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

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

Hypercalvinism, Election, and Godliness (Zanchi)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 5 Hypercalvinism is a serious distortion of the gospel and the grace of God.  In hypercalvinist circles you’ll hear sermons on election and reprobation, but you’ll rarely hear calls to faith and repentance.  Hypercalvinists don’t want to sound Arminian so they usually don’t use terms like “receive Christ” or “flee to Jesus.”  Hypercalvinism shows up in practice too: if someone is elect, no need to worry about how he or she lives, speaks, or acts.  He’s elect, all is well – we need not be too concerned if he sleeps through sermons, swears like a sailor, or drinks too much on days that end with “y”.  So goes unbiblical the hypercalvinist logic.

Biblical preaching, however, not only explains election and reprobation, it also calls people (including professing believers) to repentance and faith.  Biblical, Calvinistic preachers are not afraid to use terms like “receive Christ,” and “flee to Jesus; come to the Lord!” True Calvinists bow to Scripture and admonish professing believers who are not living according to Scripture.  In fact, in Reformed theology, we teach that the doctrine of election leads to godly – not godless – living (see WCF 3.6, 8).  G. Zanchi, a 16th century Protestant Reformer, said one argument (among others) for the preaching of predestination is this:

..Namely, that, by it, we may be excited to the practice of universal godliness. The knowledge of God’s love to you, will make you an ardent lover of God: and, the more love you have to God, the more will you excel in all the duties and offices of love. Add to this, that the scripture view of predestination includes the means, as well as the end. Christian predestinarians are for keeping together what God hath joined. He who is for attaining the end, without going to it through the means, is a self-deluding enthusiast. He, on the other hand, who carefully and conscientiously, uses the means of salvation, as steps to the end, is the true Calvinist.

Now, eternal life being that, to which the elect are ultimately destined; faith (the effect of saving grace), and sanctification (the effect of faith), are blessings, to which the elect are intermediately appointed.  “According as he hath chosen us in him, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Eph. 1:4). “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).  “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God – Ye became followers of us and of the Lord” (1 Thess. 1:4, 6).  “God hath chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13).  “Elect, according to the foreknowledge [or, ancient love] of God the Father, through sanctification of the spirit, unto obedience” (1 Pet. 1:2).

I appreciate Zanchi’s words and Scripture quotes: the biblical view of predestination includes the means as well as the end.  Election and godly living go hand in hand.  God has lovingly and graciously chosen his people not so they can live however they selfishly see fit, but so that they love him and obey him.  Obedience to God is one fruit of election.

The above quotation is taken from Augustus Toplady’s translation of G. Zanchi’s The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination found on p. 294 of volume 5 of Toplady’s Works.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Godliness – Not By Our Own Strength

Image 1 One excellent book on the topic of godliness is Willem Teellinck’s (d. 1629) The Path of True Godliness.  The following lines give a great snapshot of this discussion.

“We must therefore begin to practice [godliness], not in our own strength, which means absolutely nothing, but in the power of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is the strength of our life and by whom we can do all things.  [Here Teellinck quotes Eph. 6.10, Phil. 3.3, 2 Cor. 3.5, and 2. Cor 9.8).”

“Take careful note of this, for surely many a man begins the practice of godliness and then gives up in discouragement and withdraws from his work.  Since he began it in his own strength, he makes a mess of things.  It’s exactly the same thing as when a little child, in his own strength, wants to build a big castle.  It is a fact that our own strength means nothing in the building up of the Christian life.  Unless the power of the Almighty comes upon us, we cannot build anything that will last.  That is why we call it godliness; it reminds us that without God and his holy help we would never be able to accomplish this work.”

“How the devil tries to keep this fact hidden from the eyes of men!  That is why there are found everywhere so many who now and then put on holy airs as if they henceforth want to be godly, but you see after only a short time they have returned to the world, having so very quickly lost interest.  This happens because they began in their own strength; therefore, they found their work too much for them and quickly tired of it because they found no more joy in it.  Therefore, all students of true godliness who wish to begin this work well and truly wish to bring it to completion must renounce their own strength.  They must surrender themselves entirely to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is ‘the Author and Finisher of our faith’ (Heb. 12.2)….”

That’s worth reading a few times for sure.  By the way, RHB has Teellinck’s book on sale for $11 right now.

shane lems

Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory

Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory by Jeremiah Burroughs I’m grateful to the folks at Cross Focused Reviews and Reformation Heritage Books for the opportunity to review Jeremiah Burroughs’ Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory for this week’s blog tour.  In case you haven’t heard of him, Burroughs (d. 1646) was a great Puritan preacher-theologian and a member of the Westminster Assembly. He is probably most known for his excellent book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.

This book, Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory, is essentially an explanation of a phrase in Philippians 4:11-12 where Paul talks about contentment and says, “I know how to abound.”  In just over 100 pages, Burroughs gives Scripture texts and illustrations that teach Christians how to handle prosperity in a godly way.  In Burrough’s opinion – which I agree with – it is far more difficult to handle prosperity in a godly way than it is to handle poverty in a way that pleases the Lord.  Here’s how Burroughs puts it:

“…It’s better to know how to honor God with those good things I have than to know how I can get more.  It’s better to know how I might behave myself in the enjoyment of those good things God has given me than to know how to get more of those good things.  …It’s a good sign of grace to be more concerned about how to abound than how to get abundance – to be careful to use what you have for God than to maintain it for yourselves” (p. 10-11).

In other words, rather than always trying to get more money, we should always be trying to be content with what we have and use our possessions in a way that glorifies God.

Here’s the structure of the book: First, Burroughs explains what it means to handle prosperity rightly.  Second, he points out how difficult it is to handle prosperity in a godly manner.  Third, he shows the need to handle prosperity well.  Fourth, he writes about the excellency and mystery of being prosperous in a godly way.  He then talks about the sinfulness of being prosperous in an ungodly manner.  Finally, Burroughs gives practical application on how to live with prosperity while treasuring Christ above it.  The book ends with some words on contentment from the Psalms.

Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory has been edited slightly to make it easier for modern readers to understand.  In my opinion, the editing was well done.  I’m pretty sure most Christians will be able to understand this book and benefit from it since it is short, clearly structured, and highly relevant in our super-wealthy culture.  In fact, some Christians will be convicted by this book since it’s main point is the exact opposite of the social gospel.  When you finish this book, you just might begin to think that getting more stuff should not be a high priority in your Christian life.  It’s a tough pill to swallow because it means we must go against the flow of our consumerist culture.

I highly recommend this book for those readers of ours who have much – money, possessions, status, and stuff.  This book will pry open your white-knuckled grip on the things of the world.  And it might hurt.  But it will show you the greatest treasure, Christ himself. He is far more valuable than all the things of this world which pass away.

Jeremiah Burroughs, Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013).

rev shane lems