Covenant Reformed News - October 2022


Covenant Reformed News

October 2022  •  Volume XIX, Issue 6


The Workers of Miracles

Who are the workers of miracles after Christ’s incarnation, atoning sacrifice on the cross and ascension into heaven? The biblical and Reformed answer is, “The apostles and a few others, and that only in the apostolic age.” However, Pentecostals and Charismatics would respond, “The apostles and many others in the apostolic age, and many since then.” Many renewalists claim that this includes apostles and prophets in the 1,900+ years since the deaths of the 12 apostles and Paul.

Let us look at the key New Testament book in this regard, Acts, beginning with two express statements that the 12 apostles wrought miracles. First, “many wonders and signs were done by the apostles” (2:43). Second, “by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people” (5:12). These miracles were not wrought by (ordinary) believers. We do not read here of a miracle-working early church but of miracle-working apostles!

Acts records several miracles performed by the apostle Peter: the healing of the man born lame (3:1-4:22), the slaying of Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11), the curing or exorcizing of multitudes in and around Jerusalem (15-16), the raising of paralysed Aeneas (9:32-35) and the resurrecting of dead Tabitha (36-42).

A number of wonders wrought by the apostle Paul are spoken of in Acts. He blinded Elymas the sorcerer in Cyprus (13:9-12). In Iconium, he performed “signs and wonders” (14:3) with Barnabas, one of “prophets and teachers” in the church at Antioch who was sent by the Holy Spirit (13:1-2); he healed a crippled man at Lystra (14:8-10); he exorcised the female fortune-teller at Philippi (16:16-18). In Ephesus, God wrought healings and exorcisms by the unusual means of Paul’s “handkerchiefs” (19:11-12). Paul raised Eutychus from the dead in Troas (20:9-12) and had no ill effects from the poisonous bite of a snake in Malta (28:3-6). On that island, he also healed Publius of dysentery and fever, and others with various diseases (7-10).

Did any others perform miracles apart from those already mentioned? Yes, three men. First, there was Stephen, who “did great wonders and miracles among the people” (6:8). He was one of the first seven deacons upon whom the 12 apostles laid their hands (1-6). Moreover, Acts 7 presents Stephen not only as the first Christian martyr but also a prophet for he received a heavenly vision of the exalted Christ (55-60).

Second, Philip wrought miracles in Samaria (8:6-7, 13). Not only was he, like Stephen, ordained a deacon by the apostles (6:1-6) but he was also, like Timothy (II Tim. 4:5), an evangelist (Acts 21:8), exercising an extraordinary temporary office, in which the person worked under and assisted the first-century apostles (Eph. 4:11).

Third, after Christ appeared to Paul on the Damascus road, Ananias healed him of his blindness (Acts 9:12, 17-18). The Messiah who had earlier miraculously blinded Paul later sent Ananias to restore his sight miraculously. God did not use any of the (earlier) 12 apostles for this task, otherwise Paul’s later detractors would have claimed that he was a second-hand apostle (cf. Gal. 1-2). Instead, the Lord spoke to Ananias in a vision (Acts 9:10-16), thereby also indicating to us that he was a prophet.

So whom did God use to work miracles after the exaltation of His Son? What does the book of Acts say? It was not ordinary members in the church. The Lord empowered the 12 apostles, especially Peter, and the apostle Paul. Four other men are mentioned: the prophets Stephen, Ananias and Barnabas, and the evangelist Philip. These men were vitally connected to the apostles, as those ordained by the 12 apostles (Stephen and Philip) or working a miracle upon the apostle Paul (Ananias) or accompanying the apostle Paul on his first missionary journey (Barnabas). With the deaths of the apostles, and those who were appointed by them or laboured with them or performed a miracle upon them, the days of godly miracle workers have ended.

This explains Paul’s inspired statement in II Corinthians 12:12: “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.” After all, if in our day all or some Christians, or some pastors or elders, can perform miracles, how are such “wonders” “the signs of an apostle”?

Miracles in the apostolic age were designed to authenticate (1) Christ’s apostles and/or (2) the gospel that they proclaimed. First, the New Testament speaks of miracles as validating the apostolic messengers of Christ, “them that heard him” (Heb. 2:3): “God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will” (4). “Wonders” also had this function with regard to the Lord Himself, as Peter declared at Pentecost, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know” (Acts 2:22; cf. John 3:2; 5:36; 9:16, 30-33; 10:25, 37-38).

Second, miracles validated the message of the 12 apostles: “they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following” (Mark 16:20). This is also the case as regards the gospel preached by Paul the apostle and Barnabas the prophet who accompanied him: “Long time therefore abode they [in Iconium] speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands” (Acts 14:3).

Let us hold fast to the New Testament apostles and the apostolic gospel that they proclaimed: salvation is in Christ alone to God’s glory alone (I Cor. 15:1-4)! Rev. Angus Stewart



The First Use of the Law

One of our readers asked, “Maybe Rev. Hanko can write an article on the role of the law in the conviction of sin, paving the way for the knowledge of Christ, as the Heidelberg Catechism teaches in the knowledge of misery. Has it such a function, and what place has it in the regeneration of a sinner and in his growth in grace?”

Identifying our misery with our sin and depravity, the Heidelberg Catechism speaks in Lord’s Day 2 of the function of the law in the conviction of sin:

Q. 3. Whence knowest thou thy misery?
A. Out of the law of God.

Q. 4. What doth the law of God require of us?
A. Christ teaches us that briefly, Matthew 22:37-40, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and the great commandment; and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Q. 5. Canst thou keep all these things perfectly?
A. In no wise; for I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor.”

The Catechism clearly teaches that we know not only our sin but also our sinfulness and depravity from the law, and especially from that most basic requirement of the law that we love God with everything we are and in all we do, and our neighbour also. This knowledge of sin is part of what we need to live and die happily (Q. & A. 2).

