Caleb Cangelosi

Technology, Idolatry, and Eternal Life

Paul is clear in Romans 1 - if we don’t worship the one true Creator God, we will worship the creation. One way that idolatry is manifested today is in the secular search for eternal life - not found through faith in Jesus Christ, but through faith in technology. Technology leaders in America are on the hunt for a cure for death, and they are willing to sacrifice huge amounts of money to find the secret elixer that will allow them to live forever, according to Jacob Banas, author of “Disrupting the Reaper: Tech Titans’ Quest for Immortality Rages Forward.” Banas references an article about Christianity in Silicon Valley that observes, “Traditional religion in the Bay Area is being replaced with another sort of faith, a belief in the power of technology and science to save humanity.” Banas comments, “Combine this new governing philosophy (what others have called a “religion of technology“) with leaders who are too young to find peace in the concept of death and who haven’t experienced the kinds of traumas that might inoculate them against some of that fear? You get a perfect storm of longevity obsession.”

God tells us that He has set eternity in the hearts of mankind (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Made in his image, and created with a soul that will never die, Christians understand that the desire to live forever is not wrong. The problem is that because of Adam’s sin, death has entered the world. There is no escaping the grim reaper, for “it has been appointed for the die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Every single person will live forever, in a body - either in eternal joy on a new earth, or eternal misery in hell. What determines our destiny? The way we respond to Jesus Christ in this relatively short life. If you have friends that long to live forever, if you have friends that put their hope in technology to give them eternal life, point them to the only Savior from idolatry, the only giver of true life, Jesus the Son of God.

Some helpful articles from the Gospel Reformation Network

The Gospel Reformation Network (GRN) is a group within the PCA seeking to cultivate healthy Reformed churches within our denomination, and several articles they have posted lately do a great job of addressing some issues the PCA is engaging right now:

  • Dr. Jon Payne, the GRN Convener, has written a beautiful case for “Cultivating the Bonds of Peace within the PCA.” An excerpt: "When it comes to disagreeing with brothers over denominational issues, many of us can relate to Paul’s expression: “I do not do what I want, but often the very thing that I hate” (Rom. 7:15). We know deep down that we should engage in humble and open dialogue with the “other side”, and yet we largely dwell in the comfortable and affirming echo-chambers of our own tribe. We lob impulsive (often harsh) verbal grenades on social media. We convince ourselves that no benefit will come from meeting with one another. What’s the use? It’s just easier for everyone if we simply keep our distance. But God calls us to something different, doesn’t He? That’s why I was grateful to receive an invitation to meet for dinner in Nashville, Tennessee with several PCA teaching and ruling elders from differing perspectives within our denomination."

  • GRN Council Member David Strain provides a serious and tenderhearted pastoral letter to a fictitious congregation member, "Thomas," who is dealing with same-sex attraction. This piece will be immensely helpful to pastor and church member alike: "Dear Thomas, A Pastoral Approach to Dealing with Same Sex Attraction." 

  • GRN Council Member Rick Phillips on Revoice and the alleged "Idolatry" of the Nuclear Family

  • GRN Council Member Harry Reeder offering his analysis of the Revoice Conference in "Revoice or God's Voice?"

  • RTS Jackson Professor Dr. Guy Waters provides an insightful linguistic and exegetical analysis on key Greek terms used by the Apostle Paul in I Cor. 6:9. The meaning and definition of this verse and its vocabulary has been called into serious question in recent times. Dr. Waters offers a clear, yet compassionate, rejoinder in "Paul’s Understanding of Sexuality: μαλακοὶ and ἀρσενοκοῖται in 1 Cor 6:9."

John Calvin on the Beauty and Advantages of the Psalms

We are beginning a new Sunday evening sermon series on some selected Psalms this coming Lord's Day. In my preparation this week for the introductory sermon, I read again John Calvin's preface to his commentary on the Psalms. I encourage you to read it for yourself, so that you might be spurred on to spend more time in God's hymnal:

The varied and resplendent riches which are contained in this treasure it is no easy matter to express in words; so much so, that I well know that whatever I shall be able to say will be far from approaching the excellence of the subject. But as it is better to give my readers some taste, however small, of the wonderful advantages they will derive from the study of this book, than to be entirely silent on the point, I may be permitted briefly to advert to a matter, the greatness of which does not admit of being fully unfolded.

