FILTER BY:
  1. M. Kuiper, Through Many Dangers (Jenison: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2021)

 

Through Many Dangers is a work of Christian, historical fiction that has just been released this summer by the RFPA. The book is written especially for young people and details the story of a group of Dutch Reformed boys who serve in the Union Army during the Civil War. The test of faith that this service entails is a witness to God’s faithfulness amid the harrows of war and the sinful culture in which these young men live. Beacon Lights staff member Aaron Van Dyke sat down with the author to discuss the book and provided the interview below. We hope this whets your appetite for the full story!

 

  1. Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this story?

First, what inspired me to write fiction. Some years ago, in the Standard Bearer, Prof. Engelsma wrote a review of a children’s book about the struggle Reformed believers faced in the Netherlands in the 1600s. In the course of his review, he noted a lack of good Christian fiction written from a Reformed perspective and challenged Protestant Reformed young people to take up that task. I thought, well, I’m not so young, but I can do that.

Then, as to this book, Through Many Dangers. I came across some letters from soldiers from the Dutch Reformed colony in Holland, Michigan, who fought in the Civil War. They struck me as honest and real. They were spiritually minded young men, but they still did foolish things sometimes. I was intrigued by their struggle to live faithfully even when they were suddenly “out in the world.”

  1. Did the writing process involve a lot of research? What was the most surprising thing you learned in your research?

I did quite a bit of research on the Dutch emigration, the early days of the city of Holland, and various aspects of the Civil War. But when I get interested in something, I like to learn more about it, so that was an enjoyable part of writing the book.

I was surprised that Rev. Van Raalte promoted having the young men of the church volunteer to go off and fight in the war. Given their isolation in a Dutch-speaking colony and their concern to avoid worldliness, I would have expected him to resist that. But instead, he pressed on them their responsibilities as citizens. I’m sure many of the parents were less enthusiastic about that. I suspect I would have been. But still, a large number of young men went.

  1. Can you give a brief summary of the story?

The main character, Harm van Wyke, has recently turned eighteen. As the Civil War intensifies, Rev. Van Raalte urges the young men of Holland to join the infantry. Harm’s father bitterly opposes the idea. Harm is unsure at first but decides to go, mostly because his friends are going. The story follows them through the war years, as they battle the Confederate Army in Kentucky and Tennessee, then take part in General Sherman’s bloody Atlanta campaign. Along the way, they face exposure, disease, injury, and death. They also face daily temptations to forget God and turn from their faith.

  1. How much of the story actually happened? Are there any people, places, or events in the story that Beacon Lights readers might be familiar with?

The story is based very much on historical events. Rev. Van Raalte was an influential Reformed minister and leader of the emigration from the Netherlands that resulted in the establishment of the city of Holland. His church, now known as Pillar Church, still stands in Holland. The young men of Holland joined the infantry and fought in the Civil War. My main characters are fictional, but I’ve tried to portray the trials they face and their spiritual attitudes in harmony with the available research.

  1. Who are some of the main characters in the story? What kinds of spiritual struggles do they face? Will Beacon Lights readers find these characters relatable?

The main characters are Harm and his group of close friends. They were all raised to live a certain way—to honor God and walk faithfully. But once they join the infantry, they’re removed from home and church and exposed to the world as never before. They each respond in different ways. Gerrit, who plans to enter the ministry, strives to maintain his life in the infantry pretty much as he lived it in Holland. Kees is more reckless, making friends he shouldn’t make, and looking for fun in places he shouldn’t be. Ted faces life with a good dose of humor, but also experiences some unique sorrows in his family.

I think the characters are very relatable to Beacon Lights readers because young people are at the age when they too must step beyond the security of home and church and begin to make their way in the wider world. Maybe it’s at work, maybe at college, but suddenly they face new temptations. They find that living as a believer isn’t so easy—maybe it brings ridicule, maybe exclusion from a group. They discover that faith comes with a cost.

  1. Who is your favorite character in the story?

I can’t say I have a favorite. Some of the characters are more likeable than others, some make me laugh, and some are quite flawed, but they’re all in the book because I think they advance the story and reveal something important about life in this world.

  1. Why should Beacon Lights readers pick up your book?

I hope they read it because it’s a good story. I hope they find it honest, exciting, funny, touching, and thought-provoking.

  1. Do you have any advice for Beacon Lights readers who enjoy writing? Are there any resources you would recommend for writers looking for feedback?

I want to echo Prof. Engelsma in urging young people to write good fiction. The library is full of books on the craft of writing, and I can’t add much to that. But I can speak to the importance of it. Writing good Christian fiction is a unique and powerful way to use our abilities to serve God and his people. It’s okay to make that a priority.

For those who are already writing, I advise them to join a good writers’ group or form one with like-minded friends who can be genuine in their encouragement and honest in their critique. That’s been a great help to me.

  1. Would you say writing Christian fiction is more challenging than writing general fiction?

Christian fiction is difficult because you want to be so careful that you don’t write something that presents the story in a way that is wrong, or misunderstood, or harmful. On the other hand, our daily struggle to walk faithfully despite our sinful inclinations and the temptations of the world is an unending source of conflict, which is the backbone of every good story.

  1. Do you have any other writing projects in the works?

I have several other stories in various stages of development. Because Through Many Dangers takes place in the infantry, it deals mostly with young men. Hopefully my next book will be able to focus more on strong female characters as well.

 

Originally published Vol 80, No 11 November 2021

You can thank God that when you graduate from high school, you have the option of attending a college or university. When God’s people spend a few years delving deeply into mathematics, the sciences, history, or the languages, God’s works are magnified, and he is glorified. Higher education is a good gift. Here on earth, however, spiritual dangers attend every good gift and legitimate activity. Of course, that’s true of studying at college as well.

Spiritual dangers threaten when we study at secular universities. There the believing student sits in classrooms where God’s existence is ignored, questioned, or ridiculed. He walks a campus where moral relativism is the name of the game. He works on school projects alongside peers who reserve their weekends for open debauchery. None of this comes as a surprise.

But spiritual dangers also threaten when we study at Christian universities. This article will highlight two categories of danger that the believing student will encounter in this setting. The article will also touch upon two great spiritual benefits that an education at a Christian university offers.

The first category of spiritual danger that you will face at a Christian university is the danger of over-embracing the school’s mission and worldview. Every Christian university is different, of course, but today many Christian universities have been overrun by postmillennialism, the higher criticism of scripture, and a brand of critical theory that takes a Christian veneer. If you do not guard against the danger of over-embracing this sort of college atmosphere, you may be warmed up to these ideas by Bible classes that gently undermine the authority of scripture: “It’s not meant to be a science textbook, after all…” and by social studies classes that undermine the moral credibility of your families: “Your parents’ understanding of the issues is a little simple; not as ‘nuanced’ as yours is now. And by the way, they’re full of racial biases.” The lies will play upon your pride, your ignorance, and your fear. Be on guard against them.

