Monday, January 24, 2011

THE CUP

The Cup contains a sparkling and refreshing well thought out mix of short stories full of thought-provoking bubbles that stimulate the palate.

My personal favourite is The Cup short story itself. A great literary meal! It is a solidly nutritional piece of steroid-free organically-grown meat sandwiched between two thick and crusty slices of prologue and epilogue.

The Cup is fast flowing and really gives the impression that it is going somewhere. It is intellectually stimulating and is well written with intelligent dialogue. It is informative geographically and historically (even with the poetic licence!) – and the stuff in it about King Arthur is intriguing and credible. It marries the ancient with the (almost) contemporary; showing the emptiness and futility of the whole 60’s worldview thing. It shows the corrupting influence of drugs and drink upon the young, vulnerable and easily misled – not to mention its corrupting influence upon older people too.

The Brian Jones postscript brings us back to naked reality from the realm of fiction, and reminds us that The Cup story is an allegory – that fame and fortune is a grasping at the wind, that the “Holy Grail” is not a solid object, but spiritual. Like Geraldine in the story, we naively leave ourselves exposed to lust and evil in others when we are too trusting of smooth-talking strangers with hidden ulterior motives. Like the Heir in the story we need to be careful that we do not abuse whatever power we have over others on account of our own corruption. It was good to read a story that points the reader to the Bible for the answers. Quite brilliant!

I could go on and on praising individually the other stories included in this book. I really liked and enjoyed reading The Cup along with its collection of short stories by Alexander Tait.
http://www.bookdepository.com/book/9781907354007/The-Cup

Sunday, January 16, 2011

THE FUNCTION OF PRESBYTERIANISM

(For an elaboration of the following Blog post) click audio: The Function of Presbyterianism

Introduction

“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31.

Presbyterianism is simply Presbyter-ism or Elder-ism. For the word “Presbyterian” is simply the Anglicization of the New Testament Greek word presbuteros, meaning presbyter or elder.

The function of Presbyterianism is to glorify God. Therefore if the glory of God is its chief end the church must follow God’s Word if she is to function the way God intended. This Presbyterianism seeks to do in every aspect of its ecclesiastical life, including its system of church-government

Presbyterianism does not claim the Scriptures reveal every minute detail of church government. However, it does hold that its general principles, and general structure of function, are clearly set forth.

The Beginning of Presbyterianism

“Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” Proverbs 11:14.

Presbyterianism begins with the Triune God. It has been said that God is a Presbytery, i.e., ‘a multitude of counsellors.’ God is three Persons, yet one God. The Trinity is the original One and Many. His Church reflects His oneness and manyness. For the one universal church is made up of many regional and local churches.

By its system of local and regional church councils (or counselling bodies), which are sometimes called Sessions, Presbyteries, and Assemblies, (though sometimes also called Consistories, Classis, and Synods), Presbyterianism seeks the safety of a multitude of counsellors. The various councils are the "multitude of counsellors" and are made up of "a multitude of consellors." These also serve as checks and balances within the Presbyterian system of church government.

The Structure of Presbyterianism

“But now are they many members, but yet one body.” 1 Corinthians 12:20. “Let all things be done decently and in order.” 1 Corinthians 14:40.

As there are many members in the Godhead, so there are many members in His Church. And as the many members of the Godhead function as one in unity, so Presbyterianism by its church structure seeks to function as one in unity. There is equal ultimacy in the Trinity, which is to say, that the rights of the many do not negate or overrule the rights of the one, or vice versa. Thus, in Presbyterianism, the rights of the individual members of the church are protected by the counsel of the many.

No one person or body of persons is permitted to “lord it over” any other person or body of persons. Thus, unlike those hierarchical systems of church-government such as Romanism and Anglicanism, or those of the Independents’ systems of church-government, such as the Baptists and Congregationalists, the Presbyterial form of church-government reflects the ontological nature of the Triune God.

The Scriptures are the final authority in any dispute that may arise. And if any person or body of persons is unhappy with a particular person or body of persons' ruling on the disputed matter, they may appeal that decision in the appropriate "court of appeal." The first court of appeal is the local Session, then secondly the Presbytery. The Assembly may also be appealed to.

The Local Session

The local Session comprises of a plurality of elders, viz., one Teaching elder and at least two governing or Ruling elders. And whereas the Governing or Ruling Elder is ordained as such at the congregational level, i.e., by Session, the Teaching Elder is ordained by the court of Presbytery.

