Acts 8:26-40

Acts 8:26-40

The Ethiopian Eunuch

Philip was instructed to head towards the desert road leading to Gaza, some forty to fifty miles from Jerusalem. Being a desert there would be little or no water, no people, no sustenance. Then having encountered the man by God’s providence and the sovereign seeking of his lost sheep, he was then instructed to join the courtier in his chariot.

The Ethiopians were descendants of Cush, the son of Ham and were very dark-skinned people among whom there were Jews who traded. It had been part of the Persian empire and at one time fought Israel. It was a heathen people to whom God promised salvation and represented the Gentiles in a number of Scriptures. Gen.10:6-8, II Chron.14:9, Esther 1:1, I Kings 1:10-13, Ps.68:31, Isaiah 11:11,43:3, 45:14, Jer.13:23, 38:10,39:16-18, Amos 9:7. Ethiopia had many Falasha Jews who were transported to Israel when communists deposed their Emperor Haile Selassie. There have been Christians in the nation for centuries but for most of that time their religion has been a dead and corrupt orthodox one.

This man was the queen of Ethiopia’s treasurer, a eunuch and a proselyte Jew travelling to one of the feasts in Jerusalem. He was a stranger who had been circumcised and joined God’s people in worship. Much can be learned about “strangers” in both testaments-the name means non-Jew, foreigner, alien or guest. They were to obey Israel’s laws, be circumcised and treated well. Gen.17:12-14,Ex.12:19,48,49, 20:10, Lev.16:29, Num.15:14,15, 19:14, Deut.10:19, 11:14,29:22, II sam.22:45, I Kings 8:41, Ps.18:44, Is.14:1,56:6, Ezek.44:9, Matt.25:43, Eph.2:19.

We cannot assume he was alone. We know he was in a powerful chariot and likely armed.

The Spirit may have spoken to Philip either audibly or internally (c.f. Elijah)

Philip as the eunuch if he understood what he was reading because everything concerning faith depends on understanding c.f. the good soil in the parable are those who understood.

He was reading Isaiah 53-unsure whether in Greek or Hebrew.

He was reading aloud for his own benefit, or perhaps for anyone with him, because Philip heard him.

The eunuch suspected Philip could help him because the question implied that.

The eunuch’s problem was interpreting the prophecy.

Philip preached Christ, the fulfilment of all O.T. prophecy, who died and rose, poured out his spirit and commands repentance, faith and baptism with water.

The eunuch asked for baptism at the oasis.

The requirement for adult baptism is repentance and faith in Christ as the son of God.

Verse 38 by no means supports baptism by immersion because the prepositions can mean they went down TO the water and came up FROM the water. Implying they both went into the water would mean they were both submersed! Scripture teaches baptism by sprinkling or pouring signifying the sprinkling of Christ’s atoning blood and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon us from above.

The Spirit caused Philip to vanish because his work was done and he had other work to do namely preaching in all the coastal towns as far as Caesarea where he eventually settled (Acts 21:8). He was an evangelist which was an apostolic helper who preached and had miraculous power.

The eunuch went on his way rejoicing in the joy of God and no doubt to be a witness to his countrymen and found an Ethiopian church. Sadly it declined and became apostate within a few centuries.

Next study (DV) April 6th on Acts 9:1-22

 

The Real St.Patrick

New LRF Blog Post


Who Was “St Patrick”?

Posted: 16 Mar 2019 01:21 AM PDT

Patrick was born in the Fourth/Fifth Century in the village of Bannavem Taburniae, probably somewhere in Western Wales or England. His father was Calpornius, a deacon; and his grandfather, Potitus, was a priest or presbyter. Although raised in a Christian home, Patrick, by his own admission “did not know the true God,” when, at the age of sixteen, pirates abducted him and sold him into slavery. Patrick attributes this calamity to the chastisement of God: “deservedly so, because we turned away from God, and did not keep his commandments, and did not obey our priests, who used to remind us of our salvation.” Patrick’s captors brought him to Ireland, where he became a shepherd on the lonely Irish hills. In God’s providence and grace, however, Ireland became the place of Patrick’s new birth: “And there the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God.” The young convert praises God’s “mercy on [his] youth and ignorance,” as well as God’s fatherly care of him: “[He] guarded me and comforted me as would a father his son.” He escaped from Ireland, but later returned to be a missionary to the Irish.

Although claimed by the Roman church as an emissary of the pope, Patrick and the British church were not under the papal yoke, nor would the Irish church be under papal authority until many centuries after Patrick, when in 1155 pope Adrian IV, the only English pope, granted Ireland to King Henry II of England. Typical Roman doctrines such as purgatory and Mariolatry are absent from Patrick’s writings, although there are some areas, such as his citations from the Apocrypha and reliance on dreams as divine guidance, where we would disagree with him theologically. Significantly, Patrick was neither an Arian (a denier of the Trinity) nor a Pelagian (a denier of the efficacy of God’s grace and a proponent of freewill theology) and he quotes repeatedly from the Scriptures, establishing them, and not the Church or the pope, as his authority in doctrine and life.

Patrick’s Trinitarianism is solid, although the legend that has him explaining the Trinity to the pagans of Ireland with the bad analogy of the shamrock is almost certainly spurious, being first mentioned more than one thousand years after Patrick. Patrick writes about Christ, “We declare [him] to have always been with the Father, spiritually and ineffably begotten by the Father before the beginning of the world, before all beginning.” Later, Patrick writes, “Christ abideth forever, who reigns with God the Father Almighty and the Holy Spirit before time, and now, and in all eternity.”

Patrick’s doctrine of salvation is a powerful confession that God alone is the Saviour through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit by grace alone. The missionary to Ireland never attributes salvation in any part to his good works. Indeed, Patrick begins his confession in these words: “I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful.” He attributes his deliverance from unbelief not to the power of his freewill, but to God: “the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief.” In a beautiful, homely way, he describes his conversion: “before I was humiliated I was like a stone lying in the deep mire; and he that is mighty came and in his mercy lifted me up, and raised me aloft, and placed me on the top of the wall.”

Having committed his soul to Christ the Saviour, Patrick had personal assurance of eternal life: “On that day without doubt we shall rise in the brightness of the sun, that is, in the glory of Christ Jesus our Redeemer, as sons of the living God and joint heirs with Christ, to be made conformable to his image, for of him, and by him, and in him we shall reign.”

[All citations are from “St. Patrick’s Confession, one of only two of his extant writings].

Rev.Martyn McGeown, Missionary-Pastor, Limerick Reformed Fellowship.

Consecration of Israel (4)

Israel’s Covenant Consecration

Sung Psalm 50:1-6

Reading Exodus 24

The covenant people

Looking back in Scripture at the progressive revelation of God’s one covenant of grace we start with an enumeration of those with whom God covenanted and we have Adam and Eve (2 people) and eventually their progeny (the seed of the woman) (Gen.3:15). With Noah (Gen.6:18) we have Noah and his family (8 people). Next to enter into covenant were Abraham and his house (approximately 1000 people comprising 318 men and their families) and through him an innumerable seed (Gen.14:14, 15:18). The innumerable seed started with Jacob’s sons and their progeny (70 in Egypt) multiplying to 603,550 men and their dependants (likely 2 million plus) by the time they left that land. These were the twelve tribes or children of Israel with whom God entered covenant through the mediator Moses (Ex.19:6) whom God called a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. The New Covenant in Christ covers all the Old Testament saints plus the N.T. saints and comprises billions from every nation, the mediator now being seated at God’s right hand.

The covenant blood

With Adam the blood shed was incidental in God’s clothing of their nakedness. It is likely that Abel’s lamb was sacrificed and blood deliberately spilt or sprinkled. With Noah (Gen.8:20) there was undoubtedly an altar and bloody sacrifice. With Abraham initially with the animals cleaved in two there was no deliberated blood letting (Gen.12:7,8) but there was later in the typical offering of Isaac (the ram providentially substituting for him in Gen.22. With Moses in Ex.20:24 we have an altar with burnt offerings and peace offerings which were offered by fit young men along with Moses who acts as priest and there was more blood requiring basins (chapter 24) and a means of sprinkling. So we can see a clear progression in the use of blood in the covenant which of course culminated in Christ’s atoning death through the better mediator and eternal high priest namely himself (Heb.9:15,18-20). In the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Matt.26, Mark 14, I Cor.11) Christ’s bloody sacrifice is represented in the bread and wine.

 

Baptist theology found wanting!

 

Infant baptism is proved from Scripture not so much by a direct and explicit ‘command’ saying “Infants must be baptised,” or by an explicit ‘example’ in the NT (i.e. “… and the infants were baptized aswell …).

Infant baptism is proved, however, as the Westminster Confession puts it, “by good and necessary consequence” (WCF 1:6). It is “deduced” from Scripture. This, of course, involves getting your thinking cap on in order to see this. (BTW, it is quite interesting that that phrase was left out by the Baptists when they copied their confession from the Westminster. I wonder why … ).

From my own research, I would like to put into my own words how infant baptism can be “deduced” from Holy Writ. Here is a brief overview. You may disagree with some of the premises, but this is the Reformed position:

(1) There is only one people of God throughout Scripture. The church IS Israel. And this can be proved in many ways.

(2) There is only one covenant (a covenant of grace) revealed in Scripture — in the OT it was revealed under types and shadows, in the new, it is unfolded in its fullness. The essence of the covenant is *friendship with God*.

(3) There is only one covenant ‘promise’ (“to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee in their generations”); and that same covenant ‘promise’ is made to the same people all throughout Scripture, namely, “to believers and their seed” (Gen. 17:7 Acts 2:39).

(4) There is only one way of salvation in both OT and NT: namely, salvation in Jesus Christ, by grace, through faith. It was never by works, nor was it ever conditional upon man.

(5) There is only one covenant ‘sign’ in each dispensation. In the OT the sign was circumcision, and in the NT that same sign was replaced by baptism. And what’s more, both circumcision and baptism symbolise the same one spiritual reality, namely, the removal of the body of the sins of the flesh (Col. 2:11-12). Circumcision was never merely an “ethnic marker”; and it was never symbolic of “physical earthly blessings”; what it symbolised was purely *spiritual* things: e.g. the removal of sin, and other things. And water baptism has that very same meaning: the removal of sins by the washing of the Holy Spirit.

(6) Because of this organic continuity and unity all throughout Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, the onus is actually on the BAPTIST (or other anti-Infant Baptists) to show where in the NT that children are now ‘cut off’ or ‘excluded’ from the one covenant of grace. There needs to be an express statement or command saying that. If this can’t be found, then it must be conceded that children of believers are STILL recipients of the covenant promise and therefore are STILL comprehended as being in the covenant.

And because they are comprehended as being included in the covenant, they are candidates for baptism (for baptism is a sign of the covenant).

“For THE PROMISE is unto you (believer) AND TO YOUR CHILDREN” (Acts 2:39). God never promises to be a God unto those who are ‘outside’ of or ‘excluded’ from His covenant. All recipients of His covenant promise are members of the covenant. Therefore because “the promise” is “to your children,” they also must be seen or viewed as covenant children.

Support Felix!

Prayer Alert

Please pray for vital Christian freedom case

Felix Ngole’s case will be heard tomorrow at the Court of Appeal 
Since 2016 the Christian Legal Centre has been supporting Felix Ngole after he was expelled from his social work course at the University of Sheffield. What had he done to deserve such a punishment? On Facebook, outside of course hours, Felix had expressed what the Bible says about marriage and sexuality.

His case, due to be heard tomorrow and Wednesday will have implications for whether the 6 million regulated professionals in the UK truly have freedom of speech.

Watch Felix’s prayer update

“I pray the court will recognise the freedom to express my Christian faith.”

The effect of this decision by the University of Sheffield on Felix and his family has been immense. Yet his faith and trust in Jesus Christ is immovable.

Ahead of proceedings, Felix said: “I pray that the court will recognise the freedom to express my Christian faith. It is chilling that we live in a society where you can share your beliefs on social media and yet you find yourself in trouble when certain people disagree with you.”

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which is backing Felix, said:

“Once again, the freedom to be a committed Christian while holding a professional role is under threat. From magistrates to nurses, teachers to doctors, Christian professionals are increasingly under pressure to hide away their beliefs – to hide away the light of Christ in them, depriving society of the love of Jesus. This is why we urgently ask you to pray for Felix and our team this week.”

Pray for justice

This week we have been encouraged by this passage from the Book of Acts as we prepare for Felix’s case:

His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.” (Acts 5:40 – 42)

Felix’s courage is an inspiration to us all, and we ask that on Tuesday, wherever you are, that will you stand with him by praying for justice in this case. With this in mind, please pray for:

  • Felix and his wife, Pepsy, that their courage and strength to keep going will inspire Christians across the country and demonstrate to non-Christians what the hope of the gospel means
  • For Paul Diamond, who will be representing Felix in court
  • That universities would uphold freedom of speech
  • For the judges presiding over the case
  • For Andrea Williams and the rest of our legal team as they support Felix and speak about the case
  • For a just result that would protect Christian freedoms
  • That through all of this, the truth of the gospel will be made known in society.

We would like to thank everyone who has already prayed for Felix or sent messages of support. Thanks to you, we were able to give Felix nearly 11,000 words of Christian encouragement this morning.

We will keep you updated as the story develops – could you share Felix’s story with others who could pray?

Preaching and witnessing

“Ye shall be my witnesses” said Christ to his disciples who were divinely appointed preachers of the gospel in whose line every modern-day pastor/teacher stands publicly declaring the good tidings of the evangel or gospel. The words used for preaching and witnessing, by this latter term I mean the private speaking of Biblical truth to one’s neighbour, are evangelize (evangeliso) and proclaim (kerrusso) are used interchangeably, so how do we differentiate, compare and contrast these two activities.

It is clear that those sent to preach publicly and pastor a church or plant a new one are ordained by other elders or pastors in a church and approved of their prospective congregation. The believer who is also a prophet, is also anointed of God to speak the word in private, and along with the pastor to live a godly life which is also a powerful witness to the truth. Because the unbeliever shies away from and detests the preaching in a true instituted church is all the more reason the members have to take it to them in the world. The aim being to bring them to church and into the church. Whatever the means and whoever the speakers, the word itself is the power of God unto salvation and likewise if it is read or listened to in private.

Witnessing also occurs in the context of the local church where pastor or member testifies to God’s truth to those in error or ignorant or backsliding.

Mini Dort Conference

Come and hear the true Gospel as encapsulated in this great synod of the Reformation in the Netherlands 400 years ago:

Check out the upcoming speeches by Prof. Engelsma celebrating the 400th anniversary of the great Synod of Dordt and its statement of God’s sovereign grace in Jesus Christ!

Prof Engelsma

cprf.co.uk
Mini-Conference Saturday, 13 April, 2019 1) The Onset of the Great War:…

Consecration of Israel (3)

Sung Psalm 99:1-7

Reading Exodus 24:1-11

This narrative is about covenant consecration of the people as proven by the words “book of the covenant” and “blood of the covenant”. Hebrews 9:20 confirms this, and the epistle calls it the “first covenant” (synonymous with “old” see Heb. 8) comparing it with the second or new covenant inaugurated by Christ.

Previous scriptural covenants:

  • Adam (Hosea 6:7) pre-fall and post fall (Gen.3:15 which speaks of enmity assuming contrariwise covenant friendship.
  • Noah (also with creation)
  • Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Lev.26:42) Land promised.
  • Moses the mediator who speaks and writes the words of the covenant (Exodus 20-23) meeting God at Sinai and later in the Tabernacle (Num.7:89)
  • David
  • New Covenant. Mediator Christ (Heb.9:15) He speaks for God and as God and for us. I Tim.2:5 and Heidelberg Catechism Lords Day 6.

 

Profanity

 

 

George W. Bethune: “What motive can there be for profanity? It has nothing in it, but a gross, stupid, devil-like contempt of all that good men love or deprecate. I have never heard anyone defend it upon any principle, and the only excuse ever offered is that it has become an unthinking habit, though some have owned themselves so lost to proper feeling that (to use their own expression), it did them good to swear when excited or irritated. ‘An unthinking habit!’ The rapid growth and strength of such a habit is another proof of the enormous sin… No one was ever naturally or without intentional practice a profane swearer. When he first attempted his awkward oath, he started and trembled lest the lightning of God would consume him on the spot,—his lips grew pale as he faltered out the fearful phrase; but soon, emboldened by the divine forbearance, callous from custom, and shameless through practised effrontery, he tosses from his leprous tongue oath after oath still more and more daring, until he scarcely knows when he swears and his conversation teems with insulting defiance of his Maker. ‘Unthinking habit!’ Is it not the privilege and dignity of a man to think? Wretched swearer, is there naught that can serve to supply your dearth of words but the titles of your good and mighty God? Naught to swell your impoverished speech but the judgments that ere long, except you repent, will crush your soul in eternal anguish? ‘Habit!’ Does habit excuse a thief, a liar, a debauchee? Has habit so corrupted your heart and lips, rendered you so familiar with the dialect of the blackguard, the drunkard, and the damned, that you cannot choose but to blaspheme like a lost spirit before your time? O surely, of all fools that mock at sin and at God who avenges himself on the sinner, the profane swearer is the silliest, cheapest, maddest, and nearest to hell! So far from getting the world in exchange for his soul, the swearer asks for his gratuitous condemnation” (Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Lectures on the Heidelberg Catechism, vol. 2, pp. 469-470).

Fire-a useful servant but bad master!

“And there came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces.” Lev.9:24.
“And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.” 10:1,2.
The same fire that confirmed God’s presence and help to his elect people, slew those who were disobedient and reprobate. In the same way God confirms his loving presence to us in answering prayer and opposes and destroys our enemies who do not repent.
 “Observe how jealous God is in matters of worship; how much he dislikes hypocrites, and formal professors; how severe he will be against such who bring in strange doctrines; what will be the fate of the contemners of Gospel doctrines and ordinances; and how much he resents those who trust in themselves, and their works, and bring in anything of their own in the business of salvation, which is strange fire, sparks of their own kindling, a burning incense to their own drag, and sacrificing to their own net.” John Gill.
“I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?” Luke 12:49

Acts 8:9-25

Simon the sorcerer

Simon was a well-known Samaritan sorcerer who through wizardry deceived the people into thinking he was the power of God (perhaps even the awaited Messiah-John 4).

Sorcery is tapping into evil powers to achieve apparent or real results that are supernatural. e.g. Jannes and Jambres (Exodus 7:11,22,8:18,19, II Tim.3:8), Elymas (Acts 13:8) also Dan.2:2, Rev.18:23).

The act of simony is seeking to buy a church office or role.

Being bewitched means they believed a lie, just as Adam and Eve did and the Galatians (Gal.3:1). It is noteworthy that both false miracles and false teaching are related in this way. The ultimate example will be that of Antichrist (II Thess.2:8-10).

Simon proudly paraded his powers so as to receive acclaim.

The Samaritans listened to him and were under his spell.

We think he was able to do actual miracles which deceived the people like the Egyptians.

The people respected him because he had been plying his trade for years.

Philip, the deacon came preaching the gospel about Christ, his work and his kingdom.

The people believed the gospel in contrast to being bewitched by the lying signs of Simon. Matthew 24:24.

Simon made a profession of faith which by Peter’s analysis was fake.

Philip, using the judgment of charity accepted this and baptized him.

Simon shadowed Philip to see his works just like many Jews in Jesus’ day.

The apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to Samaria to check on this new phenomenon of Samaritans being converted to check up on it.

We believe the Samaritans had received the Spirit in regeneration (I Cor.12:13) but not with signs e.g. tongues because as with Pentecost (Acts 2) and subsequently the gentiles/Cornelius (Acts 10) God wanted this new phase of kingdom expansion to be attested to publicly by witnesses .

The laying on of hands was simultaneous with the outpouring of the Spirit. C.f. Moses and Joshua (Deut.34:9).

Peter and John were not essential for the outpouring of the Spirit because the Ethiopian Eunuch in the same chapter was converted under Philip without them. But the public manifestation with signs following always occurred with apostles present who reported back to Jerusalem.

The sin of Simon is called simony meaning the act of selling church offices or roles.

Simon wanted this ability to enhance his reputation and perhaps make money.

Peter rebuked him in many ways saying his money should perish with him, that he was outside the kingdom, that his heart was not right and that he ought to repent and pray.

Peter was absolutely clear he was not converted or forgiven.

The gall of bitterness was an entrapment in bitter envy. Gall is bile/bile salts, very bitter substance that breaks down fat in our digestion (Deut.29:18, Heb.12:15, Prov.5:22, Matthew 27:34,48, Mark 15:23,36). Christ did not drink the gall/myrrh because it would have stupefied him.

The bond of iniquity was Simon’s perverse thinking of gaining popularity and fame which enslaved him (John 8:34).

Simon’s request for prayer like Esau’s with Jacob and Pharaoh with Moses was merely a token gesture to avoid the consequences of their actions.

We read no more about Simon because the Spirit has told us all we need to learn and it is likely he was reprobate.

The apostles on their way back to Jerusalem (about 40 miles or two days journey) preached in several Samaritan villages.

Next study (DV) Saturday March 16 at 8pm to look at Acts 8:26-40

 

Consecration of the People of Israel

Sung Psalm 103:3-10 note ref. to Moses

Reading Deut. 34:1-12

There were many events and commandments from God that separated the Israelites from all the other nations in Old Testament times–the ten plagues, the Passover, and the passage through the Red Sea could all be included.

