The Aquila Report http://theaquilareport.com Your independent source for news and commentary from and about conservative, orthodox evangelicals in the Reformed and Presbyterian family of churches Sun, 25 Jun 2017 04:08:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 When Do We Stand Before God in Judgment? http://theaquilareport.com/stand-god-judgment/ Sun, 25 Jun 2017 04:08:24 +0000 http://theaquilareport.com/?p=145173 Historic Christianity has almost universally, but not quite, confessed the idea that the departed saints go immediately to be in the presence of Christ, in what is called the enjoyment of the intermediate state; that is, we are disembodied spirits, and we await the final consummation of the kingdom of Christ, whereby we will experience... Continue Reading

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Historic Christianity has almost universally, but not quite, confessed the idea that the departed saints go immediately to be in the presence of Christ, in what is called the enjoyment of the intermediate state; that is, we are disembodied spirits, and we await the final consummation of the kingdom of Christ, whereby we will experience the resurrection of the body.

 

We have to make a distinction, as I think the Bible does, between the judgment that we receive immediately upon our death, at which we are brought before Christ, and what the Bible speaks of as the last judgment. There’s a reason the Bible refers to the last judgment as the last. That which is last presupposes that there have been some kinds of judgment prior to it. The Bible says that it’s appointed for man to die once, and then the judgment. I think there’s much in the New Testament to indicate that at the moment we die, we experience at least a preliminary judgment.

Paul, for example, said that he longed to depart and to be with Christ, which was far better than to remain here in this life and in the ministry he had. Historic Christianity has almost universally, but not quite, confessed the idea that the departed saints go immediately to be in the presence of Christ, in what is called the enjoyment of the intermediate state; that is, we are disembodied spirits, and we await the final consummation of the kingdom of Christ, whereby we will experience the resurrection of the body. When, in the Apostles’ Creed, we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body,” we’re not talking about Christ’s body but about our future resurrected bodies. As I say, historic Christianity believes that there is an immediate transference from this world into the presence of Christ, at least in our disembodied spirit state. For that to happen, some kind of judgment has to take place. For example, Paul would not be ushered into the presence of Christ immediately upon his death without Christ first making an evaluation that Paul was indeed one of his—that he was a justified man in a state of salvation. I think there is a preliminary division of the sheep and the goats prior to the final judgment on the last day, of which Scripture speaks. Jesus warns repeatedly of that last judgment.

Very few people in our secular culture find a discussion of judgment to be relevant; it is politically incorrect to judge others or, to some extent, even ourselves—to distinguish between right and wrong, truth and falsehood. Yet these very same people will commend the teachings of Jesus as wise and wonderful. But if Jesus of Nazareth taught anything, he taught repeatedly and emphatically that everyone of us will in fact be brought before the judgment throne of God for a final, consummate judgment.

“Do we stand before God in judgment upon death or later?” and other questions can be found in our Questions Answered section. This article is used permission.

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A Myth Of Neutrality http://theaquilareport.com/a-myth-of-neutrality/ Sun, 25 Jun 2017 04:05:30 +0000 http://theaquilareport.com/?p=145165 Now the New England Journal of Medicine has published a manifesto co-authored by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, an architect of President Barack Obama’s health care plan, that goes further. Abortion is now “a standard obstetrical practice,” he says, and physicians may not substitute their “personal beliefs” for this professional standard. Objectors must switch to a medical... Continue Reading

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Now the New England Journal of Medicine has published a manifesto co-authored by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, an architect of President Barack Obama’s health care plan, that goes further. Abortion is now “a standard obstetrical practice,” he says, and physicians may not substitute their “personal beliefs” for this professional standard. Objectors must switch to a medical specialty where they will not care for female patients or “leave the profession.”

 

Once upon a time, we were told to allow dissent from time-honored legal and moral norms in the name of “freedom of choice.”

Politicians assured us they were “personally opposed” to abortion but couldn’t impose their values on others. Assisted suicide was advocated not as a way to demean the lives of seriously ill patients but as a way to let desperate people make their own choices at the end of life.

Where does this commitment to personal freedom stand now?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists declared in 2007 that doctors morally opposed to abortion must present it as an option, and perform it or make referrals. They should even locate their practice near abortion clinics to ensure “access” to what they abhor.

Now the New England Journal of Medicine has published a manifesto co-authored by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, an architect of President Barack Obama’s health care plan, that goes further. Abortion is now “a standard obstetrical practice,” he says, and physicians may not substitute their “personal beliefs” for this professional standard. Objectors must switch to a medical specialty where they will not care for female patients or “leave the profession.”

