Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Education Not Entertainment

Education Not Entertainment

This Sunday I was preaching on 2 Peter 1:2

“May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”

Peter, writing to Christians troubled by persecution from without and heresy within, begins his epistle with this wish-prayer that speaks to their needs.  God’s grace will sustain and sanctify them and his peace will support them through troubled times.  The measure of God’s blessing is that he will give it in abundance. We accept dribbles; God wishes to give a deluge!  Referring to the Christmas season I said that God was not Scrooge, and he does not ration his blessings of grace and peace.  You only ration what is in short supply and God has an infinite supply of grace and peace to give.

But also with reference to the Christmas season I noted that the means through which these blessings are enjoyed is a deep, personal, experiential knowledge of God the Father and the Lord Jesus.  Men want experiences; God wants education.  The knowledge spoken of is not a dry cerebral, intellectual knowledge but a deeply personal knowledge that comes through the Word.

This, in part, is why I support the Continental Reformed attitude to Advent rather than the more severe Scottish Reformed attitude.  The Continentals accepted the celebration of the Nativity, but the Scots originally banned it. Advent season gives us an opportunity to focus in depth and in detail on the messianic prophecies and the meaning of Christ’s incarnation.

However, the sad reality is that for many churches Advent is more about entertainment than education.  It is the silly season, when we can do silly things in church, wear silly hats in “worldship”, and focus on getting everyone to feel good.  Sadly, I have enough experience to realise that many churches that “keep Advent” do not use it to preach the Gospel.  On the very Sunday when they have larger attendance they have less of a message – the focus is on entertainment not education.

For those who do not keep Christmas, and I respect their convictions, are they doing enough throughout the year to match the christological focus that Advent can provide? For those who keep Advent, are they making it an opportunity to encourage their members to a deeper knowledge of God our Father and Jesus our Lord, and thus a deeper experience and enjoyment of both his grace and his peace?

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Prayer at the Lord's Supper for the Holy Spirit's Work

Prayer at the Lord's Supper for the Holy Spirit's Work

I love the simplicity of this prayer for use in the Lord’s Supper.  In the biblical and Reformed understanding it is not the elements that are changed by the Holy Spirit, but they may be used by God to convey blessing to his hungry people.  This is not so much the Holy Spirit coming down to us, but his lifting us up to Christ in the Lord’s Supper. The emphasis here is on the unity in fellowship of Christ’s people, a unity that leads to service.  However, the ultimate expression of that unity awaits Christ’s return which is also an aspect of the message of the Lord’s Supper:

“Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us, and bless these your gifts of bread and wine, that the bread we break and the cup of blessing that we bless may be the communion of the body and blood of Christ.  By your Spirit make us one with Christ, that we may be bound in fellowship to all who share this feast, united in service throughout the world.  Keep us faithful in your service until Christ comes in final victory, that we may feast with all your saints in the joy of your eternal Kingdom.”

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

National Day of Prayer 2016

National Day of Prayer 2016

The Free Church of Scotland has called for a national day of prayer:

“Scotland can be considered by many to be a post Christian nation, many have no understanding of the good news of Jesus and at times the challenge of making the Gospel known can seem like an impossible task. But we believe the brave new world of Scotland is not a reason for us to panic; rather it is a reason for us to pray. As Os Guinness states, “The ultimate factor in the church’s engagement with society is the church’s engagement with God”

On the 30th of November 2016 – St Andrews’s Day – we invite all our members to get together for the specific purpose of praying and worshipping God together. In order to facilitate this we are urging all congregations to open their buildings for prayer and worship for a period throughout the day or to meet together in small groups across the country. We would also encourage youth groups, small groups and Bible study groups to consider joining together for a dedicated time of prayer.”

Would it not be an excellent expression of spiritual solidarity if other Reformed and evangelical churches within Scotland also participated in this day of prayer. The Free Church may have initiated this planned day of prayer, but surely we hope that other denominations, even if acting only at a congregational level, would also participate in this spiritual exercise.

