The Sunday Reader: Vol. 2 | #3

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A Curriculum for Those Wrestling with Infant Baptism

Dr. R. Scott Clark from Westminster Seminary in California has provided this trove of resources. I can only say, I wish I had these myself when I was struggling through this issue!

What Does It Mean That Women Should “Remain Quiet” in Church? (1 Timothy 2)

Denny Burk at Crossway provides what I think is a well-reasoned answer to a contentious question. Definitely worth considering.

(Video) Was the Holy Spirit Present With Old Testament believers?

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 | #2

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2018 Lessons & Carols: Remastered Audio & Video

This will be exciting for a few of you. Whether you missed the service or want to revisit some of the selections for next advent season, here are freshly remastered files for streaming and download.

Teach Your Teen How to Read Their Bible

An important topic and a helpful resource.

3 Ways to Navigate Difficult Passages of the Old Testament

Advanced students might want to bypass this article, but I’m sure it will be useful to some of you.

How Can the Fallen Mind Accept Exodus 4:22?

Denny Burk reflects on God’s judgment against Pharaoh. “I have read this verse countless times over the years. What struck me today is how utterly and totally foreign a text like this sounds to fallen ears.”

Why Christian Movies Are So Terrible

Not everyone will agree with this piece by Jared Wilson, but it shines light on the relationship between faith, art, and our mission.

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 | #1

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Should We Try to Convert Non-Reformed Christians to Calvinism?

Rev. Spotts answers this common question from personal experience.

Training Children for Church

Visitors are often surprised by how small children at PURC are able (for the most part) to sit quietly through our services. It’s certainly not because our kids are naturally more self-controlled than others! Here are some practical tips for helping your little ones thrive in church.

Don’t Reap to the Edge of Your Field

Michael Kelley explains an important principle behind the command not to glean the edges of fields (Lev 19): “To use the language of Leviticus, we tend to reap to the edge of our fields. We use all of everything we have – all our money. All our time. All our energy. All our everything – and sometimes more. As a result, we don’t have anything left “just in case.””

Bible Reading Plans for 2019

Personally, I prefer plans that work through several sections of Scripture at once.

A Letter to an Inactive Member

If not for you personally, perhaps this will help you find balanced words to address someone else in your life.

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.

Should We Try to Convert Non-Reformed Christians to Calvinism?

I’ve been asked many times whether Reformed Christians should try to convert their non-Reformed brethren to Calvinism. It’s a good question. Indeed, it’s one I should have asked before attempting to convert all my companions, by which noble combat I soon forfeited the majority.

Having been reared in a setting where Reformed theology was equally misunderstood as it was opposed, I was “converted” to Calvinistic Christianity at age twenty-one. For two or three years after, I poured an ocean of polemics upon my corner of the Internet. Looking back, I find little fruit was gained for all my brave tilting at every Arminian windmill. I wish I had taken the advice I am about to give.

Overall, I've found it unhelpful to go out of the way to convince non-Reformed Christians of the Calvinistic doctrines of grace. This is not to say I hide or avoid these topics. Not at all. Especially if the other person brings them up. But I understand much better now that knowledge uncoupled from a demonstration of love comes off as a clanging gong. Demonstrating love takes time. Familiarity and trust must develop so that one’s brotherly intentions are understood, not just asserted. It is hard, if not impossible to achieve this over a few brief interactions, let alone from behind a social media handle.

What I have found effective

I have found greater success broaching these subjects in times when my non-Reformed brothers have confessed struggling with assurance, sanctification, and perseverance. My own bitter experience taught me that only the Reformed doctrines of grace can provide sure anchors against these storms. Thankfully, times of severe self-doubt are also ideal opportunities for pointing others away from themselves to the overcoming grace of God given in Christ.

I direct them to Bible verses such as,

I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil 1:6)

He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thes 5:24)

The usual objections about “free” will are often disarmed by explaining that grace operates at a level deeper than will power. The Spirit goes to the root of our choices, to our very nature, and begins converting our corrupt hearts. Spiritual “new birth” and subsequent growth transforms people miraculously from within, like water into wine, so that our dispositions and preferences change.