The article’s basic premise is ridiculous. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’s 2011 survey of its membership showed that only 14 percent are willing to provide abortions. So Emanuel’s position accuses most OB-GYNs of unprofessional conduct, and would force all pregnant women to have their babies delivered by an abortion provider.

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‘Born That Way’? Really? http://theaquilareport.com/born-way-really/ Sun, 25 Jun 2017 04:04:10 +0000 http://theaquilareport.com/?p=145167 Marriage is not simply an agreement between two people who wish to formalize (and sacralize) their love for each other, but it is also a covenant between that couple and the entire community, which is expected to support them in the pilgrimage of marriage and family life. What we have been doing in the West for... Continue Reading

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Marriage is not simply an agreement between two people who wish to formalize (and sacralize) their love for each other, but it is also a covenant between that couple and the entire community, which is expected to support them in the pilgrimage of marriage and family life. What we have been doing in the West for many decades now has been stripping individuals, couples, and their children of the social support they need to thrive. These Egan data, to me, further demonstrate how the project of emancipating sexual desire from traditional norms sets up younger people for lives of great instability.

 

Wait, so you mean not everybody is “born this way”? You mean that it’s not simply nature, but also nurture? I’m so confused.

Actually I’m not confused at all. The “truth” in this matter has always been “what works to advance the cause.”

But for those who want to grapple honestly with this issue, these data from Patrick Egan show pretty clearly that the nurturing that culture provides does make a big difference.  Therefore, for communities who wish for their children to remain heterosexual, to form heterosexual marital unions, traditional families, etc., neutrality on the matter of sexuality will result in five to eight times as many people claiming homosexuality or bisexuality as would have otherwise been the case. (There have also been skyrocketing numbers of people claiming to be transgender.)

Sexuality is a lot more fluid than we think. For post-pubescent adolescents, teenagers, and young adults in their twenties, re-setting the boundaries of what is permissible resets the boundaries of what is thinkable, and for a meaningful number of them will change the way they behave.

Here’s what I mean. It must be that there are young people who experience homosexual desires as teenagers, but who do not act on them for reasons of religious belief or social custom. Later in life — in their twenties, say — their sexual desire solidifies as heterosexual, allowing them to form a stable marital bond with someone of the opposite sex, and start a family. Had they had the opportunity to experiment with homosexuality as a teenager, they might have remained confused and unstable well into adulthood.

Now, to be fair, it is also certainly true that in the past, people who did not experience sexual desire for those of the opposite sex felt compelled by custom or religious belief to marry, and who therefore formed an inherently unstable bond.

The argument (or at least a main argument) for normalizing homosexuality in general and legalizing gay marriage in particular is that it is unjust to compel people who are born with same-sex desire to live by traditional norms  — norms that entail withholding from them the possibility to live as they desire. Therefore, the change is necessary as a matter of justice to the small minority.

The friend and reader of this blog who brought the Egan data to my attention writes:

I came around to supporting gay marriage in large part because of Andrew Sullivan’s argument that homosexuality is innate (in about 2 percent of the population) and it’s cruel to force people who can’t help their attractions to deny them, or to try to educate them away from those inclinations. Social conservatives said in reply, “Sexuality is more polymorphous than this; if you stop upholding a normative standard in favor of heterosexual marriage and child-rearing, kids will grow up to be far more confused. You’ll end up with far more ‘innately’ gay and bisexual kids, in other words.”

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Consecutive Exposition Is Not the Only Way http://theaquilareport.com/consecutive-exposition-not-way/ Sun, 25 Jun 2017 04:01:50 +0000 http://theaquilareport.com/?p=145179 While God makes it clear that we must preach the Word, he does not specify one method over the other. I wonder if we have veered too far in one direction. This, after all, is our tendency in nearly everything—to swing from wild extreme to wild extreme.   In many ways, the Reformed resurgence of... Continue Reading

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While God makes it clear that we must preach the Word, he does not specify one method over the other. I wonder if we have veered too far in one direction. This, after all, is our tendency in nearly everything—to swing from wild extreme to wild extreme.

 

In many ways, the Reformed resurgence of the past couple of decades has been built upon a particular style of preaching. Many Reformed leaders have faithfully practiced and forcefully advocated what we might call “consecutive exposition.” This is the practice of preaching from the beginning of a book of the Bible to the end, then choosing a new book and doing the same with that one. It’s a practice I appreciate and one that has benefitted me tremendously both as a preacher and a church member.

