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Archive for June, 2011

More often than not, we identify Presbyterianism as a form of church government.  But recently, it occurred to me that a preacher’s exercise of looking at good commentaries after he has done his own firsthand exegesis is also an exercise in Presbyterianism.  It is a golden mean between exegetical Independency and Episcopacy.  Exegetical Independency says ‘no’ to the fruits of other men’s labors and an unequivocal ‘yes’ to one’s own.  It is idosyncratic, and in too many instances just plain idiotic.  On the other extreme, there is exegetical Episcopacy.  It makes too much of the gifts of some, becoming slavishly subservient to them.  The preacher who rushes to the commentaries before digesting God’s Word himself buries his talent in a napkin and exalts others to a lordly status – even over Scripture.  As in church government, so in exegesis.  Presbyterianism is the golden mean.

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“What a union is that which exists between two believers, who have in common the same hope, the same desire, the same mode of living, the same service of the Lord; like brother and sister, united both in spirit and in flesh, they kneel down together; they pray and fast together; they teach, exhort, and support each other with gentleness; they go together to the house of God, to the table of the Lord; they share one another’s troubles, persecutions, and pleasures; they conceal nothing from each other; they do not avoid one another; they visit the sick and succour the needy; the singing of psalms and hymns is heard among them; they rival each other in singing with the heart to their God. Christ is pleased to see and hear these things; he sends down his peace upon them. Where two or three are thus met he is with them; and where he is the Evil One can not come.”

– Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220 A.D.)

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I just read a great piece by Carl Trueman on the virtue of self-restraint when engaging in theological controversy.  He essentially argues that we ought to be much more modest about our usefulness beyond the sphere God has placed us.  Most of us ought simply to retire our capes, roll up our sleeves, and channel our energies our own small, local plot.  While Trueman’s piece is by no means a formal endorsement of parochialism, my parochial mind can’t help thinking about Chalmers’ celebration of the “power of littles” and his famous dictum, “Locality, in truth, is the secret principle wherein our great strength lieth.”  Chalmers also repeatedly burst the bubbles of the pretentious who thought they could and should assume larger fields of work.  They ought rather be “sober minded” about their gifts and celebrate the giftings of others.  And work.  Locally.

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Our hyper-individualized society possesses a very low sense of corporate solidarity. Every man does that which is right in his own eyes. Every man isolates himself, tears apart what God has joined together, challenging, “and who is my neighbor?” Or, “am I my brother’s keeper?” Tragically, this thinking bleeds over into the mentality of the Church. We have become conformed to this individualistic world, not transformed by the renewing of our mind. Shame on us!

When, however, we begin thinking corporately – and for that matter, inter-generationally (should I say, consistently covenantal?) – we will find ourselves doing much more than confessing our own individual sins. For starters, we will confess the sin of individualism. But what is more, we will sense the guilt that we bear as members of families, states, and nations. We will sense a shared guilt by our association with the compromised Visible Church. And we will certainly feel, in addition to our own sins, the shared sins of our forbears.

Observe this principle in Leviticus 26:40, 42, “If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me . . . then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.” When exiled as a punishment for their sins and the sins of their fathers, Israel ought to repent and confess both. And they should do so with the assurance that the God who shows mercy from generation to generation will do precisely that!

See this also with Daniel in his great confession. This holy man, far from isolating himself from the larger body to which he belonged, rather owned it and identified with it. Even if the nation would not confess its sin, he would do it for them. Or, more to the point, as a part of them. “We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments: neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land” (Dan. 9:6; see the reference to “our fathers” also in vv. 8 & 16).

Now we may not like this. We may complain, charging God with injustice. “The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezek. 18:2). But the Potter has power over the clay. And it has pleased Him to make us not bare, atomized individuals – but much more. We are also members of corporate bodies. We are waves in a larger generational stream, branches in a much bigger tree. This is biblical. This is covenantal. This is reality! Let us acknowledge it and confess our sins. Including those we share with our ancestors. And if we do, should we not expect the God of the thousand generations to remember his mercies towards us – and our children (Acts 2:39)?

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Let’s face it.  Those of us who practice family worship usually don’t feel like it, often fall into formalism, and end off hopping down way too many bunny trails.  How many times, too, is the whole business interrupted because the little one has a runny nose (or worse, smelly drawers)?  The boy isn’t sitting up?  Or older sis is annoying the younger for the umpteenth time?   And after a long day of homeschooling, errands, cleaning, and damage controlling, mom is frazzled – and dad is just plain socked.   At its best, family worship is usually nondescript; at its worst, it approaches something like a three-ring circus.

And yet, when we look back on it more impartially, we find that there has been glory there all along.   After the drill is done – and done with some habit – we see in faith that the very rhythm itself has been wonderful.  All the children know their places.  The catechumens say their lines.  The old songs of Zion are taken up and singing fills the room; and those who can’t read croon right along.  The humble family Bible is taken out, and father reads a portion.  And then the approach to the throne of grace.

Yes, it’s flawed.  Messy even.  And we must confess that it is fraught with sin.  But it is covered in the blood and accepted by the Father.  Let’s open our eyes – there is glory here.  Things into which the very angels desire to look.

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