The Sunday Reader: Vol. 2 | #10

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The Inspiration of the Bible

A classic article by B. B. Warfield. He gives an overview of the doctrine and why we confess it to be true.

John Calvin on the Why and How of Fasting

And here’s one more short reflection from Archibald Alexander.

Don’t Mistake Transfer Growth for Evangelism

“Church growth is not the same thing as evangelism. You can grow a church or a ministry numerically and not bring one lost soul into the kingdom. This is a “dirty secret” of contemporary American church planting.“ God, grant us a part in converting the lost!

ABOUT — The Sunday Reader shares articles we've found particularly insightful, thought-provoking, or edifying this week. While not always representing the views of our Pastors and Elders, these selections offer a mix of viewpoints to broaden and frame your understanding of God, Scripture, ourselves, and the world we serve in Christ's name.

The Sunday Reader: Vol. 2 | #9

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Is It Sinful to Observe (or Not To Observe) Lent?

A balanced overview of a practice which is increasingly common in Reformed and evangelical circles. It includes links to position-pieces by a number of Reformed theologians.

In What Sense Does God “Choose” Our Offspring?

Pastor Spotts explains Deuteronomy 4:37 in light of the two-fold way of relating to God in covenant.

The End of Parental Rights? A Chilling Case From Canada

While unpleasant, this article by Al Mohler exposes an area of mounting concern. The freedom of Christians parents to raise our children according to our convictions is narrowing. “The court ordered that a 14-year-old girl receive testosterone injections without parental consent. The court also declared that if either of her parents referred to her using female pronouns or addressed her by her birth name, the parents could be charged with family violence.“

Education in Ancient Israel

Did you know that in Jesus’ day, primary education was mandatory among the Jews meaning that average people could (and did) read Scripture? Here’s a fascinating glimpse into that period. Some of their teaching methods are surprising.

A Sermon Notes Sheet for Young Children

It is what it says it is.

ABOUT — The Sunday Reader shares articles we've found particularly insightful, thought-provoking, or edifying this week. While not always representing the views of our Pastors and Elders, these selections offer a mix of viewpoints to broaden and frame your understanding of God, Scripture, ourselves, and the world we serve in Christ's name.

the necessity of speaking the message

You have probably heard the quote, which is often misattributed to Francis of Assisi, “preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words.” However, the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 1: 21 that “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” In his book, Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life, Donald Whitney makes this important observation about the necessity of speaking the Gospel message,

Often it is the message of the Cross lived and demonstrated that God uses to open a heart to the gospel, but it is the message of the Cross proclaimed (by word or page) through which the power of God saves those who believe its content. No matter how well we live the gospel (and we must live it well, else we hinder its reception), sooner or later we must communicate the content of the gospel before a person can become a disciple of Jesus. The example of Christianity saves no one; rather it is the message of Christianity—the gospel—that “is the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1: 16).”

God help you to do so.

In What Sense Does God "Choose" Our Offspring?

Deuteronomy 4:37-39 says God “chose the offspring” of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob:

And because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, 38 driving out before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is this day, 39 know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. (ESV)

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God’s having “chose the offspring” of the Patriarchs should not be taken as meaning that every individual born within the covenant is necessarily chosen unto faith and final glory. It is indisputable that some of Abraham’s descendants were finally lost. Rather, God’s “choice” here refers to his decision to formally differentiate the natural offspring of professing believers from that of the world, by granting them outward privileges and responsibilities common to his visible people. The Patriarchal offspring participated in worship, stewarded the divine oracles, and formally inherited the covenant promises (Rom 3:1-2). Yet, at all times, it was necessary for descendants of the Patriarchs to embrace God’s Word by faith in order for the promises to become personally effective for salvation. This two-fold way of relating to the covenant of grace is essentially what Paul is geting at in Rom 3:1-3 and 4:11-12:

What advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! […]

The purpose was to make him [Abraham] the father of all who believe […] and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

In the same manner, under the New Covenant, God again “chose the offspring” of professing Christians to be counted among his gathered people (Acts 2:39; 1 Cor 7:14). Indeed, Gentile believers are “grafted” into the original tree, symbolizing the covenant community, whose roots go back to Abraham (Rom 4:11). Children of professing believers, as “branches” natural to the church, are therefore to be reared as disciples and heirs of Christ, and comforted with his promises (Eph 6:1, 4). To borrow the language of John’s epistle, covenant offspring are born “among” and considered living members of the church, but only time will tell how many were truly “of” the church, exercising personal faith unto salvation (1 Jn 2:19).

