Thursday, February 10, 2005

Lent

Here is a pamphlet I put together for the worship committee at my church:


Prosperity Presbyterian Church
We have determined that worship is one of our core values and a central task of our Church. As such, we desire to promote various aspects and activities of worship to the congregation. Ordinarily our emphasis falls upon God’s provision to us in the Word and the sacraments as well as our response back to him in prayer, song, confession, and offering.

Also, we occasionally set aside special days in accord with historic Presbyterianism. As a Church we are beginning to more fully recognize the liturgical seasons of the Christian calender. It’s our desire that by organizing our church year around Scriptural themes the congregation will be helped in redeeming the time, focusing their prayers, and finding both tangible and symbolic outlets to express our faith.

Lent
Every year around this time Christians from around the globe prepare to celebrate the redemption Christ brought about through his death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ at Easter. Lent is a forty-day liturgical season that is designed to assist us in that journey. It initiates perhaps the most sacred part of the Christian year. The season is characterized by various disciplines which serve to help us remember and reflect upon the sacrifice of Christ. A simple, yet wry, truth behind this is that the self-denial helps us anticipate, and delayed gratification helps us appreciate.

We pray that our congregation may use this time to reevaluate fundamental values, better appreciate the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel message, and be better prepared to walk in newness of life as the baptized people of God. In 2005, the season begins on February 9th (Ash Wednesday) and concludes on March 26th (Holy Saturday -the Saturday night before Easter).The six Sundays during Lent are never included in the forty-day count because every Sunday is to be a joyful celebration of our Lord's resurrection.

An invitation to the Journey
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross. . . (Heb 12:1-2)

We invite you to view Lent as a journey. It is a journey we make in order to attune our body and soul toward the wonder of the Easter announcement: Christ is risen! During this time our eyes are firmly planted on the example of Jesus in the wilderness. He spent that time praying and fasting in order to prepare for his public ministry. He spent forty days to confront the temptations that aspired to have him abandon his mission and calling. Likewise, as an imitation of Christ (imitatio Christi), we commit this season as our time in the wilderness.

Our Presbyterian Heritage
Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it (Deut 12:32)

The most noted fundamental aspect of Presbyterian worship is known as the "Regulative Principle of Worship." The essence of it is relatively simple: worship must be regulated by the bible. All our worship must be done in ways that are pleasing to God, and we know what is pleasing to him from studying his revelation in Scripture. This will inevitably involve a certain level of creativity and imagination on the part of the interpreter of the bible, nevertheless, it is the bible- not the fancies of our imagination- that we search. Therefore, our recognition of the Disciplines of Lent is ultimately based upon the premise that these are biblical ways of living out the teachings of Scripture.

Repentance, prayer, fasting and love are essential elements to Christian life in the church. The recognition of Lent merely provides the circumstances to live them out. For Presbyterians the formal recognition of this season has typically been considered adiaphora (that which is neither commanded or forbidden but subject to the liberty of conscience). As such, it is to be viewed as an opportunity not an obligation.

The Disciplines of Lent
Lent is characterized by a few simple practices which are approached as a way to partake in a routine and disciplined life. We call these practices the Disciplines of Lent. The traditional disciplines include:
  • Repentance and the confession of sin
  • prayer and Scripture reading
  • Fasting and deprivation
  • Works of love and charitable giving
  • Repentance and the confession of sin
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Psalm 32:5)

Repentance is a gift from God involving our turning away from sin toward him. In it, we are not only allowed to see how sin is contrary to God’s nature and law, but moreover, he promises mercy in Christ. Inevitably it involves an apprehension of the danger and filthiness of sin and a determined aversion to it with a resolve to walk anew in paths of righteousness and holiness.

Repentance will often find expression in the confession of sins. This can be done either publically or privately. Here are some ways in which you might want to formally incorporate the discipline of repentance in your Lenten activities:
  • pray the general confession of sins by the congregation within the context of our Sunday morning liturgy.
  • examine your life in light of the Ten Commandments and the catechism’s interpretation of them asking God to forgive you and to lead you into ways of loving him and your neighbor more deeply.
  • make confession of your sins to a faithful friend or brother in Christ especially if he was affected negatively by something you did or if tension exists between the two of you.
    take advantage of private confession of sins to a Minister of the Gospel
  • think back on your baptism and read the confession and catechism questions on baptism and the sacraments so as to soberly and gratefully reflect upon various realities concerning baptism's nature and the privileges conferred in it.

Making time for prayer and Scripture reading
Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. (Daniel 9:3)

Prayer may be described as a part of worship in which we are drawn to God in communication. It is required by God for all people to pray as a special part of religious worship. In order for it to be acceptable, it must be made in the name of the Son, by the help of his Spirit, and according to his will. It should always be done thoughtfully with reverence, humility, and a fervency of faith, love, and hope.

Many have found it helpful to have a consistent time for it and to create a quiet place for prayer, although prayer can happen anytime and anywhere. A cross and a lighted candle may help create a sense of the "sacred" for your place for prayer. Here are some ways in which you might want to formally incorporate the discipline of prayer in your Lenten activities
  • follow the ancient Christian custom of morning and evening prayer or at specified interval during the day.
  • sign yourself with the cross saying, "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," followed by a brief moment of silence in recognition that your life is lived under the shadow of the cross in the presence of the triune God.
  • use the book of Psalms, the Ten Commandments, the Creeds or various printed prayers such as the ones in, The Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions.
    to pray the Lord’s prayer each day or parts of it while reading the catechism’s interpretation of it.

    Fasting or abstaining from a simple pleasure.
    For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. I have often told you about them, and now I have tears as I say it. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with their mind set upon earthly things. (Philippians 3:18-19)

Jesus told us that when we fast we are not to make a show of it, like hypocrites do. Hence, a fast is different from a hunger strike: a fast is a personal act of devotion to God, while a hunger strike is usually a public act most often used to shine a spotlight on injustice. Neither is a fast to be some form of eating disorder. It is a disciplined diet, not a revulsion of food or our body.

Fasting is not typically a complete giving up of food all together. Frequently it is merely the giving up or limiting of a particular item or type of food (sweets, desserts, chocolate, butter, fat, eggs, etc.). Water, however, is never to be given up in a fast.

