Trinity

What does it mean to believe in the Holy Spirit?

What does it mean to believe in the Holy Spirit?

The role of the Spirit has long puzzled the evangelical mind. For some, being “led by the Spirit means being led by some inner impulse rather than by the Spirit’s testimony to the written Word of God.” After all, who is going to argue when someone says, “The Spirit spoke to me?” This generally becomes a cheap way of substituting the careful study of the Word for a quick last minute decision baptized in spirit language. To be Spirit-led is not some impulse, nor should we dare assume our feelings are automatically Spirit-inspired. I have seen this mindset create all sorts of schizophrenic reactions in people’s lives.

On the other hand, some substitute intimacy with the Spirit for a skeptical approach to the Third Person of the Godhead: “Yes, we have the Spirit, but we don’t want to allow room for our passions and emotions. Our emotions and passions are irreparably damaged by sin. We affirm the Spirit’s work but cautiously, so we are not confused with the Charismatics.”

We need a theology that is Spirit-led: not frightened by the Spirit’s manifestation in the lives of broken people, not agnostic about radical transformation in the lives of sinners, praying that the Spirit will crush our pride and self-reliance, rejoicing passionately in the Spirit’s indwelling presence, praying in the Triune Name a lot more so we acknowledge his intercession (Rom. 8:26), speaking words of benediction often (“May God’s Spirit be with you”), filling our lives with spiritual songs in the Psalter, asking God each Sunday for a Spirit-filled worship, and desiring the Holy Spirit to interrupt our lives continually to express gratitude (I Thes. 5:18) and trusting in the Spirit-inspired Word of God to guide our lives. We are a people of the Spirit.

10 Questions Every Preacher Should Consider Before Preaching on Sunday

10 Questions Every Preacher Should Consider Before Preaching on Sunday

I have been a pastor for almost a decade. I spend between 12-15 hours each week thinking, researching, and writing before I deliver the first words in my Sunday sermon. The process of writing my sermon goes through a lengthy journey each week.  I contemplate several questions from Monday to Friday which force me to edit and re-edit my manuscript. There is no perfect sermon, but a sermon that goes through revisions and asks import questions has a much better chance of communicating with clarity than the self-assured preacher who engages the sermonic task with nothing more than academic lenses.

I have compiled a list of ten questions I ask myself each week at some point or another.

Question #1: Is this language clear? When you write a manuscript ( as I do) you have an opportunity to carefully consider the language you use. I make a habit of reading my sermon out loud which leads me to realize that certain phrases do not convey the idea clearly. A well-written sermon does not necessarily mean a well-delivered sermon. Reading my sermons out loud causes me to re-write and look for other ways to explain a concept or application more clearly.

Question #2: Is there a need to use high theological language in this sermon? Seminary graduates are often tempted to use the best of their training in the wrong environment. People are not listening to you to hear your theological acumen. I am well aware that some in the congregation would be entirely comfortable with words like perichoresis and Arianism. I am not opposed to using high theological discourse. Words like atonement, justification, sanctification are biblical and need to be defined. But extra-biblical terms and ideologies should be employed sparingly. Much of this can be dealt in a Sunday School class or other environments. High theological language needs to be used with great care, and I think it needs to be avoided as much as possible in the Sunday sermon.

Question #3: Can I make this sermon even shorter? As I read my sermons each week, I find that I can cut a paragraph or two easily, or depending on how long you preach, perhaps an entire page. This is an important lesson for new preachers: not everything needs to be said. Shorter sermons–which I strongly advocatea–force you to say what’s important and keep some of your research in the footnotes where it belongs. Preachers need to learn what to prioritize in a sermon so as not to unload unnecessary information on their parishioners.

While in seminary, I once heard a Presbyterian pastor preach the equivalent of three sermons in 55 minutes. I remember thinking, “If he finished now it will be a great sermon.” 40 minutes went by, and I thought, “If he finished his sermon now it will be all right.” After almost an hour I turned to my wife and said, “I pity his congregation.” Mistakes happen. Preachers lose track of time and people are generally very forgiving. But when this is a frequent occurrence it becomes a detriment. Preachers may turn into apologists for the Puritan era when they preached two-hour sermons. My response to this is very simple: “You are no John Owen!”

