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In Memoriam: Prof. Robert D. Decker, 1940 - 2021

DeckerRD ObituaryProf. Robert Dale Decker, age 80 of Jenison, while surrounded by his loving family, departed this life to behold his Lord and Savior face to face on May 5, 2021.

Robert attended Grand Rapids Christian High, Calvin College, the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary and then received his Master of Theology degree from Calvin Theological Seminary.  He spent his life serving the Protestant Reformed churches as a pastor in Doon, Iowa, and South Holland, Illinois, and 33 years as a professor in the Protestant Reformed Seminary. 

He was preceded in death by his parents, Peter and Dorothy Decker. He will be lovingly remembered by his wife of 59 years, Marilyn Poelstra Decker, by his children Deborah Altena (Doug), Daniel Decker (Denise), Timothy Decker (Kathy), and Jonathan Decker (Sarah), and by his nine loving grandchildren, and three precious great-grandchildren. He also is survived by his sister Mary Potjer (Carl), his sister Doris Hoksbergen (Ken), and his brother James Decker (Nancy). 

The funeral service will be held at 12:00 noon, Saturday, May 8, 2021, at Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church, 7146 48th Avenue, Hudsonville MI 49426, with Rev. Carl Haak and Rev. Nathan Decker officiating.   Visitation will be 4:00-7:30 pm, Friday also at Georgetown PRC, and again on Saturday 10:30-11:30am prior to the funeral service.

(Facial coverings and social distancing observed/required at visitation, all current church worship restrictions will be observed during the funeral service.)  Private interment will be in Georgetown Twp. Cemetery. 

Memorial contributions to the Protestant Reformed Seminary.  You can watch livestream at www.georgetownprc.org

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Covenant Reformed News - April 2021

Covenant Reformed News


April 2021 • Volume XVIII, Issue 12



Introducing the Catholicity of the Church

The church of Jesus Christ possesses four (central) attributes: unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity. Unlike the other three attributes, some raise an objection against the word “catholicity” or “catholic.” The (readily understandable) problem that they see with the word “catholic” is its association with the word “Roman,” so that, when the word “catholic” is used, some think, “Roman Catholic.” Even though the Roman Catholic Church is a false church, we should not jettison the venerable and, rightly understood, precise and profound theological word “catholic.”

The Apostles’ Creed states, “I believe an holy catholic church.” The Nicene Creed’s formulation is a little longer and more developed: “I believe one holy catholic and apostolic church.” The Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What believest thou concerning the ‘holy catholic church’ of Christ?” (Q. 54). The Canons of Dordt appeal to “the article of faith according to which we believe the catholic Christian church” (II:R:1). Belgic Confession 27 is even headed “The Catholic Christian Church” and begins, “We believe and profess one catholic ... church.” The creeds reflect almost 2,000 years of the use of the word “catholic” and indicate that orthodox Protestantism in the last half a millennium has retained it, even in its confessions.

Our English word “catholic” comes from Greek via Latin and means “according to the whole.” It is a richer idea than “universal” and it more fully captures the profundity of the biblical teaching, being just the right word.

Our approach to the word “catholic” includes two elements. First, where misunderstandings might arise, we explain that it means “universal.” This is what the fifteenth-century pre-Reformer and martyr, Jan Hus, does at the start of his great work De Ecclesia (1413): “But the holy catholic—that is, universal—church is the totality of the predestinate or all the predestinate, past, present and future.” Likewise John Calvin explains, “The church is called ‘catholic,’ or ‘universal’” (Institutes 4.1.2).

Similarly, Belgic Confession 27 states, “We believe and profess one catholic or universal church.” Westminster Confession 25 opens with these words: “The catholick or universal church” (25:1), and later refers to the “visible church, which is also catholick or universal under the gospel” (25:2). Then it speaks of the “catholick visible church” (25:3) and the “catholick church” (25:4), without needing again to add “or universal.”

Second, we bring out the rich idea of the word “catholic,” for “according to the whole” is wider and more profound than “universal.” Thus the Heidelberg Catechism explains the church’s catholicity in terms of its being gathered “out of the whole human race” (A. 54). Lord willing, this and subsequent articles will develop the many blessed aspects of this beautiful truth.

Let us now turn to what we may refer to as the church’s geographical catholicity. God elects, redeems, gathers and preserves a church in the Lord Jesus Christ that consists of people from every country or nation in every continent.

This element of the catholicity of the church has been used polemically in church history, sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly. The Donatists were a schismatic group in North Africa that existed from the fourth to the seventh centuries. Their theological opponents, like Augustine, criticized them for confining the church to lands south of the Mediterranean. This was a valid point against the Donatists but, it should also be added, catholicity considered alone or abstractly is not sufficient to determine which ecclesiastical group or groups are approved of God.

In his polemic against the false doctrines of the Papacy, Jan Hus pointed out that there are various parts to the church: part under the Bishop of Rome, part in Eastern Orthodoxy, part in Bohemia (where Hus laboured), etc. There was some value in the pre-Reformer’s arguments in his day, though Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are far worse today than they were in the fifteenth century, for both have officially and creedally condemned the Christian gospel of the Reformation, and apostatized.

In the sixteenth century, Rome used (or, rather, abused) the catholicity of the church against the Reformation. “The Protestants,” they claimed, “are mostly holed up in northern Europe, whereas we are strong in southern Europe, we possess the far-flung Portuguese and Spanish empires, and we have a considerable presence in northern Europe too.” The persecution and flight of southern European Protestants is, of course, part of the explanation for this. Moreover, in the last few centuries, the biblical truths of the Reformation have spread through Protestant colonies and missionary work in all continents and all (or almost all) countries and islands.