Reviewing our studies over the last three years we have covered many topics pointing to this separation or consecration or holiness:

  1. The Holy Land-promised to them.
  2. The Holy Wars-fought to take the land.
  3. The Holy Times-set apart for extended times of worship e.g. the pilgrimage feasts and year of Jubilee.
  4. The Holy Laws and codes-to cover ceremonial uncleanness (Leviticus 11-15).
  5. The Holy Sacrifices-all the offerings (Leviticus 1-7)
  6. The Holy Parties (people)-Israelites, priests and Levites.
  7. The Holy Places-tabernacle and temple.

Taken together the religion of the Pentateuch which includes all of the above constitute Mosaism or the Mosaic worldview or covenant.

All Old Testament history, the wisdom literature and the prophets are based on, and presuppose the Pentateuch and included in these Mosaic writings are the future history of Israel e.g. the kingdom and the Messiah.

Moses was the pre-eminent Old Testament character having unique face to face revelation from encounters with God (over prolonged periods), of his own Messiah (Deut.18:18, Heb.11:24-29), who performed incomparable works and miracles and was Israel’s mediator and called by God “my servant”.

 

The Lord is My Shepherd

 

Verse 1. The Lord [is] my shepherd,…. This is to be understood of Jehovah the Son, to whom it is most frequently ascribed, Genesis 49:24. This office he was called and appointed to by his Father, and which through his condescending grace he undertook to execute, and for which he is abundantly qualified; being omniscient, and so knows all his sheep and their maladies, where to find them, what is their case, and what is to be done for them; and being omnipotent, he can do everything proper for them; and having all power in heaven and in earth, can protect, defend, and save them; and all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge being in him, he can guide and direct them in the best manner; wherefore he is called the great shepherd, and the chief shepherd, and the good shepherd. David calls him “my shepherd”; Christ having a right unto him, as he has to all the sheep of God, by virtue of his Father’s gift, his own purchase, and the power of his grace; and as owning him as such, and yielding subjection to him, following him as the sheep of Christ do wheresoever he goes; and also as expressing our faith in him, affection for him, and joy because of him: and from thence comfortably concludes,

I shall not want; not any temporal good thing, as none of Christ’s sheep do, that he in his wisdom sees proper and convenient for them; nor any spiritual good things, since a fulness of them is in him, out of which all their wants are supplied; they cannot want food, for by him they go in and out and find pasture; in him their bread is given them, where they have enough and to spare, and their waters are sure unto them; nor clothing, for he is the Lord their righteousness, and they are clothed with the robe of his righteousness; nor rest, for he is their resting place, in whom they find rest for their souls, and are by him led to waters of rest, as in Psalm 23:2: the sheep are in his hands, out of which none can pluck them, and therefore shall not perish, but have everlasting life, John 10:27.

<!–Psalms 23:2

–> Verse 2. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,…. Or “pastures of tender grass” ; this is one part of the shepherd’s work, and which is performed by Christ, Ezekiel 34:14; by these “green pastures” may be meant the covenant of grace, its blessings and promises, where there is delicious feeding; likewise the fulness of grace in Christ, from whence grace for grace is received; also the flesh and blood, righteousness and sacrifice, of Christ, which faith is led unto and lives upon, and is refreshed and invigorated by; to which may be added the doctrines of the Gospel, with which Christ’s under-shepherds feed his lambs and sheep, there being in them milk for babes and meat for strong men; and likewise the ordinances of the Gospel, the goodness and fatness of the Lord’s house, the feast of fat things, and breasts of consolation: here Christ’s sheep are made to “lie down,” denoting their satiety and fulness; they having in these green pastures what is satisfying and replenishing; as also their rest and safety, these being sure dwellings and quiet resting places, even in the noon of temptation and persecution; see Song of Solomon 1:7;
he leadeth me beside the still waters, or “waters of rest and quietness”; not to rapid torrents, which by reason of the noise they make, and the swiftness of their motion, the sheep are frightened, and not able to drink of them; but to still waters, pure and clear, and motionless, or that go softly, like the waters of Shiloah, Isaiah 8:6; and the “leading” to them is in a gentle way, easily, as they are able to bear it; so Jacob led his flock, Genesis 33:14; and Christ leads his, Isaiah 40:11; by these “still waters” may be designed the everlasting love of God, which is like a river, the streams whereof make glad the hearts of his people; these are the waters of the sanctuary, which rise to the ankles, knees, and loins, and are as a broad river to swim in; the pure river of water of life Christ leads his sheep to, and gives them to drink freely of: also communion with God, which the saints pant after, as the hart pants after the water brooks, and Christ gives access unto; moreover he himself is the fountain of gardens, and well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon; and the graces of his Spirit are also as rivers of living water, all which he makes his people partakers of; to which may be added, that the Scriptures, and the truths of the Gospel, are like still, quiet, and refreshing waters to them, and are the waters to which those that are athirst are invited to come, Isaiah 55:1; and in the immortal state Christ will still be a shepherd, and will feed his people, and lead them to fountains of living water, where they shall solace themselves for ever, and shall know no more sorrow and sighing, Revelation 7:17.

Adapted from John Gill’s commentary

Order and authority in church

 

Order and authority in church

I Corinthians 11 is about ordinances which are the sacraments, ceremonies, government, and doctrines of the church that are delivered  to the church from  Jesus Christ through the apostles. The ground of all Paul’s instruction is God’s original creation of Adam and Eve. Where Genesis 2 is denied as history, very soon the order of authority will be overturned in the church especially in the form of having women office-bearers. Marriage, the creation ordinance, is the basis of human society. The society that destroys marriage destroys itself. The structure of authority in marriage and in the church is the same: the headship of the male.

What threatened this order in Corinth was woman removing their veils. The veil was the social symbol of married status and being under authority. The apostle is not specifying head coverings for today! Headship is authority in love. Male and female are equally the objects of grace in Christ (Gal.3:28). A body with two heads is a monstrosity. The married woman’s good in marriage is found in the way of subjection. The husband should examine his headship of his wife over against Christ’s headship of the church and after repenting of his sins consciously pattern himself after Christ’s grace, love, sacrifice (authority over), and tender love for his dear wife, the church. If the wife is under her husband in marriage, she cannot rule him in the offices of the church.

Male headship is of God, established in Eden. Remember Christ too, is under authority. A church that  does not observe this structure of authority cannot glorify God (and does not love God!) Women are not “to wear the pants.” A woman who does this does not walk in love with her husband or in the church, this is an affront to God and the angels. When a woman holds office in the church, Christ is dishonoured, God rebelled against and she is obnoxious. Paul says her head should be shaved as the outward sign of her shocking rebellion. Paul faults the men. Lack of headship in the home. WHERE IS THE HEADSHIP OF THE MALES? Paul finally speaks against contentiousness.  Knowledge and love of the truth is  making God all in all, and this keeps you from being contentious where you make yourself central.

Adapted from “Walking in the way of love” a commentary on I Corinthians by Nathan Langerak.

Available here:  CPRC bookshop

Drink Offering (final)

Drink Offering

Sung Psalm 116:9-19

Reading Numbers 15:1-12

Note that the wine of the drink offering was poured out twice daily after the daily burnt offering and the meal offering. It was also poured out after any and every burnt offering on the occasions outlined in v3 namely annual pilgrimage feast days, a vow or freewill offering, and again after and along with the meal offering. Further-more it was also offered with the peace offering (v8). The difference here is that this sacrifice after the burning of the fat and innards, was eaten signifying fellowship with God.

To summarise what all these offerings typify: As we already said, the burnt offering is the accomplishment of atonement for sin by the complete and perfect sacrifice of the consecrated Christ, burnt up under God’s wrath for us, bringing justification, sanctification and ultimately glorification by his Holy Spirit. As a result, his people offer themselves as meal offerings with joy (drink offering) as they too consecrate themselves to his service.

When were these daily burnt offerings first offered? Answer-Mt. Sinai (Exodus 29:38). The meal and drink offerings offered simultaneously and described in Leviticus 1-7 were also offered with the daily burnt offering but not the other “ordinary” burnt offerings till they had access to more wine and flour in the promised land (Lev.23:10ff, Numbers 15:2)

We guess that the drink offering was poured over the burnt offering and the meal offering, while they were being consumed and none was ever drunk by the people or priests. The drink offering was never offered after the sin or trespass offering perhaps because these were for specific sins requiring confession and reparation.

The fact that the meal offering and drink offering always accompanied the daily burnt offering means that for the Christian there is no real joy without Christ and consecration to him.

In Psalm 116: 13 in connection with Leviticus 7:16 David offers a peace offering, and vows to thank God for his salvation (deliverance from his enemies), witnessing publicly among God’s people and not for pride or ostentation (c.f. Matthew 6:5)

Acts 8:1-8

 

Acts 8:1-8

  1. Stephen dies and is buried (v2).
  2. Saul consenting to Stephen’s death meant he wanted it, actively assisted in it (guarding the clothes) and actually took some pleasure in it.
  3. The Jewish leaders (Sanhedrin) led the persecution of the church.
  4. Saul went door to door imprisoning those who confessed being believers, no doubt treating them badly, breaking up families and imprisoning many.
  5. Though young Saul had authority.
  6. The persecution of Jewish believers was a local religious matter of no import to the Roman authorities (see also Gallio’s reaction in Acts 18:15).
  7. As a result of the persecution many of the Christians went throughout Judea and Samaria.
  8. This fulfilled part two of the great commission of Acts 1:8 after Jerusalem.
  9. Preachers (the seventy?) and witnessing believers were spread abroad making known the gospel.
  10. The apostles remained in Jerusalem initially in obedience to Acts 1:4 but later to care for the church there.

 

  1. Samaria, the city was in the centre of the northern region of the promised land called Samaria. Excavations there have uncovered the palaces of King Omri and King Ahab including their ivory palaces and Egyptian idols (I Kings 22:39, Amos 3:15, 6:1,4).

 

  1. The Samaritans had the Pentateuch and revered Moses, some as a Messiah yet to return (John 4). They offered sacrifices and worshipped on Mt. Gerizim. They were descendants of people brought from Babylon (II Kings 17:24) and local Jews, therefore mixed race and despised by the Jews.

 

  1. Philip was one of the initial seven deacons (Acts 6) and an evangelist (apostolic helper with miraculous gifting). He was married and had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:8,9) and lived in Caesarea Philippi.

 

  1. He preached Christ, his glories and the kingdom of heaven.

 

  1. Philip performed miracles to authenticate his message and no doubt in opposition to Simon’s fake and Satanic ones. They included the instantaneous healing of soul/mind and body from crippling disease.

 

  1. The people studiously listened to Philip’s preaching because of the miracles and many were saved bringing spiritual joy to the city. Perhaps a number of previous converts from Jesus ministry (John 4) were involved.

 

Next study (DV) Acts 8:9-24 (or even 40) Saturday February 23rd 8pm

The Daily Burnt Offering in the New Testament

The Daily Burnt Offering in the New Testament

 

Sung Psalm 116:9-19

Reading Matthew 27:35-54

The first allusion to the daily burnt offering in the New Testament is found in Luke 1:10 where Zacharias was offering incense in the temple and the people were praying outside. We learn from Exodus 30:7-9 that the morning and evening daily burnt offerings were contemporaneous with the morning and evening offering of incense. Psalm 141:2 also ties incense offering to the daily burnt offering twice daily.

The crucifixion of Christ occurred at 9am, the time of the daily morning sacrifice (Mark 15:25) and his death occurred at 3pm, the time of the daily evening sacrifice (Matthew 27:50) while he also fulfilled the whole burnt offering in his total consecration to God enabling us to become the meal offering and the drink offering.

As a result of his death, the ceremonial law of offerings was abolished typified by the veil which the hand of God tore from top to bottom, the substance of which was a picture of his flesh.

The Spirit was poured out leading to preaching of the gospel at 9am (Acts 2:15) at Pentecost on the basis of the accomplishment of the cross. Acts 3:1 details the ninth hour 3pm which was the time of evening prayer. Both timings point to the times of the daily burnt offerings.

Finally in Philippians (Phil. 2:17,18) Paul sees himself as a drink offering offered on top of his flock’s meal offering of themselves and all based on Christ’s work. He is speaking of his impending death (II Tim.4:6). These two occasions are the only use of this Greek word (SPENDOMAI) in Scripture.

Micah

Excellent book-my review.

MICAH-Proclaiming the Incomparable God by Martyn McGeown

Reformed Free Publishing Association 2018

Hardback 227 pages (also ebook)

ISBN: 978-1-944555-41-2

This commentary on an otherwise pretty obscure Old Testament prophet is a gem. Micah’s name means “Who is like Jehovah?” hence Rev. McGeown’s title “Proclaiming the Incomparable God.”

McGeown proceeds to show that Jehovah is indeed unique, he is after all the only true and living God but he is a God who judges his people, denouncing false prophets and charging his people with thieving and butchering. Micah, his faithful servant, is not afraid to address the evil spiritual and political leaders of the people, “But truly I am full of power by the spirit of the Lord and of judgment and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin.”  (Micah 3:8). He sees defeat and captivity on the horizon but also the preservation of a remnant and of a wonderful age to come with Messiah and his kingdom in the New Testament age, “In the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains…and the people shall flow into it.” (Micah 4:1).

His accurate and enlightening exposition of the text grants insights into other parts of Scripture as he brings his Reformed glasses to bear on the prophecy, for example in Micah 4:10 we have the birth pangs of a woman which here refer to the horror gripping wicked men when destruction comes upon them (Isaiah 13:8), but it also represents the convulsions of creation labouring to bring forth the day of the Lord (Matthew 24:6-8), and finally it means the struggle of faithful pastors striving to form Christ in their flock (Gal.4:19).

This book on Micah addresses all the great themes of Scripture, contained in the prophecy including the covenant, God’s chastisement of Israel, his severe judgment of the enemy heathen (Micah 5:15) and the victory of his people through the Lord Jesus Christ their Messiah. Messiahis the “Breaker” who bashes down the gates of hell (Micah 2:13) and the Shepherd-Ruler of his people. McGeown richly shows how to correctly interpret Old Testament picture language in terms of our modern Christian lives e.g. “the dew from the Lord” is health-giving, refreshing, vivifying doctrine of the gospel of God’s grace.”

Perhaps one of the best-known verses in the prophecy is Micah 6:8, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?.” The author states that, ”Mercy is tender affection and pity or compassion upon those who are miserable” and this is exemplified by our covenant Jehovah’s four fold action of passing by transgression, not retaining his anger, subduing our iniquities and throwing our sins in the depth of the sea (Micah 7:18-20). Are we merciful? This challenged me regarding my attitude to the ungodly whom I tend to condemn rather than pity.(Jude 22). An excellent read and to my mind, unsurpassed commentary, on Micah. A helpful reading log bookmark with chapter divisions is included.

Available here: Bookstore

Limerick weekend

Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th January 2019 were spent in Limerick competing in Irish Indoor Rowing Champs and worshipping and fellow-shipping with brothers and sisters in the Limerick Reformed Fellowship. An added bonus was lovely hosting at an Airbnb home near the university with Genevieve and Des Wilkinson.

 Ergometer display shows how far you have rowed, in this case 84 metres from a start at 2000m, pace 2m07s for 500m, time elapsed 1min 14 secs and projected finishing time 8 mins 34 secs.

Paul Gallen from Athlone who won M60-69 2000m lightweight.

 

How to row.

M60-69 heavyweight medallists. Gaetano D’Urso (centre) from Londonderry broke Irish Record.

M60-69 2000m lightweight medallists, Paul Gallen, Jeremy Musselwhite and myself.

Medals and winners hat.

My race with Jeremy.

Joe Keating and Tony Corcoran both over 70.

Gaetano in action-powerful man (90Kg). Video on FB page.

Mixed weights 500m race video:

 

IIRC logo.

 

 

The Offerings (continued)

The Offerings

 

Remember the twice daily burnt offering included the whole burnt offering, meal offering and drink offering. We can follow the offerings through the Old Testament starting with David in Psalm 92:1-3 and 141:1-2 where he compares his own devotions to the daily sacrifices which in the temple may well have included Psalms of praise (II Chron. 29 and I Chron.16) and definitely included incense which typified prayer ascending to God.

Following the prophets we can infer that even the apostate Northern Kingdom of Israel kept offering (though hypocritically) in Hosea 9:4 and Amos 4:4 which strongly suggests a daily burnt offering.

Ezekiel’s vision of a new temple most definitely includes daily sacrifices (46:13-15 c.f. Exodus 29:40 regarding amounts) and 45:17.

When we reach Daniel, the last prophet to speak of sacrifices, it is in conjunction with eschatology including the rise of Antiochus Epiphanes in 8:11-13, 11:31 and 9:21,24-which links the daily burnt offering with Christ’s cross and 12:11 which brings us to the Antichrist who makes true worship impossible. Hence Daniel speaks of the essential nature of these sacrifices in Israel’s worship and the abolishing of them caused by abominable idolatry. He speaks of “everlasting righteousness” which we would call justification which is typified by the daily whole burnt offering which for us (and them prospectively) was realized by Christ’s perfect obedience to the whole law on our behalf summed up by Paul in Romans 8:3,4, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

The Offerings (continued)

The Offerings (cont.)

Sung Psalm 104:10-16 note wine making man’s heart glad.

Reading Exodus 29:38-46

From what we gleaned so far, all the offerings taken together teach that the joy of the believer in God (to whom all the drink offering of wine was poured out) (Ps.33:1, Phil.4:4), is based on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and his imputed righteousness (whole burnt offering), in the covenant (salt), through consecration of the believer (meal offering), prayer( frankincense) and without sin (leaven and honey).

In the passage above, particularly 41-46 we see covenant expressions (God meets with, speaks to and dwells with his people).

The daily burnt offering (morning and evening) from the believer’s viewpoint is a picture of the Christian life resting on the sacrifice of Christ, dedicated to him and full of joy. The twice daily offering is a good example of our own devotions to God morning and evening (Psalm 55:17). We believe they were 9am and 3pm.

We reviewed the order of Ex.28 dealing with Priests’ garments followed by Ex.29, the Priests’ consecration followed by the daily burnt offering. Numbers 28 details the daily offerings.

Historical examples of the twice daily sacrifices:

I Kings 18;29,36, II Kings 3:20 (the king ought to have been consecrated to God but instead made sinful ecumenical alliances) II Kings 16:15, I Chron.16:40 (David’s reformation), II Chron. 2:11 (Solomon), 31:3 (Hezekiah). Ezra 3:3, 9:4,5, Neh.10:33.

Acts 7:54-60

Acts 7:74-60

studyguideacts

The Jewish authorities were so angry because they were accused (and were guilty of) lawbreaking and the murder of the Messiah.

Stephen being full of the Spirit and seeing the glory of God and Christ in heaven are related in that the Spirit reveals things, not only truth of Scripture but also heavenly things (I Cor.2:9-14, II Kings 6:17). God opens eyes to reality even when it is normally invisible. He gives visions e.g. Revelation, Isaiah, Paul etc.

We believe Christ stood to receive his beloved servant and the first martyr Stephen.

The lack of a formal verdict on the part of the Jews indicates his murder was impulsive, illegal, unjust and unanimously wicked.

The Jews stopped their ears because they refused to listen to any more Stephen would say.

The Jews, without the permission of the Romans, could stone Stephen because stoning for blasphemy (false accusation Acts 6:13) was prescribed in their Law (Leviticus 24, 11,16,23, I Kings 21:10).

Stephen’s last words in verses 59,60 were very like Christ’s last from the cross (Luke 23:46).

Stephen spoke with a loud voice presumably because it was noisey and he wanted his killers to hear his call on God to forgive him and take him to glory.

Stephen asked God to forgive his murderers presumably because there were elect among them just as at the cross (and indeed there were-Saul!). He was praying for their salvation (Romans 10:1).

Stephen though dying a violent death would have experienced just falling asleep as he lost consciousness. His body fell asleep in death but his soul lived on and went to be with Christ.

PERSECUTION 

Why are Christians persecuted? Give three reasons and Scriptures.

  • The Antithesis-Gen.3:15, Eph.6:12, I John 3:13, Rev.12:17.
  • Identification with Christ- Matthew 5:10-12, John 15:18-21.
  • God’s purpose to fill up the cup of Christ’s sufferings-Col.1:24, I Peter 4:13 and conversely the wicked fill up the cup of iniquity and condemnation and also see below^
  • What is God’s purpose in it? I found seven different ones.^
  • Genesis 50:20 very important. God’s purpose is to do us good.
  • It is to purify us, wean us from the world (increase our hope), increase our dependence on him, draw us together, spread the gospel (Acts 8), witness to the unbelieving I Peter 1:7, 2:19-20, Phil.1:28*, Matthew 10:28* and even save some of the persecutors (e.g. Paul), Christ and us in him will be victorious (Rom.8:35-39, I Cor.15:57).
  • What is the need of the Christian in persecution?
  • Steadfastness: Acts 2:42, II Cor.2:7, Col.2:5, Heb.3:14.
  • Faith: Heb.11, like gold (Job 23:10, I Peter 1:7)
  • Patience: James 1:3, 5:10
  • Prayerfulness: James 5:13
  • Fearlessness*

What should our response be?

  • As above; rejoice, do good to our persecutors; pray for brethren (Heb.13:3), give practical aid.

