Considering Exceptions: Covenant or Testament? (Steve Tipton)

In the intro to this short series of posts, we began to look at a few common differences with the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms stated by some of the elders in the PCA. The purpose of these posts is not to tread ground covered by other, more able, men regarding major issues (days of creation, paedocommunion, etc.); rather, it is to examine a few places in our standards that garner less attention. Today, we begin with WCF 7.4–which reads:

“This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.”

The common objection to this section of the confession is due to the phrase, “frequently set forth in Scripture by the name of a testament.” Most modern translations, along with most modern commentators, recognize (at most) one place in Scripture where the word διαθηκη should be translated either will or testament. Once is not frequent, not by any measure. As such, 7.4 is an inaccurate statement. Or, so this commonly stated difference goes.

By starting here, I am not saying that this is the most controversial difference. Further, I don’t know anyone who would argue that this stated difference is hostile to our system of doctrine or strikes at the vitals of religion – in fact I doubt anyone has been granted an exception for this difference that rises above “merely semantic.” Indeed, one could argue that this is the poster child for merely semantic exceptions. Yet it is precisely for this reason that I wish to begin here.

Having studied WCF 7.4, I have personally decided again stating a difference with this section of the Confession, concluding that it is important and correct both as a historical document and for continued use in the contemporary church. I will therefore look at this section from these two perspectives.

When the divines originally wrote the phrase, “frequently se…

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Formulating Doctrine (Richard C. Barcellos)

“It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 4.1)

The Savoy Declaration (1658) and the Second London Confession of Faith (1677/89) contain very similar statements. Our triune God is the Creator of all things (i.e., “all things” other than Himself, of course).

Formulating Christian doctrine, especially as it relates to the doctrine of the Trinity, is not as simple as counting texts which use the same words. Biblical texts ought to be weighed to determine their importance. Weighing texts is especially important when considering creation in relation to the Creator. If only one text of Holy Scripture informs us about a crucial element of the divine act of creation, that text is of great importance. This is the case because creation involves everything in relation to God. The doctrine of creation, as with the doctrine of the Trinity, is a distributed doctrine. John Webster’s words capture what is meant by creation and the Trinity as distributed doctrines. He says:

“…the doctrine of creation is one of the two distributed doctrines in the corpus of Christian dogmatics. The first (both in sequence and in material primacy) distributed doctrine is the doctrine of the Trinity, of which all other articles of Christian teaching are an amplification or application, and which therefore permeates theological affirmations about every matter…The doctrine of creation is the second distributed doctrine, although, because its scope is restricted to the opera Dei ad extra [i.e., the external works of God], its distribution is less comprehensive than that of the doctrine of the Trinity. Within this limit, the doctrine of creation is ubiquitous. It is not restricted to one particular point in the sequence of C…

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Defending the Resurrection (William Boekestein.)

Though age would be rapidly catching up with him, some people believe that Elvis Presley is still alive. Despite certified death certificates, a very public, photographed funeral, and no verified appearances after the date of his death, fans insist: Elvis lives.

How many people view the resurrection of Christ similarly to conspiracy theories about Elvis? Is there compelling evidence that Christ actually rose from the dead? Or, is the story repeated simply because people wish him to not be dead? The stakes are high. Without the resurrection of Jesus Christianity is empty and those who adhere to the faith “are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Cor. 15:14, 19).

Here are seven reasons to believe in the resurrection, not as a wish, but as a historical event.

 The Argument of the Supernatural

Those who dismiss all things supernatural “naturally” oppose the plausibility of Christ’s resurrection. But honesty compels us to admit that our world, at many points, resists naturalistic explanation. Ruling out the possibility of supernatural phenomena is not a scientific exercise; it is an act of faith. Unless we begin with closed minds that dismiss the supernatural and resist the power of evidence, we will have no constraining reason to doubt the resurrection. Paul’s question to the Roman skeptic Agrippa, is worth pondering: “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8).

The Accuracy of Scripture

If the Bible were a religious fable designed to persuade readers to trust in a made-up God, then why are certain (indeed, many) events included? Why would the Bible record the utterly despicable actions of Jacob’s son Judah with his daughter-in-law Tamar (Genesis 38)? Why would Moses (Numbers 20), Jonah (Jonah 1:3), and John (John 20:9) write about their own moral failures? God included these events in the Bible because they actually happened and played a meaningful role in the story of God’s redemption. The Bible was written by eyewitnesse…

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The Father and his Flock (David Prince)

Husbands and fathers are called to be pastors in their homes. “What the preacher is in the pulpit,” Lewis Bayly declared, “the same the Christian householder is in his house.” The idea of fathers as the pastors of their homes arises from the testimony of Scripture. The word “pastor” comes from the Latin word for “shepherd”–and every father is called to serve as a shepherd in his home.

The application of shepherding imagery in the Bible does not end with the call for pastors to reflect the ministry of the good shepherd Jesus in the local church. Scripture also draws parallels between the responsibility of Christian fathers to pastor their families and the responsibility of called men to shepherd the local church. Paul had this to say about anyone who might become a pastor/elder: “He must manage his own household competently and have his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?)” (1 Tim. 3:4-5).