Question #4: Will my people hear a message about a great God or a convenient God? Sermons that do not lead people to serve God more faithfully have not fulfilled their purpose. The sermon needs to urge people to live more like their Lord and God. They can contemplate God, study or learn more about God (these are important), but if they leave uncertain as to how to serve their God more faithfully, the sermon has not pierced deeply enough. God’s people need to be consecrated by the Word of the Lord, pierced by the sword of the Spirit into action. Communicating only details about God can leave parishioners with a convenient God that demands knowledge but no sacrifice.

Question #5: What can I teach that will increase my people’s knowledge of the Bible? Every preacher must know: your people will remember between 1-5% of your preaching ministry throughout their lives. There is no statistic about this, the evidence is borne by daily experience. Exegesis of a verse in Hebrews will be forgotten perhaps before the sermon is over, but hermeneutical principles will remain if they are communicated succinctly. One common interpretational phrase I have used in many of my sermons is, “The Holy Spirit does not waste his breath.” This phraseb communicates that every detail of the text matters. I want my people to know in every sermon that every word in the Bible is meaningful and put in there for a reason. Many other principles will encourage God’s people to love their Bibles and learn more about it in their own studies and meditations. They may not remember my careful exegesis, but they will remember that the text is to be cherished.

Question #6: Do people follow me from point A to point B and C? I have heard my share of disconnected sermons over the years. Sermons need to have a message that is connected throughout. Themes and illustrations need to be connected to the central message. If illustrations have no purpose in the development of a sermon or if they are only used to get a laugh, people will inevitably leave confused and uncertain of the illustration’s purpose. Preachers need to be very aware of how point A connects to point B. Paragraphs need to smoothly transition, otherwise, you are beginning a new sermon altogether, and people are left wondering what the main point is. This is why manuscript preparation can help with transitional statements. On my last sermon, I repeated this phrase several times, “The future belongs to the child.” In fact, I generally title my sermons after my main point.

Question #7: Is this sermon going to connect to particular concerns of my people? I firmly believe that sermons need to connect in some way to everyone, from the young convert to the university professor. The more you preach, the more you begin to see people in your congregation with unique needs. When a pastor says “I have no one in mind when I preach,” he is likely ineffective in his preaching. Pastors are shaped by their conversations, counseling, and context. People I pray with and meet each week come to mind when I make applications. Of course, we need to be careful not to use the pulpit to deliver a privatized homily. A sermon on divorce the week after a congregant was divorced is unwise. Preachers need to consider the need of his own flock. For instance, “Does my congregation have a tendency to pride in their intellect or status?” A preacher is always preaching locally, though he can minister broadly. New Christians need to see their pastor’s words as applicable and rich to their own unique situation and this requires a good dose of wisdom and knowledge of particular needs in the congregation. Pastoral application becomes richer when there are pastoral encounters and engagement with the people. It is important to note also that we have our failures and shortcomings, but these should not keep us from addressing them corporately.c

Question #8: Is my argument persuasive? The sermon ought to leave the listener convinced that the Bible’s claim is right and true. Arguments can be phrased differently in every sermon. Some arguments will be demonstrably more persuasive than others. The preacher’s role is to give enough context and substance, so the main point becomes attractive. Persuasion is a difficult skill and needs to be considered again and again, which is why sermons need to be revised several times before they are delivered. One common problem is pastors trying to persuade people to death. Sermons are not commentaries. A preacher does not need to make his congregation turn to several Bible passages. A sermon is not an informal Bible study. Make your point. Make it desirable and succinct and move on.

Question #9: Where is the Gospel? A Gospel-less sermon is no sermon at all. Ask yourself, “Where is the Gospel?” Will my people be saved from their sins and misery after hearing this word? Will they find hope in Messiah Jesus? Will the broken-hearted see Jesus with greater joy? Will the single mom find refuge in Jesus and his Kingdom? Preachers cannot end a sermon in the desert. The Gospel is promised land. The sermonic journey takes the parishioner from darkness to light; death to resurrection.

