reformation


 

A Faithful Minister grapples with the meaning of tragedy. In 1756,  a

Rev.Samuel Davies (1723-1761)

Presbyterian minister was sharing with his congregation in Virginia his conclusions from Scripture after agonizing over the tragic losses in the great earthquake which had struck Lisbon, Portugal in December of 1755.  In 1759 this same Minister, Samuel Davies, would become the 4th President of Princeton University, then known as the College of  New Jersey. His Biblical text:

“Those who flee in terror will fall into a trap, and those who escape the trap will step into a snare. Destruction falls on you from the heavens. The earth is shaken beneath you. The earth has broken down and has utterly collapsed. Everything is lost, abandoned, and confused. The earth staggers like a drunkard. It trembles like a tent in a storm. It falls and will not rise again, for its sins are very great!”

Isaiah 24:18-20

There are several blogs as well as an op-ed in the Washington Post that are speaking of this tragedy in 1755 and its effects on philosophers and clergymen alike and suggesting contrasts with the way such news is received today. Basically,  Samuel Davies is representative of Pastors all along the east coast following the time of the Great Awakening (ref. Jonathan Edwards sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”). They openly and clearly spoke of such tragedies as ‘judgments’ of the Providence of God and they got their ideas from their interpretation of the Holy Bible.

Without posting any of the sermon here, I will make the entire sermon available to E4Unity readers and urge you to read it in light of recent tragedies that have come to pass in our world. It also makes a serious read for the true spirit of the Lenten season.

Sermon Lisbon Earthquake

Farewell Sermon, July 1, 1759, to Hanover, Virginia congregation.

Note: Young Samuel Davies is one of a number of outstanding Ministers in Church history who died an ‘early’ death. He was only 37 years old.

 

Once again my good friend John Armstrong at ACT3 has put his finger on a major weakness in our American churches. It comes on the day before we Americans go to the polls to choose our national leaders. What he has to say about the absence of prophetic preaching in the pulpits of America and spiritual leadership by vision, has much to do with the challenges our larger society is facing at this moment. In “What  happened to Prophetic preaching”? He writes,

John H. Armstrong, Director ACT3

“The vast majority of pastors, as revealed in a number of surveys, declare that leadership is their greatest weakness. They admit to having become managers of ecclesial organizations and speakers in churches on Sunday. But less than 10% (in one survey) said that they believed they were leaders. A leader exercises influence, casts vision and helps people to follow that vision. Modern ideology and modern ways of training men and women for pastoral ministry have impacted the church profoundly in this area. We need to understand how and why and what we can do about this problem.

Our schools have prepared future ministers to be students who can exegete a text, clinicians who can listen and help people in personal crisis and managers who can direct programs and serve the social structures of the church. But they have not conveyed clearly how to be a godly, praying, spiritually-formed leaders who can inspire and build up people in their daily lives. And they have not been taught how to prophesy the Word of the Lord.

In my lifetime I have seen the role of the pastor change dramatically. I remember my childhood pastors being shepherds of people and leaders who gave a vision to our collective witness. I held my pastors in high esteem. Today this has changed. Pastors are much less accessible to people, far less able to cast clear vision, and churches collectively languish in spirit. This has created a tragic gulf between leaders and people. People now demand managers for the church. They do not want prophets who will challenge them to think and become truly different in faith and virtue.”

I personally believe this is one of John’s better messages to the churches and the way forward in the future.

The entire article available as   Prophetic Preaching Pastors (pdf).

Recommended reading: The Work of Preaching Christ (1864)

Introductory Essay to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ –J. I. Packer
It is hoped that this reprint will find itself readers of a different spirit. There are signs today of a new upsurge of interest in the theology of the Bible: a new readiness to test traditions, to search the Scriptures and to think through the faith. It is to those who share this readiness that Owen’s treatise is offered, in the belief that it will help us in one of the most urgent tasks facing Evangelical Christendom today—the recovery of the gospel.

There is no doubt that Christianity today is in a state of perplexity and unsettlement. In such matters as the practice of evangelism, the teaching of holiness, the building up of local church life, the pastor’s dealing with souls and the exercise of discipline, there is evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with things as they are and of equally widespread uncertainty as to the road ahead. This is a complex phenomenon, to which many factors have contributed; but, if we go to the root of the matter, we shall find that these perplexities are all ultimately due to our having lost our grip on the biblical Gospel.
Without realizing it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty.

 

The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church. Why? We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be “helpful” to man—to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction—and too little concerned to glorify God.

The old gospel was “helpful,” too—more so, indeed, than is the new—but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of Divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the center of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and His ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed.