But it’s not the only way. Historically, some prominent Christians have advocated a different approach. Of course we know that Charles Spurgeon never preached consecutively, but rather preached a distinct text each week. So, too, did Andrew Bonar and Robert Murray M’Chenye and many others. In place of a commitment to preaching through books of the Bible, they determined to “get their texts from God” each week.

Here is how Andrew Bonar described his approach:

I see that I should get my texts directly from the Lord, and never preach without having got something that shows me his counsel in the matter.

I have been much impressed with the sin of choosing my text without special direction from the Lord. This is like running without being sent, no message being given me. I ought to feel, “This I am sent to tell you, my people.”

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Michelangelo And His Struggles Of Faith http://theaquilareport.com/michelangelo-struggles-faith/ Sun, 25 Jun 2017 04:01:46 +0000 http://theaquilareport.com/?p=145042 Michelangelo’s poems are more transparent than his sculptures. Most of them are prayers to God (with echoes of Augustine’s Confessions, which he probably knew well). What he mourned mostly was his struggle with sin (“Fain would I wish what my heart cannot will”) and the time wasted in futile pursuits, including his art (“What’s the... Continue Reading

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Michelangelo’s poems are more transparent than his sculptures. Most of them are prayers to God (with echoes of Augustine’s Confessions, which he probably knew well). What he mourned mostly was his struggle with sin (“Fain would I wish what my heart cannot will”) and the time wasted in futile pursuits, including his art (“What’s the use of making so many puppets, if they have brought me to the same end as the man who crossed the sea and drowned in snot?”). At least intuitively, he understood that “sculpting divine things” was accompanied by “false conceptions” and “great peril” to his soul.

 

Michelangelo’s last sculpture is puzzling – two imprecise figures of Jesus and Mary melting into one, with a fragment of Jesus’s right arm detached from his body. It’s the Pietà Rondanini, the third and last pietà sculpted by the artist, very far from his first and meticulously detailed Vatican Pietà. Some attribute the change to his old age, which had weakened his arm and eyesight. Most critics see it as an expression of his spiritual search, which intensified with time.

His Early Life

Born in 1475 in a small stone house on the Tuscan hills, Michelangelo moved to Florence as a child and eventually convinced his reluctant father to allow him to pursue an artistic career. In spite of promising beginnings first in the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio and then at the court of Lorenzo de’ Medici, Michelangelo was struggling to survive in 1497, when the commission for the first Pietà came his way. This astonishing work made him famous.

His life runs parallel to the tumultuous events of the Protestant Reformation and is characterized by an equally turbulent search for God’s acceptance. Even if he remained within the Roman Catholic Church until the end, he is an interesting example of the pervasive effect of the Reformation in the lives of its contemporaries.

In the Medici court, Michelangelo became powerfully influenced by the sermons of Friar Girolamo Savonarola, who fiercely censured the greed and corruption of both church and rulers. They were sermons the artist couldn’t get out of his mind even in his old age, in spite of his disagreements with the friar on the dangers of classical art.

While his artistic career continued to soar (especially after the sculpture of the David in 1501 and the unveiling of his Sistine Chapel ceiling fresco in 1512), Michelangelo continued his spiritual search. His art moved away from an insistence on aesthetic perfection and became increasingly a mean of investigation and reflection on God.

Protestant Influences

By the 1530’s, Martin Luther had made a break with Rome and his teachings were spreading all over Europe. Heinrich Bullinger was organizing churches in Switzerland while Henry VIII gained authority to become Supreme Head of the church in England. It was an unprecedented upheaval of the Western church and consequently of the European culture and society which were deeply tied to it. The repercussions reached Italy, both in the form of publications and of frequent discussions.

The people mostly involved in this discussions were known as “spirituali.” Apparently, Michelangelo became involved in a group of spirituali in Viterbo, a city between Florence and Rome, and was particularly close to the poetess Vittoria Colonna, with whom he shared many conversations, letters, and poems. He also created some drawings specifically for her, including a new pietà with the somber inscription, “There is no reckoning of how much blood it cost” (a quotation from the poet Dante)[1].

Michelangelo, who had until then written tormented poems about death, seems to have found comfort in the doctrine of justification through faith alone (or at least in the centrality of faith as gift of God) which transpires in both his and Colonna’s poems.