I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, "An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;" for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated. The other parts of Scripture contain the commandments which God enjoined his servants to announce to us. But here the prophets themselves, seeing they are exhibited to us as speaking to God, and laying open all their inmost thoughts and affections, call, or rather draw, each of us to the examination of himself in particular, in order that none of the many infirmities to which we are subject, and of the man vices with which we abound, may remain concealed. It is certainly a rare and singular advantage, when all lurking places are discovered, and the heart is brought into the light, purged from that most baneful infection, hypocrisy. In short, as calling upon God is one of the principal means of securing our safety, and as a better and more unerring rule for guiding us in this exercise cannot be found elsewhere than in the Psalms, it follows, that in proportion to the proficiency which a man shall have attained in understanding them, will be his knowledge of the most important part of celestial doctrine.

Genuine and earnest prayer proceeds first from a sense of our need, and next, from faith in the promises of God. It is by perusing these inspired compositions, that men will be most effectually awakened to a sense of their maladies, and, at the same time, instructed in seeking remedies for their cure. In a word, whatever may serve to encourage us when we are about to pray to God, is taught us in this book. And not only are the promises of God presented to us in it, but oftentimes there is exhibited to us one standing, as it were, amidst the invitations of God on the one hand, and the impediments of the flesh on the other, girding and preparing himself for prayer: thus teaching us, if at any time we are agitated with a variety of doubts, to resist and fight against them, until the soul, freed and disentangled from all these impediments, rise up to God; and not only so, but even when in the midst of doubts, fears, and apprehensions, let us put forth our efforts in prayer, until we experience some consolation which may calm and bring contentment to our minds. Although distrust may shut the gate against our prayers, yet we must not allow ourselves to give way, whenever our hearts waver or are agitated with inquietude, but must persevere until faith finally come forth victorious from these conflicts.

In many places we may perceive the exercise of the servants of God in prayer so fluctuating, that they are almost overwhelmed by the alternate hope of success and apprehension of failure, and gain the prize only by strenuous exertions. We see on the one hand, the flesh manifesting its infirmity; and on the other, faith putting forth its power; and if it is not so valiant and courageous as might be desired, it is at least prepared to fight until by degrees it acquire perfect strength. But as those things which serve to teach us the true method of praying aright will be found scattered through the whole of this Commentary, I will not now stop to treat of topics which it will be necessary afterwards to repeat, nor detain my readers from proceeding to the work itself. Only it appeared to me to be requisite to show in passing, that this book makes known to us this privilege, which is desirable above all others - that not only is there opened up to us familiar access to God, but also that we have permission and freedom granted us to lay open before him our infirmities, which we would be ashamed to confess before men.

Besides, there is also here prescribed to us an infallible rule for directing us with respect to the right manner of offering to God the sacrifice of praise, which he declares to be most precious in his sight, and of the sweetest odor. There is no other book in which there is to be found more express and magnificent commendations, both of the unparalleled liberality of God towards his Church, and of all his works; there is no other book in which there is recorded so many deliverances, nor one in which the evidences and experiences of the father providence and solicitude which God exercises towards us, are celebrated with such splendor of diction, and yet with the strictest adherence to truth; in short, there is no other book in which we are more perfectly taught the right manner of praising God, or in which we are more powerfully stirred up to the performance of this religious exercise.

Moreover, although the Psalms are replete with all the precepts which serve to frame our life to every part of holiness, piety, and righteousness, yet they will principally teach and train us to bear the cross; and the bearing of the cross is a genuine proof of our obedience, since by doing this, we renounce the guidance of our own affections, and submit ourselves entirely to God, leaving him to govern us, and to dispose of our life according to his will, so that the afflictions which are the bitterest and most severe to our nature, become sweet to us, because they proceed from him. In one word, not only will we here find general commendations of the goodness of God, which may teach men to repose themselves in him alone, and to seek all their happiness solely in him; and which are intended to teach true believers with their whole hearts confidently to look to him for help in all their necessities; but we will also find that the free remission of sins, which alone reconciles God towards us, and procures for us settled peace with him, is so set forth and magnified, as that here there is nothing wanting which relates to the knowledge of eternal salvation.

Edward Dering's Gospel Prayer

Edward Dering, an English Puritan who lived from 1540-1576, offered this prayer as a summary of the truth of the catechism he had written for the people of God during the days of Queen Elizabeth. It is rich in gospel experience, and keeps before our eyes those three most important realities: guilt, grace, and gratitude (or if you prefer your theology to start with the letter "R," ruin, redemption, and restoration). Use it as you prepare for worship on the Lord's Day!

