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When I met soon-to-be-retired Pastor Neil in the first community that I served as pastor, I saw a golden opportunity. “Pastor Neil, would you be willing to give me an hour of your time before you retire and give me some advice?” Perhaps he saw a golden opportunity, too, for he gladly agreed. The following headings highlight the three bits of advice that I received from Pastor Neil that day...
March 21, 2013 0 4 comments
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Been there, done that. In a world where we often have a particular life experience and then scratch it off our bucket list, it is always powerful to discover things you would do again and again. Things so wonderful that you would keep repeating them. Last year’s Prayer Summit was like that for me. It was a rich time...
March 20, 2013 0 0 comments
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“How far is too far?” I’ve been asking myself that question a lot lately. It’s normally a question we ask while attempting to navigate the sexual desires and angst of relationships before (and regrettably, sometimes outside of) marriage. That question has been in my heart and mind lately, only in a very different context...
March 14, 2013 0 2 comments
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There is, in a church we've been attending, a fairly significant chunk of history in the pew, two versions of the denomination's Psalter Hymnal. Still, yesterday, when we sang "The Old Rugged Cross," a hymn that must rank among the most popular of the 20th century, the pastor had to import it into the bulletin because neither Psalter had it. Weird, I thought. I wonder why not?
March 14, 2013 0 10 comments
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Fifty years or so ago, CRCNA congregations, much like McDonalds franchises, shared countless similarities. They shared a similar culture, similar liturgies, identical creeds, confessions and hymn books, and almost identical menus of ministry. As a result, you could attend almost any Christian Reformed congregation in North America and find it similar to your home church...
March 12, 2013 0 3 comments
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When the subject of money is brought up in the local church people get antsy. Money and giving have become bad words inside and outside the church. What got me thinking about this subject was a post by Tim Challies called “How Much Money Am I Supposed to Give Away?”...
March 7, 2013 0 1 comments
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We have a problem in the English language when reading the Bible—a problem that most other languages do not have. When we read the word “you” and “your” in a passage, there is no way to tell whether the message is being directed to a single person or to a group of people. Such is not the case with the biblical languages...
March 7, 2013 0 2 comments
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The latest Christian Courier’s cover story is remarkable because it documents a phenomenon that’s truly denominational news—the significantly high divorce rate between preachers and congregations in the denomination I’ve always been a part of. "Fractured Flocks: A Leadership Crisis in the CRC" begins with this fact: pastor-church splits have increased over 500% in the CRC in the last ten years...
February 28, 2013 0 3 comments
Q&A

I have a joyful opportunity to celebrate a woman's public profession of faith and baptism.  In the same service she, along with her husband, will be baptizing their children.  I am looking for a way to combine these without repeating or making it awkward.  Have you found a way to do this?  How...

February 22, 2013 0 4 comments
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For a certain number of pastors Monday is their Sunday. A time when they catch their breath, try to do a bit of revival, and re-center their lives. Personally, I rarely take Monday off. I think that Rick Warren got it right when he said that he didn’t take Monday off because it was the day he was most wiped out, “Why,” asked Warren, “would I take the day off when I feel the worst?”
February 21, 2013 0 2 comments
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“With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.” Pope Benedict ended his resignation letter with those powerful words. As a fellow pastor in the holy catholic church, I am humbled by the Pope’s awareness, commitment, and love for the Church...
February 21, 2013 0 0 comments
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Reading the recent article in The Banner called “I Think the Pastor Stole that Sermon” got me thinking about sermon stealing. Over the years I’ve read a lot of articles on the topic of plagiarism, but I don’t recall that any of them provided concrete suggestions on how to prevent and/or stop this stealing sin. It’s been my experience that if we want either to stop a certain sin or avoid temptation, we need to prepare in advance...
February 14, 2013 0 4 comments
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Two weeks ago I was privileged to sit in on a consultation on preaching hosted by my colleagues. One theme we circled back to often had to with the use of social media in the preaching event. Many of us who were at the consultation had been pastors of congregations in the past and we admitted to each other that it's an odd thought to ponder someone in a pew Tweeting about a sermon even as we are delivering it...
February 13, 2013 0 4 comments
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It was recently observed that although our weekly worship service attendance had increased steadily over the last few years—thanks be to God!—our weekly giving had not. Why? My mentor reminded me this isn’t necessarily a bad sign, as our church does bring in people with little if any church background. For some of those folks, giving to the church is a new thing, and must be taught. So that’s what I set out to do...
February 11, 2013 0 0 comments
Q&A

I'm delighted that our church council will go on a spiritual retreat this spring--thanks be to God!  I think this is a significant step for us as a leadership team as we week to play and pray together and dream God's dreams for our church.  However, we've never done this before, so I'm wondering...

