TABLE OF CONTENTS
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Meditation - Rev. Kenneth Koole
Editorial - Prof. David J. Engelsma
Go Ye Into All the World - Rev. Jason L. Kortering
Special Feature - Prof. Russell J. Dykstra
All Around Us - Rev. Gise VanBaren
Taking Heed to the Doctrine - Rev. Steven R. Key
Report of Classis East - Mr. Jon J. Huisken
News From Our Churches - Mr. Benjamin Wigger
Lecture Announcement: "The Christian Worldview in the Light of Sin and Grace"
For thus saith the LORD of hosts: Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts. Haggai 2:1-9
Haggai is the first of the three who prophesied following the return from the Babylonian captivity. The parallels between Haggai's day and our own are too clear to miss. The post-exilic people to whom Haggai preached were waiting for the coming of the promised Messiah. What was taking the Lord so long? We also, in these latter days, are waiting for the return of the King and the culmination of His kingdom. What is keeping Him?
As Judah waited, they were faced with a monumental task, the rebuilding of the house of the Lord. They were faced with many obstacles and hindrances. The king of Persia himself had forbidden the reconstruction. We also are involved in building the Lord's house. We do this as parents instructing the seed of the covenant. They are "living stones" to be shaped and formed for the living temple. We engage in this in our churches-in the preaching, making sure we are building on the one-only foundation, and in missions also, gathering material and souls as they come from every nation and tongue. To this labor, in our day also, there is growing opposition. Our churches, through our synod, must be encouraged to press on with the great kingdom work.
But there is also a distinction that ought to be noted.
It was the task of those whom Haggai addressed to begin the work. It is our task not to begin the work (though we must begin to be more involved in missions), but to be involved in what I am convinced has to do with bringing the great work of the building of the Lord's house to its completion and its end. The work begun by Zerubbabel's little band 2,500 years ago at last is coming to its great conclusion. This work befalls the church entering the twenty-first century. Facing the inevitable and mounting discouragements we need to hear Haggai's word, "Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens and the earth ."
Addressing Discouraged Builders
The date with which our text begins is not insignificant. This is true of the date with which the entire prophecy begins, the first day of the sixth month (v. 1). That date marked an anniversary, namely, the completion of the destruction of David's Jerusalem and of Solomon's temple almost exactly 70 years before. On that date Judah officially ceased to exist as an independent nation once and for all and the people began their journey to Babylon. On the anniversary of that bitter destruction, and 16 years after the people laid the foundation and then abandoned the work, Haggai calls Judah to begin the reconstruction of the temple once more-but this time with a resolution that would see the work through to its end.
The prophecy of our text takes place on the 21st day of the 7th month. This is just a month after the work had begun. It comes at the conclusion of the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast, a week-long living in huts, was to remind Israel of the wilderness wanderings. By this feast Israel was to remember, first, God's preserving power through the most trying of circumstances. And second, Israel was reminded of their calling to be pilgrims and strangers. Not even in the promised land were they to put their roots down, or to think simply in terms of an earthly kingdom and glory. They were to look for something more heavenly and enduring. To be obtained how? By being a separate people. Forget about building houses with those high, vaulted ceilings (1:4) while the temple work was being neglected. Where are your priorities! The feast of tabernacles was a reminder.
When Haggai brings the words of our text, discouragement is already setting in. The people have labored for just over a month, just long enough to know they were faced with a monumental task. They were going to have to make great sacrifices in time and money. And all to accomplish what? Nothing they could build could even begin to compare with Solomon's temple in its magnificence and ornamental grandeur. For one thing, they did not have the same quality material. "We do not have great marble stones. We do not have the great beams hewn from the cedars of Lebanon. Neither do we have all those gifted craftsmen they had back then, men of such great skill with wood and stone that the stones all but spoke. For that matter, we do not even have the ark of the covenant. What we are putting up is a warehouse compared to the temple of those bygone days."
And so with us today. Whom do we think we are fooling? The glory days of Protestantism are past. Once the Presbyterian and the Reformed faith was a force to be reckoned with. Those were days when giants walked the earth. The great Reformers - who shall ever see their like again? Great volumes of theology were written. Great synods met and wrote foundational creeds. Seminaries were filled with men of great theological stature. What resources they had at their disposal! What great mission projects! Tens of thousands were gathered as they preached. Days that are forever past.
In comparison to those glory days, what are we left with? We live in days of diminishing returns. In our diminished stature what do we hope to accomplish? Return Protestantism to its glory days? It is not to be. Engage in missions? Fine. But burden our people with financial sacrifice-to gather how many? How few? And it's worth it? And as the spirit of Antichrist grows in strength, it is not going to get any easier either. And so, as in Haggai's day, encouragement is needed.
Urged on by Promised Judgment
Haggai exhorts the people. "Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel and be strong, O Joshua ; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work " (v. 4). He addresses the officebearers and the congregation. He means "be strong" in the sense of being physically energetic, because great effort is required. But, more than that, he means, "Do not let the work overwhelm you. Do not lose heart. No matter what, because the Lord is with you."
Note that the recurring name God uses is "the LORD of Hosts." There is a host of evil that faces God's people. But the Lord will confront them with His own hosts and, be assured, will prevail. Regardless of what you lack in quality of material and what impresses the eye, the Lord is with you, and His Holy Spirit is in you. And that more than makes up for lack in number and size.
The Lord assures them that He still remains faithful "to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt " (v. 5). That covenant is the word of promise to which God has bound Himself. That word, when Israel was coming out of Egypt, was, "I will give you the promised land. I shall give to you the kingdom. The great promised kingdom shall be as Paradise restored. You shall be a kingdom of priests before me." The point is that, as the Lord kept His word once in bringing them out of Egypt to the promised land, so, they may be assured, the promise still stands. The Messianic kingdom shall appear as surely as the Lord has shown Himself to be a God of His word.
This brings us to the foundational encouragement of the text. It is captured in those magnificent words of verses 6 and 7. " Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth ." We are all, I think, familiar with these words-perhaps because they are quoted in Hebrews 12, as we shall see. But when I read these words I hear a song being sung. I hear the voice of a bass soloist singing, resonating and deep. I hear it being sung in the oratorio properly called "The Messiah."
Brethren, what you and I must understand is that these words are still reverberating through creation and the events of history. This is the song, this is the theme, this is the Voice that resonates through New Testament history. Wherever we go with the Word, this song is in the background. And the One who is still singing these words with the voice of power is the great Bass Soloist of the church, the Lion of Judah's tribe.
This must encourage us as pastors and preachers. We go to hospital rooms, and we stand at the bedside of a beloved and dying saint, whose body is ravaged by terrible disease. What can one say that is adequate to contend with death, that can drive away the despair, that can answer to the grief of spouse and children? All you can do is open the Word, and begin to read. But as you do, the great Soloist begins to sing. And there are ears that hear His voice and song. The Evil One is there, filling the room with his despair and accusations. He hears the voice of the great Bass Soloist. "I AM the one who has shaken the heavens and the earth and your kingdom to its foundation. Begone foul fiend!" And he flies! And the shadows of despair vanish away!
But also the ears of the heart of the dying saint hear. His heart is attuned to the pitch of this voice and its song. And hope and expectation return. "I know that my Redeemer liveth! I hear his voice." In this assurance bring the Word.
And this is the knowledge that missionaries must take with them. They face darkness and superstitious unbelief, spiritual indifference, and even bitter opposition. Who can hope to prevail and set any soul free from such hardness and deception?
Take heart! In the background and through the ages comes this Voice with these words, reverberating, penetrating, entering into the deep recesses of men's hearts. And kingdoms of darkness crumble, hearts become new and pliable, and blind eyes suddenly see. The voice of Jesus, the great kingdom shaker, is heard.
Is this encouragement? You had better believe it. This is the voice and these the words that echo and reverberate down through the ages to this present time.
Having stated all this, we acknowledge that there are some exegetical questions that must be faced. The prophet refers to one great decisive shaking that is promised. "Yet once, it is a little while and I will shake all nations." The question must be asked, to what decisive event does the text refer?
Our immediate inclination is to say, "Well, to the cross, of course, to the death of the Messiah, and to His resurrection. That is the great shaking of the whole sin-cursed creation, and of the foundations of the kingdoms of darkness and this world as well."
