Friday, June 30, 2006

A Sicilian Master

If the word "Sicily" grazes your ears, and all your mind summons up is square pizza and The Godfather movies, let me add a third image - the Sicilian Renaissance master Antonello da Messina. How I managed to miss appreciating this painter, I am not sure, but it may have to do with the fact that Renaissance art books, beginning with Vasari, routinely favor Florentine and Roman artists.

I don't get many secular magazines, but the ones I do receive are worth their weight in gold, namely The New Yorker ("the greatest magazine ever"), and more recently The New York Review of Books. I've stopped getting home delivery of The New York Times, because frankly it's too expensive and environmentally unfriendly (and the website gives you all you need anyway), but one must have a book review! So in the current issue of The New York Review of Books, is a review of a recent exhibition of Antonello da Messina, which is one of the things I love about the NYRB, you get editorials and art reviews. Anyway...I was stunned by the works of this artist, so much so I immediately ordered the Yale edition of his works ($14.95 at, not bad - don't you love instant gratification?).

Just take a look at the face of this Madonna (1465). She is interrupted from her reading by the archangel Gabriel, who is not pictured. She ponders the message in her heart, and her hands hover, frozen in a moment of time as she comes to grips with the Annunciation. But it is her face we drawn to. There is solemnity, but also a hint of a smile emerging from the left side of her lips, a Mona Lisa smile. Her eyes, looking off to the right are fixed upon nothing - "the things of earth have grown strangely dim" as the old hymn says. Her world has been turned upside down, but she retains her full Sicilian humanity and femininity. This is no cardboard cut-out Madonna, but a real person bathed in light.

I can't wait to see more.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Call for Separation

When Reformed Christians refer to themselves as "conservative" or "orthodox," but then deny cardinal doctrines of the faith and reject basic Christian morality, clearly the devil is hard at work diluting our notions and definitions of what it means to be a Reformed Christian. There seems to be an increasingly blurry line between the world and the church. Ministers who have been divorced two and three times are allowed to remain in the ministry. Co-habitation, a polite euphemism for fornication, is tolerated in couples coming to the church for marriage. We are dialoguing about sodomy. We watch R and X rated movies, profane the Sabbath (at General Synod, no less), and generally live indistinguishably from from our secular neighbors.

I am acutely aware of the log jutting out of my eye.

But consider what the Bible consistently teaches:

"Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the Gospel of God" (Romans 1:1).

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received from me" (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

"But know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for Himself" (Psalm 4:3).

"Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you" (2 Corinthians 6:17).

"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world" (1 John 2:15-16).

"Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul" (1 Peter 2:11).

"Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27).

"Be ye therefore followers of God as dear children: and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us as an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting...but rather giving of thanks" (Ephesians 5:1-4).

Innumerable further examples could be supplied, but the point is made: we are to live differently from the ungodly. We are to uphold biblical values uncompromisingly. We are to separate ourselves from those refuse to repent of their sins, who indeed celebrate them as virtues. We must, like Paul, hand them over to Satan with the prayer that they may be restored to true saving faith. This is not self-righteous judgment as condemned by Christ, but loving discipline commanded by Christ, which is a mark of the true church.

Accommodation to the secular, demon-haunted world, is not merely confined to the individual, but finds expression in our corporate church life, such as the flagrant disregard for biblical polity, our current dialogue over sodomy, and our corporate leadership models so proudly promoted by our General Secretary and the General Synod Council, to name but a few. Consider the heretical teachings which flourish in both our seminaries, with their simultaneous rejection of Reformed theology and biblical authority. All of this prompts self-examination in my own heart (and with it God's just condemnation of my own sinfulness), but also the nagging realization that I no longer recognize the church to which I belong. Is God calling us to tolerate the unbeliever in clerical garb, or to separate and form a new union? Such a question is urgent in these days when good is called evil and evil good.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

No Ordinary Joy

A sermon on baptism from Colossians 2:9-14.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Absolute Devotion to God - Archibald Alexander's "Convictions"

At last year's Banner of Truth Conference (2005), I received a copy of James Garretson's Princeton and Preaching: Archibald Alexander and the Christian Ministry. It is the last book from that conference I haven't read, and I am eager to read the books I purchased at this year's conference, so I am finishing this wonderful little book. Alexander was the first professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, and was a man of immense learning and deep piety. Here are several of his "convictions" which were given to his students in a lecture in 1832.

