homiletica et cetera

thoughts on preaching and other things

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"Jonathan Edwards" by Simonetta Carr (RHB, 2014)

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Just a few days ago a friend suggested that the disciplined study of church history is unimportant because, in our information age, all the historical facts that we might otherwise have to study are at our fingertips.

There are many reasons to vehemently reject this suggestion.

One important reason is this: Church history does not simply inform us, it also inspires us. If the only time we “study” church history is to check the date of East-West Schism, or to find that chart diagramming the succession to the English throne during the sixteenth century, we are surely failing to recognize the inspirational nature of God’s dealings with our predecessors.

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Filed under Simonetta Carr Christian Biographies for Young Readers yale university Matt Abraxas christian book reviews reformation heritage books First Great Awakening

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A Program for Training Future Church Officers

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I was asked recently about how our congregation approaches the issue of officer training. It was a timely question. At a recent meeting of the congregation we clarified our approach to officer training. Hopefully this will be helpful to others as well.

Church Officer Training Program

  1. Background:
    1. Scripture obliges Christian leaders to be on the lookout for, and equip “faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).
    2. Likewise, article 22 of our constitution requires that nominees for the office of elder or deacon “shall be required to undergo instruction as to the office, the Reformed faith in general, the creed, and Constitution of the local church in particular…all nominees must be in full communion with the church and earnestly devoted to the cause of Christ.”
    3. Providing further explanation of the nature and duration of this training is beneficial for those in training, and for the Consistory, council, and congregation.
  2. Overview
    1. The Consistory shall strive, at all times, to have at least one man in the position of elder and deacon in training (respectively) for the purpose of evaluating his suitability for office and, where warranted, preparing him to fill that office should the congregation elect him.
    2. The in-training position is not an office, nor is it vested with the authority that comes through congregational election and formal ordination.  Nonetheless, this position of officer-in-training will provide the kind of training for office that “book work” or other theoretical training cannot accomplish.
    3. The congregation should be mindful to encourage the trainees in their undertaking and show them Christian charity as brothers in the Lord. The congregation is encouraged to bring shepherding and diaconal needs to their district elder or deacon (or elder or deacon in training where appropriate).
  3. Duties
    1. General Duties
      1. All officer trainees shall studiously familiarize themselves with the Scriptures, the Three Forms of Unity, the Creed, the Church Order of the URCNA, and the Constitution and Ministry Handbook of CRCC.
      2. Officers in training shall be expected to attend all Consistory and/or council meetings where they may participate in the discussion though without a vote. When necessary, those in training may be excused from the meetings, especially when sensitive matters calling for strict confidentiality are undertaken.
    2. Elder-in-training
      1. An elder-in-training will ordinarily serve in a particular shepherding district with an ordained elder.
      2. An elder-in-training may be asked by the Consistory to participate in those duties which are pertinent to the office of elder, including but not limited to: Leading the district prayer meeting, assisting in distributing the elements of the Lord’s Supper,[i] and participating in family visitation.
    3. Deacon-in-training
      1. A deacon-in-training will ordinarily serve in a particular shepherding district with an ordained deacon.
      2. A deacon-in-training may be asked by the Consistory to participate in those duties which are pertinent to the office of deacon, including but not limited to: Helping to collect and count the offering, offering a prayer during the collection of the offering, and listening to diaconal needs raised by a member of the congregation.
  4. Qualifications, Appointment, and Term
    1. Those appointed to the position of elder or deacon in training must be members in good standing of Covenant Reformed Church and will ordinarily have been members of the church for a minimum of one year.
    2. Appointees shall demonstrate the qualifications needed for the office to which they are being trained according to 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
    3. Appointees shall desire the office to which they are being trained (1 Tim. 3:1).
    4. Appointees shall also have shown diligent participation in the leadership training classes offered to the men of the congregation.
    5. Those appointed shall ordinarily serve for a period of one year.
      1. When a man has been an elder or deacon in training for one year (or more or less time in extraordinary circumstances), the Consistory shall evaluate the man’s suitability for nomination.
      2. After this evaluation, the man’s status (i.e. whether he will be nominated for office, reappointed to the in-training position, or released from said appointment) will be publicly communicated to the congregation.

 



[i] Our church order insists that “The Consistory shall supervise participation at the Lord’s Table” (art. 45). This we do by having an ordained elder distribute an evaluation card to prospective guest participants and by issuing a public warning and invitation. The distribution of the elements is a sort of “administrative” matter.

Filed under officer training elder deacon reformed polity church leadership

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Last week I had the privilege of offering this prayer at Scranton’s Care Net crisis pregnancy center’s banquet:

Almighty God, you have breathed into us the breath of life. You have made men and women, boys and girls, even unborn infants, in your image, and given us greater value than the fish of the sea, greater value than the birds of the air, and greater value than any other creature that walks the earth (Gen. 1:28). You have sanctified human life by your desire to see this race–and particularly a godly seed–multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. In your good creation, and your continued care over your people you have taught us to, likewise, respect and promote a culture of life. 
 In this light, we are grieved over how carelessly we have tended the lives entrusted to us. We have honored ourselves and our freedom over the lives of millions of precious ones. We have rejected your providence when it seemed inconvenient to us. For this great sin that blots our land and our race we are heartily sorry.
 We pray, Lord that our repentance would be, not only in word but also in deed. Give us courage to speak for the silent, and to oppose those who would do them violence. 
 We pray that this evening would do much good toward the awareness and support of the cause for life in our community. Please provide the means to fund the fight for life. Please encourage those who volunteer for Carenet, and raise up new volunteers. May we all experience such emboldening solidarity tonight, that we would stand together with renewed zeal, and wisdom, and skill, to promote life in our midst. And please turn the hearts of fathers and mothers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers and mothers, lest you come and strike the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:6).
 Please cause the gospel of Christ to permeate this world as far as the curse of death is found. And may we find joy, and energy, and eternal hope in the life, death, resurrection, intercession, and second coming of Christ the Lord, who–above all–is honored and glorified. Amen. 