The Westminster Confession 19:6 is similar. It not only speaks of the law discovering the “sinful pollutions” of our natures, hearts and lives, but also reminds us that “conviction of” and “humiliation for” sin are not ends in themselves, but the way in which we learn our “need ... of Christ” and “the perfection of his obedience.” Following the teaching of the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Confession, therefore, our answer is: “Yes, the law does have an important function in discovering our sin and sinfulness.” This, according to John Calvin, is the first use or function of the law.

That the law discovers our sin and shows us our lost condition is also the teaching of God’s Word. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet ... For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died” (7:7, 9). The Word of God does not find fault with the law for this but rather commends it: “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (12).

There are several things worth noting about these verses. Romans 7:7 teaches us that the law has this ability to show us our sin because it looks not only at our outward actions but also at our inward lives and hearts. The tenth commandment is especially important in that regard. It forbids a sin which, in itself, hurts no one, is not even discoverable by others and which has to do with our inward life. It serves as reminder that sin involves not only actions and words, but also motives, intentions and thoughts (Jer. 17:9-10).

This is fundamental to understanding the doctrine of total depravity. What the unbelieving do is never good in God’s eyes because, though they sometimes conform to the law in their outward actions, their hearts are never right with God. All the so-called “good” they do is an abomination to Him because their intentions are always wrong, for they do not do anything by way of “seeking God.” Psalm 14:2-3 says of them, “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”

Nor, according to these verses, is true conviction of sin only a recognition that people do bad things or that I sometimes disobey, tell lies, cheat, steal, hurt others, am not faithful to my wife or that there is a little bad in all of us, etc. True conviction means that I confess with David, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (51:4-5). When truly convicted of sin, I see that I have sinned against God, that I am worthy of condemnation and that I not only do sinful things but am wicked by nature.

Conviction of sin means that I come to say with Paul, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24). I stop excusing myself. I cease thinking that I am, deep down, a decent person. Rather, I acknowledge that my condition is hopeless and that there is nothing I can do for myself. This, in the grace of God, is the beginning of my deliverance for, having shown me my sinfulness and misery, the Spirit turns my eyes to Jesus, in whom I find not only the possibility of deliverance but all things necessary for my salvation.

This is the great work of the Holy Spirit. The law does not truly discover sin, convict of sin and humble for sin, without the saving work of the Holy Spirit. The law shows our sinfulness, but we cannot see our sinfulness and humble ourselves for it, unless God’s grace breaks our hearts (Jer. 31:18-19). Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, the law is powerless and useless even in showing us our sin.

Used by the Holy Spirit, the law functions as a schoolmaster or pedagogue to bring us to Christ (Gal. 3:24). By the grace of the Spirit, the law shows us the great Giver of the law, the God beside whom there is no other, the God who demands that we worship Him and worship Him as He commands, and not according to our own imaginations, the God whose name is so holy that may not be uttered without reverence and fear. A schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, indeed, but a schoolmaster we will not follow unless we are also taught of God’s Spirit.

By the teaching of the Spirit we say, “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death” (Rom. 7:9-10). We add, “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (12). The same grace that opens my eyes to see my lost condition brings me to the cross, where I find that the Giver of the law is not only holy and just, but also merciful and good.

The rest of this query we will answer in the next issue, DV. Rev. Ron Hanko


Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: • Live broadcast:
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. • •

Reformed Witness Hour News - October 2022

News from the
Reformed Witness Hour
October 2022


Help Us Get the Word Out!

For October, we have five new messages from Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma. Rev. Bruinsma is the pastor of Pittsburgh Protestant Reformed Church of Pittsburgh, PA. 
October 2
The Believer’s True Identity 
II Corinthians 5:17

October 9
Behold, Famine Is Come
Amos 8:11,12

October 16
Resist the Devil
I Peter 5:8,9

October 23
Man’s Calling to Serve God
Genesis 2:16,17
October 30
I Am God
Psalm 46:8-11
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Covenant Reformed News - September 2022

Covenant Reformed News

September 2022  •  Volume XIX, Issue 5

The Nature of Apostolic Miracles

In the last issue, we introduced the signs of an apostle (II Cor. 12:12) and listed various types of miracles (Matt. 10:8; Mark 16:17-18). But what about the miracles claimed by Pentecostals and Charismatics in our own day? A lot of them are non-verifiable, such as the “healings” of bad backs and headaches or psychosomatic illnesses. How does one prove that a person actually had these pains, that he or she no longer has them and that this was due to a miracle performed by a charismatic? What about their performing “difficult” miracles, like raising people from the dead, cleansing lepers, causing people born lame to walk, etc.? Claims regarding these things by Pentecostals and Charismatics are rare, and few stand up to even a little investigation.

Victor Budgen relates this amusing story of a healing meeting in London: “in the middle of the Albert Hall rally the chairman announced that a person in the congregation who had been taken ill was in the St John’s ambulance room, and if there was a doctor in the house would he please go there quickly” (The Charismatics and the Word of God, p. 100). Where was the faith of the chairman and the attendees in the healing power of the charismatic leaders? Why did they need to turn to medics?

The miracles of II Corinthians 12:12 were both real and undeniable, as they had to be in order to serve Paul’s point. Clearly, while he was in Corinth for some 18 months (Acts 18:11), the apostle had performed a plurality of miracles that provoked wonder in those who beheld them and pointed to the truth of the gospel that he preached: Jesus Christ crucified and risen for sinners! Besides the references to miracles performed by Paul in the book of Acts and II Corinthians 12:12, the apostle speaks of his miracles in Galatia in central Turkey (Gal. 3:5), and even from Jerusalem all the way north and west to Illyricum, roughly the former Yugoslavia (Rom. 15:19).

Pagan opponents, unbelieving Jews and false apostles would dearly have loved to be able to deny the wonders that Paul performed. But, like the miracles of Christ (John 11:47), and of Peter and John (Acts 4:14-16), Paul’s mighty deeds could not be gainsaid.

Notice, first, that the apostles healed people totally. Paralysed Aeneas was bedridden for eight years. Peter announced to him, “Jesus Christ maketh thee whole,” and he arose and made his bed (Acts 9:32-35). Aeneas did not merely show improvement or make progress. Instead, he had unimpaired power in his limbs.