But if that is true, then there are two questions. First, what are we going to say about the return of Christ and the second coming as the final shaking of all things? The prophet says, "Yet once ," not "yet twice," or three times. And second, if the words of the prophet have been fulfilled, why do the nations and the forces of evil and of Antichrist still stand? And not only stand, but obviously flourish. They are building greater cities and skyscrapers and sprawling apartment complexes all the time.
This was certainly a question raised by the early New Testament believers. If the cross is the great fulfillment of the prophet Haggai, as you apostles say, why do the kingdoms of ungodliness still stand; why are we yet persecuted so fiercely; and where is the everlasting kingdom with its victory?
Well, beloved, we are not left without answer. The Lord gives answer in Hebrews 12:26, 27. There the inspired apostle adjusts the prophecy and explains how "once" can mean "twice," or, if you will, "once more." Notice, that in Hebrews 12:26 the apostle speaks of the voice that shook the earth, "saying, Yet once more I shake ." Whether you find that in Haggai or not, the Spirit says it is there by clear and necessary inference.
And this squares with natural reality. The striking thing about earthquakes is that they come in clusters. There are usually minor, preliminary tremors, and then comes what is known in the vernacular as "the Big One," the major, dominating quake. But, as every expert will tell you, once it has hit, you had better prepare yourself for one great aftershock as well.
The interesting thing about an "aftershock" is that it is directly related to the major quake. First, it follows right along the same, main fault-line; and second, it is this aftershock that brings crashing down those structures whose foundations were decisively damaged and broken by "the Big One." The aftershock finalizes what the major quake has really accomplished.
Such is the relationship between the cross and Christ's return. Irreparable damage has been inflicted on the kingdoms of Satan and of this world. The principal, decisive shaking and breaking has taken place, namely, the cross and resurrection of our Lord. According to this knowledge we must labor.
In Hebrews 12:27 the apostle points that out. He states, "And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken ." Notice, he does not speak of those things that "will be shaken," (that's the language of the prophet Haggai), but of the things that have already been shaken-"are shaken." The foundational shaking has already occurred. The apostle speaks then not so much of another shaking, but of the "removal" of those things shaken.
The New Testament church simply awaits the collapse of the structures that have been decisively damaged, and their final, culminating destruction. This will occur when the Lord comes to shake them "yet once more."
Brethren, this knowledge ought not only assure us of the sure collapse of the evil that confronts us in these latter days, but it also gives to us our great task with its urgency.
What is that task? May I be so bold as to call it "Operation Rescue"? We look out over the world and see the nations and their cities teeming with life like Nineveh and Babylon of old. They have been decisively shaken and condemned. And yet the Lord has not brought them crashing down.
Why, you ask, do they still stand? Because there are residents in the condemned structures of civilization that must be evacuated and led out before the collapse may occur. In those structures are the very elect of God. They are not to perish in their ignorance in the ruins of the nations. And so the Lord Jesus, like a mighty Samson, by the power of His will, holds up the nations themselves, preventing their collapse until the last lost sheep of His true Israel has been led out and brought to everlasting salvation and safety.
This is our task. It is urgent. "Yet once, it is (only) a little while ." The building structures of the nations are condemned. The "aftershock" is sure to strike. Who knows how long the Lord tarries. Meantime, it is our solemn obligation to be going through the corridors of this world, declaring to its inhabitants, "Repent, or perish with all that has been condemned. Flee from the wrath to come while it is yet today." How many Reformed churches take this message seriously anymore? We do. The task falls upon us.
Brethren, take heart! Whatever forces of evil confront us and would prevent the gospel work, fear them not. They are, despite appearances, without true and lasting power. Their foundations have been struck a shattering blow, and the fast approaching aftershock is going to bring them crashing down.
The Incentive of Coming Glory
The prophet is called to assure the people that "the desire of all nations shall come" (v. 7). This is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It does not matter that the greater part of the ungodly want nothing to do with Him. The fact is that He alone is the answer and solution to the children of men in their desperate, dying need. And as for the elect of the Gentile nations, He is the one they cry for, saying, "Have mercy upon us, thou Son of David!"
It is in light of His appearing that Jehovah God declares, "The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former and in this place will I give peace " (v. 9). This "greater glory" is in contrast to the silver and gold spoken of in verse 8. The silver and gold represent what impresses men. Without silver and gold, how can this structure ever be appropriate for the glory of the everlasting kingdom promised? The Lord says, "Who cares about that? What need have I of more silver and gold? It is all Mine to begin with. I do not need silver and gold, I need you! No, not in the sense of depending on you, but in the sense of your service being of use to Me. That is what is of value and importance to Me, your willing and zealous service."
The glory of the house of the Lord they were to build would be greater than Solomon's golden temple. How could this be? Simple. The glory of Zerubbabel's temple would be the living Lord Jesus Himself, His person, gospel, and work.
To this prophecy of Haggai there is an astonishing fulfillment. Notice, the word is, " and I will fill this house with glory ," and again, "The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former." The significant thing is that Herod never demolished Zerubbabel's temple, but rather extensively remodeled it and added to it. Five centuries later, the Lord Jesus Himself would point at the very stones Zerubbabel's little band had laid, and say, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will build it again. And this he spake concerning his own body." Christ's resurrection body! What greater glory is there? These words have a literal fulfillment beyond what one could first believe.
But one more thing. Do not forget that, in the deepest sense, the true body of Christ is nothing else than the church. As Head, Christ loved and gave Himself for his body, which is His bride, the church (Eph. 5:23). Ye are, we are, the temple of the living Lord. This means that we are continuing to construct what Zerubbabel's little band began in the days of Haggai. No minor work. It is the glory of this house and church that shall alone endure and stand.
When the aftershock of the cross and resurrection strikes yet once more, everything shall come crashing down. One structure and one structure only shall remain standing-what Hebrews 12 calls "the general assembly and church of the firstborn, and of just men made perfect."
This is why the examination of the student this coming week, and, D.V., his subsequent candidacy, is so important. Another messenger will have been prepared to send, to warn, and to encourage. This is why our decisions as synod, especially as they pertain to missions, are of such importance. They have everything to do with the work of the great gathering of Christ's own before the end of all things comes.
This is why the prayers of all the saints for more laborers, in particular the gospel preachers from our own sons, is so vital. The work is urgent. And this is why the continued contributions and support of the saints for this great building project is so vital as well. The building of the more glorious temple is not the labor of a few, but of us all, and giving ourselves to the work with an energy and zeal.
Ah, Lord Jesus, Thou sweet Singer of true Israel, establish Thou the work of our hands, yea, the work of our hands, establish Thou it.
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The annual synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) met at the Hope Church in Walker, Michigan from June 9-15.
At the pre-synodical service on Monday evening, June 8, Rev. Ken Koole, president of the previous synod, preached to a full house on Haggai 2:1-9, "Encouraged to Persevere in the LORD'S Great Building Project." The text of his sermon is the meditation in this issue of the Standard Bearer.
Officers of the 1998 synod were Rev. Gise Van Baren, president; Rev. Ron Cammenga, vice-president; Rev. Steven Key, first clerk; and Rev. Barry Gritters, second clerk.
About a day and a half was taken up with the oral examination of Nathan Brummel, senior student at the Protestant Reformed Seminary. The examination included Mr. Brummel's preaching a specimen sermon before the synod on Isaiah 43:3, 4. Synod approved the examination and declared Mr. Nathan Brummel a candidate for the office of the ministry of the Word and sacraments in the PRC. He is eligible for a call on or after July 11, 1998.
The graduation exercises were held on the evening of June 15. Prof. Russ Dykstra spoke on "God's Covenant: The Heart of the Protestant Reformed Pastor's Life and Work." The address appears elsewhere in this issue of the SB. The president of the Theological School Committee (TSC), Rev. Dale Kuiper, and the rector of the seminary, Prof. Robert Decker, presented Mr. Brummel with his diploma.
Other actions of synod regarding the seminary included the admission of two new students from the PRC to the seminary in the fall of 1998; the instruction of the TSC to arrange special training for the seminarian of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia, Mr. Mark Shand, in the area of pastoral work; and the approval of Prof. Herman Hanko's seeking emeritation at the synod of 1999. The report of the TSC informed synod that in the school year just concluded 12 men were enrolled in the seminary as either full-time or part-time students, in addition to the three full-time students aspiring to the ministry in the PRC.