1. The strongest inducement to be entire and unreserved in devoting your hearts and lives to the service of God, is the love of Christ to you.
2. If your hearts are filled and warmed with this love of Christ, you will never be satisfied with any thing short of a complete surrender of every thing to him.
3. The terms of discipleship as laid down by Christ require you to be unreserved in the consecration of yourselves to the service of God.
4. The spirit and conduct of the Apostles and early Christians was in accordance with the principle which I am advocating.
5. You cannot in any other way so effectually promote your own happiness.
6. This absolute devotedness of spirit is the quality which will prepare you to be eminently useful {p.106, emphases mine}.

What astonishing and much needed counsel in this age of "sloppy agape" and easy believism.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Defending and Declaring the Faith

My friend and colleague Rev. Scott Nichols, over at Random Responses, does a fine job in obeying 1 Peter 3:15, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear." In an interview for the Calcedon Foundation, he sets forth clearly the biblical prescription for renewing and restoring the RCA: discipline, the restoration of biblical authority, and bringing the seminaries back into the orthodox fold. Here's a quote from the article:

"Once you give away Biblical authority, pretty much anything goes. Pragmatism always leads to a dilution of doctrine."

I strongly recommend you read the entire article, here at this link.

Quote of the Day

Here is a great quote from Charles Krauthammer, which aptly summarizes the predicament in both society and church.

"As part of the great social levelling, it is not enough for the deviant to be normalized. The normal must be found to be deviant."

Just ask some of our Canadian pastors who live in fear of arrest for preaching the whole counsel of God.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Following the Crowd

A quote from the Puritan George Petter, which I read on my friend the very Reverend Peter Butler's website, pointed me to Exodus 23:2, "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil." This verse is a part of a section of the Torah focusing on laws of human relations. Funny how you can read the Bible over and over again and still miss the good stuff!

We tend to think of peer pressure as something exclusive to the teenage years, but adults and institutions are just as prone to the temptation to follow the multitude. Our fear of appearing to be "odd" or "out of step" allows Satan an opportunity to lead us away from God's Word and the commandments of Christ. We begin to resemble the world more and more, and our values become indistinguishable from that of secular society. How else do we explain the statistics which show Christians divorce as often as non-Christians? How else do we explain our comfort level regarding pornography in our society, fornication and obscenity on television or in movies? When we follow the crowd, we abandon Jesus, and embark upon that broad road with leads to destruction (Mt 7:13).

I have been reading this week, with acute sense of heartache, how two once godly institutions have allowed the world's values to corrupt their communion. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) has decided to promote alternative descriptions of the Holy Trinity. So instead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, they would have their congregations say, "Mother, Child, and Womb," and "Rock, Redeemer, and Friend," amongst several others. Then there is the agony of the Episcopal Church, which has elected a bishop who believes God creates homosexuals to love other homosexuals, and that this is no sin. Clearly, non-biblical values are in control of these institutions, and threaten to undermine our own godliness and mission. Paul wrote, "And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). And John wrote, "Whoever claims to live in Him [Christ] must walk as Jesus did" (1 John 2:6). Jesus did not follow the crowd, the crowd followed him, and so should we, completely, and without reservation or accommodation to the spiritual forces of wickedness at work in the world.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

All Things Well

The concluding sermon in a series on Psalm 23.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

A Sabbath Eve Reflection

The Puritans were big on preparing for the Sabbath. They used Saturday evening to focus their minds and hearts for the coming day of the Lord. Prayer, meditative Scripture reading, and family worship, all played integral roles in weaning their minds and hearts away from worldly concerns. What they strived for was depth, a deeper communion with God in corporate worship that began in their private devotions.

Contrast that with today's view of the Sabbath. Most modern Christians don't maintain a view of the Sabbath at all. For them, merely showing up at church should earn them some brownie points with God. I have been repeatedly told by people to move the worship service back as early as possible in the morning, so that the whole day might not be wasted! How different is the Westminster Confession's teaching on the Sabbath: "This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are take up the whole time in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy" (21:8; emphasis mine).

What are we doing with our Sabbath eves? our Saturday nights? What will our heart disposition be upon awakening tomorrow, and entering God's house for worship? Let us be still before the Lord, and prayerful, casting aside all of the world: its cares and allures, and spend time in a place apart with Christ. Perhaps if we do so, the next day's praise will seem brighter, the Word more relevant, and the preaching more affecting. In that precious book, The Valley of Vision, there is a prayer for Lord's Day Eve, which ends:

I pray to be clothed with humility,
to be quickened in the way,
to be more devoted to thee,
to keep the end of my life in view,
to be cured of the folly of delay and indecision,
and to know how frail I am,
to number my days and apply my heart
unto wisdom.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Our Future?