O merciful and heavenly Father, since at every light occasion, I am withdrawn from your holy laws, to the vanities of this life, unto all sin and wickedness; I beseech you in mercy set before my eyes always the remembrance of your judgment seat, and my last end: whereby I may be daily stirred up to consider in what great danger I stand, through the horrible punishment due to my sins: that daily groaning under the burden of them, I may fly for succor to your beloved son Jesus Christ, who has fully paid, suffered & overcome the punishment due to them: and through the working of your holy Spirit in me, I may be fully assured in my soul and conscience, that the curse, condemnation, and death which these my sins deserve, is fully paid, suffered, and overcome in Christ, that his righteousness, obedience, and holiness is mine, and whatsoever he has wrought for man’s salvation is wholly mine.

Strengthen this faith in me daily more and more, that I may inwardly feel comfort and consolation in this, that I feel your holy Spirit bear record unto my spirit, that I am your child, grafted into the body of your Son, and made with him fellow heir of your everlasting kingdom. So work in me by your holy Spirit, that daily more and more I may feel sin die in me, that I do not delight therein, but daily may groan under the burden thereof, utterly hate, detest, and loath sin, set myself and all the powers of my soul and body against sin, and have my full delight, joy, comfort, and pleasure in those things which be agreeable to your will, that I may walk as becomes the Children of light, looking still for that good time, which it shall please you to call me to your everlasting kingdom, and joy eternal. This in mercy grant unto me for Jesus Christ’s sake, my only Lord and Savior, Amen.

The Christian and the Tithe

This past Sunday evening we studied Malachi 3:7-12, the passage in which God through His prophet rebukes His people for their failure to give to Him tithes and offerings. It is perhaps hard to see what these words from the mid-400s B.C. have to do with how we spend our money today, so I want to reflect on and apply this passage to Christians living in the 21st century. First, the text:

From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, 'How shall we return?' Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How have we robbed you?' In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.

Malachi calls God's people to repent in regard to their breaking the 8th commandment - but notice that he accuses them of stealing, not from man, but from God Himself, by bringing less than the full tithe into the temple storehouse. There is much in these verses, but several things stand out:

1. The tithe belongs to the Lord, and withholding it from Him is robbing Him. A tithe is a tenth part of our income. For the Israelites, an agricultural people, this meant that they tithed seed, fruit, wine, oil, vegetables, oxen, cows, sheep (they would just line them up and count them, and every tenth one would be the Lord’s, no matter if it was the best or the worst – Lev. 27:30ff.; see Jer. 33:13). Today, as our economy has changed, we tithe money, not goods or produce. But why did God command the tithe? He did it to remind His people that all of our wealth comes from Him and is given to us as a stewardship – just as He sets one day in seven apart to remind us that all our time is His. The tithe and the Sabbath day are His in a special way, they are set apart/holy to Him. Israel was called to repent of robbing God and keeping for themselves what was rightfully His.

2. The tithe was for the provision of the work and worship of God, “so that there might be food in God’s house.” In Numbers 18, God commands that the tithe is to go to the Levites, and they in turn would tithe the tithe to the priests. The Levites had no inheritance in the Promised Land, so the rest of the people were to provide for them. God had the people of God provide for those who led the people in worship and taught them, so that the priests and Levites could devote themselves to God’s work without distraction (see Nehemiah 13:10ff.!). Israel was called to repent of keeping from the work and worship of God what was necessary for its maintenance – and the existence of a “storehouse” (a savings account) was not to stop them from making their tithes and contributions.

3. Even in the Old Covenant, the tithe was just the beginning. Israel was expected to bring tithes and contributions. A "contribution" or "offering" was a general term ranging in meaning from the tithe itself (Num. 18:24) to the part of the tithe set apart for the priest (Num. 18:26) to the offering for the priest's consecration (Exo. 25:2), to offerings for the building of the tabernacle (Exo. 25:2). It was sometimes a commanded offering, and sometimes a voluntary contribution to the Lord. So even in the days of Moses, the tithe was only a starting point for giving to the Lord. And if that was the case in the Old Covenant, how much more under the New Covenant!

It’s sometimes said that the tithe was merely a part of the Mosaic ceremonial law, no longer binding on believers after the coming of Jesus, in the New Covenant. But the first instance we see of tithing in the Bible is Abraham, who gave to Melchizedek, a priest of God Most High (Gen. 14:18-20). The OT also records Jacob as saying that he would give a tenth to God (Gen. 28:22). From the beginning of God’s people, giving a tenth to God has been a part of worship.

So often, people go to the NT and say, “See, it doesn’t say anything about tithing there.” I disagree: There are two passages that I believe clearly carry the tithe commandment into the new covenant: Matt. 23:23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” And I Cor. 9:13-14, in which Paul argues for paying pastors on the basis of the OT principle that the tithe should provide for the needs of those teach and labor for the Lord as a vocation. Now, someone may raise the objection, "But doesn’t Paul say in II Cor. 8:8, 'I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also.'? And doesn’t he say in II Corinthains 9:7, 'Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.'?" Yes, but II Corinthians 8-9 refer to a voluntary collection that he was making for the poor saints in Jerusalem; it’s an offering over and above the tithe given for the sustenance of the ministry in Corinth, as opposed to the obligatory tithe.