Last week I had the privilege of offering this prayer at Scranton’s Care Net crisis pregnancy center’s banquet:

Almighty God, you have breathed into us the breath of life. You have made men and women, boys and girls, even unborn infants, in your image, and given us greater value than the fish of the sea, greater value than the birds of the air, and greater value than any other creature that walks the earth (Gen. 1:28). You have sanctified human life by your desire to see this race–and particularly a godly seed–multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. In your good creation, and your continued care over your people you have taught us to, likewise, respect and promote a culture of life.

 In this light, we are grieved over how carelessly we have tended the lives entrusted to us. We have honored ourselves and our freedom over the lives of millions of precious ones. We have rejected your providence when it seemed inconvenient to us. For this great sin that blots our land and our race we are heartily sorry.

 We pray, Lord that our repentance would be, not only in word but also in deed. Give us courage to speak for the silent, and to oppose those who would do them violence. 

 We pray that this evening would do much good toward the awareness and support of the cause for life in our community. Please provide the means to fund the fight for life. Please encourage those who volunteer for Carenet, and raise up new volunteers. May we all experience such emboldening solidarity tonight, that we would stand together with renewed zeal, and wisdom, and skill, to promote life in our midst. And please turn the hearts of fathers and mothers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers and mothers, lest you come and strike the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:6).

 Please cause the gospel of Christ to permeate this world as far as the curse of death is found. And may we find joy, and energy, and eternal hope in the life, death, resurrection, intercession, and second coming of Christ the Lord, who–above all–is honored and glorified. Amen. 

Filed under abortion pregnancy adoption pregnancy resource centers life image of god

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"John Knox" by Simonetta Carr (RHB, 2014)

I was not obligated to write a positive review in exchange for the complimentary copy provided by Reformation Heritage Books–ALTHOUGH BEFORE I READ IT I KNEW I WOULD. I’ve come to trust Simonetta Carr’s books the way you trust Grandma’s chocolate chip cookies.

 As expected, this is a great, and highly recommended book for at least three reasons.

 1. A Great Character. The life of John Knox has all the ingredients to make for some great reading: Courage, conviction, love, loss, intrigue, blunder, and triumph. Knox was right at the center of tremendous upheaval of church and state during a critical juncture in the history of Western Europe. As a major player in the Protestant Reformation, he was also passionate and active, imitable yet flawed. Of all the noteworthy traits that made John Knox, one that speaks resoundingly to our apathetic generation is his keen sense that every part of life is profoundly important. The gospel of free grace in Christ animated his spirit and left no place for lethargic indifference.


2. Great Writing. My hunch is that far less research goes into many historical biographies of greater length, and for older audiences. Good biographies are true–not only true in general–but true in the details. And Simonetta’s biographies get the stories right! At the same time, her clear and crisp writing tell the story well without becoming pedantic. John Knox, like the previous books in Christian Biographies for Young Readers is appropriate for children but not cuddly. By dealing with difficult issues with care and courage, the author prods kids to ask hard questions about difficult subjects: “Was it right for the Protestants to kill Cardinal Beaton for his treacherous leadership? If I were in Knox’ position would I have spent my free time revising a religious book instead of earning money to feed myself? Does God sanction female leadership in the civic sphere?” When is the last time children–or their parents–were prompted to ask these kinds of questions?

 3. Great Visual Appeal. Like all the books in this series, the images in John Knox are both informative, and evocative. There is a good blend of contemporary photographs and paintings, as well as period art. I take it as a compliment to artist Matt Abraxas that one of my kids thought his painting of Knox seated pensively in a rowboat crossing the English Channel looked “scary.” It should look scary. It depicts a man with a price on his head reluctantly leaving the people he loved, for an uncertain future. Some books are strong on style but weak on substance, or vice versa. This book excels in both.

 The author’s careful attention to detail and the artist’s passion-infused windows into Knox’s world are packaged in a stunning layout that gives the book a timeless feel. It is hard to imagine seeing a new illustrated juvenile biography of John Knox on the market again for a long time. It’s even harder to imagine a better one.

Filed under Christian Biographies for Young Readers young adult lit john knox Simonetta Carr scotland reformation

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The Five Points of Calvinism (6): Perseverance of the Saints

A number of years ago my wife and I woke up to our radio alarm, which was set to a local Christian station. As we began to revive from the night’s rest, the radio DJ read the station’s verse of the day, Philippians 1:6. Here Paul writes that he is “confident…that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” The DJ then offered a brief commentary that was so theologically shocking, I’ll never forget it (even though I heard it through an early morning fog a decade ago). He said, “This verse describes a little doctrine we like to call the perseverance of the saints. It basically means finish what you started.”

The DJ failed to see in this verse the powerful persevering work of God and the confidence such work evokes in his saints. Instead, he focused only on the need for human endurance. Sadly, this is often the focus of those who believe Christ died for everyone according to a conditional election to supply a resistible grace for men and women who are still capable of choosing grace. In the Arminian system, whether or not believers per-severe to the end depends on their zeal to finish well. According to the Arminians’ fifth article of remonstrance, God is ready to help, and will keep Christians from falling “if only they are ready for the conflict, and desire his help, and are not inactive…”

Of course, the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility in salvation, and in perseverance, can be a difficult issue. But the difficulties are not resolved by prioritizing the command to persevere over God’s provision of perseverance.

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Filed under falling from grace once saved gospel God's Preservation