The Shack

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I try to stay positive and focus on what’s encouraging.  However, from time to time clear warnings need to be sounded about dangerous teachings.  I am not one to use the word heresy lightly (see here for why), but when it comes to The Shack, it is completely appropriate.  I read the book when it first came out in about 2007.  People from my church community were reading it and raving about it.  An uncle passed me a copy and asked me to read and review it.  It was appalling.  Not only was it really bad literature, it was even worse theology.  This led my co-pastor and I to write a warning for our congregation regarding the book.  This was published in our bulletin.  Now there’s a movie being released on March 3.  In view of that, I think it’s worthwhile to republish the warning that the Langley CanRC co-pastors issued in  2008 regarding the book.  Today, I would just add that portraying God in any way, let alone with female actresses portraying the Father and the Holy Spirit, is a violation of the Second Commandment.  As the Heidelberg Catechism says it in Lord’s Day 35, “We are not to make an image of God in any way…God cannot and may not be visibly portrayed in any way.”

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From the Pastors

In a recent edition of BC Christian News, there was a front-page article promoting a novel by William P. Young, The Shack.  It appears that this book is quite popular in broader Christian circles and has been making the rounds in our own circles as well.  As pastors who care for the flock, we must be honest with you:  this book is full of dangerous, erroneous teachings about God.  It contains a perversion of the gospel.

This is one of those books were someone meets with God in person.  In this case, two persons of the Trinity are represented as women.  “Papa” is a large African-American woman.  The Spirit is Sarayu, an Asian woman (Sarayu is a river in India invoked and venerated by Hindus).  Jesus is represented as a Middle-Eastern man.  However, there is also Sophia, an off-shoot of Sarayu.  This book revives ancient heresies regarding the Trinity.  One of those heresies is patripassionism, the teaching that the Father suffered with the Son on the cross.  Another false teaching is found when “Papa” says, “I am truly human, in Jesus, but I am a totally separate other in my nature.” (p.201).  God the Father did not become human in Jesus.  That is the sort of mixing of the persons that the Athanasian Creed stands against.  Next, we might also point out that the “God” of The Shack does not send people to hell – he/she has no concept of justice or wrath.  Consequently, the grace offered in this book is cheap.  Finally, the novel is explicitly Arminian (or Pelagian, which is even worse) throughout.  For example, Young promotes unbiblical notions about the freedom of the human will.  We also find the false teaching that the atonement of Christ was intended to save all (and going one step further, does in fact, save all).  On page 225, we read “In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sin against me, but only some choose relationship.”  All these erroneous teachings are not incidental to the book but pervade it – and we could add several more.

Some have argued that this book is a work of fiction, that it is allegorical and is not meant to be taken literally.  However, when the author was recently at Regent College for a book talk, it became very clear that William P. Young is not an orthodox Christian and his book was not written to convey orthodox Christian theology, but rather the opposite.  Brothers and sisters, because the gospel is at stake, we are obligated to warn you:  please do not waste your time and money on books such as this and please do not encourage others to read it.

You can also find a full review of this book at this helpful website.

Rev. George VanPopta has also reviewed The Shack here.


How to Do Family Worship

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It’s one of the most basic things that a Christian family does — or should do.  And yet there are many Christian parents who’ve just never been taught.  They might be new Christians, or perhaps they grew up in a church-going family that was just not very serious about following the Lord.  For them especially, I’ve been meaning to write this practical post about how to do family worship.  This is about the practical side of it.  I’m not going to explain the biblical rationale for it today.  Instead, I’ll just assume that we agree that Christian families should worship God together.  Moreover, I’m not presenting this as the definitive way to do family worship. Rather, this is the way our family does it.  There are other ways to do it.  There’s freedom for that.  In fact, I’m going to leave the comments open on this post so that other people can share their ideas.  Please do share!  If you have questions, also please feel free.

In our family, we normally do family worship after our evening meal.  At the beginning of the meal, I normally lead in prayer and give thanks for the food.  During that prayer, I’ll also ask for God’s blessing on our family worship later.

After the meal is over, we’ll begin by reading Scripture.  Throughout our married life, my wife and I have just constantly read straight through the Bible in our family worship.  For many years, I would just read and everyone else would listen.  But in the last few months, everyone has a Bible and everyone takes a turn reading a verse or two from the chapter.  Most times we read an entire chapter, but if the chapter is long we might split it up over a couple of days or more.  The hard part for a father is trying to make some intelligent comments about what is read, comments that draw out the meaning of the passage, how it points to Christ, and how it applies to our lives.  That can even be hard for a father who’s a pastor!  This is where you can really benefit from the Reformation Heritage Study Bible (see my review here).  Every chapter includes “Thoughts for Personal and Family Worship.”  Sometimes there are just comments, other times questions to ponder or discuss.  It’s really enriched our Bible reading time!