The Episcopalians are meeting, and guess what?, they are being torn apart by the issue of homosexuality. But it's a little different from the RCA...for now. The issue at hand is the ordination of the guy in the picture, Gene Robinson, who is the first unrepentant gay bishop. The Episcopalians have pretty much given up trying to forbid gay marriage and gay clergy, so they are making one last desperate stand on the issue of bishops.

They should just divide and be done with it. The "conservative" Anglicans lost their battle long ago, when gay clergy became tolerated. Toleration, however, is not part of the radical gay agenda. Enforced acceptance, celebration, and power are their preeminent goals. They have reached this sad situation by:
1. Misusing the Bible. According to today's NY Times, "Backers of gay ordination contend Scripture does not prohibit monogamous same-gender relationships." Last year, a pro-gay clergyman said the same thing on the floor of my classis. Well, if the New Testament says nothing about this issue, then it says nothing about anything, and we might as well pack up and go home.
2. Deifying Church Unity. The RCA leadership is always saying in one form or another that unity trumps doctrine. Let's re-phrase that. What they are really saying is, "Unity is more important than truth." Despite serious objections from the evangelical heartland, our unelected, unrepresentative leadership is saying to us, "We must stay together and not exercise discipline against certain sins (i.e., sins they approve of)."

It is a slippery slope from dialogue to eventual ordination, enforced toleration, and finally liturgical celebration. For the perfect example of this process, just take a glance at our "covenant partner" the United Church of Christ. It is no longer, in my mind, recognizably Christian. It's next stop will be Unitarian Universalism. In fact the train has already left the station.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

General Synod Ends

The end of General Synod has come, and certain things have become clear since last year's tumultuous meeting. Despite numerous pleas from evangelicals, the denomination is committed to dialogue regarding homosexuality. This seems rather odd to me. According to Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God." Paul is speaking of people who continue in these sins unrepentantly, justifying their ungodly behavior with deceptive arguments, theories, and theological discourse. "Do not be deceived," he counsels us, but nonetheless the RCA seems very much willing to be deceived. Would we have a dialogue on the merits of fornication? Would we discuss legitimizing thievery or extortion? Of course not. Then why are we ignoring the whole counsel of God, and discussing the possibility that some forms of sex outside of marriage are permissible? The simple answer is that there are some among us who want to be "spiritual," to call themselves Christians, while remaining unrepentant in their sins. So we tolerate divorce, multiple divorce, pre-marital sex, adultery, and all deviant forms of human sexuality. We have failed to discipline, and to impose the Word upon the church, and so we have lost our power, our divine unction, and our numbers keep plummeting. God's hand of blessing is being lifted, and we are trying to plan, program, and market ourselves out of our spiritual destitution. Only revival will help. Only God-owned, Spirit-led revival which places a burning desire in the hearts of men and women everywhere to weep over their sins, fall down upon their faces and repent before a holy God, saying, "Have mercy upon me! For I am a sinner. Have mercy upon me! For I never want to sin again!" Only a revival where God's holy and infallible Word is restored as the only authority for life and faith in the church will save us. Did you hear such a cry at General Synod? Did you hear our leaders lament over our sins?

No. Instead they did business on the Sabbath, despising the Lord's Day, so they could end their sacred duty early and go home. Instead they learned about dancing, prattled on about new confessions, and rejected the evangelicals' cry for clarity and biblical sanity, so that we may spend thousands more dollars of the Lord's money on a dialogue about whether sin is sinful. Meanwhile thousands more souls perish in darkness, and churches close, and Bibles sit unread. Let us pray for God's mercy and for revival, and for godly, orthodox leadership.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Our Crowning Victory

The fifth sermon in a series on Psalm 23.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Hubble Telescope Makes Me Love God More

I love Tom's Astronomy Blog, where I found this image of the galaxy NGC 5866 - on its edge! The heaven's declare the glory of God. It is 44 million light-years from our little planet.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Dialogue or Duplicity?

The RCA is about to embark on a three year dialogue concerning homosexuality in the church. This was a decision made at last year's General Synod, which cowardly stepped back from the biblical teachings regarding human sexuality, and instead chose to impose upon the denomination a sinful program whereby orthodox Christians will have to endure "listening" to stories and theological agendas which seek to overturn God's truth and replace it with human sociological/psychological nonsense and heresy. The leadership of our denomination is fooling no one. Our so-called "covenant partners," the UCC, the PCUSA, and the ELCA, have all now given homosexual ministry, marriage, and lifestyle, a permissable and legitimate place within their denominations. The RCA "dialogue" will be in fact a monologue, an instructional tool to deceive biblically ignorant, wayward and wordly sheep. The goal of the "dialogue" is to lead the RCA down the path of its covenant partners toward full inclusion of homosexuals, bisexuals, transgenders, etc., etc.