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PCA Minister Lynn Downing Retiring From The Embers To A Flame Ministry http://theaquilareport.com/pca-minister-lynn-downing-retiring-embers-flame-ministry/ Sun, 25 Jun 2017 04:01:30 +0000 http://theaquilareport.com/?p=145135 Downing has faithfully served the ministry for almost ten years.  In that time, he has facilitated over 40 national/international Embers to a Flame conferences, led numerous Spiritual Foundation Retreats for churches desiring spiritual growth, and shepherded dozens of  churches through our coaching ministry, Fanning the Flame.   The Embers To A Flame Ministry has announced... Continue Reading

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Downing has faithfully served the ministry for almost ten years.  In that time, he has facilitated over 40 national/international Embers to a Flame conferences, led numerous Spiritual Foundation Retreats for churches desiring spiritual growth, and shepherded dozens of  churches through our coaching ministry, Fanning the Flame.

 

The Embers To A Flame Ministry has announced the retirement of Rev. Lynn Downing. Rev. Downing has faithfully served the ministry for almost ten years.  In that time, he has facilitated over 40 national/international Embers to a Flame conferences, led numerous Spiritual Foundation Retreats for churches desiring spiritual growth, and shepherded dozens of  churches through our coaching ministry, Fanning the Flame.  The Lord has graciously used Rev. Downing over the years to encourage and assist pastors in various denominations in the United States and abroad to move their churches to spiritual health and vitality.

Dr. Harry Reeder, III, Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church and founder of the Embers to a Flame Ministry, says of Rev. Downing:

One of the crucial principles in the ministry of church revitalization as taught through the Embers to a Flame ministry is the importance of leadership that is not only dependable and faithful but also given by leaders who multiply and mobilize other leaders.  That principle has been gloriously modeled by Rev. Lynn Downing, the Executive Director of Embers to a Flame.  The Lord brought Lynn out of his first retirement as pastor of Lake Osborne Presbyterian Church – which had gone through the Embers ministry – into the leadership of Embers to a Flame.  He has not only enhanced the ministry but has expanded it and sharpened its effectiveness in a way that is consistent with Lynn’s persistent, unassuming, yet visionary leadership.  Lynn, now moving into his second retirement, will not simply be missed but will be a reason for us to give thanks to the Lord for this Christ-centered, Gospel-saturated, Spirit-filled churchman.  For me, one of the greatest blessings is Lynn’s commitment to remain connected and engaged in the ministry as we build on his legacy leadership for the future.

Joe Weatherly, the senior coach for Fanning the Flame, describes Rev. Downing as an exceptional leader with vision. As an example of Rev. Downing’s leadership, Mr. Weatherly says, “After several years of training individuals to coach churches in the local church, Lynn had the vision to replicate the Fanning the Flame ministry at a denominational level.  This meant encouraging denominations to develop a department of revitalization and to identify people within their ranks to be trained as Fanning the Flame coaches.  As a result, several denominations have begun departments of revitalization, and we have been blessed to train several well-respected, godly men as coaches within those denominations.  Praise God, this work continues.”

“On a personal level, God has blessed me richly to not only be a servant in Lynn’s camp, but also to know him as my brother, my friend and my confidant. What a blessing to have a friend like Lynn!”

As Rev. Downing focused more on working with other denominations and moving them toward forming their own departments of revitalization, he developed strong relationships with other denominational leaders.  One of those denominational leaders was Tim Campbell, former Executive Director of the Arkansas Free Will Baptist Association and current pastor of First Free Will Baptist Church, Walnut Ridge, Arkansas.

Upon hearing of Rev. Downing’s retirement, Pastor Campbell had this to say, “In our faith tradition, we call men of God ‘Brother.’  I have never been able to call Brother Lynn Downing by his first name.  Whether he is praying, teaching, preaching, or just in casual conversation, you sense that he has been with the Master.  Only eternity will reveal how helpful and influential he has been to the Free Will Baptist movement and to the overall ministry of revitalization.  Whether he is speaking or working behind the scenes, his concern is the health and vitality of the Church.  It is a great honor to call him my dear friend and brother in Christ.  Plus, he laughs at my jokes and rides motorcycles.”

Briarwood Presbyterian Church honored Rev. Downing and thanked him for his service at a reception on Sunday, May 21.  Rev. Downing and his wife, Dianne, will make their retirement home in French Camp, Miss., where they will continue to serve the Lord in whatever capacity He ordains.