[Children under 16, people over 65, those who are ill or on medication, and pregnant women are not expected to fast. Anyone with any health questions should definitely contact their health care provider for further instruction.]

Here are some ways in which you might want to formally incorporate the discipline of fasting in your Lenten activities:
  • Don't try to be Super-saint with the fasting. If you wish to fast, start slow and do it on just Ash Wednesday and Good Friday or may be one day a week.
  • Be selective as to what days you fast, the early church fasted on Wednesdays (to commemorate His betrayal) and Fridays (to commemorate His crucifixion).
  • Fast from only a single meal rather than through the whole day or have only one simple meal during the day, possibly without meat.
  • Refrain from eating meat on Fridays in Lent, substituting fish for example.
  • Eliminate a food item or type of food for the entire season. Especially consider eliminating sweets or fatty foods.
  • Abstain from or limit a favorite activity (television, movies, etc.) for the entire season.
  • Take the time that you would ordinarily be eating and spend it in prayer to God.
Giving charitably and doing deeds of love.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. . . Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor 13:4,7).

The intention of this part of the Lenten Discipline is to connect our faith in God's love for us with actions that express love toward others in both the world and Church. This world is set on embracing parodies of love which are distorted and disfigured manifestations of what authentic humanity is meant to experience. When we as a church gather together as a peaceful and loving family in spite of our differences and difficulties and warmly embrace each member as an equal member, then a powerful message is sent. It is a message of defeat to the hidden forces of prejudice, self-interest, and suspicion at work in the world.

Here are some ways in which you might want to formally incorporate the discipline of deeds love in your Lenten activities:
  • Use Matthew 25:31-40 and Luke 4:18-19 as guides for choosing to do a work of love.
  • Go out of your way to do something nice for somebody at least once a week during Lent.
  • Make a donation for the needy or some sort of special offering for church.
  • Volunteer a portion of your time with a local service organization that serves the poor.
  • Ask how you may be able to visit a shut-in members of the church.
  • Tell others in your sphere of influence that you love them.

Beginning Your Discipline
On this journey you will need the Pax vobiscum, that is, God’s peace and presence to be with and for you. Ultimately, it is only by God the Father, in the accomplishments of the Son, applied to us by the Spirit, that we are truly provided with sustenance. So begin with prayer, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance in choosing those things that would best fit you for your Lenten Discipline. Prayerfully dedicate all your choices to God as a commitment for the six weeks of Lent, and ask that your Lenten Discipline move you closer to God for the sake of the sufferings and death of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you formally incorporate the Lenten disciplines:
  • After making your choices and beginning your discipline, it is not necessary to share your choices with anyone else. In fact, anonymity is regarded as better (Matt.6:1-7, 16-18).
  • Consider keeping a journal for Lent where you record what you will do concerning each of the disciplines and track your experience.
  • Don't be too hard on yourself, too rigorous, or too legalistic. The idea is to have a discipline that moves you spiritually closer to God, not one that focuses you solely on your discipline.
  • Breaking commitments to God is not something to take lightly but people will break the disciplines. This is also a time when we remember the mercy of God and so in prayerful song you can simply embrace the opening words of Psalm 6:2 " O Lord, have mercy on me," praying the Kyrie Eleison and start over.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Here is a version of an article that went out to our Church's monthly news letter.

Standing before an ATM at the gas station I read the instructions asking if I wished to conduct my business in English or in Spanish. In an instantaneous flash my mind went on a journey of free associated thoughts involving multiculturalism, youth ministry, and ancient conceptions of the Trinity. I have tried to sort these out in some sensible manner below.

The first has to do with that ATM machine. It seems that just about anywhere we go, within our nation’s urban centers, that we are becoming increasingly aware our society is a culture of cultures in other words multi-cultural. The powers that be are, it seems, often prone to divide humanity into various segments and niche markets according to such things as gender, ethnicity, employment, economic status and so on. This of course is nothing new as the Apostle Paul also experienced it and saw within it a corruption that defaces God’s creation which will ultimately be overturned by God the Father uniting all things in Christ the Son through the Spirit (see Ephesians 1:4-14 especially v.10).

"How about Church?" I curiously mulled over. Do we simply act as a religious service industry; the equivalent to a spiritual Wal-Mart in which people are conceived of as religious consumers? A worldly lure for success can easily enough find its way into a strategic ministry plan which does not merely recognize our differences but reinforce our separateness. The corollary to worldly niche marketing techniques can be seen when we tell "the teens" to do their thing over there while telling "the college and career" to do their thing somewhere else and the "young families" have their programs while the "Senior Citizens" have their own activities. Can it be anything other than sheer irony when local congregations profess on a weekly basis to be "one" but have an everyday reality fragmented into various interest groups?

In a mental twist my mind seized upon the ancient Greek conception of the Trinity known as Perichoresis. It is a big word with an odd meaning. The prefix Peri means "around" and the stem Perichorea means "to dance". The Greek Fathers of the Church used this term to describe the mystery of the divine life within the Trinity. It emphasizes that each divine person harbors the others at the center of his being. An English language alternative term is indwelling. The image, however, is not intended to be static or still but like dancers in a performance there is a constant movement of overture and acceptance, each person envelops and encircles the others. The very life and activity of God is a triplicate interchange of self-giving; one life indwelling the life of another as one invited and welcomed in loving hospitality.

My primary duty as the Student Intern is to disciple the Church Youth and their families by modeling the Savior and teaching the Scriptures. So what does it mean to model the Savior? What it can’t mean is developing an interest group with its own life separated and distinct from the life of the whole church. Since humanity is created after the image of the Triune God, it is not good that we act in isolation. When we truly bear the image of the triune God we must do so within a loving and self-giving community because God exists as such a community. To do otherwise is to efface the image of God and negate our calling to manifest our Triune God to the world. Hence we have purposed to "modeling the Savior" with a focus upon His Trinitarian life by deepening perichoretic relationships between the youth and the rest of the church.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Future of the People of God talks | open source theology

Future of the People of God talks open source theology: For all those Tom Wright fans here are some talks given by him at the Future of the People of God conference and are now available for download.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Genevan Book of Order

For those interested in the history of liturgy and what not I got this link at CRTA (Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics http://www.reformed.org/books/ in it is included the
Genevan Book of Order: "The Genevan Book of Order The Form of Prayers and Ministration of the Sacraments, etc. Used in the English Congregation at Geneva (1556) "

Times Online - World

For those of you have taken an interest in the James ossuary the following story from the The Times might be interesting.