Reasonable book on the basic theology of persecution:

Next study (DV) Sat. Feb. 2nd 8pm on Acts 8:1-8

 

 

Church Government and Discipline

Church Government and Discipline

An excellent reference blog


The Belgic Confession, Articles 30-32 (“Church Government and Discipline”)

Belgic Confession, Article 30; Day 1: The Church Must Be Governed

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

                              Ephesians 5:23 “…Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

Belgic Confession Articles 30-32 deal with a specific aspect of the church, the subject of church polity: “We believe that this true church must be governed.” Church government is church polity. For many church polity is a dry and boring subject, as dry and boring, they imagine, as politics are in the world. The writer of the Belgic Confession did not share such a view. He saw the necessity of good church government for the welfare of God’s people.

When church authority is neglected and denied or abused and usurped the church suffers. For many years before the Reformation the church had suffered tyranny. The pope declared himself to be the head of the church on earth. Under him were a number of different men in different positions, each with their own rank. The Roman Catholic church has the same governmental structure today. At the bottom are common church members without rights. They cannot appoint their own officebearers. They have no right to appeal the decisions of the church. In fact, strictly speaking, they are not the church. Only the clergy are the church. Indeed, only the pope is the church; and only they who are in communion with him can be called church. This is still Rome’s position. We call it hierarchy, an ever ascending succession of offices from parish priest, through bishop, archbishop, cardinal to the pope himself. The Reformation rejected such a tyrannical government over the church.

On the other hand, without any government the church suffers chaos and confusion. How is God to be worshipped? Who makes the decisions in the local congregations? Who are the members and the leaders of the church? What is their relationship? How are truth and purity to be preserved in the congregations? The Anabaptists were radicals at the time of the Reformation, who, rejecting the tyranny of the pope and his clergy, sought to rid themselves of all or almost all church government. The church became a “free-for-all.” There are churches today where there is no membership list, no oversight of members, no supervision of the preaching, of the sacraments and of the worship services, and no discipline. Anything goes in the name of “Christian freedom.”

The Reformed churches reject both extremes. We teach freedom from the tyranny and abuse of hierarchy, but we also refuse to live in anarchy, a word which means “having no ruler.” Anarchy, both in church and state, is harmful.

We refuse anarchy because Christ is the Head of His church. As the Head He is not only the source of the church’s life but He also rules the church. Without the headship of Christ the church would be chaotic and God would be dishonoured. A body which refuses to listen to the head is a monstrosity. A body which seeks to rule itself without a head is impossible. How thankful we must be that Christ has not left us headless. He is our loving and sovereign Head. Let us submit ourselves gladly to Him in all things, including submission to the church government which He has appointed.

 

 

Belgic Confession, Article 30; Day 2: The Safety of Christ’s Yoke

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

 Matthew 11:29-30: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Government is everywhere. In the family the husband and father is the head of the home. Wives are called to submit to their husbands. Husbands are called to rule their wives in love. Children are called to obey their parents. Citizens are subject to civil magistrates and government officials. Government is essential for the well being of any society.

The church must be governed also. Many Christians agree that the church universal is under the headship of Christ. All Christians are called to obey and serve Him. But many Christians do not agree that they must submit to the government of a local congregation. This is because they fail to recognize that Christ rules His people by His grace and Holy Spirit through His Word in the church institute. Belgic Confession Article 28 has already mentioned this: being a member of the church includes “submitting [ourselves] to the doctrine and discipline [of the church], bowing [our] necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ …”

The government which Christ has ordained for His church is neither tyrannical nor negligent. Christ loves His church and therefore He has given to her a specific form of government for her edification. Paul writes. “For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed” (II Cor. 10:8). Elsewhere Scripture states, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17). And again Paul writes, “Know them that labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves” (I Thess. 5:12-13). No wonder the Bible calls church leaders shepherds. They must love and care for the sheep as Christ Himself, who died for them, loves them and cares for them. Peter writes, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (I Peter 5:2-3). Paul warns the elders in Ephesus about this: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).

The Christian needs to be in a church with good government because of the many false teachers who prey on Christians. Ordinarily, Christian not under the oversight of good elders will be easy prey for a convincing heretic. No wonder Jesus was so concerned for the people of Israel in His day: the spiritual leadership had degenerated so much that wolves instead of shepherds ruled over the flock. They were “as sheep having no shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).

Are you a member of a good Reformed church with a faithful pastor, wise elders and compassionate deacons? Be thankful for that blessing! If you are not, seek shelter under the wings of Christ’s church for the good of your own soul and that of your family!

 

Belgic Confession, Article 30; Day 3: That Spiritual Polity

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

             II Corinthians 10:4: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God …

Jesus Christ is King and Head of His church. Every Christian is called to submit to His yoke, and this includes submission to Him in the local congregation. Belgic Confession, Article 27 already taught us about the kingship of Christ: “This church hath been from the beginning of the world, and will be to the end thereof; which is evident from this, that Christ is an eternal King, with without subjects He cannot be.” The subjects or citizens of King Jesus are the members of the church. Christ also rules over the wicked, but He rules over them in a different sense. We speak of Christ’s “rule of power” over the whole universe, and of His “rule of grace” over His people, the church. That distinction is very important in our consideration of church government.

Christ rules over the wicked with a rod of iron; He dashes them in pieces like a potter’s vessel; and He exerts His almighty power for the deliverance and safety of His church (Psa. 2:9; Eph. 1:22; Rev. 19:15). It is not, therefore, the role of the church to Christianize the world, to bring all aspects of human society under Christian principles or to bring heaven to earth. The kingdom of Christ, manifested in the church, is not carnal, that is, “fleshly,” or governed by fleshly, worldly principles such as brute force, political intrigue or numerical strength (John 18:36-37). Jesus warned His disciples: “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve” (Luke 22:25-26). When men through selfish ambition seek to govern the church for their own personal advancement, they do damage to the church and dishonour the church’s Lord.

For this reason the Belgic Confession reminds us that “this true church must be governed by that spiritual polity which our Lord hath taught us in His Word.” Notice that word spiritual. The three words we should remember when we speak of church polity are “Word,” “Spirit” and “grace.”

First, the power by which Christ rules in His church is the power of grace. Grace is that beautiful attitude of favour which God displays to unworthy and undeserving sinners. But grace is also a power. By the power of grace God subdues our sins and renews us according to the image of Jesus Christ. Grace is a greater power than any power the world possesses: grace makes of a sinner a saint; of a blasphemer a singer of God’s praises; of a mean-spirited, spiteful, selfish, hateful person a lover of God and his neighbour. Second, the standard by which Christ rules His church is the Word of God, the Bible. This means that the church is not governed by the opinions of the powerful or more influential members of the church; by the whims of the young people; by the dictates of society; but that the whole church submits together to the Word of God in all things. Quite simply, there is one voice to be heeded and obeyed in the church: Christ’s as He speaks in Holy Scripture! Third, this can be summarised in one word: spiritual. The church does not rely on carnal means to bring people into the church or to keep them in the church. The Spirit by His grace and Word is active in the church for the glory of God.

Is that how the church of which you are a member is governed? Then you may know yourself to be under the care of the Good Shepherd.

Belgic Confession, Article 30; Day 4: Ruled by Officebearers

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

    Titus 1:5: “…that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city …

Paul left Titus on the island of Crete to deal with unfinished, ecclesiastical business: he must ordain elders in every city. For the apostle Paul, a church is not organized, and therefore something is wanting (or lacking) if officebearers, especially elders, have not be ordained to rule the local congregations. This is very enlightening for our modern age. It is not enough for a group of Christians to meet together in someone’s house to have informal Bible studies or even to listen to sermons on the internet. Christian fellowship is good, but that in itself is not a church. A church institute does not exist without elders. A group of Christians might have a missionary working among them, but without their own elders they cannot call themselves a church. They are a fellowship and they should seek to be organized as a church. Until they do, there is something “wanting” (lacking) there.

The Belgic Confession makes the same point about the “spiritual polity” by which the true church must be governed: “namely, that there must be ministers … also elders and deacons, who, together with the pastors, form the council of the church …”  These men—ministers, elders and deacons—are officebearers. They are necessary for there to be a church in any given place.

An officebearer is one who occupies an office. By “office” we mean a position of authority. Specifically, an officebearer in the church is a man who is called by Christ through the church to occupy a position of authority in the church. As an officebearer that man represents Jesus Christ, who, as the Prophet, Priest and King, is the Officebearer from whom all other officebearers derive their authority. In the Old Testament, God called and equipped men to serve Him in the offices of prophet, priest and king. In the New Testament every Christian occupies the office of believer and is a prophet, priest and king by the Spirit and grace of Christ. Besides the office of believer there are the special offices of minister, elder and deacon. These offices correspond roughly to the offices of prophet (minister), priest (deacon) and king (elder).

There are some who insist that the office of believer in the New Testament does away with the need for special offices in the New Testament church. Their cry is “every man ministry.” But we must recognize that Jesus Himself has ordained how He will govern His church. “Every man ministry” is not the rule of Scripture but the cry of a rebellious spirit. It requires meekness and humility to submit to the church government which Christ has instituted.

An officebearer is not a mere functionary. He has real, spiritual authority. I Thessalonians 5:12 says that officebearers are “over you” in the Lord. That authority comes from Jesus Christ Himself. Christ preaches to us through the ministers; Christ governs us through the elders; Christ administers mercy to us through the deacons. We must, therefore, recognize Christ’s authority in the godly officebearers whom He has sent. This involves, as the Heidelberg Catechism teaches us, “that I … submit myself to their good instruction and correction with due obedience; and also patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand” (LD 39, Q&A 104). This also means that officebearers must give account to Christ for the way in which they have exercised their office. An awesome, but a blessed, responsibility indeed! (Heb. 13:17; I Peter 5:4).

Do you love your officebearers, pray for them, and submit to them for Christ’s sake?

Belgic Confession, Article 30; Day 5: Temporary, Extraordinary Officebearers

by Rev. Martyn McGeown 

Ephesians 4:11: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;”

The subject of church office is very important. The question is often asked, “Which offices must the church have?” Some, such as the Roman Catholic church, have many offices foreign to Scripture, such as the pope, cardinal, archbishop, archdeacons and many others. Others, such as some modern mega churches, have multiplied positions in the churches: they have senior pastors, associate pastors, executive pastors, youth pastors, worship leaders, youth coordinators, and much more, but neglect the biblical offices. Others, such as the Charismatics, claim that the office of prophet, evangelist and apostle remain in the church. The Reformed position is that Christ has appointed three permanent offices: minister, elder and deacon. These three offices are sufficient for the good governance of the church.

Ephesians 4:11 lists several offices, some of which were temporary, extraordinary offices. The most significant of these is apostle. Even at the time of the writing of the New Testament the office of apostle was limited to the eleven disciples, Matthias and Paul (Acts 1:22, 9:15, 26:15-18). “Are all apostles?” asks Paul rhetorically in I Corinthians 12:29. The Bible is clear that the office of apostle passed away with the completion of the Bible by John when he received the Revelation. We see this, first, because the apostles were a foundational office, that is, the apostles were called to build the foundation of the New Testament church. Once that foundation was built—upon the writings of the apostles and prophets—the need for foundation-builders passed away (Eph. 2:20). Second, we know that no man occupies the office of apostle today because of the unique qualifications of an apostle. An apostle had to be an eyewitness of the risen Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 1:22; I Cor. 9:1-2). An apostle had to be able to prove his apostolic credentials by miracles (II Cor. 12:12; Rom. 15:19; Heb. 2:3-4). No man—despite the claims of modern Charismatics—can prove such credentials. Third, an apostle, by virtue of his office, had unique authority. This included infallible teaching authority, authority of government over all the churches and authority of discipline (I Cor. 7:17, 14:37; II Cor. 10:8, 11:28). No man today can claim such authority over all the churches. Thus we must reject all modern claimants to the apostolic office (Rev. 2:2).

Besides apostles there were evangelists and prophets in the New Testament church. An evangelist is not merely a church planter as we might understand that word today. An evangelist—such as Timothy, Titus and Philip—was an apostolic assistant. The work of an evangelist today is included in the role of a minister (II Tim. 4:5). A prophet was a person who, before the completion of Scripture, received and communicated direct messages from God. Agabus was such a prophet (Acts 11:28, 21:10). With the completion of Scripture, direct communication with God in the form of special revelation has ceased. This was another foundational office which is no longer necessary in the modern church (Eph. 2:20; Heb. 1:1-3).

The extraordinary offices have fulfilled their purpose. Now we have the fullness of the Spirit and the completed Scriptures (II Tim. 3:16).

But the permanent, special offices of minister, elder and deacon remain.

 

Belgic Confession, Article 30; Day 6: Male Officebearers Only

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

 I Timothy 2:12: “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

Male headship is a doctrine of the Word of God which brings the church into conflict with the world. Faced with modern feminism, many churches are tempted to open the offices of minister, elder and deacon to women. The Reformed churches, in faithfulness to Christ, must resist. The passages which address the subject of officebearers in the New Testament church all teach that men, and not women, must be in those offices. The first deacons were men: “Look ye out among you seven men …” (Acts 6:3). In the pastoral epistles to Timothy and Titus, Paul restricts the offices to men. The Belgic Confession speaks about “faithful men [being] chosen according to the rule prescribed to St. Paul in his epistle to Timothy.” In I Timothy 3:1-13, Paul gives the qualifications for elders and deacons, one of which is that he be “the husband (if he is married) of one wife” (vv. 2, 12). Clearly, only men are included in this description. However, I Timothy 2 is even clearer. There Paul states expressly, “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (vv. 11-12). The same instructions are given in Titus 1:5-9.

We must notice, of course, that Jesus was not anti-women. Christ had many female followers, who were devoted to Him and served Him (Luke 8:2-3). Women were even privileged to be the first to see Him alive after His resurrection (Matt. 28:5-10). Women were present in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14). Women have been and still are members in the church and of great service to the church (Acts 5:14, 8:12, 9:36, 17:12, 21:9; Rom. 16:1-2; Gal. 3:28; Phil. 4:3). But for all that, Jesus appointed only men to be officebearers in His church. Women must not feel slighted by this, because godly women will humbly submit to Christ’s will as it is revealed in Scripture; and, besides this, the offices of the church are not positions of prestige, but places of lowly service. Male officebearers, called to be pastors, elders and deacons, must remember this. They are not called for their self-aggrandizement, but to serve the saints.

Feminists, however, object that the rule prescribed by Paul is only Paul’s opinion, and that Paul was influenced by his rabbinical teaching as a Jew. This is an attack on the inspiration of the Bible. Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ who speaks with the authority of the one who sent him. Before he introduces specific teaching on the position of men and women in the church he underlines the authority he has as an apostle: “Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity” (I Tim. 2:7). Also in I Corinthians 14—after he teaches that women are to be silent in the churches—Paul writes, “if any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (v. 37).

A humble Christian woman will listen to the Word of God, even when her flesh is offended by it. Christ ordained male officebearers for the church’s good, including the good of the women of the church.

Belgic Confession, Article 30; Day 7: Pastors to Preach the Word

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

Romans 10:14: “… And how shall they hear without a preacher?”

The first of the three offices which Christ has given to His church is the minister or pastor. Many believe—and, sadly, some ministers do nothing to dispel this myth—that the minister is the “boss” of the congregation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although the minister has real authority in the church, he is a servant of the congregation. The word minister means to serve. Woe be to that minister who uses the ministry as the Pharisees did: “[they] love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi” (Matt. 23:6-7)! Instead, a minister knows that he gives himself to the labours of the ministry so that he might serve the Lord Jesus by edifying the church. The other title of the minister is pastor. This word means shepherd. The minister or pastor must remember the words of the Lord Jesus to Peter: “Feed my lambs … Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-16). Woe unto the shepherd who feeds himself and neglects the sheep (Ezek. 34:2)!

The minister or pastor is a servant of Jesus Christ and a shepherd of the sheep with real, spiritual authority. He rules with the elders in the consistory of the church. The main work of a pastor, however, is to preach. The apostles summarised the minister’s calling: “we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). The minister is not a social worker, but a preacher. Therefore the bulk of his time and effort must be devoted to the preparing of sermons, as well as the other teaching he gives throughout the week. This includes catechism classes for the youth, Bible studies, public lectures and writing projects. For this reason a congregation must not be surprised—or offended—if their pastor spends a lot of time in his study. That is where he prepares the sermons and other materials with which he is called to feed the flock. Without that time in the study he has very little to say when he is in the pulpit.

The main purposes of pastors, as outlined in Belgic Confession Article 30, are first, “that by these means the true religion may be preserved;” and, second, “that the true doctrine [be] everywhere propagated.” Preaching, which, as Article 29 already explained, is the first mark of a true church, is necessary for the wellbeing—even the being—of the church. And preaching is not the task of just anybody. A man must be called through the church by Jesus Christ Himself to preach. Paul asks the question, “And how shall they preach except they be sent?” (Rom. 10:15). Only then is the word which the church hears the authoritative, official, word of Jesus Christ. Anyone can speak about Christ, but only through a preacher does Christ Himself speak.

Without the preaching the church cannot continue. She lacks the main means by which she worships God. She lacks the chief means of grace. She lacks faithful instruction from the Word of God. This is one of the main reasons why the modern churches are so weak. It makes one want to weep to see the confusion and ignorance of many Christians. Why? Because ministers are doing everything except preach (Eph. 4:14)!

How thankful we must be for faithful preachers! How we must pray for our preachers! How we must pray that the Lord would raise up—even of our own sons—more faithful preachers so that the Gospel can be preached to us, to our children and to the ends of the earth!

Belgic Confession, Article 30; Day 8: Preaching: the Voice of Jesus Christ

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

  John 10:27: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:”

There is much confusion about preaching. For some, preaching is that intolerably boring, and seemingly endless, part of the service where the minister drones from the pulpit. For others, preaching is the minister sharing a thought from the Bible. For others, preaching is a short, entertaining message or story on how to live a better life. If we do not know what preaching is, how will we ever learn our need for it and appreciate what a gift Christ has given to us?

First, the Greek verb “to preach” in the New Testament is “to herald.” A herald is an official, commissioned messenger of the king. This means, first, that a preacher brings no message of his own. The calling of a preacher—and woe to the preacher who does not do this—is to communicate what the king announces to the people. He may not add something to the message to make it palatable to the hearers; he may not take something away from the message to make it more “relevant.” It is the word of the king! And the king of whom we speak is the Lord Jesus Christ. Since this is the case, the minister must preach the Word of God. This does not mean that the minister merely mentions a Bible passage occasionally in his sermon or even uses a text as a “peg” on which to hang his message. This means that the sermon must be an explanation, an exposition of the Bible itself. Second, as a herald the preacher must be sent by King Jesus Himself. No man (and certainly no woman) has the right to send himself, to make himself a minister or a preacher. A man might be able to stand before the people and give a good explanation of the Bible, but that in itself is not preaching if that man was not sent by Jesus Christ. Only a herald has the right to speak authoritatively for the king. Only a preacher has the right to preach authoritatively for Jesus Christ. “And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” (Rom. 10:15). Third, since a preacher is an authoritative herald of Jesus Christ, Christ Himself is pleased to speak through him. Thus, when you hear faithful preaching you do not merely hear the voice of a man. As wonderful as it might seem, you hear the voice of Christ Himself. That is why the Reformed have said, “The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God,” or “The preaching of the Gospel is the voice of Christ.” Believers hear the voice of Christ—as He Himself promised (John 10:27)—not as voices in their heads but in the preaching. Paul makes this very clear in two passages. “How shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14, my translation). The better translation is not “of whom they have not heard” but “whom they have not heard.” In preaching we do not merely hear of or about Christ, we hear Christ Himself. “But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:20-21). The Ephesians, who had never seen Jesus in the flesh, heard Him (not merely about Him) in the preaching of the Gospel.

That gives preaching its authority. When preaching is faithful to the Word of God Christ Himself speaks to the church. Christ commands; Christ rebukes; Christ instructs; Christ edifies; Christ comforts. Shall we neglect to hear—or even despise—the voice of Christ? We do when we neglect, despise and refuse to hear the preaching of the Gospel in a true church.

 

Belgic Confession, Article 30; Day 9: The Office of Elder or Bishop

by Rev. Martyn McGeown              

Philippians 1:1: “ … to all the saints which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.

The New Testament speaks of three offices in the church: minister, elder and deacon. There are two words for elder in the New Testament. The first is presbuteros. From this word the term Presbyterian is derived. The second is episcopos. From this word the term Episcopalian is derived. Our Bibles usually translate presbuteros as elder and episcopos as bishop. But we must not imagine that the modern use of terms such as Presbyterianism or Episcopalianism accurately reflects the meaning of presbuteros and episcopos in the New Testament.

The term elder is already found in the Old Testament. There the older, and therefore supposedly wiser, men of Israel exercised a leadership role among the people (Ex. 18:21-22. There were also judges among the people (II Chron. 19:6-7). In the days of Christ Israel had elders who joined with the chief priests to condemn Jesus (Matt. 27:1). This office passed over into the church of Jesus Christ. The term elder (presbuteros) means, at its most basic, an older man. Older men were generally chosen as elders because an elder required the gravity, soberness and wisdom which come from experience and are often absent in younger men. The office of elder is further described by the second word, episcopos, often translated as bishop in the New Testament. The word means one who looks over or oversees.