After Scripture, we do a short time of catechism instruction.  For this, we use a book by Starr Meade based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  The book is entitled Training Hearts, Teaching Minds.  I highly recommend it.  She also has a book based on the Heidelberg Catechism, Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds You can find my review of that here, but in brief, I still prefer her previous book.  Whatever is done, it is important for parents to catechize their children with Christian doctrine.  It’s not first of all the job of the church, but of the youth pastors, i.e. the parents.

Next, we sing a psalm or hymn.  There are different ways of doing this.  Our children go to a Christian school and have memory work from our church’s songbook (the Book of Praise).  We’ve sometimes sung their memory work.  At other times (like at present), we just sing our way through the psalms. God loves to hear his people sing!  And don’t worry if you’re singing is not that great — neither is mine.  God just loves to hear you and your family sing.  It is, after all, family worship.

Finally, we end with a brief time of prayer.  Each day, a different member of the family takes a turn in leading this closing prayer.  It’s important for our children to learn how to lead in prayer.  Especially when they’re younger, the prayers might not be that deep or elaborate, but it doesn’t matter.  Family worship is about training and discipleship.  They will grow into it.  There can be an opportunity for prayer requests.  You can also make a prayer calendar where you pray for some particular things each day of the week.  On some occasions, Christian families can also take turns praying around the table.  We did this recently with our church’s Day of Prayer.  I know of families that do that once a week or more.

All up, our family worship usually takes about 15-20 minutes, depending on how much discussion we have.

Like I said, our way of doing it is not the only way.  There is lots of room for flexibility with family worship.  It doesn’t have to be complicated.  Above all, my one word of advice is:  just do it!  Your family will be blessed for it.


Sermon for Day of Prayer

In August 2015, the Free Reformed Church of Launceston asked FRC Baldivis to declare a day of prayer in view of the pressures towards same-sex marriage and other breaches of biblical norms on sexuality and marriage.  FRC Baldivis agreed to declare a day of prayer for the Free Reformed Churches of Australia on 12 February 2017.  I chose to preach on 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.  

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Beloved congregation of Christ,

If our federal government had gotten its way, yesterday we would have gone to the polls to vote in a plebiscite on so-called marriage equality.  We would have been voting on whether or not the Australian government should allow for same-sex marriage.  However, the other parties blocked the plebiscite.  They want to have a free vote in parliament on the matter.  We shouldn’t be thinking that this matter is done and dusted.  Labour, the Greens, and even some from the Coalition are still pushing for a free vote.  It would probably only take a change of Prime Minister to make it happen, and given how often this country has been changing prime ministers in recent years, don’t hold your breath.

Meanwhile, the media is also putting enormous pressure on our society to allow for homosexual people to get married.  While I was in Cairns, I watched a bit of a TV show called Bride and Prejudice.  Maybe some of you have seen it.  It’s about “forbidden marriages,” couples getting married against their parents’ wishes.  One of the couples is two men, Chris and Grant.  Grant is an American, and his parents are supportive.  Chris is an Australian, and his parents are totally against the marriage.  His mom is a Jehovah’s Witness and his ex-military dad is portrayed as just another Aussie bigot.  The show creates sympathy for Chris.  And also for Chris and Grant as a couple.  After all, they have to travel all the way from Australia to Palm Springs, California in order to exchange their wedding vows.  TV shows like this prepared the way for same-sex marriage in North America and TV producers know that this has power to change things here in Australia too.

In August of 2015 the consistory [of the FRC Launceston] sent a letter to the church at Baldivis asking for a Day of Prayer in view of efforts in our nation to allow for same-sex marriage.  The church at Baldivis is the church for calling Days of Prayer.  They considered the matter and agreed to call for a Day of Prayer in our bond of churches for today.  It’s not only because of same-sex marriage, but also because of other pressures on biblical norms regarding marriage and sexuality.  We think of sexual activity before or outside of marriage, pornography, divorce, gender confusion, and so on.  Today, we will pray for our nation.  We’ll pray here in church, but you’re also encouraged to pray at home with your family, and as an individual.  We must plead with the Lord to have mercy on Australia.  We have to beg him to restrain the forces of evil which continue to threaten our national well-being.

But in connection with that, it’s also good for us to be reminded from God’s Word about the norms that God has established for marriage and human sexuality.  That’s why we’re looking at this passage from 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 this morning.  This should be a well-known passage to us.  When we’re faced with the issues we’re facing today, our thoughts should go to what God’s Word says here.  This passage is clear about what’s sinful.  It identifies various sinful behaviours and tells us what the consequences are.  But it also offers hope with the gospel.  Through the good news of Jesus Christ, there is a way for people to be delivered from sin.  There’s not only a way for us to be delivered, but also a way for this nation we love.

The passage tells us of two types of people:  unbelievers and believers.  It shows us not only how they are different in principle, but also how they must be different in practice.  You could say there’s both description and prescription.  And so I preach to you God’s Word from 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 with this theme:  There’s to be a radical contrast between unbelievers and believers.

We’ll consider what characterizes:

  1. Unbelievers
  2. Christians

We sometimes think that our society must be one of the worst that’s ever existed.   Morally speaking, can there have been a worse time in human history?  Knowing your history helps you to keep everything in perspective.  If you know something about the history of Corinth, that helps you realize that the wickedness of our day is more of a revival than an innovation.  It’s a revival of evil, not the appearance of something that’s never been seen before.

