Women, Gifts, Church, Blessings

In the past twenty years or so I’ve been to several different events for Christian men: retreats, meetings, workshops, etc. They’ve been a blessing in various ways. However, sometimes someone will comment on how great it is to hear men singing together in a Christian setting. Yes! It is! However, my thought is always this: “But it’s an incomplete choir! We’re missing a vital part: the women’s voices!” Maybe it’s not the best example as an intro, but it is important to note how Scripture describes women as being an essential and important part of Christ’s body. Christian women and their Spirit-given gifts are a major blessing to Christ’s church! It’s always been this way.

One example in Scripture is Romans 16:3-5a, 6, & 12: “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; also greet the church that is in their house. …Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. …Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord...” (NASB)

I appreciate how Aimee Byrd commented on these verses in chapter 5 of her book, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood:

As Paul further demonstrated the fruit of reciprocity in his following greetings, we continue to see women laboring with him under the ministry. He first greeted Prisca (Priscilla in some versions) and Aquila, whom he called ‘coworkers in Christ Jesus,’ noting how all the Gentile churches are grateful for this wife-and-husband team. Paul said they risked their own necks for his life. Then he greeted the whole church whom they hosted in their home…. I want to note the significance of Paul calling them coworkers or fellow workers…it’s a special term he used to describe specific people who were working synergetically with him to advance the gospel [Rom 16:9, 21; 1 Cor. 3:9].

Paul continued to show the fruit of Christ’s gifts in the early church’s life by showing coed labor, even giving special status to women. He used a special commendation for Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis as women who worked hard in the Lord (Rom. 16:6, 12). Paul often used the words ‘work hard’ to describe his own ministry, as well as to characterize the labor of other preachers and teachers of the word. …They were equipped with the gospel and knew how to handle its truth in serving others.

Indeed, the Lord Jesus has gifted men and women in various ways so they might together be a blessing to his body, the church!

The above quote is found on page 149 of Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

The Duties of the Church (Bullinger)

Henry Bullinger’s mid-sixteenth century publication, The Decades is a four volume collection of sermons on the main points of the Christian faith. The Decades is something like Calvin’s Institutes in structure, content, and character. These sermons by Bullinger are worth reading!

In the fifth book of The Decades, sermon 1, Bullinger wrote on the church. After discussing the church militant/triumphant, visible/invisible, the marks of the church and the power of the church, Bullinger gave a nice summary statement on the duties of the church. These paragraphs are a biblical summary of what the Christian church should look like. It is true that there is no perfect church, but by God’s grace we should strive for these biblical goals and duties. (Notes: I’ve edited the following slightly for length and readability. The two translations I have go back and forth using “it” and “she” to refer to the church.)

For the church executes that power which it hath received of God most carefully and faithfully, to the end that it may serve God, that it may be holy, and that it may please him. And that I may reckon up some of her duties specially: first of all it worships, calls upon, loves and serves one God in Trinity; and takes nothing in hand without having first consulted with the word of this true God.

For she orders all her doings according to the rule of God’s word: she judges by the word of God; and by the same she frames all her buildings, and being built maintains them, and being fallen down she repairs or restores them again. The assemblies and congregations of saints upon earth she fervently furthers and loves. In these things it hearkens diligently to the preaching of the word of God: she is partaker of the sacraments devoutly, and with great joy and desire of heavenly things.

It prays to God by the intercession of our only mediator Christ with a strong faith, fervently, continually, and most attentively. It praises the majesty of God for ever, and with great joy gives thanks for all his heavenly benefits. It highly esteems all and every the institutions of Christ, neither doth it neglect any of them. But chiefly it acknowledges that it receives all things belonging either to life, salvation, righteousness, or felicity, of the only Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ; as as the one who alone chose her, and then by his Spirit and blood sanctified her, and made her a church, that is, a chosen people, whose only king, redeemer, high priest, and defender, he is, and without whom there is no salvation.

Therefore in God alone by our Lord Jesus Christ she only rests; him she only desires and loves; and for his sake she rejoices to lose all things that belong to this world, yea, and to spend her blood and her life. And therefore it cleaves unto Christ by faith inseparably…for without Christ nothing at all in life seems to be pleasant.

It is exercised with afflictions, but yet never overcome. It keeps unity and concord carefully. All and every the members of her body she most tenderly loves. It does good unto all men, as much as power and ability will suffer. It hurts no man. It forgives willingly. It bears with the weak brother, till they be brought forth forward to perfection. She is not puffed up with pride, but through humility is kept in obedience, in modesty, and in all the duties of godliness.

 Henry Bullinger, The Decades of Henry Bullinger: The Fifth Decade, ed. Thomas Harding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1852), 46–47.

My prayer is that we, as members of Christ’s church, do our Christian part to help the body of Christ reach these great biblical goals for God’s glory and the good of other people in – and outside of – the church. Churches that reflect these biblical goals shine brightly in the midst of the surrounding darkness!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Three Great Negations of Presbyterianism (Hodge)

What is Presbyterianism? An Address There’s more to presbyerianism than this, but these points by Charles Hodge are for sure worth highlighting:

…The three great negations of Presbyterianism—that is, the three great errors which it denies are—1. That all church power vests in the clergy. 2. That the apostolic office is perpetual. 3. That each individual Christian congregation is independent.