From this change of interest has sprung a change of content, for the new gospel has in effect reformulated the biblical message in the supposed interests of “helpfulness.” Accordingly, the themes of man’s natural inability to believe, of God’s free election being the ultimate cause of salvation, and of Christ dying specifically for His sheep, are not preached. These doctrines, it would be said, are not “helpful”; they would drive sinners to despair, by suggesting to them that it is not in their own power to be saved through Christ. (The possibility that such despair might be salutary is not considered; it is taken for granted that it cannot be, because it is so shattering to our self-esteem.)

 

However this may be (and we shall say more about it later), the result of these omissions is that part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth. Thus, we appeal to men as if they all had the ability to receive Christ at any time; we speak of His redeeming work as if He had done no more by dying than make it possible for us to save ourselves by believing; we speak of God’s love as if it were no more than a general willingness to receive any who will turn and trust; and we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly active in drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence “at the door of our hearts” for us to let them in. It is undeniable that this is how we preach; perhaps this is what we really believe.

But it needs to be said with emphasis that this set of twisted half-truths is something other than the biblical gospel. The Bible is against us when we preach in this way; and the fact that such preaching has become almost standard practice among us only shows how urgent it is that we should review this matter. To recover the old, authentic, biblical gospel, and to bring our preaching and practice back into line with it, is perhaps our most pressing present need. And it is at this point that John Owen’s treatise on redemption can give us help.

( from J.I.Packer’s Introductory Essay to The Death of Death, 1959)

( continue reading the essay here )

Related Essay: The Old Cross and the New Cross – A.W.Tozer (print version)

 

 

Keith Green (1953-1982), a radical disciple.

Here is one of those special gifts from Father’s right hand to the American Church in the 60’s and 70’s. He loved the Church but loved the Jesus he followed even more and was attempting to wake the Church from it’s sleep and return to authentic discipleship.

 

See this related post: The Church and Her Prophets

April 2011 Update :This was a synchroblog. Here are some of the other posts:

Listen to Keith’s ‘Make my Life a Prayer

Advocacy sometimes means getting off the fence!

You know by now that I am a passionate advocate for human rights which include dignity and justice. I don’t however put my name on very many public petitions. But this one I felt needed my participation, especially in light of so many other conflicting statements from we Christians regarding healthcare.

Here is what I signed today-

As a Christian, I believe my faith calls me to view all people, regardless of citizenship status, as made in the “image of God” and deserving of respect; to show compassion for the stranger and love and mercy for my neighbor; and to balance the rule of law with the call to oppose unjust laws and systems when they violate human dignity.

These biblical principles compel me to support immigration reform legislation that is consistent with humanitarian values, supports families, provides a pathway to citizenship for immigrant workers already in the U.S., expands legal avenues for workers to enter the U.S. with their rights and due process fully protected, and examines solutions to address the root causes of migration.

I believe the current U.S. immigration system is broken and reform is necessary. I call on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform with the above elements by the end of this year.

Signed by: John Paul Todd, Berea, Kentucky

What did Christ accomplish on that hill outside Jerusalem called Golgotha?

Forgiveness of sins. The Reign of God on earth. The Community of the New Covenant. The lifting of the ancient curse on the old creation and the bestowing of blessing on the New humanity in union with Christ.

My friend John Armstrong has had a growing vision that transcends our often limited and traditional understandings that we grow up with. It has to do with nothing less than the One, Holy, Apostolic Church; the new temple that God is even now constructing stone by living stone in this present evil age.

John shares his story and his journey which he has been on in his new book, “Your Church is too small“, to be released by Zondervan in April. Here is an audio sample that will give you an idea of what he is hoping to share with all of us.

Listen to “Your Church is too small”.

Let’s expand our vision this Lenten season of the grace of God bestowed as His very own provision for our lostness.

John Armstrong’s new book (Zondervan- March 2010)

Today’s Scripture Lesson: Psalm 37

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all just get along?

I got caught up in two celebrations on Sunday. The first one was at my church where the congregation finally got to hear a report from a church-growth consultant team which has been study our situation, both inside and outside the church for several months.

The good news: we are in the right place at the right time with a very talented congregation to be able to take advantage of the opportunity to grow the Body of Christ in Richmond for the next 10-15 years. But in order to do this and move forward from where we find ourselves at the beginning of 2010, there are some barriers to overcome. The one most obvious and the one the team focused on the most is the present size of the new facilities that we moved into in 2005. They presented a workable plan to the congregation and now it is up to us to see if we can in fact come together and dedicate ourselves to the task.