Question #10: Is my application too general? Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” My closing question is a question about how my applications speak to my congregation. There are a thousand ways to speak the truth, but not many ways to speak the truth in love. Application is truth in love. Love your congregation by applying specifically and carefully. It is one thing to say Trust God, it is another to say, Believe his promises in the middle of your cancer. Generalities sometimes are inescapable, but try to escape them as much as possible when applying the Word. If there is one part of the sermon that deserves great concentration, it is in the application of the Word to God’s people. Pastors should read good counseling books. Pastors should know their people well in order to apply God’s truth in love (see #7).

You may consider each question every Sunday, and after some time these questions will be a natural part of your sermon preparation each week. Not all sermons are created equal. Just delivering content is not the goal of preaching. Preaching is an art, and we can all learn to grow.

  1. By this I mean sermons no longer than 30 minutes  (back)
  2. I think first used by James B. Jordan  (back)
  3. I hope to address pastoral fears in another post  (back)

Trinitarian Leadership

“…that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up…” -Apostle Paul

The primary purpose of the Trinity is to use authority over us that edifies and builds, not tears down. In Paul’s pastoral letters he wishes to use his God-given authority to draw people to the Gospel. This is always the first and foremost desire of the leader/authority figure: to bring people to the Gospel by an authority that edifies, not beats you down. Notice how the Father uses his authority over the Son on earth. The Father doesn’t add threats to his desires for the Son, he adds encouragement and affirmation: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
He doesn’t say, “My Son, go to the cross, or I will make you go my way.” There is a tender authority in the persons of the Godhead that is beautifully pictured in the pastoral ministry of the Apostle Paul.

785px-Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_ProjectWhen you read Paul’s letters a you are left with this sense that the Apostle wants to see restoration in the Church not through the means of threats, but through prayer, gentleness, and humility. Do you want to see your son and daughter change a particular attitude? Do you want to see a friend abandon their destructive ways? Build her up. Tell her the gospel. “My dear friend, I come to you as your sister in Christ. I want the best for you. It pains me to watch you self-destruct. How can I serve you during this time? Do you want me to check up on you every three hours?” “My son, dad has not always been here for you. I have sought other hobbies to entertain myself when I should have been spending time with you. Please, forgive me. It hurts me to see you making these decisions. Is there a way I can help you find truth through this confusion?” There is an inherent authority given to the saints when they speak life into the lives of their fellow parishioners. This authority needs to be edifying.

Authority that is admired and loved is an authority that is edifying. The fundamentalist exercises authority through threats—“do this or else.” The pietist exercises authority through perfection –“If you fail me you are ruining our family’s reputation and there is no way back!” The Biblical Christian exercises authority by serving and edifying before demanding and expecting. Oh, yes, there are ways of getting what you want, but you may get what you want while losing the heart of the one you love. And that, beloved, is not biblical Christianity.

Paul summarizes Jesus’ life:

Though he was in the form of God,
he did not regard equality with God
something to be possessed by force.
On the contrary, he emptied himself,
in that he took the form of a servant
by becoming like human beings are.

The most authoritative man in history became a servant while being an authority. The God, who is Three and One, and One and Three, is first and foremost a God who expresses his authority to build, not tear down. Our God, our Trinity is a Trinity that exercises gracious, loving, and life-giving authority.

  1. see particularly II Corinthians 13  (back)
Should Reformed People Read N.T. Wright?

Should Reformed People Read N.T. Wright?

It doesn’t happen quite often, but once in a while when I recommend a book or a quote by N.T. Wright on facebook, I will receive a question that goes something like this:

“Do you approve of N.T. Wright? Do you think it’s fruitful to endorse N.T. Wright? Or don’t you know that N.T. denies Justification by faith alone?”

I addressed the first question on facebook and I thought I’d make it available here. My response goes like this:

I think the question ought to be more nuanced. In other words, humans and their ideas, especially new humans recreated by God, ought to be analyzed more carefully and charitably. As a pastor I recommend Wright to my parishioners with the same enthusiasm I would recommend C.S. Lewis, Schmemann, and Martin Luther. I have disagreements with all of them, but charity allows me to communicate with these great thinkers and gain from what they offer, while expressing sometimes strong disagreements on some of their contributions.