Second, the apostles healed people instantly, like the lame man of Acts 3. There was no need for any therapy afterwards or a process of rehabilitation.

Third, the apostles healed everyone who came to them seeking healing (e.g., Acts 5:12-16). They did not try to heal someone but fail, and then blame it on the sick person: “You didn’t have enough faith!” How unlike the supposed faith healers of our own times!

After over a century of Pentecostalism (including Charismaticism and Neo-charismaticism), where are their undeniable miracles? Lots of sick people were supposedly healed but are as ill as they ever were. Others have traipsed to many healing meetings seeking a cure but have not even claimed to have received healing. There have been multitudes of hoaxes and exposures. Christ’s name has been repeatedly discredited before the world by these charlatans and yet gullible people are still falling for it.

How different from the apostle Paul! “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds” (II Cor. 12:12). Paul is telling the Corinthians, in effect, “You saw God’s power in, and you marvelled at, miracles wrought by my hands. They are signs of my apostolic office—you yourselves being eyewitnesses and you cannot deny it.” On the other hand, the pretend miracles and incomplete cures (at best) are signs of an impostor, a false teacher with a false gospel, often one who is out to fleece the people.

One charismatic describes how someone knows when he or she has been “Touched for Healing.” “Usually you will feel extreme heat all over your body. Then after a few minutes, most will feel a wonderful and supernatural peace from the Lord Jesus Christ. You will know when this happens, it feels so wonderful. It’s like heaven on earth. You will know when this happens and you will have zero doubt. You will know it is the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ touching you ... Sometimes you will feel a wind first. Really!!!! Just like a real wind or a lightly swirling breeze, even in a completely closed room. Sometimes you will feel like a warm blanket of energy wrapped around your entire body. When this happens, it is like supernatural clothing. It feels like a part of you perfectly. Sometimes you will smell a heavenly jasmine or other wonderful fragrances. You will know this smell is heavenly and holy when it manifests itself in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. If you ever smell these wonderful fragrances, you are having an extra special visit from the Lord Jesus. You will know without any doubt when you smell them.”

What is one to make of all this unbiblical tomfoolery? Where is there anything like this in all of sacred Scripture? Did you notice how often the writer speaks of how it usually “feels” (six times in the paragraph above)—the feeling of heat or peace or the wind or a blanket or perfectly fitting clothes—or “smells” (four times)—heavenly jasmine or another wonderful fragrance? (Roman Catholic mystics often speak of supposed divine visitations in similar language.) Remarkably, it does not even say that you know that you have been healed when you are actually healed! Beloved, a true sign of a biblical apostle is real healing without any of the mumbo-jumbo in the previous paragraph, as II Corinthians 12:12 and the New Testament teach! Rev. A. Stewart






Is the Church Our Mother?

Our question for this issue comes from a friend in South America: “Besides the church being the bride or wife of Christ, according to Galatians 4:26 and other verses ... is the church also the mother of believers or Christians?”

Scripture does not in so many words call the church the mother of believers. Nevertheless, the expression is, we believe, warranted by Scripture. Revelation 21:9 suggests it for, if the church is the bride of Christ, then it follows that she is also our mother.

Isaiah 66:10-11 exhorts us, “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her: That ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory.” Jerusalem was a name for the church in the Old Testament and continues to be a name for the church in the New (Heb. 12:22-24; Rev. 21:2). Isaiah certainly is describing Jerusalem as the mother of believers, therefore.

The verse mentioned by our South American friend, Galatians 4:26, is closest of all to an actual reference to the church as our mother: “But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.” Here again, in an allegory, the name Jerusalem is a name for the church and the church is called “the mother of us all.”

The church is our mother in the sense that she gives birth to us. It is not the church which regenerates, justifies and sanctifies us, but it is through her ministry that God performs His work of grace in us. Thus Paul calls the members of the church, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Gal. 4:19).

The Christian church has always recognized the propriety of this name. The church father Cyprian said, “No one can have God as Father who does not have the church as Mother” (The Unity of the Church, chap. 6) and Calvin wrote several times in his Institutes of the church as the mother of believers. Here are a couple of his famous quotes:

I will start, then, with the church, into whose bosom God is pleased to gather his sons, not only that they may be nourished by her help and ministry as long as they are infants and children, but also that they may be guided by her motherly care until they mature and at last reach the goal of faith. ‘For what God has joined together, it is not lawful to put asunder’ [Mark 10:9 p.], so that, for those to whom he is Father the church may also be Mother. And this was so not only under the law but also after Christ’s coming, as Paul testifies when he teaches that we are the children of the new and heavenly Jerusalem [Gal. 4:26] (4.1.1).

But because it is now our intention to discuss the visible church, let us learn even from the simple title ‘mother’ how useful, indeed how necessary, it is that we should know her. For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels [Matt. 22:30]. Our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives (4.1.4).

This name “mother” has been misused, especially by Roman Catholicism which uses the name to buttress its absolute authority. Because the church is our mother, so they think, we must bow to her authority as we would bow to the authority of the Word of God: unreservedly and without question. Such abuse of the name, however, is easily answered with a reminder that no mother is a good mother who does not come with the Scriptures in hand and whose authority is not founded on that Word.

While rejecting the errors of Romanism, thinking of the church as our mother serves as a reminder of some important things about the church. It is a reminder of the unity of the church of Christ in all nations and all history. Believers have only one mother, though the visible church is fragmented and divided. We all—no matter our background, skin colour, nationality, language, etc.—not only have the same Father but also the same mother. Names such as Jerusalem and Zion are names for the church, both in the Old and the New Testaments (Gal. 4:24-27; Heb. 12:22-24), and are an example of this wonderful unity which transcends time.

