Author Archives: Wes Bredenhof

About Wes Bredenhof

Pastor of the Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania.

Still Want to Win the Lottery?

“The next Lotto 6/49 jackpot is an estimated 16 million dollars.”  When you hear something like that, the temptation is to imagine how that sum could solve all your problems.  The temptation is to disregard God’s Word in passages like 1 Timothy 5:9-10, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.  It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

It’s taught in God’s Word, but even some unbelievers come close to recognizing its truth.  Ask Jane Park.  This Scottish young woman won $1.6 million in the EuroMillions lottery in 2013 – when she was just 17 years old.  Today she says it ruined her life.  The shopping and spending quickly got old.  She says, “I have material things, but apart from that my life is empty. What is my purpose in life?”  Moreover, she claims to be desperately lonely.  Any time a man shows interest in her, she can’t be sure whether it’s her he’s after or just her money.  Strangely, she blames her problems on the lottery itself and the fact that British law allows a 17 year old to win when, if they do win, they will not be capable of handling it.

In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus described the seed sown among the thorns as those who hear the word, “but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things enter in and choke out the word…” (Mark 4:19).   Jesus said that riches lie to us, and those lies make the hearing of God’s Word unfruitful for us.  Riches lie – for example, telling us that we will be happier if we just have a little more.  The problem is when we believe the lie.  Instead, we should listen to God’s truth.  It’s like the Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs put it:  “Contentment does not come from addition, but from subtraction.  Contentment comes from subtracting our sinful desires for more.”  You see, the problem is not really the lottery, but the sinful, covetous desires of the human heart.  Sadly, Jane Park doesn’t get that.  Do you?


The History and Character of Our Reformed Church Order

At the back of our Book of Praise, after the confessions and liturgical forms, you’ll find a document called the Church Order.  It’s something which lays out the government or polity of the church.  In the Book of Praise one finds the Canadian Reformed Church Order, but the Church Order of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia is not much different.  Both are based on the same principles.  Both have the same heritage tracing back to what is known as the Church Order of Dort.  In this article, I want to briefly trace out that history and also mention some of the important characteristics of our Church Order.

The History of the Church Order

The Reformation arrived in the Netherlands in the 1520s.  For the first several decades, the Reformed churches in that region lived under the frequent spectre of persecution.  This made it difficult to enjoy life in a federation or bond with other churches.  Yet efforts were made.  It was seen as desirable and useful to have some kind of organized ecclesiastical government following the principle of 1 Corinthians 14:40 that all things “should be done decently and in good order.”

The first meeting where we find some serious discussion of Reformed church government is the Convent of Wezel in 1568.   This meeting led to the first adoption of articles resembling a church order.  Subsequent synods in 1571 and 1574 reaffirmed or developed this first prototype church order.  The Synod of Dort in 1578 (not to be confused with the other Synod of Dort in 1618-19) took things further, as did later synods in 1581 and 1586.

Our Church Order is sometimes called the Church Order of Dort and this is because its ultimate (Dutch) form was achieved at the Synod of Dort in 1618-19.  We often remember that Synod for the Canons of Dort, developed to address the errors of the Arminians.  But this Synod also finalized a form of church government which would endure for ages to come.  After Dort, this Church Order would be the standard polity for the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands almost without interruption until our day.  It should be noted that unfortunately the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKV) recently abandoned the Church Order of Dort in 2014.  Other Reformed churches in the Netherlands, however, still maintain it.

When post-war Dutch immigrants first came to Canada and Australia and established the Canadian and Free Reformed Churches, they brought with them the venerable Church Order of Dort.  At first, the Church Order of Dort was adopted verbatim in Dutch.  Few immigrants were fluent in English and, new to their adopted home, they were unaware of whether or how it would have to be adapted.  However, in due time, it became clear that the Dutch Church Order wasn’t completely applicable to either North America or Australia.  Changes would have to be made and they were.  Eventually the Canadian and Free Reformed Churches also revised their church orders and translated them into English.  Over time more changes have been made, some merely linguistic and others more substantial.  Nonetheless, in general outline and in the principles applied, the Canadian and Australian church orders continue to share the pedigree of Dort.