One of the duties assigned to the Teaching Elder is that of Moderator of Session. Though all church work may be deemed as spiritual work, the Session has the responsibility to oversee the non-temporal affairs of the local church or congregation. The temporal affairs are the domain of the local congregation’s Deacons.

Sessions tend to meet at least quarterly, though they are at liberty to meet more frequently than this.

The Presbytery

The Presbytery is a body made up of all the Teaching Elders in a district, along with at least one Ruling Elder selected from each congregation. Though he represents his respective congregation before Presbytery, his main function is to assist in the oversight of those churches under his Presbytery’s oversight.

The Presbytery may at times have to deal with disputes over ministerial conduct and also disputes over doctrine sent to it, either by congregational members through Session or by Session itself. Presbyteries are at liberty to also form committees who may meet to deal with specific issues.

It is sometimes said that each “Presbytery is the master of its own business” in its own designated region. This is erroneous since each Presbytery is simply a body of servants serving in the Church (of which the Lord alone is Master). Since this phrase is very misleading it should be avoided lest hierarchicalism creep into the Church and a single man or body of men begin to lord it over others.

Cases that are legal in nature, and cases that are doctrinal may be referred by the Presbytery to the Assembly for its deliberation and deliverance.

Presbyteries tend to meet at least quarterly, though they are at liberty to meet more often than this.

The Assembly

The Assembly is made up of representative Teaching and Ruling Elders from each Presbytery. These assemble usually to deal with the administration of things such as church real estate, property finances, Age Care Homes, Hospitals etc. Also, the Assembly deals with church doctrine and changes or alterations to its church law (or code); as well as any legal problems that may have arisen.

In places such as Australia and America a National Assembly may also be formed to cater for the church at a national level. Hence there may be State Assemblies and National Assemblies.

State Assemblies tend to meet annually, though quarterly meetings are held to take care of and implement Assembly business by its various committees.

National Assemblies usually meet at least every three or four years.

The Function of Elders

“…ordain elders in every city…  a bishop should be blameless, as a steward of God…” Titus 1:5&7.
“Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in word and doctrine.” 1 Timothy 5:17.

In Presbyterianism elders have two main functions at the local church level, viz., they are to “rule well” and they are to “labour in word and doctrine.” Presbyterianism, unlike the hierarchicalism of the Roman and Anglican churches, sees elders and bishops as interchangeable. Whereas elder designates the office, bishop (i.e., overseer) alludes to the function of the office.

When the Apostle Paul in Acts 20 was farewelling the Ephesian elders he also referred to them as bishops. They were to oversee the flock and “…feed [i.e., shepherd] the church of God…” Acts 20:28. Therefore, not only are elders rulers, they are at the same time shepherds of the flock under their care. Therefore the function of the eldership at the local level is to lead and feed the flock.

Ordinarily an elder who shows gifts in this area is set apart to labour in word and doctrine. He is the Preaching or Teaching elder. However, this doesn’t mean that the other elders do not need to be able to teach, for they ought to be. But, it simply means that the Preaching Elder looks after the pulpit and the dispensing of the sacraments, and also with the other elders exhorts the members of the congregation from the Word from house to house.

All elders are to keep order in the local congregation, watching out for false teaching, disruptive members, i.e., those things that might give the Devil a toehold to destroying the congregation. Therefore, elders need to be men fitting the qualifications for eldership as laid out in Scripture.

The Function of Deacons

“And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless.” 1 Timothy 3:10.

“It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honourable report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.”  Acts 6:2b-3.

Deacons are called, not to serve the elders, but to serve the local congregation in works of mercy. They are to look after the temporal affairs of the church. In New Testament times deacons would have been very busy looking after the health and physical wellbeing of orphans and elderly widows. However, it would seem that deacons are seen to be less needed in countries where there is a social or welfare system, and therefore there are perhaps less deacons than there ought to be for a healthy church.

There is a sense in which all Christians are called to serve. But that there is a special office of deacon in the church cannot be doubted from Scripture. Unlike Elders who are called by God to rule the flock, Deacons are called only to serve it. Whereas, the former primarily nurture with spiritual sustenance, the latter primarily nurture the flock with physical sustenance.

Many Presbyterian churches have a Board or Committee of Management to manage the temporal affairs of the church, such as building maintenance etc. Again, this perhaps is another thing that has helped obscure the minds of congregations, from seeing their need of deacons.

The Ministry of the Presbyterian Church

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…” Matthew 28:19-20a.