Missions, both domestic and foreign, made up a large part of synod's agenda. Synodically, the work of the PRC in the British Isles, centered presently in Northern Ireland, is under the supervision of the Domestic Mission Committee (DMC). Synod approved sending someone periodically to the British Isles to help missionary Ron Hanko with a view to determining whether synod 1999 should call another missionary to work in the British Isles.
Synod also approved calling a second home missionary for the eastern part of the United States. He will begin working in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where a small group has been meeting with Rev. Tom Miersma and other visiting ministers of the PRC. Pittsburgh is a large city, and the Reformed witness there is small in comparison with the presence of the Roman Catholic Church and of the mainline Protestant churches. Southwest PRC in Grandville, Michigan will be the calling church.
If the present home missionary, Rev. Tom Miersma, must be moved from the San Luis Valley in Colorado, as appears likely because of the lack of fruit on the work, the DMC is inclined toward Spokane, Washington, where is a small congregation that has expressed interest in the PRC.
Synod adopted a budget for radio for 1999 of $31,400, to enable the DMC to broadcast in areas where the radio program should serve to promote our mission purposes. The DMC uses the programs of the Reformed Witness Hour.
Synod heard reports on visits to the Philippines by a delegation consisting of Rev. Arie den Hartog and Rev. Allen Brummel and by Rev. Jay Kortering. These visits were conducted under the auspices of the Foreign Mission Committee of the PRC (FMC). In accordance with the recommendation of the FMC, synod approved the sending of two more delegations to the Philippines before synod 1999 to prepare the way for establishing a mission field in the Philippines. The intention is to call a missionary to the Philippines in the near future.
The FMC informed synod that, after the decision of synod 1996 to make Ghana, West Africa a mission field, it learned that the PRC need a Ghanaian sponsoring body in order to send a missionary to Ghana. Synod decided to pursue working in Ghana. It did this by instructing the FMC to investigate the requirements associated with sponsorship and to proceed with sponsorship providing it does not conflict with the decisions of synod 1996 (Art. 70) and does not compromise the teaching and preaching of our Reformed distinctives. Also, synod approved a 1999 budget for Ghana of $101,345 for the general operating expenses of the field and $40,000 for initial setup costs.
Contact with Other Churches
The synodical committee on ecumenicity was instructed to express to the United Reformed Churches (URC) the desire of the PRC to have a conference to determine and discuss the issues that separate us, including the theory of common grace and the doctrine of the covenant. Synod also decided to send observers to the next synod of the URC.
Synod discontinued sending observers to the Reformed and Presbyterian ecumenical body, NAPARC. The grounds for this decision include that important doctrinal differences between the PRC and member churches of NAPARC make membership by the PRC in this organization impossible and that the PRC ought not to continue sending observers if they have no intention of joining the organization.
Synod authorized the Contact Committee (CC) to proceed with a conference on biblically regulated worship with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) of Australia in the coming year, if this is possible. The EPC addressed the PRC with a warm letter of greetings. This letter thanked the PRC for the training of a student from the EPC in the seminary of the PRC.
A highlight of the synod was the address by Rev.
Jay Kortering, minister-on-loan to the Evangelical Reformed Churches
in Singapore (ERCS), sister churches of the PRC. Rev. Kortering
reported on his work in the churches in Singapore and on the work
of the ERCS. He spoke of the possibility that the PRC might be
asked to give more assistance to their sister churches in southeast
Asia in the future. Following this address, synod instructed the
CC to begin discussions with the ERCS concerning our future labors
with the ERCS after Rev. Kortering's term of labor expires. The
grounds are informative and encouraging:
a. The PRC could be of assistance to the ERCS in its Theological Training School;
b. the transition to another man who would continue in Pastor Kortering's labors could best be made while Pastor Kortering is still serving his term of labor in Singapore;
c. Pastor Kortering's labors have resulted in a solid relationship formed between our denominations which can serve as a platform for future joint labors;
d. our labors with the ERCS have been to the blessing of both denominations and should be continued.
On behalf of the Training Committee of the ERCS,
Pastor Lau Chin Kwee addressed the synod of the PRC by letter:
Greetings from the Far East where our glorious Lord also has His people to bear witness of the truth that He is the Sovereign Lord of all, without the knowledge of which no man can be saved.... We want to take this opportunity to express our heartfelt gratitude for the encouragement we received from your members when they cheerfully give towards our work in Theological Training and Mission. With such givings we are sure that many prayers have also been uttered before the throne of grace that we may obtain help in times of need. We see many opportunities of service around us and also feel our own limitation in what we can do. Your prayerful support encourages our heart.
Through the secretary of their Contact Committee,
Ishu Mahtani, the ERCS sent greetings to the PRC:
Evangelical Reformed Churches of Singapore send their warmest greetings in the name of our great and mighty Saviour Jesus Christ. We hope that you are kept in good health by the grace of God as you continue to serve Him with the love and zeal that you also have shown to us over the many years . Classis sends their warmest greetings to the PRC with deep appreciation of the love and concern the PRC have shown to them for so many years. It is their hope that our relationship with the PRC as sister churches may continue to abound in brotherly love and that we may with likemindedness continue to prosper as a body of Christ, even as we embark on foreign missions and other related work in the next millennium. The Classis here have made some decisions regarding their desire to send delegates for the PRC's 75th anniversary that is going to be held in the year 2000. ERCS are pleased to inform you that they have decided to send two delegates as representatives to the PRC for this special event.
The synod of the PRC responded by sending its greetings to the ERCS, rejoicing with them in their spiritual well-being, expressing its prayers for the Lord's blessing on their endeavors in theological training and missions, thanking them for their "love gift" of $12,000(S) for the support of Rev. and Mrs. Kortering, and conveying its joy that the ERCS will send a delegation to the PRC celebration of their 75th anniversary.
Synod also responded to greetings from the EPC of Australia and from the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland.
Synod continued planning for the denominational celebration of the 75th anniversary of the PRC. The celebration is scheduled for June 19-23, 2000 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The theme will be "Living out of Our Heritage." Synod made decisions concerning an anniversary book and booklet; funding (by a drive and collections); speakers; and necessary committees.
Synod was informed of the disbanding of the Trinity PRC, Houston, Texas.
Synod considered the report of a special committee
to advise on the synodical emeritus fund. The occasion is the
"significant need faced by the Emeritus Fund" in the
future because many of our ministers are not in the Social Security
more than half of our present ministers are not in the Social Security program. Therefore, many in this group may not have any other real source of retirement income other than the Emeritus Fund, and each one would not be eligible at retirement to receive premium-free Medicare insurance. The majority of these ministers without Social Security will reach retirement ... in 20 years, at which time the Emeritus Fund will face this impact. It will be a significant burden for the churches to handle.
The special committee was continued with the mandate to work further on the matter of emeritation funding. The committee is to make recommendations regarding other revenue sources for the emeritus fund, administrative practices for the emeritus fund, and fair and consistent "savings" techniques for pastors. One of its duties is to prepare an investment policy including both fixed income and equity securities for use in investing excess synodical funds.
The synodical budget in 1999 was raised to $733 per family from $665 in 1998. Synod's explanation of this whopping increase is unexpected expenditures from the emeritus fund; a second home missionary; and the opening of a mission field in Ghana.
The First PRC of Holland, Michigan is the calling church for the synod of 1999.
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This article is about opportunities--opportunities to practice missions.
The world is changing. Nations are mixing with nations, ethnic groups are intermingling with others. This is the biblical pattern if we understand the nature of the world in the last days. Commercial leaders call it globalization. Politicians speak of the New World Order. World communications no longer depend upon the infrastructure of individual nations; satellites eliminate all of this. The Bible speaks of the coming of the anti-Christian world power ( Rev. 13). It's closer than we like to think.
And we are in the middle of all of this.
We are called by God to bring the gospel to these nations, these peoples.
Opportunities have never been better.
