A Prayer for Reading Scripture (Geneva)

For around 75 years (1536-1609) Geneva had a sort of Bible study group called the Congregation.  It was something like an in-depth public Bible study where pastors, professors, and students would take turns explaining, interpreting, and applying Scripture and also answering questions.  (The Reformers understood well that Scripture needs to be interpreted and explained in a corporate setting “to avoid the rash conclusions of private imaginations,” as Manetsch wrote.  But that’s the topic of a different blog post.)

Before they read and explained Scripture, the men would pray the following prayer:

“We pray to you, our good God and Father, asking that you might forgive all our faults and offenses, and illuminate us by your Holy Spirit to have the true understanding of your holy Word.  Give us the grace that we need to handle it purely and faithfully to the glory of your holy name, for the edification of the Church, and for our salvation.  We ask these things in the name of the only and blessed Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.”

This is an excellent example of the kind of prayers we should pray as we approach Scripture.  We pray for forgiveness, illumination, and for grace to understand and interpret it rightly – for God’s glory, the good of the church, and the salvation of his people.

The above quotes are found in Scott Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors, p. 134-5.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

A Truth Worth Dividing The Church (Sproul)

Are We Together?: A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Hardcover) At the heart of historic, confessional Reformed teaching and preaching is the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone.  An essential part of justification sola fide is the truth of imputation.  R. C. Sproul’s words on this doctrine are outstanding and edifying.

“If any word was at the center of the firestorm of the Reformation controversy and remains central to the debate even in our day, it is imputation.  …We cannot really understand what the Reformation was about without understanding the central importance of this concept.”

“…If any statement summarizes and capture the essence of the Reformation view, it is Luther’s famous Latin formula ‘simul justus et peccator.’  ‘Simil’ is the word from which we get the English ‘simultaneous;’ it means ‘at the same time.’  ‘Justus’ is the Latin word for ‘just’ or ‘righteous.’  ‘Et’ simply means ‘and.’  ‘Peccator’ means ‘sinner.’  So, with this formula, – ‘at the same time just and sinner’ – Luther was saying that in our justification, we are at the same time righteous and sinful.  …He was saying that, in one sense, we are just.  In another sense, we are sinners.  In and of ourselves, under God’s scrutiny, we still have sin.  But by God’s imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ to our accounts, we are considered just.”

“This is the very heart of the gospel.  In order to get into heaven, will I be judged by my righteousness or by the righteousness of Christ?  If I have to trust in my righteousness to get into heaven, I must completely and utterly despair of any possibility of ever being redeemed.  But when we see that the righteousness that is ours by faith is the perfect righteousness of Christ, we see how glorious is the good news of the gospel.  The good news is simply this: I can be reconciled to God.  I can be justified, not on the basis of what I do, but on the basis of what has been accomplished for me by Christ.”

“Of course, Protestantism really teaches a double imputation.  Our sin is imputed to Jesus and his righteousness is imputed to us.  In this twofold transaction, we see that God does not compromise his integrity in providing salvation for his people.  Rather, he punishes sin fully after it has been imputed to Jesus.  This is why he is able to be both ‘just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus’ as Paul writes in Romans 3:26. So my sin goes to Jesus and his righteousness comes to me.”

“This is a truth worth dividing the church.”

“This is the article on which the church stands or falls, because it is the article on which we all stand or fall.”

When you hear this glorious truth preached on Sunday rejoice and be thankful for the gospel of grace!  If you don’t hear it preached, lovingly talk to your pastor and elders and discuss it.  It’s not a side issue, nor is it a dry doctrine that is impractical for our daily living.  The doctrine of justification sola fide gives us firm comfort, peace, and a grateful heart of obedience to the Lord.

The above Sproul quote is found in Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Sanford: Reformation Trust, 2012), 43-4.

(This is a reblog from April 2013)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Divine Purpose and Foreknowledge (Augustine)

The Protestant Reformers did not make up their teaching about God’s foreknowledge, sovereignty, and divine purpose.  Here’s Augustine:

“Now God foreknew everything, and therefore could not have been unaware that man would sin.  It follows that all our assertions about the Holy City must take into account God’s foreknowledge and his providential design; we must not advance theories which could not have become matters of knowledge for us, because they had no place in God’s plan.  Man could not upset the divine purpose by his sin, in the sense of compelling God to alter his decision.  For God in his foreknowledge anticipated both results: he knew beforehand how evil the man would become whom God himself had created good; he also knew what good, even so, he would bring out of man’s evil.”

