Do you have a plan for 2015?

Open Bible

The first congregation of Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was in a Welsh town called Sandfields.   In his biography of Lloyd-Jones, Iain Murray relates how the pastor made efforts to get his congregation into the Word of God on a daily basis.  It was his conviction that every pastor should go through the complete Bible in one year — “That should be the very minimum of the preacher’s Bible reading.”  But he also believed that such a discipline of Bible reading would be beneficial for all church members.  Initially, the Doctor developed his own Bible-reading plan which would take the congregation through the entire Bible in one year.  However, eventually he discovered the reading plan developed by Robert Murray M’Cheyne and, for the rest of his life, this was the plan he used personally and that he recommended to parishioners.

Thanks to one of my elders, I have become convinced that every Christian should have a plan for disciplined regular reading of the Scriptures.  I have been practicing it now for three years and the blessings have been enormous.  For 2015, I plan to continue this practice using the reading plan recommended by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and used with great profit by many.  You can find Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s original plan online here.  (Over here is a better format for printing).  The original plan includes some helpful notes from M’Cheyne about the practice of daily Bible reading, including the dangers and advantages.  M’Cheyne’s plan knits together family Bible reading and individual Bible reading and you could do it that way.  I’m going to be taking a different approach — I’ll be using the family Bible reading in the morning and the individual Bible reading in the evening.  With M’Cheyne’s plan, in the span of a year you go through the entire Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice.

Every year this topic gets raised on blogs and social media.  Every year the objections get trotted out.  My answer:  why not just try it?  It doesn’t have to be M’Cheyne’s plan, it could be any one of a variety of plans (see here for some links).  It could be a one-year, a two-year, or even a three-year plan.  But if the Word of God is precious to us, and if we believe that reading it will enrich our faith, then shouldn’t we have some type of plan in place to help us stay on track?  And what if you do fall behind?  Sometimes events conspire against the best made plans for Bible reading.  If you haven’t fallen too far behind, do some catch up on the Lord’s Day — that’s a great time for some extra Bible reading.  If you’ve fallen really far behind, just carry on with the plan and don’t stress about it.

If you don’t already, let me encourage you to take up this practice as of January 1, 2015 — it will not always be easy, but ultimately you will not regret it!


Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Apostasy and Taking a Stand

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

I’ve just finished Iain Murray’s excellent biography of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  Lloyd-Jones faced an enormous struggle with doctrinal compromise in the United Kingdom starting in the post-war period.  There was a wide-spread allergy to doctrine and, more significantly, to doctrinal firmness.  Instead of a muscular and confident Christianity, many were endeavouring to create a more gelatinous and open-minded faith.  The authority and certainty of Scripture was widely discounted.  Murray relates how Lloyd-Jones spoke to an annual meeting of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship in 1954.  He explored the question of why the churches were empty on Sundays in Great Britain.   His answer:  apostasy.  Turning away from the authoritative truth of Scripture robbed the gospel message of certainty.  Who would keep going to church to hear an uncertain message?

Then Lloyd-Jones spoke these words and they remain relevant for our current day:

In Jude 3, we read, ‘Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.’  Here we are given a stirring call to the defence of the Faith.  Such a call is not popular today.  It is not popular today even in some evangelical circles.  People will tell you that it is all ‘too negative.’  They continually urge that we must keep on giving positive truth.  They will tell us that we must not argue and we must never condemn.  But we must ask, ‘How can you fight if you are ever afraid of wounding an enemy?’  ‘How can you rouse sleeping fellow-warriors with smooth words?’  God forbid that we find ourselves at the bar of judgment and face the charge that we contracted out from love of ease, or for fear of man, or that we failed to do our duty in the great fight of the Faith.  We mustwe must fight for the faith in these momentous times. (as quoted by Iain Murray, The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 332).

The reference to Jude 3 is quite appropriate.  As I have argued here, this passage speaks directly to the church as it faces attacks from within.


Mockingjay and Reformed Political Theory

Mockingjay

At the moment, the third installment of the Hunger Games series continues to dominate box office sales.  Mockingjay (Part 1) continues the story of Katniss Everdeen as she struggles against the tyrannical Capitol.  I have written about the first installment before, providing the (tongue-in-cheek) “definitive Christian review.”  The latest installment provides even more food for thought.  In fact, Mockingjay provides a powerful illustration of a particular aspect of Reformed political theory.

It has to do with resistance against tyrants.  We can take John Calvin as an example of the theory in writing.  Part of the fourth book of Calvin’s Institutes is taken up with how Christians should view the state.  Calvin also lays out the responsibilities of magistrates.  Almost at the very end, he deals with the question of what should be done with tyrannical rulers.  If you have a king who is sadistic, unjust, a persecutor, and a lover of almost every evil, should a Christian just take it?  Is there no recourse for believers?  Can they revolt?  Calvin’s answer (in Institutes 4.20.31) is that there is a proper and God-honouring way to resist and overthrow tyranny, but it still involves God-given authority.  Calvin’s position is that lower magistrates not only can, but must do what they can to overthrow tyrannical higher rulers.  Says Calvin,

…I am so far from forbidding them to withstand, in accordance with their duty, the fierce licentiousness of kings, that, if they wink at kings who violently fall upon and assault the lowly common folk, I declare that their dissimulation involves nefarious perfidy, because they dishonestly betray the freedom of the people, of which they know that they have been appointed protectors by God’s ordinance.

In other words, lower magistrates are actually obliged to resist tyranny and overthrow it if necessary.

A classic illustration of this is found in the Dutch Revolt.  During the mid-sixteenth century, the Spanish were in control of what we today call the Netherlands and Belgium.  The Spanish were tyrannical to a fault.  They were brutally oppressive, especially towards Reformed believers.  However, Reformed folk did not take it passively.  There was a strong resistance movement and it was led by lower magistrates from across the Low Countries.  Men like William of Orange resisted the Spanish and made war against them.  Eventually, these efforts were successful and freedom was secured, at least in the northern part of the Low Countries.  Were the Dutch wrong to rebel against the Spanish?  No, it was not a rebellion in the sense of overthrowing authority.  Instead, it was lawfully constituted authorities leading a lawful revolt against godless tyranny.

We see the same thing happening in Mockingjay (Part 1).  President Snow and the Capitol are clearly tyrannical.  They oppress the districts and exact tribute from them (human tributes who serve for the entertainment of the Capitol).  But there is a revolt underway and it takes place under the auspices of District 13.  District 13 was thought by many to have been obliterated.  It turns out that the district still exists and has a strong internal government led by President Coin.  President Coin is leading the revolt against the Capitol.  Consequently, from a Reformed perspective, the revolt portrayed in Mockingjay is a lawful endeavour.  In fact, President Coin is doing what she is obliged to do.  It would be wrong for her not to revolt against the Capitol.  I doubt Mockingjay intends to illustrate “Calvinist resistance theory,” but it does so nonetheless, at least to a certain degree.  To illustrate it fully, the characters involved would have to commit their cause to God and seek to carry it out for his glory.  Regrettably, the world of Katniss Everdeen, even in District 13, is a godless and unbelieving society.  All there is in the world portrayed is the horizontal plane.   Therefore, the illustration only works to a point.

Tyranny is always a threat.  We would be naive if we thought that we or our descendants will never be faced with it again.  If we should come to live under the jackboot of some oppressive, tyrannical power, how should we respond?  Because of our history, Reformed believers have given extensive thought to this question and we have an answer readily at hand.  We should never passively accept tyranny, but at the same time we must never reject authority.  This is why it is crucially important for Christians to be involved in politics.  We need believing people in positions of authority, not only for the influence they bear now, but also for the leadership they can provide if and when tyranny must be resisted and overthrown.


Book Review: The Nursery of the Holy Spirit

The Nursery of the Holy Spirit

The Nursery of the Holy Spirit:  Welcoming Children in Worship, Daniel R. Hyde, Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2014.  Paperback, 69 pages, $13.00 USD.

There are heaps of Reformed books about children, but they typically hone in on just one topic:  infant baptism.  However, this is the only book that I have encountered that speaks to the place of children in public worship.  It’s an important topic and one that is often discussed informally in Reformed churches.  Some want to shuffle their children off to special programs, even when they are school age and can sit quietly in church.  The argument is that children don’t get anything out of the service anyway, so why should they be there only to distract their parents and others?  Others become impatient with the children who are in church and are in the process of learning to sit quietly.  We all talk about children in the worship service, but do we always do that with the right perspective?  This book brings a much-needed biblical approach.

The author is a well-known author and Reformed pastor.  He currently serves the Oceanside United Reformed Church in California.  Moreover, as the father of four children, he has a vested interest in the topic.  He understands the challenges that Christian parents face when it comes to worship.

Hyde’s little book argues persuasively that children definitely have a place in the church’s public worship.  Since the church is “the nursery of the Holy Spirit,” from their youngest years, the children of believers belong with God’s people as they meet with him on the Lord’s Day.  The book not only argues this point, but also helpfully provides some practical advice on how to make it work.  In the first chapter, Hyde lays out our contemporary situation and how we got to this point where many people (even in Reformed churches) assume that children don’t belong in public worship.  He looks at the history of this topic.  The second chapter looks more closely at the relevant Scripture passages from the Old and New Testaments.  The final chapter is where the author offers the answers to several practical questions.

As much as I appreciated it, I have one critical comment to make.  In the first chapter, Hyde asks the question:  “With whom does God make his covenant?”  His answer is two-fold.  He first says, “From the point of view of God and eternity, he made it with Christ and the elect.”  Then he quotes from the Westminster Larger Catechism QA 31.  He goes on to add, “From our point of view in history, God made his covenant with believers and their children” (9).  He supports that with a quote from Canons of Dort 1.17.  This two-fold answer is unsatisfactory and regrettable.  It leaves the impression that, from God’s perspective, he does not truly covenant with all our children, but only with our elect children.  Hyde has dealt with this question before.  In his great little book on infant baptism, Jesus Loves the Little Children, he simply said that the covenant is made with believers and their children.  I wish he would have just given the same answer here.  Thankfully, I did not see any evidence that this problem impacted the arguments that follow.

Overall, this is a fantastic resource.  I would highly recommend it, not only for parents, but also for office bearers.  After all, office bearers need to provide leadership in encouraging families to worship together.  They need to make decisions in the church that encourage the children to be present as soon as they can.  For all of us, we need this valuable reminder that, when God calls his covenant people to worship, he also calls our little ones.  He loves to hear them sing, watch them listen, participate in the offerings, and everything else.  If Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,” who are we to stand in the way?


What Separates the Sheep from the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46?

Sheep and Goats

Matthew 25:31-46 contains words that are often used to support general works of charity.  In this parable, the King is quoted as saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”  So, the argument goes, when you feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit prisoners, you are doing good towards Christ himself.  But what if we’re getting this text all wrong?  If you’re open to considering a better explanation, I would urge you to carefully read an article by the New Testament professor at CRTS, Dr. Gerhard Visscher.  The article is entitled, “So What Does Separate the Sheep from the Goats? A Closer Look at a Misunderstood Parable (Matthew 25:31-46).”  It was published in the October 11, 2002 issue of Clarion and it can be found online here.  It begins on page 501.

This was Dr. Visscher’s inugural address when he became NT professor in 2002.  I remember hearing it and finding it quite persuasive.  I still do.


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