The name mother reminds the church and her leaders that she must be like a mother to her members, and not like a tyrannical and over-bearing monster. It serves as a reminder to the members that the church is the place where they should expect to be fed, nourished, comforted, corrected and guided (Isa. 66:10-11). They should not leave her side, unless she in her visible manifestation becomes a whore rather than a mother. Though the name Mother is not used in Revelation 22:17, the idea of the church as our mother, the one through whom God provides for His children, is certainly to be found there: “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”

In some churches, all the emphasis is on “saving souls” but what is done for those who are so saved? “Mother” church does little or nothing to nourish and care for her children. Nothing is said about church membership to the evangelized, and those who do become church members are left untaught and unguided. That same misguided emphasis on “saving souls” often leads to the neglect of those who have been long time members of the church, especially the elderly, the widows, the sick and the poor. It leads all too often to neglect of the youth as well. Though under the care of mother church, they remain untaught and it is no surprise that they go their own way in the end.

As our mother, the church deserves our respect and love and obedience. Christians ought to put ourselves under her care, “maintaining the unity of the church; submitting themselves to the doctrine and discipline thereof; bowing their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ; and as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren, according to the talents God has given them” (Belgic Confession 28).

When our mother is seriously ill, as she sometimes is, we must not immediately abandon her, but must seek her healing and well-being, through prayer, standing for the truth and, if necessary, church reformation. All too often those who would not think of abandoning their natural mother give up on mother church when she is ill and falls short of the standard for spiritual health set by the Word of God. Rev. Ron Hanko

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: • Live broadcast:
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. • •

Covenant Reformed News - August 2022

Covenant Reformed News

August 2022  •  Volume XIX, Issue 4

Introducing the Signs of an Apostle

The twelve apostles and the apostle Paul possessed the teaching authority of pastors, plus infallible teaching authority, including (for some of them) the authority to write inspired and canonical New Testament Scripture.

These apostles also possessed the ruling authority of elders. Like them, apostles had authority to discipline, hear and decide controversies, and ordain office-bearers. Unlike elders, the apostles had the authority to direct the first-century evangelists and will have the authority to judge the twelve tribes of Israel on the last day (Matt. 19:28).

Moreover, the apostles possessed the authority of showing mercy like deacons. The twelve did the work of deacons in the days of the early New Testament church up to Acts 6. The apostle Paul was the main figure in bringing financial assistance from the Greek churches to the poor believers in Jerusalem (I Cor. 16:1-4; II Cor. 8-9).

In short, the apostles united in themselves the offices of pastor, elder and deacon, and even possessed a greater authority than the combination of these three special and permanent offices. Furthermore, they held this authority universally, for all the churches were under the authority of the apostles. No wonder the apostle Paul could write, “For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed” (II Cor. 10:8).

This authority was derivative and ministerial. After all, the apostles were under the lordship of Jesus Christ, the sole king and head of the church, and they, like us, were subject to the truth of His Word.

In Paul’s battle with false apostles in II Corinthians 10-13, you could say that chapter 10 deals with apostolic authority, chapter 11 with apostolic sufferings, chapter 12 with apostolic revelations and chapter 13 with apostolic discipline. As well as apostolic visions, the supernaturalism of II Corinthians 12 includes apostolic miracles: “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds” (12). Notice the connection here between apostles and miracles!

The true apostolic office is rightly linked with Spirit-wrought miracles in the apostolic age, as recorded in the New Testament. On the other hand, various false churches link their (spurious) miracles with their (counterfeit) apostles.

Consider, first, the Roman church. The Pope is supposedly the successor of the apostle Peter and the papal church claims to be a miracle-working church—in the past, in the present and in the future.

This correlation is evident, second, in Mormonism. Here are the sixth and seventh of “The Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” of Joseph Smith: “We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.” “We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.” “Apostles” (6) and miracles of “healing” (7) are closely connected.

We turn, third, to the Catholic Apostolic Church which is associated with, and was inspired by, Edward Irving (1792-1834) in London. The miracles they claimed led them to reinstitute the office of apostle. Like the Mormons, the Catholic Apostolic Church also settled upon twelve as the number of their apostles, the last of whom died in 1901.

Fourth, many charismatic groups claim to possess both miracles and apostles, while other parties that claim to have the power to work miracles are open to the idea of apostles today.

II Corinthians 12:12, cited earlier, uses three significant words for true miracles: “signs,” “wonders” and “mighty deeds.” As “mighty deeds,” miracles are objective works produced by extraordinary divine power. As “wonders,” miracles are marvels that evoke awe, the subjective result in human beings. As “signs,” miracles are indicators pointing to the great spiritual reality: redemption in the blood of Jesus Christ and salvation in Him alone, as infallibly taught by His special divine emissaries.

These miracles or “signs,” “wonders” and “mighty deeds” are of various types. Four are listed in Christ’s commission to the twelve disciples in Matthew 10:8: “[1] Heal the sick, [2] cleanse the lepers, [3] raise the dead, [4] cast out devils.”

This is the promise of the risen Lord Jesus in Mark 16:17-18: “these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name [1] shall they cast out devils; [2] they shall speak with new tongues; [3] they shall take up serpents; and [4] if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; [5] they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

“Them that believe” (17) were the eleven disciples who, after the Lord’s ascension into heaven (19), “went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following” (20).

Of these five “signs,” speaking with “new tongues”—languages that were “new” to the speaker and were not learned by ordinary means—was not unique to the apostles or even the other extraordinary and temporary office-bearers: prophets and evangelists.

Two of the other “signs” are mentioned in both Matthew 10:18 and Mark 16:17-18. This leaves us with six types of miracles from these two New Testament passages: [1] healing the sick, [2] cleansing lepers, [3] raising the dead, [4] exorcising demons, [5] immunity from snake venom and [6] immunity from poison.

But more needs to be said about the nature and the workers of these signs!  Rev. Angus Stewart



The Mother of God

A reader has asked, “Jesus has two natures ... We know that Mary is the mother of Jesus (being man) but is Mary also the mother of God (for Christ is divine)?”

The difficulty in answering this question revolves around the great biblical truth that Jesus, with His divine and human natures, is still one Person and that He is, personally, the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal and only begotten Son of God.