The reason you don’t see a lot about the tithe in the NT is because in large part the NT presupposed the tithe. And it urges Christians to be even more generous than the tithe, and even more generous than the saints in the Old Covenant. When I hear people ask, “Is the standard of giving in the NT still the tithe?” (isn’t it interesting that those who ask this are almost never looking for an excuse to give more than the tithe), my answer is, “Of course! And even in the OT they gave more than the tithe!” But my answer is also, “Of course not! Our standard is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ!” II Cor. 9:8 tells us that the Xn’s motivation and model for giving is the sacrifice of Jesus – “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” Does it make any sense to think that the standard of giving after Jesus’ death would decrease from what it was before His death?

What we see in the New Testament is that the better we understand the gospel, the more generous we shall be – like Jesus, we will become poor that others may become rich. God doesn’t merely want your tithe – that’s the minimum for us like it was for OT saints – He wants your heart, your generosity and sacrifice. If you aren’t tithing, you are robbing God. God’s word to you is clear: repent! Return, humbly confessing your sin and asking God to change your heart and your financial habits. And see that repentance must start with at least a tithe.

R.C. Sproul tells of a denominational stewardship program that prompted "the crisis that awakened him from his dogmatic slumbers." The program was based on the theme, "Take a Step Toward Tithing." The idea was simple: if a person was currently giving 1% of their income they were urged to increase it to 2%, and so on down the line. Sproul said to my ministerial comrades, "I can't implement this program." Some said, "Why not? It sounds like a practical way to get people to move in the right direction in a less than severely painful way." He objected on the grounds that the program contained two serious errors: 1) it made tithing an ideal that only super-committed Christians ever reach, a zenith point of sacrificial giving; 2) it gave the tacit blessing of the church to people robbing God. It was like saying "Last year you robbed God of 9% of what you owe Him. This year please rob the Deity of merely 8%."

God expects His people to continue to tithe in the New Covenant. But we must never forget that it is possible to tithe and still be robbing God. Consider: the Pharisees tithed too – but they were unconverted, and didn’t care about the poor and needy. Their giving was all external formalism and hypocrisy; they didn’t give God their heart. You can tithe and not be converted. In addition, for some of His people, 10% isn’t much of a sacrifice. You don’t really start to feel the pinch. The question to ask is, What percentage of my income is a sacrifice? Give that. Saying to God, “Okay, here’s my 10 percent, and not a penny more” is not an acceptable offering. So repentance will be costly. Some Christians will have to sacrifice just to get to the minimum that God requires of His people. There will have to be a change in our standard of living. For increasing our giving may well mean decreasing spending somewhere else. Yet God is faithful and will work in us to will and to do according to His good pleasure; as Paul writes in II Corinthians 9:8, 11, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having a sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed…[Y]ou will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.”

I haven't answered every question about tithing, or even about Malachi 3:7-12. Yet I pray that what I have written will spur you on to love and good deeds. May the Lord enable us to give generously, sacrificially, and obediently!

 

Some reasons why Christians struggle to talk about Jesus

In a recent Barna survey, adults in the US were asked why they don't more often about their faith. Here's a summary of what they found:

People who don’t talk very often about faith offer different reasons, but most of these fall into two broad categories: avoidance and ambivalence. For instance, the two avoidant responses (among the top four) given for not engaging in conversations are: “Religious conversations always seem to create tension or arguments” (28%) and “I’m put off by how religion has been politicized” (17%). The other two responses indicate ambivalence: “I’m not religious and don’t care about these kinds of topics” (23%) and “I don’t feel like I know enough to talk about religious or spiritual topics” (17%). Here’s the full list of options:

  • Religious conversations always seem to create tension or arguments: 28%
  • I’m not religious and don’t care about these kinds of topics: 23%
  • I’m put off by how religion has been politicized: 17%
  • I don’t feel like I know enough to talk about religious or spiritual topics: 17%
  • I don’t want to be known as a religious person: 7%
  • I don’t know how to talk about religious or spiritual topics without sounding weird: 6%
  • I’m afraid people will see me as a fanatic or extremist: 5%
  • I’m embarrassed by the way religious language has been used in popular culture: 5%
  • I’ve been hurt by religious conversations in the past: 4%
  • Religious language and jargon feels cheesy or outdated: 4%

This survey interviewed people of both religious (and irreligious) backgrounds, so the answers are reflective even of the opinions of Christians. What about you? Are you ambivalent about sharing the gospel of Jesus and talking about your faith in Him? Are do you seek to avoid it because of what it has led to in the past or might lead to in the future? In I Peter 3:15, Christ calls us to set Him apart as Lord in our hearts (this eradicates ambivalence reasons), and to be ready at all times to give an answer for the hope that is in us, with gentleness and respect (this knocks the legs out from under avoidance reasons). We must be bold and tender, direct and wise, initiating and responsive. Pray the Lord would give you open doors and an open mouth to speak about your love for the one who loved you and gave Himself up for you on the cross!