Pastoral leaders must be good shepherds of their little flocks at home before they are qualified to serve as shepherds of God’s flock, the church. Every man in a local church should be able to look to his pastor’s ministry as a model of faithful shepherding to be imitated on a smaller scale in his own home. If the congregation’s pastor is shepherding the church but not his own family, his influence is muted and his model is one of tragic hypocrisy.

A family is not a church; every Christian believer, as an individual, functions under the authority of the congregation. Yet the principles of directing and caring for the church and the household are the same. Paul called local churches “the household of God” (1 Tim. 3:15) and he uses family imagery to exhort congregations (1 Tim. 5:1-2; 1 Cor. 4:15-16; 1 Thess. 2:11). The interplay in the Scripture between the household of God and familial households, as well as the interplay between pastors and fathers, should arrest the reader’s…

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The Burning of the Wooden Shoes (Christopher J. Gordon)

It was a painful decision for my father to leave the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRC). He was pulled apart over it. He expressed all of his concerns to the new minister. “The direction you’re taking,” my father said, “is undermining the Great Commission of Jesus.” Immediately, the pastor yelled back, “this is what’s wrong with you Reformed people.” My father retorted, “But aren’t you Reformed?” That is a great question.

By being raised in the CRC I learned a lot about what can happen to a church. I have been a pastor in a confessional Reformed church for almost 15 years now. As I watch the shifts and listen to the discussions, this all seems like déjà vu. What took the CRC thirty to forty years to accomplish, in jettisoning her Reformed heritage, seems to be taking some NAPARC churches about a decade. I am particularly concerned for the PCA, but they are not the only one. There are other Reformed denominations following suit, but the PCA, at the moment, appears to be leading the pack.

The most disturbing part is that many seem completely oblivious to the shifts. Among a new generation of Reformed pastors and churchgoers, there seems to be little awareness that the project they are pursuing, and the shifts they are pushing, have already been tried and have ended with catastrophic consequences in the life of a major Reformed denomination.

I write this out of sincere love and concern for my brothers and sisters in NAPARC churches. Don’t do this. I’ve witnessed families, friends, and churches ripped apart by the direction the CRC chose. I know the pressures are great. I too want success in the church. I too want our Reformed churches to be heard. But that desire has to be controlled by what Christ has commanded us to do. I don’t want to see other faithful churches make the same mistakes that led to the confessional demise of the CRC. We need you! As I attempt to be my brother’s keeper, may the Lord use this as a call to renew all of us together…

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De-Conversion (Liam Goligher)

De-conversion is the reverse of conver­sion. While some creep away from the faith like a gliding glacier, the de-converted are glaciers calving off, crashing into the sea with devastating effect. Read on with holy fear.

Paraphras­ing Dr. Michael Kruger,

De-conversion stories seek to convince Christians that their ‘outdated, naïve beliefs’ are no longer worthy of assent. People tell how they once thought like you, but have now ‘seen the light’. Christian­ity has never lacked people, who once in the fold, later left. They tell their stories with a conviction, passion, and evangelistic zeal to make a televangelist blush. Today, these powerful stories are high profile, wide-spread throughout the internet.1

Also, today de-converted people have greater zeal. They don’t leave quietly, as they might have genera­tions ago. Now their purpose is to ‘evangelize’ the found rather than the lost sheep. In their minds, they are missionaries, compelled to help Christians realize their ‘mistake’. Modern examples of people in the de-conversion business include Bart Ehrman, Rob Bell, Peter Enns, and Jen Hatmaker. We could add the “Jesus Seminar” and, for the UK, Steve Chalke.2

They experienced overwhelming ‘aha’ moments.3 The Bible suddenly jarred with their intellectual integrity, personal sensitivities, or cultural proclivities. Whenever that happens, the Bible loses out. Scripture speaks of de-conversion with terrifying seriousness. The technical, theological word is ‘apostasy’. (Hebrews 10:31)

Apostates heard the Gospel, understood it, and acknowledged its truth. Their wills once consented to it, and apparently their hearts embraced it. Some are in pulpits, where they once preached the truth. Some are in seminaries and remain, but teach something different. These are people who know better. Still they break off, like glaciers calving. Thunderously!