The Embers to a Flame ministry will go forward with its mission — For God’s glory, we promote spiritual health in churches throughout the world by applying biblical strategies for church vitality. Dr. Harry Reeder will continue leading Embers to a Flame conferences and teaching from God’s word the three-fold paradigm for church revitalization:  Remember – Repent – Recover.  As Dr. Ligon Duncan, Chancellor/CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary, has noted, “If we want our churches to be alive, vibrant, and growing, they have to be grounded in the Word of God.  At the Embers to a Flame conference, Harry Reeder mines the Word of God in order to supply pastors and church leaders with strategies that lead to church health….”  Praise God for His faithfulness.

Rev. Joseph Franks will assume Rev. Downing’s position as Church Revitalization Pastor.  Rev. Franks is the former senior pastor of Palmetto Hills Presbyterian Church, Simpsonville, SC.

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One In Six Young People Are Christian As Visits To Church Buildings Inspire Them To Convert http://theaquilareport.com/one-six-young-people-christian-visits-church-buildings-inspire-convert/ Sun, 25 Jun 2017 04:01:13 +0000 http://theaquilareport.com/?p=145169 Around 13 per cent of teenagers said that they decided to become a Christian after a visit to a church or cathedral, according to the figures. The influence of a church building was more significant than attending a youth group, going to a wedding, or speaking to other Christians about their faith. Jimmy Dale, the... Continue Reading

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Around 13 per cent of teenagers said that they decided to become a Christian after a visit to a church or cathedral, according to the figures. The influence of a church building was more significant than attending a youth group, going to a wedding, or speaking to other Christians about their faith. Jimmy Dale, the Church of England’s national youth evangelism officer, said his team had been “shocked” by the results.

 

One in six young people are practising Christians, new figures show, as research suggests thousands convert after visiting church buildings.

The figures, show that more than one in five (21 per cent) people between the ages of 11 and 18 describe themselves as active followers of Jesus, and 13 per cent say they are practising Christians who attend church.

The study, commissioned by Christian youth organisation Hope Revolution Partnership and carried out by ComRes, suggested that levels of Christianity were much higher among young people than previously thought.

Research carried out by church statistician Dr Peter Brierley in 2006 suggested church attendance among teenagers was less than half of this, with 6 per cent of 11-14 year-olds and 5 per cent of 15-18 year-olds attending church.

Around 13 per cent of teenagers said that they decided to become a Christian after a visit to a church or cathedral, according to the figures.

The influence of a church building was more significant than attending a youth group, going to a wedding, or speaking to other Christians about their faith.

Jimmy Dale, the Church of England’s national youth evangelism officer, said his team had been “shocked” by the results.

The research was carried out in December but was not released until now because analysts thought such a high figure could not be accurate.

But another study recently released by Christian group Youth for Christ showed similar results, suggesting that a surprisingly high number of young people still describe themselves as Christian.

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Is It Time To Understand Deacons? http://theaquilareport.com/time-understand-deacons/ Sun, 25 Jun 2017 04:01:11 +0000 http://theaquilareport.com/?p=145159 Our world has changed; women now do other things besides secretary, nurse and teacher. Now they’re senators and executives and doing well. Do we welcome that or were the Amish right after all: we should have stayed on the farm? But we won’t be wiser than God on that either! We’re all learning about gifts... Continue Reading

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Our world has changed; women now do other things besides secretary, nurse and teacher. Now they’re senators and executives and doing well. Do we welcome that or were the Amish right after all: we should have stayed on the farm? But we won’t be wiser than God on that either! We’re all learning about gifts we never knew we had.

 

I keep rereading Luder Whitlock’s Divided We Fall. Where should we draw those lines, the ones that make our faith in Christ clear while taking away all those ambiguities that unnecessarily divide his church? In my PCA we don’t agree on everything, no surprise. What shall we do about it?

Way back then I was a mid-trib, confident that at the end of this world persecution of believers would be very hard but that they wouldn’t have to suffer through the worst part at the end. Others around me were pre-trib, confident that believers would be removed before that suffering even began. (Remember that Scofield was Presbyterian!) I was out of step and got prayed for—but the prayer was that I would stop resisting what was so clear in the Bible. By now we know how to think about it: life with Jesus is hard, going to get harder, learn fast about trusting him. That’s enough.

I grew up in the last dry county in Iowa, where we were convinced that the only sure way to avoid drunkenness was never to drink. When that was repealed the former mood lingered. On the town square were The Chocolate Shop and The Candy Kitchen, both with windows full of piles of ancient boxes of candy. Inside were the bars! Did any preacher there ever preach on the feeding of the 5000 with the very best wine ever? Our testimony comes out this way: God forbids this and he doesn’t forbid that, so stop being wiser than God. Especially don’t be wiser than God when it comes to loving each other.