Episcopalianism errs when it treats elder and bishop (overseer) as distinct offices. Episcopalianism (with Roman Catholicism) errs even more grievously when it treats the office of bishop as higher in rank than the office of elder. Although the Bible uses two words, they are used interchangeably of the one office. In Titus 1:5 Paul commands Titus to “ordain elders (presbuteros) in every city,” and then immediately adds, “for a bishop (episcopos) must be …” (v. 7). In Acts 20 Paul calls the elders (presbuteros) of the church of Ephesus (v. 17) but he reminds them, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers” (episcopos) (v. 28). Peter makes the same point in I Peter 5 where he writes, “the elders (presbuteros) which are among you, I exhort” (v. 1). Then he adds, “feed the flock which is among you, taking the oversight (episcopos) thereof” (v. 2).

We can see what the work of an elder is from the name episcopos. An elder is (usually) an older, wiser, more experienced man who oversees the church. This means that elders have real, spiritual authority over the whole church and over every member. They are the official representatives of Jesus Christ, through whom He is pleased to rule. The Belgic Confession names some of the responsibilities of elders. They must see to it that the Word of God is faithfully preached; that “true religion [is] preserved and the true doctrine everywhere propagated;” that transgressors in the congregation are restrained and punished; that the poor and distressed are relieved and comforted; and that everything is carried on in the church with good order and decency.”

This means that the elders in the church oversee the entire work of the church—the preaching, worship, sacraments, catechism classes, diaconate work, discipline and even the property of the congregation. They do so for the welfare of the church.

Respect those men, pray for them, and submit to them for Christ’s sake.

 

Belgic Confession, Article 30; Day 10: The Plurality of Elders

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

                                

Acts 14:23: “And when they had ordained them elders in every church …

Elders are so important for the church that without elders there is no church. A group of Christians without elders—even if they have a missionary working among them to preach the Gospel—is not a church in the proper, official sense. Such a group of Christians may enjoy fellowship, but they cannot call themselves a church. They should seek to become organized as a local, instituted congregation of Jesus Christ “with bishops [elders] and deacons” (Phil. 1:1). Until they are organized, something is wanting—missing or lacking—there (Tit. 1:5).

Another important principle of Reformed church polity is the plurality of elders. A group of Christians must have, besides the minister, a minimum of two elders and one deacon to be an instituted church. Ideally, the church should have more. Assemblies of these officebearers have specific names. In the days of Christ, Israel’s religious affairs were governed by the Jewish council or Sanhedrin. Today, Presbyterians speak of a session—a “sitting” of elders—and Reformed churches speak of a consistory. The consistory consists of the elders, usually with the minister who is also an elder (see I Tim. 5:17). The minister, elders and deacons are together called the council. Thus Belgic Confession Article 30 teaches: “[there must be] elders and deacons, who, together with the pastors, form the council of the church.”

Why a plurality of elders? First, this is the practice of the apostolic church as recorded in the New Testament. On Paul’s first missionary journey many believed in Christ in various cities in Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. On the way back through these cities we read that “they had ordained them elders in every church” (Acts 14:23). Paul and Barnabas do not ordain one elder in every church. Nor does Paul ordain a bishop to rule over several churches in one area. Elders (plural) are ordained in every church (singular). Thus we have example. We also have precept. Paul commands Titus to ordain a plurality of elders on the island of Crete. “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee” (Tit. 1:5). Paul writes “elders (plural) in every city (singular).” In fact, in every place in the New Testament where elders are mentioned in a local church setting there is a plurality of elders—more than one elder per congregation (see Acts 20:17; I Tim. 5:17; James 5:14; I Peter 5:1). Paul only speaks of “elder” (singular) when he is outlining the various qualifications for an individual elder (I Tim. 3:1-7) or where he is dealing with the discipline of an individual elder (I Tim. 5:19).

There is great wisdom in the practice of the plurality of elders. One man—even well intentioned—can be corrupted by power. Other men are a check on folly and sinful ambition. The Reformed have always feared placing too much power into the hands of one man. The irony is, that when a church refuses to have biblical officebearers, often one man with great gifts and abilities will naturally rise to the top and become a tyrant. Better by far to adopt the government which Christ has ordained: “Where no counsel is, the people fail: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Prov. 11:14).

Belgic Confession, Article 30; Day 11: Transgressors Punished and Restrained by Spiritual Means

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

 

Matthew 18:18: “…Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

 

We have seen that the elders and ministers together make up the consistory which rules the local congregation. Paul speaks of two kinds of elders in I Timothy 5:17: “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.”  All the elders rule, and all the elders must have some capacity for teaching—in the absence of ministers they may be called to teach catechism classes; they are required to teach the people by word and example, privately and from house to house (see I Tim. 3:2; Tit.1:9). Among the elders some are called to preach and teach fulltime. These men are the pastors or ministers and for that work they are supported by the congregations (I Tim. 5:18).

One important work that the consistory performs is discipline. This is the subject of Article 32 but we should mention it here because Article 30 makes a very important point about that work which falls under the remit of the eldership. “Transgressors [may be] punished and restrained by spiritual means.”

For some modern Christians such language is disturbing. Do the elders of the church really have the authority to punish and restrain transgressors? Punishment and restraint sounds very medieval. Perhaps we have visions of the rack, thumbscrews and other horrific torture devices! But the Belgic Confession is very careful in the wording: “by spiritual means.” This is important to remember because Christ has given authority in various spheres. In the home, Christ has ordained that the husband be the head. In the state, Christ has ordained civil government and given to it the power of the sword (Rom. 13:3-4). Therefore the civil government can use various physical means to restrain and punish criminals: fines, imprisonment and even the death penalty. But Christ has not given the power of the sword to the church. In the Old Testament, in the nation of Israel, there was a blurring of roles. In Israel the elders could inflict physical punishment, even death by stoning (Deut. 21:18-21). In the New Testament the church has only spiritual means for punishing and restraining members who walk in sin. But those means must not be despised.

The church has spiritual means which are mighty in the hand of Christ. Through the spiritual means—which Christ calls “the keys of the kingdom” (Matt. 16:18-19, 18:18) —Christ opens the kingdom to some and shuts it against others. To be admitted into the kingdom of heaven is a far greater blessing than to receive a passport, visa or citizenship in any earthly nation. To be excluded from the kingdom of heaven is a far worse than banishment, imprisonment or even death. This does not mean—as we shall see in Article 32—that the church has the right to throw out of the kingdom whomever the elders deem unworthy. When the spiritual means are used correctly Christ Himself admits some into and excludes some from the kingdom: “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18).

The preaching of the Gospel and Christian discipline used as the keys of the kingdom of heaven are real, awesome, spiritual power!

No kingdom on earth has power as great as that!

 

Belgic Confession, Article 30; Day 12: Everything With Good Order And Decency

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

    I Corinthians 14:40: “Let all things be done decently and in order.

In Corinth chaos, confusion and disorder were seriously threatening the welfare of the church. A survey of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians reveals disunity and schism (1:10-11), immaturity and carnality (3:1-3), gross sins tolerated in the congregation and not addressed by the elders (5:1-2), civil lawsuits among the members (6:1-2), confusion over the subject of marriage and divorce (7:1-39), confusion over meats offered to idols and idolatry itself (8:1-13; 10:19-33), gluttony and drunkenness at the Lord’s table (11:20-22), confusion and misuse of spiritual gifts without the exercise of love and with chaos in the worship services (12:1-14:40) and false views on the doctrine of the resurrection (15:1-58).

This survey might be surprising to some because many have an almost romantic idealism about the early church as it is described in Acts and the epistles. “If only we could go back to the way it was before so many manmade doctrines and practices were adopted” is the cry of many modern Christians. But take off those rose tinted spectacles! Churches like Corinth and the churches in Galatia were seriously threatened by false doctrine and evil practices. Much of what Paul writes to these churches—and we have not even considered the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3—is rebuke! For example, Paul writes concerning the Corinthians’ celebration of the Lord’s Supper, “When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s Supper … What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I praise you not” (I Cor. 11:20, 22). Having described what the Corinthians did, Paul explains what the Corinthians ought to do. Later in the epistle, Paul describes their worship. But this is not to give us an example of how we should worship God. Quite the opposite—he writes this to show the Corinthians that they should not worship God that way because it is disorderly! “How is it then, brethren? When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, that an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying … For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints … Let all things be done decently and in order” (I Cor. 14:26, 33, 40).

Decency and order do not restrict the Spirit. The Spirit as God is not the author of confusion, but the Spirit of order and decency. Therefore a “spiritual” church is an ordered church. A disordered, chaotic church, where everyone does what seems good to him, is not a spiritual church. The Spirit is grieved there.

Decency and order are watchwords in the Reformed churches. Christ has given officebearers to the churches so that the business of the church is conducted decently and in order. This decency and order apply to the lives of the members, the instruction given in catechism and from the pulpit, the worship services including the administration of the sacraments, and the meetings of the officebearers in consistory and council. Does that sound stuffy and restrictive? On the contrary, it is good for the church. Be thankful for decency and order in the church and seek to promote it by your good behaviour and your submission to God-appointed officebearers for Christ’s sake and God’s glory.

 

Belgic Confession, Article 30; Day 13: The Office of Deacon

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

 Acts 6:2-3: “ … it is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.

Christ, who loves His church, has not only given Himself for her salvation, but He has given her gifts at His ascension. These gifts are many, but one important gift is officebearers, in particular “pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:8, 11). These officebearers are necessary for the good government and welfare of the church. We have examined ministers and elders. The third permanent, special office in the church of Jesus Christ is the deacon. Collectively, deacons are called the diaconate. The word deacon comes from the Greek word diakonos. The non technical meaning of diakonos is servant. It is important to understand that because not all references in the New Testament are to the office of deacon proper. Sometimes diakonos means only servant, and in those cases even women are called deaconesses. Therefore, not all servants are deacons, but all deacons are servants.

The deacons, like the ministers and elders, hold an office, a position of authority. This is clear from I Timothy 3 where the qualifications of elders are set forth. Immediately after giving the qualifications for one office, the elder, Paul writes, “Likewise must the deacons be …” (v. 8). The deacons are also included with elders in Paul’s greeting to the Philippians (Phil. 1:1). We must not think that the deacons are men who merely deal with some financial matters in the congregation by collecting and counting the offerings. Their work is official, important, ecclesiastical, spiritual work.

Many churches do not have deacons. Others call men deacons but these men do not do the work of deacons. There is probably more confusion over this office than the other two offices. Does a deacon just look after the money? Is he just a charitable worker? What does the deacon do?  How are the congregations supposed to relate to the deacons? The work of the deacons is outlined in the Belgic Confession briefly thus: “there must be … deacons … that the poor and distressed may be relieved and comforted, according to their necessities.” Reformed churches have often summed up that work in one phrase, “the ministry of mercy.”

First, deacons are called to collect the alms. The word alms means mercy. Many churches have a benevolent fund for monies particularly designated for the relief of the poor. Almsgiving is a Christian duty, calling and privilege. Collecting the alms is a serious responsibility. Deacons must be honest men without covetousness. Second, deacons are called to distribute the alms. Deacons must be wise in this distribution, so that the truly needy are not neglected and the greedy, lazy and irresponsible are not encouraged in sinful behaviour. The deacons, therefore, do not simply give away “free money” without careful and prayerful thought, and this work, too, is supervised  by the elders of the congregation.

Our calling toward the deacons is, first, to give generously. This makes diaconal work easier. Second, we must alert the deacons to needs in the congregation. The deacons are given by Christ to help the poor and distressed. But they need to be told about poverty and distress! Third, there must be a willingness to seek help from the deacons. Let not shame keep us from Christ’s ministers of mercy!

 

Belgic Confession, Article 30; Day 14: The Poor Relieved and Comforted  

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

 

Ephesians 4:28: “… Let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.”

Poverty is a reality in this fallen world. The unbelieving world imagines that with enough social programs they will be able to eradicate poverty. Jesus Christ said that there would always be poverty (John 12:8). God has always commanded that His people show a concern for the poor. However, what many Christians have not noticed is that the primary concern for the poor must be for the poor among the people of God. In Israel, God commanded that the poor brethren (fellow Israelites within the covenant community) be cared for by the generosity of fellow Israelites. There were various provisions in the Law. For example, the poor could glean the fields of the rich; the poor could be “redeemed” and the sacrificial offerings were less demanding for the impoverished (Lev. 19:10-11, 25:25; Deut. 15:7-11; Lev. 5:7). When the prophets preached against the exploitation of the poor by the rich, they had primarily the poor within Israel in mind (Amos 5:11-12, 8:4-6). In the New Testament, the apostle Paul did not seek to help all the poor of the Roman empire. He did help his neighbour when opportunity arose. Paul’s primary concern, however, (apart from the preaching of the Gospel, of course) was the poor in the church. To that end, Paul organized collections for the impoverished saints in Jerusalem (Acts 24:17; Rom. 15:26; II Cor. 8-9; Gal. 2:10). Both James and John make the same application to the poor in the congregations (James 1:27, 2:14-16; I John 3:17-18). This does not mean that the church refuses to help the poor who are not members of the congregation, but it does mean that the primary focus of the work of the deacons is the poor of Christ.

The poor in the church of Jesus Christ must not be despised or neglected. They must not be viewed as a burden or a nuisance. It must be seen as a great privilege for us to help the poor for in so doing we serve Jesus Christ Himself (Matt. 25:34-40). But at the same time we must not be naïve. It is not the Christian’s calling to give money to everyone who claims to be poor. This is where the deacons need much wisdom. Paul gives some principles to Timothy in his first epistle. First, the primary responsibility for the poor within the congregation is with their own family. Paul has sharp words for Christians who neglect their impoverished relatives. The church should not be charged with their financial support (5:3-2, 8, 16). Second, Paul insists that people work, and those who refuse to work may not eat. Idleness and dependency by the poor are to be discouraged (Eph. 4:28; II Thess. 3:10-12). Indeed, it is good for the deacons to encourage budgeting, thrift and stewardship for often poverty is caused by mismanagement of funds. Third, those who are poor indeed must be helped, not only financially and generously, but with comfortable words of Scripture.

The deacons are not mere social workers. They are not like the clerks in the social welfare office of the secular state. They are the official representatives of the merciful Christ who comes to relieve the poor in the churches. Their work is as spiritual as that of the ministers and elders.

Let them be received as such.

ARTICLE 31:

Belgic Confession, Article 31; Day 1: Lawful Election by the Church

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

                                

Acts 6:3: “Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report …

 

It is a fundamental principle of Reformed church polity that the local church chooses her own officebearers—her own minister, elders and deacons. Reformed churches differ sharply from hierarchical forms of church government. For example, in the Roman Catholic church the priests are appointed by the bishop. He determines—without any input from the local congregation—who shall be the priest. Therefore, the priest is imposed upon the congregation by a higher ecclesiastical authority. This is the case for all the offices in the Roman Catholic church. The cardinals are appointed by the pope; the archbishop, bishops and other offices—which are unbiblical offices—are in no way determined by the people. This kind of imposition from the outside is practiced by other types of churches as well, for example by Episcopalianism and Methodism.

Belgic Confession Article 31 condemns such an approach. First, no higher ecclesiastical authority—or even the civil authority of the state—has the right to determine the officebearers of the local congregation. This includes the pope, the bishop, the classis or synod. “The minister of God’s Word, and the elders and deacons, ought to be chosen to their respective offices by a lawful election by the church.” This is good and proper. Only the local congregation, who know their own particular needs, can determine for themselves who their pastor should be. Only the members of the local congregation can elect their own elders and deacons. The elders and deacons must be fellow members of the congregation who know the flock and are able to minister to their spiritual needs. Peter speaks about this when he addresses the elders thus: “The elders which are among you … Feed the flock of God which is among you” (I Pet. 5:1-2). How could a man imposed against the will of the congregation know the flock? Second, no man may impose himself upon the congregation. This was a problem in the days of the Reformation. Men felt themselves “called” to preach and started thrusting themselves forward. But a man must be called through the church and by the church to be properly called by God. This, too, is part of the good order and discipline demanded by Christ in His church. Paul explains this principle in Romans 10: “How shall they preach except they be sent?” (v. 15).

The process for appointing officebearers is not set forth in all its details in Scripture. However, the principles are easy to determine and to follow. First, the Scriptures describe for us the kind of men we should seek, men who have certain spiritual qualifications (I Tim. 3:1-13; Tit. 1:5-9). Let not the election of officebearers be a popularity contest! Let it not be determined by who has the most money! Second, the Scriptures demand that these men be examined (“proved”) by the congregation (I Tim. 3:10). Only after such election and examination can men say that they have been appointed by the church—and therefore by Christ Himself—to their respective offices.

 

Belgic Confession, Article 31; Day 2: That Order Which The Word of God Teacheth

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

                                

I Timothy 3:10: ““And let these also first be proved …

In Acts 13 the church in Antioch was fasting and praying, seeking the will of the Lord. The Holy Spirit said “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (v. 2). In response to the Holy Spirit’s commandment the church in Antioch “fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them [and] sent them away” (v. 3). When Paul and Barnabas—and later Paul and Silas—returned from their missionary journeys, they reported to the church in Antioch concerning the work they had done (Acts 14:26-28, 15:40, 18:22-23).

From all this, we can draw several conclusions. First, the Holy Spirit calls a man to his office in the church, but He does not do this without the church. Acts 13:2 says that the Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas. Acts 13:3 says that the church in Antioch sent them out. And Acts 13:4 interprets this as their being “sent forth by the Holy Ghost.” The same is true of the elders in Ephesus. Paul reminds them that the Holy Spirit had made them overseers (Acts 20:28). Yet Acts 14:23 makes clear that the Spirit used the call through the church to place such elders—and by implication also ministers and deacons—into their offices. Second, elders should only be chosen after prayer—and even after fasting (Acts 13:1-3, 14:23). The Belgic Confession has such passages in mind when it urges the church to elect officebearers “with calling upon the name of the Lord.” Only by humbling ourselves before God and seeking His direction will we be enabled to elect godly officebearers. The Bible teaches us that God gives unsuitable officebearers to His church in His wrath when we are unfaithful to Him. One must only think of King Saul: “I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath” (Hos. 13:11). Third, the election of officebearers is as spiritual an activity as any other ecclesiastical business. That is why God gives the spiritual characteristics of ministers, elders and deacons. You will look in vain for the qualifications that modern churches seek: today a man must be a good communicator, a people pleaser, a good organizer and coordinator, a team player and a charismatic leader. God bypasses all those qualities—some of which might be useful in an officebearer—and insists that officebearers be godly. Blamelessness, gravity, sobriety, honesty, fidelity in the family and soundness in faith are the indispensible qualifications for a minister, elder or deacon. Other gifts and talents may be useful—and could even be developed by a man—but godliness is vital. These are not the qualifications of a president or a manager but they are the qualifications of an officebearer in Christ’s church. Fourth, the men who are elected to be officebearers must be “proved” (tested and examined) for their fitness. Paul warns that no novice—one new to the faith and therefore lacking in experience and spiritual maturity—should be chosen. This election of men to the offices should not be with undue haste (I Tim. 3:6, 10; 5:22).

When the election of officebearers happens according to this careful biblical pattern we can be sure of God’s blessing. When ungodly men are selected the results will be disastrous.

 

Belgic Confession, Article 31; Day 3: The Need for a Lawful Call

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

                                

Romans 10:15: “And how shall they preach except they be sent?…

The church needs ministers so that the Word of God is preached. Ministers are the gift of the ascended Christ who gives these officebearers to His church for her spiritual good (Eph. 4:11). The question is, how does Christ give pastors to His church? The answer is, as the Belgic Confession explains it, that a man “is bound to wait till it shall please God to call him.”

The lawful call of a man to the ministry is twofold. First, the man will feel a subjective call. This is a desire to serve Christ in the office of minister. This desire, if it be a genuine call of Christ upon the life of that man, will not be a desire for glory, for power or for wealth. Nor will this call come about by undue external force or pressure. What Peter writes concerning elders applies equally to ministers because ministers are elders, teaching elders (see I Tim. 5:17). “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint but willingly; not for filthy lucre but  of a ready mind. Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (I Peter 5:2-3). Notice, first, the office should not be forced upon a man against his will by the pressure of others (“not by constraint”). Notice, second, the office should not be sought for monetary gain (“not for filthy lucre”). Notice, third, that the office must not be desired for selfish ambition (“neither as being lords over God’s heritage”). Rather a young man will have a desire to serve Christ by feeding His flock. Such a young man will notice—and usually his fellow saints will notice it also—the presence of certain gifts for the ministry, and he will seek to develop those gifts for the use in the pastorate.

But that is not enough. For many this subjective call might seem like enough. Here is a young man. He feels called to serve Christ. But that cannot be enough. The church must have a role in determining the fitness of a man to occupy the office. No man can know himself to be called until he receives the external call from a local congregation. “That he may have testimony of his calling and be certain and assured that it is of the Lord” says the Belgic Confession.   This principle is found in Scripture. About the deacons—and therefore also about the ministers and elders—Paul writes, “And let these also first be proved” (I Tim. 3:10). In addition, Paul warns, “lay hands suddenly on no man” (I Tim. 5:22). That word “proved” means examined or tested with a view to determine fitness. Scripture does not specify how this examination should take place. In Reformed churches a man is proved by rigorous seminary training followed by an examination before the church. The principle for this is found in II Timothy 2:2, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” When the church is not able to have its own seminary, “on the job” training is provided for promising candidates. This was how Timothy and Titus were prepared for the ministry.