Character of the Church Order

It’s not my purpose here to outline all the principles and points found in our church order.  Instead, I merely want to identify three important characteristics of this document.  When trying to understand or apply our church order, these three points must be remembered.

First of all, the Church Order is based on the teachings of Scripture and the summary thereof in our Reformed confessions.  Generally speaking, it is the practical application of biblical teachings.  However, that doesn’t mean everything in the Church Order can be backed up with a proof-text.  Like other parts of church life, there are some things fixed in the Church Order by way of convention.  The churches believe it’s helpful to have a stipulation on how to do a certain thing and so they use the biblically-informed wisdom that comes as a gift of the Holy Spirit.  As an example from the FRCA Church Order, there’s article 56:  “The Lord’s Supper shall be celebrated at least once every three months.”  There is no biblical proof-text to support that minimum frequency.  It’s something our churches have agreed upon as being wise and helpful.  Since the sacrament is intended for our spiritual nourishment, it’s good to have a certain minimum frequency agreed upon.  Other examples could be cited.

Next, it’s important to recognize that the Church Order is not a legal text with rigid commands.  Particularly when the Church Order speaks of matters beyond the clear teaching of Scripture, we treat the Church Order as a voluntary agreement between churches.  It’s an agreement between churches who have decided to federate together on these terms.  This is why we don’t speak about the Church Order commanding us to do x or y.  Instead, we speak about having agreed in our Church Order to do x or y.  Under exceptional circumstances, in consultation and full transparency with the other churches, it can happen that certain articles (or parts of articles) are suspended in their application.  Moreover, the Church Order is not the “law of the Medes and Persians” which can never be changed.  It has been modified and edited in the past, and it certainly can in the future as well.

Finally, our church order is what’s called a “high-context” document.  Cultural anthropologists distinguish between high-context and low-context cultures.  In a low-context culture, there’s little guess-work.  Everything is direct and said explicitly.  However, in a high-context culture, much is assumed or implied.  For a sound interpretation of what’s going on, you need an intimate awareness with the context.  Our church order is a high-context document.  If you’ve grown up in our church sub-culture and have been paying attention, you’ll automatically (or even unconsciously) get many of its background assumptions.  You’ll understand much of what’s implied because our culture is like the air you breathe:  you don’t even think about it.  However, if a newly Reformed pastor from some other culture tries to adopt and work with our church order in his church or churches, there will inevitably be missteps.  Applying and working with our church order is not cut and dried.  There needs to be careful training and mentoring to fill in the gaps and avoid misunderstandings.

Every Reformed office bearer needs to be familiar with our Church Order.  It’s not just for pastors and perhaps obsessive-compulsive elders.  All who serve in the church’s government ought to be aware of the way in which we’ve agreed to organize the church’s government.  No, we don’t subscribe the Church Order as we do the Confessions.  It’s not a confession of faith or a creed.  Yet it’s our responsibility to familiarize ourselves with the way in which we both as a local church and as a federation of churches have agreed to do everything “decently and in good order.”  This mitigates the possibility of corruption setting in.  For this reason, it’s equally important for regular church members to also familiarize themselves with what’s been agreed upon for the government of the church.  If something is being done “out of order” then everyone has a responsibility to point it out.


More Blogs I Read Regularly (and Why)

Just over five years ago, I posted something about the blogs I regularly read.  It’s about time to do an update on that.  People change and blogs change.  For example, last time around I recommended Jeremy DeHaan’s Sixteen Seasons.  Sadly, since then he’s become a Roman Catholic and I can no longer recommend his writing.  Other blogs have more or less gone dormant.

Some things remain the same.  Last time around, I recommended Feedly as a great resource to manage the reading of blogs.  I still use Feedly and still recommend it.  It’s the best way to curate the sometimes overwhelming content that’s out there in the “blogosphere.”

Here are some of the blogs I’m reading these days and can recommend for various reasons:

Challies Dot Com — Talk about staying power!  Tim Challies has been blogging for years and his stuff is still worth recommending.  I especially appreciate his daily “a la carte” features — it puts you on to other valuable content every day.

The Bridgehead — This is the website and blog of Christian social commentator Jonathan Van Maren.  This is a must-read if you want to keep up with rapidly changing cultural developments.