First, this is true concerning the objects of missions. We have established that missions includes both witnessing of the individual Christian and the official preaching of the gospel. As we intermingle in today's world, we must realize that almost every person who crosses our path is an object of missions for us. The reason is that almost everyone who crosses our path is either a non-Christian or a Christian. For the non-Christian we ought to be burdened for his lost condition. For the Christian who does not embrace the Reformed faith, we ought to be burdened for his lack of spiritual understanding. That covers a lot of neighbors. The opportunities are almost endless.
Second, the intermingling of the nations gives us many opportunities to reach out to different peoples. Many work places are like a little United Nations. Many jobs require foreign travel which affords excellent contact with many non-Christians. A family from another country may move into the house next door to you. How do you react as a family? In all likelihood these are lonely people who are going through cultural shock. If you befriend them and take an interest in them, you will expand both your own horizon and that of your family. It is an excellent opportunity to sit down with your children, get out the encyclopedia, and learn something about India or their Hindu religion. That way you can understand their background and their needs when you talk to them. When you do this, it can open the door for this neighbor to ask you about your community as well as your Christian faith and church.
The biggest hindrance to sharing the gospel today is our impersonal society. We all live in caves and ignore neighbors. The Christian has to come out of his cave and engage in meaningful exchange to show genuine love and care. There are so many opportunities for this. I challenge you: when you finish reading this, sit down and focus on one such person or family that God placed on your pathway.
Thirdly, the same holds true for the global community as expressed in the internet. It is exciting that our churches are developing excellent "home pages" to make our literature available. If you want to try something more personal, I suggest that you join a discussion group on any religion, including Christianity. Yes, there are a lot of odd-balls out there, and you have to sort it out. There are also worthwhile discussions about different religions in the news-groups. If you follow them, or better yet participate, you will sharpen your skills in communicating the gospel to the non-Christian world. You will also be toughened to take abuse from those who do not appreciate the gospel. I am amazed how much some non-Christians know about Christianity and how skillful they are in attacking it.
We could also cite statistics which indicate how little of today's world has even heard the gospel. It is quite easy to say that almost all the nations have heard about Christ. Yet, if you sit down and really examine what Christian missiologists are saying about people groups, you get a different picture. One significant quote: "Out of 24,000 distinct ethnic people groups in the world today, about 13,000 have been evangelized. Eleven thousand people groups have yet to hear the gospel" (from "Overseas Mission Fellowship's Newsletter"). Connected with that is the extreme difficulty in getting the written Word of God into their languages. We have personally observed the hard work our friends in East Malaysia are doing. They work with the Summer Institute of Linguistics (Wycliff). The tribe had only oral speech, no written language. They had to listen and formulate an alphabet, then a dictionary, followed by a grammar. After all this they had to teach that to the people before even beginning the translation of the Bible into that language. To accomplish this, one has to be dedicated to a lifetime of work, and only under God's blessing will one ever see it accomplished. And this is for only one tribe among thousands. For all sorts of reasons, over half of the world's population has not heard the gospel, even today.
Opportunities abound at home and abroad.
As churches and individuals we need to be more aware of them in order that we can do something about it. We can compare this situation to a married couple who are not interacting together as husband and wife as they ought. All of us who do marriage counseling know that such a couple may have developed bad habits and have to be given a vision of a different way of life which they can hardly imagine. This requires four steps. First, they have to be made aware of or be sensitized to their lack and to a better way of doing things. Second, they have to be motivated to behave differently. Thirdly, they have to be counseled how actually to change their behavior and even coached in this process. Finally, as they put these changes into practice, they have to be monitored and encouraged. It seems to me this is a good approach to challenge each other to be more active in missions.
Let's take a look at the local congregation.
If you ask me what is lacking in our outreach ministries in the local congregation, I would say that it is the activity of the local members reaching out to others by sharing the gospel with them and eventually inviting them to come to church.
I would urge our pastors and church extension committees to concentrate on this lack. As pastors we are spiritual leaders in all areas of ministry. By our preaching and teaching we must sensitize our members to this responsibility. We must follow through and meet with our church extension committees to be sure that this aspect is also included in their work. The pastors cannot personally do the four steps mentioned above with each member of the church. It would appear to me that this is included in the ministry of the church extension committee.
Church extension is outreach. How do we reach out to our neighbors? Yes, in our outreach we publish materials, we arrange radio broadcasts, we hold lectures and class discussions. But, even with these projects, without the personal involvement of every member, they are very limited. The key to any outreach must include the activity of our members. Every church extension committee member knows this only too well. If our members don't invite others to come to a lecture or a special worship service, there will be very few visitors. As members we won't invite anyone to these meetings if we have not, on some regular basis, formed a sharing ministry with our neighbors. It is a good thing when our church extension committees give thought and make plans to train our members to reach out.
This is hard work, but important work if we truly care about our faithfulness to God in missions. Yes, it means we have to search out appropriate material that we can use for our training. It means that we have to do more than use lesson material, we have to hold actual practice sessions and challenge each other to do this work between meetings and discuss what we learned. I look back at our efforts in Grandville. We used Metzger's book, Tell the Truth. It was good material, but I failed to include actual hands-on experience, and without that it soon becomes theory without practice. All such efforts can best begin on a small scale with a vitally interested group. We must not take the approach that if we hold one such training session, then all the members are equipped for this work. Witnessing is a spiritual art, much like prayer. All such spiritual activity needs practice, constant reinforcing, and encouragement. If the Lord blesses such efforts, it will be like leaven in the church and will spread as the Holy Spirit works.
Be sure that as you undertake such efforts you pray fervently to God that He will work zeal for the spread of the gospel. No spiritual advance ever takes place in the church apart from fervent prayer. Because this is true, whenever we see fruits upon our labors there is no reason for boasting, for it is God's work and all glory is His.
It would seem to me that if we really come to grips with the importance of every member involved in outreach, it will also affect our home mission and foreign mission efforts. Because I am personally involved in foreign missions, I can speak from some experience in this area. I have learned many things, but I mention only two important factors that are involved in the spread of the gospel here.
1. The most significant resource for potential new members with which to work comes from the personal involvement of the membership. Hardly ever does someone show up at any church activity without being invited. The regular efforts on the part of members of every age provides plenty of new contacts for instruction and training.
2. Children's ministries are very effective. These include such things as Vacation Bible School, Holiday Camps, Church Youth Groups, Tuition (tutor) programs. By these efforts, non-Christian children and youth come for training and fellowship. Such programs afford opportunities to introduce children to the gospel of Christ. Obviously, these are long-range programs, so that we try to reach the same youth or children year after year. As they mature, some of them are open to the gospel and willing to be trained for membership. Many adult Christians testify that they were first introduced to Christ when very young and it had a lasting impact on them. God works in children and youth, also among non-Christian people. God frequently uses these children to speak to their parents who in turn become involved in classes and spiritual training.
Because we are so covenant orientated (and that with great blessing), we may resist the thought of reaching children if they do not have covenant homes. We may even resist the idea of reaching parents through children. Yet, God continues to do just this in many instances. I see it here in Singapore and I was encouraged to see the same in India, the Philippines, and also Myanmar. Is there a reason why the same would not be true of America and Europe and other countries? Yes, there is a difference in culture and history, but we do well to give serious thought to this possibility.
There is one more aspect we should consider. If this is true in foreign missions, why would it not be true in domestic missions?
Perhaps this is something for us to ponder regarding our approach in home missions. We have many criteria for determining whether or not a certain group of people constitutes a "field of labor." Perhaps we have to include in our evaluation whether the group is mindful of their responsibilities in outreach to "bring them in," so to speak. If they lack in this regard, it may very well be the first duty of a local pastor or home missionary to engage in this training. If it is true for domestic missions, as we see it is in foreign missions (that the local congregation plays a key role in outreach), then we must expect this of those who form the core group, that they will be actively involved in gaining others for Christ. It is a fact that a pastor or a home missionary has his limitations in doing this. The reason is obvious. He has such limited contact with neighbors or relatives of members of the core group, that at best he can only function as one of them and not function for all of them. A key role of the pastor and missionary is to motivate members to go out to the lost and bring them in, so that he in turn can give such persons individual instruction as the Holy Spirit works in their hearts to prepare them for membership.