You must be on guard against embracing lies, but you must also be on guard against embracing spiritually detrimental friendships. You will sit in classes with people who have the same interests and career aspirations as you. Friendships will not be hard to form. Christian universities have many bright, energetic young people who are excited to serve a Jesus who does not hate or judge sin. It can be tempting to befriend such people and to justify it with something about how “PRs” aren’t the only ones saved. It can be tempting to join your newfound friends in their trampling of the antithesis. Be on guard against this. Make friends with people who will strengthen your walk with Christ, not undermine it.

To guard against embracing false teaching or spiritually detrimental friendships, read the scriptures. Read the scriptures often. One great benefit of attending a Christian university is that there are many opportunities to make yourself familiar with scripture. The Bible is often quoted to support various ideas. When this happens, make it your business to search the scriptures daily to see if these things are so (Acts 17:11). Before establishing friendships, evaluate whether your acquaintance strives for the life of holy thankfulness laid out in scripture. Pray that God will keep your heart and mind from error.

The second category of spiritual danger that you may face at a Christian university is to become cynical. Seeing errors at your university, you may be tempted to dismiss even the good and profitable things that the school has to offer.

One of those good things is relationships with other Bible-believing Christians. When you look around at all your classmates who are deceived, the danger is to become discouraged. With Elijah, you may despair and cry, “Everyone’s a false Christian…and I, even I only, am left!” Your eyes well up with despondent tears as you look across the campus lawn, blinded to your fellow believers who do exist with you on campus. Be on guard against this. If you too hastily condemn everyone else, so that you’re the only believer left standing in your mind, then you’ll cut yourself off from the possibility of being encouraged by and learning from your fellow believers on campus. You’ll also inadvertently relieve yourself of your duty to be an encouragement to them.

The cure for cynicism is to seek out fellow members of Christ’s body on campus. Reread Belgic Confession article 29. The article identifies the marks of true Christians. Armed with this knowledge, keep your eyes open for those in your classes with whom you can enjoy good fellowship and profitable discussion. If there are theologically conservative professors at your school, be receptive to the help and encouragement that they will be happy to give to you. One of the greatest joys and benefits of a Christian college is finding a group of believers who “have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal” (Rom. 11:4) and are willing to study the scriptures with you and pray for you. Such friends in the Lord are a true blessing.

You will face spiritual dangers wherever God calls you after high school. If you are considering attending a Christian university, begin to think about what you will face there. Prepare for the dangers. But think about the benefits too and enjoy the assurance of 1 Corinthians 10:13: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

 

The following is a list of resources that I found helpful during my time at a Christian university. I’d encourage young people who are thinking about attending a Christian university (and their parents) to read some or all of the following books and articles as they prepare for college:

 

  • Greg Gilbert and Kevin DeYoung, What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom and the Great Commission (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011).

 

  • David Engelsma, Christianizing the World: Reformed Calling or Ecclesiastical Suicide? (Jenison, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2016).

 

  • Cory Griess, “A Report from the Desert,” Protestant Reformed Theological Journal 53, no. 1 (2019): 27–45.

 

  • Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020).

 

 

Originally published August 2021, Vol 80 No 8

Like many of our people, I often watch online videos of the Covenant Christian High School choirs. I am always struck by the beauty of the songs, but as Mr. Kleyn’s camera steadily pans across the singing faces, something else often jumps out at me as well. As I look, I am startled by the number of faces representing homes that I know are affected by pain and unrest. The number includes only cases that I know about; the flock of Christ contains many homes touched by God in especially painful ways. Watch the videos. Read the bulletins. Glance around the sanctuary pews. You will see many injured sheep in special need of their Shepherd’s tender care.

Christ, our good Shepherd, gives that care through various means. One of those means is the pastor of a congregation. When injured members of the flock need to be strengthened, the command of John 21:16–17 comes to the pastor: “Feed my sheep.” When some in the flock are faint-hearted, infirm, or stumbling, 1 Thessalonians 5:14 commands the pastor: “comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.” A pastor must be able to do this; it is essential. By God’s grace it is also possible.

As we examine how a pastor mercifully feeds and tends to injured sheep, we will first consider the content of the care he must bring. Second, we will examine the manner in which he must bring it. We will see that a faithful pastor, using the word, extracts the sheep from harmful places, carries them toward the safety and comfort of the good pastures, and does so repeatedly and patiently.

For an undershepherd to nourish God’s sheep effectively, he must give them the proper food. What is this food? Put simply, it is the word of Christ. He is “the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die” (John 6:50). His word is the “sincere milk” whereby we grow (1 Pet. 2:2). “Hearken[ing] diligently” to him, our soul “eat[s]…that which is good, and…delight[s] itself in fatness” (Isa. 55:2). The Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism set forth Christ as our spiritual meat and drink in their treatments of the Lord’s Supper.[1] Heads 3–4.17 of the Canons of Dordt explicitly identifies the preaching of the word as the “means…ordained to be the…food of the soul,” just as physical food and drink are the means ordained to “prolong and support this our natural life.”[2] Through time, Reformed fathers have concurred: to feed the sheep, the undershepherd must bring the word.[3]

A pastor must not feed the sheep with anything other than that word. As he sits in his office creating “meal plans,” a pastor must bear in mind the truth that “office bearers are nothing more, yet also nothing less than undershepherds under Christ. They are His servants, who are mandated by Him to feed the flock and to be overseers over God’s heritage in His Name.”[4] The pastor does not own the flock. Christ owns the flock, and Christ will choose what to feed the flock.

This is especially important for a pastor to remember when he is visiting injured sheep. Seeing the spiritual cuts and bruises, the pastor may be tempted to abandon the solid food of the word and instead experiment with all kinds of strange remedies. The theological snake-oils advertised to pastors are endless in our day: “Try a little bit of uplifting philosophy on your ailing sheep,” one expert says. “For best results, mix in a compelling story,” adds a salesman. “Maybe what’s needed is some all-natural community service,” speculates another. Substituting such “food” for God’s word is folly. At best, the sheep will starve. At worst, the already suffering sheep will be poisoned.

Christ is the only one who can feed his sheep. Therefore, his word alone will nourish.

When a pastor visits a sheep and faithfully expounds the word, Christ is speaking. If we may speak this way, when a pastor cracks open his Bible, he might as well have opened up the clouds of heaven themselves. The word sounds; the voice of Christ rings out. There is a visitation from on high. The sheep beholds Christ by faith, feeding upon him. This is a sobering thought to the undershepherd, who fervently pleads with God, “Don’t let my word get in the way of thine!”