The question is whether we may ascribe things that are true of Him as a man to the divine Person. The Bible does this in Acts 20:28: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood,” where Scripture, in effect, calls the blood of Christ the blood of God. We know that God has no blood, no “body, parts, or passions” (Westminster Confession 2:1), yet Christ’s human blood is ascribed to Him personally and is called the blood of God. This would seem to justify calling Mary the mother of God (Greek: theotokos or God-bearer).

Mary, we all understand, is not the mother of Jesus’ divine nature, the mother of God, in that sense. According to His divine nature, He is eternal, has no earthly father or mother and no beginning. But, in the same way that His blood is referred to as the blood of God, can Mary be called the mother of God as the one who gave birth to the Person who was God, united at conception with our human nature?

In Roman Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy, the term, mother of God, is accepted. It was in early use in the ancient church, but there were differences of opinion about it and a controversy erupted as part of the church’s battle against Nestorianism.

Nestorianism arose in the fifth century. Nestorius, Archbishop of Constantinople, separated the divine and human natures of Christ to the point that he was guilty of teaching that Christ was two persons instead of one. At the heart of his teaching was a denial of the union of Christ’s two natures from the moment of His conception in the womb of Mary. His objections centred on the use of the term, mother of God, for he insisted that Mary could not be the mother of the divine nature and that God could not be a baby: “God is not a baby two or three months old!”

The Nestorians were guilty of serious error in teaching that the only begotten Son united Himself with an independent and completely human person, thus denying the reality of the incarnation. They insisted that the proper term for Mary was Christ-bearer (Greek: Christotokos). Mary was only the mother of the human person with whom the divine Son of God united Himself. There can be no doubt, therefore, that Nestorianism, a heresy that continues to plague the church, was wrong in its position regarding the union of Christ’s two natures.

Nestorianism was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431 and again at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Both these councils affirmed the propriety of the term, mother of God. The Creed of Chalcedon not only rejected Nestorianism by insisting that the two natures of Christ were united “without separation” but also used the name, “mother of God,” for Mary: “born of the Virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the manhood.” For this reason, however, the Creed of Chalcedon has not been recognized by many. Article 9 of the Belgic Confession (1561) mentions the Apostles’Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, but not the Creed of Chalcedon.

The view of this writer is that, following the example of the Word of God in Acts 20:28, the term can be properly used, but it is not a biblical term and is often used to promote Mariolatry, so it is probably better to avoid it. Nor is it necessary to use the term to defend the truth that Christ is God and man in one Person, fully God and fully man, but still only one Person, and that the two natures of Christ were inseparably united in one Person from the moment of His conception in the womb of Mary.

Actually the Greek term, theotokos, God-bearer, is better than its usual translation, mother of God. The former makes it clear that Mary is in no sense the mother of Christ according to His divine nature and in no sense Christ’s mother from eternity.

It is better, so it seems to this writer, to stick as much as possible to the language of Scripture when speaking of the union of Christ’s two natures and to avoid language that may give offence or lead to misunderstanding. The fact is that the union of Christ’s two natures is a mystery. It lies at the heart of everything we believe but is beyond our comprehension. Any attempt to reason out the union of the two natures, the kind of attempt of which Nestorius was guilty, is bound to end in error.

We must confess that Christ is fully God and fully man. He must be God because only God can “by power of His Godhead sustain in His human nature, the burden of God’s wrath; and ... obtain for, and restore to us, righteousness and life” (Heidelberg Catechism, A. 17). He must be man because only man can pay for man’s sin, and only one who is like us in all things, except sin, can redeem and deliver us, body and soul, from our sins. He must be only one divine Person, for the testimony of Scripture is that there are not two Christs but one only and that one the only begotten Son of God.

How that divine Person could speak of being forsaken by God, how He, personally the Son of God, could hunger and thirst, be weary, suffer, die and rise again from the dead is the great mystery of our faith, and we must not tie ourselves in theological knots attempting to understand and explain that mystery, but must bow in wondering awe at what God has done and confess that “God was manifest in the flesh” (I Tim. 3:16).

The old Athanasian Creed sums up beautifully what we by faith are able to say, without destroying the mystery and miracle of the incarnation or by curiously inquiring into those things that are too high for us: “Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. God, of the essence of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man, of the substance of His mother, born in the world. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.”  Rev. Ron Hanko

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: • Live broadcast:
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
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Covenant PRC-NI Newsletter - August 2022

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church Ballymena, NI

4 August, 2022

Dear saints in the Protestant Reformed Churches,

British Reformed Fellowship (BRF) Conference

After being cancelled in 2020 and 2021 because of Covid, the 16th BRF family conference on “Union With Christ” finally took place at Castlewellan Castle in Northern Ireland (9-16 July). However, as one attendee put it, “This BRF conference was so good that it made up for not having had one two years ago!”

There were 105 people who stayed at the castle for all or part of the week and another 26 who joined us as visitors once or twice or three times. Saints came from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Northern Ireland, Norway, the Republic of Ireland, Singapore, the United States, and Wales. Apart from a lingering uncertainty regarding the reintroduction of Covid regulations, especially those concerning international travel, more would have joined us. As it was, we were delighted with such an excellent attendance and the wonderful people who contributed to a blessed week.

I delivered the Saturday night opening presentation at the conference on “The Psalm of Union” (Psalm 56). Despite the fact that many delegates only arrived in Northern Ireland that day, and some had travelled a considerable distance and/or gotten little sleep the night before, the saints were remarkably attentive.

BH BRF Conf July 2022

Prof. Brian Huizinga’s two excellent Sunday sermons set forth the glory of the Saviour to whom we are united: “Our Changeless Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 13:8) and “The Lamb of God Come” (John 1:29). In the afternoon, I led a Bible study on “The Bond of Faith,” a topic intimately related to the mystical union.

From Monday to Friday, Professors Engelsma and Huizinga ably developed our beautiful theme of “Union With Christ” with six speeches that explained the nature of this mystical union and related it to the covenant, election, Jesus’ death, the forgiveness of sins, sanctification, our death, Christ’s resurrection, regeneration, marriage, the antithesis, abuse, etc. “‘Christ Is Made Ours:’ Calvin on Union” was my lovely subject for the BRF conference’s historical lecture on Wednesday night.