Belgic Confession 27 explains that Christ’s catholic church is “not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place.” One “place” to which the creed is alluding is Rome, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. “Roman Catholic” is even a contradiction in terms, for the first word refers to a city and the last word means universal. Besides, from 1309 to 1377, seven popes reigned in Avignon in southern France.

Jerusalem is a second “place” on earth to which Jesus’ catholic church is not “bound.” Here the truth stands over against Judaism, as well as (Judaizing) premillennialism and dispensationalism. These eschatological systems falsely teach that, during a literal 1,000 years, the Lord will reign on earth from a throne on Mount Zion, and the land of Israel and its cities will be especially holy. However, Christ’s catholic church neither has nor will have any earthly headquarters or homeland in this age (Phil. 3:20). Rev. Stewart

 

What Happened to the Ark?

In connection with Israel’s return from captivity in Babylon and the fact that the second temple did not contain the ark of the covenant, someone has asked, “What happened to the ark?” Very simply, the answer to this question is that we do not know what happened to the ark. However, there is more that can be said.

The last time the ark is mentioned in Scripture is in the days of Josiah, Judah’s last good king. He had the ark put back in the temple: “[Josiah] said unto the Levites that taught all Israel, which were holy unto the Lord, Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the son of David king of Israel did build; it shall not be a burden upon your shoulders: serve now the Lord your God, and his people Israel” (II Chron. 35:3). Apparently, the ark was not where it belonged when he became king, but those Levites who were still faithful had been carrying it around from place to place.

This passage indicates that the ark was around until the time of Jerusalem’s destruction and then was lost when the Babylonians took the city. Perhaps the Babylonians destroyed it as a symbol of Israel’s God and to gain all the gold of which it was made. Tradition, however, says that the ark was hidden in caves or tunnels under the temple mountain or elsewhere, and various groups have looked for it there and in other places, even as far away as Ireland. All we know is that the ark was not in the most holy place of the temple at the time of Jesus.

The Apocryphal book of II Maccabees says that Jeremiah hid the ark before Jerusalem was destroyed: “It was also contained in the same writing, how the prophet, being warned by God, commanded that the tabernacle and the ark should accompany him, till he came forth to the mountain where Moses went up, and saw the inheritance of God. And when Jeremias came thither he found a hollow cave: and he carried in thither the tabernacle, and the ark, and the altar of incense, and so stopped the door. Then some of them that followed him, came up to mark the place: but they could not find it. And when Jeremias perceived it, he blamed them, saying: The place shall be unknown, till God gather together the congregation of the people, and receive them to mercy. And then the Lord will shew these things, and the majesty of the Lord shall appear, and there shall be a cloud as it was also shewed to Moses, and he shewed it when Solomon prayed that the place might be sanctified to the great God” (2:4-8). II Maccabees, however, is not inspired and is very untrustworthy. Its account is not to be believed.

British Israelitism, which believes that the Anglo-Saxon races are the lost ten tribes, also holds that the ark will someday be rediscovered. British Israelites are among those who have looked for the ark in Ireland under the Hill of Tara and elsewhere. Appeal is made to II Chronicles 36:18 and Ezra 1:7-11, which do not specifically mention the ark’s being taken to Babylon or returned, though II Chronicles 36:18 does speak of temple treasures being removed by Nebuchadnezzar.

Dispensationalism, with its belief in an earthly future for Israel, including the rebuilding of the temple, also looks for the ark to be rediscovered. One advocate wrote, “The Bible does seem to indicate that the Ark of the Covenant will be rediscovered in the end times. Revelation 11:19, ‘Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm.’”

Various movies and books have popularized the idea that the ark still exists and is hidden somewhere, but this is very unlikely. God saw to it that the Old Testament types, including the temple itself, were destroyed, so that His people would look away from those things to Christ who is the fulfilment of them all.

Indeed, even if the ark were found, it would only be an object of historical curiosity and of no more spiritual value than offering animal sacrifices in our day or the discovery of the physical tables of the law—which are now written in “fleshy tables of the heart” (II Cor. 3:3). That is not to say, of course, that there would not be those who would superstitiously worship the ark, but their veneration would be as foolish as that of the Jews who continued to eat the lamb of the Passover while not believing in Christ, the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

Even in the Old Testament, the ark of the covenant had no power or value in itself. When brought to the battlefield in the days of Eli (I Sam. 4:1-11), it did not guarantee Israel’s success in battle but was captured by the Philistines. When, however, the Philistines assumed that they had prevailed over and captured Israel’s God, He sent plagues wherever they moved the ark until they were forced to send it back.

It must be remembered that the ark in the Old Testament was only a symbol of the covenant God’s promise to live among His people. His presence was not limited to the ark, nor was He always present where the ark resided. When Israel was on its way to Canaan and the tabernacle was moved, the cloud of glory that ordinarily resided in the tabernacle left the ark and the tabernacle to guide the nation to its next encampment.

Even before the destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah foretold a time when the ark would no longer be around or necessary: “And it shall come to pass, when ye be multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, saith the Lord, they shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the Lord: neither shall it come to mind: neither shall they remember it; neither shall they visit it; neither shall that be done any more” (3:16). That day has come and it no longer matters what became of the ark that Moses made.

The truth is that Christ is the true ark of the covenant and the One who must be worshipped. As God lived among His people through the ark in the Old Testament, so He now lives among us through Christ, for in Him “dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). As God then revealed Himself to His people from the ark, so He now reveals Himself in Christ. He is the fulfilment of the ark in that in Him mercy and justice meet, just as they did in the Old Testament when the mercy seat, the covering of the ark, was placed over the law. When John sees the ark of the covenant in heaven (Rev. 11:19), therefore, he sees not the old ark of wood and gold, but Christ Himself.