The city of Corinth had a reputation, even amongst pagan Romans and Greeks.  It was originally founded in the time of the ancient Greeks, and then re-established in the time of the Roman Empire.  It was a port city and, as a result, also a party city.  It was a place to have a good time, a place to get drunk and go crazy.  Corinth had wide-spread prostitution, male and female.  Some of that prostitution was associated with the worship of Roman gods.  You’d go to a pagan temple and the worship involved sex.  Homosexuality was accepted as normal in Corinth, both for men and women.  Men would often be involved in homosexual relationships with boys.  Marriage was not really respected.  Corinth in the days of Paul was a cesspool of vice and the ugliest forms of paganism.

The gospel came to Corinth sometime in the early 50s.  Paul was part of the way in which that happened, but others were involved too, like Priscilla and Aquila, as well as Apollos.  The gospel came and there were people who heard the good news of Jesus and believed it.  They turned from their sin and turned to Christ.  By the time Paul wrote this letter, the Corinthian church had only existed for a few years – perhaps even only three years.  The people to whom he was writing were still baby Christians.

They were babes in the faith, “infants in Christ,” and it showed.  You just have to read through the first chapters of this letter to see the issues they were dealing with.  There was division and disharmony, infighting.  Then in chapter 5, we find that the church was even tolerating stuff that the world would find disgraceful.  There was incest – a man who called himself a Christian, a member of the church, sleeping with his step-mother.  The church turned a blind eye to it.  No discipline.  Then chapter 6 describes even more ugly stuff in the Corinthian church.  People who called themselves Christians were suing each other in court.  Church members were engaged in lawsuits amongst themselves.  It was shameful.  Look, the problem was not that the Corinthian church existed in the world, the problem was that the world was in the church.  In some key ways, the church was indistinguishable from the world.  In some ways, they were even outdoing the world’s wickedness.

That was the problem that the Holy Spirit was addressing in our text.  It wasn’t the world’s wickedness as such, but the fact that the church was joining in with the world, and in some ways even surpassing it.  It’s a pretty sad situation when the church is living worse than the world.  How can a church like that bring honour and glory to God?

Verse 9 has Paul asking a rhetorical question.  A rhetorical question is one where the answer is obvious.  “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?”  Of course, they know that!  They know it because Paul and others taught it to them.  When the gospel came to Corinth, the missionaries taught that you have to turn from your sin and turn to Christ in faith.  You can’t keep on living in sin if you become a Christian.  They knew that – they knew it with their minds, but their lives were saying that some of them didn’t know it with their hearts.  They didn’t really know it in the most meaningful way.  So this rhetorical question is meant to remind them.

They’re reminded that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God.  What this means is that the person who lives in sin is not going to receive the blessings of living under God’s rule into eternity.  What it means is that the person who loves their sin and won’t hate it and fight against it is not going to have eternal life.  The person who clings to their sin and won’t let go of it is not going to heaven.  That’s true of people out there in the world, but here the Holy Spirit is especially applying these words to people in the church.  Today it’s still true, also for us:  the unrepentant and unrighteous church member will not inherit the kingdom of God — will not be saved.  You see, what first characterizes an unbeliever, whether in the church or outside, is the lack of repentance.  It’s the unwillingness to forsake sin.

What sin does is deceive us.  That’s why the next words of our text say:  “Do not be deceived…”  Sin is all about deception.  It’s about making you deny reality and live in a fantasy.  Sin came into this world through the deception of Satan with Adam and Eve.  Sin continues to exist because of lies and deceit all around us.  When the Holy Spirit says, “Do not be deceived,” he recognizes that there’s a real possibility that we might be deceived.  We need to recognize that too.  For the Corinthians, they lived in a society dominated by the lies of the devil.  We do too.  The world we live in lies to us constantly.  Do you see it?  Are you aware of the way the world is trying to bringing us away from God’s reality and into fantasies?  Think of that show Bride and Prejudice.  That show wants to deceive you.  It wants you to sign on to the cause of so-called marriage equality because you feel sorry for Chris and Grant.  It wants you to be okay with gay marriage because these men are feeling hurt when Chris’s parents won’t support them.  It plays on your emotions and tries to change your mind through your feelings.  Do not be deceived!  Be aware of the ways that sin lies to us, whether it’s our own hearts, or the lies of society around us.  Loved ones, see the lies for what they are and reject them.

In Corinth, the lie was that you can be a wicked and sinful person, and everything will be okay.  Our city tolerates just about anything.  No worries.  In the Corinthian church, the lie was that you can still live like the world, or maybe even worse, and you’ll still go to heaven, still inherit the kingdom of God.  The lie was that the holy God can’t be all that serious about sin.  In verses 9 and 10, the Holy Spirit emphatically speaks truth to the lie.