The Wee Flea — David Robertson is currently a Reformed pastor in Scotland — he’s moving down here to Australia in the near future.  He also engages a lot of social issues with penetrating commentary.

The Aquila Report — This is not really a blog, but an aggregator.  They collect stories (including blog posts) from around the Reformed/Presbyterian world.  If you want to know what’s going on in the Reformed/Presbyterian world, you have to read The Aquila Report.

The Reformed Reader — This blog is co-written by Andrew Compton and Shane Lems.  It sometimes features book reviews, but more often interesting quotes or excerpts.  Some of them can be useful for sermon illustrations.  Here’s a good example.

Outward OPC — “Outward OPC is a work of the OPC Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. This new website exists to encourage zeal for reaching the lost and to be a tool for the OPC and other reformed churches to be more effective in reaching people outside the church.”  Enough said.


Book Review: What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an

What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an, James R. White.  Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2013.  Softcover, 311 pages.

More than ever, Christians need to be equipped to deal with the challenges posed by Islam.  We often live beside Muslims, work alongside them, and study with them.  It’s good to have helpful resources to inform our conversations with our Muslim neighbours.  Though it is now a couple of years old already, James White’s book on the Muslim sacred text is one of those valuable helps.

White is the author of numerous non-fiction books.  He’s well-known as an author, speaker, and debater.  Though it does not factor into this book at all, he is an elder in a Reformed Baptist church in Phoenix, Arizona.  He is the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, an organization with a focus on apologetics (done in a Reformed, presuppositional manner).

Rather than summarize everything in this book, let me just highlight two points which stood out for me.  One has to do with what the Qur’an says about the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  In chapter 4, White points out that the Qur’an says Christians believe the Trinity to consist of Allah, Jesus, and Mary.  Christians are alleged to believe that Allah and Mary had relations to produce Jesus.  This is important because:

Everyone affected would affirm that by the early decades of the seventh century, God Himself would have a perfect knowledge of what the doctrine of the Trinity actually says.  And if that doctrine does not accurately represent His own self-revelation, He would be in the perfect position to refute its falsehoods with devastating precision.  But is this what we find in the Qur’an? (76)

The Qur’an doesn’t describe the Trinity correctly, and so the Qur’an can’t be taken seriously as a revelation from God.

In chapter 11, White has a penetrating discussion about the text of the Qur’an.  Muslims claim that it is a perfect, immutable text.  Of course, that’s contrasted with the text of the Bible which, they allege, has been mutilated by Jews and Christians.  White gives a couple of examples from Muslim writers. This is one of them:

Muslims and non-Muslims both agree that no change has ever occurred in the text of the Qur’an.  The above prophecy [Surah 15:9] for the eternal preservation and purity of the Qur’an came true not only for the text of the Qur’an, but also for the most minute details of its punctuation marks as well…It is a miracle of the Qur’an that no change has occurred in a single word, a single [letter of the] the alphabet, a single punctuation mark, or a single diacritical mark in the text of the Qur’an during the last fourteen centuries. (250)

White demonstrates that this claim is patently false.  He notes that “even widely published editions of the Qur’an contain information indicating variations in the very text” (272-273).

He cites Yusuf Ali’s edition with its note on Surah 33:6.  In The Hidden Origins of Islam (ed. by Karl-Heinz Ohlig and Gerd-R. Puin), there is an essay by Alba Fedeli on variant readings in early Qur’anic manuscripts.  It is simply not true that there is a single immaculate Qur’an text preserved from the time of Muhammad.

One question I wish White would have addressed is whether these claims are made in ignorance or deliberately to deceive.  There is a doctrine in Islam known as al-Taqqiya.  This teaching says it is permissible to lie in order to advance the cause of Islam.  This is one of the things making Islam such a threat to western civilization in general, and Christianity in particular.  How can you tell when a Muslim is lying about Islam?

I would recommend this book to anyone who has regular contact with Muslims.  Be aware though: most, if not all, of the points raised by White in the book have rebuttals by Muslim apologists somewhere online.  The rebuttals are weak, but if you are going to use White’s material in conversations it would be advisable to prepare yourself beforehand for what your Muslim neighbour may bring back in response.