Just as important as the content a shepherd brings is the manner in which he brings it. Injured sheep are sensitive. If an undershepherd is incompetent in his handling of the word or in his handling of the sheep, the sheep will quickly pick up on this. They will not trust him or the word he brings. If an undershepherd works haphazardly or roughly with the sheep, the sheep may be left with the impression that the Shepherd the undershepherd represents is similarly careless or harsh. Conversely, when an undershepherd handles the word effectively and in kindness and mercy, the sheep are given a clearer view of the Good Shepherd, who “healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds,” pitying them “as a father pitieth his children” (Ps. 147:3; 103:13).

A pastor should have the humility to seek wise guidance when applying God’s word to specific hurting homes. When he does this, he will be shown a general manner of shepherding injured sheep that consists, first, of using the word to carefully expose and address whatever danger is threatening the sheep in their particular circumstances; second, of using the word to lead the sheep back to a place of spiritual safety; and third, of using the word to patiently repeat these two steps as often as needed, knowing that sheep are prone to regress and wander.

This is the pastoral approach of the Heidelberg Catechism, which comes to us as sheep in need of comfort. First, the Catechism addresses the danger that we are in. Knowing that we are prone to minimize our sins, the Catechism addresses the source of our misery: life apart from Christ. Second, the Catechism shows us the remedy to that misery: deliverance from sin and the resulting thankful life with God that follows. Third, the Catechism (by design) repeats itself annually, knowing that the congregation needs constant reminding. A faithful pastor does well to follow the lead of the Catechism, showing firmness, warmth, and consistency.

Gisbertus Voetius, a Reformed church father who served as a delegate to the Synod of Dordt, also exhibits this three-part pattern of shepherding in a pastoral work entitled Spiritual Desertion. He presents steps in restoring spiritually depressed saints that are “part purgative [meaning they address the dangers and underlying problems that may stalk the saint] and part restorative [meaning they re-establish the saint, leading him back to spiritual health].[5] Voetius urges perseverance when tending to a spiritually depressed saint, prescribing prayer and patience for those who relapse. Voetius’ meticulous care and extensive scriptural applications when bringing pastoral care are instructive to pastors seeking to diligently diagnose and treat their own sheep who have lost the sense of God’s favor.

This pastoral approach is also seen in some of Martin Luther’s writings. In a sermon on preparing to die, Luther begins each of his points by addressing a specific inner turmoil that a saint on his deathbed may struggle with. After exposing the devil’s hand behind the turmoil, Luther presents the spiritual remedy, along with pertinent scriptural quotations. Within his sermon, Luther often repeats and reminds his congregation of the fountainhead of their comfort: the knowledge of one’s justification in Christ.[6]

Likewise, in a text addressing women whose pregnancies have not gone well, Luther begins by first addressing the fears of bereaved mothers: “It is not their fault…God is not angry with them or with others who are involved.”[7] He follows this by directing their attention to the hope they have in loss: “Whatever Christians sincerely pray, especially in the unexpressed yearnings of their hearts, becomes a great, unbearable cry in God’s ears. God must listen.”[8] Luther ends by enumerating saints in the Old and New Testaments who suffered similar sorrows and were heard by God. He repeatedly shows that God hears the sobs of mothers. A pastor seeking to bind up the wounds of his own dying sheep and crying ewes would do well to imitate Luther’s empathy, kindness, and conviction.

When a pastor looks over his congregation and sees families that are touched by grief or turmoil, God gives him a heart of empathy for his hurting sheep. God works it in the pastor to feed his sheep from the word and the word alone. God gives the pastor a spirit of kindness toward the sheep that seeks to warn and extract them from danger and point them to the path of life. An attitude of mercy is worked in the pastor, which persists in ministering to injured sheep though difficulty and setback. The pastor works as an instrument in the Shepherd’s hand, the hand that holds bruised and battered sheep within its tender care.

 

References:

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 2, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), 316–318.

The Confessions and Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches (Grandville, MI: Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 2005).

Cornelius Hanko, “The Office in the Church,” Standard Bearer 25, no.12 (March 15, 1949): 284.

Herman Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1985), 631–634.

Martin Luther, A Sermon on Preparing to Die in The Annotated Luther, Pastoral Writings, vol. 4, ed. Mary Jane Haeming (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2016), 290–305.

Martin Luther, Consolation for Women Whose Pregnancies Have Not Gone Well in The Annotated Luther, Pastoral Writings, vol. 4, ed. Mary Jane Haeming (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2016), 422–424.

Gisbertus Voetius and Johannes Hoornbeeck, Spiritual Desertion, ed. M. Eugene Osterhaven, trans. John Vriend and Harry Boonstra (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013), 46–49.

 

Originally published December 2020, Vol 79 No 12

 

[1] Belgic Confession 35 and Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 28, in The Confessions and Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches (Grandville, MI: Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 2005).

[2] Canons of Dordt 3–4.17, in The Confessions and Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches.

[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 2, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), 316–318.

Hoeksema, Herman, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1985), 631–635.

[4] Cornelius Hanko, “The Office in the Church,” Standard Bearer 25, no. 12 (March 15, 1949): 284.

[5] Gisbertus Voetius and Johannes Hoornbeeck, Spiritual Desertion, ed. M. Eugene Osterhaven, trans. John Vriend and Harry Boonstra (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013), 46–49.

[6] Martin Luther, A Sermon on Preparing to Die in The Annotated Luther, Pastoral Writings, vol. 4, ed. Mary Jane Haeming (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2016), 290–305.

[7] Martin Luther, Consolation for Women Whose Pregnancies Have Not Gone Well in The Annotated Luther, Pastoral Writings, vol. 4, ed. Mary Jane Haeming (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2016), 422–423.

[8] Consolation for Women, 424.

What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission, Kevin DeYoung, Greg Gilbert, Crossway, 2011, paperback, 288 pp.

 

There is confusion among young people today about the mission of the church. This confusion is being spread by “Reformed” colleges and universities who are presenting cultural redemption, premillennialism, and leftist political philosophy in the garb of Reformed Christianity. Buzzwords like “shalom,” “vocational mission,” and “agents of renewal” fly from lecterns thick and fast. These words and their accompanying worldview are presented with many twisted scriptural proofs. Falsely, they are presented as the worldview of Christ, as the essence of Reformed theology, and as the mission of the church.

In an effort to protect Reformed young people from this confusion, authors Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert wrote What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission. Understandable, organized, and thorough, the book does an excellent job of critiquing popular errors about the mission of the church and setting forward biblical principles in their place.