Yes, Reformed people, in fact, Christians of all stripes should read Professor Wright. His profound insights, his vision for a renewed humanity in Christ, his invaluable defense of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and his commitment to the historical, Biblical Jesus make him one of the most gifted teachers and scholars of our time and The Jesus Seminar’s worst nightmare.

But what about justification? Shouldn’t we stand for the principal article of the Church? And by standing shouldn’t we reject anyone who denies it?

First, N.T. Wright has written and clarified many of his statements. He stated again and again that he does not deny justification by faith alone. I take him at his word. “But hasn’t he been unclear?” To those who think so, he will always be. “I and many others find Wright’s overall project to be fruitful, despite having disagreements with him at points.” I find Kevin J. Vanhoozer’s humorous, but yet serious points on the Wright vs. Piper debate to be very helpful, and from what I hear from reliable sources, Wright agrees and finds Vanhoozer’s attempt to bridge the two paradigms extremely beneficial.

Secondly, the Reformation did not settle every issue. There are contemporary issues that still must be handled within our context. The Reformers did not exhaust the fullness of justification. There is indeed a robustly corporate view of justification that the Reformers–rightly preoccupied with Romish theological abuse–simply did not address explicitly in the 16th century. In this sense, Wright needs to be read and listened to attentively.

Thirdly, when one poses the question of whether we should eliminate such an author from our library because he is wrong on an issue, no matter how important the issue may be, he is betraying the charitable nature of the Christian vision and our personal libraries. Of course, he may choose to avoid Wright, and other authors who also had some questionable theological presuppositions (like C.S. Lewis), his theological vision will be narrow, and his ability to articulate a vision of the world will stop at the wardrobe (to borrow from Lewis). Those of us who appreciate Wright prefer to open the wardrobe and see Narnia in all its beauty.”

Finally, the West’s over-emphasis on the individual is tragic. The individual matters, but Adam himself knew that the individual is not alone. Just as the Trinity is not alone, so too man needs to be a part of something greater. “Community” is not just a buzzword no matter how often hipster Christian groups use it. In its biblical sense, community is the essence of the Christian experience. Paul’s vision was highly ecclesiastical. The individual who divorces from the community loses his ability to be truly human. He breathes and eats as a human, but his breathing and eating desecrates God’s intention to incorporate him into  a multitude. N.T. Wright offers immeasurable contributions on this subject.

Naturally, there is the possibility of over-emphasizing community, but that hardly seems to be the problem in our day. The reality is if you stress the community you get the individual, if you stress the individual you don’t get the community.

Should we read N.T. Wright? Yes. Read him often with the eyes of discernment. But again, discernment is the Christian’s best friend in any human activity.

Audio Version of the “Acknowledgements” to the Trinitarian Father

Audio Version of the “Acknowledgements” to the Trinitarian Father

I have intended for some time now to record my little book on fatherhood. If there is sufficient interest I may continue with the entire project. Here is the preface to the book.

The Athanasian Creed, Brief Thoughts

The Athanasian Creed, Brief Thoughts

The Athanasian Creed is known for its very thorough Trinitarian statement. But the Creed also contains a high Christology. “The Athanasian Creed is usually divided into two sections: lines 1–28 addressing the doctrine of the Trinity, and lines 29–44 addressing the doctrine of Christology.” a The Creed was early attributed to St. Athanasius, but that attribution has since the 17th century been disputed. It is widely accepted now that Athanasius did not pen the Creed, though the Creed reflects much of Athanasius’ Nicene theology.

The Creed begins with these perilous words:

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

This harsh expectation for salvation implies, according to Philip Schaff, a precise knowledge of doctrine in order to be saved. Schaff was critical of this language and there have been others who have shared this criticism. For instance, here is a short description from the Creed:

The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal.

This, according to some historians, would place too great a demand on the laity. Some have seen this to be a strict demand that cannot be met, except for those grounded in historical Christianity. Indeed there is some truth to this skepticism. A modern look at our landscape would conclude that not only do evangelicals speak very little about the Trinity from the pulpit, but have little knowledge that such a Creed even exists.

