Jesus’ New Commandment

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Springtime flowers (photo credit below).

The “Maundy” in “Maundy Thursday” is a word from the Latin Bible where Jesus’ new command is translated as a “new mandate“–and since he traditionally gave that mandate or command on Thursday night before he was betrayed, the Church’s celebration of the Last Supper and its related events has come to be called Maundy Thursday.

But is Jesus’ command really new? After all, the command to “love your neighbor” is mentioned in Leviticus 19–hardly new–and Jesus indirectly refers to that statement in Leviticus elsewhere when, in the Gospels, he asked to state what the greatest commandment is; he replies that we are to love God with our whole heart, and “the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.”

So it isn’t new in the sense that it has never been said before. Nor is it new in that Jesus hasn’t said it before. How is it then new? Continue reading

Church S/Hopping in 2017

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Old Books

I recently came across the Reformed Reader, a WordPress site dedicated to encourage people who have an interest in solid Christian theology. I’d like to commend it to my readers here.

It is stewarded by a professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary (Andrew Compton), and a minister in the United Reformed Church (Shane Lems) and has a good sampling of texts and quotes which are both old and still applicable to our modern situation as Christians in a quickly changing world.

For instance, I was struck by how much Continue reading

Sermons from the Last 18 Months

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Acts chapter one from the Greek NT

Preaching is a big part of what I do; of the titles that I go by as “pastor,” one of my favorites is “minister of the Word and Sacrament.” Minister means “servant.” I’m literally, by that title, a “servant of the Word.”

To prepare for this task, I generally I aim to spend between 12-20 hours per week in sermon preparation and study. Not all of that is in book work or writing. Some of it, and more besides, is spent in meditation, prayer, and personal reflection as I try to apply and feel the weight of the word I intend to preach to others in my own soul. The following two proverbs are helpful in this regard:

Physician, heal thyself.

and

Watch your life and doctrine closely for in so doing you’ll save both yourself and your hearers.

With this as background, I am posting below a ten-point review of what I’ve preached over the past eighteen months or so, and some explanation as to why I’ve chosen what I’ve chosen. Continue reading

Thoughts on Welcoming the Weak

In wider cultural circles, Christians often come under attack for failing to express to one another those virtues which we say are so important. I’m talking about things like love, sympathy, acceptance, and showing undeserved kindness.

This is, in one sense, a decoy topic for someone who has refused to consider the claims of Jesus. All too often their reasons amount to nothing more than excuses which avoid, rather than seriously engage, the truth claims of the faith.

Think about it. Don’t deep divides within the fields of evolutionary biology about just how the world came to be separate the most scholarly in the field? Yet such divides are not singled out for forming a reasonable basis for rejecting evolutionary biology. The same goes for politics. Deep divides within the a political party in American society are not a sound basis for rejecting said political party, or politics, as a whole.

In fact, in every area of public life, quarrels over fairly minor points are disputed between friends: “You like the NFL, I like the NFL; you like the AFC, I like the AFC; you like the AFC East, I like the AFC East; you like the Cowboys, I…click.” You get the idea.

Yet, I suspect that Christians are singled out in a special way for hypocrisy here because of the claims of the Christian faith itself: Continue reading

Pastors Turning Tail

To turn tail describes behavior of a coward, someone who runs from danger. Mr. Crane described the dynamics of cowardice in The Red Badge of Courage. I read it in eighth grade and will never forget the experience.

In days where denominations and departments of state are turning tail and running from the clear teaching of Scripture, pressure will increase on pastors to do the same. If the world is a battlefield on which pastors are called to fight a spiritual war for the kingdom of God, the godly will stand fast; but false teachers (sometimes called “thieves”) turn tail from their commitments and exchange the truth for a lie, scratching the “itching ears” of those who by nature do not want to hear hard words of repentance.

But what about fleeing for one’s life? Escaping persecution is a different matter, isn’t it?  Continue reading

7 Reasons Protestants are Pro Ecclesia

Pro Ecclesia means “for the church” and Protestants are people who “protest.” That’s a strange combination: how can Protestants (negative) be for the Church (positive)?

It all began innocently enough. A German Bible doctor  and priest penned something like a medieval letter to the editor when he posted a list of ninety-five arguments on the public bulletin board (the door of the chapel in the center of town). This priest-scholar believed these were worthy of debate by church leaders and published them out of a love for the Church and an established tradition of seeking its reformation.

However, that priest, named Dr. Martin Luther, was eventually excommunicated by the Roman Catholic hierarchy for refusing to recant his views which he first articulated when he posted those concerns, called theses, on October 31, 1517.