From Ian MacKinnon in Jerusalem

AN ISRAELI collector of antiquities who stunned the world with a find that he said was the burial container of Jesus’ “brother”, James, is to be charged with forgery.

Justice Ministry officials said last night that Oded Golan would be indicted next week on a range of charges that would include forgery over an inscription on the stone container that carried the script in Aramaic reading: “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”.

Six others are also to be charged. Times Online - World:


Monday, December 06, 2004

A Presbyterian Appropriation of Advent


Here is a version of a paper I wrote over a question about Advent observance at Church.
What is a Christian committed to the Reformation Tradition to make of Advent? In brief, it offers to Reformed Christians the same things it does for all, an opportunity to redeem the time, to prepare for the coming of Christmas, to give praise and thanksgiving for Christ's incarnation, to meditate on its significance by thematically ordering our Scripture readings, focusing our prayers, and having symbolic reminders of it. What more could anyone want? However, it may do us well to see Reformed worship through the eyes of the covenant in order to appreciate the celebration of Advent within it.
Lex Orandi-Lex Credendi
Common to the convictions of most writers on Reformed worship is this premise: the design of our Lord’s Day service should be appropriately shaped according to our theological convictions. I suspect, few would deny that the actual outworking of this conviction has been executed with mixed success. Someone surfing the web sites of various Reformed congregations within the United States will everything from hell-fire & brimstone revival services, to casual yet visually dazzling multi-media services, to a high church Eucharistic services.

Incongruous, as it may seem, the same Reformed Christians who are staunchly united on the theological details Presbyterian doctrine will often become quite divided and confused as to how they should conceive of worship. Furthermore, many congregations have little appreciation of a tradition that reaches beyond the walls of their own buildings and they usually don't go farther back than the way grandmother used to do things. The required liturgies that were characteristic of Reformed services before the Westminster Assembly are no longer well known do not much affect the way we currently construe our services.
The Westminster Asembly was significant in opening up possibilities as to how we structure our Lord's day services. Unlike some traditions we are not bound to follow a specific order of service such as John Calvin or others http://public.csusm.edu/public/guests/rsclark/Liturgies.html . Our denomination has understood that Jesus Christ as Lord of his church has prescribed no fixed forms for public worship but has given the church a large degree of liberty in this matter.

Book of Church Order 47-6. The Lord Jesus Christ has prescribed no fixed forms for public worship but, in the interest of life and power in worship, has given His Church a large measure of liberty in this matter. It may not be forgotten, however, that there is true liberty only where the rules of God’s Word are observed and the Spirit of the Lord is, that all things must be done decently and in order, and that God’s people should serve Him with reverence and in the beauty of holiness. From its beginning to its end a service of public worship should be characterized by that simplicity which is an evidence of sincerity and by that beauty and dignity which are a manifestation of holiness.


The net result is that the worship service within various congregations are considerably diverse. An unfortunately effect is that it would be difficult for a contemporary observer to ascertain the priorities of Reformed theology from its expressions in many Reformed churches. More unnerving and detrimental is the potential that our Reformed theological premises are not at work in the liturgical actions of these services. An underlying assumption throughout much of the Church through history has been that the doctrinal presuppositions of a given Christian community will exercise influence upon their practice of worship. This is sometimes communicated through the Latin phrase lex orondi- lex credendi (the rule of prayer i.e, liturgy is the norm or reflection of the rule of our confessed belief). As this works itself out in Protestantism is clearly a two-way street. Our confession should regulate our worship is prominent in Presbyterian however, it cannot be denied that how we worship will inevitably affect how Christians view its beliefs. The uptake from this is that Reformed theological underpinnings are not always easily recognizable from our Lord's Day services. A legitimate question then arises as to what is being communicated by our worship. Liturgy will influence belief even if the precise way in which that will proceed is not obvious or clear.
This principle can be seen clearly enough in the practice of the Lord's Supper. Why do so many Reformed congregations not celebrate the Table on a weekly basis? Consistently the same few response are always given which inevitably boil down to beliefs about it that do not reflect and in some ways contravene our explicit doctrinal standards. When the church has firmly embraced our doctrinal commitments and Calvinistic tradition http://www.the-highway.com/supper1_Calvin.html that the Lord's Table was a means of confering the saving benefits of Christ we celebrated it weekly. Few congregants within our tradition any longer embrace such a rich mean-of-grace theology. Are we really to believe that our shift in liturgical practice to monthly or quarterly celebration has not been a factor in the abandonment of our confession?
Covenant as Organizing Structure

So what is it that gives Reformed theology its particular shape and structure? The answer according to our Confession is the covenant. It is the most basic and fundamental designation of how God relates to humanity. The heart of our relationship with God is forged in His covenant relationship with humanity. In fact, covenant is the only lense through which our confessional standards have theologically viewed God’s interaction with man. It then only makes sense that Reformed worship should be shaped by the covenant just as its theological premises have been.

That God deals with humanity within covenant is a profoundly biblical concept. The term itself occurs over three hundred times in the Scriptures in order to describe our relationship to God as his people. Unfortunately, there is no simple consensus definition for or single passage of scripture that will lay out an overall explanation. Sometimes the covenant is viewed in terms of either of the agreement that a king would make with a subject people, or sometimes of the marriage bond between husband and wife. Nevertheless, we have numerous stories of how God has entered into covenant relations and these stories present a basic template of how covenant functions.