From beginning to end, the reader will enjoy the authors’ emphasis on correct scriptural interpretation. In my opinion, this is the book’s greatest strength. After a brief introductory chapter, the authors dive right in to examining the most-quoted Bible passages that are twisted to support erroneous views of the church’s mission in this world. Exegeting each passage in simple language, the authors look at the biblical context and the grammar of each passage to find its true meaning. By doing this, the authors demonstrate that in both the Old and New Testaments, God’s mission on earth is not social transformation for all nations, but rather the forgiveness of sins for a particular people. Since Christ’s mission on earth was gospel-centered, argue the authors, the church’s mission should be gospel-centered as well. The following quote gives a good sense of the prevailing content and tone of the book:

 

We know this sounds heartless, but it’s true: it simply was not Jesus’s

driving ambition to heal the sick and meet the needs of the poor…The

mission of Jesus is not service broadly conceived, but the proclamation

                        of the gospel through teaching, the corroboration of the gospel through

signs and wonders, and the accomplishment of the gospel in death and

resurrection (pp. 55, 57).

 

In the chapters that follow this, the authors give a general overview of the Bible, demonstrating that in all their parts, the scriptures have the person and work of Christ, not the formation of an earthly utopia, as their focus. In opposition to the popular teachings of many Christian colleges and universities, the authors also go to great lengths to deny that it is the church’s mission to “partner” with God in extending a “cultural kingdom”:

 

…that’s the really glorious thing about the gospel of Jesus. Everything we

have—and everything we will ever have—is given to us. We will not have

earned it; we will not have built it. We will simply have received it all. When

eternity finally comes, we will live in a land that was made and created for us,

under a kingdom that was won and established for us, by a Savior who died

and was resurrected for us. Put simply, the gospel is the good news of

salvation, in all its parts, that is for us, and not in the least by us

[emphasis theirs] (p. 208).

 

Besides giving a good overview of the gospel message and the mission of the church, the authors do an excellent job of giving biblical guidance about common questions that young adults think about in college, such as: Does the Bible say anything about capitalism and socialism? Does the Old Testament advocate the formation of a welfare state? What is the concept of shalom, and is it biblical? What does the Bible say about the continuity between this present earth and the new heavens and new earth? As a Christian, what are my responsibilities toward the panhandlers downtown? The reader will notice with appreciation that in answering these questions, the authors affirm the Pentateuch as literal history, they explicitly present an amillennial view of the end times, they define the “kingdom” of God as “the redemptive reign of God over His people,” and they take the truths of sin and hell seriously.

For all its strengths and usefulness, I did notice three weaknesses in the book. First, the authors fail to recognize that the errors they are warning against have direct roots in the false teaching of common grace. As a consequence of this, the discerning reader will detect sentiments of common grace here and there in the book (with the actual words “common grace” appearing once as a partial explanation of why capitalism has worked out so well for so many countries). Second, in three places in the book, the authors apply the image of God to all people, rather than to only God’s people. My third criticism of the book is more mild than the first two, and that is that in my opinion, the authors do not write with all the urgency and warning that I think their important topic deserves today. I do grant that this may be an effort on their part to apply the exhortation of Colossians 4:5–6.

            Despite this, What Is the Mission of the Church? stands as a readable, organized collection of proof texts for a (truly) Reformed worldview. Full of biblical principles and practical applications, it will help the reader (young and old alike) maintain a scriptural outlook on politics, charity work, and the true mission of the church here on earth. If you are a young adult thinking about higher education, or if you are a parent of such a young person, this excellent book is a must-read.

 

Originally published June 2020, Vol 79 No 6

There are many things that a young man who desires to be a pastor does not know. If it is God’s will that he be called to office, the young man does not know where the Lord will call him to labor. He does not know the circumstances that God may bring to his ministry or the specific strengths and needs of the congregation he will serve. Amid the uncertainty, however, such a young man can be certain that he will be called to serve amid suffering people. He will suffer for God’s sake. His flock will suffer for God’s sake. The Bible tells him so. In Acts 14:22 we read, “[W]e must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God;2 Corinthians 1:5 makes the striking statement that “the sufferings of Christ abound in us”; and in John 16:33 Jesus himself assures us that  “[i]n the world ye shall have tribulation.” While on earth, our Lord suffered. As his children, we share in the fellowship of his sufferings.1 

As we examine concrete examples of the suffering that a pastor and the congregation he serves endure, we will first note the suffering that God’s people undergo due to the sins of others. We will then consider the suffering that the children of God experience when they sin. Finally, we will examine suffering that we will broadly categorize as “painful providence”: suffering that God is pleased to send that cannot be traced to the actions of ourselves or of others. In every season of suffering, a pastor must be ready to open scripture to the Lord’s flock. He must expose the temptations that arise amid suffering, deliver the word that God would have his suffering people hear, and live himself as a godly example of suffering for Christ’s sake. 

God’s people suffer because of the sins of others. This was the experience of Timothy, who suffered reproach for his godliness and trust in the living God (1 Tim. 4:810). This truth was borne out in the life David, who cried for deliverance from those who would “tear (his) soul like a lion, rending it in pieces” (Ps. 7:12). This suffering was felt by Daniel, whose enemies sought to tear like a lion not only his soul but his body as well (Dan. 6:7). Christ himself foretold of men reviling, persecuting, and saying all manner of evil against his people falsely for his sake (Matt. 5:11). No one can number the great crowd of saints in scripture and the history books which have suffered because of the sins of others (Rev. 7:9, 14). 

Members of the church today share in the persecutions of the church triumphant. They suffer when they live in a manner that is consistent with their profession and are made the butt of jokes at work. When a young person refuses to join crass joking and wild gatherings, his name may be smeared, and his popularity may wane. He suffers for God’s sake. God’s people suffer when people take advantage of the fact that Christians will turn their cheeks, give up their cloaks, and go the extra mile (Matt. 5:3944). When a man leaves the church and abandons his believing wife and children with it, they suffer for God’s sake. Believing families suffer long nights crying over the unrepentant sin of a child or sibling. Instead of allowing the sin to go unaddressed, they warn their loved one of impending danger. Their warnings alienate; fellowship is lost. They suffer for God’s sake. In some nations God’s people are physically attacked, imprisoned, and killed for daring to name the name of Christ.  

Besides the empathetic tears a pastor sheds with the people of God in their suffering, he will experience his own suffering for Christ’s sake as well. A pastor is not exempt from suffering at the hands of sinners; he works with them every day. Living in his glass parsonage, a pastor can expect to be unfairly criticized from time to time, regardless of how well he performs his duties. The pastor will suffer when he chooses to preach the whole counsel of God in a biblical manner, rather than choosing to play politics in his church. When influential men in the congregation try to cozy up to him, and he refuses to be a respecter of persons, he will suffer. As an undershepherd, a faithful pastor will spend days untangling knots of sin within the flock. He will spend nights praying over sheep who are straying. He suffers because of the sins of others. 