CanRC General Synod Edmonton 2019 (4)

The synod finished last week Thursday evening and all the acts are now available here.  As before, let me just review a few of the highlights from where I’m sitting.

Article 85 dealt with overtures from both regional synods regarding licensure of seminary students.  They both proposed that students be permitted to speak an edifying word after two years of seminary, as opposed to the current three.  The synod decided to give the green light for that under certain conditions.  One of the conditions is that students licensed under these provisions have to preach under the supervision of a mentor for a full summer immediately following.  But another condition is that the Pastoral Training Plan funding is still going to cover only one full summer internship, and usually that’s the internship following completion of the third year at CRTS.  I guess the students will have to sort out how this is going to work in practice.

Remarriage after divorce is often a contentious issue in Reformed churches.  In article 93, the synod considered an appeal from a couple concerning their consistory’s decision to pray for God’s blessing on such a marriage.  The appeal went up through classis and regional synod, and thus landed on Synod 2019’s table.  The appeal was denied.  One of the grounds was that there is exegetical freedom in the CanRC on this matter.  This is the way it should be, in my view.

Another appeal was considered in article 130.  Blessings Christian Church appealed a decision of Regional Synod East regarding article 55 of the CanRC Church Order.  In CO article 55, the churches agree that they will only sing “the metrical psalms adopted by general synod as well as the hymns approved by general synod.”  A proposal was adopted by a Classis Central Ontario to revise article 55 to read as follows:

The 150 psalms shall have the principal place in public worship.  The metrical psalms and hymns adopted by General Synod, as well as songs approved by the consistory that faithfully reflect the teaching of Scripture as expressed in the Three Forms of Unity, shall be sung in public worship.

This proposal then went to a Regional Synod East where it was defeated.  But this synod still ended up dealing with it via the appeal of Blessings.  However, the synod decided to deny it.  There are several grounds, some of which deal with the question whether it is a matter for the churches in common.  Synod decided that it remains so.

Article 139 dealt with the perennial topic of the United Reformed Churches.  Synod decided not to reappoint the Committee for Church Unity.  The process towards a merger is now officially on hold from both sides.  However, the CanRC and URNCA will continue as sister churches.

Finally, they left one of the most interesting items almost to the very end.  A Regional Synod West submitted an overture regarding the Trinity Psalter Hymnal (TPH) jointly developed by the OPC and URCNA.  The overture asked the TPH be adopted for public worship in the CanRC per Church Order article 55.  This overture was dealt with in article 142 of the Acts.  Essentially the overture was denied — but some of the substance of it was reworked.  The Standing Committee for the Book of Praise was mandated to consider improvements for both the psalm and hymn sections of the Book of Praise:

4.2  Mandate the SCBP:

4.2.1 Concerning the Psalms:

     4.2.1.1  to seek input from the churches as to which non-Genevan renditions of the Psalms could be added to enhance the Psalm section of the BoP.

4.2.1.2  to compile a list of suitable Psalm renditions for possible inclusion in the Book of Praise, using the TPH as a primary resource.

4.2.2 Concerning the Hymns

4.2.2.1  to seek input from the churches concerning replaceable and additional hymns for the 2014 Book of Praise, using the TPH as a primary resource.

4.2.2.2  to compile a list of such hymns keeping mind that at this time the final number of hymns in the Book of Praise should not exceed 100 (as per GS 2004) and being flexible with the structural template (Apostles’ Creed) of the hymn section of the 2014 Book of Praise.

4.2.3  To send, at least 18 months before the next general synod, an explanatory report to the churches together with a provisional list of songs for immediate testing, in the worship services if so desired, so there can be well-considered feedback to the next general synod.

To sum it up, you can be sure that the CanRC Book of Praise will still exist four or five years from now, but it will look quite different to the way it does now.  Additionally, it is going to be quite different to the Aussie Book of Praise which is probably going to appear in the next year or so.  I suppose change is inevitable — as long as it’s change for the better.  I do think that expanding the hymn section is warranted — there are some sections of the Book of Praise hymnary that are thread-bare.  For example, there could definitely be more hymns that are directly about the cross and Christ’s sufferings there in our place.  Expanding the hymnary carefully, looking to the TPH, and with a limit of 100 hymns seems a good way forward.