This will be the last exhortation in this short series based on the name of our church. We are seeking a fellowship like that of the Trinity, enabled by the evangel, the gospel, of forgiveness and sacrifice, which makes us an assembly of worshippers.
I learned something about light this past week. The further away a source of light becomes the more red its light becomes; it’s called red-shifting as the wavelengths are stretched out and toward red on the spectrum. Some stars are increasing in their distance from our point of observation and it has discernible attributes. Likewise with sound, think about how the sound waves stretch as a car drives off into the distance.
A similar thing happens in an assembly. While we thank God for an obvious, and in most ways, increasing unity among our local body, we also see red-shifting from some who are not as close as they used to be. With stars it’s not as big a deal. With professing saints, it’s not just a major bummer, it’s an obligation for us to pursue.
We keep attendance. We have membership by baptism and by application. We have small groups that meet a couple times a month for further entwining of lives. We practice church discipline if we can no longer affirm the reality of someone’s heavenly citizenship.
It is all a form a accountability. Each one of us has One judge (Romans 14:4). Also, we are part of one body, so that we all suffer or we all rejoice and we all go after the one showing signs of increasing distance. It is not just about showing up, it is definitely not about control. It is about rescuing the one caught in any transgression and seeing him or her restored to the joy of salvation.
September 28, 2020
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)
Always Baking, Never Buttering
If we meditate on those in Revelation 14:3 who are able to learn the new song, can you imagine if they learned it and then didn’t sing it? Can you imagine being satisfied with the memorizing of the words, maybe holding the sheet music, but never letting loose on the chorus?
The vocabulary reminds me of Paul’s letter to Timothy in which he describes some teachers who gain an audience of weak women, and both teacher and students appear to be “aways learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” I don’t think this is describing their frustration, I think it’s describing their futile satisfaction. They are compared to “Jannes and Jambres” who “opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth.” They keep learning as a cover for their corruption.
This is one of the reasons that our liturgy includes the Lord’s Table every Lord’s Day. It is good to know the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and fine to know its Latin mantra (sola fide), but it is possible to hold a confession of faith at a distance. It is like always baking and never coming to put butter on the bread right out of the oven and then taking a bite.
Jesus taught us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, not because His kingdom is spiritual in an unrelated way to our lives, but because His spiritual kingdom rules our lives. Following Christ is not an out of body experience. We learn to sing so that we can sing. We pour the wine to drink. I charge you, “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom,” do this in remembrance of Him.
September 24, 2020
An Important Idea-Shelf
As with the first and middle names of our church, so with the last name there will be two parts to consider. We are Trinity Evangel Church. God has elected, and through the gospel of His Son He creates, a people for His own possession.
I used to be more difficult when others said that they were “going to church,” and, as you probably know, the Bible doesn’t refer to the church as a place but as the persons. That is a good reminder, but also there are enough other language battles in our day (like, “man” and “woman”) to spend our energy on.
The English word “church” is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia, so things that are “ecclesiastical” are church things. It does not so much refer to a location for gathering as it does to the group who are gathered. William Tyndale got himself in a grave trouble because in his English translation of the NT he used the word “congregation” rather than church, and that made the institutional authorities of the Roman Catholic Church quite peeved.
One of the most important idea-shelves that we’ve tried to build is that we do not gather on Sundays in two categories but in one. We do not gather as performers and audience, we gather as an assembly. The assembly worships God, even though many look toward the west and only some look east. There are leaders in the liturgy and followers, but our liturgy calls you to attend to your part, which is more than to listen.
We are an assembly, of worshipping, maturing disciples who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord over all. We are the church of God.
September 23, 2020
A Seed Sown
Notes from my address at the inaugural convocation of Comeford College on September 6
Good evening, Mr. President, Founding Members, First Teaching Fellows, Beginning Students, and Guests. It is not a surprise that I have the opportunity to speak to you, but it is no less of a privilege.
Ten years from now the Comeford College convocation will be different, Deo volente. If the Lord blesses this work, we will know then so many more things that we don’t know now. But it will be a glorious decade if we pay attention.
There are some things that are good upon first encounter, that you find out more about later, that make it all even better. Part of what makes them better is that you had a bite, so your appetite was engaged, but then you get the full spread on the table.
On the back cover of the first book I ever read about classical education is the quote by C.S. Lewis, “The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.” You don’t need to start a school to appreciate that reality, but it is possible for one’s respect for that wisdom to multiply.