The ministry of the Presbyterian Church is equipped to bring the knowledge of the Triune God to the nations while teaching them to obey all His Commandments. It is one of the main functions of Assemblies and Presbyteries to assist local congregations to minister Biblically. To minister is to serve.

In terms of the “Great Commission” each local congregation has a threefold ministry: 1. Ministry to God, i.e., Worship. 2. Ministry to the Saints, i.e., Nurture and Mercy. And 3. Ministry to the World, i.e., Witness. Worship testifies of love for God. Nurture and Mercy testifies of love for neighbour. And Witness testifies of love for God and neighbour. Thus the church obeys the commandment to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and your neighbour as yourself. (Mark 12:29-31).

The duty of the eldership is to ensure that God is properly worshipped and served by themselves and the congregation, and that the congregation is properly nurtured. And the duty of the deaconate is to ensure that mercy is administered to the congregation. This is a major part of the whole church’s witness to the nations, as it is the outward expression of the congregation’s inward love for God and neighbour.

In Presbyterianism the whole congregation is encouraged to witness to the world by doing all things to the glory of God. Therefore, God is not to be set aside only to be served on the Lord’s Day, but rather He is to be served in every aspect of the congregation’s life: at work and at play; in marriage, in the family, in politics, in education, etc.

Main Sources
The Church – Edmund P Clowney
The Institutes of Christian Religion – John Calvin
Biblical Church Government – Kevin Reed
Discussions of Robert Lewis Dabney, Vol. 2, Theories of Eldership – RL Dabney
Biblical Presbyterian Eldership - Francis Nigel Lee
Westminster Confession of Faith – The Form of Presbyterial Church Government

Click on my "Presbyterianism" post at my website: http://web.mac.com/macfhionn/More_Snow_on_the_Ben/Presbyterianism.html

Monday, January 10, 2011

NEW START

Gone are the days when poets and other writers tried to lob crumpled sheets of paper into waste-paper baskets with basket-baller precision! What masterpieces might perhaps have Burns, Shakespeare or Paterson thrown away in moments of frustration? Nowadays bards simply delete offending pieces from their computer screens! No damage done. A button is pushed and a clean sheet appears, but, once the delete button is pressed there’s no way of retrieval; there’s no un-crumpling of paper fished out of the bin when of a calmer disposition. Gone means gone in the computer age!

What if God were to fetch from the waste-paper bin the crumpled up story of your life? Our lives have no delete button. What kind of mistakes would God see if He un-crumpled and read your life’s record? In the beginning He made mankind perfect, male and female. He wrote His perfect Law on our heart. But who can look back over their life and say that they lived it exactly as God designed? And, who can blame God for any wrong-doing they’ve done? Unkind angry thoughts? Rash and harsh words? Things we’ve done of which we’re now embarrassed? I am but a quill dipped in sin, inking my own death warrant!

Who can stand the fact that God records every idle (or is it ‘idol’?) word we speak? Would it help us to enjoy life better if we dumped everything we know about God? Then we could start anew with the proverbial clean sheet! This type of thinking can be shrunk down to the size of a bumper sticker, which may then be blown up in size and graffiti-ed onto the side of an English double-decker bus, thus: ‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’ That word ‘probably’ signals that it’s all right to continue to worry. Therefore, there must be a better way!

Job wanted to chisel his words into rock and fill them with lead forever! But he wasn’t writing the story of his own life. His words reduced to a bumper sticker might read, ‘I know that my Redeemer lives!’ Put that on the side of your corporation bus! So what is it then? Ought we to throw God under the bus or acknowledge that He lives and that He is the Redeemer? I opt for the latter! It’s solidly historical and so well documented. In fact there is a whole Book written on the subject! The teaching of the Bible shrunk onto a bumper-sticker might read, ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ This is how we enjoy life: we stop rejecting God by hoping that He ‘probably’ is not watching us. Rather we glorify Him and enjoy Him forever in everything we do.

God is the poet and the writer. He didn’t crumple up anything He wrote because He makes no mistakes! The message of His Book says, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life’ John 3:16. Does a believer have anything to worry about? No? Then surely it’s more reasonable simply to acknowledge that the Redeemer truly lives and put your trust in Him instead of believing in a mere probability?

God’s Law is what shows us up as sinners in need of redemption. Writing anti-Christian slogans on the sides of buses is clear evidence that we are sinners. Indeed, the subtlety of the ‘There’s probably no God’ message is that it completely misses what God’s message is all about! We are not reconciled to God by our own feeble attempts at good works, for this is slavery! Rather, we are set free from our bondage to sin and its ultimate penalty through belief in our God and Saviour Jesus Christ. ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast’ Ephesians 2:8-9.