My own reading of the Athanasian Creed and its history is more in line with Greg Uttinger who stated:

The Creed, of course, does not require every Christian to fully understand the complexities and implications of Trinitarian orthodoxy. Yes, an ignorant believer may speak in, say, Sabellian terms because he has not been taught better. He may in his ignorance compare the Trinity to an egg or a tree. The Creed is not addressing such ignorance; it is addressing outright rejection of the truth by those who have every reason to know better. b

As Trinity Sunday approaches, let us not be those who speak in ignorance, but those who confess this Creed and live out this Trinitarian faith.

 

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athanasian_Creed  (back)
  2. http://chalcedon.edu/research/articles/the-theology-of-the-ancient-creeds-part-4-the-athanasian-creed/  (back)
How Helpful Are Analogies of the Trinity?

How Helpful Are Analogies of the Trinity?

All analogies fall short. They can be enormously helpful at times, but sometimes we need to simply acknowledge that analogies are always limited. They help communicate profound truths in simple terms, but they may at times take us a bit too far and actually undo the intention of the analogy itself. a This is what happens when evangelicals use a variety of analogies to explain the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Trinity, Michael Bird, explains, “is not an esoteric doctrine forged in an unholy marriage of Greek metaphysical speculation and dodgy biblical interpretation.” b Our experience of God is not unitarian or tritheistic, but can only be true if it is Trinitarian. So, a biblical expression of the Trinity is essential.

We live in a day where Trinitarian religion in all its historical beauty has been lost in a sea of trivial statements about God. God, Three and One and One and Three, has become merely a side note in theological pursuit. As one pastor recently told me, “We do not need to talk about the Trinity to our people. It is too complex for them.” The Trinity is arguably the central doctrine that differentiates the Christian faith from other religious traditions like Islam and Judaism. Modern attempts to reconcile these traditions to the Christian faith is ultimately impossible. God is Three and One. He is Oneness and Community. Ancient heresies like Modalism, which teach that each person of the Trinity is merely a “mode of God’s activity as opposed to a distinct and independent person” is by and large the position of Oneness Pentecostals. Yet, most evangelicals view them as just another branch of the orthodox Church.

The nature of the Father, Son, and Spirit have never been more detached from the work of doing theology in our day. As a result of this neglect, modern Christians have attempted to re-energize the idea of the “forgotten Trinity” by providing analogies. These analogies are meant as simple illustrations. They attempt to do with simplicity what the Early Church sought to do with tremendous care and heavy qualifications.

Though the popular illustrations add a little more clarity, they end up confusing the Trinity with other heresies.  S. Michael Houdmann offers a few examples:

The egg (or apple) fails in that the shell, white, and yolk are parts of the egg, not the egg in themselves, just as the skin, flesh, and seeds of the apple are parts of it, not the apple itself. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not parts of God; each of them is God. The water illustration is somewhat better, but it still fails to adequately describe the Trinity. Liquid, vapor, and ice are forms of water. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not forms of God, each of them is God.

Some have attributed these analogies to St. Patrick of Ireland. c The supposed bad analogies of Patrick was put into a comical conversation between St. Patrick and two simple men inquiring about the Trinity:

To put it simply, “The problem with using analogies to explain the Holy Trinity is that you always end up confessing some ancient heresy.”

I have found that analogies of the Trinity are a normal reaction from Christians who find themselves defensive about a complicated doctrine. But Christians ought not be defensive about such a lovely description of our God. God is not meant to be intricately analyzed like an ancient fossil, but to be adored. Any explanation of His Nature ought to be done carefully and with the qualifications the Bible provides. d God is. And that is where we must start. In the words of Fred Sanders:

Trinitarianism is the encompassing framework within which all Christian thought takes place and within which Christian confession finds its grounding presuppositions. e

The Trinity is the necessary paradigm for all thinking. It is the beginning and the end of human thought.  The Trinity is mysterious, because God is infinitely powerful and beyond human reasoning. In the end, we ought to catechize, biblicize those under our care with great care when we speak of who God is. In a nutshell, we can affirm the following essential elements concerning our Triune God:

First, the unity of one God in three persons.

Second, the eternity of the three persons.

Third, the shared and equal deity of the three persons.

Fourth, the shared and equal essence of the three persons.

Fifth, the Trinity includes distinction in roles and relationships within the Godhead.

Finally, the Trinity will always be an ineffable mystery.

In the end, the Trinity ought to lead us to worship as Isaiah did in Isaiah 6. And in that worship, we ought to imitate the seraphim who continually sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

  1. For a history of “analogy,” see this  (back)
  2. Bird, Michael. Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction, pg. 92  (back)
  3. This claim is debated: http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/17724/did-saint-patrick-actually-explain-the-trinity-using-a-shamrock  (back)
  4. Analogies like Marriage and community are actually helpful ways to begin to understand the divine Trinity  (back)
  5. Quoted in Bird’s Evangelical Theology, pg. 124  (back)
The Atomization and Individualization of the American Baptist Culture

The Atomization and Individualization of the American Baptist Culture

I know this is not the most friendly of titles. But there it is. The inspiration for the title came while re-reading a book edited in the 80’s by my theological mentor, James B. Jordan. The book is controversially entitled The Failure of the American Baptist Culture. a Though the title seems to put all baptists into one camp, the reality is that much of the evangelical landscape has changed in three decades. Today you will find baptist leaders declaring the glories of community life and the dangers of an isolated Christian experience. On the other hand, some modern Presbyterians have embraced this atomization in the Church. Some take this approach out of fear of sounding like post-modern clerics. So, they mistreat the corporate realities of the covenant and borrow baptistic vocabulary to do so, while claiming that they aren’t doing so.

Another way Presbyterians continue to pour gas into the individualist’s fire is by refusing to give communion to the least of these. Yes, I know that much–though not all–of the Reformation fell into this same trap and so I am the first to admit that my beloved tradition did not fully reform in every respect. Paedocommunion is not only a wonderful ecclesiastical response to the individualism that plagues the modern church, but it also affirms the covenantal promises of God to a thousand generations. It re-orients us to the unity that is inherent in the baptismal tradition of our forefathers.

In the book’s introduction Jordan wrote:

The failure of most of the Reformers to advocate paedocommunion, the development of the rite of confirmation, the rise of scholasticism, and later on the development of individualistic revivalism and anti-liturgism, all evince the strong nominalistic drift in all Christian thought in recent centuries.

What churches need to ask then is, “What practices force us to look beyond ourselves?,” or positively framed, “What ecclesiastical practices can help us restore this covenantal call issued by our Hebrew forefathers?”

The answer seems simple to me. But there are still several road-blocks to overcome in this process. Presbyterians have for far too long embraced the presupposition of our baptist brothers. Moving away from these presuppositions is the first step to avoiding the pitfalls of the individualized baptist culture. At the same time, I hasten to add that baptist theology today, especially in more reformational contexts, have become ripe for the type of language and practices I am advocating. While it is true they will never practice paedocommunion or paedobaptism, they are already using familiar corporate language that rings joyfully in any Calvinists’ ears.

The bottom line is we need to re-think these nominalist tendencies that may find a home in both circles. We need to see them and cut them out immediately. The individual cannot exist apart from a community. As Bonhoeffer observed in his classic Life Together, 

We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, and for all eternity.

In this one-anothering, we find that isolationism is detrimental to the Christian experience. A wholistic Christian faith does not atomize, but incorporates. And in this incorporation, community finds its ultimate agenda fulfilled, the glorification of the kingdom culture.

  1. Free download here  (back)
Trinitarian Basics

Trinitarian Basics

It matters what you believe. Sometimes we need to get back to basics to get a good grasp of Christian thinking. After all, thinking Christianly is a real challenge to the modern evangelical population. So, where do we start? What should a new Christian learn about? I propose a simple overview of Trinitarian theology. My own pastoral labors have been immensely helped by seeing the world and my parish through Trinitarian eyes. A result of this interest, is my little booklet The Trinitarian Father soon to be published by Covenant Media. Also, my podcast Trinity Talk.