The large and wealthy Collegiate Churches of New York have already decided that they are not going to "dialogue." They are about to engage in the open blessing of same sex "marriages" on June 11. This according to the website Room For All, which represents the pro-gay advocates in the RCA. The Collegiate Churches, especially Middle Collegiate and Marble Collegiate, are planning Gay Pride events, and participating in celebrations of sodomy and other abominations. They will not be disciplined by the Classis of New York because they are enormously wealthy, large, and powerful, and the leadership of the Regional Synod of New York and the Classis of New York are completely sympathetic and supportive of gay inclusion in the RCA. One of the board members of Room For All is the Rev. Conrad Strauch, who pastors an RCA church in Babylon, Long Island (I am not making this up!). He has come out of the closet on the Room For All website, and serves as the Clerk for the Regional Synod of New York! He does so with obvious impunity and a sense of security. There is no dialogue, only duplicity. This is only a brazen attempt to overturn God's Word, and plunge the RCA further down the path of heresy, ungodliness, and perversion.

At last year's General Synod, Seth Kaper-Dale, a leader of the pro-gay party, was allowed to read a letter to the Synod supporting the full inclusion of gays in the RCA, with attached signatures. At yesterday's opening of this year's Synod, a letter speaking the gospel truth about human sexuality, with the attached signatures of over 700 RCA pastors, elders, and laypeople, was forbidden to be read by the leadership. No dialogue, only duplicity. No biblical faithfulness, only apostasy. No discipline, only permissiveness. No fair treatment of conservatives, only dismissal. The result will be an awful judgment against the RCA, and God's lifting of His lampstand from our church. The only antidote to this downgrade is the replacement of our leadership, beginning with our liberal, unelected General Secretary, and the restoration of orthodox theological education at our two seminaries. A church that does not exercise discipline is not a true church, according to the Belgic Confession. How much longer will we tolerate this cancer growing in our midst? It is time to take back our denomination for Christ and His Word.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Jerusalem Sinner

Yesterday I finished reading John Bunyan's, The Jerusalem Sinner Saved. It was written in the last year of his life, and breathes the unction of one who was himself on the doorstep of heaven. I am particularly fond of Bunyan, and try to read one or two of his works each year. Bunyan is the Puritan who speaks most to my heart, opening up windows into my soul, where I may behold hidden sins and hidden graces. He is the most accessible of the Puritans, and I commend him to you for the profit of your soul and the strengthening of your spiritual pilgrimage.

What is a "Jerusalem Sinner?" It is from Luke 24:47, "And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." The sinners of Jerusalem were the worst of sinners, as they had crucified the Lord of Glory, and yet in God's mercy were first offered the gospel pardon. Bunyan, of course, applies this to himself, and to other great sinners living in every age:
"Say, when you are upon your knees, Lord, here is a Jerusalem sinner! A sinner of the biggest size! One whose burden is of the greatest bulk and heaviest weight! One cannot stand long without sinking into hell, without thy supporting hand! 'Be not far from me, O Lord; O my strength, haste thee to help me' (Psalm 22:19)."

I have begun reading Sinclair Ferguson's John Owen On the Christian Life. A book I have wanted to read for some time. If Bunyan opens my heart, Owen opens my mind. There is no finer theologian who has written in the English language than Owen, and yet Owen deeply admired Bunyan. He was reported to have said to King Charles II, "Could I possess the tinker's abilities...I would gladly relinquish all my learning."

Both Bunyan and Owen are buried near each other in Bunhill Fields, the Non-conformist (i.e., non-Anglican) cemetery in London.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Valley of the Shadow

The fourth sermon in a series on Psalm 23.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Liberalism: An Oxymoron

I may be feeling parched at the moment, but the guys over at Pyromaniacs always seem to have interesting things to say. This blog article from James Spurgeon (who I think is really good), is the best summary of Christian liberalism I have read since Machen's first chapter of Christianity and Liberalism.

Here's a quote, but I encourage you to read the whole article for yourself.

Liberal theology is a convenient way to be a Christian and an unbeliever at the same time.

For instance, you can view the resurrection with unbelief, and yet call yourself a Christian. You can scoff at the deity of Christ with the most brazen of atheists and yet call yourself a Christian. You can deny all the miraculous content of the Bible, question the vast majority of the Bible's positive affirmations, roll your eyes at the fumbling oafs who actually believe that stuff, yet still claim their name and their God as yours.

What a convenient thing that is!

Great stuff. It reminds me of our 0ld seminary profs at Western Theological (Holland, MI), who sniffed at our evangelicalism and detected the scent of truth, which prompted their ungodly scorn.