The structure of how covenant functions has been the subject of much rigorous research. The basic structure that can be discerned in all biblical covenants is that there are two parties and two parts: (1)God who initiates the covenant with his people and through it gives blessing and (2) People who must make appropriate preparations to profitably receive its benefits. We could expand our description of the covenant to include five dimensions:
  • The Lord initiates an association with the beneficiaries. This is not an arrangement amongst equals, God is the one who grants the covenant and is the absolute sovereign one in it.
  • The Lord separates the beneficiaries from what they once were. He transforms them from that which was old into something new and gives them a new name.
  • The Lord demands loyalty from the beneficiaries. He provides ethical stipulations for the beneficiaries as they must be righteous to enjoy the blessings of the covenant.
  • The Lord provides ritual signs and seals for the beneficiaries. The covenant relationship is always memorialized in symbolic form which typically provides the context for dispensing blessings for loyalty and curses for ungrateful disobedience.
  • The Lord arranges for the future succession of beneficiaries. God intends for the covenant to continue from generation to generation in godly families to pass the blessing on to the future




Our Lord’s Day service should be appropriately shaped to reflect these theological conviction. We will do well then to ground a few basic conceptions of worship within the framework of covenant in order to better appreciate the potential role of Advent for a Presbyterian congregation.


It is the Lord who gathers us.


Our Lord’s Day service should be appropriately shaped to reflect these theological conviction. We will do well then to ground a few basic conceptions of worship within the framework of covenant in order to better appreciate the potential role of Advent for a Presbyterian congregation.

In our Reformed tradition it is always the Lord who makes covenant with humanity. As Presbyterians when we have spoken of covenant we historically emphasized the great gulf that exists between the Creator and the creature. It is important then that we recognize that we are not God’s equals in the covenant arrangement. The Confession declares that it is on account of the great distance between God and us that we would never be able to experience any blessed enjoyment of him unless he voluntarily choose to lower himself to privilege us with his grace.

Our corporate worship along with the organizational structure God has place upon the church is for the very purpose that we are gathered before God in order that we may be perfected as saints and edified as the church. In our worship, we recognize that God comes nears and calls his people out of the world to gather us into his presence. It is in recognition of this that we explicitly remind ourselves at the start the worship service with the words, "We gather together in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." This is at the very heart of our identity as the church. Our confession and Book of Church Order are explicit on this issue
. Corporate worship is not merely a gathering of God’s children with each other, but before all else, it is a meeting of the triune God with His chosen people. Our confession also understands that God’s presence in the worship service not merely by virtue of divine omnipresence but is instead present in a much more intimate way; that is, by way of his covenant relationship with us.


The Lord initiates and gives when we gather


In our Reformed tradition the Lord always takes the initiative; he gives we receive. Some pseudo-Reformed perspectives, however, have gotten this basic premise completely backwards. They would wrongly insist that worship is about our giving, not about our receiving. This erroneous perspective usurps God’s role as beneficent and places him in the role of beneficiary. Too often the false picture has been presented that we were once seekers of God’s grace, who- having gotten saved- are now givers of praise. To entertain such a possibility is to assume that once God has worked redemption in us, we can respond to him without having to rely on his continual saving work. That, of course, is exactly what Reformed theology denies.

You probably have heard some well meaning person say that in Reformed worship we come to give praise to God taking no interest in what we might get from him. Ironically, this is a quasi-Arminian perspective and is at best without biblical warrant. We are created and dependent beings who must continually receive both our life and redemption from God. For us, as creatures of God, there can be no such thing as "disinterested praise." To deny this premise is to blur the Creator-creature distinction and is the height of arrogance. We simply cannot love or praise God for who he is apart from what he has given us or what we continue to receive from him. We are not his equals. We must not fool ourselves into thinking that we are not dependent upon him. Without a firm grasp on this our worship will inevitably degenerates into Pelagianism with a Calvinistic veneer.

So what are we given? We are given his forgiveness, his Word, his nourishment, his benediction, etc. The Divine Service is primarily God's action: he calls us into his presence; he declares our sins forgiven; he speaks his word of comfort, rebuke, and encouragement; he feeds us at his table; and he charges us with a mission, gives his benediction and sends us back into the world. Of course, at each point, we also respond: when God invites us in, we enter and confess our sinfulness; when he absolves our sins, we praise his grace in his Son; we tremble at his threats and believe his promises; we eat and drink at his banquet; and when he sends us out, we go. In all this we acknowledge that our responses depend on the Spirit's work.


The Lord gives in Word


In our Reformed tradition God's service is to us and an emphasis within that has always been on the Word as it is read, sung, and preached. Our Confessional documents are clear that God has ordained the preaching of the Word for the salvation of humanity and that through the sermon and the minister’s public reading of the Scriptures God speaks directly to the congregation. In preaching we do not hear about Christ, but we hear him. The difference is clear; when you hear about someone, that person is not present, however, in preaching we hear not the Pastor’s voice, but the voice of Christ. In our worship the voice of God comes from outside of us, as an externum verbum. That is to say we hear the Word of God. In the Divine Service God himself addresses us-through the voice of another. Hence, in Reformed theology, we affirm that the Lord's Spirit ordinarily and normally works through the instrument of the Pastor’s words.

In some circles, private devotional reading and study are the most fundamental ways in which God speaks to us in his Word. According to the Scriptures, though, the Spirit binds himself to communicate life by means of the human voice, especially as that voice speaks the Word or the gospel to us. This is what John Calvin calls a verbum sacramentale ("a sacramental word"; Inst. 4:14:4) i.e., a clearly proclaimed Gospel message through the voice of the minister is sacramental.

It is important to realize that according to the Scriptures the Spirit's work is not confined to an inner, isolated work in the soul of an individual. Unfortunately there has been a tendency for many to think of God’s spiritual renewal of people within a contemptuously anti-communal and highly individualistic framework. The focus of a renewed spiritual life is, they would have you believe, placed predominately within the framework of private quiet times. We are then taught to listen for some inner voice and expect the Spirit's guidance through mystical promptings and feelings where it's just me, God, and the Bible. This is not the biblical way nor is it the way of our Reformation heritage. There Spirit's work is ineffaceably social as God and we in his image are social beings. He uses words and actions. He uses human words, words that we speak to others as his words.


The Lord gives in Baptism & the Lord’s Supper.


In our Reformed tradition we emphasize God’s service to us is, like the Word, ordinarily conveyed in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s table. Our tradition embraces the rich means-of-grace theology of the Scriptures. Hence, Word and sacrament are the main foci of worship, and both are God's means of graciously giving the benefits of Christ to us. Worship, by implication, is not mainly about what we do before God's face; it is mainly about what God is doing to and in us.