The important point is that the ordination of men by the laying on of hands (I Tim. 5:22; II Tim. 1:6) must not happen with undue haste. In this way God will give men who desire the office in sincerity to the church for her edification.

 

Belgic Confession, Article 31; Day 4: No Intrusion by Indecent Means

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

III John 9: “…but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence …”

Selfish ambition and pride are sins which have plagued the church from her earliest days. There have been in the history of the church, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, those who have sought to exalt themselves as leaders without a call from God. Moses, the meekest of all men (Num. 12:3), and one who was called directly by God, saw his leadership challenged on several occasions. First, his brother and sister opposed him in Numbers 12. God struck Miriam will leprosy and Aaron had to pray for her. Later, a more serious rebellion brewed in the wilderness with Korah, Dathan and Abiram (Num. 16:3). Judgment was swift and terrible upon the rebels. They were swallowed up by the earth (Num. 16:32-35; Ps. 106:16-18; Jude 11)! When God rebukes false prophets He says that He did not send them: they spoke without His authority (Jer. 14:14-15). In the New Testament, Paul warns women not to usurp the offices (I Tim. 2:12). The Belgic Confession warns against a usurpation of office out of pride or some other base motive: “Therefore every one must take heed not to intrude himself by indecent means.”

In his third epistle the apostle John names a proud man called Diotrephes. We do not know how Diotrephes became an officebearer in the church. Perhaps he desired money, power or prestige. Perhaps he desired to have the praise of men and to be popular. John says of him that he “loveth to have the preeminence” (v. 9). This is a terrible indictment of the man. In all things Christ must have the preeminence (Col. 1:18). How different this was from the attitude of John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Because Diotrephes loved the preeminence, he opposed any whom he perceived to be a threat to his power in the church. John writes, “Neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church” (III John 10).

There are men like Diotrephes in the church in every age. His name stands as a warning to us. Some of these men desire the office of the church but they are never elected. They then do everything in their power to undermine the work of the lawful officebearers. They become the chief critics in the congregation. Their envy embitters them. A Diotrephes in the pulpit, consistory or diaconate is worse. The churches must be vigilant not to allow a Diotrephes to gain a position of authority where he can do damage to the congregation. One way in which this can be done is by heeding Paul’s warning in I Timothy 3:6, “not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.” A novice is a recent convert. To thrust such a man into office—even with the best of intentions—could be ruinous for that man.

The greatest enemies of the church creep in using indecent means to gain a position of influence (Acts 20:29-30; Gal. 2:4; Eph. 4:14; Jude 4). Such men have no love for Jesus Christ or His sheep. Therefore, in the important task of calling officebearers we must take heed that we do not intrude ourselves or permit others to intrude themselves by such indecent means.

Let us wait upon the Lord to give us officebearers for our good.

 

Belgic Confession, Article 31; Day 5: The Equality of Officebearers

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

 

I Peter 5:3: “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage…”

We have seen several important principles of Reformed church government. First, there must be officebearers, men whom Christ calls through the church and to whom Christ gives real, spiritual authority. Second, there must be a plurality of officebearers, lest too much power be concentrated in one man. In the multitude of counselors there is safety. Third, there is no hierarchy, that is, in the church of Christ there are not different offices higher than one another. Fundamentally, then, a bishop is not a higher ranking office than an elder. The offices in Christ’s church of pastor, elder and deacon are distinct, but one office is not “above” the other.

The same is true of the individual officebearers. “As for the ministers of God’s Word, they have equally the same power and authority wheresoever they are, as they are all ministers of Christ” is the explanation of the Belgic Confession. This means that the church must not have senior pastors, associate pastors, assistant pastors or other kinds of pastors. All pastors have the same office. Each of them has the authority to preach, baptise and administer the Lord’s Supper. One pastor may be more experienced, better gifted and more popular than another but they are equal in office. The church must be careful not to put one pastor above another. Paul warns of this attitude in I Corinthians 1:12, “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided …?” and again in I Corinthians 3:3-4, “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and division, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?”

The minister has his authority from Christ, and all ministers have that same authority. But Christ only permits a man to preach as he sent by the church. A man is accountable to the consistory of elders of that church. Thus a man preaches with the permission and under the supervision of the elders. When a man preaches in another congregation he must have the permission of the elders of that congregation. He may not thrust himself upon a congregation without the elders.

The same equality of office is true of elders and deacons. No elder may lord it over a fellow elder. Every elder in the consistory—or at a broader assembly at which he is called to be a delegate—has equal right to speak and to vote. No deacon may assume an authoritarian attitude over the other deacons.

Let hierarchy in all its forms be rejected by Reformed churches. Let us be servants of one another and of the Lord.

Belgic Confession, Article 31; Day 6: Christ, the Only Universal Bishop and Head

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

I Peter 2:25: “But ye are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

Belgic Confession 31 reminds us that all officebearers are servants of Christ and that He is “the only universal Bishop and the only Head of the church.” This creedal statement is an answer to the pretensions of the Roman Catholic pope.

The Roman Catholic Church makes very exaggerated claims for her popes. “The Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as vicar of Christ, namely, and as pastor of the entire church, has full, supreme and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.” These claims are based on several arguments. First, Peter was the prince of the apostles, the first bishop of Rome and the subsequent bishops of Rome are his rightful successors and exercise the supremacy which Christ gave to Peter. This argument has no basis in Scripture. Peter never claims such supremacy for himself and the other apostles never suggest it. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Peter was ever the bishop of Rome. Second, there is, the Roman Catholic Church argues, an unbroken succession of bishops from Peter to the present pope. This argument, even if it were true—and history denies it—is irrelevant. A succession of persons does not guarantee a succession of gifts and authority. In fact, history shows that many of the popes were monsters of iniquity. Third, Rome claims lofty titles for her popes, titles which belong to God, such as Holy Father and His holiness (see John 17:11). Other titles which the pope claims are Supreme Pontiff, which means the Bridge between God and men; Vicar of Christ, which means one who stands in the place of Christ; the Head of the church on earth; and universal bishop, bishop.

Especially in the Middle Ages, the power of the popes in Rome was very great. The pope claimed the sovereign right to appointed bishops and even to depose kings who opposed him. At the pope’s command our spiritual forefathers were put to death. The popes of Rome are indeed “drunken with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Rev. 17:6). As recently as 1870 the pope has been declared infallible when he speaks on faith and morals. There is little wonder that the Reformers viewed the pope, who usurped the power of both church and state, as the Antichrist. Certainly, the pope is an antichrist, and every Reformed believer must reject his blasphemous claims.

Christ did not place one man over His church. He did not appoint one man to be universal bishop. That title He reserves for Himself. He is the only Head, the Bishop, the Mediator and the Saviour of His church. For her welfare He has appointed a plurality of officebearers of equal rank. For these reasons we reject the pope. We will not allow ourselves or our churches to be brought again under such bondage.

 

Belgic Confession, Article 31; Day 7: The Esteem We Should Have for God’s Officebearers

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

 I Thessalonians 5:12-13: “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves.”

How do you view your pastor, your elders and your deacons? The Belgic Confession, quoting I Thessalonians 5, urges us to “esteem the ministers of God’s Word and the elders of the church very highly for their work’s sake.”

If the officebearers have been chosen as the Word of God determines, they will be godly. Therefore, before they are officebearers, they are your brethren in the Lord. No unbeliever may be a member—and certainly no unbeliever may be an officebearer—in the church of Jesus Christ. Moreover, the officebearers have been elected by the congregation in a majority vote, and approved by the congregation. Therefore they have been lawfully called. This is true, even if the men you desired in office did not receive sufficient votes. You had, at the time of election, the opportunity to raise any lawful objections with the consistory. If there were no lawful objections, you must consider that these men in office are a gift of the ascended Christ to you (Eph. 4:11). Therefore you are called to obey them and to submit to them in the Lord (Heb. 13:17). This is profitable for you, because these men occupy the office for your edification.

In I Thessalonians 5:12-13 Paul urges the believers in Thessalonica to receive their officebearers. We can apply this instruction to our own churches. First, we must know them (v. 12). This should not be difficult for us because—especially in the case of elders and deacons—these men were, even before their election to office, members of the congregation. They lived and worked among us. Perhaps it is more difficult with respect to the pastor. Often he comes from the seminary or is called from another church. But we must make the effort to know him. The pastor and his family will be keen to know the congregation—all the congregation. Second, we must recognize their work. Paul calls it labour. The word means toil. Pastors, elders and deacons work hard to carry out the calling of their respective offices. Pray for them in their work and show them that their work is appreciated by you and your children. Third, we must esteem them very highly. This esteem is the esteem of honour or reverence. We do this not because they have a nice personality—by all means let the officebearers be affable, approachable, friendly men—but for their work’s sake. We recognize the importance of the work.  Where would we be without the preaching, without catechism instruction for our children, without pastoral care, without oversight, without the compassionate work of the deacons? We would stand exposed to every false teaching and be tossed to and fro, easy prey for deceivers who seek to destroy the church (Eph. 4:14). Fourth, we must love them. It is amazing how quickly a bond of love forms between the officebearers and the people. When the people see that the officebearers care—genuinely care—for their souls, they will love the officebearers greatly in return.

Finally, the greatest gift we can give the officebearers is to walk in the truth. John writes, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (III John 4). Do not only believe the truth—that is the foundation—but also walk in the truth. Let the truth mould your life, your relationships, your marriage, your children and your work.

This will make it true joy for your officebearers to labour among you.

ARTICLE 32

Belgic Confession, Article 32; Day 1: The Usefulness of Ordinances

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

                                

I Corinthians 11:16: “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

 

The Bible does not set forth in detail how the church should be organized in every age and culture. This does not mean that the Bible gives the church freedom to do whatever she desires, believe whatever she wants and worship however she pleases. The church is not governed by public opinion, by pragmatism (the idea that what works should be done), but by the Word of God. However, the Bible is neither a systematic theology, a directory for public worship, nor a church order. Instead, the Bible is the Word of God, the revelation of who God is, what He has done for us in Jesus Christ, and how we must live in thankful response to His love.

We can contrast how the church was governed in the Old Testament with the government of the church today. Isaiah writes, “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isa. 28:10). The Old Testament church was like a little child which had to be led by the hand and to be taught by means of pictures. She was spiritually immature because she did not yet have the outpoured Spirit of Christ (Gal. 4:1-2). Therefore, God imposed upon Old Testament Israel detailed ordinances, laws and rules which hemmed her in on every side, determining every aspect of her life. In the Old Testament God determined the times of worship, the manner of worship, what the people wore, ate, what was clean and unclean for them, and many other details. Parents know that a little child needs rules for everything. When a child grows the rules are relaxed and there is more freedom. When a child becomes a man he can determine for himself the details of his life according to the rules of God’s Word. In the New Testament God’s church has come of age and with the freedom of the Spirit lives without certain defined parameters (Gal. 3:23-25). This has implications for the life of the church.

The Belgic Confession declares that “it is useful and beneficial that those who are rulers of the church institute and establish certain ordinances among themselves for maintaining the body of the church.”  Some Christians do not like ordinances. And they refuse to accept the ordinances determined by the officebearers unless they can agree with every single one of them. The more extreme among this kind of Christian refuse to join any church and criticize many of the practices of the church as pagan because they cannot find a text of Scripture which explicitly supports any given practice.

Perhaps some examples will help. Where ought the church to meet? Churches have met in private homes, in the temple in Jerusalem, in rented rooms or halls, in the open air, and today many erect their own buildings. Surely this should be a matter of Christian prudence. At what time on the Lord’s Day should churches have their worship services, and what should be the exact order of worship? Apart from general principles the Bible does not determine these things.

Let us not confuse proof texts with principles. We must all agree on the principles of church government and on the elements of worship, but many of the details fall under the category of Christian liberty. Nevertheless, without ordinances the church cannot function efficiently. And surely it is wiser that the officebearers decide some of the details rather than there being a disorderly “free for all” every Sunday.

Let everything be done decently and in order is our motto!

Belgic Confession, Article 32; Day 2: The Rulers Instituting Ordinances

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

Romans 12:8: “… he that ruleth, with diligence”

Yesterday we noticed that ordinances are useful and beneficial for the smooth running of the church. Today we take note of the fact that “those who are rulers of the church” should institute and establish these ordinances.

No organization can run smoothly unless there is a clear distinction between the rulers and the other members of the church. A congregation which elects officebearers must let them rule (I Thess. 5:12-13; I Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:17; I Peter 5:1-3). This means that the members gladly submit to the decisions made by the officebearers without murmuring or complaining. One example is the time of the worship service. The elders of the congregation determine at what times the church meets for public worship on Sunday. Everyone will have his preference in the congregation. The members might even make suggestions. But, if after carefully considering the needs of the congregation, the elders decide on the times of 9.30 a.m. and 6 p.m. it would be folly for some of the congregation to arrive at 12 noon. Nor should a member grumble and complain that he wanted the worship service at a different time and then refuse to come to church because the time is not ideal for him.  The church consists of many members. It is impossible to please everyone all of the time. For the sake of the church’s peace, let the members submit to the decisions of the elders. These ordinances, says the Belgic Confession, are “for maintaining the body of the church” and should be that which “tends to nourish and preserve concord and unity.” Another example is the order of worship. Those details are not set down in Scripture. In some churches the reading of Scripture occurs immediately before the sermon. In others the sermon is separated from the reading by the singing of a Psalm. The important thing is, the order of worship having been decided by the elders, that all the members worship in the same manner. Paul criticizes the disorderly coming together of the Corinthians in this regard (I Cor. 14:26, 33, 40). A third example is the church budget. The Biblical principles are that the pastor be supported financially so that he can devote himself to the work and that the church care for the poor in her midst (I Cor. 9:14; I Tim. 5:18). The many activities of the church—such as evangelism, catechism of the youth and even the upkeep of the church’s property if it has any— require money. The rulers of the church should determine how much money the church needs, applying thee biblical principles of prudence and stewardship, and the members of the church should contribute according to ability (I Cor. 16:1-2; II Cor. 9:7).

Some Christians disagree with this approach. They believe that everything in the church should be decided by the people in common. This view of church government is called congregationalism. The congregation, and not the elders, rules. Such an approach fails to do justice to the offices which Christ has appointed. Officebearers have real authority in the congregation.

Let the elders rule diligently. They do it for our own good and for the maintenance of the body of the church. Let us esteem them and live in peace in the church of Christ.

Belgic Confession, Article 32; Day 3: Not Binding or Compelling the Conscience

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

 I Corinthians 8:12: “But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.”

 Belgic Confession Article 32 contains a warning for all officebearers who seek to make rules for the maintaining of the body of the church. Do not bind or compel the conscience! Take care studiously not to depart from those things which Christ has instituted! Do not introduce human inventions! This is the danger when men begin to make rules for the church. A manmade rule can become more important and more binding than the Word of God. The Reformation churches understood this very well and they were very concerned to maintain the freedom of conscience.

The conscience is the testimony of God in the consciousness of every man, either accusing or excusing him in his actions. By the conscience even the heathen without the Word of God know that they have done something wrong. Because of conscience every culture has an established morality or moral code. Every culture of man knows that to murder is evil, to steal is wicked and to commit adultery is a sin against the Creator God (Rom. 2:15). Therefore, every culture of man has laws to punish evildoers to one degree or another. A guilty conscience is very difficult to endure because it accuses the sinner before God. Men seek all kinds of relief—except repentance towards God and faith towards Jesus Christ—to escape the accusations of their guilty conscience. Some men have even so defiled their conscience that it has lost much of its sensitivity to evil. They are deeply hardened in sin and wickedness (I Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:15). Other men—usually weak believers—have an uneducated, uniformed or overly sensitive conscience. They imagine that some activity, which God has not condemned, is sin. Therefore they cannot perform that activity with a good conscience. For example, some imagine that to drink wine or to eat meat is sin. Others, having a better grasp of Christian liberty, eat and drink (in moderation) without qualms (Rom. 14; I Cor. 8).

Throughout the Middle Ages the Roman Catholic church bound, compelled and tyrannized the consciences of men with rules. For example, the church mandated times for fasting—at Lent; and the church insisted that no meat could be eaten on Fridays. There were many more ways in which the church ruled over the people—often hanging the threat of damnation over them if they stepped out of line. In fact, the pope himself could place an interdict upon an entire people, if the king defied him! The Pharisees bound consciences in the day of Christ. They added to and expanded the laws of Moses to include ridiculously detailed prohibitions and obligations. This was particularly true concerning the Sabbath Day. For the Pharisees to heal or to do good on the Sabbath Day was evil (Matt. 12:1-14; John 5:1-17, 9:1-16). Christ excoriates the Pharisees for this: “Ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers” (Luke 11:46).

The church must take care, therefore, never to impose rules upon the members which might wound their consciences. “They ought studiously to take care that they do not depart from those things which Christ, our only Master, hath instituted.” These considerations must be paramount in the consistory when rules are contemplated. Is this rule necessary? Will this rule offend the conscience? How will this rule minister to the needs of the church?

Let all things be done for the edifying of the body. Then the church will have peace.

Belgic Confession, Article 32; Day 4: The Believer’s Right to Appeal and Protest

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

I Corinthians 6:5: “… Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? No, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?”

Reformed church government is not a tyranny but the benevolent rule of Jesus Christ in His church. Because the Lord has chosen to rule us through officebearers, who, even with the best of intentions, remain fallible and sinful men, there are possibilities that the elders might impose rules upon the congregation which are not biblical and which wrongly bind and compel the conscience. The Belgic Confession recognizes that there is that danger even with the wisest and most godly of elders. For this reason there is the warning of Article 32, “they ought studiously to take care …” Some might wonder what redress a church member has when he believes that the elders have overstepped the bounds of their authority and made an unbiblical decision. No officebearer in Christ’s church has the authority to contradict the will of Christ as revealed in Scripture. What can the church member do?

There are several principles at work here. First, the presence of the special offices of pastors, elders and deacons in no way annuls or contradicts the office of believer. Every Christian shares in the anointing of Christ by the Holy Spirit and is therefore a prophet, priest and king (Acts 2:17-18; I John 2:27). No officebearer can hinder the believer’s relationship with Christ. Second, the conscience of the believer may not be violated by any church ordinance. The believer may not be forced against his conscience to comply with an ecclesiastical ordinance. The believer’s conscience must be regulated by Scripture alone. Third, there is the possibility for every church member to appeal a decision of the consistory beyond the elders of the local congregation. In Reformed churches there are broader assemblies of the church. Delegates from the area congregations form a classis; and delegates from various classes form a synod. Presbyterians call these assemblies presbytery and general assembly. The biblical principles behind broader church assemblies are found especially in Acts 15.

Imagine the following scenarios. A church member has heard something from the pulpit with which he disagrees and which he believes contradicts the Scriptures. A church member disagrees with a decision made by the consistory in an ordinance they have set for the maintenance of the body of the church. A church member feels aggrieved in a decision which the consistory have made concerning church discipline. As a member of Christ’s church the believer has the right to approach the consistory and lodge an official complaint (often called an appeal or a protest). The consistory will then discuss his complaint and make a decision. Perhaps the consistory will agree with the church member and change their original decision. Perhaps the consistory will not be convinced by the appeal of the church member. Perhaps the consistory will even convince the church member that he is mistaken and he will withdraw his appeal. If all parties can be satisfied from the Word of God, agreement is reached and peace maintained. On the other hand, perhaps the consistory disagrees with the church member. That member has the right to bring his complaint to the meeting of classis and all the way to synod.

Let no one say, therefore, that Reformed church government tramples on the rights of church members.

Belgic Confession, Article 32; Day 5: The Nourishing of Concord and Unity

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

Philippians 2:14: “… Do all things with murmurings and disputings”

Yesterday we began to look at what redress a member of a Reformed church has when he feels himself aggrieved by the decisions made by the consistory. We noticed that the member has the right to protest or appeal the decisions of the officebearers. We insisted that the member has the right to the freedom of his conscience. In this meditation our focus shifts from the rights of the church member to his responsibilities.

In a fallible church with fallible, sinful officebearers there can be, even with the best intentions, times when there is friction between the officebearers and the members. We remember here the teaching of the Heidelberg Catechism in LD 39, Q&A 104: “that I submit myself to their good instruction and correction with due obedience; and also patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand.” This has application not only to parents, but also to officebearers in the church. This has several implications. First, the church member must not be a complainer, always seeking for some reason to oppose the elders. He must bear patiently with the elders’ weaknesses. “Do all things without murmurings and displutings” (Phil. 2:14); “Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another” (Gal. 5:26). There are many things in the church which, although they might not be done according to our personal preference or convenience, are not sins. The calling in such situations is to learn to be content. Second, when the member has a legitimate complaint, he must complain in an ecclesiastical manner, that is, in a church-orderly way. There are people who behave in disorderly ways: they openly accuse the elders of base motives, they seek to stir up a faction in the congregation against the elders or they air their grievances before the ungodly world, ruining the good name of the church. This is the grievous sin of schism. If a complaint is serious enough to bring to the consistory’s attention, let it be done in a way which seeks the glory of God and the peace of the church. Third, let the complaint be brought humbly, with the recognition that the elders might be right and the church member might be mistaken. Proverbs 18:17 says, “he that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.”  It is responsibility of the church member not to prove to himself from the Word of God that a given doctrine or practice is false, but to prove to the church, whether to the consistory, classis or synod, that the church has erred in a doctrine or practice.