The affirmative statement of these principles is—1. That the people have a right to a substantive part in the government of the Church. 2. That presbyters, who minister in word and doctrine, are the highest government officers of the Church, and all belong to the same order. 3. That the outward and visible Church is, or should be, one, in the sense that a smaller part is subject to a larger, and a larger to the whole.

It is not holding one of these principles that makes a man a Presbyterian, but his holding them all.

Charles Hodge, What Is Presbyterianism? An Address (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1855), 6–7.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

True Church, False Church (Bavinck)

 Herman Bavinck’s discussion of ecclesiology is, in my opinion, one of the best Reformed treatments of this doctrine available in English.  Since I am presbyterian in my ecclesiology, I appreciate Bavinck’s robust and biblical view of the church: its spiritual essence, spiritual government, spiritual power, and so forth.  I also like how he appealed to the post-reformation context to discuss the true/false church distinction that the Belgic Confession speaks of in article 29.  Bavinck (in IV.315-16) mentions how Calvin and other Reformers taught that there is no perfectly pure church.  Therefore, when we say “true church” we don’t mean “perfectly pure church.”  He explains how the post-reformation teachers wrestled through this.

“On the one hand, one had to admit that a true church in an absolute sense is impossible here on earth; there is not a single church that completely and in all its parts, in doctrine and in life, in the ministry of the Word and sacrament, meets the demand of God.  On the other hand, it also became clear that an absolutely false church cannot possibly exist, for in that case it would no longer be a church at all.”

Even though Rome was a false church insofar as it was papal, nevertheless there were many remnants of the true church left in it.  There was a difference, therefore, between a true church and a pure church.  ‘True church’ became the term, not for one church to the exclusion of all others, but for an array of churches that still upheld the fundamental articles of Christian faith but for the rest differed a great deal from each other in degrees of purity.  And ‘false church’ became the term for the hierarchical power of superstition or belief that set itself up in local churches and accorded itself and its ordinances more authority than the Word of God” (p. 315-316).

Well stated.  In the post-reformation context, there were true churches whose doctrine was more or less pure.  These churches were true because they upheld the fundamental articles of the faith as they displayed the three marks (word, sacrament, discipline).  False churches were those that denied fundamental articles of the faith by subverting the authority of the Word (this is where the Reformers discussed Rome and anabaptistic sects).

I think Bavinck is right here, and though others may disagree, I also believe that a proper reading of the Belgic Confession of Faith article 29 is the Westminster Confession of Faith’s application of this teaching.  WCF 25.4 explains how local churches that are part of the visible church catholic [universal] “are more or less pure.”  In other words, and in summary, “true church” doesn’t mean “most pure church.”  “True church” means churches that uphold – more or less purely – the biblical fundamentals of the faith displayed in the biblical three marks (preaching, discipline, and the sacraments).

(Note: This is a repost from March, 2011)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Knowing God and Scripture Apart From the Church? (Augustine)

  In the first section of the first volume of his Systematic Theology, Douglas Kelly makes a great point about how God is known by his Word in the fellowship of believers, in a covenantal context.  He puts it like this: faith is caused by truth, faith is the only appropriate response to truth, and faith arises within a community context.  Later Kelly gives an excellent quote from Augustine to further explain what he means by knowing and learning Scripture in the fellowship of the saints.  Here’s Augustine:

Let us not tempt the one in whom we have placed our trust, or we may be deceived by the enemy’s cunning and perversity and become unwilling even to go to church to hear and learn the gospel, or to read the Biblical text or listen to it being read and preached, preferring to wait until ‘we are caught up into the third heaven, whether in the body or out of the body’ (in the words of the apostle) [2 Cor. 12:2-4], and there hear ‘words that cannot be expressed, which a human being may not utter’ or see the Lord Jesus Christ in person and hear the gospel from him rather than from men.

Let us beware of such arrogant and dangerous temptations, and rather reflect that the apostle Paul, no less, though cast to the ground and enlightened by a divine voice from heaven, was sent to a human being to receive the sacrament of baptism and be joined to the church. And Cornelius the centurion, although an angel announced to him that his prayers had been heard and his acts of charity remembered, was nevertheless put under the tuition of Peter not only to receive the sacrament but also to learn what should be the objects of his faith, hope, and love…

All this could certainly have been done through an angel, but the human condition would be wretched indeed if God appeared unwilling to minister his word to human beings through human agency.  It has been said, ‘God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are’: how could that be true if God did not make divine utterances from his human temple but broadcast direct from heaven or through angels the learning that he wished to be passed on to mankind?  Moreover, there would be no way for love, which ties people together in the bonds of unity,  to make souls overflow and as it were intermingle with each other, if human beings learned nothing from other humans. (Augustine: De Doctra Christiania, preface)

I always appreciate the reminder that just like it is unbibical to purposely be a “solo” Christian (Heb 10:25, 1 Jn. 4:21, etc.) it is also unbiblical to purposely avoid the church when learning about God from his word (Heb 13:6, 1 Tim. 3:15, etc).

The above quote by Augustine is found in Kelly’s in Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p. 25.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015