Then what about outreach to children and youth? There are different factors to consider with each community. What do we have to offer these children which would interest them in coming? Also, we must exercise care so as not to threaten good relations with local families by ministering to their children. This has to be done with great sensitivity. In today's world, parents are very cautious not to allow their children to be involved in religious activities with "strangers." This is exactly the point. We have to become friends and overcome the barrier of stranger. We must be the friendly neighborhood church. We have to be the friendly neighbor who is trustworthy because of past interaction. Virtually no outreach program will have any success without some personal interaction with others by us. But if such confidence is established, bridges can be built between the congregation and neighbors through the children. At least it is worth considering.
I would like to conclude this article on stimulating enthusiasm by suggesting two more things.
First, mission awareness trips are powerful stimulants to get the spiritual juices flowing. I can only speak from my own experience in this regard. My wife and I consider travel to the different countries for the purpose of developing mission interest as one of the greatest "fringe benefits" of being in Singapore. Nothing lifts the two of us up so much as such travel. We may come home coughing, spitting blood, dog tired, and whatever, but our spirits soar. Nothing excites us more than the opportunity to further the gospel in new areas. I am sure that you would experience the same if you could just have the opportunity. I have heard about such trips taking place to Jamaica and to Houston, Texas. That is good, and I am sure it produces mission enthusiasm. The more we can see firsthand the joys and sorrows of mission work, the better we will be in our own mission efforts. I have a dream that some day we can arrange such a trip from America to Southeast Asia. I don't have in mind a holiday. I have in mind a working experience in which those interested can get some actual exposure to mission work.
Mission opportunities span the globe. God is working in America in our local congregations as we work together in our home mission effort. God is working through our churches in Northern Ireland and the British Isles. God is giving us opportunity in Ghana, Africa. God has established the ERCS in Southeast Asia as a sister-church with whom we are engaged in mission efforts. This is only a very small part of the work which Christ is doing by His Spirit through His church in the world. The work of the gathering of the lost is a wonder of grace, and all of us stand humbly before God when it pleases Him to use us as instruments in His hands to perform this work.
This is worth being enthusiastic about.
I trust you are enthusiastic with the confidence that God also uses you!
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Prof. Dykstra is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
This graduation speech addresses the particular calling of a minister in the Protestant Reformed Churches. It has application to ministers for obvious reasons. It also has value for elders who must see to it that ministers are faithful in their life and work. Every believer also can profit from a discussion of how the covenant affects one's life and work, not only for his own personal advantage, but also to be able to encourage all our ministers so to live and work, yes, even demand it. But, more than anything, it is for the seminary graduate that this speech is given.
The assumption behind this speech is that there is a connection between doctrine and walk. Specifically, it is taken for granted that what one believes should directly influence how he lives. There is no doubt that God has given the Protestant Reformed Churches significant blessings, particularly in the understanding of God's covenant. The doctrine of the covenant, more than any other tenet, is a Protestant Reformed distinctive. That doctrine must be manifest in the lives of the members. The specific question faced tonight is this: What is the calling of the Protestant Reformed minister in light of the precious doctrine of the covenant that God has entrusted to our care?
My contention is that God's covenant is the heart of the life and work of the Protestant Reformed minister. I do not say the goal; I do not say the focus - although both could be maintained. But the covenant is the heart. I mean that the covenant of grace is the heart in the sense that the Bible says that out of the heart are the issues of life. The covenant is the determining and the governing principle in virtually all that the minister does.
We must recognize, first of all, the central importance of God's covenant of grace. What is the covenant? It is the relationship of friendship and fellowship that God sovereignly establishes with His chosen people in Christ.
This covenant is patterned after God's intra-Trinitarian life. That life of God is not a cold business agreement, but a life of love and friendship. The Father eternally begets the Son in His own image. He delights in the Son, the Son of His love. The Son, eternally begotten of the Father, delights in the Father, and reflects the Father's infinite perfections. The Holy Spirit completes the Trinitarian life of fellowship. The Spirit searches the deep things of God. He proceeds from the heart of the Father to the Son with words of love, and returns from the heart of the Son to the Father with the Son's response of deepest love.
That is the life of God: intimate communion and love. It is the deepest fellowship possible, infinite and perfect fellowship. For there are three distinct persons, providing the diversity necessary for fellowship. Yet within the Trinity is also the deepest possible unity, for all are one essence. There is never disunity, never disagreement among the three.
So they have eternally existed-as the one only true God. He is the living God! God is not a dead idol. Nor did God live in eternal solitude until He eventually created some creatures in order to have some company. Rather He is the living God who needs no one-the most blessed covenant God in Himself.
The covenant of grace is the focal point in God's work because God patterned it after His covenant life. From all eternity God determined to glorify Himself. He would do so by revealing Himself in all His glory for others to see, to enjoy, and to praise. How best to do that? By causing the creature to know God's infinitely blessed covenant life. And how to accomplish that? Through Christ, the God-ordained Mediator of the covenant. Besides, God determined to glorify Himself by making His people to know His covenant life-experientially! He would not merely tell us about His beautiful life; God would cause us to experience it for ourselves.
Thus it follows that Jesus is the Mediator of the covenant who is also the Head of His covenant people, in order to bring us into it. He is not merely a mediator who would reconcile us to God and then bring us the benefits. But Christ is the Head, through whom we are incorporated into that covenant as members of His body.
Therefore the covenant of grace includes at least the following six elements.
God's covenant is one covenant, not many. The covenant that God had with Adam before the fall was a covenant of friendship. God maintained that same covenant after the fall in Christ.
The covenant is eternal, not limited to time. It is from eternity in Christ according to God's council, realized in time as God establishes His covenant with His people, and continues unto eternity in the new heavens and earth-God dwelling in covenant fellowship with His people.
The covenant is also unilateral, that is, one-sided. It is God's covenant. He plans, executes, and establishes His covenant without any input or activity of man. We reject the notion that the covenant is unilateral in its establishment but bilateral in its maintenance. Man does not maintain God's covenant. Indeed, man is called to obedience within the covenant; but the continuing of the covenant does not depend on man, else the covenant is doomed.
God's covenant is with the elect alone, not with all men.
God establishes His covenant with believers and their seed in the line of continued generations. The covenant is organic in that sense- not established with isolated individuals here and there, but in the line of continued generations.
Finally, the covenant is unconditional. That follows from its being one-sided, but since some still want to have some covenant conditions filled by man, this must be explicitly stated.
Most of these elements are set forth in the well-known Genesis 17:7. "And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee."
The central place of the covenant is plain from the fact that it is not a means to an end, but the goal itself. God's covenant is not a response to sin, a stopgap measure necessary because God's first plan failed. Nor is it merely a means to bring salvation to His people. Rather the covenant is the eternal and unchangeable purpose for creating all things, namely, that God might live in covenant fellowship with His people for an eternity, and that, for the glory of His own name.
Thus the doctrine of the covenant has a rightfully important place in Reformed theology. From Calvin through the ages, the development of the truth has involved the covenant. God has blessed the Protestant Reformed Churches with a huge repository of truth about the covenant. It was a truth sharpened through major controversies. The first, in 1924, concerned God's grace. We rightly call God's covenant a covenant of grace. How important it is for the doctrine of the covenant, then, to have it settled that grace is not common, but particular, and always saving.
The second, in 1953, touched directly on the covenant as the Protestant Reformed Churches set forth the unconditional nature of the covenant. No man can be a Protestant Reformed preacher who does not understand and love the doctrine of God's eternal, unconditional covenant of grace.
Since the covenant of grace is that important, it ought to have a profound effect on the life and work of the Protestant Reformed minister. We will consider four areas of his life and work, namely, his personal life, the preaching, his living and working among the congregation, and, finally, his life and work in the midst of the world.
The first area is the minister's own private life. For the minister, as for all believers, the covenant is, first of all, a personal matter. It is his life with God. The minister knows that he is loved and chosen by God. He has been brought into friendship with the living God!
Therefore he knows God (not merely about God). He knows God's greatness, glory, and something of His infinite perfections. In his heart, he knows God, not merely with his head. Such a minister consciously walks with God.
Such a relationship can only lead to greatest humility before God. The minister knows himself. He knows his sinfulness, his laziness, and his pride. He is conscious of his absolute unworthiness to fellowship with Jehovah. Yet, God has adopted him to be a member of His covenant family. This is a daily experience for the Reformed pastor when he lives in covenant fellowship with God.