He’s finished with generalities.  Now he becomes very specific.  There are specific sins of the Corinthian world which characterize unrepentant unbelievers.  They’re named and we’re not left with any doubt.  The Holy Spirit could have left it vague, but he decided to have Paul lay it all out.  Now before we look at these specific sins, the list is not comprehensive.  Other habitual sins could have been mentioned:  like blasphemy, for instance.  But the focus here is on the predominant sins in the Corinthian context, sins which predominated in the world and were also challenging the church.  Some of these sins are also challenges in our world today.  Unless they repent, all who live in these sins remain under God’s judgment.  They will not inherit the kingdom of God.  Instead, they will inherit his wrath for eternity.

Verse 9 first mentions the sexually immoral.  This is the broadest term the New Testament uses for sexual sin.  It covers every way in which the Seventh Commandment might be broken.  The sexually immoral habitually lust after people they’re not married to – that includes through pornography.  The sexually immoral unrepentantly engage in sexual activity with people they’re not married to.  Sometimes that’s before marriage – pre-marital sex of any kind, not just the sexual activity that normally results in babies, if you get my drift.  Those who are sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God – they will not live with God in fellowship forever through Jesus Christ.

Then Paul mentions idolaters.  Remember that in Corinth idolatry and sex went together.  So there’s a direct connection between being sexually immoral and committing idolatry.  There’s not going to be any room for rationalization:  “Oh, I wasn’t really being sexually immoral because I was worshipping Aphrodite.”  For us today too, we have to realize that sexual sin also involves idolatry.  We may not have a temple to a goddess, but the nature of sexual sin is always worshipful.  Our society has turned sex into a god.  We’re tempted to do it too.  If we buy into that lie, there is no inheritance in the kingdom of God.

Adulterers will also not inherit the kingdom.  Adultery is when you’re married to someone, and then give yourself to someone else outside the marriage.  It usually starts with emotional adultery and then transitions to physical, sexual adultery.  Adultery accounts for a great number of the divorces in our world today.  In the church too, adultery is often the reason behind divorces.  God hates divorce and God hates adultery.  Therefore, he is not going to have unrepentant adulterers in his kingdom.  Are you tempted to commit adultery?  I beg you:  don’t.  If you get stuck in that sin — and it’s easy to get stuck in it — you won’t have a place in God’s kingdom.

Then we have “men who practice homosexuality.”  The original Greek actually uses two terms here.  If you look at the note in the ESV, it says, “The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts.”  This then refers to people who are actively in homosexual relationships.  It’s not speaking about Christians who might struggle with same-sex attraction, but about those who are actually engaged in homosexual activity.  There’s a long background to the biblical view on this.  Let’s pause here and review that.

Homosexuality appears after the fall into sin.  It was not part of God’s original design for this world.  The first mention of homosexual behaviour is in Genesis 19 with Sodom and Gomorrah.  The men of Sodom wanted to have homosexual relations with Lot’s guests.  That was partly behind God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah.  Now sometimes you’ll hear people say that it was their lack of hospitality that led to God’s judgment, not their homosexuality.  Well, the little book of Jude tells us different.  Jude 7 says that these cities underwent punishment because they “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire.”  You can’t get around that.

The rest of the Old Testament likewise describes homosexual behaviour as an abomination in God’s sight.  Leviticus 18:22 says, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman, it is an abomination.”  Someone might say, “But that’s in the Old Testament.  It’s in the Mosaic law, so it doesn’t apply anymore.”  Anyone who says that needs to read Romans 1.  There, in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit says that homosexual lusts and activity are dishonorable and unnatural.  Homosexual activity, whether among men or women, is shameful according to Romans 1.  Loved ones, the Bible is clear.  First Corinthians 6 is not the only place that says it.  The whole Bible testifies that God views homosexual lusts and activity as sinful.  When you give yourself over to that lifestyle, you’re not a Christian.  When you commit yourself to identifying as a homosexual person and living a homosexual life, you will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The world around us tells us lies about this.  The Bible tells us the truth.  The Bible teaches us that we can never accept this.  Since it goes against God’s plan for the good of our race, we should do everything we can to fight against efforts to normalize homosexuality, especially in regard to same-sex marriage.  Look, if the Bible tells us that homosexual behaviour is sinful and destructive, then obviously same-sex marriage is too.  If it comes to a free vote in Parliament, we’re going to need to mobilize.  We’re going to have to contact our elected representatives and present the case against it.  Do everything we can.

Let me say one more thing.  Following the biblical teaching on this doesn’t allow for us to be rude or mean-spirited towards our homosexual neighbours.  I know, by holding to what the Bible says, they’ll already think we’re rude or mean-spirited.  They’ll call us homophobic or bigoted or whatever else.  But we’re still to treat people with respect.  People who identify as homosexuals are still created in the image of God.  We’re called to love them, not hate them.  We can’t approve of what they do, but we can still pray for them and be kind to them as much as we can.  We ought to long for the opportunity to share the gospel with them, and to see them believe it and have their lives changed by it.