God gives a new start to anyone willing to believe in Christ alone for salvation. With this new start comes liberty. On the one hand there’s emancipation from hoping in probabilities as you work hard to reject God, and on the other there’s freedom from the slavery of always wondering if you’ve done enough to please God. As the Son of God says, ‘Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed’ John 8:36. And as He says through His Apostle, ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery’ Galatians 5:1.

Enjoy yourself as you sit on the bus with ‘I know that my Redeemer lives!’ on its sides. Forget your trail of ink-blobs. Look to Jesus. Believe in Him as your God and Saviour. For only then will you truly be able to stop worrying and truly enjoy yourself.

‘Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Saviour, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen’ Jude 1:24-25.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

George Washington's SACRED FIRE

The American people are experiencing a grass-roots level rediscovery of who they are as a nation. It turns out that the people have been discovering that the text books from which they were taught at school had been tampered with, to the point that relatively few of them now know very much that’s factual about the beliefs held by their founding fathers.

The good news is that there is now a hunger for truth sweeping America. Her people have a renewed interest in the beliefs of those who signed the Declaration of Independence and were involved in writing the Constitution. It is good to see that God has not deserted America in that we are seeing His people there beginning to throw off the atheistic shackles of Secular Humanism with its attendant free-speech stifling Political Correctness.

As America recovers from her bout of amnesia a proliferation of books are appearing, books that restore her neglected Christian heritage, books that remove the distortions of decades of misguided social engineering.

One book coming out of this rebellion against historical revisionism is George Washington’s Sacred Fire by Peter A Lillback with Jerry Newcombe.

Sacred Fire comprises of some 1187 pages. It is well sourced from original documents and the endnotes themselves could fill a book! Gone is the Secular Humanist’s misleading portrayal of George Washington as some sort of vague Deist. From his own mouth and pen Washington's Sacred Fire is solely and purely the Triune God who alone gives true liberty. Lillback irrefutably demonstrates that Washington was a dedicated follower of the GodMan Jesus Christ.

I was particularly interested in Washington’s insistence on Chaplains in his army. Says Lillback,

“George Washington insisted on godly conduct and leadership in his army. He did not permit swearing, cursing, or drunkenness, which might impede rather than implore the ‘blessings of Heaven.’ Precisely a year before America’s Declaration of Independence was dated, Washington’s general orders declared,

"The General most earnestly requires, and expects, a due observance of those articles of war, established for the Government of the army, which forbid profane cursing, swearing and drunkenness; And in like manner requires and expects, of all Officers, and Soldiers, not engaged on actual duty, a punctual attendance on divine Service, to implore the blessings of heaven upon the means used for our safety and defence.

"Precisely to help engender such a standard from his Christian soldiers, Washington instituted chaplains in the Revolutionary Army:

"The Hon. Continental Congress having been pleased to allow a Chaplain to each Regiment, with the pay of Thirty-three Dollars and one third pr month—The Colonels or commanding officers of each regiment are directed to procure Chaplains accordingly; persons of good Characters and exemplary lives—To see that all inferior officers and soldiers pay them a suitable respect and attend carefully upon religious exercises. The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger—The General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavour so to live, and act, as becomes a Christian Soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country.

"But Washington’s understanding of the value of chaplains did not begin with the Revolutionary army. In fact, when he was a young soldier, George Washington found himself in disagreement with his employer, the governor of Virginia, over the issue of chaplains. The young man, only in his twenties, was earnestly seeking chaplains to be a built-in part of the army (at the time, it was the British Army).” (Sacred Fire, p. 181-2)

Let’s pray that the Sacred Fire that ignited the passion for the individual’s liberty from oppression from Pope or Prince or Government at the time of the founding of America will burn in the hearts of her people once more. For that Sacred Fire is Truth that glows in the dark. It is a liberating Liberty, the kind of freedom that is found only in Washington’s God and in His Son Jesus Christ who died and rose again to set us free. Jesus Christ is the Truth. He alone sets us truly free.

Pray therefore that the Holy Spirit will continue the work He has begun. That America, that great Christian experiment, may no longer suffer collective amnesia brought on by a bout of insidious Secular Humanism, but rediscover who she is, a people whose rights and liberties come from God, a nation built upon the Bible.


Another book on a similar vein that I can wholehearedly recommend is Jerry Newcombe's The Book That Made America - How the Bible Formed Our Nation. I really enjoyed this well-written book and was thoroughly edified.