This one is harder. How should we live on the Lord’s Day known as Sabbath? Here’s Westminster Larger Catechism #117:

How is the Sabbath or the Lord’s Day to be sanctified? A.: The Sabbath or Lord’s Day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day, not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to be taken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercises of God’s worship: and, to that end, we are to prepare our hearts, and with such foresight, diligence, and moderation, to dispose and seasonably dispatch our worldly business, that we may be the more free and fit for the duties of that day.

That’s one way to think about it. Underline “all the day” and resting from “recreations,” that’s the biggest in this one. I still feel the pain from the OPC’s judgment that my friend and pastor Frank Breisch’s views on this disqualified him to be a minister. I don’t remember the church talked about how much of the Standards were that important, it sounded like “all of it.” Frank kept on being Reformed, but moved on to the Christian Reformed Church with its summary of our faith in #103 of the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q.: What is God’s will for you in the fourth commandment? A.: First, that the gospel ministry and education for it be maintained, and that, especially on the festive day of rest, I diligently attend the assembly of God’s people to learn what God’s Word teaches, to participate in the sacraments, to pray to God publicly, and to bring Christian offerings for the poor. Second, that every day of my life I rest from my evil ways, let the Lord work in me through his Spirit, and so begin in this life the eternal Sabbath.

Now underline all that last sentence: every day of my life, I rest from evil ways and begin in this life the eternal Sabbath. So what is “rest” anyway? Is it all about looking back at Creation, or about looking ahead to our final rest when Jesus comes back?” Both/and! (Hi-tech theology folks call that the “eschatological Sabbath.”) So when we have that conversation, there always has to be two questions: how does God’s Sabbath express itself in your life on Sunday? Now tell us about Thursday? But some see Sunday a lot bigger and it’s hard to get over that. Hebrews 4 helps: 

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’ “although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:1-16).

Nothing needs underlining there, it’s all what the Lord is saying to us right now. Do you put together that great rest ahead of us together with Jesus our high priest? “In every respect tempted as we are, yet without sin?” It’s going to be a long hard fight till we arrive and we’ll need all the Jesus we can get. That’s bigger than avoiding “recreation.” In two PCA presbyteries I’ve heard candidates routinely say they don’t agree to “no recreation,” and they were easily received. Also, what happened to Sunday evening worship? Wasn’t that better than in the morning, no pressure about “roast in the oven,” or guests coming over? Now some of us have Sunday evening small groups.

We’ve been changing our hearts and minds. Safe place for Frank now! Is that good enough, that we just drop the no-recreation-Sabbath by common consent? Or should we vote to amend our Standards? That’s been done; it’s fine to do that. When our Revolution happened, we dropped that it’s the state’s job to make sure our religion is biblical. In the 19th century we dropped that the Pope is the Antichrist and that you can’t marry “your deceased wife’s sister.” The good thing about amending is that it’s more than a General Assembly thing and gives the presbyteries some time to think it over, with wisdom from those ruling elders who find it hard to come to GA.

Should we do some wholesale amending by adding Heidelberg and other Reformed creeds? Westminster Seminary California did that, but they spoiled it by saying that when there’s conflict the Westminster Standards always win. I’ve long been partial to B. B. Warfield’s words that our faith is where all Reformed standards agree, that’s what we just did with Sabbath. (Now, I can’t find where Warfield says that, how could I lose it, would someone please find it for me?) I suppose that would be too much, so we’re counting on you folks who know those other Reformed ways of saying things to keep on reminding us what they say.

What happened to that heavy “intinction” debate? In the Supper, can you dunk the bread into the wine when the NT account says, first bread then wine? That one seems to have disappeared (my students were drawing presbytery maps to find where they would be at home). How long are the creation “days”? That’s still on the table somewhere, but not that prominent. Another map? Again, GA lack of interest, at least when it comes to amending, seems to be more important than bringing in presbyteries and ruling elders, is that good?

The pressing one right now is: how shall we, especially women, use our gifts for the Lord and his glory? We all know that the answer isn’t, clergy do all the work and the rest of us observe gratefully. It’s really this way:

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:7-11).

The end is near, time is running out, you each have a gift, now use it for God’s glory. Grassroots all the way, this is for everyone. Look for your talking and serving opportunities and challenges, and go to work! Don’t talk to each other just about the Phillies, pass on where you’re struggling and how this place in the Word helps so much. Have people over for meals and then don’t complain afterwards. “Priesthood of all believers.”