All of this assumes, of course, that we are speaking of a true church. In an apostate or false church it will not take long to discover that neither the people nor the officebearers care what the Word of God says. When a concerned member has lodged a formal, ecclesiastical protest (assuming that the church still retains some semblance of biblical church government) and when the church has rejected the Word of God, the member can leave the church in good conscience and seek a church which faithfully adheres to the truth.

The final judge in all ecclesiastical disputes is the Word of God. Every member and every officebearer must humble himself before the will of God as that is revealed in Scripture. When that is done, there will be unity and concord in the truth.

 

Belgic Confession, Article 32; Day 6: Rejecting Human Inventions

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

Mark 7:7 “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men …

“And therefore we reject all human inventions, and all laws which man would introduce into the worship of God.” In previous meditations we have noticed that the Belgic Confession teaches that the leaders in the church should make various laws and ordinances for the church. These ordinances concern the “maintaining of the body of the church” and must be only “that which tends to nourish and preserve concord and unity, and to keep all men in obedience to God.” We considered some examples, taking note of the caution not to bind the consciences of men by unnecessary and oppressive rules. We also noticed the rights and responsibilities of church members who think themselves aggrieved. Let us apply wisdom and love in all these things.

It is one thing for the elders to determine the time, venue and order of the worship services. It is another thing for the elders to introduce innovations into the worship of God itself. It is one thing for the elders to determine the budget of the church. It is quite another for the elders to extort money from the members or to seek to rule their lives.

The Belgic Confession gives expression to the Reformation principle called the regulative principle of worship. Who determines how God shall be worshipped in His church? The answer is that God Himself determines it. We may only worship God according to what He has commanded. This means that we do not add to His worship.

Some teach that if God forbids something you should not include it in worship, but that if something is not expressly forbidden it is permissible in worship. The regulative principle goes further. If something is not expressly commanded it may not be included in the worship of God. The elements of worship are clear from Scripture: the reading and preaching of the Word of God, prayer, praise, the confession of faith, the sacraments, the benediction and the giving of alms. How these elements are applied, and the order in which they are to be used, are open to some interpretation. But to these elements we are not at liberty to add our own ideas. The regulative principle shuts the door against all human innovations which plague the churches today.

Applying this principle the Reformation purged the church of choirs, incense, altars, clerical vestments, holy water, consecrated oil and many other innovations which had crept into the worship of God. These things are not forbidden in Scripture, but because there is no warrant for them in the Word of God they were rightly removed from the church’s worship. Apply this principle to some modern worship practices. Youth bands, choir concerts, drama, puppet shows, props and many forms of entertainment could—and should—be swept away if we rejected all human inventions in the worship of God.

It is a mark of the false church to corrupt the worship of God with unnecessary additions. The question is not, “What is wrong with it?” The question is rather, “Where has God commanded this?”

And not even the officebearers of the church may add to the worship of God.

 

Belgic Confession, Article 32; Day 7: Church Discipline 

I Corinthians 5:13: “… Put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”

Belgic Confession Article 32 is entitled, “The Order and Discipline of the Church.” We turn now to consider the subject of church discipline.

Church discipline has fallen into disuse. Many Christians are opposed to it. They suppose that it is out of place in our modern, inclusive, tolerant world. Nevertheless, the Bible clearly demands that the church use discipline. A church which refuses to use church discipline not only disobeys Christ but in so doing sows the seeds of her own destruction.

The purposes of church discipline are three. First, Christ commands church discipline so that God is glorified. God is glorified by the holiness of the church. When all things are done according to God’s Word, when sinners are saved and begin to obey God out of thankfulness, when redeemed sinners adorn the doctrine of the Gospel with good works, God is glorified. But God’s name is dishonoured when sin is tolerated in the church. The world will see an unholy church and mock God. Today, much of the church is scandalously unholy in doctrine and life. Men preach error as they please and without constraint. Churches receive men and women who live in open, flagrant sin as members of the church, and without qualms allow them to partake of the Lord’s Supper. The Heidelberg Catechism warns against this in LD 30, Q&A 82: [“God’s] wrath is kindled against the whole congregation” when His covenant is profaned. God’s wrath was evident in Corinth: “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord” (I Cor. 11:30-32). Second, Christ commands church discipline for the sake of the church’s purity. “Evil communications corrupt good manners” (I Cor. 15:33). To allow a person openly to live in sin encourages the spread of sin throughout the congregation. Paul uses the figure of leaven. Leaven, when mixed into dough, spreads through the whole lump. Sin, when allowed to spread unchecked, corrupts the whole church. One who loves the church will not permit this to happen. Christ, who loves the church, commands that the wicked member be put out of the congregation by church discipline (Matt. 18:17; I Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9). Third, Christ commands church discipline for the sake of the sinning member. Many think that the elders take some kind of pleasure in putting a person out of the congregation. Nothing could be farther from the truth! It is with a heavy heart and many tears that the church, through her officebearers, puts away a member. But the church uses the means of discipline for the restoration of the sinning member. For this reason the church has traditionally called excommunication, which is the final step in discipline, the “extreme remedy.”

The Lord is pleased to use church discipline for the good of the church. It is good for the church that unbelievers and hypocrites be expelled. It is good for the church that members who walk in the way of sin be admonished, rebuked and even excommunicated. It is good for the church that she have a reputation as a church which takes sin seriously and insists on holiness among her members. And it is good for the church when God is pleased to use discipline to turn a member from the folly of sin to reconciliation with the church and with God Himself.

Belgic Confession, Article 32; Day 8: Church Discipline Is Requisite

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

 

I Corinthians 5:2: “… And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned …”

The Corinthians harboured in their midst a man who was guilty of open, flagrant sins against the seventh commandment of God. He was living in fornication with his stepmother. “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife” (I Cor. 5:1). This sin was so scandalous that even the Gentiles blushed at the idea of it. Yet the church in Corinth did nothing about the sin of one of their members. Paul is shocked and writes to the church that this man must be put out of the church by Christian discipline.

In Ephesus a young pastor Timothy was labouring in the Gospel ministry. There were two heretics in the congregation, openly denying the faith and teaching doctrines to subvert the truth. They had made shipwreck of the faith, and were a risk to the other members in the church. Paul names these two men and delivers them unto Satan “that they may learn not to blaspheme,” a phrase which means church discipline (I Tim. 1:20; I Cor. 5:5).

These two passages teach us that those who refuse to walk in the doctrine and life of Christianity must be placed under church discipline, and if they do not repent, they must be excommunicated.  However, very few churches today practice church discipline.

Paul highlights the reason in I Corinthians 5:2, “ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned.” To be puffed up is to be proud. The Corinthians were proud when they should have been ashamed. Perhaps they were proud that by their tolerance of sin they displayed the grace of God. Perhaps they were proud because they considered themselves to be an open, tolerant, affirming, inclusive church. Perhaps they were proud because they were more “loving” than another “judgmental” church. Instead, they ought to have mourned. They ought to have mourned that their sin was so well known it was the subject of the heathens’ gossip (“reported commonly,” v. 1) and that the sin which they tolerated was so vile that even the promiscuous pagans of Corinth were shocked by it (“fornication as is not so much named among the Gentiles,” v. 1). They ought to have mourned that the name of the church, and therefore the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, was blasphemed among the wicked. Behold the “holy church” of Corinth! They ought to have mourned that the sin would soon spread through the congregation and destroy it as gangrene spreads through the body and eventually kills it (II Tim. 2:17).

There are reasons for mourning in the church today. The statistics are shocking. For example, among evangelicals divorce statistics are higher than among the general population. Divorce and unbiblical remarriage after divorce are tolerated and promoted. Rare is the church today which even knows what church discipline is. And when a church does dare to begin the process of discipline, more often than not the member under discipline leaves to join another church where he is permitted to join, no questions asked.

Let us not think ourselves wiser than God. Paul excommunicated that wicked man in Corinth for the glory of God, the good of the church and for the salvation of the sinner. Does the church in which you are a member practice discipline? Be thankful for that mark of faithfulness and pray for your elders in that difficult work.

Belgic Confession, Article 32; Day 9: Private Sins and Admonitions

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

                                

Matthew 18:15: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone…

 

“Excommunication or church discipline is requisite, with the several circumstances belonging to it, according to the Word of God.” That is all that the Belgic Confession Article 32 says about church discipline. Previous articles have mentioned the subject also: one mark of the true church is “church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin” (Art. 29). Government is necessary in the church, among other things, that “transgressors [be] punished and restrained by spiritual means” (Art. 30). However, our Confession does not elaborate. Instead it directs us to the Biblical principles. A wise church will adopt a church order so that the various circumstances of discipline and the procedure to be used are determined from the Word of God.

Church discipline concerns sin in the congregation but not all sins necessarily become the occasion for church discipline. If every sin was brought to the attention of the elders to be dealt with by them in official church discipline there would be no end to the elders’ work! Life in the church is the life of fellowship in the truth. But because we are all sinners there are times when sin begins to affect the relationships between the members. Although all sins are serious, we do not address all examples of sin in the same manner. Sometimes it is best to cover a sin, to refuse to bear a grudge concerning it. Perhaps a fellow church member does not greet you as you might desire, or speaks in a bitter, impatient tone. There are a thousand ways in which we can offend one another if we are ready to take offence! “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8). “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Col. 3:13). “In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3). If we applied these principles to our life in the church among the other members how blessed life in the church would be! Certainly there is no need to run to the elders to demand discipline for every minor irritation which the fellow saints cause one another in the church.

Some sins, however, because of their nature, are more serious. Christ commands us to forgive our brethren when they repent. Peter asked the question once, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?” (Matt. 18:21). With the suggestion of seven times, Peter thought that he was generous. Christ answered, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (v. 22). In the same chapter Christ gives guidelines on how to deal with a sinning brother when the sin is so serious that we cannot simply cover it up with love. These guidelines refer only to private sins, sins in which no other party is involved and sins about which no one else knows.

First, we must approach the sinning brother and admonish him in private. This means that we do not make his sin public or the subject of gossip. If he repents, the issue is closed: “thou hast gained thy brother.” But what happens if the brother does not repent?

We will consider that in future meditations.

 

Belgic Confession, Article 32; Day 10: Public Sins

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

                                

I Timothy 5:20: “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear…

We continue to look at church discipline “with the several circumstances belonging to it, according to the Word of God.” We noticed yesterday that not all sins are censurable sins. This is not because all sins are not damnable or serious. They are. But not all sins require the elders formally to exercise church discipline. We also began to examine the way of Matthew 18.

But before we continue, we answer one misapplication of Matthew 18. The Lord’s directions here apply only to private sins. A private sin is, as Christ describes it, a fault “between thee and him [the sinning brother] alone” (v. 15). No one else knows about or is affected by this sin. A public sin is different. Often men appeal to the way of Matthew 18 to avoid public rebukes for public sins. For example, a man publishes an heretical book, or preaches false doctrine on the radio or broadcasts heretical views on the internet or writes something heretical in the newspaper. Sometimes a Christian will respond to public heresy with a public rebuke or will publish his answer in various media. This is perfectly good and proper because when that man went public with his views his behaviour does not come under the provisions of Matthew 18. Paul dealt with the public sin of Peter this way, although Peter was no heretic. “But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all …” (Gal. 2:14). Paul did not write Peter a private letter of admonition nor did he take Peter aside into a corner. A public sin required a public rebuke. Elsewhere, Paul names and shames men in the congregation whose heresies endangered the church. “Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme” (I Tim. 1:20). Doubtless, the friends and family of these two men were not pleased with Paul’s approach. Nevertheless, this way was necessary for the peace and purity of the church. In another epistle Paul names Hymenaeus, Philetus, Demas and Alexander as sinners whose evil deeds must be exposed as a warning to others (II Tim. 2;17, 4:10, 14-15). John does the same by exposing the evil deeds of Diotrephes (III John 9).

The application of these words is clear in letters to Timothy and Titus: “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (I Tim. 5:20) and “This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Tit, 1:13).

Sins in the church can become public in various ways, and when such sins do become public the way of Matthew 18 is no longer appropriate. Some sins, by their very nature, cannot be hidden for long. An obvious example is premarital or extramarital sex when the woman becomes pregnant. Another example is a sin where a church member has transgressed the law of the land and has been caught by the civil authorities. His sin will be front page headlines the next day in the local newspaper! Another example is where the sin of a member has become the occasion of (sinful) gossip either in the church or in the world.

When a sin is so public that even the world knows about it or when, as Paul writes, “it is reported commonly …” (I Cor. 5:1) that such sin exists in the congregation, the elders must act with firm, loving, Christian discipline for the glory of God, the purity of the church and the salvation of the sinning member.

This is a difficult, often thankless, but necessary work.

 

Belgic Confession, Article 32; Day 11: But If He Will Not Hear Thee

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

  Matthew 18:16: “But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more…

 

The first step in the way of Matthew 18 is private admonition. When a brother sins against you, and when there is no one else involved or affected by the sin, then go to him and tell him his sin. Do that only after prayer, after carefully searching your own heart, and with much humility. Tell him what his sin is (he may not even have realized it), urge him to repent, and pray with him, if this is appropriate. Make every effort to be reconciled to the brother. If he repents, “thou hast gained thy brother” (v. 15). Then you must assure him that you forgive him; together you and he must be reconciled at the foot of the cross. And, when you forgive him, this means that you will never bring up his sin again, never hold it against him, and you will never treat him in light of that sin. Also that private sin must be kept private forever. Remember the proverb: “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends” (Prov. 17:9).

Reconciliation is wonderful. Sadly, it is not always achieved on the first attempt. It may be necessary for you to approach the brother more than once. Your admonitions to him may need to be repeated. Christ does not specify this in v. 15. However, when it becomes apparent that the brother is stubbornly refusing to repent of his sin, it is time for the next step which the Lord sets forth. Bring one or two witnesses. Clearly, these witnesses cannot be witnesses of the brother’s sin. If they had been witnesses of the sin, the sin would not have been a strictly private one. These witnesses must be trusted fellow believers whom you can tell about the sin (and tell only them; do not be tempted to make the brother’s sin the subject of gossip) so that they can come with you when you admonish him and be witnesses to the brother’s impenitence.

Your arrival with your witnesses ought to give the brother pause. He ought to see, first, that you love him. Never may you approach you brother in a haughty, self righteous manner, as if you are better than he. Never may you display the Pharisaical attitude. “Why beholdest thou the mote [speck] that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thy own eye?” (Matt. 7:3). “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are …” (Luke 18:11). Instead, you must display real concern for his spiritual welfare, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1-2). The brother ought to be able to see, that rather than allow him to be ruined by his sin, you cared enough for him to risk losing his friendship and favour in the very difficult calling of rebuking him. “Open rebuke is better than secret love” (Prov. 27:5). “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him” (Lev. 19:17). He ought to see, second, when you arrive with your witnesses, that you take his sin seriously. His folly has brought him to the second step of Matthew 18!

If the brother repents in front of your witnesses, you have gained him. If not, you have reliable testimony to bring to the elders of the brother’s impenitence. With a heavy heart, and with confidence in the Lord’s will, you tell it to the church, that is, to the representatives of the church, the elders.

Belgic Confession, Article 32; Day 12: Tell it to the Church 

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

                                

Matthew 18:17: “And if shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church …”

 

We have been examining the way of discipline, beginning with the way of Matthew 18. We have noticed that this way is appropriate only for private sins. The church must deal with public sins in a different manner. The first and second steps having been taken (and the brother remaining impenitent in his sin despite repeated admonitions), the next step is to “tell it to the church” (v. 17). This does not mean that we make a public announcement of the brother’s sin to the whole church. One important principle in church discipline is to keep the sin as private as possible for as long as possible. There is, of course, an important exception: if the brother has committed a crime as well as a sin, there is an obligation to report that to the appropriate authorities. Ideally, the brother should be advised to confess his crime and accept the legal consequences of his actions. The reason we seek to keep sins (in the case where they are not crimes) private is to spare the brother’s reputation and to save him from shame. The church in Matthew 18:17 is the consistory of the local congregation. This is clear because Christ goes on to speak about binding and loosing, which is the work of the elders (vv. 18-19).

Therefore, at this stage in the discipline process, a maximum of four people know about the sin: the brother, the two witnesses and you, the one who has admonished the brother. You and your witnesses must go to the meeting of the consistory. You must explain to the consistory several things. First, you must explain to the elders the nature of the sin. This will include what was done and when. Second, you must explain to the elders what you have done. This will include how you have admonished the brother and when. Third, you must identify your witnesses, who must then verify that they have witnessed the admonition and impenitence of the brother. Then you must leave the matter with the elders for their further investigation. They may desire to question you or your witnesses further. Having fulfilled your Christian calling, you and your witnesses still must not make the sin public. It will only become public at a later stage in the disciplinary process, if the brother does not repent.

The brother will now receive a visit from the elders who will desire to speak to him about his sin. The elders will do this only after carefully examining the evidence which you and your witnesses have brought. Elders must be very careful to follow Proverbs 18:17, “He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbor cometh and searcheth him.” Having satisfied themselves that the brother has indeed sinned and that he remains impenitent, the elders will admonish the brother. They will come with the Scriptures and they will teach the brother the error of his ways. The brother must not spurn the admonitions of the consistory. These men are the officebearers of Christ’s church, and therefore Christ’s representatives whose calling is to rule in the congregations. These men watch for the souls of the members (Heb. 13:17).

If, even at this stage, the brother repents, the consistory will bring it no further. The brother has been won! Great must be our rejoicing in that case. And, since the sin was never public, the consistory will not make the sin and the repentance public.

But, if after being often brotherly admonished, that man shall neglect the hear the church (v. 17), discipline must be brought to the next step.

 

Belgic Confession, Article 32; Day 13: The Steps of Church Discipline   

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

                                

Titus 3:10: “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject…”

A sin which began as a private sin against you alone has now reached, through the proper way laid out in Matthew 18, the attention of the elders. The Bible does not lay out for us in detail how the elders should proceed. In fact, if anything, the Bible appears to move very quickly to excommunication: “But if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (Matt. 18:17). Paul writes, “a man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject” (Tit. 3:10). Whatever happened to the “forgive thy brother seventy times seven” policy of Matthew 18:22? It might seem more like a “two strikes and you’re out” policy! Notice, however, in the first place, that forgiveness is only appropriate when the brother repents. When the brother repents, forgiveness must be full and free. Without repentance, we must desire forgiveness, work towards it, pray for it, and refuse to harbour bitterness in our hearts, but we cannot extend forgiveness to an impenitent person. Notice, in the second place, that the admonitions of Titus 3:10 are official, and indeed, public, admonitions. Paul does not mean that after telling a brother twice, we cut the brother off. He is not saying that the elders visit the brother only twice. These two public admonitions come only after weeks, even months, of repeated, patient instruction and admonition in private. The one who is rejected in Titus 3:10 is a stubborn, impenitent sinner who is “subverted, being condemned of himself” (v. 11).

In Reformed churches the first step of official discipline by the elders, which takes place after a number of private admonitions, is silent censure. The sinning brother is not permitted to come to the Lord’s Table. This prohibition is silent, secret and discrete. Only the elders know about it. It is not announced to the congregation. This silent censure is not the same as excommunication but it will lead to it if the brother remains impenitent. A man under discipline cannot partake of the body and blood of Christ (I Cor. 11:27).

The next step is the “first announcement.”  Reformed churches generally make an announcement in the worship service that there is a member under discipline. The announcement includes the nature of the sin: “a sin against the […] commandment.” But it does not yet include the name of the member that he may be spared. The congregation are asked to pray for the unnamed individual. The “second announcement” takes place only after further private admonitions by the elders and the advice of classis. This is necessary because in the second announcement the brother will be named. Therefore the consistory must take earnest heed that the case warrants such a public announcement. The brother will also have the opportunity to make an appeal at the meeting of classis. You can see how thorough the process of discipline is. The church does not prematurely reject people without a fair procedure. If classis approves the consistory will admonish the brother further and, if he still does not repent, the congregation will be informed that the brother (whose name will now be announced) is walking in sin. Following this, a date will be set for the brother’s excommunication from the church.

Sadly, few cases of discipline even reach the stage of the second announcement. Many leave the church in an attempt to escape the discipline of the elders. In so doing they  break their membership vow and further increase their guilt.

May God graciously forbid that this should happen with us!

 

Belgic Confession, Article 32; Day 14: Excommunication

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

                                

I Corinthians 5:5: “To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh…”

Excommunication is a word rarely heard today. It is a word which ought to make us shudder. Very few churches practice it. In many churches there are no elders, and there is no oversight of the life and doctrine of the congregation. In fact, in many churches there is no official membership list. People come and go as they please, believe what they want and live as they please without any concern for the Law of God. But a true church with discipline, as Christ Himself demands it, will not tolerate such sin in her midst. The real Christ is not the affirming, accepting, indulgent Christ who never condemns sinners or their sins. The real Christ is the Christ of Scripture, the holy Son of God, who wills to have a holy church (Eph. 5:26-27; Tit. 2:14). Those who are unholy have no place in the congregation of God’s people. In fact, Christ condemns churches which do not practice discipline: “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam” (Rev. 2:14). “So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate” (v. 15). “Thou sufferest that woman Jezebel …” (v. 20).

We have also seen that there must be no rush to excommunication. Prior to excommunication—which may God graciously forbid—there is the way of Matthew 18, and the patient, painstaking work of the elders in admonishing, rebuking and praying for the erring brother. Let no one say that Reformed church elders simply throw a man out of the church!

