and his suffering, his living and his dying. Let him banish cares and anxious thoughts. Courageous and cheerful, let him cast them aside; not into a corner, as some vainly think to do, for when burdens are permitted to conceal themselves in the heart they are not really put away. But let the Christian cast his heart and its anxieties upon God. God is strong to bear and he can easily carry the burden.

Besides, he has commanded that all this be put upon himself. The more thou layest upon him, the more pleasing it is to him. And he gives thee the promise that he will carry thy cares for thee, and all things else that concern thee.  This is a grand promise, and a beautiful, golden saying….

 Martin Luther, “Third Sunday after Trinity (1 Peter 5:5–11),” in Luther’s Epistle Sermons: Trinity Sunday to Advent, trans. John Nicholas Lenker, vol. III, The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther (Minneapolis, MN: The Luther Press, 1909), 74.

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

The Dangers of Overemphasizing Women’s Submission (Miller)

 The Bible teaches that in a marriage relationship the wife needs to submit to her own husband (e.g. Eph. 5:24).  However, the Bible says so many other things about wives and women.  If we focus too much on the call to submit and nearly ignore the other biblical teaching on wives and women, it often leads to problems – sometimes major and evil problems.  These problems aren’t just found in cults; sometimes they’re found in Christian circles.  I really appreciate how Rachel Green Miller stated it in her new book, Beyond Authority and Submission: 

The hyper focus on authority and submission can create an environment that is emotionally, spiritually, and physically abusive for women and children – especially when a man’s authority over his wife and children is almost absolute.  In this system, men are the authority that’s been put into place by God over families.  To reject or resist that authority, even when it’s used abusively, is to put oneself at risk of spiritual and physical harm.  As a result, women are told to submit to their husbands’ authority even if their husbands are cruel, harsh, or abusive.  They are taught to accept however their husbands treat them without complaint.  When husbands are abusive and cruel, women are encouraged to suffer in silence as Jesus did, and so to glorify God.

Sometimes flawed teachings on women and men are in themselves spiritually abusive.  Teaching that men represent Christ to their families leads to the belief that men are mediators for women and children.  This denies women and children direct access to God and contradicts the priesthood of all believers.  It’s also spiritually abusive to teach that women are more easily deceived than men and are prone to usurping male authority.  This view undermines the important role that women have as co-laborers with men, and it creates a climate of suspicion and distrust.  Because believing women are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, just as believing men are, they can be trusted counselors for men even in spiritual and theological matters.

Physical and sexual abuse can also flow out of this system.  Teaching that sexual intimacy between a husband and a wife is an expression of authority and submission can lead to sexual abuse of women.  If a wife has no rights over her own body and no power to deny her husband, then a husband has the authority to compel his wife.  This is a system ripe for abuse, and it’s contrary to what Paul tells married couples about their duties to each other.  Husbands and wives have mutual authority over each other (see 1 Cor. 7:4).

Rachel Green Miller, Beyond Authority and Submission, p. 237-238.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Brute Historical Facts of the OT?(Provan)

 Iain Provan’s essay, “Hearing the HIstorical Books” in Hearing the Old Testament is an excellent, helpful, and thought-provoking read.  I really appreciate it and I highly recommend it.

One of the main points Provan makes in this article is that the OT is not just a depository of historical facts.  Typically we think of history as a recounting of brute facts; some people approach the OT in such a manner.  Here’s Provan:

This is simply nonsense. We have no access to brute historical facts. To the extent that we know about the past at all, we know about it primarily through the testimony of other people. There is no way of writing historiography that does not involve such testimony or “story-telling.” Because this is so, interpretation is integral to all historiography as well. All testimony about the past is also interpretation of the past. It has its ideology or theology; it has its presuppositions and its point of view; it has its narrative structure; and (if at all interesting to read or listen to) it has its narrative art, its rhetoric.

Later Provan writes this:

The historical books of the Old Testament likewise address their readers through their rhetorical art. They are of course profoundly interested in the past… but they are not interested in it for its own sake. They tell the story of the past, selecting their material and interpreting it, in order to persuade their readership of certain truths and to advocate certain ways of living. We miss the point if we dwell on the facts themselves—no matter how important it may be to defend the idea that these texts are indeed rooted in real events. We shall only get the point if we are able to overcome false modern notions about the nature of historiography that lead to false expectations as to what our biblical historical texts should be able to do for us. We shall only get the point if we pay attention to the story itself that our biblical authors have woven out of the facts, which is also the story (interpreted properly within the context of the whole biblical story) through which God addresses the church. That should be the focus of our attention: the story itself, in all of its artfulness, through which God speaks.

Provan then goes on to give examples from the OT that show aspects of its story, including rhetoric, literary forms, subtlety, the big picture, and so on.  Again, this is a very helpful article when thinking about the OT from a Christian/NT  point of view.

Iain Provan, “Hearing the Historical Books,” in Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address, ed. Craig G. Bartholomew and David J. H. Beldman (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), 258.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015