Our world has changed; women now do other things besides secretary, nurse and teacher. Now they’re senators and executives and doing well. Do we welcome that or were the Amish right after all: we should have stayed on the farm? But we won’t be wiser than God on that either! We’re all learning about gifts we never knew we had. Pastors should reach out to those not-yet-believers but it goes even better when we all do. Preachers can “apply” the Word in general ways, but it’s up to us all to get specific, for ourselves and for our friends. We’re missing “single-women ministry” in our churches so we count on them to show us the way. The Lord wants us to have “officers” in our churches, but they’re not there to go off and hide while they do their work, but to share vigorously with us all the grand gospel vision, with what that means for all of us.

We all do deaconing things, of course. We learn from that and then we can help others do it better. Should women pass on their insights to the deacons, and not just at dinner time? We all know deaconing isn’t a leadership role, so why can’t women be deacons? Our cousins in the ARP have done that for years, what can they tell us? The recent PCA General Assembly got this on the table more clearly and helpfully than before, so what’s our next step? Or do we really need a next step, since our committee reminds us how well we’re doing with “mutual respect?” Enough so that we can do near-deacons well? And respect those nearer than we are?

Respect, along with love when we are struggling to understand each other, is a remarkable gift. But some aren’t that hopeful, and believe instead that we’re close to selling out our biblical heritage. I never met any of these feelings in my three presbyteries, but I respect that judgment, too. We all know that we shouldn’t paper over things that others are so concerned about. With some reluctance, I think it’s time to go the way of amendment: affirming that we believe women may be elected deacon.

Of course, that will be hard. But it will respect those who think differently, and we need to do that, especially our presbyteries. I hope that as we consider what that would mean that we will learn from our OPC, ARP, EPC and ECO cousins. Perhaps we will discover that our own mutual respect image is so unreal as to be imaginary? That there’s no reason our conservatives shouldn’t be OPC and our progressives ARP or EPC? But all that is too negative, our hope right now is for godly discussion in unhurried regional levels, with much prayer and constant waiting on our Lord.

Clair Davis is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is retired from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia after a long tenure as Professor of Church History. He lives in the Philadelphia area.

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Nehemiah Sets the Table for Christ’s Feast http://theaquilareport.com/nehemiah-sets-table-christs-feast/ Sat, 24 Jun 2017 04:08:23 +0000 http://theaquilareport.com/?p=145207 Surely you can see how wonderfully this service anticipates the greater Nehemiah. After all, the Lord Jesus Christ laid aside his heavenly privileges, put on humanity, and served those who were hungry and hurting due to the effects of sin. Nehemiah might have been able to say, “I ordered a daily feast and wrote the... Continue Reading

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Surely you can see how wonderfully this service anticipates the greater Nehemiah. After all, the Lord Jesus Christ laid aside his heavenly privileges, put on humanity, and served those who were hungry and hurting due to the effects of sin. Nehemiah might have been able to say, “I ordered a daily feast and wrote the check with my own hand.” But Jesus could say, “I ordered an eternal feast, and I wrote the check with my own blood!”

 

The scene may be hard to imagine: people in the covenant community pawning their fields, homes, and vineyards in order to put food on the table. Worse still, the people who were fronting the money were other members of the covenant community. However, this was the reality for post-exilic Jews in Nehemiah’s day.

Nehemiah would have none of this. In chapter 5 he gets after his people like a spiritual Orkin man. He diagnoses the infestation of selfishness and calls them to repentance. Thankfully, the people respond. In repentance, they restore what was taken.

This is a great story of concern and service by a man of God for the people of God. But it doesn’t end there.

At the end of the chapter, we learn that Nehemiah does not make use of his privileges as governor. That is, he doesn’t take the people’s money. He willfully lays aside his privileges and instead serves people. What does he do? Well, in addition to not taking their money, he worked on the wall, acquired no land, and out of his own pocket he fed 150 people a day at his table (Neh. 5.16-17).

Why did he do this? He tells us as much in verse 19, “Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.” That is, he had a religious motivation. He was motivated by God. Moreover, he did not take advantage of the people because he was conscious of the people’s weakness (Neh. 5.18).

If we could summarize: Nehemiah, moved by a genuine love for God and a loving concern for his people, laid aside his privileges and selflessly served those who were hungry and hurting.