Amid these sufferings, there are two dangers against which a pastor must guard himself and his flock. The first danger is that the members of the church blur antithetical lines between themselves and those who would persecute them for their godly walk in an effort to minimize their suffering. The leisurely path of no resistance is tempting. The ability to conform oneself to this world and to run with them to the same excess of riot (1 Pet. 4:4) is easy in an increasingly connected society. Likewise, a pastor may be tempted to soft-peddle the sharp word of God and to cater to itching ears (2 Tim. 4:14). His fear of suffering may tempt him to favor certain segments of the congregation over others (Gal. 2:1112). 

The second danger is for God’s people sinfully to call down fire from heaven upon the heads of those who sin against them (Luke 9:54). The devil whispers, “An eye for an eye,” and we are tempted to indulge indignation, to lift up unholy swords, and to start swinging (John 18:10). A pastor’s old man of sin can be attracted to this. When he is sinned against, his first reaction can be to begin striking rocks from the pulpit, with the pen, or in private discussions, instead of speaking the words of God (Num. 20:1011). 

A pastor must be on guard against these two ditches. When members of his congregation cry out the words of Psalm 13:2,[H]ow long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?” the pastor must bring Christ’s words of peace to them: “be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The pastor must give and share in the comfort that God’s people are blessed by the Lord when they suffer the sins of others for his sake (Matt. 5:1112). A pastor must preach the truth that the apparent prosperity of the church’s persecutors dulls, blinds, and hardens them unto destruction, and that those who curse the people of God are themselves cursed (Gen. 12:3).2 The pastor must exhibit the demeanor of Christ,[w]ho, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23). God’s people who suffer because of the sins of others must hear God’s clear voice say through the preacher, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). 

God’s people do not only suffer for Christ’s sake because of the sins of others. They also suffer because of their own sins. They do not suffer God’s curse for their sins; Christ has borne away all of the curse for our sins.3 Nevertheless, the sins of God’s people are the occasion for much suffering in their lives. A great internal battle wages in every regenerate heart. We hate evil, and yet our old man loves evil; our new man and old man are in constant, mortal combat. As covenant children of God, it hurts us when we realize that we have lost another battle and have sinned against our Father…again. We exclaim with Paul in frustration and sorrow, “[T]he good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do! (Rom. 7:19). This sorrow and heartache are worked by the Holy Spirit. This pain is a suffering for Jesus’ sake. 

A pastor experiences this suffering when he walks into the parsonage on Sunday evening after the service and commits the sin that he had condemned in that night’s sermon. He experiences this suffering when he is counseling a young person who is ailing from a particular sin and realizes that he himself is riddled from head to toe with that sin. As one who is called to exhibit particular blamelessness, vigilance, sobriety, and good behavior (1 Tim. 3:2), the pastor’s conscience is pricked a little more deeply when he lays his head down at night and thinks about how he has treated his wife and children that day. 

God does not will that his people wallow in this suffering. Rather, he uses this particular form of suffering to bring us into a humbled state in which we more fully glorify God and are enabled to enjoy his gracious mercy.4 Though a pastor grieves and suffers in his heart over his sins, it would be inappropriate for him constantly to go about with a dour face, lamenting his sinfulness. Rather, he must be the joyful mouthpiece of the voice of God, which proclaims from heaven, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isa. 40:12). He must try to reflect the warmth and grace of God, which comes to repentant church members and assures them: “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him” (Hos. 14:4). 

In a self-indulgent society that ignores or condones sin, the pastor must be a voice bringing the people of God to the knowledge of how great their sins and miseries are, and then bringing their suffering hearts to the foot of the cross. When the devil comes creeping, whispering, and accusing, the pastor must arrive with the gospel message that no one can lay anything to the charge of God’s elect. “It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?” (Rom. 8:3334). Again and again, a pastor must cut through the devil’s accusations with the reminder to God’s people that they must not despair of God’s mercy nor continue in sin, since by their baptism they have the seal and undoubted testimony of the eternal covenant of grace with God.”5  

God’s people do not only suffer in connection with the sins of others or themselves. Often God is pleased to send trials and suffering into the lives of his people entirely apart from specific sins that are committed. We are all familiar with such circumstances. Perhaps the Lord sends some type of disappointment into the dating life, the work-life, or the social life of one of his children. Perhaps he frustrates some goal that his child had been working toward for years. God’s people suffer when they are forced to watch those whom they love struggle with disease or some special need. God’s people suffer when they themselves are touched with disease or some special need. In the valley of the shadow of death, God’s people suffer. This painful providence is sent for the spiritual advantage of God’s people.6 God orders it for the perfecting of his saints and the ultimate glorification of his name; we can say then that this suffering is undergone for God’s sake.  

A pastor can, of course, be touched with the same types of suffering as his flock. However, though all God’s people hurt when one member hurts (I Cor. 12:26), a pastor’s suffering for God’s sake in this way can be unique. The pastor is usually present with God’s people during their most difficult times. He calls on troubled spouses and distraught parents; he sits by the bedsides of God’s people and walks with them to their gravesides. In empathy and an undershepherd’s love, the many burdens of God’s flock weigh on a pastor’s mind. He suffers under the painful providence of God. 

When painful providence arises in congregations that confess the truth of God’s omnipotence and sovereignty, the danger is not so much that we doubt God’s abilities, but rather that we doubt God’s motives. In moments of weakness, we may ask amid our suffering, “Is the Lord punishing me?” “Is he setting his face against me?” or even: “Does God hate me?” As Reformed people, we confess the total depravity of our old man. The devil twists this to his own ends. He presents the sins of our old man to us and says, “You see? You deserve this. This disappointment, this sickness, this loss, it’s all a manifestation of God’s temporal judgment upon you; you’re not one of his children.” Unbelieving and hopeless society chimes in with the devil’s lies and advises, “Curse God, eat, drink, and die.”7 

A pastor must recognize these threats to himself and to the congregation he serves. When God’s providential hand is heavy upon him, he must, as a good example to his congregation, proclaim with Job, “[T]he Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21) and “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15). He must glory in tribulations (Rom. 5:3) and pray for the grace to “reckon that the suffering of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). 

God’s people suffer because of the sins of others; a pastor must herald the one who “executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed” (Ps. 103:6). God’s people suffer because of their sins; a pastor must bring the good news of the one who “hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10). God’s people suffer because of the Lord’s painful providence; a pastor must assure the flock that God pities them “as a father pitieth his children” (Ps. 103:13). It is God’s will that we his people hear of his love for us for the sake of the one who “hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4), who sits in heaven as an high priest who is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Heb. 4:15), and who will someday “wipe away all tears” from the eyes of his suffering people (Rev. 21:4). 

