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Monday, September 23, 2013

Sorry for the Absence

I have been a bit absent in writing on this blog. I, along with others, are planning on beginning a new blog with a few different Reformed writers which will be update more frequently and will cover a wider range of subjects. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks we can this off the ground. I will keep you all posted. Thank you for your patience.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

450 Years of Comfort

It has been 450 years since the Heidelberg Catechism was written by Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus. Throughout this year, there will be celebrations and commemorations remembering this beloved catechism. The first such activity in the Fraser Valley will be a conference held at the Aldergrove Canadian Reformed Church, which will have a live video feed of the conference held at the Canadian Reformed Seminary in Hamilton.

Here is the write-up:

Heidelberg Catechism – 450th Anniversary

Since it was first published in 1563, the Heidelberg Catechism has been cherished by Christians around the world. Its warm, pastoral summary of the holy gospel has guided generations of God's people, teaching them about their only true comfort in life and in death. On January 18-19, 2013, a conference will be held at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary celebrating the 450th anniversary of the Catechism and exploring how this confessional treasure can continue to serve the church for generations to come.

In addition to the main conference in Hamilton, Ontario, various locations in Canada and the USA are hosting a satellite conference which will receive a simulcast transmission of some of the keynote speeches, in addition to workshops.  Here in the Fraser Valley, the Conference will be simulcast in the facilities of the Aldergrove Canadian Reformed Church located at 26655 24th Avenue in Aldergrove. 

Friday evening (January 18)

7:00 - 7:20            Coffee is served in church hall.

7:20 - 7:30            Opening devotions in the church auditorium

7:30 - 8:45            Keynote speech #1 in the church auditorium - Dr. H. Selderhuis: "The Heidelberg Catechism: Secret of its Success."

8:45 - 9:00            Break time with refreshments.

9:00 - 9:45            Choose between one of the following two workshops:

a)The Catechism and Mission Work (auditorium)

b)The Catechism and the Home-Church-School Triangle (church hall).


Saturday morning (January 19)


8:15 - 8:50             Morning refreshments in the church hall.

8:50 - 9:00            Opening devotions in the church auditorium.

9:00 - 10:15           Keynote speech # 2 in the church auditorium - Dr. J. VanVliet: "The Comforted I In the Catechism."

10:15 - 10:45          Break time with refreshments.

10:45 - 11:30         Choose between one of the following two workshops:

                                a)The Catechism and the Pulpit.

                                b)The Catechism and the Next Generations.


Pre-registration will be required for this Conference. The cost will be $10 per person to cover refreshments and the professional services required to do this simulcast.  You may also choose to attend only Friday evening or only Saturday morning at the cost of $5 per person.  If you wish to register, please send an email to with your name (s).  Your (cash only) payment will be received at the door on Friday evening. Thank you!  Rev. Theo Lodder and Rev. Rob Schouten
Remember to register now! I will be leading a discussion on Friday night dealing with the catechism and the Home-Church-School triangle. Next Friday, come and be spiritually edified.

Also, there is a new website which is will be extremely valuable and helpful in drawing together many sources on the Heidelberg Catechism. Check it out

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sermon Review Template

Around a year ago, I brought up a discussion with my consistory on the benefit of periodic sermon reviews. Up until that point, the feeback I usually received was quite broad and, though encouraging, not extremely helpful. To be an aid to the elders doing the quarterly sermon review, we came up with a template for use among the consistory.

The way it works here at Immanuel is we choose two elders to evaluate sermons every quarter. Some elders choose 2 or 3 sermons and go into detail in their evaluation and other elders speak more broadly about the sermons. This template is just an aid to help the elders (and now you) carefully and critically evaluate sermons. I think every church should have this practice in place. This is not designed to coax the preacher into preaching to the opinions and whims of certain people, but as God chooses clay vessels to bring the gospel, it ought always to be proclaimed with boldness, clarity, and in truth. A sermon evaluation helps ensure that is being done. Perform evaluations now, so that when the time arises for serious deficiencies to be addressed, there is already a dialogue taking place.