February 9, 2013 0 11 comments
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One of the more important things a preacher should do when working with a passage of Scripture is to examine every conditional sentence that you encounter, especially in the New Testament. In the English language, we have only one word to express a conditional clause: the word “if.” Greek, however, has two different Greek words to introduce conditional clauses and how each conditional sentence is structured grammatically goes a long way to...
February 7, 2013 0 2 comments
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Recently I was encouraged to read Growing the Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit, a book I probably would not have picked up on my own. The title set off my warning bells. Exactly why that is, I’m not even sure I know myself. Somehow I feared gimmickry or formula or an unspiritual pragmatism. But I read it, and I want to recommend it...
February 7, 2013 0 1 comments
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This past Christmas my children blessed me with Eugene H. Peterson’s memoir The Pastor. What a joy it has been to take a leisurely stroll through Peterson’s reflections on his life and ministry. Here’s one word that echoed in my life: Was it realistic to think I could develop from being a competitive pastor to something more like a contemplative pastor ...
January 31, 2013 0 1 comments
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We have this beautiful mission statement that expresses a common commitment that we exist to serve our community. The challenge is that we too often take that statement for granted. We have been out of the habits of listening to our neighbours, of spending time with them, of inviting them over, of simply being present in our neighborhood. When a situation comes up, we struggle with what it means for us to serve our neighbors...
January 31, 2013 0 0 comments
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Unfortunately, the church has created "outsiders" for more than 2000 years. Here's an example: around 200 A.D., Tertullian, a North African theologian, denounced the theatre— truth be told, he had some good reasons—then, in 398 the Council of Carthage declared excommunication for any Christian who went to the theatre rather than to church on holy days. Additionally, actors were forbidden participation in the sacraments... 
January 24, 2013 0 0 comments
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We are the first generation in Western culture that is facing the real prospect of living in a statist society. Although there are many faiths under the roof of our pluralistic house, it is becoming rather clear with each passing year that the one approved faith is acceptance of the rule of the mother state...
January 17, 2013 0 0 comments
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In my work as an editor, I often come upon some interesting scholarly discoveries. A revision of The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, is being worked on by New Testament scholar Moises Silva. His comments on the transformation that took place in the meaning of the Greek words ἐλπίζω and ἐλπίς (the verb “to hope” and the noun “hope”) is truly amazing...
January 10, 2013 0 0 comments
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Like it or not, there are those who don't feel welcome or comfortable within the Church, or among Christians, in spite of their own preferences; they'd like to participate in church-life, and associate with Christ-followers, but they can't because of choices that we've made. They're excluded. The truth is that we've made "outsiders" of many people over the years...
January 3, 2013 0 5 comments
Q&A

We are US citizens currently serving in Ontario.  My daughter is hoping to attend Redeemer next fall in Ontario.  The search for scholarships has been tricky.  Many of the scholarships mention "Canadian residence" but my daughter's status is "temporary visitor", so she doesn't qualify.  

...

January 2, 2013 0 1 comments
Q&A

 Suppose a person is cheating his employer, or stealing from his boss or company.  Suppose a young person is obviously watching pornography and has no intention of stopping.  Suppose a person only attends church on Christmas or Easter.  Suppose a young couple are living together without marriage...

December 27, 2012 0 17 comments

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As your example of the tower of babel illustrates, God uses divisions and separations for his own good purposes.   Maybe this is also true within the church, not that we should be looking for divisions and contentions since scripture clearly indicates against that, but...

Last weekend, I heard an aboriginal Dene talk about his faith experiences.   He had been a Rom Cath, somewhat nominal apparently, who embraced alcohol and eventually ended up in jail.   But at one point he was given a bible by a Rom Cath priest, and began to read it.  Then he became a Christian, receiving his "prayer" in the Pentecostal church.  He has been a Christian for about 30 years (is now about 60yrs old), has left alcohol behind, and had a sister who became a Christian after 18 years of evangelism by him.  He talks/preaches in churches of various denominations, and often feels rejected by his aboriginal relatives and friends, but perseveres.   He knows his bible very, very well, having memorized some epistles completely. 

I guess my point in this example, is that even though he is no longer a Rom Catholic because he wants to follow scripture and not follow a hierarchy nor a human tradition, he still acknowledges that God worked through that priest in order to bring scripture to him.   That is where we ought also to have the humility to admit that God works thru means and ways that are sometimes beyond our categorizations, even though we ought to do the best we can to understand good theology and good practice in our walk of faith.   I believe that sometimes the struggles themselves are exactly the means that God uses for his good purposes. 

The tower of Babel was a sign of pride, but also of disobedience, since people were commanded to fill and replenish the earth, not hole up in some small corner to preserve their comfort...   so God made them move and disperse by other means.   It reminds me of the phrase, "every knee shall bow" to Christ;  we will either acknowledge him in this life willingly, or we will be forced to acknowledge God in the next life, unwillingly.  

Thank you Leon! Go Green and White!

We as church leaders can learn so much from leaders in other places. Learn both from the good and the bad. Not judging one way or the other, but applying.

That said... here is one of our sons with his "helmet" before the 2009 Grey Cup held in Calgary. The fall when stores had to make an extra large order for watermelons since Saskatchewan ran out that week.

Thanks for the very helpful thoughts.  I've never known quite what to do with the story of Babel because while God's dispersing people into different groups can be seen as punishment for human pride and aspiration, what happened there also created individual differences, both in human beings and in groups of human beings.  Those differences are wonderful.  Here in Sioux County, Iowa, the county with the highest percentage of Dutch-Americans in the entire country, we're blessed by our brand new Hispanic neighbors.  Good night, we eat a ton better these days--at least our foods are spicier.  Differences in worship style and substance are not an abomination; now two of us are exactly alike, right?  

And that's good.

The comment made by the Chippewa man is wonderful, not because it condemns Christians but because it illustrates how difficult it must have been for Native people to understand what on earth was going on when white Presbyterians fought with white Episcopalians and white Roman Catholics, etc., etc., especially snce they saw all white missionaries as emissaries from a culture that threatened their own way of life.

Coming from a background where my siblings and children are members of churches from eight different denominations, ranging from protestant reformed to baptist and pentecostal (but no anglicans nor rom cath), I have often asked myself what is God's purpose with regard to so many denominations or churches who all want to serve and worship the same Lord and Saviour.   I'm not sure I have a very good answer, except maybe this, that personalities and personal quirks sometimes cause problems in one church situation, and another church situation can allow a method of worship and service that is more tempered to an individual at that time.  Various disputable theologies and practices also play a role; we see changes sometimes in one denomination, but they happen too quickly or too slowly for some, or no change is desired.  Sometimes history of experiences, or separation of family relationships, combined with  a different worship environment, make old scriptural passages and applications take on a new life and vigour. 

Underlying all of this, however, is the common purpose and unity that can exist between Christians in different churches and denominations.   While differences are real, so is the unity also real.   Sometimes there is greater unity between christians in different denominations or churches, than there is within one particular church.   This might be because the focus changes to what unites, rather than to what separates, especially when churches want to work together.   

