Monday, 24 February 2014

A Catechism on the Government and Discipline of the Presbyterian Church (1849)  Continued...

NOTE: I have changed the Bible quotations to ESV throughout and noted where this differs substantially from the KJV. I have also adopted British spelling rather than the American English of the original.

This section is rather long, but I felt it should be kept as one posting. Given the situation in Scotland, where some professed evangelicals believe they can remain within a national church that does not discipline false teachers or those who engage in sexual immorality, this section raises a number of serious issues and backs them up with Scripture.  It repays careful study.


Q1. What is the Scriptural character of a Christian church?

Answer. It is a society of persons separated from the rest of mankind to the service of God.

“They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” John 17:16.

Q. 2. By what means is this character to be preserved?

A. By the faithful exercise of a Scriptural discipline.

“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump”, 
1 Cor. 5: 7. (See context.)

Q. 3. What should be the conduct of a Church Court in exercising discipline?

A. It should be first, orderly:

But all things should be done decently and in order.” 
1 Cor. 14:40.

Secondly, meek:

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”  
Gal. 6:1.

Thirdly, solemn:

“Whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God” 
1 Pet. 4:11.

Fourthly, impartial :

“I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.”  1 Tim. 5:21.

Q. 4. When is a person to be regarded as making a credible profession of faith in Christ, and to be admitted to the Communion?

A. That man is to be viewed as making a credible profession of religion, 
  • who manifests an acquaintance with the leading doctrines of the gospel
  • who declares himself a believer in these doctrines
  • who professes that, so far as he can judge, his heart has been renewed by the Spirit of God
  • and who maintains a conduct and conversation becoming the Gospel.

“For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”  Rom. 10:10.

“And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptised at once...”  Acts 16:33.

“Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.”  Luke 3:8.

Q. 5. But did not the apostles receive persons into the Church by baptism, without waiting for any evidence of the credibility of their profession?

A. All who then joined the Church, did so at the risk of liberty, property, and life; and this of itself was a most satisfactory evidence of their sincerity in making such profession.

Q. 6. Do the members of the Church, after their admission, continue subject to the authority of the Rulers?

A. Yes. Such authority on the one part, and obedience on the other, are most plainly sanctioned by the law of Christ.

“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?”   1 Cor. 5: 12, 13.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them.” Heb. 13:17.

Q. 7. For what offences are members liable to trial, and Church censure?

A. It would be wrong to subject a member to Church censure, or even trial, for every misdemeanour; but they are to be subjected for:

(1.) Errors in doctrine.

“As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”  Tit. 3:10, 11

“As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”  Gal 1:9  [Not a proof text in the original.]

(2.) Immorality in practice.

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”  Eph. 5:11.

“But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.”  Rev. 2: 20.

(3.) Despising the authority, or order, or ordinances of the church.

“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.”  2 Thess. 3: 6.

(4.) Neglecting the public, domestic, or secret duties of religion.

“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.” Heb. 10:25.

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”  Deut 6:6,7.  [Not in original.]

(5.) Slothful and idleness.

“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  1 Tim 5:8

(6.) The violation of any clear Scripture precept or ecclesiastical ordinance.

“Understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers…”  1 Tim 1:9.

Q. 8. Does not Scripture attach a solemn importance to the censures of the Church?

A. Yes. For the sentence, when pronounced according to Christ's law, is ratified in heaven; and if the individual be wholly "cut off" from the Church, he is delivered up to Satan, the god of this world, as a subject of his visible kingdom.

“Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  Matt 18: 18.

“You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”  1 Cor. 5:5.

“Among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”  1 Tim 1:20.

Q. 9. What is the duty of those who have been judged worthy of censure?

A. To humble themselves under it; to submit to it; to repent and do their first works.

“For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.”  2 Cor. 7:11.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”   Heb. 13:17.

“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.”  Rev. 2:5.

Q. 10. Is it lawful ever to restore to the communion of the Church one who has been suspended, or cut off?

A. Yes, it is. Whenever sufficient evidence has been afforded of repentance and reformation, he may be restored.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”  Gal. 6:1.