Here is the template:

Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church, Abbotsford, BC, Canada

Sermon Evaluations Template for ICRC Consistory use. (Version adopted October 25, 2011)

Ministers of the Word and the person in the pew must approach the sermon filled with awe, humility, and expectancy that the Holy Spirit will do a great work through the sermon. This involves prayer and spiritual preparation on the part of preacher and worshiper alike.  The mannerism of the minister, elders and the liturgy will all have an influence on this.

Guidelines for Sermon Evaluations by Elders:

·         Evaluation to be as objective as possible (not subjective)

·         Feedback to Minister of the Word to be clear & respectful

·         Reflect on the positive characteristics first

·         Suggestions for improvement second (if warranted)



  Key Focus Areas while Evaluating (individual sermons or series/LD’s):


ü  The sermon needs to be Christ centred “Christocentric”

ü  The sermon needs to be faithful to the truth of the Bible

ü  The sermon needs to be communicated effectively



1)     Are the sermons Christ centered?


2)     Are the promises and demands of the covenant clearly preached?


3)     Are the texts for the sermon well chosen and balanced from both the Old and New Testament?


4)     Is the text brought into context with the rest of scripture?


5)     Does the sermon follow and focus on the message of the text?


6)     Are the sermons easy to understand and follow?


7)     If and when examples are used to clarify a point are they appropriate? Helpful?


8)     Do the Catechism sermons adequately revel that the doctrines taught are scriptural?

9)     Do the Catechism sermons evoke a love and comfort found in the doctrines of scripture?


10)  Are false doctrines adequately exposed and warned against?


11)  Is the kingdom of Heaven opened to believers and closed to unbelievers? (LD31)


12)  Does the minister display passion and enthusiasm for the message? How ? how to improve?


13)  Does the minister faithfully apply the message and meaning of the text?


14)  Are contemporary issues brought out when the text allows?


15)  Does the minister show he is sensitive to what lives in the congregation?


16)  Are there any specific areas of instruction needed in the congregation at this time?


17)  Is the call to live in thankfulness and obedience urgent enough?


18)  Is there a warning of danger of perishing apart from Christ, and a call to repentance brought forth in the sermon?


19)  Do the sermons reflect the joy of faith by grace alone? How ?


20)  Do the sermons leave a challenge or application to work with during the week?


21)  Do the choice of Psalms and Hymns unify the whole service?


22)  Do the prayers demonstrate pastoral sensitivity and a good balance of thanksgiving, petition, lament, and praise.

23)  Do the sermons communicate God’s grace in a way that could reach out to unbelievers or those unfamiliar with the Christian faith should they be present?

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Lord's Day Example

Over the past number of weeks I have been spending some time thinking about the Lord's Day, what the Westminster Confession of Faith calls the "Christian Sabbath". I've been wondering how Christians treat the Lord's Day when they are on vacation, how we generally view Sunday, etc. Yesterday I had the opportunity to preach a sermon on worship and the Christian Sabbath, using, not only Is. 58:13-14 and Matthew 12:1-8, but also the WCF Chapter 25. I am giving 4 afternoon sermons and reading the WCF publicly and then evaluating it with the Word of God. This has gotten my thoughts going on this subject. 

However, once in awhile, I have a fear that as a minister, I might view things in terms of applying the Word of God to the lives of God's people unrealistically. Here is a reminder for ministers of the Word to be intimately involved in the lives of the congregation. This is why I asked my friend, Jonathan Gelderman to write his thoughts on how Sunday observance effects him as a realtor in light of the plethora of OPEN HOUSE signs I see on Sundays as I drive to worship. Here is his email to me.

Hi Rev. Swets,

You asked me to write you about my opinion on open houses on Sunday.

I suppose the heart of the answer is tied directly to how you determine a Sunday to be observed. The Reformed interpretation of Sunday observance has its roots in the Old Testament Sabbath laws, the key one being the fourth commandment. The ten commandments to this day are observed to their fullest extent and read from the pulpit each and every week. You won’t find any Reformer who says the fourth commandment doesn’t apply today:

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to The Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days The Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore The Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it."

