Back from General Assembly

June 11th, 2011

The busyness of the week’s schedule and some on-going computer problems kept me from blogging as I would have liked while at the Assembly. Here’s an overview with links to catch you up on some of the news.

Mr. Dan Carrell, a ruling elder from James River Presbytery, served as this year’s Moderator. Mr. Carrell did an excellent job.

Something as seemingly mundane as the review of presbytery minutes led to an interesting debate on theology. I’m thankful to God that the PCA still takes a stand against preaching, teaching, and practicing paedocommunion.

Over the next year the Interchurch Relations Committee will examine the PCA’s membership in the National Associate of Evangelicals and consider whether the denomination should maintain its membership. I’ll perhaps blog more about this later in the year.

Another fascinating issues was the discussion of Insider Movements in foreign missions. The GA soundly rejected any hint of compromising the doctrines of the faith or any practice in missions that leads to syncretism.

For more articles on the General Assembly, check out byFaith online.

Beginning on Monday I’ll post several several articles from guest bloggers on their post-GA reflections.

I pray that the Lord blesses you richly on his day. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exod. 20:8).

Decisions of the Overtures Committee

June 7th, 2011

There are two articles available about yesterday’s decisions of the Overtures Committee.

The first deals with setting term limits for Coordinators with in the PCA. The second concerns the Church’s position on marriage. While failing to elevate BCO 59 on the solemnization of marriage to the stance of constitutional authority, the PCA takes a clear stand on biblical marriage. Praise the Lord!

Having sat through the debate on both of these issues, I’m thankful that neither of them were taken lightly.

More GOs at GA

June 7th, 2011

Well, there are more “goings on” (GOs, not to be construed in the negative sense, just stuff happening) at the General Assembly. While the GA officially begins this evening with a worship service and the election of a new moderator, the first part of the day was occupied with more preliminary work on the Overtures Committee.

One of the main issues under discussion at this year’s Assembly is how to fund the Administrative Committee. Participation in the church and her life is voluntary and no giving should be done under compulsion (Acts 5:4; 2 Cor. 9:7). But what do you do when there is not enough voluntary giving to support a particular ministry of the church? This is the issue with which the PCA is struggling at the present time.

It seems to me that funding is fraught with the problem of fallen human nature. On the one hand, some fear that any imposed scheme of giving is not only against the nature of giving in the church but may end up corrupting those in positions of authority who receive the funds. On the other hand, if left to themselves, many people will not voluntary give. Fallen human nature can work in both ways: corrupted by money and power or lazy and indolent with unconcern.

In light of this, the way forward to solve this issue of funding is, at its heart, spiritual. First, we should view our brothers in the church with charity. The GA or the AC is not the IRS or the US Government, so we should not characterize them as such. We are all trying to achieve the extension of the gospel for the growth of God’s kingdom. We need to approach this process with an attitude of trust, and we should continue in that attitude until there is a proven reason not to trust.

Second, we need a personal revival of spiritual concern among elders and churches throughout the PCA that opens our mouths in the proclamation of Christ and opens our wallets in giving to the work of the church. I realize that we are all committed to those issues already, but the church needs revival to keep us focused, intentional, and spiritual in our pursuits. Okay, that’s my two-cents worth (isn’t that enough?).

This afternoon is filled with seminars on various topics of theology and church work, as well as book buying and good conversation.

This is my first General Assembly, and I am thankful to the Lord for allowing me to be a minister in the PCA.

GA Prelim

June 6th, 2011

The 39th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America begins this week in Virginia Beach, Virginia. This year’s theme is Christ for the World.

Today and tomorrow many of the Committees of Commissioners meet to discuss various items of business and issues of theology that will come before the General Assembly this week.

I’m serving on the Committee of Commissioners for Overtures for Ohio Presbytery. The Overtures Committee “consider[s] and make recommendation upon all overtures proposing constitutional amendment and all other overtures referred by the Stated Clerk.” We deliberated for about four and a half hours today and will reconvene tomorrow morning.

As the day grows to a close, I’d like to share a few preliminary observations. First, the work of the church is work. It’s tempting to drift through life, do your daily chores, and hope that things in the church-at-large will flow smoothly. Watching over the health, efficiency, and fruitfulness of God’s people, however, takes deliberate effort and deliberative effort.

Second, God has given to his church a plurality of elders for the deliberative process, and the government of the church is an expression of the goodness and wisdom of God. I would hate to be left on my own to understand and reach conclusions about the issues that face the PCA. As my brothers debate issues, I learn how many sides there are to an issue. Few things are as simple as they seem at first.

Third, the elders of the PCA are committed to the glory of God and the spread of the gospel. Their desire is to see that the doctrine and procedure of the church reflects those same commitments.