Here is a simple definition from James Jordan to get the ball rolling:

God’s Oneness is not the same as His Threeness, but God is every bit as much One as He is Three, and every bit as much Three as He is One. Consistent Christians, therefore, are not Tri-theists (three gods), nor are they pure Mono-theists (one God); rather, they are Trinitarian.

This remarkable God insists in relating to his people through His Son, by the power of His Spirit. He is Personal and Transcendent. His acts are known in all the earth; His glory among all nations. This God is Triune.

Recommended Books for new Christians on the Trinity:

Trinity and Reality: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Ralph Smith

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves

The Forgotten Trinity by James White

The One and the Many by R.J. Rushdoony

 

 

10 Things to Expect in a Federal Vision Church

10 Things to Expect in a Federal Vision Church

I recently read a post by a frustrated woman on the outcome of some decisions made in different PCA Presbyteries. Among many things, this individual observed that she was deeply concerned for the well-being of the people who attend PCA churches. She urged them to leave the denomination. Many of them have bought into the “Federal Vision theology,” and are possibly doomed to a “Christ-less eternity,” she wrote. They also are grace-less, because they emphasize a robust faith that is not dead.  Among the other things mentioned, apparently Federal Vision advocates do not care about personal relationships, but only church business, because we put so much emphasis on the church. And to top off the list of accusations, we have traded “a relationship with Jesus for religion.”

I am not a PCA pastor, but as someone who served in the PCA for several years, I do want to defend those brothers who are referred to as Federal Vision. Suffice to say, these accusations are childish in every way.

At the same time, I know there is a lot of misunderstanding out there. And in case you are either curious or tempted to visit one of these so-called Federal Vision churches, I would like to prepare the bold visitor for ten things he/she is to expect as they enter into a typical one:

1) Apart from using the term to clarify ideas and misunderstandings in friendly conversations and the occasional men’s study, the term Federal Vision will most likely never be used in the pulpit.  Further, opponents and even advocates of the Federal (Covenant) Vision differ on many points. The closest thing to a consensus is found here, but there are still are sorts of distinctions and qualifications that need to be made.

2) Be prepared for that archaic practice of singing the Psalms. Yes, we confess to singing from Yahweh’s songbook, as well as some old time religion music from the 4th century. Expect very vibrant singing; the one that roars!

3) Be alerted that we are a very friendly congregation, and contrary to what you have heard (if you have ever heard such a thing) we will greet you and likely invite you to lunch after church.

4) Also, do not be alarmed by the little cries in the congregation (Ps. 8:2-3). We really love our little ones and we encourage parents to train them up in worship, and the best place to do that is…in worship.

5) You may be asked to kneel (Ps. 95:6). We believe posture is important to God. Obviously, you do not have to kneel. It is optional, though everyone will.

6) The pastor may get a bit theological at times, he may take the time to explain the text in detail, but he usually explains his theologizing and biblicizing and is very consistent in applying his text and theology to the life of the body.

7) This may truly shock you, but we have the Lord’s Supper every week. And furthermore, we offer bread (real bread) and wine (real wine). This may take some adjustment, but I promise it will make sense after a while.

8) And I know the red flags are all over the place by now, and this is not going to help, but we also believe that baptized children are called to partake of the table of the Lord. Here is where we confess we have strayed from broad Reformed practices. But we have only done so because we believe that the early Christians practiced this. We further believe that I Corinthians 11 actually confirms our practice.

9) The ministers may wear an alb and a stole (though many others may simply wear a suit and tie). This practice serves to point out the unique role the man of God has in proclaiming God’s truth in Word and Sacrament. This may appear very Roman Catholic to you, and you are right. Of course, it is also very Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and yes, even Reformed (see data on clerical collars).

10) Finally, you are correct to assert that we love the Church. We love her because Christ died for her. Our Reformed forefathers were clear. But the Church is no substitute for Christ, the Church is called to build on her firm foundation, which is Christ. You cannot separate Groom and  Bride. And what does this Christ demand of his Church? He demands repentance, and in repentance you will find fullness of life.

I trust you will visit us, but if you do so, we want you to be prepared.