This realization has also ocurred to me, that some churches have great theology, but members don't practice it, while other churches have sloppy or incomplete theology on paper, but members practice a great theology in daily life. 

The different churches also allow some people to discover the essentials of the walk of faith, since they must separate their walk of faith from mere tradition, into a conscious discovery of God's will for their/our lives on a day to day basis with people who do not take their particular traditions for granted.  This will bring them back to scripture and God's will on a deeper basis than they have ever perhaps done before. 

 

Lincoln mandated that only 39 of the 300+ were guilty and sentenced to hang for their parts in what happened.  Thirty-eight were hung in Mankato, MN, on December 26, 1862, the largest mass hanging in American history.  

Interesting theory on mega-churches.  Personally, I've never really understood the dramatic attraction they have for so many believers, but they continue to grow and multiply and dislodge the kind of broader community that denominations once created, for better or for worse.  Thanks for your very perceptive thoughts.

Thanks, Ron--and blessings on a new school year!

Great post, James! But you left me hanging with the Lincoln encounter: were those 300+ souls spared? 

As to your main point, sadly I am disturbed along with you about the state of Christian unity nowadays--especially unity of the deep sort you and Whipple describe, in which we can see Christ in our disagreeing siblings. A major factor is the non-denominational denominations, which seem to splinter and balkanize the church more than ever. So many, whether mega or mini, seem to become a law unto themselves, and the megachurches that jump on the permanent multisite bandwagon have effectively formed mini-denominations and thus they exacerbate the problem of vulgar, proprietary denominationalism.

Great post James! Thanks! Indeed we do not have a very good answer to that question that was asked so long ago.

Hi Greg and Jeff,

Jeff, I've been retired for four years now and doubt that a gravaman would work as I have too many concerns to list in it.  I hope you and family are doing well.  We get up to Wis. quite often and do think of you.  You may have moved from there, but wish you the best wherever you may be.  Blessings.       Greg, I'd like to do a little wrestling over some of the issues with you, as I see they are important.  So if you're open, you could send me your email address and we could follow up on our conversation.  Thanks for your openness.   Roger

posted in: What Is the Gospel?

Good to hear from you, Roger.  

I appreciate your honesty in your posts.  You have obviously thought about these topics a lot.  But to be fair, that has to be balanced with the form of subscription that we as officebearers sign.  Towards that, I wonder if you have ever considered writing a confessional-difficulty gravaman.  Could that possibly be a way forward for you?

posted in: What Is the Gospel?

Roger:

I should have read more before responding to your first post!  

To be completely unfair, Your issue is that you are a convinced openness of God proponent who denies total depravity?  I gather that in your mind, people are really not "dead" in sin (Ephesians 2:1-3)?  Even more to the point, you think God is unjust so Christianity is nothing but a contentious, backward, mean-spirited religion?

While I think you did state these points, I hope you did not mean them!  If so, I ask you to consider again what the bible truly teaches about God, about creation, about humanity, and about the condition of the world.  Please consider these in light of the promise that God will set all things aright when Jesus returns to make a new heaven and new earth!

I think you have several huge errors in your overall logic.  I also think you have several errors in your understanding of "Calvinism" and what the bible teaches.  

While there are clear answers to your questions, I fear this is not the forum to answer them sufficiently as it is too public.  I would be happy to continue the conversation in a more personal form of correspondence.  All we need is for you to wish to continue the discussion and for the ability to figure out how to do this.

 

 

 

posted in: What Is the Gospel?

Roger:

Where to start?  First, I encourage you to read other articles I have written so as to know that I would not, nor do I think we ever should ignore the fact, the reality, and the clear biblical teaching concerning total depravity.  The way you paint it, many Christians have lost the gospel story and the reality of the gospel announcement (to use Wax's terminology).  While I might agree, I hope to be more charitable.

What concerns me the most here is your issues with "the justice of God."  The way you wrote your response implies to my reading that you believe we ignore the question of the justice of God because we do not like the biblical answer?  Is this a correct interpretation of what you are saying?

Personally, I do not have a problem with the biblical answer.  We are guilty before a holy God not merely because of our inherited sin, but also because of our willful sin.  None of us deserve grace.  None.  That is why grace is so amazing!

Furthermore, you seem to confuse our experience of this grace, election, evangelism, etc., with God's understanding of all these events.  In our experience, we do not know who is "elected" so we are told to proclaim the gospel to all.  God has made salvation available to "all" (for example Titue 2:11), which means all types of people.  Our experience is one of us turning to God, of us sharing the message of Christ, and of us going out in ministry.  Yet, God is the one working, knowing, and leading.  Somehow in His sovereign will He is at work building His Kingdom through fallen people like you and me.  This is a mystery of the faith.  Yet, it is one clearly taught in scripture, affirmed by our confessions, and wrestled with by thoughtful folks.

What does this mean?  I will assume, pray, and hope that you are one of those thoughtful folks!  Yet, I caution you, as does Nick Monsma, that the way you are stating your questions/objections is itself questionable.  Arminius himself merely claimed to be "biblical."

The real goal is to be biblical.  We are a confessional church because we believe our confessions describe that the bible teaches.  If you do not agree with what the confessions teach as biblical, then we are at a different place in the discussion.

posted in: What Is the Gospel?

A great question.  Sorry for the delay in responding.  I did not check the Network for comments until today.

I think all of them are missing at different times and by different groups.  If you are a person who states, "I believe in Jesus" but I do not think church is important, then you are missing the gospel community.  If you are a person who states, "Christianity is primarily about social action," then you are definitely missing the second leg of the gospel announcement.  If you are a person who wished to deny the clear teaching (and experience) of total depravity mixed with the incredible truth of creation as originally good and maintaining vestiges of that goodness, then you are missing the gospel story.  