As a side note, TE Fred Greco (a former ruling elder at the church I now pastor) chairs this year’s Overtures Committee. I sat looking at him with bleary eyes and was absolutely amazed at how many pieces of information, how many amendments and amendments to amendments he could juggle in his mind at one time. Kudos, Fred, for doing such an excellent job.

The opening worship service of the Assembly begins on Tuesday evening at 7:30. You can watch it live online. “Join” us as we praise our God and hear from His Word!

Reformed Evangelism

June 3rd, 2011

I grew up in a church context that placed a great deal of emphasis on soul winning. I’m glad for that because it left an indelible impression on me of the importance of the never-dying souls of men and women and the urgency and necessity of repentance and faith. There was no doubt in my mind that the most important thing I could do was get the gospel to people and get people to Jesus.

Even after I became Reformed in my theology, I could never be persuaded by the hyper-Calvinistic argument that if God has chosen who will be saved, he doesn’t need our help to get them saved. The desire for missions and evangelism should throb deep in the heart of every Christian, and the free offer of the gospel should be proclaimed to everyone who has ears to hear.

My friend, Stan Gale, is a Calvinist, a pastor, and an evangelist. He fishes for souls, and I praise God for him. At this year’s PCA General Assembly, Stan will be leading a seminar on Reformed Evangelism. A recent byFaith article outlines several main points that are at the heart of the issue.

Stan begins by writing, “Jesus is the only way to God, but there are many ways to explain this. What, uniquely, does a ‘Reformed’ presentation of the gospel include?

God works according to His good pleasure. He can—and does—use stammering testimonies about Jesus; He also uses the well-crafted messages of trained pulpiteers. This, however, does not mean we can be careless about what we say, or how we say it. As appointed ambassadors for Christ, we must seek to honor God and be true to His Word. That is what it means to be Reformed—it is being consistent with the whole counsel of God. A Reformed understanding of the gospel deals not with packaging, but with systemic concerns related to the glory of God.”

I hope you will take time to read the rest of his article. If you’re attending the General Assembly in Virginia Beach, Stan will be presenting his seminar on Tuesday, June 7, from 2:00—3:00 p.m.

Stan has also written an excellent evangelism booklet entitled How Can I Know Eternal Life? It’s a great resource to share the good news. I encourage you to get several copies and give them to friends, family members, and co-workers. Using this booklet will help you to make the gospel clear to those you love, and the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16)!

Relief Effort in Joplin, MO

May 27th, 2011

Tornadoes ripped across the Midwest this week destroying and disrupting many lives in their wake. Our hearts go out to the families who have suffered such great loss, both of loved ones and property.

At the heart of this week’s news has been the storm that tore apart Joplin, Missouri. A PCA church in Joplin, Christ the King Presbyterian, is involved in the relief effort.

You can find more information on their web site about how to pray and contribute.

Praying in Faith

May 26th, 2011

We should pray in faith. No Christian doubts that, and many passages of Scripture make it plain. See, for example, Matthew 21:21-22 or James 1:6-8.

But how do we pray in faith? In his notable little book, simply titled Prayer, Norwegian theologian, Ole Hallesby, writes about a living faith and just how much faith is needed in prayer. “Such a faith as this sees its own need, acknowledge its own helplessness, goes to Jesus, tells Him just how bad things are and leaves everything with Him.

“You and I can now tell how much faith we need in order to pray. We have faith enough when we in our helplessness turn to Jesus.

“This shows us clearly that true prayer is a fruit of helplessness and faith. Helplessness becomes prayer the moment that you go to Jesus and speak candidly and confidently with him about your needs. This is to believe.

“The reason that more faith than this is not necessary in order to pray lies in the very nature of prayer.

“We have seen above that prayer is nothing more involved than to open the door when Jesus knocks and give Him access to our distress and helplessness with all His miracle-working powers.

“It is not intended that our faith should help Jesus to fulfill our supplications. He does not need any help; all he needs is access. Neither is it intended that our faith should draw Jesus into our distress, or make Him interested in us, or solicitous on our behalf. He has long since cared for us. And He Himself would like to gain access to our distress in order to help us. But He can not [sic] gain admittance until we ‘open the door,’ that is, until we in prayer give Him an opportunity to intervene.” Ole Hallesby, Prayer, pp. 29-30.

To some, Hallesby’s comments will sound too man-centered, too Arminian, too unbiblical. Jesus “can not [sic] gain admittance”?! Our God is in heaven and does whatever he pleases (Psa. 115:3)! Hallesby would agree. He’s keen to stress that our faith doesn’t help Christ. But faith is the means by which we do business with God. And we are responsible to believe. Faith comes from God. It is his gracious gift. Our opening the door to Jesus is not the result of innate ability. Prayer flows from grace, but it must flow!