Look for the audios of all the ten speeches and sermons on the BRF website (www.british Lord willing, these will be reworked and published in the eighth BRF book, dealing with our union with Jesus Christ.

Among other things enjoyed by those at the Castlewellan conference were the two day-trips, ice cream in the cellars, shared meals, informal Psalm singing sessions, the arboretum, the hedgerow maze, walking around the lake, kayaking, several football matches, hiking up Northern Ireland’s highest mountain, etc. Friendships were renewed or established for the first time during a relaxing week with lovely weather and beautiful scenery in the Mourne Mountains and by the Irish Sea.

NIreland landscape BRF Conf 2022

I cannot do justice to the riches of God’s truth that was taught to us or the many wonderful aspects of the conference. I simply add here that reports by others will be carried in the Standard Bearer and the Beacon Lights, as well as in the next issue of the British Reformed Journal (BRJ) which will soon be sent to the printers. It has never been easier to subscribe to the BRJ. It can now be done online and costs just £10 for 4 issues ( product/british-reformed-journal-subscription).

According to the decisions of the BRF’s Biennial General Meeting, the next conference is scheduled for the summer of 2024 in mainland Britain and its subject will be eschatology. After speaking at all of our previous conferences, Prof. Engelsma indicated that his age would rule him out in the future, sadly. Prof. Huizinga and Rev. Ron Hanko were chosen as the two main speakers for 2024.

Rev. Hanko is well-known in the BRF and the British Isles. He laboured in the United Kingdom for 7 or 8 years, speaking in various places in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. He attended several BRF conferences, wrote many articles in the BRJ (which are also on the BRF website) and was a member of the BRF Council. He has authored a good number of books and pamphlets (distributed by the CPRC Bookstore), and is writing in the monthly Covenant Reformed News again. The CPRC website contains many translations of his various works in several languages. His daughter, Jennifer, is a member of the CPRC, and Rev. Hanko has visited Northern Ireland several times in the last few years.

On the Lord’s day during the conference (10 July)—John Calvin’s birthday—Rev. Allen Brummel preached at both services in the CPRC in Ballymena for those in our congregation unable to make it to Castlewellan. On Sunday 17 July, the day after the conference’s conclusion, and with most of the conferees in attendance, the worship in the CPRC was led by Prof. Huizinga (Romans 2:4-5) and Rev. Brummel, all of whose three sermons dealt with key texts in the book of Job ( user/CPRCNI). After this fine preaching of the Word, fellowship was enjoyed after the evening service around tea and sandwiches provided by the ladies of the congregation.

DHanko family BRF 2022

The next day, the majority of those from outside Northern Ireland flew home with accompanying sad farewells. Mary’s brother, Dave Hanko, with Joan, his wife, and Will, their son, stayed with us at the manse for a few more days, so we got to show them more of our province in the sunshine.

On the evening of the next Lord’s day (24 July), Prof. Engelsma preached a powerful sermon on “The Saviour's Assertions of His Sovereignty in Salvation” (John 13:18-19). Since this may well be the last time that he and Mrs. Engelsma will be in the CPRC, afterwards I gave a brief presentation outlining the immense service the professor has provided to our church (in its various forms) over the last 38 years. The videos of both these addresses are on-line ( PL2Y5Eq5r6y2Fv4JNGXq935PevpTcIv1gH).


The last three months have probably seen more members added to our church than any other similar period. On 15 May, Joe and Lisa McCaughern with their three children (Jack, Maisie, and Xander) were received into the congregation. Christ’s particular atonement was a key doctrine in Joe’s coming to the CPRC.

Billy and Anne Gould, and their two adult daughters, Grace and Kerryann, joined us on 5 June. Some years ago, Kerryann married a man from Egypt and became a Muslim. After she was converted to Jesus Christ, he threatened her and they separated. Kerryann found us on the Internet, when she was seeking a church that teaches God’s sovereignty in salvation. Grace left her second husband and former church in order to join us, when she was convinced of the Bible’s teaching on marriage and remarriage.

Kerryann’s oldest daughter, Aaysha, is in a wheelchair for she has serious health issues, making it very difficult for her family to attend the worship services. Aaysha was able to attend on Sunday 12 June, when she was baptized in the name of the Triune God with her little sister, Somaya, and their brother, Yossef.

The next Sunday, Ivan Ortu from the Italian island of Sardinia and Colm Ring from Limerick in the Republic of Ireland made confession of faith together. Ivan came across us through the large Italian section on our website ( languages/italian). Colm attended the Limerick Reformed Fellowship for several years.

All these additions provide greater opportunities for fellowship in the congregation. We produced a new CPRC listing because of changes to various people’s membership status, addresses, telephone numbers, and email numberaddresses (20 June).

My presentation at the CPRC Annual General Meeting (29 June) included some reflections on the Lord’s growth of our church. After doctrinal divisions in the old CPRC resulted in its disbanding in 2002, it took as many as fourteen years before the number of our confessing and baptized members reached their pre-split levels! Since 2016, the membership has further grown by over 50% and the Lord is bringing in others too. There are now 4-5 times more people attending our services than 20 years ago.

The BRF conference at Castlewellan, as well as additional contact with like-minded believers from our sister churches in North America and Singapore before and/or after the conference, was a great encouragement to both new and old members of our church.


In March, thanks to a suggestion by a brother in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, we started adding the words of the four Psalms that we sing to our live webcasting. Thus people watching the service online on our main website (www. or on the other CPRC webpages (YouTube, Facebook or can sing along with us.

Around the start of April, our four Monday night catechism classes ended for the season. In 2002, we had one catechumen (and she was 16 years old); now the Lord has given us 24.

On Easter Monday, we held a congregational picnic in Antrim Park near Lough Neagh (10 April). We had additional occasion for fellowship when we had tea after the Lord’s day evening service on 24 April, and Bob and Carolyn Prins (Trinity PRC), who were in Northern Ireland for a few weeks, were able to join us.