While we await the promised resources I append an example of how this has been done in the past, citing the Act of Assembly of 1690:

“Let us, therefore, humble ourselves by fasting and praying;—let us search out our sins, and consider our ways, and confess these and our other sins with sorrow and detestation;—let us turn unto the Lord with fasting and weeping, and with mourning;—let us firmly resolve, and sincerely engage, to amend our ways and doings, and return unto the Lord our God with all our heart, and earnestly pray that, for the blood of the Lamb of God, our sins may be forgiven, and our backslidings healed, and we may yet become a righteous nation, keeping the truth, that religion and righteousness may flourish, and love and charity abound, and all the Lord's people may be of one mind in the Lord; and in order to all these, that the Word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified, and that the preaching of the Word and dispensing of the sacraments may be accompanied with the wonted presence, power, and blessing of the Spirit of the Lord;—that the Lord would preserve and bless our gracious King and Queen, William and Mary, and establish their throne by righteousness and religion, and grant to these nations peace and truth together; and for that end, bless and prosper his Majesty's councils, and forces, by sea and land, and these of the princes and states his allies, for God and his truth;—that inferior rulers may rule in the fear of God, and judges be clothed with righteousness; and that many faithful labourers may be sent out into the Lord's vineyard; and they who are sent may find mercy to be faithful and be blest with success; —that families may be as little churches of Christ; and that the Lord would pour out his Spirit on all ranks of people, that they may be holy in all manner of conversation, and God may delight to dwell amongst us, and to do us good.”

Please visit the Free Church website where resources for congregational use will be made available:

Monday, 24 October 2016

The Slide Continues

The Slide Continues

Having departed from the biblical position that marriage is a covenant relationship, exclusively between a man and a woman, and accepted that practicing homosexuals in civil partnerships or gay “marriages” can be ministers, the Church of Scotland has courageously decided to draw a line in the sand. It seems that those who are in relationships that are neither regular marriages, civil partnerships nor gay “marriages” are ineligible for induction to local churches:

It seems that the minister in question is living with a partner but not in either of the approved unbiblical relationships.  There is inconsistency here – both civil partnerships and gay marriages are contrary to Scripture, so why not an irregular relationship.  (The news report does not make clear whether this is a heterosexual or homosexual relationship.) Why are two unbiblical practices approved but a third rejected?

A Church of Scotland spokesman explains, “The Church of Scotland requires its parish ministers to adhere to church common law, tradition and practice.” Noticeably absent is the requirement to adhere to Scripture!

A further question arises.  If the individual is violating church law, tradition, and practice, why does he still hold office in the denomination?  Even by the liberal denomination’s unbiblical standards he is living in fornication. Needless to say there will be no discipline.

In Jesus' Name

In Jesus’ Name

Prayer is made in Jesus’ Name.  In public worship this normally involves ending the prayer with a statement that we ask these things in his name; often it is a mere formulaic ending, a theological full stop that says the prayer is over.

However, to pray in Jesus name is more than simply adding a standardised form of words at the conclusion of the prayer.  The Larger Catechism devotes two questions and answers to this issue:

Q. 180. What is it to pray in the name of Christ?
A. To pray in the name of Christ is, in obedience to his command, and in confidence on his promises, to ask mercy for his sake; not by bare mentioning of his name, but by drawing our encouragement to pray, and our boldness, strength, and hope of acceptance in prayer, from Christ and his mediation.

Q. 181. Why are we to pray in the name of Christ?
A. The sinfulness of man, and his distance from God by reason thereof, being so great, as that we can have no access into his presence without a mediator; and there being none in heaven or earth appointed to, or fit for, that glorious work but Christ alone, we are to pray in no other name but his only.

In saying that it is “not by bare mentioning of his name” the catechism does not exclude us using the formula, “in Jesus’ name”, but it does encourage us to consider the work of Christ as our Mediator as the basis of our approach in prayer.

One means to avoid the trap of the bare mentioning of his name is to expand upon that formula, especially by the use of fuller scriptural descriptions of Christ’s mediatorial role.  The sadly neglected 19th century Southern Presbyterian theologian Thomas Smyth (see: http://www.pcahistory.org/HCLibrary/periodicals/spr/bios/smyth.html ), has a very useful piece in volume 9 of his works, “Forms of Doxology and Benediction with Concluding Prayers”.  Many are simply biblical quotations; others are biblically based or from traditional Reformed liturgies. 

Perhaps in a later blog I will be able to reproduce the list using the ESV and updating the language.  But for now they are a useful source and we can do our own modernisation of the language.  Certainly, using the rich biblical terminology suggested by Smyth will help us move away from a bland, formulaic and repetitive use of the phrase, “in Jesus’ name”.