The bottom line is that we don’t have because we don’t ask (James 4:2). Opening the door is simply asking. But we’re asking Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, who intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25)! And that opens the door to endless possibilities in the goodness of God!

A Sad Day for the Auld Kirk

May 25th, 2011

On Monday, the Church of Scotland (not to be confused with the Free Church of Scotland) voted to allow gays and lesbians to be ordained to the ministry. This is a very sad turn of events for the church of John Knox and our Presbyterian forefathers. But it is an almost inevitable outcome for a church that has by-in-large rejected the doctrine of Scripture.

I don’t mean to imply that there aren’t many Bible-believing Christians in the Church of Scotland. There are. There are still many good ministers in the Church of Scotland who preach the gospel. Dominic Smart pastors Gilcomston South. Philip Hair preaches faithfully at Holyrood Abbey. St. Catherine’s Argyle Church is privileged to have a gifted expositor in her minister, Robyn Sydserff. In addition to these and numerous other local churches, ministries like Rutherford House and the Fellowship of Confessing Churches have sought to stem the tide, but what will they do now?

Please pray for these brothers and their Kirk Sessions. My hope is that evangelicals from the Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland will find a way to work together. Two years ago John Ross wrote about a new church for Scotland. Could that day be just about to dawn? Differing views on women’s ordination, however, may well prove to be the biggest obstacle.

Whatever happens with inter-church relations, please pray for revival for all of God’s church in Scotland, America, Africa, Europe, Asia, the whole world. May we see days of refreshing spiritual power like the Auld Kirk saw in the past, days when there was glory in the glen!

The Ministry of the Few or the Ministry of the Pew?

May 24th, 2011

How are you going to minister this coming Lord’s Day? Teach Sunday School? Be a greeter? Usher? Preach? That’s great if you’re involved in one of those activities, but if you add up the pastor, elders, deacons and all of the Sunday School teachers, greeters, and ushers, that’s still a relatively small percentage of the average congregation. It’s the ministry of the few.

So how are YOU going to minister?

Have you considered the ministry of the pew? The ministry of the pew, you say? What’s that? It’s a way to use where you sit at church as a means to serve others.

Years ago my parents attended a church, found a pew, and sat down only to be approached by a couple informing them that Mom and Dad were in their pew. These folks obviously had their favorite place to sit and were not happy sitting anywhere else. I can understand that. I always like to sit to the left of a speaker. I don’t know why. There’s no good reason; it has just become a habit. But do you think about and even pray about where you sit in church? All of us should.

Colin Marshall was once challenged about where he sat and why. He wrote, “Some years ago a pastor, Ray Ewers, instructed me in the finer art of how to walk into church. To most people, this might appear to be a rather basic accomplishment requiring little or no tutelage. Perhaps a family with five toddlers would appreciate some advice, but most of us would never give it a thought. Ray’s instruction was very brief: ‘Pray about where you sit’.

Praying seemed like a great way to walk into church, better than grumbling about the full car park or feeling annoyed that the first hymn, ‘Tell Out My Soul’, was sung to Tidings and not Woodlands. But of all the things to pray about, why should I be concerned with seating position? After all, I sit in my pew every week.

Ray’s advice was based on a particular view of church. He saw church as a place where Christians go to work. Church is a gathering of God’s people to hear his word and respond in faith and obedience. In this gathering, we are in fellowship with each other, through the blood of Jesus, and, because of our fellowship, we seek to serve each other. We use our gifts and abilities to strengthen one another and build Christ’s Church—‘edification’ is the word often used to describe what goes on in church. All believers are involved in building the church, not just clergy or preachers. The New Testament consistently teaches that in the growth of the body of Christ each part must do its work (see Eph 4; 1 Cor 12-14). Because of this, we aren’t to see ourselves merely as part of an organization called ‘St Hubert’s Church’, but as servants of God’s people, eager to meet the needs of others even if it means sacrificing our own.”

While I have one caveat regarding Colin’s article (I don’t believe we need to change traditional-style services to make people feel comfortable), his emphasis is “spot on.”

Will you pray about where you sit this coming Sunday? I encourage you to take a couple of minutes to read the rest of the article and learn some strategic ways to serve the Lord on his day. Don’t leave ministry to the few. Get involved in the ministry of the pew!

For Colin Marshall’s complete article, click here.

Adventures Abroad

May 23rd, 2011

This spring and summer we have several young people from our church involved in short-term missions. Lizzie Wilson will be going to the Dominican Republic. Her brother, John, will be working with the Pittsburgh Project. And Jake Shields is currently in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

Jake has a blog where he is posting his observations, reflections, and pictures. I encourage you to follow his adventures abroad and to pray. Pray for all of these young people as they seek to serve the Lord and grow in him.