Of course, this presents us with a tension: which of our children really believe? Yet because God “chose the offspring” to participate in covenant life, it is not for believers to exclude their children from fellowship until we see fit to include them. Rather, from birth onward, we must charitably grant our covenant children the benefit of the doubt, or what is better, not doubt their belonging to Christ at all, until—God forbid—we are absolutely forced to do so by the ordinary process of church discipline. Nothing less than an adult rejection of essential doctrines or persistent unrepentant can disassociate our offspring from their natural place within the visible church.

The Sunday Reader: Vol. 2 | #8

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Did Spiritual Gifts Like Tongues Cease? (text/audio)

Pastor Spotts describes the Reformed consensus and biblical reasons for holding it.

Making Bricks For Evangelical Pharaohs

“There’s a relentless push for progress that we are being swept up in, and in an era of what I call “Big Eva” – the large evangelical ministry juggernaut replete with conferences after conference, ministry tool after ministry tool, leadership summit after leadership summit, technique after technique, there seems very little commitment to true rest. Apex leaders atop ministry pyramids are pushing God’s people with a sanctified version of brick making that has no end in sight. And what does that look like? It looks like no rest.”

Famous Christian Quotes… That Aren’t Real

From C. S. Lewis to Francis of Assisi, I must admit that I’ve been had. Don’t believe everything you find on the Internet, folks!

The Best Book of the Bible for New Believers

If you’re exploring Christianity or discipling a new believer, here’s a case for beginning with Mark’s Gospel.

ABOUT — The Sunday Reader shares articles we've found particularly insightful, thought-provoking, or edifying this week. While not always representing the views of our Pastors and Elders, these selections offer a mix of viewpoints to broaden and frame your understanding of God, Scripture, ourselves, and the world we serve in Christ's name.

Did Spiritual Gifts Like Tongues Cease with the Apostles?

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What is the consensus among Reformed Christians regarding spiritual gifts? Here’s a summary along with some biblical reasons.

Most Reformed theologians have held that the Spirit grants extraordinary gifts as miraculous confirmations of major transitions in redemptive history, such as changes to the structure of covenant life or whenever fresh revelation is added to Scripture. During apostolic times, for instance, the Spirit gifted people with a supernatural ability to speak unlearned human languages (i.e., "tongues"), to heal upon command, foretell future events, and compose scripture. These unusual gifts served as signs certifying God’s hand in these momentous changes. Because we are no longer in such a period of transition, we should not expect extraordinary gifting to occur, any more than we look for new apostles or additions to the Bible.

The confirmatory nature of extraordinary gifts in the New Testament is highlighted by an often overlooked fact. The Bible provides no instance of the Spirit having ever granted them to anyone apart from the presence of an apostle, whose authority the gifts served to confirm. A key text demonstrating this is Acts 8:14-20:

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 

Note, the text describes how certain Samaritans had come to faith and were baptized, yet in order for these believers to receive sign-gifts it was necessary for apostles to be dispatched from Jerusalem. Only after Peter and John had come to them in person did the Spirit pour out the gifts. The implication, which Simon Magus seems to have clearly understood, is it was impossible to receive "the powers of the age to come" apart from having come into physical proximity with an apostle.