What good, in any case, would a wooden box be to us, though covered with gold? In Christ, we have everything and lack nothing. Rev. Ron Hanko

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: https://cprc.co.uk/ • Live broadcast: cprc.co.uk/live-streaming/
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. • www.youtube.com/cprcni • www.facebook.com/CovenantPRC
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Covenant Reformed News - March 2021

Covenant Reformed News


March 2021 • Volume XVIII, Issue 11



The Source and Purpose of Apostolic Authority

Two articles in the previous two issues of the News took their cue from II Corinthians 10:8, “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.” These instalments explained the right of the apostles to serve God in three spheres: teaching, ruling and showing mercy. Now, finally, we shall treat the source and purpose of the authority exercised by the twelve apostles and the apostle Paul, drawing out vital lessons for the church in our day.

Jesus Christ is the origin or source of apostolic authority: “our authority, which the Lord hath given us” (8). The Triune God has granted to His incarnate, obedient and glorified Son the right to reign over the entire universe, and He exercises His authority in the church in part through the apostles. Thus our risen Saviour declared to the Eleven, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matt. 28:18-20). Christ Jesus is “the Apostle and High Priest of our profession” (Heb. 3:1); the supreme One whom God sent later commissioned His apostles.

For the sake of completeness, we should add from Ephesians 4:11 that our ascended Head also gave and gives others to instruct His church: “prophets” and “evangelists” (extraordinary and temporary office-bearers), and “pastors” who are “teachers” (ordinary and permanent office-bearers). Christ also equips and appoints elders and deacons to serve His congregations (I Tim. 3).

Since the Lord Jesus is the origin of apostolic authority, Paul and the Twelve possessed a derived authority, a ministerial authority and a circumscribed authority. Likewise, the authority of all the lower office-bearers in the New Testament church (prophets, evangelists, teaching pastors, ruling elders and deacons) is derived and ministerial, and circumscribed or limited to their respective spheres.

Christ told the twelve disciples, “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25-28). If this is true regarding the awesome authority of apostles, how much more regarding pastors, elders and deacons, the church’s ordinary and permanent office-bearers? Thus Chapter 18 of the Second Helvetic Confession (1566) describes the authority of ministers as “more like a service than a dominion.”

Having seen that the Lord Jesus is the source of apostolic authority and that, therefore, the authority of the apostles (and all church office-bearers) is circumscribed and ministerial, we now turn to the purpose of apostolic authority. Paul states that it is “for edification, and not for your destruction” (II Cor. 10:8).

The goal or purpose of the apostolic authority, office and labours is to build up the church and certainly not to destroy the people of God. Jehovah’s punishment of the reprobate on the legal basis of their sin is subservient to the apostles’ glorious primary desire and purpose: the salvation of the elect by the cross and Spirit of Jesus Christ.

It is in this context that Paul speaks of the power and efficacy of preaching and church discipline to bring God’s true people to repentance and faith: “the weapons of our warfare are … mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds [by] casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (4-5).

The apostle explains that his armaments are not fleshly, carnal or worldly, appealing to earthly or base motives. His arsenal of the preaching of the Word and church discipline—exercised prayerfully and to the glory of God—is spiritual, addressing man’s mind or soul or conscience: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal … bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (3-4, 5).

A heartfelt understanding of the source of apostolic authority guides the church and its office-bearers to an exercise of ecclesiastical authority that is ministerial not lordly (I Pet. 5:3) and circumscribed by God’s Word. Likewise, a true appreciation of the purpose of apostolic authority (the salvation of the elect, not their destruction) commits a faithful church to the prayerful use of the spiritual means appointed by God (preaching, sacraments and discipline), trusting that His grace alone will make them effectual for the calling and sanctification of those eternally chosen in Christ (Eph. 1:4).

The crucial importance of really believing and rightly exercising ecclesiastical authority is underscored by Belgic Confession 29’s description of its sinful abuse: “As for the false church, she ascribes more power and authority to herself and her ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit herself to the yoke of Christ. Neither does she administer the sacraments as appointed by Christ in His Word, but adds to and takes from them as she thinks proper; she relieth more upon men than upon Christ; and persecutes those who live holily according to the Word of God, and rebuke her for her errors, covetousness, and idolatry.” Rev. Angus Stewart

 

Satan’s Everlasting Punishment

We will now answer a second question about the devil: “Since Satan and demons are pure spirits, how can we conceive of their suffering eternal punishment in the lake of fire without bodies? Presumably it will reflect the spiritual suffering of all the damned, a real sense of confinement, misery and God’s wrath?” I believe the questioner has answered his own question in speaking of “the spiritual suffering of all the damned, a real sense of confinement, misery and God’s wrath,” but I would like to elaborate in this article.

It is impossible to believe that the suffering of hell, whether of Satan or of the ungodly and unbelieving, is in a literal lake of fire so the question raises one of the difficulties with that kind of literalism. Even though unbelievers are resurrected (John 5:28-29) before being cast into eternal suffering, it is difficult to imagine that they could endure eternal fire without being consumed, i.e., it is hard to understand how any kind of body could endure that kind of suffering. As spirits, Satan and his demons are not at all subject to the torments of fire.

The clearest argument against a literal lake of fire, however, is the fact that Scripture does not always describe hell in those terms. It is described as the pit (Isa. 14:15), as the worm that never dies (Mark 9:43-48), as weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:42), as a furnace of fire (Matt. 13:42, 50), as outer darkness (Matt. 22:13), as chains of darkness (II Pet. 2:4) and as drinking the wine of the wrath of God (Rev. 14:10).

Hell cannot literally be all of these things and the obvious conclusion, therefore, is that they are figures of speech used to emphasize its horrible torments. Anyone who has suffered severe burns knows that agony and why it is used as a description of hell. The torment of being eaten by worms, as Herod was (Acts 12:23), may be even worse. Darkness, the kind of darkness one experiences in a deep cave or the kind of darkness that came on Egypt as the ninth plague (Ex. 10:21-23), is horrifying as well. All of these only hint at the far greater terror and torment of hell.