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”  John 20:23.

Q. 11. Are any censures to be made public?

A. Yes, such as are occasioned by offences which from their magnitude and publicity, are calculated to bring scandal on the Church.

“For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” 2 Cor 2:6.

“As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” 1 Tim. 5:20.

Q. 12. Does any sentence of the Church exclude an individual from hearing the gospel preached?

A. No. It is to be preached to the most guilty, (See 1 Cor. 14:25), and it is especially the duty of such to attend on the ministration of the Word.

Q. 13. Is injury done to the people of God, by the neglect of discipline in the Church?

A. Yes. When the Church is not kept pure, godly persons will be deterred from joining it.

“But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.”  1 Cor. 5:11.

“I do not want you to be participants with demons.”  
1 Cor. 10:20.

B. And those in the Church who are, or may become, pious, will be obliged to separate from it.

“Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,  "Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues... ‘ “  Rev. 18:4.

Q. 14. Is injury done to the sinner by such neglect?

A. Yes. By it he will be confirmed in his carelessness, self-deception, and sin.

“Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace… Because you have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life, therefore you shall no more see false visions nor practice divination. I will deliver my people out of your hand. And you shall know that I am the Lord “   
Ezekiel 13:10, 22

Q. 15. May not a church so far apostatise by the neglect of discipline, as to cease to be a church of Christ, and become a synagogue of Satan?

A. Yes. This has sometimes happened.

“‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”  Rev. 2:9.

“Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie..,”   Rev. 3:9.

“So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”  Rev. 3:16.

Q. 16. What benefits may arise to the offender from the exercise of discipline?

A. By this he sees sin to be evil and shameful.

“If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.”   2 Thess. 3:14.

B. And if he receives the censure in a proper spirit, it has a powerful tendency to humble, reclaim, and edify him.

“As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.  For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”   2 Cor. 7:9, 10.

Q. 17. What benefits arise to the Church from the faithful exercise of discipline?

A.(1.) Hereby sinners are discouraged from hypocritically joining the Church, and the leaven which might infect the whole lump is purged out.

“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump.”   
1 Cor. 5:7.

(2.) The number of her true converts is increased.

“As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem.  So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.”  Acts 16:4,5.

“And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things… None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.  And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” Acts 5:11, 13, 14.

(3.) Her holiness is manifested.

“And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.”  John 2:16.  [Through the cleansing of the Temple its holiness is demonstrated.]

(4.) The honour of her Head is vindicated.

“And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes”  Ezek. 3623.

(5.) And God's gracious presence and blessing secured.

“Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”   
2 Cor. 6:17

Q. 18. But may not the offender, by the exercise of discipline, be led to forsake the preaching of the Gospel, and thus become more hardened ?

A. As discipline is an ordinance of God, we must expect the neglect rather than the exercise of it to harden the sinner ; but if, in his pride and obstinacy, he disregard the advantages which flow from it, when received in a right spirit, the rulers of the Church are not to be deterred from their duty, any more than the minister of the Gospel from preaching, because many are hardened by it, and have their guilt and danger increased.

“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”  2 Cor. 2:15.

“It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.”   Jude 19.

Q. 19. Are the rulers of the Church seriously responsible for the right exercise of discipline?

A. They who hold office by appointment from Christ, whose faithfulness will be followed by so many and great blessings, whose negligence must be the source of such deep and lasting injuries to the Church, dishonour to Christ, and evil to sinners — should feel themselves under a most solemn responsibility, in this matter, and must expect to be called to a most strict account, at the day of judgment, for the part which they act, in relation to it.

“And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”  1 Pet. 5:4.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”  Heb. 13:17.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Singing Whole Psalms

When I was a child there was a department store famous for its pick and mix sweets.  You took your paper bag and filled it with your selection of chosen sweets, a little of this and a little of that, and not too much of any one variety.

Sometimes I wonder if we operate a pick and mix approach to the singing of psalms.  We sing, for example, stanzas 1 and 2, then 11 and 12, and finish with 16.  At other times psalms are clipped by excluding the final few verses.