Therefore in my business I take the fourth commandment and, in keeping with the Reformed faith, I apply that to my observance of Sunday. God not only calls me to not do any work, but I may not have my man servant or maid servant work either. We also understand that to mean people should not work for us on a Sunday. For me, the observance is pretty simple: I do not have appointments on Sunday and return no work calls or emails (excepting emergencies of which there are few).

For a seller, virtually all my Reformed clients say the same thing: no Sunday showings please! And this is a very common occurance with numerous listings thru Chilliwack especially. Open houses are the same thing, perhaps even worse: as a seller requesting or allowing an open house on a Sunday, you are causing your agent to work on Sunday—which is strictly forbidden by God! Your realtor is either a manservant/maidservant or a sojourner; either way you are not to cause them to work on Sunday.

I suppose if virtually all houses sold via open houses on Sundays this would perhaps be a much longer conversation, however given the fact that fewer than 1% of listings sell via an open house, it has nothing to do with the success of a sale. It is then that much worse to have your realtor hold an open house and cause them to work for you on a Sunday.

Just my thoughts!

Jonathan Gelderman, PREC*
RE/MAX Aldercenter Realty

This email highlights how a businessman in the congregation has to take the word of God and apply it to his life. As it says in Isaiah 58:13-14, when we are obedient to God, then the Sabbath is a delight. I never want to fall into a form of legalism dealing with this issue, but on the other hand, I never want to personally, or for those I am called to shepherd, to fall into a spiritual laziness which ends up making the Lord's Day into "My Day."

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sunday Observance/Hermeneutics: Part II

In my last post I interacted with Blake Rispens blog post on having weddings on Sundays. Essentially, we agreed that a Sunday wedding is permissible. How that plays itself out in practice we would differ on, but in principle, we agree. We also agree that there is a degree of freedom or liberty (call it a gray area) in this matter. The strong must ensure that what they are doing is not making the weak stumble.

This is point the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is making clear in Romans 14. Rispens said that I did not interact with this passage. That is true, but not because I cannot, but rather, Rispens has access to a wonderful library of quality books which give a proper exegesis of that text. John Calvin and John Murray are a helpful place to start to say the least. Nevertheless, to summarize a sound exegesis of Romans 14:4-6, the context is key to understand this passage (along with all others). Paul is speaking about freedom and love in dealing with our neighbor. When cultures come together there is tension and this was the case in Rome. There were Jews and Gentiles both in the church in Rome. Some Romans were even present in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit was poured out. Priscilla and Aquilla were from Rome. What was at issue was whether all of the ceremonial Jewish feast days had to be observed. Should Christians still celebrate those feasts which were shadows of a coming greater reality? The answer is no! No one is obligated to observe these. But, if one wants to observe them (the weaker brother), let them. He compares this to eating in verse 6. Can you eat food offered to idols? Sure, unless it causes the weaker to stumble. This is very important but simple principle. Whatever you do, do it unto the Lord. The freedom in Christ is secured by God's love to us and our thankfulness to Him (an by extension, unto our neighbor). Romans 14 is not speaking about the Lord's Day/THE SABBATH, but rather sabbaths. We would call them holidays today. A modern example could be, should Christians celebrate Christmas? You might think, "Of course." But, when you look to the pagan background, and then Roman Catholic abuse, etc. and the fact that the Scriptures don't command us to worship God on Christmas (a man-made holiday?), then someone's conscience might be bound to not worship God on such a day. Are they wrong? No, this is, what Rispens would call a gray area. However, gray areas are not areas where the Bible does not speak, but rather, in light of the teaching of scripture, there is freedom within one's own conscience and service to God to choose action A over action B and both can be morally permissible. 