How much more did my appreciation grow when years later I came across that quote in its native habitat, an essay titled “Learning in Wartime.” Lewis addressed the Oxford undergraduates only 51 days after Germany invaded Poland marking the start of WWII. His sermon was originally called, “None Other Gods: Culture in War Time,” in which he attempted to answer the question, “What is the use of beginning a task which we have so little chance of finishing?” He argued that not only will mankind search out music and meaning in the middle of great conflict, Christians must do it for God’s sake. I have assigned my Greek students to read that essay in its entirety before our first class on Tuesday night; they will not have to wait as long as I did to appreciate the full spread of unfavourable conditions.
A similar thing happened with another quote that has only grown richer and more costly, that has come to focus our energies while expanding our work. In a way, I suppose it was the seed that grew into tonight, sown in my mind in 2004.
“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”
The quote is, of course, from Abraham Kuyper. I heard the quote used by another preacher, and used it numerous times in sermons myself, starting with a message on Solus Christus, long before I began to care about Latin as a language whatsoever. As they say in hermeneutics class: That’ll preach!
I came across the quote again early in 2011 while reading a book about liturgy. The book is titled Our Worship, written by Abraham Kuyper, the first full book I read by him. In footnote number one in the Introduction, I learned that “square inch” is the Dutch phrase een duimbreed (pronounced “uhn dime-brrate”) which refers to the small distance between the sides of the thumb: a thumb’s-width. Everything thing we touch or frame, even what we thumb our noses at, Christ claims as His.
For the real goosebump part, do you know the context in which Kuyper said it? He said it in October 1880 in his inaugural charge to the Free University of Amsterdam. Kuyper talked about all Christ’s creation and sphere sovereignty and the Christian’s obligation to be interested in every sphere Christ is interested in when he launched a college.
In that address he said, “To put it mildly, our undertaking bears a protest against the present environment and suggests that something better is possible.” Yes!
There is a great crisis, a current and global crisis, that concerns not a virus or politicians, it is not a crisis of economics or higher education. It is a crisis that involves a living Person. The crux of our concern is the recognition of a King, who came and was crucified, who rose again, ascended into heaven, after promising to come again. “That King of the Jews is either the saving truth to which all peoples say Amen or the principal lie which all peoples should oppose.”
Will men and women confess that Jesus is Lord? Will they obey Him as Lord? Or will they say that man, and man’s mind, his technology, his methods, and his laws are lord? We will either confess that the “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are in Christ (Colossians 2:3), or contest that claim as delusional and harmful. These two approaches are “the only two mighty antagonists that plumb life down to the root. And so they are worth people risking their own lives for and disturbing the lives of others.”
Think of all the things God has created, visible and invisible, the things He has put in front of the class, so to speak, and those He’s hidden, the Logos and the order and the beauty, the harmonies and tastes and healing medicines. Think of man’s call to take dominion (Genesis 1:28), and yet also of how the unbelieving world can’t help but miss and misrepresent God’s greatness and wisdom. Here is where we need Christian thinkers, a Christian consciousness that finds and defends the sciences and arts of Christ. Those who won’t fear the Lord can have no true wisdom or wonder.
We must buckle down and build up our understanding of Christ’s sovereignty over and in every sphere, from the center to the circumference. We must learn how each cogwheel fits with the others and functions in the great machine of the cosmos. We must see that the world and life and death and the present and the future, all are ours, and we are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (1 Corinthians 3:22-23).
This is not your father’s Bible college, which is true in a very real sense. How I wish I could have taken this program. But we learn more as we go on, and now it’s time to start. We have learning to do for living and for influencing those around us. That influence won’t happen by floating in feelings and fancy. The college is our effort to reify Kuyperianism, to knead the idea into bread. We have a memory of what we’ve been given, and we have stewardship of a godward, intellectual life. The disruption of the world is no good excuse to stop loving the Lord our God with all of our minds (Matthew 22:37).
As Kuyper acknowledged through his address, it would be easy to laugh at not just the project, but at the persons committed to it. The Free University began with a mere eight students and five professors. Who do they think they are? Isn’t this pretentious? Isn’t it presumptuous? Isn’t it preposterous? I can say, it may be contrary to common sense, and that is fine, because most of what we see that’s common in education makes no sense. It may also fail to observe our limits, it is audacious, but it is by faith. So we aren’t striking a pose, we are desperate to be faithful.
I have two aimed charges to give, and one final defense.
My first charge, which may be unsuspected, is to everyone here who is not a teacher or student at the college. In years to come convocations charges will no doubt be different. But actually, there won’t be college years to come without you.
These few students need very little explanation of their responsibilities, because by choosing Comeford College they have already counted a great cost. Each one of them could do other things, go almost anywhere else. The world is small, they are capable, and the options are virtually endless.
In their Cost/Benefit Analysis, they will pay less tuition than at most other schools, but the cost to their reputations will at least be on loan. They, not their parents, have chosen to deal with more questions resulting in quizzical looks. “Where do you go to college?” Answering Comeford College will get the follow ups, “Where is that? Why did you choose that?”