Only after many warnings and not a few tears (Acts 20:31; Phil. 3:18) do the elders move to actual excommunication. To excommunicate is to remove from the communion of the church, and therefore to place outside the kingdom of Christ. Paul calls this a delivering unto Satan (I Cor. 5:5; I Tim. 1:20). This is the bitter consequence of sin, and a warning to us all. “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:14-15). “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (I Cor. 10:12). Excommunication means that the excommunicated person is no longer a member of the church and in particular he is barred from the use of the sacraments. Christ says about such a person that we are to count him as “an heathen man and a publican” (Matt. 18:17). This means that we can no longer have fellowship with him. This will be very painful, especially if the excommunicated person is a family member or friend, and it is very painful for the entire body to lose a member. “And when one member suffer, all the members suffer with it” (I Cor. 12:26).

Excommunication takes place in the worship service as a public act. In Reformed churches a specific form is read. The occasion is solemn as the entire congregation, through the instrumentality of the officebearers, put away the wicked person from among them. This final step is necessary for the glory of God, the good of the congregation and even for the salvation of the sinner. Excommunication is the extreme remedy.

Nor must we think that excommunication is the end. In the way of repentance, even after excommunication, there can be restoration. And for that the church prays even as she excommunicates one of her members at the command of Christ.

Hating family for Christ’s sake.

For many years I could not understand this but this message clarifies the important command of Christ because walking in the way of love includes abhorring evil (Romans 12:9).

Rev.Martyn McGeown

British Reformed Fellowship conference Cardiff July 2018.

July 21, 2018: “Hating Our Family: Necessary for Christian Discipleship” (Luke 14:25-27)

 

Introduction

 

In Luke 14:25-35 Jesus sets forth his uncompromising requirements for a disciple: “If any man [does not do this] he cannot be my disciple” (v. 26). “Whosoever [does not do this] cannot be my disciple” (v. 27). “So likewise, whosoever he be that [does not do this] cannot be my disciple” (v. 32).

Perhaps Christ’s words—at the beginning of a family conference—shock you. They should—they must. But, shocking or not, they must be heard: we must heed these words.

 

Jesus speaks about two things in verse 26—

First, “if any man come to me.” To come to Jesus is to believe in him. We come to Jesus by faith. Jesus does not require admirers—he requires believers.

Second—discipleship: “he cannot be my disciple” (v. 26). A disciple is one who learns from a master or a teacher. A disciple is an apprentice. Jesus is, in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, “our chief prophet and teacher” (Q&A 31). As such, he demands exclusive devotion from all of his disciples. To be a disciple of Jesus is to learn from him, to submit to his teachings, to obey his will, to be under his lordship and authority, and to follow him wherever he leads us, even if it means suffering and death for us.

One thing that every disciple of Jesus must do is to hate his family. “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

Before we learn about the blessedness of family life and the responsibilities that we, as Christians, have in our families, we consider this calling: “Hating Our Family: Necessary for Christian Discipleship.”

 

The meaning

 

Negatively:  

 

If I asked you this evening whether you hate your family, I expect that for most of you the answer is “No.” I love my parents; I love my spouse; I love my children; and I love my siblings.

And—let me be clear—that is good; that is exactly how it must be.

Nevertheless, Christ commands us to hate our family members.

How can that be so—does Christ really mean that?

The hatred here must be clearly understood.

First, the hatred here is a holy, righteous, godly hatred. There is, actually, such a thing! Godly hatred is not a spiteful, malicious, nasty, mean-spirited hatred. Such wicked hatred, unlike godly hatred, manifests itself in cruel, cutting, bitter words or in harmful deeds, even in murder. The explanation of the Sixth Commandment given in the Heidelberg Catechism is as follows:

“What doth God require in the sixth commandment? That neither in thoughts, nor words, nor gestures, much less in deeds, I dishonor, hate, wound, or kill my neighbor” (Q&A 105). “God abhors… envy, hatred, anger, and desire of revenge” (Q&A 106). “He commands us to show patience, peace, meekness, mercy, and all kindness towards him” (Q&A 107).

A text such as this is never a justification for sinful behavior toward our family—a child may not quote this text to justify disobedience to his parents; a husband may not quote this text to justify cruelty or abuse of his wife; a wife may not quote this text to justify insubordination or disrespect for her husband; and siblings may not quote this text to justify their petty squabbles and fights.

Holy hatred for family does not exclude seeking our family’s good—especially our family’s salvation. Holy hatred does not exclude prayer for our family, kindness to them, and serving them in humility. Holy hatred does not exclude rebuking our family members when they sin and calling them to repentance and faith.

I hope that you can understand the difference between holy and unholy hatred.

 

Positively:

 

Second, the hatred of v. 26 includes two main actions—it requires (1) the forsaking of our family; and it requires (2) the cutting off of fellowship from our family. Jesus explains the meaning in v. 33: “So likewise whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath cannot be my disciple.”

 

First, then, when we hate our family, we forsake them for the sake of Christ.

To forsake is the decisive, deliberate rejection of something or someone: it is to separate oneself from something or someone; it is to put away something or someone from oneself. Hatred of family, therefore, is to reject our family’s influence, our family’s ideas, our family’s opinions, and our family’s beliefs if/when they conflict with the Word of Christ. The forsaking of family does not necessarily mean a physical separation from family, but it does mean a spiritual rejection of family in certain circumstances.

 

Second, we hate our family when we withdraw fellowship from them.

Hatred of earthly family is to refuse to have fellowship with them. Be careful—it is not to be unfriendly or to shun family, but it is to refuse spiritual fellowship when they do not share our Christian faith and when they do not help us to live a holy life; or worse when they oppose our Christian faith and when they actively hinder us in living a holy life.

For the sake of Christ, a disciple must oppose his family, reject them, and refuse to have fellowship with them. He may have social discourse with them, but he may not fellowship with them.

 

To be clear: Christ is not calling a believer to cut off fellowship from his believing spouse. He does not command believing parents to cut off fellowship from their covenant children. He does not demand that believing siblings cut off fellowship from one another. In fact, believers must fellowship together in the home and in the church. But where fellowship with anyone—including family—conflicts with devotion to Christ, then family must be forsaken and fellowship must be cut off.

 

That is the meaning of hatred in another important passage:

 

“Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me, therefore, ye bloody men; for they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain. Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? And am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with a perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies” (Ps. 139:19-22).

 

David hated God’s enemies—“the wicked,” “bloody men.” Some of those enemies of God were members of his family. How did his hatred manifest itself? He refused fellowship with them—“Depart from me” (v. 19), he said. Notice, David does not say, “I will slay the wicked,” but “Thou wilt slay the wicked.” Notice, David does not say, “Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate me?” but “that hate thee.” He does not say, “Am not I grieved with those that rise up against me?” but “against thee.”

One who loves God will not fellowship with those who show that they hate God—if our family shows enmity toward God, we respond by saying to our father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, “Depart from me. I cannot have fellowship with you. We do not share a like precious faith.”

That is hatred for our family.

Examples

 

To make Christ’s command clear, I give some illustrations of how this works in practice:

First, a Muslim or a Hindu is converted to Christ: his family threatens to disown him, disinherit him, and even kill him. He must forsake his family and follow Christ even if all the members of his family become his enemies. (This happens often in foreign lands—it also happens in the UK).

Second, a husband is converted and starts to follow Christ. His unbelieving wife opposes his conversion: “If you loved me,” she says, “you would forsake Christ for me. If you loved me, you would stop praying, reading the Bible, and going to church—do it for me!” Such a Christian husband must hate his wife in this sense: he must reject her, oppose her, refuse to listen to her, and follow Christ despite her vehement opposition, even when she makes his life a misery.

Third, a young man begins to date a young woman. “If you loved me,” she says, “you would stop going to that church and come to a liberal church to please me!” That young man should hate his girlfriend in this sense: he should break off his relationship with her as soon as he sees that she is a hindrance to his Christian walk. Such a woman is not a suitable person for a godly young man to marry.

Fourth, a family member calls you on the Lord’s Day and invites you to a recreational event. He does this in order to tempt you away from the worship of God. You tell your family member, “Today is the Lord’s Day: I will be at church today. You are welcome to come along with me, but I will not skip church to please you.”

Do not think, though, that this applies only when an unbelieving family member attempts to persuade a believer to be unfaithful to Christ. The same principle applies even within Christian homes and families.

If a husband tries foolishly to lead his wife into sin (think Abraham encouraging his wife to lie), she must oppose him. If a wife tries foolishly to lead her husband into sin (think Job’s wife and Abraham’s wife), he must oppose her. If parents try to lead children into sin (think Jacob’s mother), they must refuse. If siblings try to lead one another into sin (think Joseph’s brothers), they must resist. In that sense, Christ requires hatred for the family member.

This often happens with respect to church membership: often one spouse, who is spiritually stronger, desires to attend a faithful church, but the spiritually weaker spouse or the spiritually weaker children oppose the idea: they are content to remain in a less faithful church. They have no desire to worship Christ in a faithful church, or at least their desire never moves them to seek out a join a faithful church. Christ says—seek to please me and not your family!

Oppose, forsake, reject, and hate your family for Christ’s sake.

 

The cost of discipleship

 

This is simply part of the cost of discipleship. Jesus summarizes the cost in v. 27: “Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” To bear one’s cross is to undergo painful self-denial for the sake of Christ. It is to crucify your desires, preferences, ambitions, and plans in order to follow Jesus Christ, whose will becomes your will.

But in following Jesus Christ, there will be opposition—often the greatest opposition will be at home from one’s family. Then we say: Jesus is Lord: we are not Lord; our family is not Lord; only Jesus is Lord.

When a person hears the gospel, and when he understands the demands of Christ, one of his first questions is this: “If I believe this, if I become a Christian, what will my family say?” Christ answers: “It does not matter what your family says—follow me!” “Your family might be highly displeased; your parents might disown you; your spouse might divorce you; your children might hate you; and the other members of your family might oppose you—follow me!”

Notice, too, that this instruction is not only for a certain class of disciple, but for all disciples of Jesus. There are not two categories of Christian: the entrance level, middle class Christian with a comfortable, carefree lifestyle, and the serious, committed, self-denying, cross-bearing Christian. ALL Christians practice self-denial; ALL Christians carry the cross; and ALL Christians hate their family in the sense described in Luke 14—“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (v. 27).

 

Reasons for the difficulty

 

This is a difficult calling because we naturally love our father, and that natural love for our family is good. Nevertheless, Jesus says about his mission: “Think not that am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). That sword cuts even though families. Christ divides families—he saves one family member, but he does not save another. The result is enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent in our families.

Moreover, when he saves us, he does not immediately deliver us from the old man of sin. The result is enmity between our old man and our new man. The result is also enmity between the old man of our father, mother, children, and siblings and our new man. And that is very painful!

Let me ask—if your spouse or children or parents or brother or sister (God forbid!) were guilty of sin, refused to repent, and were placed under discipline, would you take the side of your family or Christ’s side (assuming the discipline is lawful and correct)? Or would you leave the church with them in order to protect them?

If your wife threatened to divorce you and take the children, unless you followed her into sin, would you follow her or follow Christ? Do not say that these things never happen—they happen often in the church!

The calling is painful not only because of our natural affection for our family, but also because scorned family members can make life very difficult for the faithful disciple of Christ.

A scorned wife can vex her husband; a disappointed husband can vex his wife. The Christian has to live with the scorned spouse! Although Samson and Delilah were not married, the principle is similar: “And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death” (Judges 16:16). How easy to surrender to sin for the sake of a quiet life! The same us true of our relationship to our other family members—we pay a real cost when we oppose the wishes of our family for the sake of Jesus Christ. The result is painful, sometimes even violent, arguments and threats around the family table!

And remember, too, the calling for consistency—hatred for family is a lifelong calling. It is not enough to refuse your family once, but you must continue to oppose them. They are waiting for you to give in—and if you compromise once, they will find it easier to persuade you to compromise further and further, until your Christian testimony is all but ruined. There must be self-denial every day; there must be the daily bearing of the cross; there must be holy hatred for our family every day; until we exchange the cross for a crown of glory.

 

The Motivation

 

What motivates a believer to do this? How can we have strength for this? The answer is the Spirit of Jesus. The Spirit of Jesus Christ enables us to love Jesus. Love for Jesus enables us to hate our family where love for family would interfere with our love for Jesus.

Remember the one who is speaking here—it is Jesus, the Son of God. The Son of God is worthy of the strictest demands on your life. If anyone else made such demands, you would view him as an egotistical megalomaniac. But Jesus, the Lord, the Son of God, he is worthy of this.

Moreover, Jesus gave his life on the cross for you. Your spouse did not; your children did not; your brothers and sisters did not; your parents did not. Only Jesus did. Therefore, your whole allegiance belongs to him—and must belong to him. You are purchased with a price. Therefore, he requires your exclusive allegiance, loyalty, and obedience, even when your family and the whole world object.

And remember that Jesus leads by example. When Jesus was 12 years old, respectfully, kindly, submissively, but firmly and clearly, Jesus told Mary and Joseph, “I must be about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:4). When Mary interfered with his Father’s business at the wedding in Cana, Jesus rejected his mother’s interference, “Woman: what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come” (John 2:4). When his mother and siblings tried to interrupt his public ministry, he rejected them, “Who is my mother? And who are my brethren?” he said. And pointing to his disciples (and not his earthly relatives) he said, “Behold my mother and my brethren” (Matt. 12:48-50).

Therefore, only one thing can drive out misplaced love and loyalty for family and induce us to a holy hated for them—love for Jesus Christ. Hatred is never good for its own sake. Holy hatred is for the sake of love for Jesus.

Christ renounced his own will in order to do his Father’s will, even though doing his Father’s will upset his mother, his brethren, and his closest friends. And even though his Father’s will brought him to the cross. So love your family—be kind to them—but be prepared to hate them if they oppose Christ.

That is true Christian discipleship. Amen.

 

 

 

 

The Drink Offering

The Drink Offering

Sung Psalm 16:1-7 (note v4)

Reading Numbers 15:1-12

Ancient wineskin

I. For God

Gen.35:14 Jacob-first mention.

I Sam.1:14,24 Hannah (an example)

Ezekiel 45:17 King’s job in new temple.

Hosea 9:4 Hosea declares Israel’s inability.

Joel 1:9 Joel declares Judah’s inability (repentance v14)

II.  Pagan drink offerings

Jer.7:18, 19:13, 32:29, 44:17-25 Judah

Isaiah 57:6, 65:11, Ezek.20:28, II Kings 16:10-15.

Deut.32:38 (folly of the above)

Psalm 16:4 pagan drink offerings compared to loathsome blood

III. Of what they consisted and why.

Num. 28:7 strong drink

Psalm 104:15 and Judges 9:13 symbolising joy, even in God!

For completeness consider II Sam.23:15-17 where David pours out water as a kind of drink offering to God in recognition of their bravery and potential sacrifice made by his brave men.

Summary: The wine was always poured out with the meal offering along with oil^, frankincense+ and salt* but also with the burnt and peace offerings symbolising our joy in our consecration to God, by the spirit^, through prayer+, in the covenant of grace* based on the total self-sacrifice and atonement of Christ (the whole burst offering).

Wonderful typology!

PS Interesting that Paul likened his own impending death apparently as a drink offering to God in Philippians 2:17.

What the Holy Spirit does.

Want to really know the essence of the Person, work and character of the Spirit of God? Read this!

Still the Spirit of Truth (2)

by Prof. David Engelsma (Standard Bearer, vol. 65, issue 16)

The Holy Spirit of God, however, the Spirit received by the glorified Jesus to be the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit poured out on the church on Pentecost, the Spirit with whom we have become familiar after some 2,000 years of church history under the new covenant—this Spirit is the Spirit of truth. Three times in the great passage of promise concerning the Spirit, John 14-16, Jesus calls the Spirit, “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). Truth is His nature. Truth is His business. Truth is His unmistakable, identifying mark—His “sound” or voice.

The Holy Spirit is truth, for He is God; and God is truth.

In the Triune Being of God, the Third Person eternally conducts a full, thorough examination of the reality of the Godhead. He is always studying the Truth in order to know It (Him) with huge delight. “The Spirit searches … the deep things of God …” (I Cor. 2:10).

The Holy Spirit can no more ignore, minimize or despise the truth than He can deny Himself.

In keeping with what He is in Himself, the Spirit is the Spirit of truth also as the Pentecostal Spirit, sent by Jesus to the church. He came as the witness to the truth. He came speaking. That which He speaks is the truth, namely, Jesus the Christ as made known in the gospel which is now written in the inspired Scriptures of the New Testament, as well as in those of the Old. By this means, He teaches the elect church, guiding her into all the truth. By this means, He also convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.

Always, the Spirit has been the Spirit of the Word, of Scripture, of doctrine, of preaching, of confessions, of intellectual knowledge of propositions that are in harmony with the reality of God. He inspired Scripture (writing! a book!). He moved prophets and apostles to teach. He created the church a confessing church. He put in the church the office of “pastor and teacher” (Eph. 4:11). He guided the church in rejecting heresies and in approving and understanding right doctrines (orthodoxy!) by the formulating of creeds. He illumined the minds of countless men, women and children to know the sound words of Scripture.

That He came as the Spirit of truth was evident at once on the day of Pentecost. The Spirit-filled believers spoke the wonderful works of God (and not their wonderful feelings). Peter preached a sermon—a doctrinal, biblical sermon. Thousands were converted by believing the message. The first thing said about the life of the church after Pentecost is that it was a life of adherence to right doctrine.

It is as the Spirit of truth that He is of any benefit to the church and to the Christians. Every blessing that the Spirit gives, He gives by means of the Word. He works faith—by the truth; He forgives—by the truth; He makes men and women holy—by the truth; He comforts the distressed and fearful—by the truth; He preserves believers to eternal glory—by the truth; He unites the saints—by the truth.

The Reformed faith confesses the indispensable instrumentality of the truth for the saving work of the Spirit in Question 65 of the Heidelberg Catechism, when it says about the faith by which alone we share in Christ and all His benefits that it is worked in us by the Holy Spirit “by the preaching of the gospel.” The Reformed believer who makes this his or her own is really saying, “I believe in the Spirit as the Spirit of truth.”

We should act accordingly.

As a believer, do I seek the riches that are in the risen Christ? I should! I must attend to the Word and doctrine, to the truth. I must see to it that I am a member of a church that maintains the truth. I must use the means of grace diligently. I may leave this church, whether for a church that corrupts the truth or for no church at all, for no reason. I may not despise the lively preaching of the truth. To do so is to forfeit the presence, operations, power, and gifts of the Spirit, if not to “do despite unto the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29; cf. v. 25), for He is the Spirit of truth.

As a preacher, do I desire, ardently desire, a spiritual congregation—a congregation of saints who love God and who love each other for God’s sake (which is different from, though it includes, having deep feeling for each other)? I should! I must give myself to preaching and teaching. There will never be a spiritual church where the truth is not faithfully preached. There cannot be. If there is, the Spirit has ceased being the Spirit of truth.

As a body of elders, do we take seriously our responsibility to keep the flock of Christ? We should! We must above all else make sure that the preaching on the Sabbath and the catechism instruction during the week are the sound, faithful explanation of God’s Word. This will guard and build up the church, not because preaching and teaching in themselves have this power, but because the Spirit is the Spirit of truth, making Christ’s words spirit and life.

What then must we make of the strange “Spirit” of our day—indifferent to doctrine; friend of the lie; critic of Scripture; contemptuous of creeds; disparaging of pure preaching?

One of two things must be true. Either the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ has changed recently, so as no longer to be the Spirit of truth, or this strange “Spirit” is not the Spirit of Christ.

But the Holy Spirit cannot change. He is still the Spirit of truth.

Preparing for Persecution

Book Review

Promise and Persecution by Kenneth Harrod, paperback 142 pages, published by Release International 2018, £8.

ISBN 978-0-995969-3-3-1

 

As a basic theology of persecution this is an excellent starter. Harrod traces the root of persecution back to the mother promise of Genesis 3:15 and outlines much of the Biblical history of persecution from Abel to the apostles. His aim is for the reader to respond in a Christlike way, “A solid, biblical understanding should lead to a godly, biblical response on our part.” He rightly states that this promise not only explains the reason for persecution, namely the God-ordained malice of Satan, his demons and the reprobate wicked, but also declares the promise that Christ and his beloved church have the ultimate victory, hence the title. He has much truth to share on the spiritual reason for this inevitable aspect of Christian experience and also much good overarching biblical theology. We already appreciate this part of our Protestant Reformed heritage and treasure this vital knowledge e.g. the covenant, Old Testament typology, redemption through judgment, the individual and corporate dimension of persecution, yet he admits wrongly, to being ignorant as to when the ultimate working out of the curse pronounced to Abraham will unfold and that “we cannot fully understand why God allows his people to suffer”. This is the most glaring omission in the book because Scripture DOES tell us much about God’s purposes in these things! Reading of the Bible reveals that God uses persecution to purify his people, wean them from the world, unite them, encourage prayer and the sharing of needs, increase our hope and dependence upon him and witness to the world and our persecutors. In other words we fill up the cup of suffering while the wicked fill up the cup of iniquity and when both are full, Christ ushers in eternal bless for us all.

Acts 7:54-60

All men are welcome to next CPRC Men’s Bible Study on Acts 7:54-60, the death of Stephen. Scheduled for Saturday January 12th, 8pm my place. We shall also seek to answer these questions on PERSECUTION

Why are Christians persecuted? Give three reasons and Scriptures.