In 1924, the Christian Reformed Synod of Kalamazoo made the striking claim that the Canons of Dordt support the theory of common grace. The synod did not merely claim that the theory of common grace did not conflict with the Canons, but also that the theory of common grace was actually to be found within the Canons.1 This article will briefly examine the portions of the Canons that the synod cited in support of the theory of common grace. It will reveal that common grace is not to be found in the Canons. 

The first place that the Synod of Kalamazoo claimed to find common grace in the Canons was in Head II, Article 5. Here the Canons were quoted to support the first point of common grace, which teaches that God reveals his “favorable attitude…toward humanity in general and not only to the elect,” in (as the Canons say) the “promiscuous[ly]” preached gospel message “that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life.2 The synod noted that the Canons speak of God’s good pleasure in commanding that the preaching of the gospel be brought to all nations, including many men who are not elect.  

Though Canons II, 5 does indeed speak of Gods good pleasure in sending the gospel to all nations, a common grace to those nations makes no appearance in this article.3 Notice that the object of Gods “good pleasure”  is not humanity (“all persons…without distinction”), but rather the promiscuous sending of the gospel itself. In response to the false charge that Calvinism cripples the basis for mission work, the fathers at Dordt were reasserting that Gods church must preach the gospel to as many as we are able, for it is Gods will, his good pleasure, to send out the gospel promiscuously.4 If common grace is to be found within the Canons, Canons II, 5 does not contain it. 

The second place in the Canons that the Synod of Kalamazoo spotted common grace was in Heads III/IV, Articles 8 & 9. In these articles, the statements that those who hear the gospel are “unfeignedly called” and that what is “acceptable” to God is “that they who are called should come unto him” were taken by the synod to be expressions that the preaching of the gospel is grace to the hearers and (significantly) that it is Gods desire that all those who hear the gospel respond positively to it; the offer of the gospel is a well-meant offer.5  In Canons III/IV, 9 the statements that the fault for the rejection of the gospel does not lie in the gospel, Christ, or God, and that in addition to the gospel, God “confers upon [men] various gifts” were interpreted to the same end.6 

As with Canons II, 5, the Synod of Kalamazoo did not demonstrate how Canons III/IV, 8 & 9 point to a favor of God upon all those who hear the gospel. It is true that the will of Gods command is that every man who hears the gospel repents and believes. This is what is pleasing, or “acceptable,” to God. The fact that not all men are able to do this does not make God’s command unreasonable or feigned. Man is like a servant who has committed suicide, thereby removing his ability to obey his masters orders. Gods command still remains, and it is serious, but as Prof. Hoeksema notes, the Synod of Kalamazoo “calmly change[d] seriously to well-meaningly…”7  

The third place that the Canons were used to support the theory of common grace was in Heads III/IV, Article 4. This article was cited in connection with the third point of common grace, which teaches that through a non-saving operation of the Holy Spirit, the unregenerate can perform civil good in Gods eyes. The portion of Canons III/IV, 4 that the Synod of Kalamazoo quoted was as follows: “There remain, however, in man since the fall the glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the differences between good and evil, and discovers some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for maintaining an orderly external deportment.8 According to the proponents of common grace, these “glimmerings of natural light” in natural man are what account for his ability to perform “good” in Gods eyes and are manifestations of God’s common grace.9 

Notably, in their official declaration of the three points, the Synod of Kalamazoo failed to include the second half of Canons III/IV, 4, instead referencing only the first half of the article.10 This choice is strange, because the portion of the article that was omitted gives the reader some important information about the nature of the glimmerings of natural light: 

“…But so far is this light of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving  

knowledge of God and to true conversion, that he is incapable of using it aright even 

in things natural and civil. Nay further, this light, such as it is, man in various ways  

renders wholly polluted, and holds it in unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes  

inexcusable before God.11 

Given its broader context, the article is saying in essence: “Make no mistake, man is dead in sin. Dont confuse some retention of the knowledge of God with goodness done aright in his eyes, and dont confuse ‘some regard for maintaining an orderly external deportment’ with goodness done ‘aright.” Nowhere do the Canons suggest that these retained characteristics in natural man are pleasing to God. How can they be? Rather than being used to reflect a life of true knowledge, righteous, and holiness, “this light, such as it is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted, and holds it in unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes inexcusable before God.12 

The Canons of Dordt do not contain common grace. Instead, they illustrate the comforting, timeless message of Gods sovereign, particular grace. In Jeremiah 6:16, the Lord commands, “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” Those who twist the words of the confessions and depart from them say, “We will not walk therein.” Young people, will you walk therein? Read the confessions. Know the confessions. Love the comforting truths of the confessions. In those paths you will find rest for your souls. 

 

Bibliography 

 

The Confessions and Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Grandville, MI: Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 2005. 

Engelsma, David J. Common Grace Revisited. Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2003.  

Hoeksema, Herman. A Triple Breach in the Foundation of the Reformed Truth. 4th printing. Grandville, MI: Evangelism Committee of Southwest PRC, 2001.  

Hoeksema, Homer C. The Voice of Our Fathers. Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1980.  

 