The purpose of such gifts, then, was primarily to testify to the unique authority which Christ conferred upon the apostles as founders of the New Covenant church and agents of special revelation. This understanding leads naturally to a conclusion: extraordinary gifts persisted in the church only as long as that first generation of Christians who received them among the apostles survived. Notably, this is exactly the situation which Augustine, writing in the fourth century, describes:

I said (chap. xxv), “These miracles were not permitted to last till our times, lest the soul should always seek visible things, and the human race should grow cold by becoming accustomed to things which stirred it when they were novel.” That is true. When hands are laid on in Baptism people do not receive the Holy Spirit in such a way that they speak with the tongues of all the nations. Nor are the sick now healed by the shadow of Christ’s preachers as they pass by. Clearly such things which happened then have later ceased. But I should not be understood to mean that to-day no miracles are to be believed to happen in the name of Christ. (Retractions 1,13)

With respect to the last sentence, Nathan Businitz observes,

Augustine’s miracle accounts do not involve miracle workers who possessed the gift of healing. Instead, these accounts are presented as unexpected and providential acts of God which were not dependent on an intermediary healer. In that sense, they are categorically different than the type of healing miracles that are described in the Gospels or the book of Acts. Nothing in Augustine’s account suggests that the “gift of healing” was involved in the episodes he recounted.

To be clear, the cessation of extraordinary gifts should not be misunderstood as discounting the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. God continues to answer the prayers of believers for miraculous healing. He simply does so without, as Businitz put it, “an intermediary healer” who says authoritatively, “be healed!” Having withdrawn gifts suited to a transitional period in redemptive history, the Holy Spirit continues to empower believers today with diverse gifts for edification and mission such as preaching, teaching, administration, and—above all—love.

As for the "unknown tongues" mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor, I agree with the Reformed consensus. Paul should be understood as speaking rhetorically of the ability to speak angelic languages. His phrase, "though I speak in the tongues of men and angels," should not be taken as either confirming or denying the real possibility of speaking unknown or angelic tongues. Rather, he contrasts others' supposed boasting with the much higher place given to intelligible words spoken in love. To put it differently, Paul means, “even if I were able to speak every conceivable language, including that of angels, it wouldn’t matter if I did so without love.” Since this is the only text I’m aware of which can possibly be taken as referring to unknown tongues, it seems the doctrine of glossolalia as practiced by many charismatic churches sits on weak foundations.

The Sunday Reader: Vol. 2 | #7

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Articles Related to Church Life and Planting

As we discuss the possibility of church planting here are two good articles. The first, “Community is a Costly Business” considers how Christ calls and equips us for the hardships of real community. The second is Mark Dever’s “Original Letter to a Church Plant on ‘The 9 Marks of a Healthy Church’.” Very worthwhile.

Hymnals Still Have a Place in Modern Churches

“Hymnals are decidedly old school, but sometimes the old ways have too many benefits to abandon. For one, hymnals promote good congregational singing….“ HT: Nick V.

The Inspiration of the Bible

This classic by Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield will pair well with the upcoming evening sermon.

Science Is No Enemy of Christianity

As a follow-up to last Sunday’s evening sermon, on God’s self-revelation in creation, here’s a welcome reminder of what should be a no-brainer.

ABOUT — The Sunday Reader shares articles we've found particularly insightful, thought-provoking, or edifying this week. While not always representing the views of our Pastors and Elders, these selections offer a mix of viewpoints to broaden and frame your understanding of God, Scripture, ourselves, and the world we serve in Christ's name.

The Sunday Reader: Vol. 2 | #6

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To All the Books I’ll Never Read

As one who wants to read it all, I found this a comforting (and necessary) re-alignment of my expectations. Limitations are good.

‘The end of a thing’

Don’t judge a life before it is ended. “A young woman I know, much infatuated with great literary figures, is going off to read them in a college in the fall. I hope that alongside studies of De Profundis and The Picture of Dorian Gray the school will also have a course on deathbed fears and tremblings to provide a fuller picture.”

Assorted Writings of Francis Turretin

I’m sure there is something here that will both interest and enlighten your daily reading from one of the worthiest Reformed theologians.

On Forgiveness

A classic essay by C. S. Lewis. “Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.”

ABOUT — The Sunday Reader shares articles we've found particularly insightful, thought-provoking, or edifying this week. While not always representing the views of our Pastors and Elders, these selections offer a mix of viewpoints to broaden and frame your understanding of God, Scripture, ourselves, and the world we serve in Christ's name.