Of course, ultimately the Reformers did not lean on Augustine, but Scripture:

“[God] works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11 NIV).

“[Jesus] was handed over…by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge…” (Acts 2:23 NIV).

“The plans of the LORD stand firm forever…” (Ps. 33:11 NIV).

“He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.          No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?'” (Dan. 4:35 NIV)

To be sure, there are quite a few other Bible texts that affirm the truth that God is sovereign and in total control of all things.  Nothing surprises him; his counsel will stand and nothing can thwart his plans or purposes.  This is good news for Christians.  Not only do all things come our way by the good and sovereign will of God, but our salvation is also secure because it is part of his sovereign plan in Christ.

The above quote from Augustine is found in City of God, XIV.11.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary (My Review)

Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary by [Barrett, Matthew] Here’s a new resource I’ve been reading and studying: Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary.  It’s a scholarly collection of historical and theological articles by various teachers/theologians in the Reformation tradition.  I haven’t read every single essay, but I have read major sections of the book and spent quite a bit of time looking through it.  I’ll give a summary of the book and then share my thoughts and observations.

The book starts off with a prologue and an introduction and is followed by two essays on the historical background of the Reformation.  The essay on the historical background focuses on the late medieval understanding of grace and authority in the church.  The second background chapter spends just under 30 pages summarizing the following Reformations: Lutheran, Swiss/Geneva, English, and Scottish.

The bulk of the book is devoted to summarizing the major Reformers’ positions on the basic headings of theology: Scripture, the doctrine of God, predestination, creation, Christ’s person and work, the Holy Spirit, union with Christ, the bondage of the will, justification, sanctification, the church, the sacraments, church/state relationship, and eschatology.

Each chapter of this 750+ page historical theology book more or less follows this outline: 1) A short section on the medieval understanding of the doctrine, 2) Luther, Melanchthon, and/or the Lutheran teaching of the doctrine, 3) Calvin’s teaching of the doctrine, 4) Zwingli, Bullinger, Knox, and/or other Reformers’ teaching, 5) Reformed confessions on the doctrine, and 5) opposing views (such as Arminian, Socinian, etc.).

For one example, the chapter on justification is outlined like this: 1) Justification in Its Late-Medieval Context, 2) The Lutheran Breakthrough, 3) Adoption and Adaptation of Justification Sola Fide (Calvin’s view, a comparison of the Lutheran view, Roman Catholic responses and some modern controversies).

This book isn’t really a systematic theology, although it does give a general summary of how major Reformers and early Reformed and Lutheran confessions talk about the main headings of systematic theology.  It doesn’t really get into details of later Reformed theology, such as the scholastics or the Westminster Confession or Princeton (etc.).  It also isn’t a resource for the exegetical grounds of Reformed and Lutheran doctrine. I’m not being critical here, I just wanted to explain what the book is not (for those interested).

Many of the articles in this book are very good and helpful.  The articles are technical, detailed, and scholarly, so the book is for advanced readers.  There are a lot of names, dates, philosophical and theological terms as well as longer quotes from various medieval and Reformation theologians.  I have to admit that for me it does read like a textbook at times.  I’d say it is written at an upper college or seminary level, give or take.

I do appreciate and enjoy this book; it’s a nice addition to historical Reformation theology resources.  However, I do have other books with much of the same information.  If you own some of Luther’s writings, Calvin’s Institutes, a few Reformed systematic theology books and a few historical theology books from a Reformed perspective, you might not need to invest in this one.  On the other hand, if you’re interested in a detailed, scholarly introduction to the theology of the major Reformers, you’ll for sure want to get it: Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

 

Pastors Staying Put (Miller)

An Able and Faithful Ministry: Samuel Miller and the Pastoral Office by [Garretson, James M.] I’ve come to appreciate this wise advice Samuel Miller gave to a young pastor laboring in a town called Frederick in 1854.  I’ve taken the word “Frederick” out of the quote and left it blank so fellow pastors can apply it to their own location:

I was especially gratified with the evidence that you begin to feel yourself at home in ______.  No man will be likely to be very useful to any people to whom he does not feel bound by the ties, not only of pastoral relation but also of pastoral affection; and no one will be likely to feel much of this toward a people among whom he regards himself as only a temporary sojourner, and from whom he means to escape as soon as he can.