As a historian, I find it interesting that entire churches, denominations, and groups can so over emphasize one of these dimensions of the gospel that they actually lose the gospel.  Part of our task as believers is to call these individuals, groups, and churches to repentance and renewed faith in the whole gospel- in other words renewed faith in all three legs of truth.

To be biblically faithful and solidly part of the Reformed tradition, we should hold to all three even if we lean more toward one leg.

posted in: What Is the Gospel?

Nick,

I don’t think much was lost in communication, simply because my thoughts were in printed form.  I think you simply strongly disagreed with my comments to Greg. You appeal to some of the Reformed Confessions.  Most Calvinists would subject their church’s confessions to the authority and teaching of Scripture.  For most Bible believing Christians, the Bible is the ultimate authority.  Of course there is little agreement among Christians as to what the Bible teaches (interpretation).  Just consider the many differences within the CRC, but beyond that, the differences between Christian denominations gets bizarre.  There is a host of different denominations and teachings in Christendom.  It makes you wonder why there is so little agreement among Christians.  I have heard it said that Christianity has the greatest diversity of teachings of any religion.  It makes a person wonder about the validity of the Holy Spirit guiding the church in “all truth.” A Christian can make the Bible say almost anything they want.  Scripture often seems to contradict itself on many points of teaching.  Hence the variety of denominations.  The point I’m making is that as soon as I say something, you can contradict me with a specific verse.  But we’re speaking of Calvinists.  You may believe the Calvinist perspective is the most true to the Bible, but no doubt you would bow to the authority of Scripture.  So, to answer your concerns raised in your response.

As to the human inability to meet God’s standard of righteousness, I was not suggesting that people are equal to God (as Mormons may teach), but simply that God’s standard, apart from Christ, is impossible to reach.  Consider Matthew 19:25,26.  And certainly Paul suggests the same when he says, “there is none righteous, not even one.”  God set a standard that is humanly impossible to achieve. Calvinists would certainly teach this.  The conclusion:  Human reasoning would tell anyone this is less than just on the part of God; or fair, which is part of justice, to set a standard that is unreachable.

I would not expect you to agree with the idea of God putting people into that dark corner of sin.  But yet doesn’t Scripture speak for itself?  Does not Scripture teach that God credited to all of Adam’s posterity his original sin?  Don’t all people come into this world sinners, even before leaving the womb?  And won’t God hold all people accountable for that sin, a sin that Adam’s posterity didn’t actually commit?  This is a Calvinist teaching.  

Also contributing to the idea of God putting humanity in that dark corner, is that God also imputed a fallen and sinful nature to all of Adam’s posterity.  I believe, according to Calvinistic teaching, we would refer to this as a totally depraved nature (the T of TULIP), a nature that is sinful in all of its parts, and cannot help but to sin.  This nature was imputed to all of humanity by God.  And so when people cannot help but to sin, how can common sense say the acting out of this nature should not be placed at the feet of God?  Of course, Calvinists are not Arminian, and therefore can not claim that humans have a free will not to sin.  They would say a person’s will is constrained by his fallen nature and cannot help but to follow that nature and sin.  So of course, as the Belgic Confession says, “they willingly subjected themselves to sin...”, they had no other choice.  Humanity was programmed by God to sin.  So I would say, that God clearly put humanity in that dark corner.  The Biblical evidence is growing.

On top of all this is God’s electing purposes, which I mentioned in the earlier response as a “limited atonement,” limited to those chosen by God.  This also is a Calvinistic teaching.  It’s the “L” of TULIP.  This could be pictured as a parent who had been out fishing with three young children who couldn’t swim.  As the three boys got bored, they all started rocking the boat and all three fell in.  Because all three couldn’t swim, all three were destined to drown unless help was given to them.  So the father, although he could have easily saved all three, decides to save just one and leave the other two to perish.  If this parent was brought before any of our human courts or brought before a judge, the parent might say, “It was the kids’ fault that they fell in. They were all rascals. So I felt no obligation to save them all.  So I saved just one.”  Sounds like the Bible’s explanation of predestination and it doesn’t sound just at all.  

It’s too bad the Bible’s message of salvation could not have taught that God’s justice is met in the payment for sin made by Christ, and his mercy is demonstrated in the salvation of all people. But as it is, God only saves the few (“many are called but few are chosen).  The Bible teaches that God does not show favoritism and tells Christians they should not show favoritism.  But this Biblical teaching is definitely a demonstration of favoritism by which God chooses the few over the many, and it doesn’t demonstrate a truly just God.

You may still try to claim that people have painted themselves in the dark corner of sin and depravity.  But your reasoning is faulty.  You are not taking into consideration primary and secondary causation.  The Calvinist would say that in God’s electing purposes, God is the primary mover or cause of salvation and the convert’s actions are only  secondary.  The potential convert is called upon to repent and believe the gospel.  But of course the Calvinist will say that action by the believer is secondary to the primary cause, which is God’s choosing, God’s providential leading, the Holy Spirit’s leading and enabling.  And without God’s primary action the saved sinner’s action would never be possible.

The same is true in regard to God’s damnation of the human race.  God is the primary mover, according to the Bible, and humanity’s actions are secondary.  So your quote from the Belgic Confession (Art 14) is speaking only of the secondary cause of damnation.  Christians tend to do this when they don’t want to admit the less than desirable teachings of the Bible. The primary causation, as demonstrated above, is, of course, God.  The actual committal of sin is the secondary and is the act of the condemned. But remember it is the primary causation by God that ensures the sinner’s damnation.  Remember the sinner came into the world a sinner and was programmed (imputed fallen nature) by God to be a sinner, and called upon by God to meet a standard that was impossible for him to reach.  God was the primary cause.

It surprises me to hear Calvinists quote the Dutch theologian who said, “there is not one square inch  of this world  that doesn’t belong to God.”  That is to say that God is sovereign in and over all.  But he quickly denies God’s sovereignty in the huge sphere of human existence that involves the damnation of the human race, except for the few chosen.

