‘A Church reforming to reach the lost for Christ”
This morning we are privileged to have Rev Jack de Vries lead us in our worship service. Some of you may know Jack, many of you probably do not. Jack is the CRCA’s “Ministry Development Coach.” Jack has been in this role for several years now.
In this role Jack mentors ministers, assists Sessions with setting attainable goals for growth, as well as assisting churches with planting new churches. He is also heavily involved in helping churches to fulfil the Four Fold Task (FFT) of the church set by Synod. The FFT involves churches to pray, to grow, to train new ministry workers and to align their structures so that we can fulfil our vision to be a Church that is reforming to reach the lost for Christ.
“Pause for a moment and reflect on what that means. To be a church reforming to reach the lost for Christ. It is one thing to be a Christian Reformed church – this says a lot about our identity as a community of believers. We have roots which go way, way back – back to the Reformers – people like Luther, Calvin, and Knox. We also have branches which reach out to other communities of believers – the holy catholic or universal church. We are Christian Reformed.
But to be a church reforming to reach the lost for Christ. On the one hand, this is not something novel, some radical new idea dreamt by a synodical advisory committee. This was already emphasized in the Protestant Reformation – the concept that the church is always reforming – ecclesia semper reformanda. The Reformers underscored the importance of the church being confessional. The church needs to claim and reclaim its identity to the historic Christian faith. And we keep doing this – calling ourselves time and time again back to the Bible, back to the Scriptures, back to the Word of God – each time asking ourselves – are we being true to the Truth? Do we keep ourselves to the holy Scriptures which are able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
To be a church reforming is a vision to claim and reclaim our identity to the historic Christian faith – to be a confessional church. But it is more than that. This is clear from the mission statement which flows out of the vision: “To multiply Bible-based Christian fellowships and congregations which equip and nurture their members and grow throughout Australia and beyond.”
To be a church reforming is more than simply upholding and calling us back to the historic Christian faith. To be a church reforming is more than simply being confessional; it is to be missional! The church is not only always reforming; it is always forming – ecclesia semper formanda. The church is always engaging its context and continuously recontextualizing its ministry. The church is always asking, what needs to change in us and around us so that we will engage the world and reach the lost for Christ?
Reforming and forming! These paired ideas are basic to the vision adopted by our churches in 2006. There is a dynamic and healthy tension between change and continuity as well as between mission and confession. By the leading of the Holy Spirit, as a denomination and as churches we are always forming even as we seek to engage in reforming. There needs to be a balance between the two. We invite change even as we seek to maintain continuity. It is only by and through the Holy Spirit that we are able to maintain this tension and engage in both of these things simultaneously – reforming and forming – being confessional and missional.” (http://ministryformation.com.au/the-four-fold-task/our-vision) JZ.
“The battle against ISIS”
This past week I have read some Christian blogs and listened to Christian people who have made some suggestions on what would be an appropriate response to the events that have occurred in Paris. Some say that the only response we as Christians should be making is one of prayer.
Of course we should pray, after all Jesus did say we should pray for our enemies and those who persecute us (Mat 5:44). Many people are grieving as a result of the evil that has been perpetrated by ISIS. Let us pray that the Lord may even use this tragic and evil event to win people for Himself. It’s hard to imagine anything more frightening then seeing gunmen shooting innocent people so that they can promote their flawed cause and ideology.
Of course our prayer shouldn’t end there. We can be thankful that our God is sovereign, almighty, and able to do marvellous things. We can thank God that He is a God of justice as well as mercy. We can thank Him for the relative peace we enjoy in this land. We can thank him for the mercy He has shown to us in Jesus Christ. We can pray that God would bring evil doers to justice. We can pray that God would change hearts so that they would leave behind this evil ideology and flee to Christ.
We should also be praying for the leaders of the nations to be wise and measured in their response to this evil. We should pray for the protection of the armed forces who are engaged in battle to restrain and defeat this evil. So without doubt, it’s an appropriate response for Christians to pray, but I am not convinced that this is where our involvement should end.