What, then, is the horror of hell, the “spiritual suffering” referred to by the questioner? It is the horror and torment of being forever separated from God. II Thessalonians 1:9 describes this: “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” This was the first punishment for sin and will be sin’s final punishment. God is the source of all blessing, life, peace, light and hope, and to be cut off from Him is to be forever separated from all that is good (James 1:17). This is the reason, too, why hell is described as darkness in Scripture and as death. Those who do not believe cannot have fellowship with God who is light (I John 1:5-6) and “to live apart from God is death.”

Eternal punishment in hell is a matter of exquisite justice. Those who separated themselves from God, and rejected and despised Him, will be given by God Himself what they themselves have wanted and chosen, and they will be given it for eternity.

Heaven is the opposite. The glory of heaven is not literal harps and streets of gold. It is not only the blessedness of no more tears and suffering, but also the glory and blessedness of being with the living God forever. Revelation 21 and 22 teach this repeatedly. “They shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (21:3). “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (22-23). “And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads” (22:4).

Heaven is enjoying the love and favour of God forever, while hell is suffering the wrath of God for eternity. As with God’s love, His wrath is not an empty emotion, but something powerful and effective that forever burns against sinners, driving them from His gracious and loving presence. He is a “consuming fire” against those who turn away from Him. For this reason, too, hell is death, not dissolution but the eternal dying of those who will never see life (John 3:36). This is God’s curse, the powerful and effective Word of His anger, that drives someone forever from His presence. This is why hell is no different for Satan and his minions than for unbelieving men and women.

This is what Christ suffered on behalf of those whom the Father had given Him. He experienced that separation from God and His divine wrath when, during the three hours of darkness on the cross, He cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This is His descent into hell. There was no need for Him to go to the actual place of eternal torment, because He suffered the “inexpressible anguish, pains, terrors, and hellish agonies” of being under the wrath of God against sin (Heidelberg Catechism, A. 44).

Our Lord’s Supper form states, “that He assumed our flesh and blood; that He bore for us the wrath of God (under which we should have perished everlastingly) from the beginning of His incarnation to the end of His life upon earth; and that He hath fulfilled for us all obedience to the divine law and righteousness; especially when the weight of our sins and the wrath of God pressed out of Him the bloody sweat in the garden, where He was bound that we might be freed from our sins; that He afterwards suffered innumerable reproaches, that we might never be confounded; that He was innocently condemned to death, that we might be acquitted at the judgment-seat of God; yea, that He suffered His blessed body to be nailed on the cross, that He might fix thereon the handwriting of our sins; and hath also taken upon Himself the curse due to us, that He might fill us with His blessings; and hath humbled Himself unto the deepest reproach and pains of hell, both in body and soul, on the tree of the cross, when He cried out with a loud voice, My God, my God! why hast thou forsaken me? (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34) that we might be accepted of God and never be forsaken of Him; and finally confirmed with His death and shedding of His blood the new and eternal testament, that covenant of grace and reconciliation, when He said: It is finished (John 19:30).”

That He suffered the wrath of God and separation from God is a mystery too deep to fathom. He who took on Himself the curse due to us was God’s beloved Son in whom God was well pleased. Nor is it necessary for us to comprehend what He endured. It is ours to believe that He did, and so to be saved from the wrath to come and to have the hope of seeing God face to face in Jesus Christ. Rev. Ron Hanko

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: https://cprc.co.uk/ • Live broadcast: cprc.co.uk/live-streaming/
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.www.youtube.com/cprcniwww.facebook.com/CovenantPRC
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Philippines Mission Newsletter - March 2021

philmap2PROTESTANT REFORMED FOREIGN MISSIONS IN THE PHILIPPINES

MARCH 2021 NEWSLETTER

Greetings

Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of the harvest, to all of our PRCA congregations!

Here is an update regarding our labors and lives here in service to the Lord, our sister churches of the PRCP in the metro Manila area, and in our mission work in Southern Negros Occidental (SNO).

"Mold on Our Shoes!"

moldy shoesIn a tropical climate of constantly high humidity here, things that are made of leather, which has a porous surface, are susceptible to developing mold when left unused for any substantial length of time. Especially during the rainy season (June to November), shoes, wrist-watch bands, handbags, belts, wallets, and any other such itemscan quickly develop a layer of mold if left alone.

Because of the quarantine restrictions of last year, our Sunday shoes have been stored in their usual spots, but, of course, left unused for many weeks. In fact, they sat unused forweeks because the quarantine restrictions prevented us from attending the PRCP congregations for Lord's Day worship from mid-March to September 2020. As a result, and sadly so, a layer of mold began quietly to flourish on some of our Sunday shoes. Then, deep into the quarantine, someone shouted, "There is mold on our shoes!" I never expected to see a day when we would need to wipe mold off of our Sunday shoes because we were hindered from using them in God's providence for public worship.

Pondering our discovery, it struck me that it was an accurate metaphor of the poor condition of sabbath observance in this country, even before the quarantine. I would imagine that the same would generally apply to the spiritual condition of many professing Christians in North America, too. The analogy certainly warns us personally about our spiritual proneness with regard to Lord's Day worship, sabbath observance, and spiritual faithfulness to the Lord. Left unattended and neglected, our sinful and straying hearts and minds will surely and quickly develop a thick layer of unbelieving mold: complacency, slothfulness, a disinterest in Christ's doctrine, selfishness, resistance to daily conversion, neglect of proper worship, neglect of Scripture reading and study, and neglect of prayer, and even the temptation to redefine public, face-to-face, corporate worship of the church to include online services. May such unbelieving mold never grow on our Sunday shoes!