Apostasy often begins by avoiding worship, including the preaching and teaching of the Word. Hebrews’ unknown writer warns …

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Pitying Criminals and Imprisoning Society (Nick Batzig)

In addition to the many rich theological insights one will glean from working through Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, there are equally profound sociological observations from which we could benefit today. When he came to tackle the question of crime and punishment in a society that has cast off biblical definitions of God and sin, Bavinck made the following profound observation about the inevitable consequences and implications regarding criminals in such a society. He wrote:
“The decline of the ancient Christian worldview has also resulted in the modification, indeed the abolition and banishment of the concepts of good and evil, responsibility and accountability, guilt and punishment. Along with belief in the justice of God, belief in justice on earth disappeared as well. Atheism proved to be the annihilation of all justice and morality: no God, no master. The modern, positivist, evolutionistic worldview, after all, though it cannot deny the fact that there is something like good and evil, sin and virtue, guilt and punishment, looks at and attempts to explain these things very differently. Sin and crime are not traceable to the evil will of individual persons, are not their responsibility nor imputable to them personally, but are, generally speaking, remnants or aftereffects of the animal ancestry of humans and to be explained in terms of their nature or of their environment.
…Others regarded every criminal case separately and individually and viewed criminals as victims of heredity, people who stayed behind in the evolutionary process…[and] crime as a symptom of social disease, a necessary product of circumstances, a consequence of ignorance, poverty, poor upbringing, and heredity…From this position, naturally, it becomes impossible to maintain the justice and essential character of punishment. For if crime can, in fact, be totally traced to the innate animal nature of humans or to the environment in which they grew up, and their own evil nature …

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New App for The Bible Study Hour! (Robert Brady)

Download the brand new free app for The Bible Study Hour featuring the expository preaching of Dr. James Montgomery Boice. You have easy anytime, anywhere access to the broadcast and the Think and Act Biblically daily devotional right on your phone or tablet.The Bible Study Hour app delivers Dr. Boice’s verse-by-verse Bible teaching on Apple and Android devices.Listen to The Bible Study Hour daily and weekend broadcastsRead Dr. Boice’s Think and Act Biblically daily devotionalUse rich search featureSave your favorite sermonsAnd very soon Alliance Friends and President Circle members will be able to:Access Dr. Boice’s sermon archivesChoose sermons based on book of the Bible or themeThe Bible Study Hour app is available from iTunes and GooglePlay. Download it free today. …

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Expository Enough? (David Prince)

Most preaching that self-identifies as expository is simply not expository enough. The basic etymological definition of expository is to expose the meaning of the biblical text.1 What is key to fleshing out that definition is rightly reckoning what one means by the word text. Can a particular text be abstracted from the canonical text and be correctly and faithfully preached or not? While many so-called expository sermons deal with a text of Scripture, the particulars of the text are often disconnected from the overall purpose and message of Scripture. For a sermon to be truly expository it must preach Christ and his kingdom–the central message of Scripture. Ignoring the Christ-centered canonical context of Scripture is no less reductionistic and problematic than ignoring the immediate context of the human author. Failing to account for the fact that the Scriptures are the supernatural word of a sovereign God errs in the same way that fanciful allegory does: both approaches exclude indispensable biblical context.

In Peter Adam’s, Speaking God’s Words: A Practical Theology of Expository Preaching, he observes that every preacher “has some kind of theology.” Adam contends that every biblically and theologically faithful preacher must believe that the Bible is God-given, theological, self-interpreting, and cohesive (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1996: 109-111). Since the Bible is cohesive, faithful preaching inevitably involves proclaiming both the intended meaning of the original author and the divine intention of the ultimate author. The principle of the analogy of Scripture (Scripture interprets Scripture) simply reminds the interpreter that the Word of God is infallibly auto-interpreting. “All Scripture is breathed out by God,” and the God who gives his Word is also the interpreter of his Word (1 Tim 3:16). What comes out of the preacher’s mouth must be faithful to the holy God to whom he will give an account and to the canon of Scripture God has …

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A Pattern for Preaching Christ (Ryan McGraw)

As children learn by watching their parents, so preachers and hearers learn much by looking at the Apostles. The principles taught in the preceding nine post risk resembling a shapeless cloud instead of a face reflected in a mirror without adding concrete examples. This post provides an example of how Paul preached Christ while the next one applies these examples to preaching other passages of Scripture.

Preachers should imitate Paul in filtering the whole counsel of God through the person and work of Christ. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians illustrates how to do this. Though this book is an epistle and not a sermon, the range of issues treated in it provides great insight into Paul’s teaching and ministry. This furnishes us with a plethora of examples for connecting Christ to virtually any biblical doctrine or practice.

Paul grounded this epistle in the relationship between Christ and the saints (1 Cor. 1:1-9). The church belongs to God and it is set apart to God in Christ (v. 2). The Corinthians called upon Christ as Lord together with all believers in every place (v. 3). Grace and peace came to them from the Father and the Son (v. 4). The church received graces and gifts from Christ (v. 5-7). In his faithfulness, God would preserve the saints in Christ to the end by virtue of their fellowship with him (v. 8-9). This introduction mirrors the nature and ends of preaching through its effects in believers’ lives.

Paul confronted disunity in the church in light of the church’s relation to Christ (chapters 1-4). Instead of dividing over who baptized them (1:10-14), the Corinthians should rally around Christ’s cross (v. 15). Believers must stop thinking like worldly people by remembering that God’s wisdom in Christ saves and unites them. By contrast, the world is united in treating Christ’s gospel as foolishness (1:18-29). Christ’s all-sufficiency reminds believers that they must boast in God and not in men (1:30-31). In order to flee division, they must remem…

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