“Paul, a [slave] of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God.” Though our King James Version uses the word “servant” rather than “slave,” that is how we can read the apostle Paul’s introduction of himself in the opening verse of his letter to the Romans.­ Paul, the great preacher, and evangelist to the Gentiles calls himself a slave. What’s more, we find that the title “slave” precedes “called to be an apostle” and “separated unto the gospel of God.” Why is this? Paul leads with this title because he knows that both his calling as an apostle and his separation unto the gospel ministry mean nothing apart from his slavery to Christ. As we examine what it means to be a slave of God, especially for a pastor and the flock he serves, we will see that Paul’s inspired word-choice carries a revelation of how God would have his people view themselves and their callings in this world. We will see that properly living one’s life as a slave of God means consciously operating within the twofold reality of God’s ownership of and authority over us his slaves.
When we hear the word “slave” our minds generally go to kidnapping and whip-cracking, cotton fields and galley benches, use, and abuse. As free citizens in the twenty-first century, the images that the word evokes cause us to bristle. We might wonder then how Paul could justify using the word “slave” to describe his relationship with his savior. Was Paul unaware of the truth that he was God’s son for Jesus’ sake (1 John 3:1)? Did Paul forget that as a child of God, he was numbered among Christ’s brethren (Heb. 2:17)? It is important for us to remember that when Paul calls himself a slave of God and Jesus Christ, he isn’t talking about scourges, chains, and abuse. Rather, Paul is emphasizing aspects of our relationship to Christ that are uniquely pictured in slavery.
The first of those aspects is the truth that Christ owns his people. When a pastor considers his calling to live his life as God’s slave and to exhort his sheep to do the same, this truth must be first in his mind. Before setting to work in his Master’s fields of harvest, he must consider that he belongs “body and soul, both in life and death…unto [his] faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” Unless he properly understands this truth, he will have no foundation to build upon in his preaching and pastoring. We will look at three major considerations that go with the reflection on Christ’s ownership. For a man who desires to minister to God’s people, all three considerations are essential for him to understand rightly.
The first consideration is that we are Christ’s property because we have been purchased from great destruction at great cost. To continue to quote the Heidelberg Catechism: Christ, “with his precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all [our] sins, and delivered [us] from all the power of the devil.” Once serving a cruel taskmaster with no hope of escape, we have been taken from what was indeed scourges, chains, and abuse, and have been “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 7:23). This is the good news that a pastor is called to bring to his congregation. A pastor must be personally convicted of this good news before he can do this. “I was fettered in the bonds of sin and damnation by nature, but now I belong to a new Master, the Lord Jesus!” This is the gospel message.
The second and third considerations that the truth of Christ’s ownership brings are closely tied together. They are the realization of our own passivity in the purchasing process and the resulting confidence that we have in our preservation as slaves of Christ. When Christ strides into the slave-market, looks at a man or woman, and says, “mine” there is no question about who has bought whom. We didn’t seek him out; we didn’t give him any reason to seek us out. Without our having any say in the matter (thanks be to God) we find ourselves being exchanged into the hands of our Lord and led to his estate. Because we belong to an unchanging God who purchased us apart from anything we did, we are assured that our “election made by Him can neither be interrupted nor changed, recalled or annulled.” A pastor must rightly understand these truths to rightly view the work that he does as being non-meritorious, but rather born out of thankfulness. Additionally, he must rightly understand these truths to effectively defend and promote them among his congregation and in this world.
These truths of Christ’s ownership must be defended because they are under attack from all sides today. In the United States, the election of a president whose vice-president is openly pro-life goaded herds of women to lumber through the streets of many of our nation’s major cities, bawling, “My body, my choice!” On May 26, in Dublin, swarms of Irish voters cried and embraced in celebration over the recent repeal of an abortion ban. To such people, the idea of Christ’s ownership (by virtue of creation for unbelievers and by the added virtue of redemption for his elect) is abhorrent. Such would have Jesus’ maidservants rise up in rebellion against the One who owns them, body and soul. Such people would have Christ’s slaves believe that their Master has no claim on their bodies.
Within the sphere of the church-world comes the semi-pelagian lie that Christ’s ownership of his people is only partial; there remains yet a part of us that we own and direct in cooperation with Christ. According to this lie, rather than being slaves, passively purchased and eternally retained, we are hired hands, free to come and go as our own will dictates. Others, from so-called Reformed colleges, propagate the idea that the slaves of God and the slaves of mammon are to join hands in a cooperative effort to be “agents of renewal” in this world. What is this renewal? It is the service “of all humanity:” the address of issues such as air pollution and the attempt to rectify social injustice in the name of the Master. All of this is done while largely ignoring the tasks that the Master has given his Church, to preach the pure word and to spread of the Christ-centered gospel message.
Perhaps more threatening to a pastor’s proper walk as a slave of Christ is his old man of sins natural resistance to being subjugated to Jesus. It is in connection with this natural rebellion that we consider the second reality that a pastor seeking to live as a slave of Christ lives out. Having considered the reality that Christ owns us, we have seen the basis for the second aspect of our relationship to Christ that is pictured in slavery, namely, that Christ has complete authority over us, his slaves. We will note three ways that this authority especially manifests itself in a pastor’s life and three ways that he exhorts the members of his flock, particularly the young people, to live out of this truth.
One way that the truth of Christ’s authority manifests itself in a pastor’s life is in his faithful stewardship of the gifts and opportunities that Christ has given him in his office. The theme of a slave’s obligation of faithful stewardship is prominent in the bible. In Matthew 24:45, Christ commends faithful stewards, saying, “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find him so doing.” The unique position that a pastor has in the church may tempt him to use his Lord’s estate to increase his own position in this life. By grace, a pastor fights against this inclination. Can the pastor speak eloquently? His golden tongue is filled with his master’s truths. Does the pastor have a first-rate intellect? He sets his mind on delving into the words of his Lord. Is the pastor looked up to? He leads Christ’s people in a way that magnifies God. Why? Because Christ’s authority, Christ’s worth to be served, reigns in such a pastor’s life.
A second way that a pastor lives out the truth of Christ’s authority is in his complete devotion to serving the flock that Christ has entrusted to his care. In his seminary commencement address in June 2017, Prof. Barrett Gritters emphasized the all-encompassing nature of this devotion. He said: “That the ministry is an existence means that a man gives his life to the ministry unlike anyone else gives himself to any other occupation. Unlike the occupations of your cousins and friends, which must not consume them, this occupation must consume you. In a very real way, it will become your existence. It will define you.” A pastor who thinks very little of Christ’s authority in his life will quickly tire of this demanding, often exhausting task of tending to his Lord’s wandering, bleating sheep. The pastor who remembers his obligation to spend everything that he is for the sake of his Lord will do so more readily, spurred on by the knowledge of his awesome responsibility before his awesome Master.
The pastor who knows that he is operating on Christ’s orders will not only have a greater sense of his calling to devote himself to his sheep, but he will also be encouraged in the knowledge that the work that he does is the work of Christ, and therefore cannot fail. This is a third way that a pastor lives as a slave of Christ, conscious of his authority. The pastor is assured that he operates by the authority of his Master, the One who holds the king’s heart in his hand and “turneth it withersoever he will” (Prov. 21:1). Christ does not promise the pastor mass conversions or ease in his labor, but the pastor can be assured that the double-edged sword that he wields is the sword of Christ, who loses no battles, and loses no sheep (John 17:12).
In his work of wielding the double-edged sword, a pastor, who has himself learned what it means to live as Christ’s property and under Christ’s authority, will exhort his congregation to do the same. This exhortation will come in a special way to the young people of the congregation, who are in times of growth and spiritual development.
Just as he strives to be a faithful steward-slave, so also will a pastor instruct his young people to follow the example of Joseph in the house of Potiphar (Gen. 39:1–12), and the example of the faithful servant in Christ’s parable of the talents (Matt. 25:20–21). A pastor will urge his young people to “redeem the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16), knowing that time, opportunity, and talent are tools-on-loan, given by the Master to be used for the Master and his church. When one’s Friday night is not his own, he is not devastated when he is required to call off plans with friends in order to serve at a young people’s function. When one’s abilities are simply God’s borrowed tools, one does not use them to fuel pride, but rather employs them in the service of their owner.
Additionally, just as the pastor himself subjects his body to the service of his Master, so also will he instruct his young people the truth that their bodies have been purchased by Christ for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19–20). He will call them to the remembrance that Christ’s bodies must be kept pure and holy for his sake. A believing young person who knowingly puts himself in harm’s way or damages his body on purpose shows disregard for Christ’s blood-bought property. A young couple who live unchastely defile the very temples of Christ’s Holy Spirit.
A third way that a pastor leads his congregation’s young people in complete servitude of Christ
is through the example he sets of complete submission to scripture as divine authority. Such a pastor asks the question, “What would thou have us to do, Lord?” and rather than looking to sociologists, philosophers, or biologists for the answers, he opens up the word of God. The pastor urges his young people to do regular devotions, that they might become better acquainted with the one who purchased them, grow in their love and adoration of him, and strive all the more to live lives of thankful sacrifice as his slaves.
A pastor who strives to live as Christ’s slave may be thankful that he does not do so in his own strength, but rather in the strength of the one whose love for him is so great that he sent his only begotten Son to die for him. His will having been “healed, corrected, and sweetly and powerfully bent,” a “ready and sincere spiritual obedience begins to reign” in such a man. With Paul, he counts the title “slave of Jesus” his highest honor and will seek all the more to live out of and to preach the beautiful reality of God’s ownership of and authority over us his slaves. What a privilege to be counted as a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ!