PART I. For Closing Prayer.

1. Through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Heb. xiii. 21.

2. Now, to Him that is of power to establish you according to the gospel of Jesus Christ : To God the only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen. Rom. xvi. 35, 27.

3. Through Jesus Christ who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. Rom. ix. 5.

4. Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Gal. i. 4, 5.

5. Now, unto Him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us ; unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. Eph. iii. 20, 21.

6. Now, unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Tim. i. 17.

7. Through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Pet. iv. 11.

8. Through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom be glory both now and for ever. Amen. 2 Pet. iii. 18.

9. Now unto Him that is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy; to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen, Jude 24, 25.

10. Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and' dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Rev. i. 5, 6.

11. Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever. Rev. v. 13.

12. Through Jesus Christ our Lord ; to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

13. Through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord.

14. And this we beg, for Jesus Christ's sake.

15. Grant this, O Lord, for the honour of our advocate and mediator Jesus Christ.

16. Grant this, O Lord, for the love of thy Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

17. For the sake and merits of thy Son, our blessed Saviour and Redeemer. Amen.

18. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost ever one God, world without end.

19. Hear us, O Lord, for thy mercy is great; and after themultitude of thy mercies look upon us, through the merits and mediation of thy blessed Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

20. Grant this, for thine only Son Jesus Christ's sake.

21. May thy bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us, through the satisfaction of thy Son; to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

22. May we be found, O Lord Jesus Christ, an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit ever one God, world without end. Amen.

23. May we rise to life immortal, through Him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

24. That we, thy servants, may evermore give thanks unto thee in thy holy church, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

25. We praise thee, we bless thee, we worship thee, we glorify thee, we give thanks to thee, O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty; and thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, who only art the Lord, for thou only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost, are most High in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

26. Through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

27. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom and with whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory be unto thee, O Father Almighty, world without end. Amen.

28. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost : As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

29. Help, Lord, and save us for thy mercies sake, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

30. This, we beg, through thy merits, O Lord, our Saviour and our Redeemer. Amen,

31. These things, and whatever else thou shalt see necessary and convenient for us, we humbly beg, through the merits and mediation of thy Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Amen.

32. Through thy merits, O blessed Jesus, thou gracious Bishop and Shepherd of our souls, who art, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

33. O God, Holy Ghost, sanctifier of the faithful, visit, we pray thee, this congregation with thy love and favour ; enlighten their minds more and more with the light of the everlasting gospel; graft in their hearts a love of the truth; increase in them true religion ; nourish them with all goodness ; and of thy great mercy keep them in the same, O blessed Spirit, who with the Father and the Son together, we worship and glorify as one God, world without end. Amen.

34. O God, the Father of heaven, have mercy upon us, miserable sinners. O God, the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy upon us, miserable sinners. O God, the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, have mercy upon us, miserable sinners. O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three persons and one God, have mercy upon us, miserable sinners. Favourably with mercy hear our prayers, through our only mediator and advocate, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

35. Lord, have mercy upon us. Son of God, we beseech thee to hear us. Spirit of all grace, favourably with mercy hear our prayers. Glory be to the Father, &c.

36. O Lord, hear ; O Lord, forgive ; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake defer not, O Lord my God. According unto the multitude of thy mercies — according to the riches of thy grace — for thine own sake, O Lord, and for thy Christ's sake, be merciful unto us sinners, to the glory of thy rich and sovereign mercy in Christ Jesus. Amen,

37. For all thy mercies, O God the Father, we give thanks unto thee always, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom, with thee, &c.

38. Glory, and honour, and praise, and blessing, and thanksgiving, and wisdom, and virtue, and riches, and power, and might, and holiness, and salvation, be unto our God that liveth and sitteth upon the throne for ever, and unto the Lamb slain.
Hallelujah. Amen.

39. Amen. Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.

40. Blessing and honour, and glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. Amen.

41. Worthy art thou at all times to be celebrated by holy lips, O Son of God, thou giver of life. Therefore, the world, in unison with all the host of heaven, do glorify thee, with the Father and the Holy Spirt, to whom be praise in the church throughout all generations. Amen.

42. O Lord, the hope of Israel, the Saviour thereof in time of trouble, forsake us not, but favourably hear us in thy mercy ; and  o the Father, &c.

43. O Lord my God, incline thine ear and hear, open thine eyes, and behold our multiplied necessities ; for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousness, but for thy manifold and great mercies. And to the Father, &c.

44. We ask all through Jesus, the great Mediator of the Covenant, to whom, with thee O Father, and thine Holy Spirit, be everlasting praise ascribed. Amen.

45. We present these, our imperfect prayers and most unworthy services, in the all-prevailing name of Jesus, who died for our sins, and rose again for our justification, and ever liveth to make intercession for us, to whom be honour and dominion everlasting. Amen.

46. And let thy grace and blessing, thy love and fellowship, thy direction and assistance, O heavenly Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be with us and with all for whom we ought to pray, this day and for evermore. Amen.

47. O Lord God of Hosts, hear our prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob. Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine Anointed. Amen.

48. So we, thy people and the sheep of thy pasture, will give
thee thanks for ever ; we will show forth thy praise through all generations. Amen.

49. And all we implore is through the mediation of Him who bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors, to whom, with the Father, &c.

50. Of whom, and through whom, and to whom are all things. And to God the only wise, the Father, &c.

PART II. For Closing Worship.

1. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with you all evermore. Amen. 2 Cor. xiii. 14.

2. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Amen. Rom. xvi. 24.

3. The Lord bless thee and keep thee: The Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee. The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

4. Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. Gal. vi. 18.

5. Peace be to you, brethren, and love, with faith from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen. Eph. vi. 23, 24.

6. May God count you all worthy of his calling, and fulfil (in you,) all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the workof faith with power ; That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thess. i. 11, 12.

7. Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant — make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Heb. xiii. 20, 21.

8. Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen. 1 Pet. iv. 14.

9. May God give you an understanding that ye may know him that is true, and that you may be in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Amen. 1 John v. 20.

10. Grace unto you, and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Rom. i. 7 ; 1 Cor. i. 3 ; 2 Cor. i. 2.

11. Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Gal. i. 3, 4.

12. Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father, and Jesus Christ our Lord. 1 Tim. i. 2.

13. Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father, and Christ Jesus our Lord. 2 Tim. i. 2.

14. Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour. Titus i. 4.

15. Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Philemon i. 3.

16. Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. 1 Pet. i. 2.

17. Grace and peace be multiplied unto you, through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord. 2 Pet. i. 2.

18. Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love, 2 John i. 3.

19. Beloved, mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied, that ye may be sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ. Amen. Jude 1, 2.

20. Grace be unto you, and peace, from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come; and from the seven spirits who are before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth : unto whom be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Rev. i, 4. 5,

21. The peace of God which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.

22. The blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be upon you, and remain with you forever. Amen.

23. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, bless, preserve, and keep you : The Lord mercifully with his favour look upon you, and fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace.

24. Unto God's gracious mercy and protection we now commit you. The Lord bless you, and keep you : The Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace, both now and evermore. Amen.

25. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen.

26. The Lord have mercy upon you; pardon, and deliver you from all your sins ; confirm and strengthen you in all goodness; and bring you to everlasting life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

27. The good Lord pardon every one that loveth Him with his whole heart, and seeketh the Lord God of his fathers ; and the love of God, our heavenly Father ; the grace of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour ; with the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, our Guide and Sanctifier, be with you all now and ever. Amen.

28. To thee therefore, our dear Father, our Creator, Protector, Governor, and Defender, and thy beloved Son Jesus Christ, our only Prince, Redeemer, Justifier and Advocate, and thy Holy Spirit, our Sanctification and Wisdom, our Teacher, Instructor, and Comforter, be all dominion, power and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

29. My brethren! The end of all things is at hand. Be ye therefore sober minded, watch and pray. The Lord be with you. Almighty God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, bless and protect you. Amen.

30. Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will
towards men. We praise thee, we bless thee, we worship thee,
we glorify thee, we give thanks to thee for thy great glory, O
Lord God! heavenly King! God the Father Almighty!
O Lord ! the only begotten Son, Jesus Christ : O Lord God ! Lamb of God, Son of the Father, who takest away the sin of
the world, have mercy upon us. Thou, who takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer. Thou, who sittest at the right hand of God the Father, have mercy upon us.
For thou only art holy ; thou only art the Lord ; thou only, O Christ ! with the Holy Spirit, are most high in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

St Andrews Declaration Revisited

St Andrews Declaration Revisited

In a previous post concerning this statement I said:

“Evangelicals remaining within this liberal church need to make it very clear that they stand against this statement of inter-faith unity which eradicates the uniqueness of the Lord Jesus Christ and the exclusiveness of salvation in him alone.  They need to make it clear in the courts of the church that we are not on shared paths to the Absolute, and that the unity of a fallen race requires a common Saviour who came to give his life for the world of lost sinners.”