The Significance of the Burial of Jesus

This past Sunday I preached from John 19:38-20:18, on the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I want to comment on something I didn't speak to in my sermon: why is the burial of Jesus important to the Christian faith? Indeed, Paul declared that "He was buried" is one of the matters "of first importance" that he received and delivered to the Corinthian church (I Corinthians 15:3-4).

First, the burial of Jesus ensures that the resurrection of Jesus was just that: a resurrection from the dead. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus prepared Jesus' body for burial, and buried Him in a new tomb, in which no other body had yet been laid (John 19:38-42). These men could testify that there was no life in the body they buried. He had not "swooned," lost consciousness, or fainted. He had truly died. Therefore, if in three days He were alive, the burial proved that He had risen from death to new life.

Second, the burial of Jesus was itself an aspect of His humiliation. The Westminster Larger Catechism #50 reminds us, "Christ's humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, He descended into hell." Jesus did not die and then immediately come back to life. His suffering and humiliation descended to the point of remaining under the power of death from Friday through Sunday. As the Westminster divines point out, one aspect of the meaning of the statement "He descended into hell" is clearly the separation of His body and soul in death. As Herman Bavinck puts it, "The state of death in which Christ entered when he died was as essentially a part of his humiliation as his spiritual suffering on the cross. In both together he completed his perfect obedience" (Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3, p. 417). Though Psalm 16:10/Acts 2:24-27, 31 assure us that Jesus did not see corruption, and His soul was not abandoned to Hades/Sheol (the state of death), yet it is great comfort to know that Jesus has experienced the whole measure of human suffering, even tasting the grave for a season - He fully bore the wages of sin.

Third, the burial of Jesus fulfilled Scripture, and the words of Jesus Himself. Isaiah 53:9 declares that the grave of the Suffering Servant would be "with a rich man in his death" - fulfilled in the person of Joseph of Arimathea. Jesus taught that His death, burial and resurrection was foreshadowed by the experience of Jonah in the belly of the great fish: "Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Had Jesus not been buried, He would have been proved wrong, or worse, a liar. But He was indeed in the heart of the earth; Scriptural typology, and Jesus' prophecy, were fulfilled.

To deny or ignore the burial of Jesus is certainly to deny or ignore a truth "of first importance" for Christians.

Tim Keller's Recent Witness Before the British Authorities

Tim Keller recently spoke at the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast in the Houses of Parliament in London, and in the words of one reviewer, he "provided a masterclass in gracious apologetics." If you want to see how to speak of Christ to a secular culture, watch this 25-minute video. Keller discusses the beneficial role of Christianity as salt in a non-Christian culture, challenging secularism to consider the contradictions within its worldview, and challenging Christians to be the saints God has called us to be so that we might serve the world around us and woo them to our Lord and Savior. Very much worth your time.

J. C. Ryle on the Solemnity of Funerals and the Goodness of the Body

"It is not for nothing that we are told so particularly about the burial of Christ. The true Christian need never be ashamed of regarding a funeral with peculiar reverence and solemnity. It is the body, which may be the instrument of committing the greatest sins, or of bringing the greatest glory to God. It is the body, which the eternal Son of God honored by dwelling in it for thirty and three years, and finally dying in our stead. It is the body, with which He rose again and ascended up into heaven. It is the body, in which He sits at the right hand of God, and represents us before the Father, as our Advocate and Priest. It is the body, which is now the temple of the Holy Ghost, while the believer lives. It is the body, which will rise again, when the last trumpet sounds, and, reunited to the soul, will live in heaven to all eternity. Surely, in the face of such facts as these, we never need suppose that reverence bestowed on the burial of the body is reverence thrown away."

-- J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of John, p. 337

WILL YOU SPEAK A WORD FOR JESUS?