How then can a man be proud who lives in conscious fellowship with God? If his fellowship is only with men-and thus his point of reference is only men-he can easily become proud. He is, after all, better educated than most in the congregation. He has more knowledge of the Bible, of theology, and of the philosophers.
But the Reformed minister looks at God, and compares himself to the living God. Daily he is both humbled because of his insignificance and shamed by his sins.
In his personal life, the Reformed pastor is ever seeking covenant fellowship with God, and he seeks that first in prayer. A Reformed minister is a man of prayer. The covenant causes the Reformed preacher to pray without ceasing- for prayer is fellowship with God. In prayer he speaks to God; he worships God. He prays for the filling of his needs, conscious of his dependence on God in all His labors.
Studying the Word is also a seeking of fellowship with God. It is never an abstract study, never academic. It is rather studying the One whom the minister knows and loves more than any other! He comes to the Scriptures to hear God speak to him, with the prayer "Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth."
He searches the Scriptures, diligently comparing Scripture with Scripture. His consuming passion is to get the truth, and to set it forth perfectly. His diligence in the study is due, on the one hand, to the fact that he loves God too much to invent supposed truths. And God forbid that he should ever teach half-truths or total lies about God!
On the other hand, he is so careful in his study of Scripture because he knows that the Bible is like no other book, in that the believer does not merely get to know about God through the Bible, but the believer comes to know God. The minister desires that for himself-to grow in the knowledge of God, which knowledge is life eternal-covenant life with God.
Thus the preacher enthusiastically returns to the Bible daily, first to feed his own soul, and then to bring out treasures for his congregation, both new and old.
His consciousness of covenant life with God also causes the minister to seek God's approval. The approval of men means nothing to him. His constant concern is: Does God approve of me and my work? Because he lives consciously before God, God's approval sustains him even when he is enveloped by the disapproval of men!
The minister's family life is also determined by the covenant. The family contains pictures of God's covenant with His people. The husband and the wife are pictures of Christ and his church. Parents and children are a living illustration of God and His chosen, adopted children. There is love and fellowship in the homes of believers. That life is a picture of God dwelling and communing with His people in love.
That blessedness of the covenant home the pastor wants for himself. But, even more, he knows that it must be present in his home and family. How can he preach the covenant of God unless he lives that covenant? His life must be a living demonstration of the truth he preaches. If it is not, he makes a mockery of the truth.
If he lives in strife and hatred with his wife; if his children walk in open violation of God's law, despising both their father (minister) and mother, it is like the family of Eli-an abomination to God. God will not bless such a ministry. The minister will disqualify himself as an officebearer in Christ's church. The Reformed minister must live God's covenant.
[Coming next month: How the covenant of grace governs the Reformed minister's preaching, life in the congregation, and life in the world.]
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We have been reading of the "natural" disasters
which have been affecting our country. What does it all mean?
And: is it an "angry Mother Nature" or the fulfillment
of Christ's prophecy? Newsweek, May 4, 1998, has this to
say of the disasters:
The past six months have been a disaster-as far as nature is concerned. Torrential rain in California, immobilizing ice in the Northeast, killer tornadoes in the South have all rattled the nation's prevailing sense of well-being. In fact, this decade has been packed with earthquakes, hurricanes, blizzards, floods and fires. With global warming expected to make violent storms even more common in years to come, and earthquake watchers still awaiting the Big One, we can pretty much forget about 2000's being the start of the mellow millennium. Is there anything we can do to ward off an angry Mother Nature?
The article concludes:
Think you can avoid natural disasters simply by staying out of California or Florida? Think again. Wyoming is the only U.S. state that hasn't experienced a major disaster in the last 10 years, and that just might mean it's due for a plague of locusts. So learn about your area and its likely problems, prepare your property as best you can and look on the bright side. Asked how a seismologist can bear to live in quake-prone Los Angeles County, USC's Henyey laughs: "I feel pretty good about the lack of tornadoes."
It does give one pause for thought. The signs foretold by our Lord are taking place. Many can blame an angry "Mother Nature." Many can blame "global warming." Many can insist that there have always been natural disasters. Many can foretell more violent events in the future. But Christ Himself spoke of these things to come. Do we hear His Word concerning the signs of His return?
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A report of the agenda of the Christian Reformed
Synod is presented by the United Reformed News Service.
The report includes a proposal, rejected by the executive committee,
to cancel synod when it does not have enough business in the judgment
of the Board of Directors.
Should there be a procedure to cancel the Christian Reformed synod when denominational officials judge that it doesn't have enough business on the agenda?
That question by CRC General Secretary Dr. David Engelhard was considered and rejected by the executive committee of the CRC Board of Trustees.
"There's almost nothing to do," said Engelhard. "We've gotten nineteen overtures, you've got candidates to approve, and a couple of other items, but my judgment is that there should be some procedure in place when on a given year the agenda is so thin that it could be judged not to be stewardly to pull together two hundred delegates from all over to do the business that is there."
"The Board does have the authority to call a special or separate session of synod should the board judge that it be necessary. Why would the reverse not be a possibility?" asked Engelhard. "It came to my mind, I addressed it to the executive committee, they decided not to proceed."
William Weidenaar, a Chicago-area attorney who serves as president of the CRC Board of Trustees, said the executive committee found three main problems with the idea of canceling synod.
"The difficulty with the suggestion is number one, no matter how light the agenda is, if there is one overture on the agenda and it's your agenda, maybe it's not light for you," said Weidenaar. "Number two, to cancel a synod is an extraordinary measure. The church order says there can be special meetings of synod convened but only under the most extraordinary circumstances, and you would also seem to need extraordinary circumstances to cancel synod."
Weidenaar also noted that the church order provides for annual meetings of synod. "That ought not to be contravened by a board or committee unless directed to do so by synod itself," said Weidenaar. "If there is to be a cancellation of synod, it should be the synod that does it, not a board."
The report continues by listing various materials
which are to come before the CRC synod this year:
In addition to the regular reports of the CRC's boards and denominational agencies, Synod 1998 will consider nineteen overtures, two appeals, and two communications.
Four overtures ask Synod 1998 to reject Synod 1998's proposal to revise the property rules for new CRC congregations and those receiving denominational funding; three overtures ask synod to make various adjustments in response to the potential loss of $11.5 million of denominational funds invested with the California-based IRM Corporation; three overtures address women in office by asking Synod 1998 rather than Synod 2000 to make the final decision on allowing women's ordination, preventing a separate vote on male and female candidates for the ministry, and allowing denominational agencies as well as local churches to hire women ministers.
The report lists other overtures as well which will appear before the synod. All of this presents hardly the appearance of a light work load for a synod which, I believe, is to meet only a week anyway. Either such a synod must be extremely efficient, or else everything is "cut and dried" and only requires the rubber stamp of the assembly.
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Christian Renewal, April
27, 1998, has an article by Darrell Todd Maurina which reflects
on one of the overtures appearing before the CRC synod this summer.
Should the Christian Reformed Church delete a statement in its doctrinal standards declaring that the Roman Catholic mass "is nothing but a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ and a condemnable idolatry"?
The answer seemed obvious to Classis Lake Erie, which with little debate unanimously adopted an overture asking the Christian Reformed synod to delete that language from the Heidelberg Catechism. The only discussion on the floor of classis was whether some of the quotations in the document were correctly attributed.
While getting Classis Lake Erie to adopt the overture may have been easy, getting the Christian Reformed synod to change a confession which was first written over four centuries ago and which has been used by the CRC since it began in 1857 will be quite a bit more difficult. "I can't imagine that a decision of this magnitude would be made on the basis of one look at it at one synod, that would be very uncharacteristic," said CRC General Secretary Dr. David Engelhard. "It is possible it could be put into the hands of a committee for further reflection, but it's possible that synod could argue that we studied this fifteen or twenty years ago."
Engelhard's mention of prior study refers to requests by Rev. James LaGrand and by Classis Rocky Mountain which had asked Synod 1975 to delete or amend Q & A 80.
Synod rejected LaGrand's request to delete the question entirely, asked a denominational study committee to look at proposed amendments, and decided in 1977 not to change the language on five grounds, including that "a historical creed must not be altered without weighty reasons," and that the "statements of [the Roman Catholic Council of Trent] which answer 80 rejects have not been repudiated by the Roman Catholic Church."
Synod 1977's fourth reason for keeping Q&A 80 was the most detailed: "Although the language in answer 80 appears sharp, such indignation at the withholding of assurance of salvation from believers is not inappropriate to confessional statement. Trent speaks rather sharply too. And the acts of teaching and refuting are frequently coupled in the New Testament."
First CRC of Detroit and Classis Lake Erie pointed out that, in
their judgment, the Roman Catholic Church has changed so that
the answer of the Catechism is no longer accurate. They quote
from various documents recently published which appear to subscribe
to the confession of justification by faith alone. Dr. Roger Greenway,
professor of missions at Calvin Seminary, responded in part:
Dr. Roger Greenway said he teaches a seminary class citing at least seven different theological positions within the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America.
"Sometimes you've got to have a rock thrown against the back of your head to wake you up," said Greenway. "I've had that, and people who have forever all their lives met with some genteel Roman Catholics, who have always lived in the atmosphere of a rather evangelical Roman Catholicism in North America which has been leavened by a predominantly Protestant environment, when these folks get down into a culture where the Roman Catholic Church has dominated for who knows how many hundreds of years, they get shocked."
"In trying to analyze the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America, I came up with seven or eight 'faces' of the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America, and some of them are very different from one another," said Greenway, noting that the Catholics range "from the traditional Trent-like Catholic Church to churches that are almost indistinguishable from evangelical churches, except that there is still a formal adherence to the Papacy, to the Vatican, and to the statements that remain unchanged."
According to Greenway, the "number one problem" with revising the Heidelberg Catechism is that the Roman Catholic statements of the Council of Trent, which the Heidelberg Catechism was written to oppose, haven't been changed.
There appears to be a growing trend among Protestants-and Reformed as well-to seek closer ties to the Roman Catholic Church. The claim is made that the Roman Catholic Church has changed-but as Greenway has pointed out, the decisions of the Council of Trent have never been changed. The Roman Catholic Church regards those decisions as infallible and trustworthy as Scripture. The Heidelberg Catechism remains correct in its assessment of the Roman Catholic church-also as it exists today.
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We concluded our last article with a consideration of the exercise of Christ's dominion. Our exalted Lord reigns unto the glory of God His Father and to the salvation of His people. He is King of the church, first of all.
Christ rules in His church by His Word and Spirit. He exercises a kingly authority over and works by the power of grace in all those whom He makes subject to Himself by the gospel. By that rule of His grace, Christ calls us out of darkness into the light of His glory and grace, into the kingdom of heaven.
Dominion Established in the Cross
That spiritual reign of grace is rooted in Christ's work on the cross for us.
On the one hand, it was on the cross that Satan's dominion was obliterated. Satan himself exercises spiritual dominion in the world because of sin. At the fall man willingly subjected himself to the rule of Satan. But at the cross the head of the serpent was crushed. Satan's dominion over us was abolished. The promise of Genesis 3:15 was fulfilled.
Jesus, speaking of that moment of the cross, said in John 12:31: "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out."
At Calvary Christ secured for us who are in Him all things. "All is yours; and ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's." When Christ finished His work, the power of Satan was forever broken.
But on that same cross our eternal King also accomplished all that salvation of which we have spoken. By destroying forever the strongholds of Satan and defeating the powers of darkness also in our own hearts, Christ accomplished salvation for all His own.
In our place He died, paying the price for our guilt. And He earned for us salvation and an everlasting place as citizens in His kingdom.
But His sovereign rule embraces much more.
An All-Encompassing Dominion
Christ's dominion is all-encompassing. It is so to the defense and preservation of His church.
Not only is that all-encompassing dominion set forth in the words of Psalm 2, but Daniel saw this in one of his inspired visions, and recorded it for us in Daniel 7:13,14: "I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed."
All is under the dominion of Christ, and serves Him. Absolutely nothing is outside His rule. He is Lord of lords and King of kings.
But having considered His rule of grace over us His people, we find that His rule over the wicked is different. It is a rule that is not for them, but for us, to serve our defense and preservation.
The difference in the rule of Christ over the wicked is evident in the very attitude which He takes toward them.
There is much talk today about God being a God of love. And that God is love is clearly taught in Scripture. But there is no contradiction between God's love and His holiness and justice, as men want seemingly to make today when they say that God loves everybody and that Christ loves all men. We must understand that the love of God is love for Himself, first of all. God loves Himself, His own perfect being; He seeks Himself; He desires all things to serve His own glory, of the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit.
But that love of God for Himself and for His own holy being, means that He cannot love anything or anyone that is contrary to Him. That is exactly why Scripture teaches that God hates the wicked. We sing in Psalm 5, and that is the teaching of the whole Bible: "For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity."
We don't need to expand on that profound truth any more in this connection; but let us receive it in humility as God Himself reveals it to us in His Word.
That also means, though, that Christ hates the wicked and loves His people. For Christ is the perfect image of the Father. Also in His sovereign rule as King, He reflects the attitude of His heavenly Father whom He serves.
For that reason also our eternal King establishes between us and the ungodly a life of opposition-what we call the life of the antithesis.
We who live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, out of the principle of the new life of Christ within us, are called to live in enmity over against the world. The world, from a spiritual point of view, is an entirely different kingdom.
"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." James gives us clear indication as to where we stand, in that text in James 4. If you are walking with the world, it is because you are not walking with God, nor as a subject of Christ the King. How shall the subjects of Christ be among the slaves of Satan? I know that the subjects of both kingdoms are mingled here upon earth, and we cannot avoid entirely the company of the ungodly except we go out of the world (I Cor. 5:7). That we may not do. But the citizens of Christ's kingdom find their fellowship with the saints and, to use the language of Psalm 16:3, their delights are in the excellent of the earth.
Christ sets a sharp distinction between the citizens of the kingdom and those of the world.
His rule certainly embraces the world also. But He rules that world of ungodly men and women with an attitude of hatred and by His power to execute judgment and to use the ungodly for the purpose of His own kingdom.
While the ungodly do all that they can to destroy the kingdom of Christ and to lead astray the citizens of Christ's kingdom, Christ maintains His rule.
He rules in such a way that those who walk in rebellion against Him and against His rule remain accountable for their sin and become ripe for judgment, yet serving the purpose which Christ Himself has determined. That is the clear statement of Psalm 2.
In Psalm 2 the wicked are described as raging and imagining vain things.
They proudly boast, if not with words then certainly with their actions, that they will break the bands of Christ and throw away His cords. They cast off His scriptural precepts like water, opening the land to all forms of fornication, violation of Sabbath-in short, the breaking of all God's commandments. And in doing so they tempt the people of God to walk in the same sins. They show themselves citizens of the kingdom of this world, seeking self and the things of this earth, also tempting us to do the same.
And many times it appears that they are successful in their attempts to cast off Christ and to run the show themselves.
Think of how true that appeared at the cross. Certainly it seemed that Jesus, the King anointed of God, had gone down to defeat. How the wicked rejoiced!-until darkness covered the land and the earth quaked and the veil of the temple tore in two from top to bottom. Then there was no more rejoicing. For those who stood at Calvary rejoicing suddenly realized that God was in heaven laughing at them!
And today, there are so many who want to walk their own way, who want to cast off Christ, and who appear to have accomplished their desire.
But let us stand reminded, there awaits another great day of the Lord, a day of final judgment. And that laughter of God will again be heard, a terrible laughter to all who stand outside of Christ the Savior. For that laughter of God is not a laughter that expresses joy, nor an unholy delight in the torment or pain of another. But that laughter of Jehovah is a laughter of mockery, of derision, and therefore of fierce anger and hot displeasure. It is a laughter of mockery because those ungodly, in all their raging and proud boasting, simply serve Christ's purpose and do His will.
Our eternal King rules over all! The whole world of ungodly men and all the events that happen in this creation and in our own lives are just so many chess pieces on the chess board of history. Nothing can go against us; but by the rule of Christ all things are for us. He defends and preserves us in the salvation He has purchased for us.
It is clear from what Scripture teaches us concerning Christ's rule over the wicked, that it is a fearful thing to be outside of Christ, to live in rejection of His Lordship.
How great is the sin and misery of those who continue in bondage to sin and Satan, and refuse the rule of Christ!