We speak of "means of God’s grace," to emphasize that God is the one bestowing life through water, bread, and wine. As such, it is a useful reminder not to make idols of the elements. We also speak this way to emphasize that believers receive real benefit from baptism and the Supper. As such, it is a helpful corrective to feeble theologies that are widespread in the modern church. In our Reformed tradition we have highlighted the covenantal and interpersonal character of the sacramental event by referring to them as "signs and seals of the covenant of grace." Therefore, the administration of the sacraments are moments of personal encounter with the living God.

One of the most harmful notions ever foisted upon the Church is this idea that God normally communicates his presence immediately to the soul of man, by-passing all outward, physical means. Yes, it is true, that the Lord is free to work outside of his constituted means in extraordinary cases as he sees fit. But this only means that the Lord ordinarily works just as he has promised through his appointed instruments of the audible words of his ministers, through the water of Baptism, and through the bread and wine of Communion.


It is the People who are served


In our Reformed tradition it is the people who receive. Reformed worship involves our reception of God’s blessings which are responded to with our thanksgiving and petitions. We will always be receivers and petitioners before God. Our posture as recipients is as ineradicable as our nature as dependent creatures. We must by our very nature be served by God. Recognizing this is true spirituality, indeed, it is the presupposition of all true corporate worship. It is faith's posture before our all-sufficient, beneficent Lord. Christian worship provides the occasion for God's service to the church, that is, in the liturgy God serves us.

Unfortunately with regard to worship the terminology we use to describe what happens on the Lord's Day can be confusing. We've inherited the designation "worship service," which easily introduces confusion. "Service" comes from the Latin serviium, as in servitium Dei ("the service of God" or "God's service"). Classically, the "Divine Service" was primarily thought of as God's service to us (the forgiveness of sins, the service of the Word, the Sacraments, etc.) and our service of response back to God. We of course are required to respond in faith but even our faith is viewed as a gift or, if you will, a saving grace which is brought about by the Holy Spirit. God gives and we are always on the receiving end and even when we respond back to God, we give only out of what we have first received. Thus, God's operations on us come first and our actions are in grateful response to God's gracious activity. The fundamental purpose of the corporate Sunday service, therefore, is to be the place where God himself distributes his life-giving Word and Sacraments and where we prepare and receive the benefits responding back with faithful gratitude.

Ultimately this is the problem with various modern and pseudo-reformed perspectives on worship. Quite simply they have a liturgical theology that denies, at least implicitly, that the Church’s Lord’s Day Service is God's ministry to us. It is also a denial that the Word and Sacraments are to be received as the effectual means of our salvation. Much that takes place in contemporary worship is simply not centered on the true God who gives us the means of salvation in the Divine Service. Instead the church is too often viewed as a religious service industry; the equivalent to a spiritual Wal-Mart in which people are conceived of as religious consumers. The task of the church is then outfitted to make itself attractive to a specific demographic segment and entice newcomers with means that can degenerate into forms of entertainment complete with puppet shows, drama and pop music solos. The pastor is reduced to an entrepreneur or executive chairman who gives inspirational pep talks, providing cultural commentary and anecdotal self-help advice. In his duties he is called upon to optimizing the church’s human resources and provide a full-service set of activities for all ages and various interest groups. Of course these churches may sing, read the Bible, and pray but the structure and pathos of the services show little resemblance to the Scriptural protocols as contained in our Reformed Confessional documents.


The People Prepare For Worship


In our Reformed tradition we encourage the people of God to prepare themselves before coming to worship. In that worship is a face-to-face gathering with God in a covenant relationship our everyday business should be so ordered that we will not be hindered from participation in it as prescribed by the Holy Scriptures. This then forms part of the backdrop used by our Directory of Worship to insists that every person and family has the duty to be involved in public worship and to prepare for it by prayer, reading the Scriptures, and holy meditation.

We must refuse to be caught up in any conduct unbecoming to the place and occasion. It, therefore, behooves every person and family to come into God’s presence dutifully prepared. Our daily activities should be arranged in such a way that we may for a "season" lay them aside in order to sanctify the Sabbath or any other time the church authoritatively deems appropriate to celebrate certain special occasions or seasons.

Before we gather to meet with God and receive the benefits of holy communion with him we should pray for our own blessing and for the blessing of the others to attend and the ministry of the pastor. It is also appropriate that we upon entering the church take their seats in a decent and reverent manner, and engage in a silent prayer with a deep sense of awe at the thought of His perfect holiness and our own exceeding sinfulness . At the start of the service then it is important that we confess the fact the we were born in sin and that the pollution of it adheres to us. Hence, everyone is to prepare, before we get to church, as we are seated, and at the beginning of the service in order that we may be united in the gospel with one heart in all the parts of public worship until after the blessing of the benediction is pronounced. If we did not then what would we be communicating to the world about entering into the presence of a holy God?


In The Celebration of Advent People Prepare For Christmas


In our Reformed tradition the Church not only has the authority to administrate the Lord’s Day service but also to set aside other days, as it deems appropriate, to celebrate on any of the other six days or for seasonal occasions so long as they be used in a holy and devout manner.

The celebration of Advent is a way the Church encourages the people of God to prepare specifically for the celebration of Christmas. Advent is designed for waiting and watching. In our time of e-mail, instant messages, fast food, and general impatience, the very notion of waiting as a virtue is quite simplly not heard of much anymore. It's hard then to imagine a message more counter-cultural than that of Advent! During Advent Christ’s church confesses the wisdom that Jeremiah spoke of so long ago: "It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord" (Lam. 3:26). Advent observance is a quiet, peaceful oasis from the harried and hassled culture of this world which would have you, during their "shopping season" run in every direction at once. Rather than fussing and fuming about the commercialization of Christmas, the church quietly offers an alternate way of approaching December 25th by inviting us with our children to come away from the world to reflect on the promises of God!

Thus, one of the purpose of the church year, from a Presbyterian point of view, is to redeem the time. It does this by consecrating the various seasons of the year by the thematic organization of reading the word of God, prayers and other liturgical actions. This is designed to help prepare the people of God and provide an opportunity to give thanks and rejoice in what God has done in Christ. Used in this way it can be a great educational tool to teach the people the Bible and especially the life of Jesus Christ. We need not fear the Christian calendar. It has great didactic significance. The Christian year is ordered according to the life of Jesus Christ, from his birth to his ascension and pouring out of the Holy Spirit. It reminds us that as Christians we are in Christ. Each year we are reminded that the yearly cycle of our lives finds its true meaning and significance in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It gives us occasion to celebrate the mighty acts of God in the person of Jesus Christ!