I am delighted to report that the Church of Scotland Covenant Fellowship have indeed issued a clear denunciation of this false theology:

I will await with interest to see how they follow this up in their congregations and in the courts of the denomination.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

More Liberal Presbyterian Inter-Faith Apostasy

More Liberal Presbyterian Inter-Faith Apostasy

Having noted the apostasy of the Church of Scotland in signing the St Andrews Declaration on a Shared Humanity which declares “We share a common path towards the Absolute” with Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and Islam, it is not surprising to find their American cousins in the equally liberal Presbyterian Church USA issuing an official statement on relations with Islam which twists Scripture and claims that we must follow “Jesus’ acknowledgment of the commonality of purpose between groups of religious leaders other than our own.” The background to this document is the outcry caused by having a Muslim pray at their General Assembly that those gathered may embrace the true faith, Islam.

For a detailed analysis see the excellent blog “Interfaith Ignorance in Excelsis” by Mateen Elass:


Monday, 3 October 2016

Preaching the Shorter Catechism

Preaching the Shorter Catechism

Recently, Reformed Forum carried an excellent round table discussion on preaching the Shorter Catechism – very informative and thought provoking.  You can listen here:

In the Scottish Presbyterian tradition it was usual to have a catechetical sermon each Sunday or midweek. This practice preceded the appearance of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, but the various catechisms that had been used previously were superseded when the Shorter Catechism appeared.  This emphasis is seen, for example, in the Act of Assembly, 1720.

 Act for Preaching Catechetical Doctrine, with Directions therein.

The General Assembly, considering how much it may conduce unto the establishment of people in the Christian faith, and to the promoting of piety in practice, that they be well instructed in the principles of our holy religion ; do, therefore, recommend to the several ministers of this Church punctually to observe the acts of former General Assemblies for preaching catechetical doctrine; and that in these their catechetical sermons they more especially insist upon the great and fundamental truths, according to our Confession of Faith and Catechisms, such as that of the Being and Providence of God, and the Divine authority of the Holy Scriptures, the necessary doctrine of the ever-blessed Trinity in the unity of the Godhead; particularly, of the eternal deity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the satisfaction to Divine Justice made by him who is our only propitiation, of regeneration by efficacious grace, of free justification through our blessed surety the Lord Jesus Christ, received by faith alone, and of the necessity of a holy life, in order to the obtaining of everlasting happiness; and that they be earnest and instant in their prayers to God, that, through his blessing upon their labours, their flocks may be preserved from the infections of dangerous errors, and engaged to maintain a conversation that becomes the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who is God over all, blessed for ever.

I think that within the Scottish context, where the liturgical calendar is not used, this enables a balanced and biblical approach to teaching the Word.  When used alongside expository preaching it guarantees that the most fundamental truths are taught on a regular basis.  It is of help to the congregation, but equally to the preacher as he grows more in a confessional Reformed understanding of the Word.

I have taught through the whole of the Shorter Catechism in a congregational mid-week biblestudy, lecturing on each question and opening it up in detail.  But preaching the catechism is different.  I use it is a springboard to explore the biblical theme, and do not feel a necessity to be exhaustive in what I say – after all, if this was done on a regular basis we would return to each question every two years or so.

Yesterday I was preaching on SC Q 36

Q: What are the benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification?
A: The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification, are, assurance of God's love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.

We use Roland Ward’s excellent modernised version, although on this particular question I prefer to keep the word “grace” rather than his suggestion of “holiness”.

This was a big topic – four (or five) aspects of experiential blessing covered in one sermon. I think the framers of the catechism put these into one question because they wanted us to see the big picture, a panorama of blessings enjoyed by the believer. So rather than in depth analysis of each we looked at the big picture of how God blesses the Christian in each of these areas.  Yes, you could preach multiple sermons on each blessing, but that was for other occasions.  Here I wanted the people of God to see that in this life there is a spiritual benefits package enjoyed by believers, and conversely missed by unbelievers.