On September 14, the Young Calvinists held a Talking Points meeting dealing with the truth of the catholicity of Christ’s church and how that truth is worked out in our lives. Most of us as young people could give a pretty good definition of the “holy catholic church” that we confess every week; we have been taught its meaning since we were small. How do we view and relate to the members of the holy catholic church who are not in our denomination, however?  That is harder to answer. The relatively large group that attended the Talking Points meeting was an indication that Protestant Reformed young people can sometimes grapple with this question and other questions like it. Rev. Jon Mahtani led our discussion and gave us biblical, reformed principles to apply when considering this topic.

Rev. Mahtani began by laying a scriptural and confessional foundation for our discussion. He demonstrated from passages such as 1 Corinthians 1:2 and Revelation 9:5 that scripture plainly sets forth the truth of the catholicity of the church. He demonstrated from Article 27 of the Belgic Confession and Lord’s Day 21 of the Heidelberg Catechism that our confessions hold the truth of the church’s catholicity in very high esteem. Our other binding creeds do as well. He made the point that it is confessional to place a strong emphasis on the catholicity of the Church. It is confessional to glory in the doctrine that Christ saves a people from “all nations and kindreds and people and tongues” (Rev. 7:9).

After establishing that the truth of the catholicity of the Church must be treasured and lived out, Rev. Mahtani drew a picture of a road with a ditch on either side of it. The picture illustrated the two dangers that people can fall into when dealing with the truth of the church’s catholicity. On the left hand is the ditch of overemphasizing the catholicity of the church at the expense of the importance of the local congregation and her doctrines. On the right hand is the ditch of overemphasizing the importance of the local congregation or denomination at the expense of the truth of catholicity. The truth of the church’s catholicity is so important that it may not be obscured by the promotion of the local congregation or denomination. The importance of the local congregation and of the fight for pure doctrine is so important, that it may not be obscured by the promotion of the truth that God’s church is catholic. Neither ditch is preferable over the other; both are serious errors.

Most in the United States who call themselves Christian fall into the left-hand ditch. They claim that the church is bigger than it really is and minimize the importance of the local congregation. Such people ultimately sacrifice pure doctrine and a holy walk of life in the name of unity. Properly confessing “an holy catholic Church” does not mean ignoring or minimizing doctrinal differences. Nor does it mean compromising the truth in order to adopt a blind acceptance of all who claim to be Christians. Sadly, this is exactly what we see happening in many denominations today. In our own denomination we are not immune to falling into the left-hand ditch. Rev. Mahtani warned us against minimizing the importance of Protestant Reformed doctrines and distinctives. He warned us against using the truth of the church’s catholicity as an excuse to participate in worldliness with nominal Christians, or to date those outside our denomination while ignoring the doctrinal differences. He forbade us from twisting the doctrine of the catholicity of the church to justify fellowship with those whom the church is officially disciplining or with those who knowingly continue in presumptuous sins. A compromise of either doctrine or holy living is never the proper expression of unity within the Church catholic.

On the other hand, there are those who fall into the right-hand ditch; those who view God’s church as being smaller than it really is. These people dwell on denominational differences, ignore the areas of unity in doctrine and sanctified living, and are quick to make damning implications about other denominations. In some areas of church life they mistake preference (that which is strictly tradition) for principle (orthodoxy), and inevitably end up looking down on those from other denominations whose practices in these areas do not align with their own. Where real doctrinal differences arise, they say, “I either agree with another denomination on all points of doctrine and have unity with them, or I disagree with them on certain points and will have no unity.” Rev. Mahtani pointed out that we may not say this. “Unity is not an all or nothing idea,” he said, “You do have doctrines that you have in common with other Reformed believers.” We also share a common holiness with those other believers that flows out of the same Holy Spirit. Those who fall into the right-hand ditch essentially cut themselves off from a great portion of Christ’s church, depriving themselves of a wealth of legitimate spiritual insights and support. Additionally, their appreciation for the magnitude of Christ’s saving work is stunted.

Few have ever accused our denomination of tending toward the left-hand ditch. Instead, the accusation is often: “You PRs think you’re the only ones saved.” This is a sinful accusation for someone to make, and we know that it is not true. It is worth noting that this accusation often comes from those who themselves have fallen into the ditch on the other side of the road. We should not completely ignore this accusation, however. Rev. Mahtani urged us to examine ourselves and work toward ensuring that we do not give an inaccurate impression of how we view God’s precious people in other denominations. He instructed us to judge their doctrines, judge their walk of life, and to witness to the differences, but to do so meekly and in love. This means showing them why you believe what you believe and praying that they come to a better understanding of what is truth. “Call sin, sin. Call heresy, heresy. But do so carefully, and unless they undoubtedly deny Jesus Christ do not judge their salvation.” He made the point that our spiritual (not denominational) unity with members of other true denominations is to exist in as far as we are unified in doctrine. Just as there are degrees of doctrinal unity, so there are degrees in our expression of spiritual unity. This means that we have the strongest spiritual unity with our own denomination and no spiritual unity with a denomination that is completely apostate. In that regard too, we must prioritize our friendships and fellowship according to this standard.

It is worth recognizing that in an age where church after church is apostatizing and (to use the picture of Israel in Elijah’s day) “bowing the knee to Baal,” it is of utmost importance that we do not write off “the 7,000” who have not. God’s church is perfect and unified in number, but imperfect in her representation here on earth. This truth is somewhat of a mystery, and many stumble at it. We thank God for our denomination and pray that he will continue to lead our churches by his word as we make confession of his one, holy, catholic church. How we look forward to the day when Christ will return and as his church we will behold perfectly what John beheld in Revelation 7:9-10: “After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”

 

*Aaron Vandyke is a member of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, MI. He is currently majoring in Secondary Education at Calvin College.

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