A Blessed Dominion
How blessed are we who have been brought by grace under His dominion!
For with the eyes of faith we can see, even through the trials of this life, our eternal King leading us to heaven.
His mercies are new every morning.
His infinite wisdom and unchangeable love, which rules the universe for the sake of His church and kingdom, manages everything that relates to you personally too.
Consider His sovereignty and dominion, His salvation of you. Study His tenderness and compassion, His meekness and pity as our eternal King. Not a tyrant, but merciful is He to us His people.
At His appointed time He shall lead us home, where we shall reign with Him forevermore.
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Baptism: Meaning, Mode & Subjects, by Michael Kimmitt. Plas Gwyn, Trelawnyd, Wales: K & M Books, 1997. 48 pages. $4 (paper). [Reviewed by the editor.]
In six, brief chapters, this booklet treats of baptism's meaning, mode, and subjects, as well as three main objections against infant baptism and certain implications of the study.
The short study of the biblical doctrine of baptism is especially helpful regarding the mode of baptism, whether immersion or some other mode, e.g., sprinkling. Mr. Kimmitt takes a "scientific approach" to the subject, examining all of the references to baptism in the New Testament, in order then to draw the conclusion demanded by the evidence. His study shows that not only is there a complete lack of evidence in the New Testament for the dogma of immersion, but also in most of the instances of baptism immersion is improbable and often impossible. " there is not a single certain case of immersion in the New Testament and that the probability in case after case is that Baptism was administered by sprinkling or pouring" (p. 33).
This bears, of course, on the issue of the baptism of the infants of godly parents, since immersion rules out the baptism of infants.
A scientist himself, Mr. Kimmitt has the scientist's appreciation for mathematics: "Mathematics is a marvelous science; the one exact science we have" (p. 15). A theologian may be forgiven for demurring at this point. Nevertheless, Kimmitt intriguingly employs mathematics in the service of demonstrating that John the Baptist could not have immersed all those who came to him (pp. 14, 15).
Brief as it is, the chapter on the subjects of baptism is also very good both to confirm the faith of the Reformed Christian that infants of believers are to be baptized and to reprove the Baptist of his sin of excluding the children of the godly from the covenant and church of God.
The author carries on a controversy against the Baptists with a good spirit. But he does not minimize the seriousness of the issue: " we invite them (all Baptists-DJE) to abandon their schismatical divisions and return to the Reformed Faith" (p. 33).
There is the greatest need for such a witness to the truth of infant baptism in the British Isles. Those with some reputation for Calvinism--the "Calvinistic Baptists"--deny infant baptism altogether, thus forfeiting the right to the name "Reformed." Ian Paisley's Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster has all but abandoned infant baptism, thus making a mockery of its own name. And, of course, the Anglican Church has turned infant baptism into the superstition of "christening."
The booklet can be ordered from the author at Plas Gwyn, High Street, Trelawnyd RHYL LL186DT, Wales, UK.
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May 13, 1998
Southeast Protestant Reformed Church
Classis East met in regular session on Wednesday, May 13, 1998 at the Southeast PRC. Each church was represented by two delegates. Rev. R. Cammenga served as chairman for this session. The delegates ad examnia from Classis West, Revs. Haak, Houck, and Key, were present for the matter of Rev. Flikkema's credentials.
Classis dealt with several difficult issues. The first concerned Covenant PRC's recommendation to classis that Rev. R. Flikkema's ministerial credentials be terminated. Classis East rejected the advice of Covenant and extended Rev. Flikkema's credentials for two years. If Rev. Flikkema is still without a charge at that time, he and his consistory will need to bring this matter before Classis East for review.
The second matter was a brother's appeal of a consistory's decision. This matter was treated in closed session.
Several other matters were on the agenda concerning Covenant PRC. Classis received their letter responding to classis' advice concerning selling their church property as an adequate response to classis. Covenant, for the present, will be retaining their property. Covenant also requested approval to ask the churches in Classis East that collections be taken for their building fund. Classis will forward a similar request to synod for permission to make the same request of the churches in Classis West.
The expenses of classis amounted to $1,754.84. Classis will meet next on September 9, 1998 at our Holland PRC.
Jon J. Huisken, Stated Clerk
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Despite the flurry of activity leading up to the much anticipated move of our First PRC of Holland, MI into their new church home this summer, their Evangelism Committee was able to find time to complete the publication of another of our churches' many pamphlets into Spanish. The pamphlet, "The Christ of Arminianism," by Rev. S. Houck, was translated by a contact of theirs in New York.
First's Evangelism Committee is also producing a new special welcome brochure to serve as their church's introduction into their new neighborhood. This will be sent out to the surrounding area before they move in, hopefully in early July.
In passing, we can also mention here that First has set July 2 as the date for the dedication of their new church home, with their first Sunday of worship scheduled for July 5, the Lord willing.
Rev. A. den Hartog, pastor of the Hope PRC in Redlands, CA, gave a short slide presentation on the Philippines June 14 at the First PRC in Grand Rapids, MI. You may remember that he and Rev. A. Brummel made a trip there recently for the Foreign Mission Committee to investigate its potential for a mission field for our churches. This program was sponsored by First's Evangelism Committee.
Rev. J. Kortering, our churches' minister-on-loan to the Evangelical Reformed Churches of Singapore, along with his wife, was able to spend a few days in late May in the Philippines en route to a few weeks of vacation in the U.S. Under the guidance of our churches' FMC he visited with a group of contacts who live on the island of Negros. Men from this island attended the conference taught by Revs. Brummel and den Hartog in Daet last December. These men continue to desire more of our instruction in the distinctives of the Reformed faith. The FMC believes Rev. Kortering's visit will also assist our churches in determining the possibility and the direction of future work in that foreign country.
Rev. R. Smit, pastor of the Doon, IA PRC, spoke this spring at the 31st commencement of the Northwest Iowa PR School on the theme, "Walking in Jehovah's Wisdom," based on Psalm 111:10. We would also encourage all this year's graduates to read that verse and consider its importance. Besides the usual pat on the back you recently received, we want you to remember the strength you can receive only through God's Word.
May 16 a group of dedicated runners and walkers met at Hope PR Christian School in Walker, MI to participate in the inaugural Hope Classic 5k and 1m Run/Walk. Rev. M. Dick, pastor of the Grace PRC in Standale, MI, took first, followed closely by Mr. Angus Stewart, a first-year seminary student from the Covenant PRC in N. Ireland.
Many of us in west Michigan were reminded of the passage of Acts 2:2 in a special way on Pentecost Sunday, May 31. That morning winds estimated in excess of 100 mph blew through the area, leaving behind downed power lines, trees, and homes. The services of many of our area churches were canceled, and those that did manage to hold morning services did so using candles and light from the sun. Thankfully there were no serious injuries, and as far as we know none of our churches were damaged.
The consistory of the Georgetown PRC in Hudsonville, MI gave their approval to the idea of an Adult Sunday School class to be held this summer during the regular children's Sunday School season.
Georgetown's council also called a special congregational meeting on May 28 for the purpose of approving building and financial plans for their new church home. These plans were approved, and Georgetown anticipates building to begin on their sanctuary in late August.
Early this spring financial closing on the parsonage, church, and land to the north of the Grace PRC in Standale, MI was completed. This was followed May 7 with a dedication of their newly acquired church home. And this summer the congregation there has also been busy with a number of remodeling projects and adding some additional parking.
The council of the Hull, IA PRC has appointed a committee of their congregation to prepare plans for a new parsonage to be located on the southeast lot to the east of their parking lot.
Rev. A. Brummel accepted the call he received from the South Holland, IL PRC to serve as their next pastor.
Since Rev. Brummel will be leaving the Edgerton, MN PRC, their council presented a trio to their congregation from which they called a new pastor on June 7. From that trio of the Revs. A. den Hartog and S. Houck and Candidate D. Kleyn, they extended a call to Candidate Kleyn.
Rev. J. Slopsema continues to improve week by week. The heart irregularities, fatigue, and anxiety that he has experienced are slowly diminishing. The doctor emphasizes the need for a continued period of rest.
"We may be truly said to worship God, though we lack perfection; but we cannot be said to worship Him if we lack sincerity."
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Last modified, 07-Jul, 1998