It is remarkable that such a small action (which was essentially nothing more than a blog post or an op-ed piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer) set in motion what would eventually become the Protestant Reformation. Since then, that historic event (or events, as many historians acknowledge a number of reformations) has come to define a movement of Christian belief known as Protestantism.

Yet, as a Catholic reform movement defined in part by objecting to certain things–especially religious traditions and practices which have little or nothing to do with the Bible–we must not be understood merely as an opposition movement, or as people who only stand against.

I think there is a need to reemphasize that while the label or term “Protestant” has historically negative connotations, it does not summarize the whole scope of Protestant belief. We need to freshly articulate he positive grounds or foundations for protestant faith and practice.

Besides this, because of the many traditions within Protestantism, it is important to lay out the major convictions held by those who find themselves still “protesting” certain practices of the Roman Catholic Church as a way of understanding what binds us is greater than what divides. Here then are seven “pros” or positive beliefs that all Protestants share. Continue reading

Pentecost and Acts

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Part of the problem with denominations and Christian traditions is that words are taken like brand names (think © or ™), making it harder to use them with genuine biblical meaning…

  • Catholic means “universal”–no Christian in his right mind would deny the universal character to the Christian message (true for all time, in all societies and cultures, around the world)
  • Presbyterian means “governed by elders” (among other things) and in this regard, many churches have presbyters as key leaders in the local assembly, not just “Presbyterian” churches.
  • Pentecostal or “related to Pentecost” ought to describe all true Chrsitians: people who take “Pentecost” seriously as a watershed moment for the church of Jesus Christ.

That last brand name, “Pentecostal,” is on my mind lately as I’ve begun to preach through the Book of Acts. We will hit Acts 2:1-11 in two Sundays; so, I’m asking myself, “what does Luke mean by Pentecost?” and “How, or in what way, are we called to be Pentecostal today?”

We need to begin with this observation: Pentecost (or the outpouring of the Holy Spirit) is not the key action of God in Acts: the key ‘act’ of God in Acts is the Ascension of Jesus. Continue reading

Pastoral Care: Calvin’s Geneva and Lessons for Today

The word “pastor” contrary to popular opinion does not mean “preacher,” but “shepherd.” That’s partly why renaissance artists use the phrase, “pastoral” to describe a grassy meadow in a valley on a warm summer afternoon. That’s where shepherds do their work.

This may help explain why so many “pastors” are confused about their job description: we call them one thing, but expect something else from them. In my own experience, everything from corporate savvy to public speaking skills make the list. Of course these things are not insignificant.

But it is also true that rarely do we find a church looking for a shepherd. Such a man is one who has a heart for the sheep of Christ’s pasture and who seeks to lead them, under the watchcare of the Chief Shepherd, and by His power and Spirit, to the waters of eternal life.

There was no such confusion in Calvin’s Geneva, however. Continue reading

Calvin on Church Discipline

Last week, I posted an old essay I wrote in my first church on the connection between the sacraments and church discipline. Today I wanted to post a quote by Calvin on his definition of the “keys of the kingdom.”

But first, a couple of comments about leadership and the expression of biblical authority in the Church today. Continue reading

Church Membership and the Lord’s Supper

(The following essay is part of a paper I wrote in 2001 as pastor of my first church. I am republishing it here because the issue and importance of church membership and the Lord’s Supper is as important today if not more so than it was then.)

In the PCA, membership vows require a person to not only make a simple profession of faith in Jesus Christ, but to promise to follow Him in a couple of specific ways: serving the Lord in the local church to the best of his ability (time, talents, and treasure), and submitting to the government and discipline of the church, as that is expressed by humble, godly elders of the local congregation.

Elder Accountability

This oversight responsibility (otherwise known as accountability) is seen in a special way at the Lord’s Table. Scripture, presents elders with the responsibility of excluding those from the Table who are unworthy partakers (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 5), a process called suspension from the Lord’s Supper, or Excommunication.

Yet, if you are a church which does not have or practice membership, in such a case, what is a person excluded from? You would find yourself in the midst of a logical impossibility.

By taking the position that it takes, our denomination is not saying that “church membership” is a requirement for salvation (as if we had to “do” anything besides believe), but only this: church membership is the normal, regular way that a Christian expresses his faith in Christ in a visible way. Like baptism, giving to the poor, and other expected responses to those who have been saved by Grace through Faith alone, joining a church is a central part of what it means to be a thankful and faithful disciple of Christ.

Calvin, quoting Augustine and others, said this: If you will not take the Church as your Mother, you may not take God as your Father. (For more on church eldership and church discipline, read T David Gordon’s article at the PCA website here.)

 What Are the Sacraments?

This raises a good question: what are the sacraments, and what do they have to do with a simple profession of faith? Continue reading