What resources do I use?  Interestingly, the Internet has given us a superabundance of resources.  Twenty years ago when I taught through the catechism I was reliant on printed texts.  Now, thanks to digitisation, I have more resources than I can use.  Here are some from my Kindle that I find useful to supplement the standard expositions by Watson, Vincent, Flavel, Boston, Whyte etc:

“The Assembly's Shorter Catechism catechetically illustrated and practically explained…”  By “An Elder of the Free Church”

“A concise system of theology on the basis of the shorter catechism” by Alexander Smith Paterson

“The Westminster Shorter Catechism: With Analysis, Scriptural Proofs” by James Robert Boyd

“The Shorter catechism with proofs, analyses, and illustrative anecdotes”  Rev. Robert Steel, D.D

A Practical Exposition of the Assembly's Shorter Catechism By Henry Belfrage

And, just to show that I can read outside the rich vein of Scottish theology:

“Notes on the shorter catechism” by Alfred Nevin

Saturday, 1 October 2016

The St Andrews Declaration on a Shared Humanity

The St Andrews Declaration on a Shared Humanity

So what exactly is the Church of Scotland committed to in the signing of the St. Andrews Declaration on a Shared Humanity?  They herald it on their web site as a great inter-faith step to be celebrated, but do not actually publish the statement itself, although there is a link to it.

Some of it cannot be objected to – after all we do share a common humanity.  All humans are made in the image of God, fallen in Adam and invited in the Gospel to embrace Christ as Saviour and Lord.  There is a need for “respect” between religions, and the denunciation of violence and intolerance are appropriate.

However, what is meant by:

 “We share a common path towards the Absolute and as such we recognize the diversity of paths, texts and traditions that we intend to respect and foster their respect in others.”

Respect, non-violence and tolerance are one thing, but to say that we are on a common journey to God, but taking different yet equally valid paths is to deny the exclusivity of Christ as the Way the Truth and the Life, apart from whom no man comes to the Father.

One of the points of the statement is simply a quote from Hindu scripture:

“OM. This eternal Word is all: what was, what is and what shall be, and what beyond is in eternity. All is OM” (Mandukya Upanishad).”

But Hinduism is in its essence pantheistic.  For the Christian “all” is certainly not “OM”.  Is the Church of Scotland by implication denying the Creator – Creature distinction and the basics of the Trinity?

But the statement does quote the bible:

“May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me” (John 17:21).”

Are we to understand that the oneness Jesus spoke of is a shared oneness of humanity in general and embraces those of all religions and those of no religion? But the text speaks of “the world” which stand outside this oneness and can be brought to faith, in part, through the display of true Christian unity expressed in the Church.

Evangelicals remaining within this liberal church need to make it very clear that they stand against this statement of inter-faith unity which eradicates the uniqueness of the Lord Jesus Christ and the exclusiveness of salvation in him alone.  They need to make it clear in the courts of the church that we are not on shared paths to the Absolute, and that the unity of a fallen race requires a common Saviour who came to give his life for the world of lost sinners.

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The St. Andrews Declaration on a Shared Humanity

1. We declare that human beings are born equal and that they all share hopes and aspirations, paths of fulfilment, paths of suffering, and dreams within a common journey as human beings.

2. We declare that human beings share the freedom to follow particular paths of life within the rights and obligations shared by all and contributing to the common good of humanity.

3. We declare our respect and good-will towards all religious traditions that follow a path towards peace, common cooperation, and goodness.

4. We share a common path towards the Absolute and as such we recognize the diversity of paths, texts and traditions that we intend to respect and foster their respect in others.

5. “For sentient beings, poor and destitute, may I become a treasure ever plentiful, and lie before them closely in their reach, a varied source of all that they might need” (Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva III, 10).

6. “OM. This eternal Word is all: what was, what is and what shall be, and what beyond is in eternity. All is OM” (Mandukya Upanishad).

7. “Shema Yisrael, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad – barukh shem kevod malkhuto le’olam va’ed” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

8. “In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful, Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful’ (al-Fatihah).

9. “May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me” (John 17:21).

10. We declare that as brothers and sisters we can share our joy, peace and happiness with all human beings through our daily prayer and meditation.