If it has, then may the Spirit wipe away the layer of unbelieving mold by leading us to confess and to repent of our spiritual neglect. By His grace through faith, may we maintain the marks of a true Christian, and delight in the weekly privilege to go up to the house of God and worship there with our fellow saints and faithfully bow face-to-face at God's throne of grace by faith alone through our Lord Jesus Christ, our only righteousness and our everlasting life. May we be willing to sacrifice health for faithful obedience to the Lord, rather than in disobedience have our health serve as a witness unto our unbelief.

Challenges of Sabbath Observance in Quarantine

I think that you would agree that sabbath observance during our respective quarantine periods has been a major challenge and trial for individuals and families without the regular routine of public worship. Iincluded in my August 2020 report to the Doon Council and FMC anobservation about the challenges of sabbath observance during quarantine. I share with you what I mentioned to them.

"As a general observation of PRCP members by watching and listening over the past five months, I have noticed through the quarantine both negative and positive spiritual developments. For some, sabbath observance has declined with a slide into involvement in Sunday business and other spiritually, unedifying activities. Of course, at our house, we are not above reproach. We similarly know and work to resist the temptations in mind and heart against proper sabbath observance to the Lord during the quarantine. For example, since the family has not been going to church worship in Valenzuela or Antipolo for about five months, we have been tempted to wonder why we should even bother with formal dresses, pants, barongs, or shirt and tie for the livestream church services since nobody will see us listening and singing in our faded shorts, comfortable t-shirts, or more casual clothing.

However, there is the matter of the willingness, the attitude, the effort, and the understanding of faith to do our utmost to devote ourselves to the Lord on His day, unlike our activity of the other days of the week. Although the type of clothing we wear on Sunday at home is not in itself the issue and I'm not about to stumble into any legalism regarding Sunday clothing, yet our clothing and the accompanying and underlying effort for Sunday clothes does have its way of reflecting how seriously we and our little ones devote ourselves in will and thought to the fear of the Lord and show our love for Him on His Day, even during the quarantine that He has placed upon us.

In that regard, I overheard recently that some members have recognized and are laboring to resist various Sunday temptations. A family mentioned that it has learned to take the livestream broadcasts very seriously as the only opportunity left for them and their children for worship and spiritual food on Sunday. So, without anyone looking over their shoulders and by their own initiative, they have become carefully punctual for the start of the Sunday morning broadcasts, even putting forth the effort to have their little ones properly [dressed and prepared] for worship through the livestream at home.

In the midst of the disappointments and the weariness of the quarantine, I found this positive observation of the renewing grace of God in the life of a young covenant family both humbling and encouraging. I trust that you will, too."

PRCP Theological School

With thanksgiving to God, we can report that our first semester of classes was completed on December 4, and final exams were finished on December 11. An interim course was given to the students from January 5to 14 by recorded lectures from Prof. R. Cammenga's interim course at the PRCA Seminary on "The Life and Theology of John Calvin.". The second semester began on January 19 and mid-term exams will be given in the week of March 7.

As with the last semester, so the second semester of instruction will be given by means of Zoom. Although this method is certainly not the official norm of face-to-face training of future preachers, it is what the Theological School Committee (PRCP) has determined is the best available for the current quarantine situation.

We are currently training three men: Bro. Jeremiah ("Jhem") Pascual (2nd year), Bro. Emmanuel ("Emman")Jasojaso (1st year), and Bro. Jethro ("Ace") Flores (1st year).

Classes are held in the mornings on Tuesdays through Fridays. We are currently teaching the men Homiletics, Hermeneutics, Hebrew Grammar, Church History, NT Greek, NT Exegesis, and Dogmatics (Soteriology).

A seminary library continues to grow in its temporary location in one of the rooms of the guest house on the Kleyns' property. The library, thus far, has been helpful already to the students for their research papers.

PRCP News

The Berean PRC announced that it was renovating their church building. Their parsonage was sold and the money from that sale was used to finance the addition of a third floor to the church building. As a result and because of the quarantine rules,Pastor Ibe and family moved in July to a house in San Fernando, Pampanga, which is about a 2-hour drive north of Antipolo.

The Classis of the PRCP met on October 31 and November 30. Classis approved the emeritation of Rev. Leovino Trinidad, which will be effective on February 28, 2021. He was ordained as a minister of the Word on March 28, 1976, in his former denomination in Cebu City, the Philippines. After several years of instruction under the PRCA missionaries, he and the Maranatha congregation joined the PRCP in 2015.

Classis PRCP will meet again on February 25.

Maranatha PRCP has announced recently that it will be disbanding on March 1 due to the lack of men to serve as elders and deacons. Members are being advised by the Maranatha consistory to transfer their church membership to the Provident PRC (Marikina).

PRCA Missions

Rev. Kleyn and I, who have been assigned for now by the Doon Council and FMC to do mission work in the Inayauan-Sipalay area in SNO, were not able to get to do our work there during the lengthy quarantine. Also, in my August 2020 monthly missionary report to the Doon Council and FMC I reported my reflection on the disappointing situation. I share the same with you.

"[The] principle of the Lord's sovereign guidance in missions is an important principle to remember. The good foreign mission desires that we may have, regarding the spread of the Reformed faith into new and hard to reach places, may not come to pass when and for how long we have desired or envisioned. We are reminded that the Lord of the harvest directs and fulfils His work of missions through His servants according to God's good pleasure and eternal counsel by various means. Even in missions, not our will, but the Lord's will must be done. All of our planning, praying, preaching, and pouring out of our souls in the work remain always subject to His sovereign direction and good pleasure.

...I am well reminded through the quarantine that missionaries are only limited, dependent servants in the Lord's work of the gathering and preservation of His church over the earth. I am sure that the Apostle Paul faced the same truth as he sat in prison in Caesarea for a few years or under house arrest in Rome, wishing and waiting for the time, subject to the Lord's will, that he could freely go about his labors throughout the Roman Empire among the established churches and in areas not visited yet."

Pray that the Lord will grant us in His time both the opportunity and the ability to resume faithful, face-to-face preaching and clear instruction in the service of a Reformed church (Inayauan), its mission outreach (Si-alay), a reforming church (Canturay), and other contacts in SNO.

Foreign Tourist Ban

In order to limit the spread of the coronavirus, the Philippine government has continued to ban the entry of foreign national visitors. This ban does not prevent permanent residents, such as the Kleyns and Smits, from re-entry. However, the ban prevents visits from delegations (the Contact Committee, FMC, and Doon Council), family, and friends.There is no concrete information yet regarding when this ban may be lifted.

Holsteges' 2021 Furlough

The Holstege family departed on December 16, and they will be living in Grandville, Michigan. Rev. Holstege has done some field presentations during furlough about the work done here in the last two years.

The return of the Holstege family is scheduled for July 1 as approved by the Council and FMC. However, since immigration restrictions on the entry of foreigners, including the Holstege family, still remain unclear, we will need to be patient regarding their actual return date.

Finally, farewell, brethren. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11)

In His service,
Rev. Richard J.Smit

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Limerick Reformed Fellowship Newsletter - March 2021

Limerick Reformed Fellowship Newsletter
Pastor M. McGeown

MMcGeown livestream preach Nov 2020

Monday, March 1, 2021

Dear saints in the Protestant Reformed Churches,

Many of you have been asking for an update on my plans to immigrate to the USA. When we first started making enquiries into immigration, we were warned that the process could take at least a year, and that was without the added complication of COVID-19. On April 28, 2020 we submitted Form I-130 (“Petition for Alien Relative”) as the first step toward a “green card,” and on June 16, 2020, Providence PRC submitted two more applications under the general category of Religious Worker (R-1 and I-360).

On August 24, 2020 I was informed that the R-1 application had been approved and that I should seek the earliest possible appointment for a (non-immigrant) visa interview in London, England, UK. The earliest possible appointment at that time was August 11, 2021. Later I secured an appointment for November 10, 2020 in Dublin, which was cancelled and rescheduled for March 8, 2021, when Ireland increased its COVID-19 restrictions in October 2020.

On December 17, 2020, the National Visa Center (NVC) informed of us that USCIS (United States Citizen and Immigration Services) had approved the I-130 (“Petition for Alien Relative”), and after more forms, fees, and documentation, I am now “documentarily qualified” for an immigrant visa appointment, but I do not know when I might be assigned such an appointment.

Of the three applications (I-130, R-1, and I-360) two have been approved and one (I-360) is pending. However, I still need a visa interview. On February 23, 2021, the Irish government announced yet another extension of the current “Level 5” restrictions until April 5, with the result that the appointment for March 8, 2021 (the non-immigrant visa) has been cancelled. According to the embassy’s website, “Under Level 5 restrictions the Visa Unit will be able to provide only extremely limited immigrant visa services. Non-immigrant visa services will be suspended except for life and death emergencies and for travel to engage directly in the fight against COVID-19” and “Under Level 4 and under only extremely limited routine services will be possible. As such, wait times for appointments and processing times might be greatly extended” (https://ie.usembassy.gov/us-travel-restrictions/).

To clarify, a non-immigrant visa is one that allows temporary residency in the USA. For example, the R-1 visa would grant me permission to live and work in the USA for two and a half years, and could be renewed for a maximum of five years. An immigrant visa is one that allows permanent residency in the USA. The I-130 (“Petition for Alien Relative”) visa would grant me permanent residency in the USA.

Therefore, since the March 8 appointment is now officially cancelled, the earliest appointment that I have is the R-1 visa interview (the non-immigrant visa) in London, England, for August 11, 2021; and I am waiting for the embassy to grant an appointment for the I-130 (immigrant visa). If the embassy offers only “extremely limited immigrant visa services,” we wonder how likely it is for me to get an appointment for an I-130 immigrant visa interview in Dublin before August. The words “extremely limited” do not close the door completely, but they also do not offer a lot of hope. The National Visa Center’s website states: “NVC cannot predict when Consular Sections will resume routine services, or when your case will be scheduled for an interview.”

The issue, then, is not immigration as such, but the effect that COVID-19 restrictions are having on the embassy in Dublin. Under Ireland’s “Level 5” restrictions almost all businesses are 2 closed. No gatherings outside of one’s household, either in homes or in private gardens, are permitted. Some “social distanced” walking in parks and other public venues is permitted with one other household, but no picnics or the like are allowed (that would be a “gathering”). There is also a travel limit of 5km (3.1 miles) so that we may not, for example, drive to some of the beautiful scenic spots of Ireland and go for a walk, because “non-essential” travel beyond the 5km limit is punishable with a fine of €100 (c. $122), which applies to each adult in the vehicle. (We do have some nice areas for walking in Limerick, however). We also may not travel to Northern Ireland to visit family or to visit the church in Ballymena. Leaving the country on a “non-essential” journey is also out of the question and punishable with a fine of €2,000 (c. $2,430). Therefore, walks within the 5km limit, shopping for groceries, and errands to the bank or post office are really the only reasons for leaving the house, unless you cannot work from home.

Most grievous for us, however, are the continued restrictions on public worship. Most of the members of the Limerick Reformed Fellowship have left (two families moved to Northern Ireland before the end of 2020), so that only a handful of people remain. We have never had our own church building, the hall that we rented for ten years is closed, no other facility is available to us, and even mixed-household gatherings in private homes for worship, for Bible study, or even for a cup of tea are prohibited. Therefore, our worship is online only: I preach two sermons a week from my study and I lead a Bible study (on Proverbs) and teach four catechism classes (two for Providence PRC and two for my nieces in Northern Ireland) from home. The online program that we use allows us to chat afterwards, which is nice. Nevertheless, we long to be able to meet together again, but despite petitions from church leaders to the government and one pending court challenge (by a Roman Catholic businessman, whose case was just adjourned for the fourth time to March 23), the churches remain closed. Our brethren in Northern Ireland in the CPRC do hold in-person worship services and Bible studies, albeit with social distancing and the wearing of masks, but they are in a different jurisdiction (UK) with different rules.

We broadcast our services live on http://mixlr.com/limerickreformed/ at 11 am and 5.30pm (GMT) and the sermons are recorded and uploaded to https://sermons.limerickreformed.com/. I have been preaching a series on the parables (currently number 17 in the series) and have recently started my seventh time through the Heidelberg Catechism. I will continue preaching, teaching, leading the Bible study, and writing, until we move. We may not leave Limerick: Larisa does not have permission to reside in the UK, so moving to Northern Ireland is not an option, and we may not travel to other countries until immigration is sorted or travel restrictions are relaxed.

As you might imagine, we struggle with feelings of frustration, disappointment, and discontentment, but we also trust that God’s way is perfect for us. However, it is not easy: the monotony and lack of social interaction is very difficult, and the lack of fellowship and public worship is demoralizing. We greatly appreciate and need your prayers. Remember, too, the saints of Providence PRC, as they wait for their future pastor. It is wonderful to be able to teach some of the children catechism from afar, but we long to be with the whole congregation.

“Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD” (Ps. 27:14).

In Christian love,

Rev. Martyn and Larisa McGeown

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Covenant Reformed News - February 2021

Covenant Reformed News


February 2021 • Volume XVIII, Issue 10



The Apostles’ Authority to Rule and Show Mercy

Besides teaching authority, as we saw in the last installment of the News, the apostles also possessed ruling authority under Christ and in His church.

The apostles included in their office the authority of elders. Thus Cephas wrote, “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder” (I Pet. 5:1). Unlike elders, however, the apostles did not only serve one church; they itinerated.

The apostles had the authority to discipline church offenders and excommunicate them. This is a fearful authority: to exclude an impenitent church member from the kingdom of heaven! Paul excommunicated Hymenaeus and Alexander (I Tim. 1:20). In connection with the Corinthian church, he excommunicated the incestuous man (I Cor. 5:3-5). Ananias and Sapphira, two wicked members of the church at Jerusalem, were slain by God before the apostle Peter (Acts 5). Are there any so-called apostles today with the might and right to do this? No!

The apostles had the power to ordain office-bearers. The Twelve appointed deacons in Acts 6. Paul (with Barnabas) ordained elders on the return leg of his first missionary journey (Acts 14:23). Along with a body of elders, Paul ordained Timothy (I Tim. 4:14; II Tim. 1:6). The former Pharisee gave instructions regarding training “faithful men” in order to maintain a godly succession of ecclesiastical office-bearers (2:2).

The ruling authority of apostles is evident in their founding and establishing congregations, and their subsequent oversight of them. The apostles had authority to hear and decide controversies among Christians and in the churches. Time and time again we read of this in the inspired epistles of Paul. The apostle John denounced Diotrephes (III John 9-10). The apostles officiated at the Jerusalem assembly in Acts 15, though they did not adjudicate on their own; they served with the elders (15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4).

They also directed and supervised the New Testament evangelists, who were special apostolic helpers. Paul appointed the field of service for evangelists Timothy and Titus, whom he left at Ephesus and Crete, respectively (I Tim. 1:3; Titus 1:5). The apostle instructed both evangelists in what especially they should do: Timothy was to refute false teachers (I Tim. 1:3ff.) and Titus was to “ordain elders in every city” (Titus 1:5ff.). In short, Paul wrote to Timothy that he might know how he ought to behave himself “in the house of God, which is … the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Tim. 3:15).

In some sense, apostolic authority even carries over to the judgment day. The Lord Jesus declared to His disciples, “Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28).

As well as teaching and ruling authority, the apostles possessed the right to show mercy in God’s church by helping the needy. Obviously, all Christians ought to and do assist the poor. But not all believers have the authority to show mercy in an official capacity. Only deacons, elected by the church and acting on her behalf, provide help to the needy as the designated representatives of the congregation and of Christ.

In the very earliest days of the New Testament church after Pentecost, there were no deacons. Thus, in Acts 4 and 5, we see the apostles doing (what would later become) diaconal work. People brought money, laying it at the apostles’ feet, with the Twelve then distributing it to the poor. When the number of believers multiplied, the apostles ordained the seven deacons whom the people elected (Acts 6:1-6). Similarly, we see Paul’s role in the official demonstration of mercy in the collection of money from the churches in Macedonia and Achaia for the needy saints in Jerusalem (II Cor. 8-9).

Having considered apostolic authority in teaching, ruling and showing mercy—a much higher authority than that of pastors, elders and deacons today!—we ought also consider the scope of their authority.

The authority of an elder or deacon is limited to his own congregation, though sometimes, for the duration of broader assemblies, elders have a wider sphere, and deacons from different churches may cooperate when need arises. Though the authority of preachers to teach is, hypothetically, universal—that is, if all the churches agreed in doctrine, a minister could preach in any congregation—yet his authority is especially in the church that called him.

However, all these congregations were equally under the authority of all the apostles. Thus Paul speaks of his “care of all the churches” (II Cor. 11:28), not only the ones he planted but even congregations he had not been able to visit. Peter’s first canonical epistle was written to, among others, the Galatians (I Pet. 1:1), though these churches were founded by Paul. In the book of Revelation, John writes to the Ephesians (Rev. 2:1-7), a congregation in which Paul had earlier laboured.

Let us take Paul as an example of this universal authority in all three spheres. As regards his right to instruct, he speaks of his “ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church” (I Cor. 4:17). His authority to rule in God’s church is seen in Acts 15, and in his advising, disciplining and even excommunicating members of various congregations. Paul demonstrated his right to administer mercy through his labours in Macedonia, Achaia and Jerusalem.

How this exposes the pseudo-apostles of our generation! These men (and women!) know full well that God has not given them this awesome authority, in its various spheres and vast scope. Therefore, they usually do not even claim it and over 99% of the church world gives 0% obedience to a charismatic who claims to be an apostle!

The universal scope of apostolic authority is also evident in the three—and only three!—extensions—not repetitions!—of Pentecost. The extensions of this once-for-all event show that Christ’s catholic church embraces, and full New Testament salvation is given to, not only Jews (Acts 2) but also Samaritans (Acts 8), Gentiles (Acts 10-11) and Old Testament believers who had not yet heard that the Messiah had already come (Acts 19). Notice, in these three extensions, the role of the apostles: Peter and John, Peter and Paul, respectively. In the light of all this, it is no wonder that one of these extraordinary and temporary church officers wrote, “though I should boast somewhat more of our authority … I should not be ashamed” (II Cor. 10:8)! Rev. Stewart

 

 

Satan’s Knowledge of Biblical Prophecy

One of our readers has submitted two questions about Satan. The first will be answered in this instalment of the News, with the second being treated in next month’s issue, Lord willing.

The brother writes, “I have two queries arising from reading Behold He Cometh by Herman Hoeksema about our arch enemy. 1) Since Satan is well aware of God’s Word, how come he did not know that Christ would rise from the dead from Psalm 16 and Isaiah 53? Did he know these Scriptures but not believe them or is it the case that, just as he knows that his time his short, he chooses to fight on regardless of his certain defeat, because that is his perverse nature? 2) Since the devil and the demons are pure spirits, how can we conceive of their suffering eternal punishment in the lake of fire without bodies? Presumably it will reflect the spiritual suffering of all the damned, a real sense of confinement, misery and God’s wrath?”

There can be little doubt that Satan knows the Scriptures since he quoted them so readily to Christ during the wilderness temptations (Matt. 4:6). Nor can there be much doubt that he knows what is going on in our world. The story of Job makes that clear (e.g., Job 1:7; 2:2), as do our own temptations. We can conclude, then, that the devil is and was aware of the teaching of God’s Word, and he knew of Christ’s coming, His death and resurrection, and what would be accomplished by our Lord in His work. Most certainly, he was behind the efforts of the Jewish leaders to seal and guard Christ’s tomb, in order to deny His resurrection once He had risen from the dead.

The passage alluded to in the question, Revelation 12:12, says that Satan knows that his time is short. This not only confirms his knowledge of the Scriptures and his ability to interpret them, but answers the question about his past and present opposition to Christ and His saving work. The devil, as the question itself suggests, continues his enmity and revolt, because he is the great rebel and unbeliever, though he knows his efforts are in vain. He is like those Nazis in the last days of World War II, who continued to believe in Hitler and the Third Reich and their ultimate victory, even when complete ruin loomed. Satan will not and cannot cease his war against the kingdom of God until he is thrown into the lake of fire.

This is characteristic of unbelief. Unbelief is willing ignorance (II Pet. 3:5). It knows and yet refuses to acknowledge God and His Word, and desperately seeks to deny its own wickedness and impending doom. Atheism is a good example. It carries on an endless crusade against the Most High exactly because it cannot escape the knowledge of God which is written into the conscience and mind of every man. It “doth protest too much” and shows, by continually opposing the truth of God, its own knowledge of the Almighty.

Romans 1 teaches these things: “that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them” (19). Unbelievers have some knowledge of the truth but hold it under in unrighteousness (18), turning the truth into the lie (25). They know that God rules, but do not glorify Him and are not thankful (21). Despite knowing that He is Lord, they turn to idolatry, worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator (25). (Idolatry does not prove ignorance of God but knowledge of Him!) They do this because “they did not like to retain God in their knowledge” (28) but it is also God’s judgment on them for their unbelief. So they “became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (21).

That this is true of demons, as well as unbelieving men and women, is proved by James 2:19: “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” They know how great God is. They tremble at the very thought of Him. Yet they continue their opposition to Him. That is the folly of unbelief.

There is a warning for us in their unbelief, the warning of Hebrews 3:12: “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” We must not close our ears to the Word of God. We must not harden our hearts through the deceitfulness of sin, when the Scriptures get in our sinful way. We must not only be hearers of the Word but also doers of it (James 1:22). The inspired words of Hebrews 2:1-3 must be our guide: “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.”

Satan’s unbelief and rebellion will continue to the end, when he will be thrown into the lake of fire. However, it is wonderfully true that our unbelief and rebellion have not continued, for God has brought them to an end, conquering our wicked hearts by the power of His irresistible grace, forgiving our sins through the obedience and sacrifice of our Saviour. He has softened our hardened hearts, delivered us from the folly and darkness of unbelief, and caused the light of His glory to shine in us. He has given us true faith in Christ and so the obedience of faith, by planting in our hearts the resurrection life of Christ. When His work in us in this life is finished, then we, who now see through a glass darkly, will see Him face to face in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord (I Cor. 13:12). Thanks be to Him! Rev. Ron Hanko
 

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: https://cprc.co.uk/ • Live broadcast: cprc.co.uk/live-streaming/
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
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