Some Christians suggest that it is never right for Christians to take up arms to fight evil. I disagree and I would suggest it is even unbiblical to make such a suggestion. It would be ridiculous to suggest that the only avenue Christians have to fight this evil is to pray and love their enemies and not do any more. It is not either, or, but both, prayer and take up the sword if need be, for this evil needs to be eradicated.
There are many instances in Scripture where God’s people were also called upon to take up arms and fight the enemy. Yes, God fights the battle for us, but he generally uses people and we would certainly pray that He goes with us into the battle.
When God redeemed His people from Egypt, God raised up leaders and brought terrible plagues upon the Egyptians until finally they let God’s people go. Throughout the wilderness wanderings, God’s people were often at war, sometimes as punishment for past sins and at other times to defeat enemies who would try to impede God’s plan. God instructed His people to defeat the tribes remaining in the Promised Land as they entered. One only needs to read the book of Judges to know how the Lord raised up Judges to lead his people in war against their enemies. When the Jews were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem they appointed people with swords, spears and bows to fight should the enemy attack (Neh 4:7). One could even argue that the positive of the sixth commandment is to protect your neighbour’s life.
It seems to me that the ‘free’ world will not allow this evil to go on indefinitely. France has already responded militarily and have vowed to continue the fight until this evil is defeated. America, Russia and several other nations are already involved and I cannot help but thank God we have people and nations with this resolve.
I don’t doubt that over time, the ISIS movement will be defeated. However, I am not sure whether there will ever be peace. Some suugest that there are socio-economic reasons that may have contributed to this evil. Perhaps there are and who of us would claim to have clean hands! But it goes deeper than that. ISIS claims they are more ‘exegetically pure’ in fulfulling the demands of the Qur’an than any other group that has come before them, even al-Qaeda. So when ISIS is defeated, another extremist group will probably start for they will want to be more true to the Qur’an than those who have gone before them. Thankfully, many Muslims are not like the extremists that make up ISIS. However, it is the interpratation of some sections of the Qu’ran where the trouble stems from and it needs to be addressed by the Muslim community at large.
Will there ever be an end to this conflict? One end I can see is when these extreme elements have their hearts changed by the Holy Spirit, and may the Lord use us in a winsome way to bring that about. Another way and more lasting way, is when we see the glorious return of our King. Then will there be everlasting peace. Come quickly Lord Jesus, come quickly. JZ
“Apparently the White House referred to Christmas Trees as Holiday Trees for the first time this year, which prompted Ben Stein, to say, on CBS Sunday Morning, My confession: I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejewelled trees, Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are, Christmas trees.
It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a nativity scene, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.
I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from, that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.
Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren't allowed to worship God? I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to. In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it's not funny, it's intended to get you thinking.
Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her 'How could God let something like this happen?' (regarding Hurricane Katrina). Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, 'I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?'
In light of recent events... terrorist attacks, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn't want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.
Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave, because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock's son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he's talking about. And we said okay. Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves. Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with 'WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.'
Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell. Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says. Funny how you can send 'jokes' through e-mail and they spread like wildfire, but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing. Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.
Are you laughing yet? Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you're not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it. Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us. Pass it on if you think it has merit. If not, then just discard it.... no one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don't sit back and complain about what a bad shape the world is in.
My Best Regards, Honestly and respectfully, -Ben Stein
Another of the reformational solas is Sola gratia also known as “Grace Alone.” Understood correctly, this doctrine teaches that our salvation, which includes regeneration, the gift of faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in glory, is purely the work of the Triune God. It specifically excludes any works done by an individual. Their works do not add one iota of merit towards their salvation, not before or after.
God does not look at someone and think, “Well, he or she is a nice person and works hard at being good, so I will decide to save them.” On the contrary, Scripture teaches that our as far as our salvation is concerned, that any work we do trying to earn it, are like filthy rags before God (Isa 64:6).
The classic verses often referred to when teaching that salvation is by ‘grace alone’ is Eph 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” This teaching is reason for great rejoicing and thanksgiving.
Just imagine for a moment if we had to contribute a little towards or cooperate with grace to ensure our salvation. That would be awful, for not only would assurance of our salvation be robbed from us (for we could never be 100% certain that we had ever done enough), it would put into question the whole work of Christ on our behalf.