Our Wednesday night Belgic Confession classes concluded for the season on 27 April. We finished with seven studies dealing with “Ezekiel 40-48 in Eschatology.” Both historic premillennialism and dispensationalism claim that these chapters predict a literal Jewish temple in Jerusalem in the future. But is this really true? And, if not, what do the last nine chapters in Ezekiel actually teach? The audios are free on-line ( and the CD box set is available for just £8 (inc. P&P in the UK) ( ezekiel-40-48-in-eschatology).

With both Monday night’s catechism and Wednesday night’s doctrine class over, Mary and I were able to spend a few days in Scotland (2-6 May) in order to check out Lendrick Muir as a possible BRF conference venue for 2024. We also considered places that would work for two day-trips and had dinner with friends in St Andrews. Next we engaged in family visitation, which involved 33 visits (10 May - 27 June). This year’s Scripture passage was Philippians 4.

Lidi Cecilio from Brazil visited from 17 May to 27 July, which dates included the BRF Conference (9- 16 July). She stayed with various families in the congregation and participated vibrantly in the fellowship of the church. Mary and I first met Lidi in 2012, when she and four friends were in Dublin studying English. Since then, she has visited us several times and become dear to the CPRC.

Sunday 29 May marked the end of 37 sermons on “Solomon: Israel’s Wisest King” (I Kings 1-11; II Chronicles 1-9), the longest series I have ever preached ( Solomon is the last monarch of the united kingdom and he represents the high point in OT Israel. After him comes division, warfare, and temple desecration. Studying Solomon helps us understand Christ’s glorious kingship, (aspects of) the OT ceremonial law, and God’s one holy church, as well as Proverbs, the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, and (some of) the Psalms.

Mary and I were finally able to make it to South Wales for a lecture on “The Irresistible Grace of God” on 9 June. Because of Covid regulations and the press of other labours, it had been over 28 months since we were last there! We visited the homes of Brian and Sian Harris, and Richard and Judy Holt, and took the three Hutchings out for dinner beforehand. It was lovely to see all of them again and the other saints who attended the lecture.

Mary and I hosted the congregation at the manse for a barbecue (24 June). We had good fellowship and the younger ones enjoyed playing football.


In the 139 days since my last letter (18 April), we added another 79 translations in 8 different languages ( Almost half of these new translations are Polish (39), most of which are by Marcin Kozera and Robert Jarosz, both of whom were at the BRF conference—the first time that we had met either of them! These Polish translations include two pamphlets by Herman Hoeksema (“The Antichrist” and “The Mark of the Beast”) and the first half of the BRF book, The Reformed Worldview, by Profs. Hanko and Engelsma.

This is the breakdown of the remaining 40 new translations: 14 Dutch (including 5 pamphlets by Herman Hoeksema and Henry Danhof, supplied by Rev. Steve Key in pdfs), 8 Hungarian, 8 Afrikaans, 4 Spanish, 3 Odia (all of the Three Forms of Unity), 2 Russian, and 1 Korean.

We now have articles from the Covenant Reformed News translated into 22 different languages spoken in various countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America: Afrikaans, Burmese, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hiligaynon, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Kirundi, Luo, Macedonian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swahili, and Tagalog. Most articles of the News have been translated into at least one language and some up to as many as seven different tongues. Thus there are many more translations of the News on-line than there are pieces in English!

May the Lord continue to bless and keep you all by His Word and Spirit in these perilous times.

Rev. & Mary Stewart


Covenant Reformed News July 2022

Covenant Reformed News

July 2022  •  Volume XIX, Issue 3

The Unchangeable God (3)

The God who is unchangeable in Himself (Ps. 102:27; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17) is also unchangeable in His eternal decree. God’s decree is His eternal plan or purpose with regard to heaven and earth, angels and men, and all creatures. It embraces every tiny detail concerning things on this planet, under this planet and above this planet, for Jehovah “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11). As the Westminster Confession states, “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” (3:1).

Concerning God’s eternal decree, His all embracing plan and purpose, Holy Writ declares that it, like the One who eternally determined it, is unchangeable. Jehovah declares, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isa. 46:10). Thus Hebrews 6:17 refers to “the immutability of his counsel.” To use the language of James 1:17, like God Himself, there is “no variableness” nor “shadow of turning” in His eternal counsel.

God’s unchangeable decree includes His sovereign unconditional election of some to salvation in Jesus Christ and reprobation of others to destruction in the way of their sins. Speaking of our election, Ephesians 1:4 states that God “hath chosen us in him [i.e., Christ] before the foundation of the world.” As proof of reprobation, we cite the “ungodly men” of Jude 4 “who were before of old ordained to this condemnation.” The classic biblical example of election and reprobation is that of Isaac and Rebekah’s twins, Jacob and Esau. Before the two boys were “born” and so before they had “done any good or evil,” in order to fulfil the “purpose of God,” this was His eternal will: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:11, 13).

Given God’s sovereign decree, the number of the elect and of the reprobate is immutable. There are a certain number of “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” and a certain number of “vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory” (22-23). Westminster Confession 3:4 is right: “These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.”

The names of the elect and the reprobate are also unchangeably fixed. The names of those predestinated to salvation are written in the Lamb’s book of life “from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8; 17:8). On the other hand, Judas, for example, was always, in God’s eyes, “a son of perdition,” that is, a child of hell (John 17:12).

The immutability of God not only requires the unchangeability of His eternal counsel, including election and reprobation, but it also provides us with a sure proof of Christ’s Deity. Psalm 102:25-27 is quoted by Hebrews 1:10-12 with regard to our Lord Jesus: “Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: they shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.”

The eternal Son was not changed by His incarnation, when He took to Himself a real and complete human nature. Nor was God the Son changed by His cross, when He bore the terrible punishment due to His elect for their sin. In fact, the cross is the most glorious manifestation of the unchangeability of God. Jehovah’s infinite justice demands satisfaction, even if it is in the substitutionary atoning death of His own incarnate Son. God’s infinite mercy is unchangeable, including His pity for His beloved people in Jesus Christ, so unchangeable that Jehovah did not spare His only begotten Son (Rom. 8:32).