We don’t have departments. We don’t have a Student Life Center. We don’t yet offer a degree or diploma. We don’t even have our own coffee pot.
Which means that these students have chosen what they cannot get at any other school: you. They have chosen their people, they have chosen their community. They are putting themselves on the line, risks and possible rewards, for more than themselves. They could have invested their talents in another field, they certainly could have done something easier. While I sometimes talk about loving Marysville into a destination, they have turned Marysville into a stay-stination.
As worship requires an assembly, so a college requires a community. Not everyone in the community needs to attend, but everyone one in the community should be blessed by college students who live for more than college. Your charge is to support them. Maybe it’s your job to give them a job; be a modern day patron. Maybe it’s your job to open a place where they could hang out and study and drink coffee, or beer when they are finally old enough in a few years. At the least pray for them. You are to help make them jealous-able.
Students, your only charge for today is: remember that Jesus, who is Sovereign over all, looks at you and says, “Mine!” Your class hours, your books, your late nights, your leisure time, and you yourself are His. You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. All are yours, and you are Christ’s.
So have I been talking too excitedly about this? Perhaps. But this convocation is like pushing an old manual car that won’t start down a hill: it needs enough speed before letting the clutch out. We can see the mountain on the other side, so we need as much launch momentum as we can get.
“As surely as we loved [Christ] with our souls, we must build again in His name. And when it seemed of no avail, when we looked upon our meager power, the strength of the opposition, the preposterousness of so bold an undertaking, the fire still kept burning in our bones.” (Kuyper)
Abraham Kuyper died exactly 100 years ago in 1920; we consider the outcome of his way of life and imitate his faith (Hebrews 13:7). As future generations look back with hindsight at the start of Comeford College in 2020, may they sit under the shade of a great tree and give thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ for the seed planted today.
September 16, 2020
The contrasts between the ancient serpent and the Ancient of Days continues to be edifying. So also the demands of the beast to be worshipped and the ministry of the false prophet are nothing like what the Son deserves or how the Spirit points us to the glory of Christ.
The earth-beast deceives people into doing the work to make an idol of the sea-beast to worship. He convinces them to spend and sacrifice and then threatens that any who refuse to worship the idol (which they just made) will be killed.
Jesus, on the other hand, spent Himself as the sacrifice. Rather than threatening death, He accepted His death, on a cross, in order to purchase worshippers. The Spirit gives life in the Son. He does not make a new set of burdens.
The Beast coerces and enforces; the Son is the Head in whom the whole body is united and grows. The Beast subjects and seizes; the Son is the Vine in whom every branch abides and produces fruit and knows His joy. The Beast intimidates and threatens; the Son is the Bridegroom who washes His Bride into splendor by His love. There is no comparison.
Both the Beast and the Son will be worshipped, but only one in truth, only one forever, only one who is worthy. The Lamb’s Table is a real feast, no strings attached. We come not because our lives depend on it, it’s because we depend on Him for our lives.
September 15, 2020
Good News and New Goods
The evangel is life changing. The gospel is God’s truth that raises men from the dead and gives them new and eternal life. It is also a call to be generous with our lives unto death.
We have been working our way through the parts of the name of our church, partly for those who are newer to the flock and partly because some reminders never outgrow their usefulness. That the gospel calls us to a life of dying to bring life is as useful as a heartbeat.
Last Lord’s Day I emphasized that those who are forgiven in the evangel must forgive. We are not saved because we forgive, but we forgive because we are saved. We forgive because of God’s grace to us; grace from above doesn’t turn into works-based forgivers below.
One realization requiring my repentance a number of years ago—repentance because I needed a change of mind—related to talk about incarnating or embodying the gospel. The gospel is news, how can you “do” a message? More strictly, the gospel is about the divine Logos taking on a body and spending it to death as a sacrifice for sinners. But I’m a sinner, so my death can’t redeem anyone. All of that is true.
And it is also true that God’s Word calls us to live out the gospel.
2 Corinthians 4:10-12, “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies…always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh (in carne nostra mortali). So death is at work in us, but life in you.”
These are death brings life statements. We incarnate, we put flesh on, the story. It’s not redemptive, but reflective.
This explains another comment by Paul in Colossians 1:24, “in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” Perhaps better than any apostle, Paul knew and taught the exclusivity and effectiveness of Christ’s work on the cross. And because of that there is a life of dying that belongs to believers.
It means, among other things, that husbands sacrifice for their wives first (Ephesians 5). It means that parents don’t have kids in order to be served but to serve. It means shepherds go out front, they don’t demand commitment and sacrifice so that they don’t have to.
The evangel begets a cycle of giving with the mind of Christ, where good news leads us to do new goods for one another.
September 14, 2020