Thankfully, we know from Scripture that Christ’s work of redemption was not only necessary; it was sufficient to save us completely. Just before Jesus breathed His last dying breath on the cross, He proclaimed, “It is finished” (John 19:30). This phrase appears in the Greek as one word, “tetelestai.” This is a perfect verb, indicating completed action in the past, with abiding results. In other words, Jesus proclaimed that His work of salvation was 100% complete – no more needed to doing. Scripture teaches the same thing in several places. For instance, Romans 6:10, “The death (Jesus) died, he died to sin once for all.” Consider also what the writer to Hebrews writes, “Unlike other high priests, he (Jesus) does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He (Jesus) sacrificed for their sin once for all when he offered himself” (Heb 7:27; cf Heb 10:11-12).
How can we be sure? Because Jesus was raised from the dead! Death could not hold Him for He had no sin of His own. Furthermore, having placed our faith and trust completely in Jesus Christ, death cannot hold us for our sin has been paid for by Christ and that was all by sola gratia alone.
Sometimes I use an acronym to remind people of what ‘grace’ means – “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” Edward Mote had a good understanding of what it meant to be saved by grace alone when he penned these words: “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; no merit of my own I claim, but wholly trust in Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid rock I stand – all other ground is sinking sand” (BoW 465).
Edward Mote was not the only one who understood ‘grace alone.’ The slave trader John Newton also understood what it meant to be saved by grace alone, “Amazing grace – how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.” It’s a wonderful truth that Scripture teaches and may we delight in it every day! JZ
One of the great verses in Scripture is found in 2 Tim 3:15, “…and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation.”
During the Middle Ages, the Roman Church insisted that the priest was instrumental in bringing people to faith. For the Roman Church it was Scripture plus the clergy as well as anything else that was decided upon by the Pope or others in authority.
One of the reformational solas is that we trust in Scripture alone. By that we understand we don’t need any additional people, or books alongside of Scripture to bring us to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, some people take this verse to mean that ministers or other Scripture teachers are all superfluous to requirements.
As a result of this narrow understanding, we have so called ‘churches’ where there are no appointed ministers or teachers. As they meet, someone is asked to read the Scriptures or give a ‘word from the Lord.’ Then it is followed by a time of prayer and singing and that is about the sum of it.
However, Paul’s words to Timothy does not mean God no longer uses trained people to teach His Word. Throughout Scripture God appointed various people to bring his word. They included parents, prophets, priests, apostles, and others and woe to them if they did not do it properly or disobeyed (Deut 6:1-9; Eze 34; Jonah; Gal 3 etc). It is also clear from 2 Tim 1:5ff that Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice had a positive impact on Timothy’s faith.
So the truth that Scripture is able to make someone wise to salvation can give us great confidence. We can give our children and grandchildren a Bible of their own knowing that should they read it or hear it read, they can with the Holy Spirit’s help, be made wise to salvation.
However, this does not mean we will understand everything that is in Scripture. Some passages are very difficult to understand. The Apostle Peter even suggested that Paul wrote things that were hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16), so we shouldn’t be surprised when we come across things that are hard to understand. Sometimes your minister or elder will acknowledge that they just don’t know the full meaning of a passage.
Sadly, some preachers and teachers who cannot accept that they don’t know can easily fall into the trap of doing ‘i-so-gesis’ rather than exegesis. “I-so-gesis” usually means that Scripture is applied in a way that is not the intended meaning of the text, but applied in way that strokes the bias of the preacher / teacher and at times can be very unbiblical. “I-so-gesis” may even lead some to do ‘gymnastics’ with the text to make it fit what they think it means or with what they are comfortable.
At seminary, we were taught to do careful exegesis and not ‘i-so-gesis.’ Sometimes we were even encouraged to set aside passages we didn’t fully understand until the Holy Spirit revealed to us the true meaning of the text, especially as it points to Christ (Lk 24:44).
Thankfully, through the ages, God has blessed the church with many great minds and exegetes who have been able to throw light on difficult passages and we thank the Lord for His provision. Yet, we remain thankful that the Scriptures alone, when read carefully and prayerfully, can make us wise to salvation. JZ
Pastor John Zuidema
Since 1997 Pastor John has been ministering to Churches across Australia and New Zealand.