Verse 10 describes others who won’t inherit the kingdom.  Unbelievers characterized by thieving won’t.  Those who are greedy won’t.  Notice with this one how there’s a heart issue explicitly mentioned here.  Greed is something that lives in the heart and is not always visible on the outside.  You can hide greed.  But if you’re hiding greed in your heart and holding on to it and living with it, the kingdom of God is closed to you.  Drunkards are mentioned next.  If you think it’s okay to get drunk every weekend, you’re not a Christian bound for heaven.  If you think it’s okay to get drunk at any time, the Holy Spirit says you’re out.  Revilers are people who use abusive language.  They treat people with disrespect.  In connection with today’s Day of Prayer, it’s fair to say that if you constantly treat homosexuals (or anyone else) with abusive and hateful language, you will no more inherit the kingdom of God than they will.  Last of all, there’s mention of swindlers.  These are con-artists.  They trick people and defraud them.  As long as they don’t repent, swindlers are also barred from the kingdom.

It’s quite a list and again I remind you of two things:  the list is particular to the situation in that church in that time.  It’s not comprehensive.  You might go through the list and notice that your pet sin is missing.  You might congratulate yourself on still being an heir to the kingdom of God.  You’re deceiving yourself if you do that.  Read the whole Bible and you’ll find that any sin not repented of results in your name not being on the list of kingdom heirs.

Second, let me remind you that it is not the case that having committed any of these sins in the past automatically results in your disqualification from the kingdom.  I’m sure there’s someone here who’s been sexually immoral, who’s worshipped idols, been drunk.  Perhaps some have robbed or swindled.  We may even have people here who have engaged in homosexual activity.  The passage tells us that all these things are sinful, but that’s not all.  It also tells us that you’re only disqualified from a kingdom inheritance if you stay in these sins and don’t turn from them.  If you don’t repent and hate your sin, forsake it, then yes, I have to warn you:  you’re not going to heaven.  But if you hear this and you go, “Oh, I hate it that I did that.  I just hate it.  I hate it because I know God hates it.  I cast contempt on it.  I don’t want to ever do it again.  I want to live in Christ, I want to live for God’s glory.”  If you say that, you have absolutely nothing to fear.  You’re going to receive the inheritance promised to Christians.

That becomes all the more evident as we take a closer look at verse 11.  Here we find what characterizes Christians.

First of all, the Spirit says through Paul, “And such were some of you.”  Christians can have a past.  Some of the Corinthian Christians had a past life.  They used to be characterized differently.  Some were sexually immoral, others idolaters and adulterers.  Some had engaged in homosexual lifestyles.  Some had been thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers.  They had a past life.  But the past was in the past.  “Such were some of you.”  The word “were” here is crucially important.  They’re not these things any longer.  A change has come.  That change has everything to do with the gospel.  What characterizes Christians is what God has done for them in the good news.

There are three gospel things mentioned in verse 11.

“You were washed” – all those things mentioned in verses 9-10 are dirty and unclean.  When you do those things, you’re filthy in the eyes of God.  That’s true of any sin, not just the ones mentioned in our text.  Sin muddies us, pollutes us, soils us.  We need washing and the gospel is what provides that.  By believing in Jesus Christ, sins are washed away with his blood.  We are made whiter than snow in God’s eyes.  All the filth is gone, and there’s nothing but purity and holiness.  The washing is what God does for believers.  He did it for the Corinthians, he does it for us, and he’ll do it for anyone who takes hold of Christ by faith.  If anyone says, “I’m a dirty sinner in God’s eyes, I need washing with Christ’s blood – O God, please wash me and make me clean”  — if anyone says that, God will hear and answer.  He will wash and purify the dirtiest sinner.

“You were sanctified” – sometimes sanctification in the Bible is speaking about the process of becoming holy.  But there is another way that the Bible speaks about sanctification and that’s what we find here.  This is what we call definitive sanctification.  When God chooses someone, calls someone, works faith in someone, and so on – he is setting that person apart from the sinful mass of humanity.  He is setting that person apart as his chosen child.  All who truly believe in Jesus Christ are definitively sanctified in this way.  The true Christians in Corinth too were sanctified by God, marked as his, set apart as his own beloved people.  Formerly they were enslaved to sin, but now they’re God’s children.  God does that through the gospel.

Last of all, “you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  Justification – I love to preach on it.  This is such a rich and beautiful part of the gospel.  This morning, we can only touch on it.  Justification is God’s one-time declaration that we are right with him because of what Christ has done in his life and death.  When we embrace Jesus as our Saviour, the heavenly Judge declares that we are righteous.  He says that we have everything we need to live with him forever.  We have perfect obedience in the life of Christ has lived for us.  We have forgiveness through the death of Christ on the cross for us.  All of it is guaranteed in the resurrection of Christ.  The resurrection was God’s way of saying that he accepted Christ’s work on our behalf.  The Judge says that believers are right with him, and we’re adopted into his family.  We are heirs of the kingdom of God!  Our Father has bequeathed us his kingdom.  We have this in the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour, and it also comes to us by the Spirit.  The Spirit is the one who gives faith so that Christians take hold of Christ for salvation.