Nick, I did say that Christians do the person targeted for evangelism a disservice by not giving a full disclosure of the God they would be responding to.  It would be very much like trying to sell a beautiful home to a potential buyer but never telling him/her that the foundation is infested with termites.  Let’s at least be truthful when evangelizing.  I’ll look forward to your rebuff.

posted in: What Is the Gospel?

Roger,

Obviously much is lost when communication takes place only in print. Perhaps that is what has happened with your comment. Could you please clarify:

When you described the "less desiriable" "additional information" in response to each of Greg's points, were you intending to write from the perspective of someone who has misunderstood Calvinism? I noticed a few places where what you wrote is contradicted by our confessions - we expressly don't believe some of the things you wrote. 

One example:

[quote] Roger: Of course, that’s an impossible standard for humans to ever reach.  None ever have, other than Christ, and if one could reach it, he/she would be as perfectly holy as God himself, an impossibility.  So this standard of perfect holiness that God or Christianity sets is an impossible standard.[/quote] Your words seem to suggest that our inability to meet God's standard is partly attributable to our created finitude -- our "not-being-God-ness" -- which is, of course, not what we believe (BC 14, HC Q&A 6).

A second example:

[quote] Roger: And realize from the start that it is God who has put these people into that corner.[/quote] This is, perhaps, how people misunderstand Calvinism. But it is surely not what we believe or teach. [quote]Belgic Confession, Article 14: "But they subjected themselves willingly to sin... by their sin they separated themselves from God... they made themselves guilty and subject to physical and spiritual death..."[/quote] If human beings are in that dark corner, we have put ourselves there, not God. (see also Canons of Dort I.5, I.15)

I'm just confused. You suggest that what you wrote is some of the "additional information" that is needed to fully present the gospel -- but it is a distortion of what Calvinists believe, so surely shouldn't be added to a presentation of the gospel, at least not as you wrote it. Can you clarify, please? Thanks in advance.

Also, Greg, thanks for bringing this up!

 

posted in: What Is the Gospel?

Hi Greg, your gospel formula (or Wax’s) makes some sense.  But I don’t know if your short gospel description really does justice to the full accounting of the gospel or message of salvation.  I find that Christians sometimes accuse other religious groups of having insider information that isn’t shared until after a so-called conversion or commitment is made.  But Christians do that same thing, by which important information is withheld until after the new Christian is well on his/her way to maturity.  And even then, because this additional information is less than desirable it is often never shared or is ignored by the believer.

In leg #1 for instance, it often isn’t told to the prospective Christian that apart from Christ, God sets the standard of acceptance by him at perfection.  Of course, that’s an impossible standard for humans to ever reach.  None ever have, other than Christ, and if one could reach it, he/she would be as perfectly holy as God himself, an impossibility.  So this standard of perfect holiness that God or Christianity sets is an impossible standard.    On top of that, all humans have been credited by God with the original sin of Adam.  So before any human even comes from the womb he is declared by God a sinner and has fallen short of God’s standard of perfection.  But another item missing from the gospel story, is that not only does God credit all humans with Adam’s sin but also with Adam’s fallen nature, by which a person naturally gravitates towards sin.  In fact he/she can’t help but to sin.  He/she can’t help himself because of the sinful nature credited to him/her by God.   But on top of this helpless state that a person comes into the world in, he/she is held accountable for failure to meet God’s standard of perfection, as though it’s all his/her fault.    Seems, as though quite a bit has been left out of the gospel story.  Does this failure by human kind fall to the feet of humans or to God?  Is this what we call the “justice of God.”

As to the second leg of the gospel, which you point out is the gospel announcement of substitutionary atonement, you have shortchanged that leg as well.  You didn’t mention that this atonement is a limited (the “L” of TULIP) atonement, limited to those chosen by God from the cesspool of humanity.  Only the chosen by God are enabled to respond to the gospel invitation by the powerful conviction and influence of the Holy Spirit.  The rest are left to pay for having fallen short of God’s impossible mark of perfection, especially when God has credited to all humans Adam’s original sin and given him a fallen nature by which he can’t help but to continue in sin.  Although the “few” are the recipients of this wonderful salvation, the many are left to perish (“many are called but few are chosen”).  But for those chosen, this salvation is wonderful and is good news, if you can ignore what God has in store for the rest of humanity.

Those within the Christian community speak of Christianity as being unique.  Unlike other religions that view God as using a balance or scale of justice to weigh the good and bad of individuals, Christians proclaim that their religion is one of grace alone.  But realize that before grace becomes part of the picture, Christianity has to paint an individual into a corner of sin so deep and dark that he or she is utterly helpless.  From this dark corner, not even a person’s good works count for anything.  And realize from the start that it is God who has put these people into that corner.  

But as you say, Greg, the gospel is the  “good news” of Jesus, if you’re certain you are one of the chosen ones.  Thanks for your article.

posted in: What Is the Gospel?

Which of the three legs is most commonly ignored or denied, in your opinion, Greg? 

posted in: What Is the Gospel?

Ed, thank you for your interest. Let me start with the easy one...#2. What I meant was that even in the corporate sector where the "change agent" (manager) possesses the power of the paycheck, systemic change is still difficult to accomplish. As a pastor of a church where membership is voluntary, bringing about change is that much more difficult

Now the hard one! Being proficient as a "change agent" means possessing both the knowledge and ability to lead a social group through the process of change. Jesus was a "change agent"...Paul was also. The OT prophets were God's messengers announcing that "change" was on the way.

I don't believe that there is a formula for bringing about change but it must start with a clear vision of what could be which contrasts with what already is. The vision must not only be shared with the broad leadership team but also those who in fluence the thinking of the group, but must be accepted by them.