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The Routine Absurdity of Leaders Growing Large (Part 1) http://theaquilareport.com/routine-absurdity-leaders-growing-large-part-1/ Sat, 24 Jun 2017 04:01:57 +0000 http://theaquilareport.com/?p=145222 “With leadership comes certain privileges and prerogatives. You have a title, a name, a platform, a budget, a staff, better benefits – nothing inherently wrong, just things that are inherently sticky. This means that our identity and expectations can quickly adhere to the privileges and prerogatives of our role.”   Our church is preparing for... Continue Reading

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“With leadership comes certain privileges and prerogatives. You have a title, a name, a platform, a budget, a staff, better benefits – nothing inherently wrong, just things that are inherently sticky. This means that our identity and expectations can quickly adhere to the privileges and prerogatives of our role.”

 

Our church is preparing for a series on Daniel so I’ve been reacquainting myself with the great King Nebuchadnezzar. To indulge a random aside, simply writing his name takes me back to one of the most creatively corny pulpit jokes to ever grace a Sunday service. In his message from Daniel, our newly-minted pastor stumbled several times over the pronunciation of Nebuchadnezzar’s name. As the congregation eyed each other amusingly over his verbal groping, the pastor paused momentarily, and then said, “The problem is, I just ‘nebber-cud-nezzer’ pronounce his name correctly!”

The eyes rolled, a smile or two broke through, and our new church learned an important lesson. A pastor’s mind visits strange places when left alone in his study.

Nebuchadnezzar is a study of a mind visiting strange places.

The Story 

Exiled to Babylon around 605 BC, Daniel was selected to serve in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. In the opening verses of his book, we find Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, besieging Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar is not the central character in the book of Daniel, but God cast him in a role featured during the first few chapters. His reign symbolizes what happens when leaders – be it kings, politicians, preachers, elders, or entrepreneurs – get stung by pride and swell with their own importance.

Let’s look at our first symptom of a leader growing large.

Outrageous Demands

As the curtain on Daniel’s book opens, Nebuchadnezzar has had a nightmare. But this dream, peculiar and haunting in its particulars, had a cryptic echo of truth. Once awake, Nebuchadnezzar was trouble and assembled a cohort of counselors to search for the dreams’ interpretation. Nothing unusual there. If you’re a king with a bad dream that seems freakishly real, getting some help represents good government in action.

But Nebuchadnezzar had an absurd condition. The one who helps him, he decreed, must supply not only the interpretation of the dream, but the dream itself. “The word from me is firm: if you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins.” (Daniel 2:5). Absent one person stepping forward with this prophetic knowledge, Nebuchadnezzar was going to exterminate his entire cabinet.

This was no bluff. You didn’t need to serve Nebuchadnezzar long to recognize his tyranny had teeth. His dream stayed impenetrable though, so his counselors remained quiet. Outraged over their ignorance, the king signed a death warrant. “Because of this the king was angry and very furious, and commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed. So the decree went out, and the wise men were about to be killed; and they sought Daniel and his companions, to kill them.” (Daniel 2:12–13)

Freeze the frame for a second. Why in the world is Nebuchadnezzar so upset? He’s about to burst a blood vessel because no one knows the specifics on a bad dream he had one night while he was asleep. He wanted a ‘dream-reader’, which is, I guess, a mind-reader who works the night shift. But in the world of dream-divining, this was a whole new set of metrics. The counselor was now expected to know not only the interpretation but the dream too!

Only hours before the slaughter, God provides what Nebuchadnezzar needs through Daniel. But God’s saving grace should not obscure the drive behind the royal demand.  When a person is empowered with leadership, the heart begins a war with expectation. The more they lose the war, the larger they grow.

The Path To Outrageous Demands

It works this way.

With leadership comes certain privileges and prerogatives. You have a title, a name, a platform, a budget, a staff, better benefits – nothing inherently wrong, just things that are inherently sticky. This means that our identity and expectations can quickly adhere to the privileges and prerogatives of our role. First, we appreciate the job perks, then we deserve the job perks. We start humbled by others’ deference, then we demand their deference.

Do you see? A seemingly subtle, yet altogether radical transformation has occurred:  We swell with significance, so our blessings become our rights. Our identity, which should be anchored outside of our role and grounded in what Christ accomplished, has adhered to our position. Because we hold X role, we demand Y benefits.

It’s the absurdity behind leaders growing large, and it’s pretty routine. We start empowered for service, then swell by expected preferences, and finally balloon to rupture-levels by the hot air of our entitlement.

The larger we get, the more we expect.

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