So these Corinthians with a shady past had been washed, sanctified, and justified by God.  The gospel had changed their standing before God.  What characterizes Christians is the incredible work of God in their lives, bringing them to Christ through repentance and faith.

Implied in these verses is the idea that the Corinthians have to be who they are.  They can’t go back to being like the world.  They have to be different, because of what God has done in their lives by his grace.  God has called them to be different.  Christians in the church can’t walk like the world does.  If we’ve been washed, we can’t wallow in the muck.  If we’ve been set apart, we can’t try to erase the distinction God has made with us.  If we’ve been justified, we can’t act like we’re still accused sinners outside of God’s family, living under his condemnation.  So that’s one important take-away from this passage:  if you’re truly a Christian, more and more the past has to be in the past.  That’s a process, but it’s an essential one.  Without that process, no one is a Christian.

Another important take-away from this passage relates to our current situation.  We have real hope to offer this world.  Look at those words again in verse 11, especially at the beginning, “And such were some of you.”  There is hope for change in the gospel.  People’s lives can really be changed, and that happens through the good news of Jesus Christ.  On this Day of Prayer, just think of one or two people you know who are lost.  They’re not Christians.  Perhaps they’re living in one of the ways described in our text.  Maybe it’s a different way.  But they’re without Christ.  They haven’t been washed, sanctified, justified.  Do you know someone like that?  Think of that person.  On this Day of Prayer, I would encourage you to pray for that person by name, intently and specifically.  Pray for God to open their heart for the gospel.  Pray for the Holy Spirit to do his work of regeneration.  Pray for that person to see their sin and misery and their need for Jesus.  Pray that you would have opportunities or more opportunities to share your gospel hope with him or her.  Ask God to give you love for that person, and also courage to speak, wisdom to say the right words at the right moment.  Loved ones, God hears these prayers and he will do surprising things with them.  Expect it.  But pray.  If we want to see our beloved country repent and follow the Lord, it starts with us praying for individual fellow Australians, caring for them, and sharing the gospel hope.  No one is beyond that hope.  The Corinthian church testified to that.  “And such were some of you.”

Loved ones, our world is dark and seems to be getting darker.  You could look at that and just resign yourself to it.  You could be passive and just say, “Oh well, the Bible said it would get worse and worse, so there’s no point in fighting it or saying anything.”  That would be a wicked response.  It’s wicked because it shows no love.  Do you love your country?  Do you love your neighbours?  Shouldn’t we care about the welfare of our land?  If we care, shouldn’t we do something?  Shouldn’t we say what we can when we can to stem the tide of wickedness?  Shouldn’t we at least pray?  AMEN.

 

 


The Reformation in the Netherlands

The hanging of Guy de Brès and Peregrin de la Grange on 31st of May, 1567.

The hanging of Guy de Brès and Peregrin de la Grange on 31st of May, 1567.

This year we’re celebrating the 500th birthday of the Reformation.   In today’s post, I want to look briefly at the history of the Reformation in the Low Countries (or Netherlands).  Somehow the movement Luther was instrumental in igniting also came to the Dutch dykes and polders.  But how?

When we look at the Reformation in the Netherlands, we have to realize that we’re confronted with a complicated political situation.  The Netherlands was in this time made up of seventeen distinct provinces, covering the present-day Netherlands as well as Belgium and small parts of France and Germany.  You could almost say that these seventeen provinces were countries.  Each province had its own unique history.  They saw themselves as more or less independent.  They each had distinctive forms of government.  Moreover, there were different languages:  Frisian, Dutch, and French – plus a host of dialects of Dutch and French.  Geographically, rivers made it difficult for travel between the different areas.  All this makes it difficult to treat the Netherlands as a unified region.

At the beginning of the Reformation-era, the Netherlands were under the Habsburgs and the Holy Roman Empire.  This was not an independent region.  There was a foreign government ultimately in control and this government was fanatically committed to the faith of Rome.

Unlike in Germany and Switzerland, the Reformation in the Low Countries began with blood.  There were connections with Germany through various trade routes and along these routes, ideas travelled just as much as goods.  Already in 1519, an Augustinian monk named Jakob Propst was advocating the teachings of Luther in Antwerp.  Luther’s writings were being distributed in the Low Countries as early as 1518.  By 1525, there were more than 80 editions and translations of Luther’s works.

It did not take long for the Habsburg Empire to take note.  They quickly made efforts to suppress those promoting Luther’s ideas.  In July 1523, Heinrich Voes and Johann Esch were burned at the stake in Brussels.  In the northern regions of the Netherlands, persecution was not as common.  People, especially local magistrates, were more inclined to religious tolerance, probably owing to the influence of humanists such as Erasmus.  As a result, martyrdom was quite rare in the north.  In the south, however, things were very different.  There was an inquisitor named Pieter Titelmans.  He worked in various southern regions of the Netherlands between 1545 and 1566.  Titelmans was zealous for his work.  Under his oversight, an average of one hundred heresy cases per year were prosecuted.  Government edicts often forced the fledgling Reformed movement underground.  Believers would secretly meet in houses, fields, and even local taverns in order to do Bible study, give and receive doctrinal instruction, and sit under biblical preaching.