A pastor’s confession: it is easier for me to preach the gospel publicly to hundreds of people than it is to talk about Jesus to one uninterested unbeliever. Perhaps you think, “I don’t feel comfortable doing either one!” And yet, while not everyone is called to preach to large groups of believers or unbelievers, all of us are responsible to speak a word for Jesus to the lost around us. Peter tells the church that every Christian must “always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (I Peter 3:15). It’s not just commanded, but commended, as we see Christians (who were not apostles) being scattered by persecution, bringing the good news of the gospel to the lost (Acts 8:1, 4). Each one of us is to let our “light shine before men in such a way that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16) – and if words do not accompany our deeds, then how will the unbeliever ever know our Father in heaven to glorify Him?

I fear that many Christians assume that it’s only the preacher’s responsibility in the pulpit to talk to unbelievers about the gospel. To be sure, preachers are called to preach the gospel publicly in corporate worship, to the lost and to the found, since the word of God (particularly the preached word of God) is the means of regeneration and sanctification (I Peter 1:23-2:3). Paul assumes that unbelievers will be in the midst of corporate worship, and that the clear preaching of the word will in God’s providence convict them, call them to account, disclose the secrets of their hearts, and lead them to fall on their faces and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among us (I Corinthians 14:24-25). Yet how will unbelievers come into the corporate gatherings of the church? They may well walk in off the street, but it’s far more likely that they will come because of a relationship they already have with a believer, and because of conversations that believer has had with them about Jesus and about His church and/or His word.

So even with regard to the pastor’s task to be an evangelist and to proclaim publicly the truth of the gospel to the lost, we’re back to the individual Christian’s responsibility to be speaking a word for Jesus, to be wooing and attracting unbelievers, to be stirring up an interest in spiritual things, eternal things, raising the issues of holiness, sin, brokenness, redemption, hope, love and forgiveness found through faith in Jesus. Unless Christians are inviting unbelievers to hear the gospel preached in corporate worship, it is unlikely (humanly speaking) that they will be there. Yes, there are unbelievers among the membership of the church, tares in the midst of the wheat, hypocrites who look like believers yet are not truly converted. But unchurched unbelievers have no reason to be at church unless they are invited – over and over and over again, in some situations.

Do you see the vital importance of individual Christian men and women and boys and girls speaking a word for Jesus, both directly (talking about the gospel with them) and indirectly (inviting them to a place where they will hear the gospel)? But this reality then raises the question of whether you intentionally spend time with unbelievers. In particular, do you pursue time with unchurched unbelievers? So often, Christians – especially those in the buckle of the Bible Belt – surround themselves only with other Christians, and distance themselves from unbelievers. Yet Jesus calls us to go into the world to bear witness about Him (John 17:18). We are not to cordon ourselves off from the world in a little holy huddle, but we are to mix and mingle and share life with those who do not know our Savior, so that we might be ambassadors for Jesus to them. I have felt that myself of late – my calling is to pastor the flock, yet if I don’t intentionally put myself around unbelievers, when will I have the opportunities to share the gospel to the lost outside the church?

As we conclude our Missions Festival this weekend, being challenged to go across the street and around the world, examine your life to see what changes you need to make in order to be around unbelievers so that you might have opportunities to speak a word for Jesus to them. Pray for boldness to take advantage of the open doors that the Lord gives you. Invite your friends to join you at our worship services. Pray for your preachers, that we might preach with an eye to the lost as well as the found, and proclaim a Savior who alone can save sinners from the penalty and power and presence of sin. And pray for the Holy Spirit to move in the lives of the lost, so that we might see conversions.

A Report on the 45th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America

Last week, elders, members and friends of the Presbyterian Church in America gathered at the Koury Convention Center at the Sheraton Greensboro at Four Seasons in Greensboro, NC, to participate in the 45th meeting of the PCA’s General Assembly. Ken Haynes and I represented Pear Orchard as elder commissioners, while John and Martie Kwasny and Rod and Jeanne Russ were there for One Story Ministries in the exhibition hall. Tammie Haynes was also with Ken to take part in the activities of the week.

You may be unfamiliar with what happens at a General Assembly. It is part trade show, part family reunion, part training seminars, and (most importantly) part meeting of the highest court of our church. The GA is an opportunity for denominational agencies and committees, as well as organizations and ministries like One Story that are connected to the PCA, to display their offerings and services so that we might learn ways we can increase our fruitfulness and participation in the kingdom of God around the world. It’s also a time to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones. It was a rich blessing to get together with friends from seminary and those I’ve met since being ordained in 2003, as well as building new relationships with elders from around the country and world. One highlight was getting dinner with Kenny Foster and Jonathan Seda from Grace Dover, the church that has been such an encouragement to us as we seek to become a more multi-ethnic congregation. On Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday morning, and Thursday morning, seminars covering a wide array of topics are offered. We purchased recordings of all these seminars if you are interested in hearing them (visit http://www.pcaac.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Seminar-Listing.pdf to see the list of seminars offered this year).