Rispens also claims I gave to no proof-text for my argument of Sunday being the Sabbath. While recognizing the danger of proof-texts and baptistic biblicism anyone can give a proof text for anything. Give me a view, I'll give you a proof text. Often a text is only part of a larger body of evidence for such a view. This is part of responsible biblical hermeneutics, i.e. interpreting scripture with scripture. Passages that pertain to the question at hand in various ways are Deut. 12:5-12; Heb. 10:23-25; Acts 20:7-8; Is. 58:13-14; Rev. 1:10 (The Lord's Day); I Cor. 16:1-2, etc. Keeping Sunday holy, as I have pointed out, is not in a slavish activity as the Jewish leaders often viewed the Sabbath. The Sabbath (Sunday) is a delight and it is the only biblically required feast day. Our relation to the Lord's Day is in Christ, and as we rest on the Lord's Day, we have before us a glorious picture of a glorious rest that awaits us in the New Heavens and Earth.

A similar argument flows from Colossians 2, which in verse 11 begins by connecting circumcision (an OT ordinance) and baptism (its New Testament fulfillment)...kinda like Saturday to Sunday. Then we are warned of falling into a form of legalism. Rather we have freedom in Christ (vs. 16-17) to eat or drink or celebrate and by extension apply that to a Christian's use of alcohol, tobacco, feasting, eating Kosher hot dogs, eating with Muslims, etc. Notice in verse 16 the use of the word "sabbaths"...this is not referring to the 4th commandment, but to holidays (holy-days).

So, the question I would have for my brother Blake (and I do view him as a brother, not as a heretic headed to hell) is what happened to the Sabbath? Why did God give the commandment to begin with? What about the rest of the 10 commandments? For instance, is it permissible to have sexual relations with an animal? Give me a NT proof text? Romans 1? Nope, that is person on person sin. Maybe I went over the line by saying that dispensationalists have a tendency to thumb their nose at the OT. I apologize. What I mean is that they do not properly deal with the fact that the OT is the Word of God which reveals Christ in shadows, and yet, as Ps. 119 tells us, is still a lamp unto my feet. Maybe I should have said, "most dispensationalist I know act that way." This is why it is far more common to hear a NT sermon than an OT sermon in a dispensational church. There might be examples of exceptions, I've just never heard of any.

One final issue I'd like to address in this post, is that Rispens says that, "he isn't shocked I built a straw man" argument. Why isn't he shocked? And why wouldn't I think, as Rispens rightly says, I think my hermeneutic (method of interpretation) is better than others. Of course I think that otherwise I wouldn't practice it. I think a covenantal hermenteutic is the most biblical, I think it is the hermeneutic used by the NT writers in dealing with the OT, etc. That is not a statement of pride or arrogance. I am susceptible to mis-use the system and someone could possibly show me a better and more biblical hermeneutic at which point I would employ that. But, that better system is not dispensationalism. The Reformed churches have been clear on that. The teaching of Scofield was one of the worst things to happen in the North American church. In fact, the problem of a dispensational hermeneutic reaches far, which is why I said it was dangerous. It involves politics (the nation of Israel and why we are such close allies with them; equating republican with Christian), Christian living (Lord's Day and misunderstanding in some circles of Christian liberty. E.g. drinking, smoking, dancing, card playing, etc.) preaching and worship (the OT is a treasure missed by many, though not by all), etc. 

I, along with Rispens, am happy if this interaction has encouraged people to study God's Word. But, part of my goal was to point out the erosion of morality and obedience to God's law in our nation and our churches. Keeping the Lord's Day holy is not just an outward exercise of doing this or that on Sunday, it, like all of God's law, is about devoting our lives and hearts to the Lord. It is about glorifying God and enjoying Him forever. As believers, we are saved (already, completely, eternally) and that salvation cannot be lost. What we must ask God now, is how can I live my whole life with a thankful heart. God's answers are revealed in the moral law (10 commandments) and on all of the pages of scripture. If we, as believers read the law through the gospel we will find it a joy to keep the Lord's Day holy. 

So, I guess, in conclusion to the wedding question...why don't you just have it on Saturday and keep the weaker brother from stumbling?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

How do you biblically approach Sunday?

An old acquaintance of mine recently wrote a blog post on the question of whether or not it was sinful to have a wedding on Sunday. His name is Blake Rispens and you can find that article here . I am not so concerned with the issue of whether or not a Sunday wedding is permissible. Full disclosure, I have no problem with a Sunday wedding as it has happened for hundreds of years in Reformed churches. A modern reception might be another question. But, I hope to elucidate the pitfalls of Rispens argument to show where such a misguided hermeneutic will lead an interpreter of scripture.

His argument is six-fold and it is explained very clearly. His desire is not to determine what has happened historically or in someone's own tradition, but rather what does the Bible say concerning this issue.

He summarizes his argument under six points:
1. "Sunday is not the Sabbath. So we can all take a big sigh of relief. Having a wedding on Sunday would not be in violation of the 4th commandment because the Sabbath is Saturday."
2. Since this issue of a wedding on Sunday is not addressed in the Bible, it is a "gray area" which is therefore inconclusive either way.
3. There is no biblical demand for a gentile (non-Jew) to keep the laws and rituals of the Jews.
4. Jesus clarifies the proper interpretation of the "Sabbath" in Matt. 12; Mk. 2, and Lk. 6.
5. Romans 14 makes it clear that it is wrong to place one day higher than another and then impose your position on someone else. There is liberty here, but when the line is crossed into imposing a personal opinion on someone else, then you become "the religious legalist that everyone hates." 
6. Our obedience to God's law does not add anything to our salvation. Rather, trust in Jesus Christ who is our righteousness. 

((The first issue on the Sabbath being Saturday I have spoken about before. Here is the second half of my lecture . This is taken from Jochem Douma's The Ten Commandments which is an excellent book.))

To summarize the argument , in the Old Testament the Sabbath was Saturday. And therefore, Rispens argues, that if you want to keep Sunday holy, you are actually not following God's law (Ten Commandments) "to a tee." Rispens says, "Since we aren't observing Saturday anymore, hopefully we're starting to see some differences between the OT and NT." Here is where the argument becomes dangerous. The question the reader is left with at this point, is why aren't we keeping Saturday holy? He says that if you are keeping Sunday holy as an observance of the Sabbath, "you're probably defaming the actual Sabbath which is technically Saturday." To bolster his argument Rispens uses the example of Jesus who broke the Sabbath according to the religious leaders false interpretation by picking heads of grain, healing on the Sabbath, etc. What should we make of this argument?

Sunday is the New Testament Sabbath. It is better to call it Lord's Day as opposed to Sabbath, but it can be called "sabbath" as a word simply meaning rest. This is true for three reasons. 

First, the pattern of working six days and resting the seventh was established by God when He created the heavens and the earth. In fact, in Exodus 20:8-11, (a text cited by Rispens interestingly enough) God bases the argument on the foundation that, "For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it." (NKJV) However, if we are to argue that the honouring of the Sabbath is creational, why do we first read about it in Exodus 20? The fact is, is that God's people already were keeping the Sabbath day holy. This is clear from when God gave the people manna from heaven in the wilderness and commanded them to gather it for six days, but on the sixth day to gather twice as much so that they would have enough for the 7th day. Exodus 16:26 says, "Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none." The 10 commandments are abiding and valid (though in a different way for us as we will see short). The fourth commandment is rooted in creation, not merely in liberation and the establishment of the nation of Israel.

Secondly, the observance of the Lord's Day was of such extreme importance that the penalty for breaking it was death. This is why the Pharisees were so quick to jump on Jesus and the disciples. It wasn't a small trivial matter. Rispens was right, that the pharisees misunderstood the Sabbath and the purpose of the Sabbath being a blessing for "rest and well-being." The fact of the matter is that Pharisees were legalists who were trusting their own obedience to put them in a right relationship with God. However, because of the seriousness of Sabbath observance, we had better be quite sure about our position concerning its validity or disuse and misuse today.

The third argument is a historical argument in light of Christ's relationship to the law. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says, "Do not think that I came to destory the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill." The word used there for destroy could also be translated at abolish. Rispens is arguing that the Sabbath is abolished. It is not abolished, but rather fulfilled as is all of the law of God. By Christ, fulfilling the Sabbath, as Lord over all, He, through His apostles, continues to rest one day in seven, no longer on the seventh day of the week, but on the first day of the week. This is why we see the saints gathering on the first day of the week in Acts. (By the way, being a member of the apostolic church, we confess that we base our practice on the teaching, practice, and example of the Apostles). This was carried on throughout the early church throughout history. More about this in a moment. 

At this point, and recognizing that my review, not of a book, but of a blog post is getting quite lengthy, I will skip responses on the questions of "Did Gentiles have no obligation to keep the 10 commandments? What about the sojourner or proselyte? Were they permitted to work in Israel on Sunday? There is also the question of what did Jesus mean by, "If you love me you will keep my commandments....or....You will know them by their fruits." However, there are two other issue I would like to address.

The first issue is that of a dispensational hermeneutic. For a dispensationalist the most important page in the Bible is that page between the OT and NT. Now, don't get me wrong, there is something New about the NT and there is something old about the OT. As the church father said, "The New is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed." There is one people of God and there is one church of God from creation until Jesus Christ returns. Rispens himself said that he is "spiritually speaking" a Jew. Good, we are children of Abraham and as the entire book of Romans makes clear "not all Israel is of Israel" or as Paul says in Galatians 3 "There is neither Jew nor Greek..." All people at all times are either saved or condemned for the same reason. They are saved through faith alone in the work of the Messiah (Messiah to come or Messiah already come: hint....its the same God-Man). Dispensationalists often thumb their nose at the Old Testament and find themselves in the unorthodox land somewhere between the everlasting covenant of grace and the early church heretic Marcion. They aren't Marcionites, but they fall between covenant and Marcion. This is dangerous and unfounded (though reasonable) in light of the whole of the scriptures. For instance, look at how the New Testament uses the OT (e.g. I Cor. 10; Jer. 31 and Acts 2; etc.) Without a covenantal reading of scripture, it should not surprise us that someone would be permitted to go out to eat on Sunday, keep their business open, have an open house to sell their home, spend the day on the lake with the family. The question is, why would anyone worship God on Sunday? Has he commanded them? Using Rispens argument, it seems you would have to be a seventh-day adventist or you could never expect anyone to consistently worship God on Sunday. Maybe he agrees, but I doubt it. 

The second important question is the role of the law, liberty, and gratitude. To summarize briefly, Christ has fulfilled the law. As the Beglic Confession of Faith says in Artice 25, "We believe taht the ceremonies and symbols of the law ceased at the coming of Christ, and that all the shadows are accomplished; so that the use of them must be abolished among Christians; yet the truth and substance of them remain with us in Jesus Christ, in whom they have their completion. In the meantime we still use the testimonies taken out of the law and the prophets to confirm us in the doctrine of the gospel, and to regulate our life in all honorableness to the glory of God, according to His will." The civil and ceremonial law in Israel were full of shadows fuflilled in Christ. The truth and substance of them remain. You can understand that to be the valid principles undergirding those laws in the civil realm. However, the moral law of God remains, as it was not ordained merely for the nation of Israel, but for the whole entire world. This is the law written on the minds of all people. Even though the unbeliever is so depraved that they are unable to properly interpret that law and they suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18-20; 2), nevertheless, this is God standard of living in this world. It is summarized under the theme of love. Love for God and neighbor. 

However, we are dead to the law and alive in Christ. The law was a tutor to bring us to Christ. The law exposes our sin and shows our inability to earn the favor of God. The law condemns us, but Jesus Christ saves us. We are saved, not through law-keeping, but through faith alone, which is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-10). How then ought we to respond to God's amazing grace living in the freedom Christ has won for us? This is where the third use of the moral law comes becomes a guide for Christian gratitude. I don't honor my father and mother so that I can earn God's favor or grace, but rather, because I already have God's favor and grace in Jesus Christ. The law is for the believer, an expression of thankfulness. Our works show our faith, they do not produce our faith. Does it matter how we live? Of course it matters. We are not antinomians. Rispens argues that our works do not contribute to our salvation. Well, that is true, if he means that our works do not contribute to our justification, but our sanctification, which is also part of our salvation, is allowing the Jesus Christ, who had kept the law, to work in us thankful hearts, so that we may offer our whole lives as thank offerings to God. We must not use Christian liberty as a license to sin. We have freedom in Jesus Christ, but that freedom has the boundaries of the 10 commandments properly applied (as they were by Jesus Himself throughout the whole Scripture). Our freedom is like a fish in the ocean. If you take the fish out of the ocean, is it still free? No, not in the way it is when it is in water. The Spirit working in us secures our freedom and liberty in Jesus Christ. 

So, back to the original question, can you have a wedding on Sunday? Sure, right after the Sunday morning sermon in corporate worship, let bride and groom stand up, here the form read, say their vows, sign the marriage form, and then sit down and worship God. A reception, that is more difficult, but to have it at church as a feast of celebration could certainly be pleasing to the Lord.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Some Thoughts about Synod Nyack 2012

Synod Nyack 2012 of the United Reformed Churches has come and gone. Press Releases can be found at the URCNA website ( . The agenda for this synod, though fullsome, was not nearly as weighty as synod 2010. However, there was something about this synod which seemed different to me. I came home from Synod Nyack very encouraged by two things.

The first thing is that there was a great sense of unity among the delegates. This did not just affect interaction at meal times or free time, but even on advisory committees and on the floor of synod during plenary sessions. At Synod London 2010 there were a few hot button topics and a couple events that raised the tension going into that synod. In preparation for Synod 2012, these things were quite absent. We could get back to the work of moving forward. What I see taking place in the URC is a growing love for each other. We have a long way to go with this, but the more we get to know ourselves, the greater we can appreciate our brothers and sisters in different parts of the U.S. and Canada in our own federation. 

There was also a great sense of Christian unity for other faithful churches around the world. We heard greetings from the Republic of Congo, the Netherlands, Indonesia, etc. There was a speech by a minister from the Calvinistic Reformed Church of Indonesia. This short native of Indonesia was full of life and began his speech by saying, "Goede morgen! Hoe gaat het met jullie?" It was comical. However, as the speech went on and the brother spoke about God's work in Indonesia, it became personal as we heard about this brother's loss of a son recently at the hands of medical malpractice as he looked on. He ended his speech by offering a gift to our chairman Rev. Ron Scheuers. It was a scarf made by his wife. Chairman Scheuers came down to where the speaker was, and though a head taller than our Indonesian brother, stooped his head down to receive the scarf and then they hugged each other. It was both beautiful and moving to see a small glimpse of the length and breadth of the true church of Christ on the Earth. There is a growing unity among us and among our brothers and sisters around the world. It is my prayer that this continues to grow as we mature.

The second thing I was greatly encouraged by was a sense of our calling in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20). This expressed itself in the establishment of a position of Missions Coordinator who will work full time to connect church planters and missionaries and meet with interested groups of people with Reformed convictions without having a church home. Our discussion on that subject dealt with the details of the position. It was very clear that it is important to the churches to plant churches and to do this faithfully. Along with this was our report on doctrinal committment where we affirmed that in order to make profession of faith, you are assenting to the Three Forms of Unity (Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, Canons of Dort). This means that while we seek to use the means God has ordained to build His church, we can do so without lowering the level of faith to, "Do you believe in Jesus" or "no creed but Christ." This was an important synod for the URC in terms of church planting.

There is a love for missions in the URC and that is part and parcel of what it means to be faithful to the Lord of the church. Rev. Paul Murphy in one of his devotions said something that I have been thinking about. He said (paraphrased) "Missions should not be a line item in the budget, it should be our identity as a church. The church is, by definition, missional." He was right on! It is easy to become comfortable and as a consistory to make sure the status quo doesn't change and the boat doesn't rock, but we ought not to be content to merely "polish the brass", but rather to devote our time, energy and resources to grow the church of Christ, by his grace, through the Word and Spirit, as He has ordained.

I left this synod encouraged. I believe we do have some things to learn as churches and we still have a somewhat deficient way of dealing with appeals. However, we are United and Reformed and for that I am thankful.