The Reformed faith appears in the Low Countries in the 1540s.  It spread directly from Germany and also from France.  In fact, the history of the Reformed churches in the Low Countries is very much intertwined with the Huguenot churches.  In this period, borders were quite fluid and porous.  Especially since they shared their language with the southern Netherlands, the French Reformed strongly influenced the doctrine and organization of the Reformed churches in the Low Countries.

The Reformed faith took hold in both large towns and cities throughout the Netherlands.  There were two centers:  Antwerp in the south and Emden in the north.  True, Emden is technically a German town, but it is located right across the border from the Netherlands and was a strategic location for the Reformed churches.  The Reformed movement grew quickly in these areas.  It appealed to a broad cross-section of society including artisans, labourers, merchants, and men of learning.  However, as I mentioned, there was heavy persecution, especially in the south.  This persecution forced many to choose between exile and martyrdom.  Most people chose for exile.  Dutch Reformed refugees fled to several key places where they gathered in refugee congregations.  This happened in London and Sandwich, in England and Emden and Wesel in Germany.  Those who remained behind were forced into a life of always looking over the shoulder.  It should be noted that there was a debate about exile versus persecution in the churches.  Some Reformed leaders argued that the believers should stand up and take a public stance against the Spanish regime.  They argued that persecution was only facilitated by secrecy and running away.  They argued that it would be difficult (and maybe ultimately impossible) for the Spanish authorities to intervene with or restrain a Reformed church community which carried out its affairs in public.  However, others had a more pragmatic approach.  They feared for their lives, they hated the thought of persecution for themselves and their families, and they felt they had no choice but to worship secretly and, if necessary and possible, go into exile until the troubled times were past.

These were troubled times.  If there is a theme running through the Reformation in the Netherlands, it is persecution.  For much of the period between 1520 and 1570, Protestantism in the Netherlands was under attack.

It really began to escalate, however, in the 1550s.  Up until the 1550s, it looked like the Habsburgs had things under control in the Low Countries.  There was increasing unity, an apparatus for central government was being refined, and Protestantism was being at least contained by the Inquisition.  Things shifted dramatically beginning in 1550.  Charles V issued an edict which threatened death for promoting Protestantism.  In fact, one could be executed merely for possessing heretical books.  Despite this edict, the Reformed faith continued to gain ground.  While kings and emperors in far-off lands made their decrees, popular opinion in the Netherlands was going in a more tolerant direction.  As mentioned earlier, local magistrates were also often reluctant to enforce royal edicts.

Philip II took over the rule of the Netherlands in 1555.  Philip was the King of Spain.  The Netherlands therefore fell under Spanish control.  Unfortunately for Philip, he was out of touch with the Dutch.  The Dutch hated the Spanish and Philip even more.  He didn’t speak their languages and many Dutch perceived him to be a foreign tyrant.  Philip perceived himself to be a pillar of the church on a divine mission to eradicate heresy. Philip insisted on strict enforcement of his policy of persecution.  This led to the Dutch Revolt.  While the Revolt is not really part of church history, it is an important part of the background to the Dutch Reformation.  It’s one of these events where world history gets wrapped up together with church history.

The Dutch Revolt began with the disobedience of several local governors – they refused to cooperate with the Inquisition and Spanish persecution of Reformed believers.  Margaret of Parma was the sister of Philip II, and in 1559 she was appointed to be the governess-general of the Netherlands.  In the spring of 1566, a large group of lesser nobility approached her with a petition asking that the persecution of Reformed believers stop.  With the help of some political intrigue on the part of some territorial governors (including William of Orange), Margaret granted a reprieve and leniency towards “heretics” was authorized.

For a time the situation improved for the Reformed churches.  Exiled men and women returned to their homes, open-air preaching took place, and the Reformed could better organize their churches.  But these new freedoms also had a dark side.  There was widespread iconoclasm and other provocative behaviour.  One of the most well-known was the public singing of Psalms — in French they called them chanteries.  The singing was loud and the Psalms were selected to offend any Roman Catholics who might hear.  One of the favourites was Psalm 68, sometimes described as the war song of the Reformation.  Of course, these psalms were sung with the Genevan tunes of John Calvin.  Other provocative behaviour included coming to the huge open-air meetings bearing arms.  It looked as if these Reformed believers were heading to war.  Their songs spoke of war, and the fact that they carried weapons didn’t help matters.

All of this was bound to provoke a reaction from Margaret and soon enough it did.  She demanded a focussed and aggressive response to the crowds, but the governors refused unless she would promise freedom for preaching.  In August of 1566, she made that promise and order was restored in most places.  However, Margaret was not finished with the rebels and heretics.  The chanteries continued and these aggravated the situation.  Margaret finally had enough and she sent Spanish forces to lay siege to the city of Valenciennes.  The city fell in March of 1567 and Margaret was able again to enforce the ban on Reformed preaching everywhere in the Netherlands.  Persecution resumed in full force.  Shortly afterwards, Philip appointed the Duke of Alva (Fernando Alvarez de Toledo) to be governor of the Netherlands.  The Duke of Alva was a brutal warlord and he was passionate about the eradication of heresy.  He pursued everyone he could for their role in the Revolt, including Roman Catholic civil leaders who were soft on the question of tolerance.  He convened a meeting which he called the Council of Troubles.  The Dutch called it the Court of Blood.  Many died accused of heresy or assisting heretics.