Let me make a couple of assumptions: the group is ineffective in carrying out it's mission and they realize it but don't know what to do about it. You may think that THAT is the key to succeeding, but it often is not. "Change" is HARD! Status quo is easy and it is comfortable...we feel secure with it. Therefore in order to bring about even modest change requires that the benefits of going from one green pasture to the next be clearly shown to the group. It also needs to be presented to the group as an easy process (not hard, difficult nor sacrificial). Additionally each person needs to understand what it means for him/her in terms of actions and benefits. Finally the group must agree to "follow the plan" for 90 days. 90 days will establish a new norm. 90 days will reduce/end the old behavior/ways. 90 days will show new results which in turn will reinforce moving in this new direction.

I've wanted to write about "church as coutry club" for some time now and I believe it fits here. When I was that I mean that on a gut level many church members want church to be for them. Members think nothing about complaining about pretty much anything...the way the grass is cut...the cleanliness of the bathrooms...the length of the pastor's message or the style of the music. They don't think of the mission of the church in their criticism but only how they feel that it affects them...the same as the CC!

I and others in ministry that I know of were specifically called to a church to "help them move from an inward focused church to an outward focused church. Theg had a vision statement...a mission statemwnt, plans and programs for outreach, yet when the pastor arrives the message becomes clear that at best they just want to tinker around the edges. Why?...because when they see that change will require them to also change, that is when change has gone too far.

Now if a pastor is not proficient as a change agent he will wilt and back off the change stuff to keep the peace. But if he has had the training and possesses the knowledge of how to properly proceed, he will know how to proceed.

In order to say any more you would have to ask some more questions. I have donated my personal library but one of my books was titled simply The Change Agent...do not remember the author. I am sure there is a wealth of resources on the subject.

I hope something I have said is helpful .
Blessings!
Jim Vander Slik

Jim (Vander Slik).   Thank you for your comments received Aug 16.  I enjoyed reading your input and believe you have hit on something significant with respect to teaching Seminary Students to be "Change Agents".   In order that I have the correct understanding of your statements, could you please expand on the following:  (1)  'that the pastor be proficient as a "change agent" (2) ' and that ability is difficult in the private sector where you have the power of the paycheck.'

With respect to (1) please define what  you mean by "change agent" i.e. the type of change you have in mind.  With respect to (2) I conclude you are of the opinion that being a change agent is difficult in a corporate life as it could jeopardize  one's paycheck.   Is that a correct understanding?

sincerely,

Ed Tigchelaar

Hello Martin,

Thank you for passing on this information re. covenants.  I'll keep them in mind as I plan for my sermon series on the topic.

Peace to you!

--Leon

Hello Darrin,

Thank you for responding to my request!  Yes, I'd be glad to receive an overview/outline of your sermon series on covenants, if it's not too much trouble.  My email address is as follows: pastorleon@wolfcreekchurch.ca.

Thank you kindly!

--Leon

Julius, my perspective comes from an undergraduate degree in Business Administration and concentration in Management followed by 13 years in corporate management before seminary and 22 years in pulpit ministry. As I follow some CRC blogs I believe there is a debate going on about whether the pastor provides church leadership or simply assists the congregational leaders.

Many do not agree with me that the pastor is typically the only full time paid person to focus on the local church, is the only one trained in church leadership and therefore should be the person to provide that leadership. I acknoledge that if the pastor does not possess the spiritual gift of leadership and members of the church council do, then the pastor can delegate that to the laity, however I believe the pastor is the SHEPHERD of the flock. As such I believe it is the pastor's responsibility to lead the congregation from one green pasture to the next green pasture.

This is what we expect from church planting pastors...they are missionary pastors...they are the visionary pastors who attract other Christians to follow them. They recruit others to serve as staff members who are both ordained and non-ordained. This is what was expected of me as a pastor when I was called by the three churches I served. They also expected pastoral care, teaching, preaching and administration, but their acknowledged need was for a pastor to lead the congregation from where it was to where it believed God wanted it to be.

What that requies is that the pastor be proficient as a "change agent" and that ability is difficult in the private sector where you have the power of the paycheck.

Specific to your question, I believe that seminary students need to know their specific spiritual gifts offering them a sense of direction for their personal ministry. They need training in the art of being an effective "change agent". And they need training in how to solve problems effectively.

Thank you for the opportunity to offer input. Blessings in the great challenges you face with this project and the seminary!
Jim Vander Slik

There is a great book on making the themes of Covenant and Kingdom come alive for the congregation.  Mike Breen's book "Covenant and Kingdom: the DNA of the Bible". They also have a 6 week sermon series free on seeing the themes of covenant and kingdom. 

I continue to pray and trust that God will guide our CRC Churches and Synods to find a way, lit by the Lamp of Christ to have the needed conversations about race and reconcilliation in an open, frank and honest environment. Guided by an olde Dr Watts songs :" I Will Trust in the Lord, Till I Die" and "I Know the Lord Will Make a Way, Somehow", The CRCNA can and will move forward God helping us.

posted in: Ready to Dance!

For those who are interested in great tasting coffee and want to take a step beyond Fair Trade, the Association of Rio Olancho Coffee Producers in Honduras is comprised of growers, many of whom belong to the Christian Reformed Church of El Carrizal. You can find out more at www.rioolancho.com. While this year's shipment has arrived and supplies are limited, there may be opportunities for interested churches to participate in this project in future years.

Anyone who drinks "perc" coffee must be drinking it for the caffine. Some drip coffee is OK. A French Press is good. A pressure espresso machine is best.

My parents, my inlaws, one of the kid's inlaws drink instant coffee. I prefer hot water to instant coffee.