This beautiful biblical teaching of God’s immutability is for our comfort. First, Jehovah’s covenant is unchangeable: “I will immutably be thy God and thou shalt unchangeably be my people.” “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee” (Isa. 54:10).

Second, Psalm 102:27-28 teaches that Jehovah’s immutability (“But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end”) guarantees the church’s continuity (“The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee”).

Third, in His unchangeable covenant, the immutable God preserves not only His church but also each individual believer. II Timothy 2:19 assures us that Jehovah will graciously keep every one of His own (“the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his”) and, therefore, we must live holy lives out of gratitude (“Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity”).

Given the unchangeability of our God, what is our calling? First, do not trust in anything in this world, including “uncertain riches” (I Tim. 6:17) or fickle man. Trust not in princes (Ps. 146:3) for that is leaning upon a “broken reed” (Isa. 36:6). “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” Why? For “the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (I John 2:15, 17).

Instead, second, trust in the Triune God revealed in Jesus Christ, who has redeemed us by the blood of the everlasting covenant. Rely on Him for all things temporal and spiritual. After all, He is Jehovah, the great “I am that I am,” who is unchangeable, and so always faithful to His Word and promises (Isa. 26:4; Heb: 6:11-20).

Third, as we meditate upon and love the unchangeable God, let us strive by His grace to be more constant and faithful ourselves: not up one minute and down the next, not gracious today and rude tomorrow, not kind in the morning but irritable in the evening. Instead, let us ever be the same: loving the Lord our God with all our heart and our neighbour as ourselves continuously. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (I Cor. 15:58). The unchangeable God promises, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).  Rev. Stewart



Friendship Evangelism

We are treating friendship evangelism in response to a request of a reader: “I’d like to ask if something can be written on the comparison and/or contrast between friendship with the world which is enmity with God and friendship with unbelievers as a bridge-building exercise for sharing the gospel (Life on Life and Word of Witness).”

Friendship evangelism or relational evangelism is making friends with unbelievers, and taking them into your home and life in order to create opportunities for sharing the gospel with them. One Life on Life website suggests that one place to start with life on life discipleship is to establish a relationship with an unbeliever.

The Bible is clear, however, that we are not to be friends with those who do not believe. The request from our reader makes reference to James 4:4, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” That is strong language, including the reference to those who do not listen to what James says as “adulterers and adulteresses.” They deserve such names because friendship with the world is unfaithfulness to God.

There are other passages as well. II Corinthians 6:14-18 says, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”

The Old Testament sends the same message: “Israel then shall dwell in safety alone” (Deut. 33:28). When Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, went to battle with wicked King Ahab of Israel, he was admonished by the prophet Jehu: “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord” (II Chron. 19:2).

These passages present the antithesis, the spiritual separation and opposition that exists between believer and unbeliever, and which believers must maintain in their lives. We may not marry unbelievers (I Cor. 7:39), make friends with the ungodly and the world (James 4:4), or be in any relationship with an unbeliever which is an unequal yoke (II Cor. 6:14), i.e., business partnerships, friendships, and worldly causes and purposes. Why? Because we are spiritually different, not of ourselves but of grace.

The argument often is that the believer by joining the ungodly can make a difference, can be “salt and light,” and can change the world in which he lives, or the person he or she marries, or the unbelieving friends he makes. However, the danger is that, instead of changing the unbeliever or the world, the believer himself is changed. As someone once said, “One drop of poison pollutes a large quantity of water but large quantities of water do not dilute the poison sufficiently to make it less dangerous.” That is the point in Haggai 2:11-13. When what is holy comes into contact with what is unclean, the holy becomes unclean but the unclean does not become holy.

Nor does Matthew 5:13-16 justify such conduct on the part of the Christian. Their interpretation of the passage is that believers, joining with unbelievers, make them less dark and season them. Being friends of the world and joining their efforts, adopting their goals, the believer is called to change the world and make it less dark, less tasteless. That is a gross misinterpretation of the passage. That believers are the light of the world does not mean that they are called to make the darkness of this world a little less dark but refers to the fact that in this sin-darkened world they are the only light. That they are the salt of the earth does not mean that they are called to make this world less “tasteless” and to have a good effect on the culture of this world. All the salt in the world cannot cure rotten meat. Rather it means that they, by grace, are the only thing in the world that has any taste. Instead, then, of being an invitation to mingle with and make friends of the world, the passage is actually describing the antithesis, the great spiritual difference between the believer and the unbeliever, the church and the world.

As lights in the world, our calling is to let our light shine, not to make this world less dark, as a witness which God uses to save His own: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (16). That is what we call witnessing and it is the calling of every believer. The believer witnesses by giving an answer, when asked, of the hope that is in him (I Pet. 3:15), something he has opportunity to do when the unbeliever sees he is different in his work, marriage, family life, sabbath observance and attitudes toward others. The believer is a witness when he does good to others who do not believe: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44), but that is a different thing from making friends with them and taking them into one’s life. Sometimes that is the only witness he has when he has tried and failed to speak to them of the hope that he has in Christ.

That is not, however, what the Bible calls evangelism. Evangelism in Scripture is the preaching of the gospel by those whom God has sent, and who do so on behalf of, and under the oversight of, the church (Acts 13:1-3; 14:26-27; 15:1-31; 36-41; 21:17-26). There is much confusion about this also, with young men and women going out to “evangelize” without being called or sent, and without proper oversight or even financing. Such “evangelism” is disorderly, accomplishes little and often brings disgrace on the church. Every believer has the calling to be a witness of Jesus but not everyone is an evangelist. Every believer is called to be a witness of Jesus in word and life, but not by making friends of the world. At the heart of his witness is the wonderful result of God’s saving grace: the difference between him and the unbeliever, between his life, blessed by God, and the hell-bound life of those who do not believe.

Friendship evangelism is not biblical, and the organizations that promote it are doing nothing for the cause of Christ and His kingdom. Rev. Ron Hanko

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
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Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
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