What is God’s purpose?

What is the Christian’s need in persecution?

What should our response be and what can we do for fellow believers?

And believe me folks it is coming!

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Acts 7:1-53

The high priest asked Stephen whether the accusations of blasphemy against him were true (Acts 6:13).

Best mode of defence is attack! He wanted to ground his accusations against them firmly in the history of the Jews through the scriptures.

His defence was to show the faithfulness of God and the people’s repeated ingratitude and idolatry.

In the history of Abraham he emphasized his call, the covenant, prophesy regarding Egypt. Abraham was an example of a believer in Messiah who faithfully obeyed.

The covenant of circumcision or the Abrahamic covenant was a promise to be his God and bless all nations through his seed the sign of which was circumcision of all the males in his family and his servants.

Stephen mentioned Joseph because he was a victim of the envy and wickedness of their forefathers.

Stephen repeatedly emphasized how the Jews rebelled against God.

Moses too was rejected twice as God’s deliverer (verses 29,37).

Stephen refers to the Prophet Moses said would come namely Christ (Deut.18:18).

Christ was in the church in the wilderness as the Rock that followed them (I Cor.10:4).

The angel who spoke at Sinai was also Christ and the lively oracles were the law including the ten commandments.

Stephen’s point in recounting the Jews’ rebellion and idolatry was to show this was typical and continued to the present.

The reference in verses 42043 is Amos 5:25-27.

Moloch or Molech was a Canaanite deity who was worshipped by child sacrifice which was specifically prohibited by God in Leviticus 18:21, 20:2-4. This happened in Tophet (the valley of Hinnom) outside Jerusalem (II Kings 23:10). Remphan was an Egyptian idol also called Chiun.

The punishment for Israel’s idolatry was that almost all who exited Egypt died in the wilderness and never reached the promised land.

The tabernacl of witness was the tabernacle erected by Moses.

Stephen said the fathers brought the tabernacle into Canaan because it represented the presence of God among them.

The temple, a type of Christ’s body and heaven and was where God said he would be worshipped and would specially dwell yet we know God is omnipresent as is Christ in his deity.

Stephen’s accusation followed from the rest of his speech in that the Jewsih leaders he was accusing had continued the people’s habitual rejection of God’s servants by crucifying Christ.

Stiffnecked means not pliable, stubborn like an ox that won’t do it’s work under the yoke.

Being uncircumcised in heart and ears means unregenerate, filthy and dull of hearing ( Matt.13:13, Prov.20:12).

Resisting the Holy Spirit means resisting the message brought by God’s servants because the Spirit himself works irresistably in grace. The Jews did this by rejecting Moses, Joseph and repeated idol worship.

Stephen linked the fathers’ killing of the prophets and the Jews recent killing of Christ in that the message of the prophets was Christ coming.

He called Jesus the Just One because he is the only perfectly just or righteous man who ever lived.

Stephen accused them of killing Christ and betraying him to the Romans.

His accusation in verse 53 was especially cutting in that it exposed their hypocrisy being as they thought, keepers of the law, but blatantly breaking it.

The disposition of angels means that when God revealed the law and also book of Revelation he used angels as intermediate messengers.

NEXT STUDY (DV) January 12th 8pm Acts 7:54-60

 

Daily Burnt Offering and Meal Offering

Burnt Offering and Meal Offering

Sung Psalm 89:19-25 (note anointing oil)

Reading Exodus 29:38-46

This passage details the daily continual burn offering offered first and then the meal offering offered with it afterwards. We looked at heretical views of RC church and Anabaptist  groups like the brethren. The typology of these is fulfilled in Christ’s total consecration body and soul leading to his, the offering up of himself in perfect obedience throughout his life and his atoning death and thus his ability to grant to his people on the basis of that perfect sacrifice, justification consisting of forgiveness and his own imputed righteousness, sanctification and glorification (proof Psalm 40).

The meat was fine flour mixed with olive oil and salt signifying the consecration of believers by the Holy Spirit in the covenant of love (proof I Sam.16:13, Zech.4:1-6, Mark 9:49,50, I John 2:27). The frankincense offered to the fire when it was being burnt signifies our prayers ascending to God with both offerings being a sweet savour.

Why a lamb? Two of the most important OT offerings in O.T. were the Passover and the daily burnt offering both consisting of a lamb pointing to Christ of course who is called the Lamb of God (John 1:29 and no less than 26 times in book of Revelation e.g. 5:6, 7:9,14 etc.)

Our response to his offering (the burnt offering made first) is our consecration and thankful obedience (the meal offering made second) leading to his meeting with us and speaking to us (Ex.29:42) in the daily experience of close covenant fellowship. Is this your experience? This is life abundant and eternal.

 

Birth of Christ in Revelation.

Revelation 12 has to be one of the most amazing chapters in all the Bible. In a nutshell it follows the history of the world, explaining how Satan tried to prevent the birth of Christ from his old testament church (the woman), was thrown out of heaven and now persecutes the church (seed of the woman) till the end of the world and his conqueror Jesus Christ returns.

“And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born*. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne**. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days***.” (verses 4-6). Key verse for us Christians is verse 11, how we overcome Satan: namely by trusting in Christ’s once-for-all atonement for us and by believing and using the word of God.

  • *Herod!
  • **Christ’s ascension.
  • *** The New Testament age in which we now live.

Best commentary to understand the book of Revelation:

Available here: CPRC Bookshop

The Lord’s Supper

“There is no forgiveness in the Roman Catholic church”.

“The Mass is an accursed idolatry”

Proof!

Heidelberg Catechism, LD 29-30a

  1.   Do then the bread and wine become the very body and blood of Christ?
    A.  Not at all; but as the water in baptism is not changed into the blood of Christ, neither is the washing away of sin itself, being only the sign and confirmation thereof appointed of God; so the bread in the Lord’s Supper is not changed into the very body of Christ, though agreeably to the nature and properties of sacraments, it is called the body of Christ Jesus.
  2.    Why then doth Christ call the bread His body, and the cup His blood, or the new covenant in His blood; and Paul, the “communion of the body and blood of Christ”? A.  Christ speaks thus not without great reason, namely, not only thereby to teach us that as bread and wine support this temporal life, so His crucified body and shed blood are the true meat and drink whereby our souls are fed to eternal life; but more especially by these visible signs and pledges to assure us that we are as really partakers of His true body and blood (by the operation of the Holy Ghost) as we receive by the mouths of our bodies these holy signs in remembrance of Him; and that all His sufferings and obedience are as certainly ours as if we had in our own persons suffered and made satisfaction for our sins to God.
  3.  What difference is there between the Lord’s Supper and the popish mass? A.  The Lord’s Supper testifies to us that we have a full pardon of all sin by the only sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which He Himself has once accomplished on the cross;and that we by the Holy Ghost are ingrafted into Christ, who according to His human nature is now not on earth, but in heaven at the right hand of God His Father, and will there be worshiped by us—but the mass teaches that the living and dead have not the pardon of sins through the sufferings of Christ, unless Christ is also daily offered for them by the priests; and further, that Christ is bodily under the form of bread and wine, and therefore is to be worshiped in them; so that the mass, at bottom, is nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and sufferings of Jesus Christ, and an accursed idolatry.

Full message by Rev. Martyn McGeown, Limerick Reformed Fellowship.

Message

The Last Trump

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
John 5:28,29  Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
 But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets. 
It ought to be apparent that the last trumpet ends the history of this present age of earth. The gospel has brought in the last elect, the cup of suffering of the church is filled up and the cup of iniquity culminating in Antichrist is also filled up. John is given a little book , the final part of God’s decree revealed by Christ, which details the consummation of all things including Antichrist, the great tribulation, the destruction of Antichrist and Babylon and the ushering in of the new heavens and earth. The key event for the church is the gathering of it; those who have died being resurrected and taken up to Christ, to be joined by all those still living who are translated like Elijah and Enoch. This is the end of the world NOT the beginning of any earthly “millennium”.

And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea and upon the earth. And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey. And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter. And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings. Revelation 10:8-11.

He is to eat these truths, make them a part of himself, love them and teach them. The contents are bitter because of the struggle and persecution they contain but also sweet in that they are full of hope and the ultimate victory of Christ’s kingdom. This message he is to share is the rest of the book of Revelation. Only good and glory await the Christian!

Sermon on the rapture.

What happens to young children who die?

Genevan Book of Church Order (1556): “[Covenant children are] contained under the name of God’s people … Remission of sins in the blood of Christ Jesus doth appertain unto them by God’s promise … Paul … pronounceth the children begotten and born (either of the parents being faithful) to be clean and holy [I Cor. 7:14] … The Holy Ghost assures us that infants be of the number of God’s people and that remission of sins doth also appertain to them in Christ … Almighty God [is] their Father. [They are] His children bought with the blood of His dear Son.”

Belgic Confession (1561): “Therefore we detest the error of the Anabaptists, who are not content with the one only baptism they have once received, and moreover condemn the baptism of the infants of believers, who we believe ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant,

as the children in Israel formerly were circumcised upon the same promises which are made unto our children. And indeed Christ shed His blood no less for the washing of the children of believers than for adult persons; and therefore they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of that which Christ has done for them; as the Lord commanded in the law that they should be made partakers of the sacrament of Christ’s suffering and death shortly after they were born, by offering for them a lamb, which was a sacrament of Jesus Christ. Moreover, what circumcision was to the Jews, baptism is to our children. And for this reason St. Paul calls baptism the circumcision of Christ” (article 34).

Heidelberg Catechism (1563): “Are infants also to be baptized? Yes, for since they, as well as their parents, belong to the covenant and people of God, and through the blood of Christ both redemption from sin and the Holy Ghost, who works faith, are promised to them no less than to their parents, they are also by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, to be ingrafted into the Christian church, and distinguished from the children of unbelievers, as was done in the Old Testament by circumcision, in place of which in the New Testament baptism is appointed” (Q. & A. 74).

Second Helvetic Confession (1566): “We condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that newborn infants of the faithful are to be baptized. For according to evangelical teaching, of such is the Kingdom of God (Luke 18:16), and they are in the covenant of God (Acts 3:25). Why, then, should the sign of God’s covenant not be given to them? Why should those who belong to God and are in his Church not be initiated by holy baptism?” (chapter 20).

Canons of Dordt (1618-1619): “… the children of believers are holy not by nature but by virtue of the covenant of grace in which they, together with the parents, are comprehended. Godly parents have no reason to doubt the election and salvation of those their children whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy (I Cor. 7:14; Gen. 17:7; Isa. 59:21; Acts 2:39)” (I:17).

God’s sovereign election governs the salvation of all whether they die in the womb or shortly after birth or of a good old age. The elect are saved and the reprobate lost as with Esau and Jacob chosen before birth. We have every right to expect the children of believers to be elect if they die at a young age-JK

 

Ezekiel’s Temple (2)

In Ezekiel 47 we read of a river of water issuing from the temple getting bigger and deeper as it goes and eventually emptying into the Dead Sea which is healed and produces abundant fish! Jesus spoke of a bubbling up spring in the heart of every believer which is the water of eternal life (John 4:13-15). In Zechariah 14 and Revelation 22 we read of another river of life flowing from the New Jerusalem in the new heavens and earth bordered by twelve fruitful trees that also heal the nations. The first and last visions above are pictures of the truth of Christ’s teaching. From the temple of God in heaven and from the temple of God which is the church and each one of God’s people come forth continually the fruit of the Spirit of God and life eternal and all the life-giving blessings of salvation. Take a minute to thank and praise God for the Holy Spirit!

Nicene Creed: And I believe in the HOLY GHOST, the Lord and Giver of life; who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spake by the prophets. (including Ezekiel!)

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 20: What dost thou believe concerning the Holy Ghost?

A-First, that He is true and co-eternal God with the Father and the Son; ; secondly that He is also given to me to make me by a true faith, partaker of Christ and all His benefits, that he may comfort me and abide with me forever. Blessed Spirit!-JK.

John Gill says,”  these waters also may be applied to the grace of the Spirit of God in regeneration and conversion; which is compared to water, for its cleansing, fructifying, and refreshing nature; to “waters,” for the abundance of it; and this flows from the God of all grace through Christ, and out of his fulness is gradually increased, and becomes a well, yea, rivers of living water, John 7:37, but it seems best to understand them of the Gospel, and the doctrines of it; which, like water, cools those who are inflamed with the heat of the fiery law; extinguishes the thirst of sensible sinners, and refreshes them; cleanses and purifies their souls, which is instrumentally done with the washing of water by the word; and makes them fruitful and flourishing: this is not of men, but God; comes from heaven, the holy of holies; and out of the house and church of God; from Zion and Jerusalem, by Christ the door, and points to him the way; and is chiefly concerning him, the altar, his sacrifice and satisfaction, peace, atonement, and propitiation by him; see Isaiah 2:3.

Highlighted sections all point to the power of the Spirit who accomplishes everything in the building of God’s kingdom-JK

Conversely it is worth noting that there is a disease called hydrophobia (hatred of water) which is rabies, transmitted from an infected animal bite that is usually fatal and reminds me of the corresponding wicked antagonism of the reprobate who are set against and immune to the work of the Spirit through his servants and word.

Ezekiel’s Temple (1)

” Here is a temple in this vision, and the greatest part of it is taken up in the description of it. It remains that this must be understood mystically and figuratively of the Gospel church, which is often spoken of as a city and temple (Heb.12:22, Rev. 3:12) and which began to have its accomplishment in the first times of the Gospel, immediately after the death and resurrection of Christ; ” So says John Gill. I would agree this fits with the New Jerusalem, his bride which is God’s dwelling place eternally composed of all his people (Rev. 21:2) but gathered from time immemorial till the last day. The detail in which the structure is described mirrors the care and precision God, through Christ uses in building his church (Matthew 16:18, I Cor.3:9, Eph. 2:21,22). With any building you need exact measurements, Christ is the cornerstone and the foundation is the apostles and prophets, pastor/teachers also build and the cherubims and palm trees adorning it represent heaven and earth now united in the new heavens and earth where God dwells for ever. Only God’s holy, justified, believing people gain admission.

As Ezekiel received it.

As the apostle John saw it.

The Significance of the Meal Offering

The Significance of the Meal Offering

Sung Psalm 141:1-5 note incense

Reading Leviticus 2

 

Main ingredient

Just as all the bloody sacrifices represent and typify Christ whose blood alone atones for sin the main ingredient of the meal offering grain, represents us, our lives and work as Christians. Proof follows.

The bloody sacrifices were all farm animals or birds caught.

Additions

Oil, symbolic of the Holy Spirit which was part of the sacred anointing oil for the High Priest or the oil that was mixed with all the bloody and meal offerings of the people (I John 2:27, Matthew 25:4). The Spirit in us is essential for our acceptance and that of our works with God.

Salt, seasoning (not preservative in this case) to add flavour (Job.6:6, Matt.5:13, Mark 9:49,50, Luke 14:34,35, Col.4:6) and the salt of the covenant (added to EVERY OFFERING) showing we are his and he is ours.

Incense, made from resin from a tree, representing prayer, which like the smoke, ascends to God and smells good (Psalm 141:2, Luke 1:9,10, Rev.5:8, 8:3,4, Num.16:46, Lev.16:12,13, Ex.30:34, 2 Cor.2:15)

Non-additions, leaven standing for sin that corrupts, spreads and puffs up (1 Cor.5:2,6,7).

Honey which feeds yeast and hastens fermentation.

So in summary we offer ourselves, body and soul by the Holy Spirit daily to our God, praying without ceasing and incessantly abhorring and battling against sin (Romans 12:1-9).

A masterful study-thanks Rev. Stewart!

 

Foreboding

Meaning: a feeling that something bad will happen; fearful apprehension.

The Lord Jesus Christ is good and doeth good especially to his own all the time, so away with foreboding and fear to which we are so liable. Eternal life, blessing, abundant grace, daily wisdom and light are ours. What is it you fear? A serious accident, illness, persecution, loss of friends or family, dying? All things are yours…

Q. 1. Heidelberg Catechism-What is thy only comfort in life and death?
A. That I with body and soul,1 both in life and death, am not my own,2 but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ;3 who, with His precious blood,4 hath fully satisfied for all my sins,5 and delivered me from all the power of the devil;6 and so preserves me7 that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head;8 yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation,9 and therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life,10 and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.11

Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men! Psalm 31:19

 

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Psalm 23:6

 

For thou hast made him most blessed for ever: thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance. Psalm 21:6

Abhor evil, cleave to that which is good.

These two sermons are a MUST for every believer-they set the impossible standard God sets for us-impossible but for the grace of God. Videos (U tube) here under Romans 12:9:

http://www.cprf.co.uk/audio/NTseries.htm#.XA6oEcLnVC0

Gospel Living (8)
The Moral Absolutes of Good and Evil  [download]  
Scripture Reading: Romans 12
Text: Romans 12:9

I. The World’s Views
II. The Christian Position

Gospel Living (9)
Abhor! Cleave!  [download]  
Scripture Reading: II Corinthians 6
Text: Romans 12:9

I. Abhor Evil
II. Cleave to the Good

Herman Hoeksema on “Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good”

(Righteous By Faith Alone, pp. 595-597)

 

If we are to love without hypocrisy, we must also abhor that which is evil and cleave to that which is good. Abhorring evil and cleaving to good is the indispensable condition for heeding the admonition to love without hypocrisy. When the apostle speaks of good and evil, he uses the terms in the most unlimited sense. Some explain that we must abhor evil and do good in relation to one another, but there is no need of this limitation. The apostle is thinking of evil in the most unlimited sense: evil in relation to God, evil in relation to the world, evil in relation to one another. To be concrete, evil includes such things as false doctrine, an unholy walk, and love of the world. Evil includes wickedness that we see every day in the world. We meet it on the street, in pictures, and in paint, powder, and dress. It is the wickedness of the world, that the Christian is tempted to copy. It is also the evil we commit in relation to one another. It is untruth, malice, envy, hatred, slander, and backbiting.

Abhor these things. The apostle does not simply say, “Don’t do the evil.” The exhortation addresses the state of our mind: “Abhor it.” Then it is repulsive to us. We hate it. We shun it. We run away or fight it. Abhor false doctrine! Abhor an unholy walk! Abhor evil books, literature, and pictures. Don’t even cast one eye on them in the lust of the flesh. Hate them. Condemn them.

Cleaving to that which is good is also a state of mind. Good refers to spiritual, ethical, and moral good in relation to God, in relation to the world, and in our relation to one another. We are to cleave to the fruits of sanctification, particularly honesty. As we abhor evil, so are we spontaneously to love what is good. When we see it, we love it, set our heart on it, and take hold of it.

The question is, how can this exhortation address our inner life? If the Word commands, “Do it!” I might try to do it. But if I must abhor and cleave, how can I do this? It must be remembered that the apostle is speaking here to the church. One cannot give this exhortation to a worldly crowd. The church has the inner, spiritual principle of the renewal of the mind. If there is not this renewal of the mind, the exhortation is impossible. But the renewal of the mind transforms us from within. To put it concretely, there is a new principle of life in us. And if there is a new principle of life in us, we abhor evil, and we cleave to that which is good.

Still, means are necessary. Scripture teaches that there are two means by which we learn, more and more, to do what the text commands. The first means is the Word of God. If we want to abhor evil, we must live close to the Word of God. The more that Scripture becomes a living principle in our life, the more we will develop the spiritual principle by which we abhor evil. The second means is prayer. And I mean prayer by which we cry unto God. If we really pray, we will become more and more unhypocritical in love.

We might be inclined to read the text this way: “Let love be without dissimulation, and then you will never do evil, but you will always do that which is good.” But this is not the meaning. Abhorring the evil and cleaving to the good is the condition for loving without hypocrisy. We cannot love without dissimulation if we do not abhor evil and cleave to that which is good. The reason is that love is the love of God. We cannot love God and one another if we walk in darkness. If we walk in darkness, we cannot be loved as a child of God.

Therefore, this admonition is serious, “Let love be without dissimulation.” If this is to be so in our life, we must abhor evil and cleave to that which is good. Then there is the action of love, and the blessing of Christ will be richly manifest in the church.

Consecration of Israel (4)

The Covenant Book

Psalm 81:1-8

Exodus 23:24-24:8

The covenant book was what Moses had recently written (v7), previously spoken (v3) and then read.

It’s content was the judgments initially spoken by God and eventually written down in Exodus 20:1 to 23:33. These judgements included the Decalogue. Simply put Exodus 20 is the moral law, chapters 21 and 22 are the civil law and 23 is the ceremonial law. There is no other covenant like this in all Scripture except perhaps I Sam.10:25 but that concerned behaviour in the new kingdom. The moral part of this law is eternal and was written on Adam’s heart pre-fall, in ours post regeneration and stands unchanged till Christ comes again.

Why did God get his word written down? Two probable reasons:

  1. There were more people (over a million)
  2. They were entering the land and would spread out.

Why was the book sprinkled? (Heb.9:19) What does sprinkled blood signify?

Two things:

  1. The sprinkled blood set apart or consecrated objects for divine worship
  2. It signified forgiveness (I Peter 1:2)

Hebrew 9:23 calls the tabernacle and all its accoutrement’s and activities patterns of what happens in heaven, the true tabernacle of God.

 

The Covenant Calling

This was conveyed by the book. Ex.20:1-17 was all moral law except the Sabbath being the seventh day.