If you wish to benefit your flock spiritually, and, at the same time to gain spiritual and theological strength yourself, regard them as your beloved people; try more and  more to take an interest in them, and resolve, in the fear of God, to stay as long with them as Providence shall make it your duty to stay.  Depend upon it, and you will find work enough to do in _______ to employ all your strength….  Let me beg you then to sit down contented and cheerful to your work in ______, resolved if it be the will of God, to spend many years, or even your life there.”

I agree, and I’m doing my best to follow Miller’s advice.  This is an important topic in our celebrity culture where pastors might be tempted to move to a bigger congregation in a bigger city with bigger venues.  I suppose it has to do with being content, as Miller noted.  Pastors too are called to be content where God puts them – urban, suburban, or rural.  Wherever the Lord leads, there we serve and there we show Christian love and pastoral care to God’s people – as long as the Lord wills!

The above quote is found in a letter by Samuel Miller, found in James Garretson, An Able and Faithful Ministry p.324.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

No Condemnation (Hodge)

Select Sermons of Charles Hodge Here’s a nice excerpt from a sermon Charles Hodge gave on Romans 8:1 (Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. NASB):

Behold, O Christian the deed of thy inheritance.  …Jesus Christ came down from heaven to seek and save his people, to accomplish the condition on which their salvation was suspended and [say] “It is finished.” For these he has suffered and obeyed. The demands of the holiness and justice of God are completely satisfied. And since Christ has died and God has justified, who is that condemneth? Can Satan their accuser before God effect it? We answer no, because he that died, has risen and standeth at the right hand of God where he maketh intercession for us and he it is whom the Father heareth always. Can our own corruptions condemn us? We answer no because the salvation of Jesus Christ is a salvation from sin, every believer has the promise of the Holy Spirit to abide with him forever, to be in him as a well of water springing up unto everlasting life. The believers’ hold of heaven is not the grasp of his own palsied hand, it is the upholding of the Lord, it is being kept by the mighty power of God through faith unto salvation.

Charles Hodge, “No Condemnation,” in Select Sermons of Charles Hodge (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Simplicity of Reformed Worship

Historic Reformed churches worship the Lord in simplicity.  That is, Reformed churches do not include ceremonies, festivals, crucifixes, processions, incense, relics, images, vestments, altars, and so forth in their worship services.  Reformed worship simply consists of the Word (read, preached, sung, confessed, prayed) and the sacraments (the Lord’s supper and baptism).

The main reason for the simplicity of Reformed worship is the teaching of Scripture.  The Bible doesn’t command God’s New Covenant people to worship him with all the images and vestments and ceremonies.  The Reformers believed that the external ceremonies and images didn’t elevate the mind to God, but domesticated God and therefore were idolatrous.  Furthermore, they said that all these non-biblical extras in worship throw a fog over the gospel.  Simple worship, therefore, means the gospel will not be obscured.  In 1560 the Reformer Guillaume Farel explained it like this:

The Church should be decorated and adorned with Jesus Christ and the Word of his gospel and his holy sacraments.  This great Sun of Righteousness, Jesus Christ, and the light of his gospel, have nothing to do with our burning torches and our candles and candelabras.  God has instead ordained that by true preaching and by the holy sacraments practiced in their simplicity this light might be manifested and illumine us with all glory.

Similarly, Theodore Beza preached the following in 1585:

[God’s house is not a place] that we enter to see the beautiful shapes of vaults and pillars, or to admire the splendor of gold and silver and precious stones.  Nor is it a place that we visit in order to fill our ears with the signing of choirs and the music of organs.  Rather it is a place where the pure Word of God is clearly preached in the presence of each person, with words of exhortation, consolation, warning, and censure necessary for salvation.

In other words, the Reformers wanted worship to be ordered according to the Word and centered on the gospel.  They wanted to keep it simple so God’s word and his gospel would clearly be front and center.  In that way, he alone would receive all the glory, honor, and praise.  ‘Soli Dei Gloria’ goes hand in hand with Reformed worship!

The above discussion and quotes are found on pages 31-37 of Scott Manetsch’s book, Calvin’s Company of Pastors.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI