In his book, The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love, James Bryan Smith explores what it looks like to follow Jesus in the context of community of faith. He explores at least eight aspects of our communal life as Christians and the import and impact of that on our growth in grace. The community of faith is a: 1) Peculiar community; 2) Hopeful community; 3) Serving community; 4) Christ-centered community; 5) Reconciling community; 6) Encouraging community; 7) Generous community; and 8) Worshiping community.

Knowing Christ and making him known in our context takes place in a whole host of ways

Smith does a pretty good job at a graphing with the variegated way we, as a community, interface with both those on the inside of our community and those on the outside of it.

In the most rudimentary … Read More »

The Amen

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

Those, of course, are the words from the third stanza of Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Recently I was struck by the last six words – One little word shall fell him – and specifically the word little. Luther shames the devil and extols the power of God’s word. Not just one word shall fell him. But one little word. God’s word is a mighty chain saw and the devil is a tiny tree. It takes but one little, tiny word to fell … Read More »

Mere Christianity, Part 2

In Book 2 of Mere Christianity, Lewis moves from the more general and basic topic of natural law that testifies to the existence of God to more specific core issues that relate to Christianity as a whole—that is, he moves to what all Christians believe. Those of you who know anything about the history of Christendom know that this is not an easy topic. How would you summarize what all Christians believe? Where would you start? Where would you end? What would you include? What would you leave out as something specific to your denomination or church but not representative of the whole?

In the span of five addresses Lewis moves from the difference between atheism and theism to the difference between Christianity and Judaism and Islam; to the problem of sin; to the atonement of Christ; to the nature of … Read More »

Mere Christianity, Part 1

When C.S. Lewis took to the air waves to deliver what would become his well-known, Mere Christianity, he did so in a very intentional non-partisan way. “Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbours was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” And so off he goes.

Mere Christianity is really a compilation of three parts—each part consisting of a series of very short essays. Part one takes up a case for Christianity made from the ubiquitous agreement between humanity about what is right and what is wrong. The second, what Christians believe; and the third, how Christians behave.

In the first part, Lewis eventually gets to the Christian gospel in a very powerful way, but before that … Read More »

The Lord’s Prayer

Honestly, I feel a little weird defending the practice of reciting the Lord’s Prayer in our services.  No one seems to mind when an elder prays one of Paul’s prayers or when we recite the Psalms, but when the Lord’s Prayer comes out, the Catholic meters start going wild.  This was driven home to me recently when I heard a message wherein the preacher mocked churches that pray the Lord’s Prayer.  Hopefully, this will not only explain why we do what we do, but also encourage you and infuse your prayer life with freshness.

Jesus instructed us to use the Lord’s Prayer as a model for our own prayers.  On one occasion, the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).  He neither give them the prayer of Jabez, nor did he tell them, “Just go pray any old … Read More »

The Transfiguration

My wife wondered to me if the lady in front of us on our hike was a Christian. “Why do you say that?” I wondered back. “Her shirt,” my wife said, “it says metamorphosis.” An astute observation indeed. At its most baseline meaning the word just means transformation and can refer to almost anything: people, organs, plants, and butterflies. But it is also a profoundly Christian word—a word that we

The transfiguration of Jesus points us forward and shows us what we too will become.

get in English from Greek, the Greek word which is used to describe—among other things—the transfiguration of Jesus. And after six days Jesus took with him Peter, and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured (Gr. metamorphoomai) before them (Mk. 9:2). The importance of this is … Read More »

Know the Creeds, Councils, Confessions, and Catechisms Part 12: Westminster Standards

The Westminster Standards—made up of The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), and Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC)—serve as the doctrinal standards of our church and of hundreds of other reformed churches across the world. The title Westminster speaks to its provenance. It was drafted in England; and, as we noted last week, it was specifically, at least at the outset, a document that was to clarify and expand upon the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. But there was more to it than that both politically and theologically. Theologically the bar was set pretty high as the commissioners were charged with overseeing a “more perfect reformation of the Church.”

After the Puritans won control of the government (ca. 1652), Parliament called together 166 commissioners in 1646 with the aforementioned goal of revising and expanding the Thirty-Nine Articles. Yes, our standards … Read More »

Know the Creeds, Councils, Confessions, and Catechisms Part 11: Thirty-nine Articles of Religion

After Henry VIII (r. 1509-47) started his affair with Anne Boleyn he needed to find a righteous way to get rid of his wife Catherine of Aragon (in his defense Catherine had trouble producing a living heir and when she did it was a female. He desperately wanted a male heir and would stop at nothing to get one). Henry–a Roman Catholic—knew that there was no way the church would ever allow him to remarry if he divorced Catherine. So he got creative. He turned his attention to the Bible for justification and sought an annulment rather than a divorce based on Leviticus 20:21: If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is impurity. He has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless. You see, prior to marrying Henry, Catherine had been married to Henry’s now-deceased brother Arthur. In Henry’s mind … Read More »

Know the Creeds, Councils, Confessions, and Catechisms Part 10: The Heidelberg Catechism

Shortly after the Protestant Reformation shook Europe and the religious world, both Protestants and Catholics vigorously engaged in an educational project, the chosen means of which was the catechism. Many Protestants mistakenly think that the catechism originated in the Roman Catholic Church. I have head such claims with my own ears. But that is not the case. As far as we can tell Martin Luther was the first to use this type of back and forth style for teaching when he wrote his first catechism in 1528 and then his larger one in 1529. After that the gates were open and catechisms began to appear in all corners of the church.

One early catechism that has become a staple even to this day was the Heidelberg Catechism (1563). It is the standard—along with the Cannons of Dort and the Belgic Confession—of … Read More »

Know the Creeds, Councils, Confessions and Catechisms Part 9: Council of Trent

We have been surveying a number of important Christian Creeds, Confessions, Councils, and Catechisms with the goal of understanding what we believe and why we believe it and also so that we might understand the way our doctrine has developed over the centuries. This week is a slight deviation of that, in so far as this Council—the Council of Trent—is not a universally received council. In fact, as we will see, this is a response to the challenges from the Protestant reformers and reformation.

Shortly after the Protestant Reformation erupted (ca. 1517) the Roman Catholic Church launched its Counter-Reformation (sometimes called the Catholic Reformation). It had to. The Roman Catholic Church was feeling the heat of the Protestant full court press and it needed to clarify its teaching and respond to concerns raised about and accusations against it. The Counter-Reformation was … Read More »