As a result, during Advent, all we are doing is ordering our Scripture readings to highlight the theme of Jesus' coming, focusing our prayers on the faithfulness of God and his covenant promises, meditating on the significance of the Son of God's incarnation, and depicting with symbolic reminders these themes. Typically this is designed to help prepare us by waiting and watching in three directions.

  • The Church looks in the direction of those promises in Holy Scripture that the Messiah would come, that a virgin would conceive and bear a Son who is called Immanuel, God with us. These are the promises of Christmas.
  • The Church also watches for those ways by which Christ's life is present now in our midst: the offering of the benefits of Christ in the preaching of the Word of God and distribution of the Sacraments.
  • Finally, the Church watches with patience and hope for Christ's final coming in judgment. Then His word of judgment will clothe with eternal life all who believe in Him.


This world is surrounded by darkness. Advent calls this darkness to mind and penetrates this darkness with promises about the Light of life. While the world is immersed in preparations for the secular celebration of Christmas, Advent allows the Church time to prepare for rejoicing in the full glow of Christ's light shining in the darkness.

The Church prepares for that Light by observing the disciplines of Advent. These disciplines bring to the Church the nourishment that comes from the Lord's life.

  • Advent is a season for immersion in the words of Scripture, especially those promises of Christ's birth, of His life-giving presence in His Church through the Holy Sacraments, and of eternal life at His final coming
  • Advent is a season of confession and repentance. It allows the Church to see its own sin-filled darkness, confess its sin, and receive the Lord's forgiveness.
  • Advent is a season of fervent prayer, the Church repeating to the Lord His words that He will come again. The Church cries, Maranatha! Come, O Lord! Come quickly! (1 Cor. 16:22; Rev. 22:20)

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Improving Our Baptism

The following is a version of the article I submitted to the monthly news letter of Prosperity Presbyterian Church.


As confessional Presbyterian's we believe that members of the visible Church are offered promises of great blessing in their baptism. Although the sacrament of baptism is one of the ordinary means by which the Spirit applies the benefits of Christ to effect our salvation (see Larger Catechism 154, 162, 165) it is not an absolute guarantee that everyone baptized will take advantage of this for their profit. Indeed, some certainly will not and will therefore make the promises void by becoming a covenant breaker.

It is within this context about salvation and receiving the benefits of Christ that we are admonished to improve our baptism in the Westminster Larger Catechism Question 167. The language of "improving" upon baptism is probably an odd expression for many as it seems to have fallen into disuse. Nevertheless, it is confessed within the PCA to be a needful duty just as neglecting our baptism is confessed to be a great sin. The Westminster Divine's use of the term "improve" is now somewhat antiquated and its meaning not immediately obvious. For the sake of simplicity we may simply assert that "to improve" carried for them the meaning of making productive or profitable. Thus, the Larger Catechism is asking something like "How may we embrace the blessings promised in baptism (e.g., ingrafting into Christ, the remission of sins, regeneration, adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life) so that they will be profitably realized in the life of the one baptized.

In answer to the question five ways are listed by which a person can improve their baptism.

By striving to live a life of faith. Our baptism is a sign that we have given up our own individual identity so as to be identified with Christ. In the context of our new identity we need to struggle to live by faith, in part at least, that we may live a holy life united in brotherly love with all others baptized into the body of Christ.

By finding strength in the reality that Christ died and was resurrected to newness of life. The Scriptures make clear that in baptism we have been united to Christ who was raised to a new life. From this we are to draw strength for the purpose of mortifying of the old sinful way of being human and the enlivening of God's grace for our new life.

By maturing in the blessings sealed to us. It is utterly important that God's people grow in the assurance that we have been pardoned of our sin. In baptism we are distinguished from the world by being admitted to a privileged place- the family of God - apart from which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. Our baptism functions as seal or official certification. Baptism tells us that we are we are official participants in the covenant of grace and the benefits of Christ and, in turn, we must mature in our appropriation of that truth.

By having humility. Baptism is a tangible manifestation of God's grace. It is only right and proper that we are then humbled concerning those aspects of our lives which are not commensurate with the incredible graciousness that God offers and exhibits in baptism.

By taking time to soberly and gratefully reflect upon various realities concerning baptism's nature and the privileges conferred in it. We are required to remind ourselves that we are baptized people. This needs to be done through the entirety of one's life but especially in times of temptation. In baptism, we are- in a visible way- transplanted from one kingdom into another. We become members of a society which has been given Jesus Christ (Col 2.11-14; Eph 1.22-23) with all the benefits and blessings accompanying it.

Therefore, let us encourage each other and especially our youth of our baptism and the necessary duty to improve upon it.

Monday, November 01, 2004

10th Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference Paper: New Perspectives on Paul, by N.T. Wright

Thanks to Barb at http://www.upsaid.com/scarecrow/ for providing a link to New Perspectives on Paul, by N.T. Wright For those who have an interest in the New Perspective on Paul or Tom Wright this will likely be an enjoyable read.

Excerpt: "Supposing, I thought, Paul meant 'seeking to establish their own righteousness', not in the sense of a moral status based on the performance of Torah and the consequent accumulation of a treasury of merit, but an ethnic status based on the possession of Torah as the sign of automatic covenant membership? I saw at once that this would make excellent sense of Romans 9 and 10, and would enable the positive statements about the Law throughout Romans to be given full weight while making it clear that this kind of use of Torah, as an ethnic talisman, was an abuse. I sat up in bed that night reading through Galatians and saw that at point after point this way of looking at Paul would make much better sense of Galatians, too, than either the standard post-Luther readings or the attempted Reformed ones." [Empasis added]

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Uniformity in This Kirk

Thanks to JOEL GARVER - Uniformity in This Kirk for providing an Act of the General Assembly from Februrary 7th 1645, enacted by the 14th Session of the General Assembly. This Act adopted the recommendations of a Committee for "greater uniformity" of worship in the Scottish Church, particularly with regard to the implementation of the Directory of Public Worship. The Act includes various details about worship in general, baptism, and the administration of the Lord's Supper and is of historical value to those of us who have a concern over Reformed worship. Joel has done us a favor by making it accessible.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Things Not Always As They Might Seem


He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And when the Sabbath had come he began to teach in the synagogue.