Nice reflection, Tom. I recognize this coffee practice thing with its "vibe" as an example of what's called "organizational climate." We telegraph that climate--arising, yes, out of our church's DNA--in myriad ways. Another example is dress code. I preach for a local Lutheran church once a month and they ask me to don a robe; my youngest son attends a local church campus where the billboarded slogan, practiced by the pastors and nearly everyone else, is "Wear jeans to church" (yes, jeans is bolded). Not long ago, three different people, independent of one another and from three different churches, told me in the span of a single week "our pastor wears jeans and an open collar shirt with the tail hanging out." At this point it became to me a copycat fad, a visual cliche--effectively the new "robe" it's vogue for the minister to wear. Contrast that with African American church culture where they dress to the nines to be in the presence of the King of kings and, as a friend of mine observes, "it's all about honor." Of course turning any of those three styles into an occasion for hubris is equally sinful--"We're oh-so-cool and relational" no less than "We're oh-so-honoring and reverent." But ultimately I'm with you, Tom (despite my personal preferences toward greater honor in our visual language of attire): The underlying DNA of a church will bleed through these artifacts of climate and people will sense and know whether or not they are among a people who authentically love and honor and serve one another and most of all our Lord. How do our dress practices embody (or not) our organizational climate as God's kingdom people who are marked by "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17)?  

This specific topic aside, the bracing back and forth of this format reminds me of a quote from CS Lewis about different types of friends:

 

The First Friend is the alter ego, the man who first reveals to you that you are not alone in the world by turning out (beyond hope) to share all your most secret joys. There is nothing to be overcome in making him your friend; he and you join like raindrops on a window. But the Second Friend is the man who disagrees with you about everything. He is not so much the alter ego as the antiself. Of course he shares your interests; otherwise he would not become your friend at all. But he has approached them all at a different angle. He has read all the right books but has got the wrong thing out of every one. It is as if he spoke your language but mispronounced it. How can he be so nearly right and yet, invariably, just not right? When you set out to correct his heresies, you will find that he forsooth to correct yours! And then you go at it, hammer and tongs, far into the night, night after night, or walking through fine country that neither gives a glance to, each learning the weight of the other's punches, and often more like mutually respectful enemies than friends. Actually (though it never seems so at the time) you modify one another's thought; out of this perpetual dogfight a community of mind and a deep affection emerge.”

New Tagline: The Network: A Place for First and Second Friends.

 

Stanley, are there not many aspects to our spiritual health?   Yesterday's semon mentioned a phrase:  "Calm seas do not make for strong sailors."   Complacency and apathy are very toxic for spiritual health, even though there may be a feeling of ease.   Your feeling of the impact on your spiritual health while reading this discussion is very real.   Perhaps you can understand that others have that same feeling of toxicity and depression not when they read this thread, but when they read Edwin Walhout's article?  

I do. I did a series over Lent (2012) on biblical covenants. I'd be happy to send you an overview if you're still interested.

Thank you for asking this question, President Medenblik! 

My thoughts: systems theory, conflict resolution and spiritual direction.

May the Lord bless your upcoming academic year!

--Leon

Thanks to those of you who have responded. There are indeed a lot of summer drive-in services in parks and campgrounds, and those efforts are to be appreciated. We need to go to where the people are. The Woodland Drive-In church is one of the few in the northern half of the U.S. that meets year round. Throughout most of the winter months, we get 50+ cars a Sunday.

As to horn honking, when we met at the old Woodland Drive-In Theater on East Beltline (up to 1988), there was lots of that after special music. However, when that theater closed and we moved to 2600 Breton Rd SE, a piece of property owned by Fifth Reformed Church and zoned residential, we received permission to move there provided that we ceased horn honking.

<P>This brought back many memories for me. I come from eastern Canada (and the Baptist tradition) where several churches that held their summer evening services from the church parking lot or that of a shopping centre nearby. Most had special trailers made up for services that were used solely for the outdoor services. Others used their covered entrances or no covered area at all. One church regularly held their outreach next to a large camp ground, there services were often attended by several cars of the campers. The services did attract more people than would have been in a regular indoor service. There was an effort to have special music at each service and a number of people who were willing to come every week (8-10 services per summer) to set up the sound and electrics. Offerings were received in plastic ice cream containers that were taken from car to car by the ushers. The idea of passing around a card reader seems like it might work well in such a setting.<p>

<P>One of the most interesting parts of the service was the honking of horns when people appreciated the music or something that was being said. The end of some services brought forth more honking of horns as people would express appreciation. The preacher usually went from car to car at the end of the service, often meeting people 'from away' who were passing by and saw the sign for the evening service and dropped in. Actually, the horn seemed to help people to be more engaged in the service than when they would have been sitting in the pew. Coming in the evening usually meant that the outside temperature was more comfortable than it would have been inside the building.<p>

<P>All in all it was an enjoyable experience. And while I preached at several outdoor services over the years, I don't recall ever meeting someone leaving the service with a critical or judgmental spirit.<p>

Excellent Verlyn! It is amazing how many folks are uncomfortable sitting in a pew for many many reasons. Our church has been offering a simulcast of the message in our Gym. We often have our own music and what we call an extended time of mutual greeting. People sit in more comfortable chairs gathered around tables in a more relaxed atmosphere. We regularly have 100 or more attending with a surprising number being older. These folks just find it more comfortable and otherwise might not be able to attend. They also appreciate being part of the church fellowship, but perhaps not so conspicuous. Some traditionalist just do not understand, but it fills a growing need.

You should explore the work of the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative, a leadership development program for youth ministers. It has been in existence for 16 years and many seminary graduates have participated in it including my husband who is a Calvin Sem grad. We often hear "why didn't we have something like this in seminary?" It's about being a good leader, fostering leadership in others, and working collaboratively. We have outstanding stories from our alumni and solid data that shows they are staying in ministry for the long haul, finding more satisfaction in their work, taking better care of themselves and their families, and growing in their commitment to God's call on their life. I would be happy to share the foundational principles and content with you. Eileen Kooreman, Director of Operations, DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative. www.dvuli.org

I am a lay leader in the CRC.  Being involved in a financially challenged congregation and also being involved in planting new churches via our Grand Rapids area classis, I've seen the benefits of pastors being able to creatively manage their personal expenses.  As the CRC continues to try to start many new churches, and as more churches become financially strained, it seems like the return of the 'tent-maker' pastor may be happening.  It might be very helpful for the seminary to have a class on tent-making, and transitioning from being part-time to full-time and back again.  It seems that many pastors may be faced with this type of situation in the future, and this certainly is an important knowledge set to have if starting a new church today.