The most important part of the week is the gathering of teaching and ruling elders to deliberate matters pertaining to the life and work of our denomination as a whole. From Tuesday evening through Thursday evening, commissioners debate overtures and motions that come from Presbyteries and permanent committees and agencies. Here are a few observations from this year’s assembly:

1. Dr. Alexander Jun was elected Moderator of this year’s assembly. Though the PCA has had Korean members for some time, this was the first time a Korean elder was elected Moderator. He is a ruling elder of New Life Mission Church in Fullerton, CA, and teaches at Azusa Pacific University in California. The growing diversity of the PCA was beautifully on display this year, particularly when Dr. Irwyn Ince, an African American teaching elder, gave a report on the committee he chaired. The sight of these two men standing before the Assembly was an encouragement for the PCA to continue seeking to reach the whole of our country with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

2. There was a disappointingly low number of ruling elders this year (1094 teaching elders compared to 292 ruling elders). The PCA affirms that ruling elders share an equal place in the government and oversight of the church at all levels, yet when few ruling elders attend the assembly, the denomination is prevented from enjoying their individual and collective wisdom. Perhaps it was too costly to fly to Greensboro, or too costly to take time off of work – whatever the reasons, the history of the PCA’s formation shows the importance of ruling elders to keep our church from drifting away from faithfulness to the Scriptures and our confessional standards. So it’s never a good thing when ruling elders don’t attend GA.

3. The biggest issue discussed at this year’s General Assembly was the report of a study committee on women in ministry. Based on its understanding of the Bible, the PCA allows only men to be ordained to the office of elder and deacon, and women minister to the church and to the lost in many ways. Yet there has been a minority, more vocal in the past decade or so, that has challenged our belief and practice regarding the office of deacon in particular. There has been an increasing polarization between those who believe women’s gifts are not being used by the church in appropriate ways, and those who believe churches are overstepping the biblical boundaries of what are appropriate ways for women to be involved in the ministry of the church. A study committee was appointed at last year’s GA to study this issue further, and to write a report and come with recommendations to this year’s GA. Through much debate and many close votes, we passed the following recommendations:

·         That sessions, presbyteries, and the General Assembly recognize that, from the founding of the PCA, there has been a variety of views and practices regarding the ways in which women may serve the Lord and the church within scriptural and constitutional parameters, without ordination, and that such mutual respect for said views and practices continues.

·         That sessions, presbyteries, and the General Assembly strive to develop, recognize, and utilize the gifts, skills, knowledge, and wisdom of godly women in the local, regional, and national church, and particularly consider overtures that would allow qualified women to serve on appropriate committees and agencies within the church.

·         That sessions, if possible, establish a diaconate of qualified ordained men.

·         That sessions consider how to include non-ordained men and women in the worship of the church so as to maintain faithfulness to Scripture, as well as utilizing the gifts God has poured out to His entire church…”

·         That sessions and presbyteries select and appoint godly women and men of the congregation to assist the ordained diaconate.

·         That presbyteries and the General Assembly consider an overture that would establish formally the right of sessions, presbyteries, and the General Assembly to establish the position of commissioned church worker within the PCA for qualified and gifted unordained men and women.

·         That sessions, presbyteries and the General Assembly consider how they can affirm and include underprivileged and underrepresented women in the PCA.

These recommendations are the advice of one General Assembly to the churches, affirming what we have always held, that ordination to office is open to men only, and challenging both those who try to circumvent this belief by not ordaining any diaconate at all, and those who would keep women from using their gifts in the church in ways that are faithful to the Scriptures. As advice and recommendations (note the use of the language of “consider”), in and of themselves they change nothing about the ways that we believe or practice. For that to happen, Presbyteries would ultimately have to send overtures to future General Assemblies requesting that the Book of Church Order be changed. If and when these overtures come, and depending on what they request, I foresee even more disagreement and polarization than we currently see in the PCA. We in central Mississippi do not experience much of this polarization, since for the most part we are all on the same page in both belief and practice. But as you look at the PCA across the country, different camps and views exists. This issue of women in ministry has the possibility of being a divisive one, though I believe the report of this study committee and the recommendations that were passed will continue to hold the various positions together.

I love the meeting of the General Assembly. I’m so thankful for our denomination. God has been good to sustain us and keep us walking with Him since 1973. My prayer is that through the coming years the Lord would keep us faithful to His word, united in the truth, and committed to fostering all the gifts and graces of every member of the body in ways that are pleasing to Him and edifying to the body.