But this challenge also throws into the spotlight the number one requirement ( in my humble opinion) to be able to do this successfully as a fellowship of Christians bent on following the Head of the Church-the Commander-in-chief. Churches don’t operate the same as corporations- we don’t have ceo’s. If we do, we deny the essence of who we are as God’s new creation- God’s new humanity. No, we have a CIC, and the only hope of success is to follow His strategy by faith and by His Spirit.

Thankfully, I am a part of a congregation which says they understand that: our mission statement is centered in “Alive in the Power of God!” That is before us every Sunday as we gather to worship- on the front cover of our worship bulletin. So the challenge to grow (and I believe our people have embraced that it is God’s desire for His Church to grow) begins with growing deeper spiritually. In this way, I believe we will know if we are “up to the challenge”. Thank you Doug and Dan of the Lifeway Consultant team for your excellent work.

Alive in the Unity of The Spirit

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alive  in the Light- a message from the CIC in I John 1.

 

 

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

See Also the Apostle’s statement in the Gospel of John regarding this key element of LIGHT: John 3:16-21

 

An interview with author Tim Keller. CE

Do Christians have blind spots when it comes to false gods?

An idol is something you rely on instead of God for your salvation. One of the religious idols is your moral record: “God accepts me because I’m living a good life.” I’m a Presbyterian, so I’m all for right doctrine. But you can start to feel very superior to everyone else and think, God is pleased with me because I’m so true to the right doctrine. The right doctrine and one’s moral record are forms of power. Another is ministry success, similar to the idol of achievement. There are religious versions of sex, money, and power, and they are pretty subtle.

How does someone identify their idols?

Look at your daydreams. When you don’t have to think about something, like when you are waiting for the bus, where does your mind love to rest? Or, look at where you spend your money most effortlessly. Also, if you take your most uncontrolled emotions or the guilt that you can’t get rid of, you’ll find your idols at the bottom. Whenever I hear someone say, “I know God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself,” it means that person has something that is more important than God, because God forgives them. If you look at your greatest nightmare—if something were to happen that would make you feel you had no reason to live—that’s a god.

How do we get rid of idols?

I confess that I don’t say much about that. Practicing spiritual disciplines is another book. I do say that analyzing and recognizing an idol is a step away from its power over you. You also have to have a heck of a prayer life. That prayer life can’t just be petitioning. There has to be encounter, experience, and genuine joy. You have to have Jesus Christ increasingly capture your affections.

Is it necessary to suffer disappointment before seeing that idols don’t satisfy?

I fear you may be right. I don’t want that to be true. Very often it’s much stronger than disappointment. It’s hard for me to look at a young person and know what their idols are, because usually something has to happen in their life to frustrate them for them to see that something has inordinate power over them. No one learned about their idols by being told about them.

Go to full-interview at Christianity Today by Sarah Bailey. I found this very significant that Keller puts his finger on exactly what others have suggested is especially true of conservative Presbyterians: The relentless pursuit of “Right Doctrine”  worship.

AN URGENT NEED!     John enjoying a baseball game w/ His brother

 

ACT3 President Coming To Madison County-

October 4th – 5:00-7:00pm

 (John,on the right, with his brother Thomas on opening day of the Marlins)

Dr.John H. Armstrong will be speaking at Trinity Church PCA, Richmond, to a unity celebration sponsored by E4Unity, Sunday at 5:00p.m. The web site of ACT3 ministries pretty well sums up John’s passion since 1991: “Equipping Leaders for Unity in Christ’s Mission”.

Since about 1998 John has been a personal friend and a great encouragement. Though I am a few years older, I have found in him a worthy model of what I am advocating and seeking to promote in the local area among all the churches. He will be with us to talk about his new book to be released by Zondervan in April, 2010. It is a book that he says is his own personal vision that God has been teaching him about the urgent need among American Christians. It is entitled, “Your Church is Too Small: Why unity in Christ’s Mission is vital to the future of the Church”. 

John has served the church in a number of ways for some thirty years and has authored books(twelve) that demonstrate his love for Christian churches of all the different traditions. In his sermons, lectures, and books and writing, John is focused on providing resources and counsel for Pastors and leaders. He is a capable Biblical scholar himself serving as an adjunct professor of evangelsim at the Wheaton College Graduate School.

If you are in the Lexington-Richmond area, we urge you to join us for this very profitable session regarding the church, her unity, and her mission.

For location of Trinity Church PCA  (here)

For an example of the resources ACT3 provides for the churches see the forthcoming Biblical Forum, a periodic gathering for serious Biblical theology, Oct.30,31, in the Chicago area. The theme will be, “Reading the Old Testament as Jesus Did”.

Did You Know?

Related subsequent post: Rare Letter to College Students

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