As a lay leader I would like to see more training in the area of compassionate listening and awareness of the needs of those in the congregation who are the quiet unobtrusive members.  Also, helping prospective pastors to be encouragers of those within the congregation who may be afraid to lead.

How long does it take to pass the credit card reader?

Good job Verlyn! Next time when in GR, will try to come!

It makes good sense, every major community could use one, maybe even sponsored by a group of local churches. A no-name brand of a Christian worshipping congregation led by various pastors and others willing to make this a priority.

As with others, I appreciate being asked this question.  After some thought, I believe I needed to know:

1.) How pastoral ministry functions within different sized churches.  Leadership and leadership style differs depending upon the needs of the congregation and different sizes and types of congregations have very different needs.  Help trains folks how to diagnose these needs and figure out how their personalities, styles, etc., fit within these congregations.  Such thought would also encourage further growth for none of us have the gifts and personalities for every situation.

2.) How to disciple others so they grow in an understanding of how to depend upon Jesus by faith.  This includes how to identify and train future leaders.

3.) Particularly for future church planters, how to lead as a bi-vocational pastor.  This includes how to use your gifts and skills to find suitable employment, how to set boundaries, and how to fund-raise to supplement personal and church income.  I think all signs point to this being a growing trend so folks need to be prepared.

 

Re:  Ken Vandegriend's comment: " Biblically based and Christologically focused".    Bingo!!

Your interest in getting this kind of feedback is very encouraging to me.  I want to suggest that Calvin Seminary continue the focus on Expository Preaching that was begun by Neal Plantinga during his tenure.  I know this sounds obvious, but I believe there is a profound need in this area.  We preachers all feel we are expositors, but I hear too many sermons in CR Churches that are more fluff than well-exegeted opening of the Word.  The trend is to entertain rather than to focus on what God is saying through the passage under discussion that day.  The principles of hermeneutics need to be fleshed out clearly and then they should be practiced by the student until the student can demonstrate proficiency in utilizing these principles in constructing a sermon that is biblically based and Christologically focused.

I am a lay leader at our church and many of the comments above are very helpful but I think Dan's points are especially good. A great theological foundation is necessary for pastors but I think the Seminary would do well to include more training on the leadership skills for pastors.

As a lay leader, I would like to see a stronger focus on management systems, motivation and budgeting. In my experience, the difference between top down leadership and management by exception is the difference between dysfunctional and contentious council meetings and a cordial sharing of the great things God is doing in the fellowship. It is the difference between continually begging the same folks to step forward and the joyful experience of seeing nearly every member owning their program and contributing to the kingdom in a way that utilizes their unique gifts. And the role of the pastor requires familiarity with "corporate" budgeting and financial controls as a means of advancing the mission of the church in the community.

Thank you for asking. 

5 and a half years into my first pastoral ministry post these are the things I wish I had learned more about (in no particular order):

- How to be empathetic, compassionate and "pastoral" without losing yourself in other people's problems. I'm not talking about avoiding the thought that "I must fix everyone's problem's." It's been very clear to me for many years that I cannot and should not attempt to "fix" everything. Instead I'm talking about how to "care" very much about others' problems, but still put those problems appropriately at Jesus' feet and not to carry them everywhere as my own burden.

- What people mean when they talk about being "fed" in a sermon--some people seem to mean that they will have had a deeply emotional connection with the sermon, others people seem to mean that they've learned some new facts, etc.

- How to be humble, vulnerable, transparent, etc., without sabatoging your own leadership qualities. It's very important and good to be those things, but sometimes, if you're not careful, those things can turn around and bite you if you're not careful about how you communicate these things.

- How to disciple people, so that they can disciple others. I have been discipled, and have discipled others, but no one ever taught me how to disciple others in such a way that they would then be able to go out and disciple more people in their turn. In other words, I would've liked it if I'd learned how to make self-replicating disciples--not clones, but people who with spread discipleship to others.

Hope that is somewhat helpful.

 

Dan.

Jule, thank you for this excellent question!  Since graduating from seminary I believe the most fruitful ministry I did was one on one mentoring and spiritual direction.  In pondering leadership today one of the missing links has been integrity.  While Biblical/theological content are essential for building foundations, mentoring and spiritual direction are essential for the transformation of the heart.  I actually think this not only has implications for what is taught but how it is taught.  In research I'm doing on leadership development in Africa, what's emerging is that leaders trained and mentored on the job have a better possibility of becoming transformational leaders because their formation from the very beginning is vitally connected with the community they are serving in. 

This might sound a little strange, but as a pastor of a small church, I think a some info about computer networking, website design, basic plumbing, electrical and other building maintenance would be helpful.  It would provide two benefits: 1. provide some common ground in the areas where many people now work, but pastors know very little about (unless it's your hobby).  2. allow the pastor to make a meaningful contribution to the conversation regarding these matters.  In bigger churches, I am sure they have a committee for that... not always the case in smaller churches. 

A thorough grounding in how to handle conflict in the congregation would be very valuable. 

Something to help ministers avoid preaching "slef help" sermons, yet incorporate good principles and practises that would help the congregation deal with issues of self esteem, relationships etc in the body of sermons which preach text in context, and preach the Good News of Jesus and His Grace.

How to address issues in modern life, politics, economics, poverty, same sex relationships etc. without being partisan.

 

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