Only sovereign grace can explain how die-hard sinners can go from unbelief and habitual sin to willing faith and holiness. Only sovereign grace can assure the downcast of finishing the race. Only sovereign grace can explain how it is that believers who sin every day will never choose to sin once they pass on to glory. Think about it. In the resurrection, God doesn’t have to take away “free” will to secure heaven from future sin. Rather, the Holy Spirit finishes his work of freeing us from corruption and temptation, so that we never will to sin again!

I find that in such times of anxious fear, these truths are readily received and savored by nearly all Christians. Rather than being theological abstractions, they come as practical correctives to self-assurance. Indeed, for those who feel themselves losing the battle, there is nothing more refreshing than to discover that salvation was always God’s victory, and is assured through Christ for all who believe.

Careful with That Sword

So, in conclusion, I would advise my Reformed brethren not to go spoiling for a fight or to make yourselves a holy nuisance. Especially if your abilities and doctrine have not been approved and encouraged by your pastor or elders. Many valiant but weak-handed warriors have mishandled this heavy sword, wounding the very ones they wanted to liberate. In addition to studying how best to communicate Reformed doctrine, Invest time in demonstrating your love and directing others to the gospel. Remember, Calvinism is not the gospel. The gospel is the good news that Christ Jesus saves all who trust him alone for salvation. Calvinism simply explains why the Gospel is always effective for the elect.

May the Lord bless your service for is kingdom.

The Sunday Reader: Vol. 1 | #44

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Which Translation of the Bible Should You Memorize

Rev. Spotts answers a common question and shares tips to further your memorization.

Does a religious community need its own building to flourish?

Dr. Brian Lee at Christ URC, D.C., shared this with me. It describes how and why many D.C. congregations now intentionally use unconventional spaces for worship, as well as reasons why this trend is both positive and negative for the community.

Why Four Distinct Gospels?

In this brief excerpt, John Calvin explains the purpose of having not one, but four accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry.

Video: When Did Christians Begin Advent Celebrations?

When in history did the celebration of Advent begin in Christian churches? This short explanation tells how Advent arose around Christmas in the 4th century, and how Advent in history is different than Advent today. Ryan M. Reeves (PhD Cambridge) is Assistant Professor of Historical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

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.

Which translation of the Bible should you memorize?

Recently, after encouraging our youth group to memorize scripture, I received the following question:

I was [wondering] whether any translation is, as far as you know, particularly memorable, or otherwise good for memorization. That would be good to know, particularly as it would seem inconsistent, as well as confusing and difficult to remember to memorize and make use of a hodgepodge of translations.

Great questions! To be honest, I am of two minds on this.

One the one hand, my experience suggests the King James is most memorable. This owes to the translators having gone out of their way to use metered speech and punchy, one-syllable words whenever possible. For instance, "thou shalt not kill," rather than, "you shall not murder" (although the latter is more accurate). However, today we use many words quite differently than they did back in the 1600s. This can lead to confusion. For instance, 1 Thess 5:22 in the KJV says, "abstain from all appearance of evil." I believe a more accurate translation is, "abstain from every form of evil" (ESV). Also, the KJV has some real shortcomings compared to faithful modern translations like the ESV. This is because many ancient biblical texts have been discovered in the past four centuries, as well as details about the Hebrew and Greek languages, which enable scholars to be even more precise in their translations. 

For these reasons, I would suggest memorizing from the English Standard Version. It is a little less memorable, but is very accurate and has a wealth of resources to go with it. 

The Key to Memorization

As important as translations are, remember that most essential aspect of memorization has nothing to do with which (faithful) version of the Bible you use. The key is simply to work on memorization daily. I would suggest aiming to memorize one verse each day. If you miss a few days, don’t give up. Start again!

An Effective Method for Memorizing Scripture

Write your memory verse(s) by hand on a note card (handwriting is proven to aid memory). Keep the card in your pocket and review throughout the day. At the end of the day, add that card to a review pile.

Once a day, go through the review pile, using tally marks to note how many days in a row you get each card correct. Then, once you’ve gotten a card correct for seven days straight, move that card into another pile to review once a week. Then once a month. Then once a year!