And many who heard him were being astonished, saying,

‘How are these things with this guy?,’ and ‘This guy has wisdom given to him?’ and ‘Mighty deeds come about through his hands?’ "This guy is the carpenter, isn’t he, Mary’s son the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t his sisters here with us?’

And because of this they were scandalized.

And Jesus said to them,

A prophet is not dishonored, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.

And he couldn’t do any mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.


Theme: This story of unbelief is in stark contrast to the faith manifested by minor characters in earlier stories. The integral role of faith for participation in the kingdom of God is here emphatically stressed. This story illustrates the negative impact that unbelief has in being incorporated into the kingdom of God.


Structure: Jesus goes to his hometown with the disciples (v1). Next Jesus teaches at the local synagogue which evokes an astonished and scandalized response from the townspeople (vv. 2-3). Jesus gives an aphoristic response to their reaction (v. 4). Finally the fewness of Jesus’ miracles are attributed to the town’s unbelief (v. 5).


(1) Jesus goes back to his hometown of Nazareth with the disciples.
As such this story is almost a reverse of what one finds in Mark 3 in the outer part of the Beelzabul conflict. In both stories Jesus' relationship with his family is a source of conflict. While there Jesus' teaches at the synagogue.
(2) Jesus teaches at the local synagogue
We are not told specifically what the message was about- contra Luke's account- but in Mark 1:15 we are given a summary of what his preaching was about. The message was concerned with the good news that the time of curse had turned the corner and that the kingdom of God was impending. The appropriate response was that of faith and repentance.

The vast majority of NT scholars emphasize the dynamic nature of the kingdom of God pointing to God's actively reigning as king and bringing about his dominion. However, as confessing Presbyterians we also confess that there is also an institutional aspect to the kingdom as well. Thus, the Westminster Confession of Faith 25.2 states:

The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.


Also, we, as confessional Presbyterians claim that the Spirit works faith in us and thereby unites us to Christ (as per Q:30 in the Shorter Catechism). Thus, one of the effects of faith is that we no longer have a life in isolation from Jesus. Were faith is there is also a participation and a connectedness with Jesus and by extension the kingdom and its benefits.
(3) The Response of a Scandalized Audience
The crowd at the synagogue responded with a rather degrogatory line of questioning. While not denying his wisdom or ability to work deeds of power they do however, question his person. "How are these things with this guy?" In this way they are not unlike the Scribes and Jesus family who respectively thought ill or evil of Jesus and/or his ability to perform wonders.

This audience consists of people who have watched Jesus grow up, work his trade, and knew his family. They knew him as an ordinary man from a local family (with a potentially questionable history) and who worked a run-of-the-mill job in an unimpressive town. Such an unimpressive and inauspicious origin as Jesus' was considered an affront. Who did this guy think he was! Were the people of Nazareth really to believe that he and his people were constituting the beginnings of God’s kingdom -the place of God’s saving activity.
Notice what they town's people do not do, they do not claim that Jesus doesn'tt have unusual wisdom or the ability to perform deeds of power. They instead discredit the person who performs them. This is very much similar to what we saw in the Beelzabul controversy where Jesus is accused of being crazy by his family and the Scribes accuse him of being empowered by the prince of demons. The people are not able to discredit the work so they dicredit the person with a derogatory line of questioning. Here it is just too unbelievable for the people of Nazareth to see one of their own- from such ordinary and simple stock- to have such lofty significance. This was for the people of Nazareth an occasion to be scandalized (Gk eskandalizonto). How could someone of such modest and humble beginnings be the viceregent of Israel's redemption bringing about a kingdom from God.
(4) Jesus Gives an Aphoristic Response
‘A prophet is not dishonored, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household’ Contrary to the town’s people questioning of Jesus’ credentials (implicitly assuming evil origins of his power) he alternatively suggests that their negative response is actually an affirmation of his status as a prophet. Jesus has come to his hometown like a prophet and much like the prophets of old he finds himself and his message being rejected, in part, upon the grounds that familiarity breeds contempt/dishonor.
(5) The Fewness of Jesus' Miracles is Attributed to the People's Unbelief
Mark has frequently emphasizes the importance of faith in various miracle contexts (2:5, 4:40; 5:34-36; 9:23-24; 10:52; 11:22-24) but the mention that Jesus couldn’t do any mighty work is a bit striking. Whatever else we may make of this detail we can say with some confidence that Jesus and his miracles is significantly different from the wandering magicians who tried to overpower skepticism with dazzling exhibitions of supernatural displays of power. Manifestations of God’s reign in expressions of powerful deeds are correlated and in some significant way to and limited by a return of faith. An imperfect but potentially helpful analogy may be found in human relationships; love, to be fully experienced, must be returned. While the opposition of unbelief to God’s kingdom it surely cannot thwart it, those who respond in unbelief will not fully experience the grace of God’s reign.


Promising New Project by Tim Gallant

covenantrenewal.com - Home
This looks to be a promising new site. Look forward to visiting it often.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

New book by Vandeerkam on the High Priest

Thanks to Mark Goodacre at NT Gateway Weblog for pointing out what looks to be a significant work on the Jewish High Priests. This one has already made it on my 'must read' list.

This press release is from Fortress Press:

James VanderKam Assembles the First History of the Jewish High Priests

MINNEAPOLIS (October 18, 2004) From one of the most authoritative and respected scholars of early Judaism comes From Joshua to Caiaphus: High Priests after the Exile, a unique history of the central actors in Israel's religious and civil history. Beginning late in the Old Testament period and continuing for the next six hundred years, the Jewish high priests were often the most important members of Jewish society. They not only possessed religious authority but also exercised political control. This book gathers and assesses the surviving evidence about each of the fifty-one men who served as high priest from about 515 BCE until approximately 70 CE when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.