The Dutch Revolt continued until 1581.  At the end, the southern Netherlands was lost to the Roman Catholics.   This is basically present-day Belgium.  Almost all Reformed believers from the south then fled to the north, which was free from Spanish control and where the Reformed faith enjoyed official recognition.  There is a lot more that could be said about the history of the Reformation in the Netherlands.  But the most important thing here is to recognize the heavy persecution that the Reformed churches endured right from the very beginning.  Philip II, Margaret of Parma, and the Duke of Alva hated the gospel with a passion and they were not afraid to shed blood to prevent the Reformation from gaining ground.  However, they could not stand in the way of Christ gathering, defending, and preserving his church even through this storm.


What Caused the Reformation?

presswork

This year we’re celebrating the 500th birthday of the Reformation.  This “birthday” places the birth of the Reformation on October 31st, 1517 — the date Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.  One might quibble about the dating.  The Reformation can’t really be compared to a baby being born.  There were a string of events and historical processes that contributed to the movement, and some of these predated 1517.  But, for the sake of convenience, we can run with the 1517 date and celebrate God’s goodness in bringing his Church back to the gospel.  Over the coming months, I hope to have a number of Reformation-related posts.

I want to begin today with considering the question:  what caused the Reformation?  Someone might say, “It’s obvious:  God caused the Reformation.”  As true as that is, it is not a very helpful answer.  We know that God uses various means to accomplish his purposes.  So, what means did God use to bring about the Reformation?

When it comes to such questions, historians sometimes refer to sufficient and necessary causes (or conditions).  Sufficient causes produce the event.  They inevitably cause the event to occur.  Necessary causes are things that had to be present in order for the event to occur, but by themselves don’t produce the event.  The illustration often used is of matches and fire.  What caused the fire?  The necessary causes would be the presence of the match and the presence of a surface on which to strike the match.  The sufficient cause would be a person taking the match and actually striking it.  I want to focus on three necessary causes of the Reformation.  These were things that had to be present before the Reformation could really ignite and set Europe aflame with gospel renewal.

The first is printing technology.  The movable-type printing press appeared in Europe in the fifteenth century, but it wasn’t until the sixteenth century that this technology came into its own.  Printers finally became proficient at producing mass quantities of books.  Moreover, on the eve of the Reformation, a process for manufacturing paper in a cost-effective way is perfected.  Potential for mass quantity plus cheaper paper equals the possibility of literature available to a wider scope of the population.  Luther, Calvin, and other Reformers produced literature that took advantage of this technology.  Their writings went far and wide, spreading the gospel hope.  Without advances in printing technology, the Reformation would not have occurred.

But these advances would have meant nothing if people continued producing literature in Latin.  The second necessary cause is the proliferation of literature in the native tongues of Europe.  Even outside of theology, writers started putting out books written in German, French, English, Dutch, and so on.  Works were still written in Latin (even into the eighteenth century), but these were specialist writings geared to academics.  Right before the Reformation, however, books were being written in the vernacular for non-academics.  The Reformation became a populist movement by capitalizing on this development.  For example, the 95 Theses were originally written in Latin — after all, Luther desired an academic debate.  However, they were soon translated into German.  Eventually, many of Luther’s writings were first written solely in German.  The Reformation took off because of people like Luther writing in German, Calvin writing in French, and so on.  Of course, of all writings appearing in the vernacular, the most powerful of all was the Word of God.  Finally, people could read for themselves what Scripture says in their own language — and that was gospel dynamite.

However, that assumes that people can read.  That brings me to the last necessary cause:  the rise of education and literacy in Europe.  Prior to the 1500s, literacy was reserved for a select few.  Stories are told of royalty that did not know how to read.  There were parish priests who were functionally illiterate — they would have memorized just enough Latin to carry out their duties.  But coming into the 1500s, this begins changing.  By 1517, literacy was still not what it is today, but it had improved and it continued improving.  In fact, because of the Reformation emphasis on the importance of reading the Scriptures, wherever the Reformation took hold, educational improvements followed.  Schools were established and literacy was expected to be the norm rather than the exception.  Without improvements in literacy, however, we would not even be talking about the Reformation as one of the great events in history.

I have described three necessary causes for the Reformation:  printing technology, vernacular literature, and literacy.  Yes, there are more necessary causes that could be mentioned, but those three are among the most important.  Without them, there would have been no return to the Scriptures, no return to the gospel.  In his providence, at just the right time, our sovereign God brought these developments into being and thus prepared the way for a recovery of his saving truth.  We see his hand in it all and praise him for it!