Pro Tip: Instead of putting the verse reference on one side of the card and the text on the other, try putting the topic or keyword on one side instead. That way, you learn to quote verses based on topic.

Example:

  • Front: "no condemnation"

  • Back: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:1)

So, there you have it. My two cents. God bless your studies.

The Sunday Reader: Vol. 1 | #43

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Do New Testament Authors Misquote the Old Testament?

Rev. Spotts shares a few insightful observations from Calvin and R.T. France on this common question.

A Different Kind of Profanity

This past Sunday evening, our sermon touched on Jas 5:9, which mentions the sin of grumbling. David Prince addresses how it is not only more pervasive than we might think, but also far more destructive. “In the Bible, grumbling is described as corrosive. A grumbling spirit never stays self-contained but begins to infect all aspects of life and thought with an entitlement worldview.”

Romans 7: The Mature Christians Struggle

A man struggling with cancer reflects on how the fight with disease is similar to how Christians ought to battle indwelling sin.

Top Ten Theological Stories of 2018

At least according to Collin Hansen of the Gospel Coalition.

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.

Do New Testament authors misquote the Old Testament?

Sometimes, when comparing New Testament citations of Old Testament passages, there are apparent differences in the text. These instances can be troubling for those who lack a framework for interpreting them. For instance, Matthew cites Mic 5:2-4 thus,

‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ (Mt 2:6, ESV)

The original text of Mic 5:2-4, however, includes much more detail:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. 3  Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. 4  And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. (ESV)

Did Matthew misquote Micah? Not at all.

In such cases, we have to distinguish the writer’s intention. Was it to quote the text verbatim? Or simply to relate the gist of a text? Matthew’s audience was mostly Jewish and had access to the Scriptures. He therefore simply gives Micah’s main point in his own words. This was not extraordinary and would have been understood.

Calvin elaborates this principle very well, I think:

The scribes quoted faithfully, no doubt, the words of the passage in their own language, as it is found in the prophet. But Matthew reckoned it enough to point out the passage; and, as he wrote in Greek, he followed the ordinary reading. This passage, and others of the same kind, readily suggest the inference, that Matthew did not compose his Gospel in the Hebrew language. It ought always to be observed that, whenever any proof from Scripture is quoted by the apostles, though they do not translate word for word, and sometimes depart widely from the language, yet it is applied correctly and appropriately to their subject. Let the reader always consider the purpose for which passages of Scripture are brought forward by the Evangelists, so as not to stick too closely to the particular words, but to be satisfied with this, that the Evangelists never torture Scripture into a different meaning, but apply it correctly in its native meaning.

— John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 133–134.

In his commentary, R. T. France presents a similar take on Matthew’s use of Micah, and then observes how even today, preachers often do something similar in how we handle Scripture:

The whole point of Micah’s mentioning Bethlehem’s insignificance was by way of contrast to the glory it was to achieve as the birthplace of the Messiah; now Matthew can claim that that glory has come to Bethlehem, so that it is no longer the least (and the addition of “for” to introduce the next clause underlines the point). Rather than add a footnote, Matthew has incorporated the fulfillment into the wording of the text. For those who are familiar with the original text the alteration will stand out as a challenge to think through how Matthew’s story relates to the prophetic tradition. In a number of ways, therefore, Matthew has adapted Micah’s words to suit what he can now see to be their fulfillment, and to advance his argument for the scriptural justification of the Messiah’s origins.

This relatively free and creative handling of the text (not unlike that found in contemporary Aramaic targums) differs little from the practice of many modern preachers who, if not reading directly out of the Bible, will often (probably quite unconsciously) quote a text in an adapted form which helps the audience to see how the text relates to the argument. No-one is misled, and the hermeneutical procedure is well understood. Micah’s words have been applied appropriately, even if not with the literalistic precision which the age of the printed Bible makes possible.

— R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007), 73.

So, there you have it. New Testament writers don’t misquote the Old Testament. But sometimes they summarize, connect, and interpret the passages they interact with. What matters is that they are faithful to the sense intended by the Holy Spirit.