The primary purpose of this history of the high priests in the Second Temple age has been to gather and assess all of the available information about each one of them, from Joshua in the late sixth century BCE to Phannias during the Jewish revolt against Rome (66–70 CE). A secondary aim has been to investigate the status of these high-ranking
officials—specifically whether they also wielded civic authority. . .
.
It is worth emphasizing what this book is and is not. It is a history of the Second Temple high priests; it is not a history of the priesthood. . . . The book is not primarily a history of the Second Temple period, although the history regularly impinges on the narrative and provides the organizing principle of the presentation.''— from the Preface

“James VanderKam has written the first complete history of the high priests in the Second Temple period. Like all VanderKam’s work, this is marked by clarity of style, thoroughness of coverage, and sound judgment. An Indispensable reference work for the study of Second Temple Judaism.”—John J. Collins, Author of Introduction to the Hebrew Bible with CD-ROM

“An extremely significant comprehensive study of the high priesthood of the Second Temple. It is becoming increasingly clear how all-important the priesthood was in early Judaism. This study is now the indispensable starting point for sorting through the texts and research on this topic.”—David M. Carr, Author of Writing on the Tablet of the Heart

“VanderKam shows how to sustain a historical narrative while presenting the detailed exegesis and nuanced judgments that inform and support it. His meticulous research brings to life in their contexts the influential personages who populate the world of the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament, and Josephus and provides fresh insights and historical refinements for students of Second Temple Judaism and first-century Christianity. A Mature piece of historical analysis.” —George W. E. Nickelsburg, Author of Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins

James VanderKam is the John A. O'Brien Professor of Hebrew Scriptures at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. He is the author of numerous works, including The Dead Sea Scrolls Today (1994), An Introduction to Early Judaism (2001), The Book of Jubilees (2001), and The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls (with Peter Flint, 2002).

Format: Hardcover 568 pages 6 x 9 inches
Item No: 0800626176
Price: $35.00

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

New Article by Tim Gallant "Word and Sacrament"

There is a new article by Tim Gallant that is worth checking out if you have an interest in things sacramental.

timgallant.org Biblical Studies Center - "Word and Sacrament": "That sacraments are not magical rites - any more than a kiss or a hug is magical, despite being something other than verbal communication. Nor are the sacraments redundant - any more than a kiss or a hug is simply superfluous, serving a function equally served by speech. God has made us embodied and social and creatures of ritual, and these aspects of our being our not 'unspiritual' or irrelevant to the way in which redemption comes to us. Salvation in Christ is not a mere intellectual philosophy, but a fully-integrated redemption of the whole person."

Monday, October 11, 2004

Jerusalem Post: Hershel Shanks on James Ossuary and Archaeology

Jerusalem Post Breaking News from Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World:

Here is an article that came out last week. It stood out as I had recently seen a T.V. special (don't remember by who now) that simply considered the ossuary a fake. I thought then that Hershel Shanks was a voice to the contrary but wasn't sure where he stood. Here is an excerpt:

But given the murky facts surrounding its discovery, shouldn't the burden of proof be on those like yourself arguing its authenticity?

I question this 'burden of proof' remark of yours. You do have to be careful. There are forgeries, and there are some pretty good ones, but I don't think the burden of proof is one way or another. I think that what we need, what we always had, is a presentation of scholarly views, and an openness to these views not a court that comes down and declares something as forgery or authentic.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Article by Mark Horne: PCANews

I stumbled across this article this morning by mark Horne a teaching Elder in the Denomination to which I belong. It seemed like a nice compliment to the previous entry on "Improving our Baptism" In it he says:

We are to look at baptism as God’s transplantation of a person from the world into the Church . . . baptism seals to us blessings that we have not yet experience . . . the future we anticipate begins at baptism, a beginning which each of us is to “improve” upon. Our confession nowhere tells us to “improve” our birth in a Christian home. Nor does it tell us . . . to improve on our conversion at Bible Camp. It tells us to improve on our baptisms . . . Is this how we preach and teach? Is this what we expect to hear when we ask for Christian testimonies? If not, perhaps we need to figure out why there is such a discrepancy
PCANews

Friday, October 01, 2004

What is the Church? A Couple of thoughts on the Confession.


The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. (Westminster Confession of Faith 25.2)

Unto this catholic visible Church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto. (Westminster Confession of Faith 25.3)


It is not uncommon to find numerous books about making decisions concerning "world views" or "belief systems" or some type of "ideology". According to the Christian philosopher Ronald Nash a worldview is "a conceptual scheme by which we consciously or unconsciously place or fit everything we believe and by which we interpret and judge reality" (Worldviews in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992). He rightly contends that all people consciously or unconsciously have a worldview or a way in which they see the world and interpret things around them.

No doubt there is much of value in sorting things out according to worldviews. Many following the lead of such people as Ron Nash and others will contend that "Christianity" is an ideology that encompasses a range of beliefs and stances that broadly conform to the philosophic category of worldview. The Scriptures, however (at least as understood by Westminster Confession styled Presbyterians) do not confess such a category. We, thus, do not confess anything about Christians as a people who embrace the worldview of Christianity but we, instead, give corporate identity to Christians in terms of being members of the Church. For us, Christians are defined corporately in terms of their participation, in good standing, within the Church.

A person then isn't identified as a Christian because of worldview they embrace but by what community they are part of. Christians are given their definition and identity in relationship to Christ’s institution known as the Church. The church is defined in institutional terms being classified as a family and kingdom. And much in the same way that a person is not defined as a member of a family or kingdom based on particular "beliefs" neither by and large is a Christian. Our confessional standards would have us view the identity of a Christian in terms of their incorporation into the Church.

So of whom does the church in its visible manifestation consists of? All those who profess the true religion and also their children. The visible manifestation of the Church is the society of those profess the true religion along with their children.


For what purpose does the church exist? For the gathering and perfecting of the saints. The church exists in order to gather up those who are outside and, for those who are within, it exists in order to bring them to perfection. Will the church be successful in this? The Confessions says that by Christ’s presence and Spirit, He promises to be effective.


Are there benefits to being part of this institution known as the visible church? Of course there is. We are told that it is an institution which is given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God and out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. This includes nothing less than that the Church is an institution in which its ministers dispenses the tangible means by which Christ -as applied by the Holy Spirit- communicates the ordinary and effective means that bring about the salvation of the elect. Thus we read in the Larger Catechism


Question 63: What are the special privileges of the visible church?

Answer: The visible church has the privilege of being under God's special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, not withstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.