Taking the Sermon To Go

Dear Zion,

You’ve just heard the benediction; the Sunday morning service is over. So now what? We disperse to go with our own families to our specific vocations and tasks. But just because the service is over does not mean that we can forget about everything we heard in the sermon or during worship, or that God is any less interested in how we live Monday through Saturday. Last time we looked at how to hear the sermon, now we will consider a few things about how to live based off of the sermon. For example:

  • Believers should meditate on God’s Word throughout the week. The truth of God that we hear – during the Scripture readings and sermons – on Sunday should occupy our thoughts Monday through Saturday. Jesus told His disciples to “Let these words sink down into your ears” (Luke 9:44); in other words, He didn’t want His teaching to bounce off our ears like a glancing blow, but rather to take root in our minds. “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1). Does this describe how you think about what you learned in worship? Do you pay closer attention to God’s truth than anything else?
  • Believers should talk about God’s Word throughout the week. Continue reading

Owen’s Two Definitions of Sanctification

Compare these two definitions of sanctification. The first comes from John Owen’s Works, the second from the Savoy Declaration of Faith, a document Owen, Goodwin,and many other influential congregationalist ministers had a large role in forming.

Owen’s Works, 3:386

Sanctification is an immediate work of the Spirit of God on the souls of believers, purifying and cleansing of their natures from the pollution and uncleanness of sin, renewing in them the image of God, and thereby enabling them, from a spiritual and habitual principle of grace, to yield obedience unto God, according unto the tenor and terms of the new covenant, by virtue of the life and death of Jesus Christ.

Savoy Declaration of Faith

Chapter XIII: Of Sanctification
They that are united to Christ, effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, are also further sanctified really and personally through the same virtue, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened, and mortified, and they more and more quickened, and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of all true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

What strikes you from these two definitions? The first seems to emphasize the Spirit while the second emphasizes (union with) Christ. The first mentions the imago Dei while the second mentions other facets of the ordo salutis. The first treats sin in its staining effects, whereas the latter looks at sin in its power. The first thinks of vivification in terms of “obedience” while the latter speaks of “holiness.” Only the first mentions covenant (“new covenant”), while only the latter mentions mortification. Both are clear that it is by “virtue” of Christ’s death and life/resurrection. Both are speaking of progressive, not definitive, sanctification.

So why the difference(s)? Can any Owen scholars weigh in and touch on the various emphases? Clearly, Savoy 13 is not very original to Owen or the congregationalist ministers, as it reads very similar to the WCF (click here for a comparison and scroll down). Is that the only difference here, or are there other factors at play behind these two very similar yet different definitions of sanctification?

Reformed Exclusivism

How do the various claims to truth of world religions relate to one another? Further, how should Christians think of salvation for those who have never heard? The traditional distinction to answer this question breaks into three categories:

  1. Exclusivism: Jesus is the only Savior of the world, and one must believe God’s special revelation culminating in the gospel of Christ to be saved.
  2. Inclusivism: Jesus is the only Savior of the world, but one does not have to believe the gospel to be saved.
  3. Pluralism: All paths are valid and lead to God.

Andy Naselli points to Christopher W. Morgan’s “Inclusivisms and Exclusivisms” in Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism (WTS books). Morgan drills down into these categories, and notes that while most theologians still operate within these traditional sectors as a framework, in reality there are nine discernible categories:

  1. Church exclusivism: No, outside the church there is no salvation.
  2. Gospel exclusivism: No, they must hear the gospel and trust Christ to be saved.
  3. Special revelation exclusivism: No, they must hear the gospel and trust Christ to be saved, unless God chooses to send them special revelation in an extraordinary way—by a dream, vision, miracle, or angelic message.
  4. Agnosticism: We cannot know.*
  5. Continue reading

Be Careful How You Hear

Dear Zion,

One of the things a pastor and a congregation spend a lot of time on together is the sermon that is preached every Lord’s Day in the worship service. The minister spends time preparing and delivering the message, and the congregation spends time hearing it and living their lives based off of it. But have you ever thought about how to hear a sermon? How can we obey Jesus’ command to “be careful how you hear” (Luke 8:18)? Consider a few ideas with me:

  • Believers should prepare themselves to hear. The Apostle Peter commands that we “desire the sincere milk of the Word like newborn babies,” and that one of the ways we prepare that spiritual “thirst” within us for God’s Word is by laying aside all sin (I Peter 2:1 – 2). Sin acts like wax in our ears, and keeps us from hearing the life-giving words we so desperately need. Do not allow Saturday night – or the week before Sunday – as an opportunity for sin, but instead lay aside sin by faith and focus on “thirsting” to hear from the Lord in the sermon.
  • Believers should prepare through prayer. Continue reading

Resources on Regeneration

I’m hoping to do some extended thinking (and preaching?!) on regeneration in the next few weeks/months, and I was thinking I should line up a list for reading and meditating on this important doctrine. Unfortunately, it can be a little difficult to find extended discourses on the topic of regeneration. I attribute that to a variety of factors:

  • In the history of doctrine, regeneration has been something of a moving target, especially for Calvin’s successors, where regeneration can mean anything from conversion, repentance, sanctification, or the newer clarification of speaking exclusively of the (initiation of) spiritual life.
  • Continue reading

Headline: The Marks of the Church

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The Marks of the Church. Notes on the Notae to Distinguish the Bride of Christ.

Tertullian: “Those are the true churches that adhere to what they have received from the apostles.”

I was recently preparing for a Consistory meeting and we were going to talk about the third mark of the Church, and as I was preparing I started noticing diversity amongst some of our Reformed fathers. Wanting to understand a bit better the exegetical basis for some of the different decisions, I began to catalog various confessional documents and theologians on the matter. I thought others might find it useful to see these findings placed side by side, and so you will find them below in chronological order. No doubt, others ought to be added to this list, and if there is anyone of particular importance that ought to be cataloged, either for their uniqueness or influence, leave a note in the comments and I’ll try to track them down and add them to the list.
Continue reading