I think the main reason for this is fear of making any one singing too long, as if the extra couple of verses might exhaust us.  But the psalms are a coherent whole, even if we can see sub-sections within individual psalms that might form a unit.  I would plead that we sing, where possible, whole psalms, or at least coherent units of particular psalms.  If it is felt that the psalm is too long for one singing then split it into two or three separate singings.

If you choose to curtail a particular psalm ask yourself what is being left out.  Is there a tendency to exclude the balance found in the psalm and omit judgement verses?  There is a realism in the psalms, a gritty recognition of blessing for the godly and judgement for the wicked.  We should not try to smooth out the psalms to make them more acceptable.

We would not do this with our public reading of Scripture, “Let us read the Epistle to ______ chapter 1, verses 1 to 3, 9 – 16, and verse 20…”

So my plea is sing whole psalms, or at least contiguous sections of psalms.  Now regarding Psalm 119… 

Thought on Public Prayer

I was on holiday for a few days last weekend and due to a failure to check service times I missed the morning service at the local Free Church of Scotland.  Fortunately there was another evangelical church nearby which started later and I was able to attend there with my family.

Their service was very different from the orderly Reformed worship which is my norm.  Every church, whether they acknowledge it or not, has a liturgy. Some liturgies are formal, others informal; some written, others unwritten; some rigorously adhered to, others very flexible. I knew the background of this church, therefore I could predict with a sense of certainty the unwritten liturgy, music and even the dress code.

The pastor was dressed very casually – denim jeans and sweatshirt.  The music was led by a praise band.  The songs had multiple repetitions; the tunes were all similar and not memorable, and if we in the Free Church of Scotland had sung at the tempo they used people would have complained at the dirge like pace of the psalms. 

We sang continuously for twenty-five minutes.  It seems that this was the “worship time”, so I was confused as to what the rest of the service was. However there was much that was positive and encouraging. 

The preaching was biblical and did genuinely grapple with a difficult passage, (Acts 5). There were clear affirmations of fundamental biblical truths such as the holiness of God, the sinfulness of sin, the atonement as a propitiatory sacrifice and the bodily resurrection and ascension of Christ.

What did I miss? Obviously I missed singing Scripture, although there was only one Jesus is my Boyfriend type song. More significantly, I missed the prayer of confession and a biblical declaration of gospel absolution.  Now this was odd – they obviously believed in a holy God and the need for confession. I knew this because at the end of the sermon we were invited to write our sins on pieces of paper and place them in buckets with the assurance that they would be burned.  (I declined the invitation.) So we did acknowledge sin, but only at the close of the service. 

It means we began worship entering into the presence of a holy God and did not first confess our sins and seek his assurance of forgiveness.  We also lost the opportunity to have the promise of the gospel set forth simply and explicitly in a declaration of gospel forgiveness for those who repent and embrace Christ as Saviour by faith.

My hope and prayer is that evangelical congregations would embrace a more biblical pattern of worship.  I am encouraged that some similar congregations are beginning to embrace such.

Here, for comparison, is the prayer of confession used by Knox and the declaration of forgiveness that followed.  It provides a useful model on which to pattern our own public prayer.

Almighty God, we are unworthy to come into your presence because of our many sins. We do not deserve any grace or mercy from you. We have sinned against you, and we have offended you. And yet, O Lord, as we acknowledge our sins and offenses, so also do we acknowledge you to be a merciful God, a loving and favourable Father, to all who turn to you. And so we humbly ask you, for the sake of Christ your son, to show mercy to us, and forgive us all our offenses. Forgive the sins of our youth, and the sins of our old age. By your Spirit, O God, take possession of our hearts, so that, not only the actions of our life, but also the words of our mouths, and the smallest thoughts of our minds, may be guided and governed by you. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be all honour and glory, now and forever. Amen.

Assurance and Absolution
This saying is true and we should believe it: that Christ Jesus came into the world to rescue sinners. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, that we might be dead to sin and alive to all that is good. To all those who repent, therefore, I proclaim to you the forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen