The Wonder of Christian Adoption – Kenneth Stewart (video)

For those waiting for the videos of Kenneth Stewart’s sermons from Gartmore, here are some from a conference on The Wonder of Christian Adoption in Singapore last year to tide you over.

Understand Adoption – ‘Sons of God’ (John 1:12)

Appreciating Adoption – ‘The Love of God’ (1 John 3:1)

Experiencing Adoption — God’s Fatherhood (Romans 8:15)

Honouring our Adoption – Loving God (John 15:1-17)

Honouring our Adoption – Loving the Family (God’s people) (1 John 3:14)

Honouring our Adoption – Practical Aspect of Loving the Family (God’s people) (1 John 4:17, 18)

Audio versions can be downloaded here, along with a Q&A and a series on Christ and the Samaritan Woman.

I’ve previously linked to the videos from the 2014 Conference – Christ the King.

The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland and Scottish Independence

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The RPCS this week issued a paper on the subject of Scottish Independence, written by Rev. Kenneth Stewart.

“The Presbytery considers that abstention from voting or else a spoiling of the ballot paper is the procedure most in accord with Biblical principles. It does so because it cannot endorse either the current constitution governing the United Kingdom or the proposed alternative constitution, even in its interim form, which would govern an Independent Scotland.”

Read the position paper in full: The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland and Scottish Independence (doc)

For the broader political and historical context see ‘The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, British Politics and Scottish Independence’ (doc)

As usual, the RPC takes a distinctive position. See, for example, a more typical pro-Union stance from the Free Church Continuing (pdf). This difference in attitude to the current constitution and Monarch was highlighted recently on the occasion of the Queen’s Jubilee.

Glasgow RPCS now have a minister’s page featuring articles from KS – his first was a very helpful one on The Reformed Presbyterian Church and the Revolution Settlement (doc) – apparently in the face of other Scottish Presbyterians “branding Reformed Presbyterians as ‘schismatics’”.

Does your view of baptism affect how you bring up your children?

(No, this isn’t a cunning plan to get Walker to FaceTime me!)

A controversial topic and one in which Presbyterians can be apt to set up straw men, but it was interesting to see the contrasting approaches of a Presbyterian and a Baptist over at Reformation 21 recently.

It’s worth reading both articles fully, but here are some extracts in their own words.

The Presbyterian: Mark Jones

“1. When my children sin and ask for forgiveness from God, can I assure them that their sins are forgiven?

2. When I ask my children to obey me in the Lord should I get rid of the indicative-imperative model for Christian ethics? On what grounds do I ask my three-year old son to forgive his twin brother? Because it is the nice thing to do? Or because we should forgive in the same way Christ has forgiven us?

3. Can my children sing “Jesus loves me, this I know” and enjoy all of the benefits spoken of in that song? (“To him belong…He will wash away my sin”)

4. When my children pray during family worship to their heavenly Father, what are the grounds for them praying such a prayer? Do they have any right to call God their “heavenly Father”? Do non-Christians cry “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15)?

5. Should I desire that my children have a “boring” testimony? (Though a testimony to God’s covenant promises can never be boring, of course). Is it not enough for them to simply say each day that they trust in Christ alone for their salvation?

You see, in my household, my children sin. They are very much like their parents, except I am more sophisticated at hiding it (unless I’m blogging or watching the World Cup). But after we sin, we aim to repent – “repentance is a saving grace” – and ask for forgiveness not only from each other, but also from God. And when my children are in the room praying to God for forgiveness, sometimes without my prodding, I assure them that their sins are indeed forgiven. And I exhort them to depend upon and pray for the Holy Spirit for present and future obedience.

This all makes sense to me as a Presbyterian. But, I confess, if my children were not Baptized, and were not part of the church, and did not bear the name Christian, I’m not sure what grounds I would have for worshipping with them, praying with (not just for) them, and rejoicing with them when they ask for forgiveness for the sins they commit. Far from leading to a lazy form of “presumptive regeneration” (where children are not daily exhorted to repent), I believe that we must in fact hold our covenant children to higher standards by urging them to live a life of faith and repentance in Jesus Christ, their Saviour and Lord. Their baptism, whereby God speaks favour to his children (“You are my child. With you I am well pleased”), demands such a life.

The indicative comes before the imperative, even for our children (Eph. 6:1). Otherwise, I do not see how asking them to obey becomes a form of moralism if there is no indicative present (see Eph. 1-5).”

The Baptists: 1. Jeremy Walker

“I am deeply conscious of the particular privileges that they enjoy growing up in a home where Christ Jesus is known and loved and proclaimed, and I urge them to improve those privileges by trusting in and serving the Lord Christ…”

“I don’t know whether or not my children can sing “Jesus loves me, this I know.” I actually think it tends toward the twee, and tend not to teach them such stuff”

“When my children sin and ask for forgiveness from God, I assure them that the Lord delights to hear such prayers from the hearts of truly convinced sinners, and is ready to forgive those who come to him through Christ Jesus. I assure them that age is no bar to salvation, and that the Lord Christ welcomed people of all sorts and ages.”

“I can honestly say that the most often expressed desire of my children in prayer is that the Lord would save them”

The Baptists: 2. John Newton

“For to me it seems to be a better way for people betimes to tell their children what cursed creatures they are, and how they are under the wrath of God by reason of original and actual sin; also to tell them the nature of God’s wrath, and the duration of the misery; which if they conscientiously do, they would sooner teach their children to pray than they do. The way that men learn to pray, it is by conviction for sin; and this is the way to make our sweet babes do so too. But the other way, namely, to be busy in teaching children forms of prayer, before they know any thing else, it is the next way to make them cursed hypocrites, and to puff them up with pride. Teach therefore your children to know their wretched state and condition; tell them of hell-fire and their sins, of damnation, and salvation; the way to escape the one, and to enjoy the other, if you know it yourselves, and this will make tears run down your sweet babes’ eyes, and hearty groans flow from their hearts; and then also you may tell them to whom they should pray, and through whom they should pray: you may tell them also of God’s promises, and his former grace extended to sinners, according to the word.”

It all perhaps raises another question – if that Baptist approach is right, does that mean that godly parenting should look radically different in the New Testament than it did in the Old (eg no longer in terms of the indicative – imperative approach to obedience)?

Synod 2014 (RPCNA) – “A great time to be Reformed Presbyterian”

The RPCNA Synod met for the 183rd time at the end of June. Nathan Eshelman again wrote daily reports for the Aquila Report website. There are lots of exciting things going on in the RPCNA at the minute. Here are some of the highlights:

Church Planting

“The Home Mission Board reported on the significant church planting that has been going on in the RPCNA. A number of years ago the synod adopted the 20/20 Vision which was 20 new congregations by 2020. The RPCNA is only four congregations away from meeting that vision.

Global Mission

“New works are being explored in India and Pakistan. There is also interest in investigating Mexico City as well as South Korea. Rev. Vince and Julie Ward, our first missionaries in South Sudan, have announced that they will be coming back to Canada in June 2015. The Board is looking for a pastor who would be willing to continue the very good work that has been done in South Sudan.

Kingship of Christ

“In the afternoon, Synod spent some time discussing how the kingship of Jesus Christ applies to us in a culture growing ever more hostile. A seven man committee was recommended to study current applications of the mediatorial kingship of Christ. At least three of the committee members will be from countries outside North America. The charge to this committee is to attempt to solidify ways we can biblically apply Christ’s kingship to our current cultural climate.

Seminary

“Dr. Jerry O’Neill, President of RPTS, spoke about his work at the seminary. He asked the court to pray that God would raise up men to fill open pulpits throughout the denomination and pulpits that will open in the next couple of years due to retirements. He also challenged Synod to consider the increasingly global nature of the ministries of both our seminary and our denomination.

In the next couple of years two strategic positions at RPTS will be open due to upcoming retirements—Director of the Biblical Counseling Institute and Seminary President. These important appointments deserve our faithful attention.

Crown & Covenant: Butterfield and Psalm singing in demand

“We heard of the work of Crown and Covenant and give thanks for the wide influence of the book Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Dr. Rosaria Butterfield. The book has been translated into a number of languages including Korean and Portuguese. There is also a French translation in the making. Crown and Covenant’s sales of the Book of Psalms for Worship has increased and is selling widely as a renewed interest in Psalm singing has come upon many branches of the visible church.

Ruling elders

“A study committee on ruling elders at synod reported. It was noted that it is difficult to get ruling elders to attend synod and this committee studied the reasons behind this. A few mentioned that some ruling elders thought that the courts of the church were inefficient and others mentioned vacation time needed to attend. There was a plea for more ruling elders to attend. Rev. Bruce Backensto reminded the court that ruling elders are under vows to participate in the higher courts of the church. The committee will continue to study the issue and seek to get ruling elders to come to synod.

Discipline

“The most wonderful committee report of the day was the Judicial Committee: “We have no report, Mr. Moderator.” Please continue to pray for peace in the RPCNA, that the brothers will be faithful to our confessional heritage and committed to the reformed faith and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

RP Global Alliance

“A recommendation to work toward a global alliance of Reformed Presbyterian Churches was also approved. This effort would seek to bring all of the RP bodies from around the world into greater fellowship and deliberation as we attempt to stand for the kingship of Christ in the midst of a rebellious world. It is a great time to be Reformed Presbyterian. May the Lord bless our labors and give us opportunity to exhibit humility and present the gospel of our great king and head.”

Next year the RPCNA Synod will meet concurrently with the ARP Synod – see Report 4 for more details on the $64,000 question. Looks like it will clash with our Synod.

Report 1 | Report 2 | Report 3

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Problems with Reformed preaching today

Andrew Webb gives his take on the problems with both Reformed and non-Reformed preaching today. Here’s his Reformed list:

1. There is far too little emphasis on connecting with the hearers.
2. Too many of our sermons are actually theological lectures, and our aim is usually to inform the mind rather than melt the heart.
3. Instead of an emphasis on impressing the audience with our personality via entertainment, our emphasis is on impressing the audience with our erudition via teaching. We want them to go away thinking, “Wow! I never knew that word had such an amazing semantic range in the original Greek. What a teacher our pastor is!”
4. We tend to make our hearers do too much of the work, and far too many of our sermons are actually unintelligible to non-Christians
5. We often forget that our preaching should have the same end as John’s telic note in John 20:31 – ” but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
6. We eschew Finney’s idea that conversion is the result of “the right use of means” but are sometimes stunningly unsupernatural in our own view of preaching. Instead of conversion being a supernatural work of the Spirit that must be fervently prayed for, we make it the result of the right understanding of information correctly imparted and received. Small wonder that so many of our listeners can explain theological doctrines but have no clue what Christ was really asking Peter in John 21:15-17.
7. We often act as though it doesn’t matter how good a communicator the pastor is and don’t see being stunningly boring as a problem. Sometimes we even view being uninteresting as a badge of honor, as though boring was the opposite of ear tickling. [For more on this see David Murray's review of John Piper's recent book]
8. Secretly, we also don’t want to upset our hearers, so the majority of our convicting fire is directed towards the sins found outside the church rather than within it.
9. Often the majority of our preaching follows the via negativa, we spend our time telling people what we are against, but not what we are for.
10. As a result what we too often create is “Fortress Church” – a dwindling and unapproachable bastion of the saints – and then wonder why no one from the world is coming to visit us.

Coming at it from another angle, Paul Levy recently sought to answer to answer the question ‘What’s wrong with preaching today?’ with a quote about Daniel Rowland:

‘The main difference between Rowlands and the preachers of our day is, we should say, fervent prayer and deep absorption of mind. The preachers of the present day have a thousand things to attend to. Their energies are scattered over a wide field, while the energies of our fathers were concentrated upon one thing. We need to do everything, they tried but one thing. We have our time battered down, and broken into fragments, while they had their time for their great work. We often turn our attention to the light literature of the day, and the new books that appear; we read the articles in the reviews, and we take the daily papers, and are, many of us, well versed in the politics of the day. And hence our preaching suffers. We want absorption with the great themes we preach. The deeper we go into our own spirits, the deeper we may expect to go into the spirits of our hearers. Daniel Rowland was a man of deep absorption and intense concentration. He was a man of one thing – one thing and one thing only – and that one thing was preaching. Hence his wonderful success. He plunged into the depth of his spirit, and meditated deeply and abstractedly upon the great themes of the Gospel; and thus his preaching probed the lower depth of the spirits of others. There is nothing to prevent the same powerful effects in our own day but ourselves. God is exactly the same; His love and mercy look upon a lost world with as sweet a smile now as they did in the times of Whitefield and Rowland; the Spirit of God is as full of power as in the times of Elijah, John the Baptist, and the Apostles, and is as willing to come down from heaven upon us as upon them. We hear the people often asking, ”Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” The question, however, is easily answered. The Lord God of Elijah is where he was before, and as He was before. That is not the question now more that it was of yore; but ”Where is Elijah?” Let Elijah be at his work; let Elijah concentrate all his powers upon his duties, we need not be very anxious about the Lord God of Elijah” (p.74,75)

That quote is from Owen Jones’ Great Preachers of Wales from 1885. Levy adds: ‘Goodness knows what Jones would have made of blogs, church staff and admin but his point is a fair and a convicting one. The big difference with preachers today – fervent prayer and absorption of mind!’