Summer Reading

The title of this article either brings back fond memories of curling up in your favorite reading nook and entering fantastic worlds with your new best friends, or it brings back terrible memories of monotony and dread at the prospect of a reading quiz the first day of school in August. But summer reading is a good idea – and not just for children in school. The different pace of the summer months, vacations, and longer days give ample reasons for picking up a book or e-reader and expanding your mind.

Ecclesiastes 12:12 is a good check on those who love to read, of course: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness to the flesh.” But when Paul in prison, for what did he long? “When you come [he says to Timothy], bring the…books, and above all the parchments.” Though like any created thing they can become an idol, books are a blessing. Indeed, they are indispensable to growth as a Christian life. Without reading (or listening to an audiobook) we cannot have the word of God implanted deep into our hearts and minds. And it’s not only the Bible I’m talking about. Books that explain the Bible, books that explain the human condition, books that describe the journeys of Christians throughout history, books that explain how God’s world works, whether fiction or nonfiction, whether written in the 21st century or the 17th century or the 2nd century – all are worthy of our time and energy.

The elders of Pear Orchard long for all of God’s people to be readers. That’s why we’re teaching through Pilgrim’s Progress this summer. More importantly, that’s why we’re reading through it. I want our class to be able to say they’ve read all the way through this Christian classic. But 17th century Puritans didn’t write the way we’re used to writing or reading. And so reading them is not easy. In fact, it might feel like work. But as the saying goes, “No pain, no gain.” I’ll never forget reading through Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom in 11th grade. Now that was hard reading. When I finished it, though I didn’t remember much about it, it was the first time that I felt I had accomplished something in the reading of a book. The Puritans are far easier than Faulkner! But they’re still tough sledding, and so by reading Pilgrim’s Progress together, we’ll help each other make it through – and I hope that we’ll be more prepared and desirous to pick up other Puritan classics on our own. Or the 18th-19th century American Presbyterians. Or even the 20th and 21st century authors. The latter are far more accessible, so why don’t you start there this summer?

Here are a few recommendations. If you’ve never read Trusting God by Jerry Bridges, do it. The same goes for Knowing God, by J. I. Packer. R. C. Sproul’s classics Knowing Scripture, Chosen by God, and The Holiness of God should be required reading for every believer. John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied is more difficult, but absolutely worth the effort (though he lived in the 20th century, he wrote like someone from the 19th century, so have a dictionary handy). John Stott’s The Cross of Christ is pure gold, as is Donald Macleod’s Christ Crucified. And don’t forget our own John Perritt’s Your Days are Numbered, and his newest book, What Would Judas Do?

May the Lord grant us – through words – a deeper knowledge of Him and His word this summer. 

Satan's Will for Your Life

How does God want His children to live? The answer is found in the pages of the Bible, particularly his "holy and righteous and good" commandments (Romans 7:12). But how does Satan want you to live? In a way contrary to the commandments of God, of course. If you took each of the ten commandments and turned it inside out, like a photo negative (remember those??), what would you get? I think you'd get something that looked like this...

Sent as Priests

This past weekend I had the privilege of preaching the Missions Conference at Bay Street Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg, MS. It was a delight to be with these saints and to open up God's word with them. We meditated upon the glorious reality that our election is for the purpose of mission - our identity is also our calling. We saw from John 17 that Christians are in the world, though not of the world - because we have been given to the Son by the Father out of the world - and the Son sends us into the world, even as He was sent by the Father into the world (17:18), so that we might speak the truth of the gospel in love. We are sent into the world as a kingdom of priests (I Peter 2:9ff.; Exodus 19:4-6), to represent God to man and man to God. We are the Lord's special treasure, His chief delight, a people for His own possession, for the purpose of declaring His excellencies - His holy character and mighty deeds - among the nations. He has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light, He has taken us who were not a people and has made us His people, He has showered us with mercy - and now He calls us to go into the world, living holy lives and being always ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us. We go into the world as fishers of men, seeking the lost, taking the initiative with them even as God took the initiative with us. And as we go, we have the confidence that the Lord will draw His elect to Himself through His word. He has His people across the world, and it is our privilege to be used as instruments in bringing them to a knowledge of His grace. 

Some think the doctrines of grace - the five points of Calvinism - are a hindrance to evangelism. Unfortunately, those who embrace the doctrines of grace are often practical hyper-Calvinists, living as if we don't need to speak the gospel to the lost for them to be saved. But if we really believed our theology, we would have the strong conviction that the gospel must be spoken. For the God who has ordained the end has also ordained the means, and it is through the means of His word that the lost are found, the dead are raised to newness of life, the guilty are forgiven. The more strongly we embrace the sovereignty of grace, the more fervently we should desire to speak the gospel to those around us.