Written by Thomas R. Schreiner |
Friday, December 16, 2022
All that is evil and defiling in this world will vanish. There will be discontinuity and continuity with the world we live in now. We will still reside in a physical universe, but it will be a world cleansed and purified from all sin. Some have interpreted 2 Peter 3:10–13 as teaching that the present world will be annihilated and burned up and then God will create a new universe out of nothing. This interpretation is certainly possible, but it is more likely that we should understand the burning to denote purification instead of annihilation so that the present world is purified and cleansed and renovated.
What will our heavenly existence be like? Some have envisioned believers as having an ethereal disembodied existence in which we float on clouds and strum on harps, but this picture does not fit with the biblical witness. The Scriptures teach that believers will be raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:12–19; 1 Thess. 4:13–18) and that we will have physical bodies forever. Resurrected bodies can’t exist without a place, however, and thus there must be a new world that we will inhabit. We are not surprised, then, to discover the promise that there will be a new creation (Isa. 65:17; 66:22; Rev. 21:1), a new world that is free from sin. “The first heaven and the first earth” will pass away, and “the sea [will be] no more” (Rev. 21:1), and then the new creation will come.
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By R. Scott Clark — 1 year ago
Written by R. Scott Clark |
Sunday, January 2, 2022
Smallish confessional Reformed congregations should not necessarily feel guilty about being small and socially insignificant. That has been the lot of most of the church for most of its history. The Roman empire, whose approval so many craved in the 4th and 5th centuries, no longer exists. The church continues. The Enlightenment did its best to destroy the church and, outwardly, in Europe and in the American mainline churches, it succeeded but the church still exists in Europe, the UK, and North America. It is flourishing in Africa, South Korea, and in many other parts of the globe.
Cornerstone is part of the fastest-growing group of congregations in America: the minichurch. According to the recently released Faith Communities Today study, half of the congregations in the United States have 65 people or fewer, while two-thirds of congregations have fewer than 100.
That’s a marked change from two decades earlier, when the 2000 Faith Communities Today survey found the median congregation had 137 people and fewer than half of congregations had fewer than 100 people.
So reports Bob Smietana for the Religious News Service. A recent study (the National Congregations Study) found “shrinking attendance figures” and a “median rate of change between 2015 and 2020 was a negative 7%.” Half of all congregations decreased by 7%. The average congregation in America is small but “the majority of churchgoers are worshipping in a congregation of about 400 people.” American churches are “being sorted into two kinds of churches—megachurches, and minichurches…”.
Now, it may be that “minichurches” are not ideal. As one who was a layman in the Reformed churches for a number of years and then a pastor in the Reformed churches (since 1987) I have seen and pastored my share of Reformed churches. The building pictured to the left was the renovated Standard gas station at the intersection of I-29 and I-35 in Kansas City, Missouri where my congregation met while I was there. We could hold perhaps 70 people. Most of the time we were about 40 or so. It was an intimate setting. The good news is that I knew everyone in the congregation fairly well. I have been gone since 1993 and I can still picture each face, where they sat. I remember well those who came and left and those who thought about coming but never did. I was in the homes of our members. I attended Kiwanis with some, high school football games with others. We developed a bond. There was a sense of community but it was a challenge for newcomers to become integrated into the life of the community. We all knew each other so well that anyone who visited was significantly behind the relational curve. How should the congregation relate to guests? If we paid too much attention we were in danger of smothering them but too little and we were in danger of being “cold.”
Then there was the little matter of surviving. If I told you our annual budget you would not believe me. The people gave sacrificially but we were really small. 20% of our tiny budget went toward the mortgage payment on the building. 65% of the budget went toward my salary (with no benefits). Were it not for the kindness of Richard Barr, who gave us a quarter of beef most years, and my in-laws who gave us cars and cash, life would have been very different. As it was, in the kind providence of God, we got by.
Most confessional Reformed congregations are small and many of them feel bad about it. Perhaps some of them should feel a bit guilty? Some of them are small and they like it that way and they do not much care if newcomers find and join them. Our congregation was anxious that the gospel should go out, that people might come to faith and join us. We wanted to grow but it was very hard to do that. Thankfully, the congregation has relocated, renamed itself (Northland Reformed Church, pictured left) and has grown.
By Reformation Scotland — 1 year ago
Earthly mindedness and heavenly living are contrasted in Philippians 3:19-20. But this heavenly mindedness is mainly connected to Paul’s example (v17) which is contrasted with that of the enemies of the cross of Christ. It is as though Paul was saying beware of following of those who mind earthly things, for their end is destruction; but rather follow those whose way of living is in heaven, for their end is, salvation. How can we identify those who have such a heavenly manner of living?
Jeremiah Burroughs says that they are those who esteem the things of heaven to have greater significance than those of the earth. They are able to be content with enjoying little in this world. A heavenly, godly man or woman can tell you how to live a joyful and happy life even if they lack the things of this world. They can not only live joyfully lacking many comforts, but they can suffer the loss of all. They can suffer hard things, afflictions, torments and tortures with joyful hearts (Hebrews 11:13- 14, 36-40 and Hebrews 10:32-34).
Their hearts are greatly filled with heavenly riches: much grace, holiness, much of the image of God, much spiritual life. A Christian’s life manifests much of the excellency of heaven, much of the glory of heaven shines in their faces. The hearts of the saints are filled with God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, grace and this is greatly manifest in their lives. They cannot be comfortable in the enjoyment of all things in this world if they are deprived of the heavenly enjoyments. They are troubled when they do not feel those influences from heaven in their souls they have previously. They are willing to die and leave this world with much comfort, joy and peace in the hope of eternal life.But the question is: how does such a person and way of living deal with the realities of this life or is it just an escape? Does it impact on others in this world? What use and what good does it have? Burroughs goes on in the following updated extract to provide some answers.
1. Heavenly Living is Convincing
Heavenly living will be very convincing. You will convince others that you have something more than they have when they see you live in a heavenly way. The men of the world know the things of the world and that they have set their hearts on them. But when they see those that profess religion mingle themselves with the earth in the same way that they do, they will think that such are motivated by the same principles they themselves are. But heavenly living will convince them, when they see Christians rising above this in the whole course of their lives. They see an evenness and proportion in their course. At all times and in all matters they conduct themselves as those who are of another world.
A stranger may act for a while act just like a native, but one who has been born there knows how to find out in one thing or another whether this is so. It is very hard for men to conduct in the right way if they do not have true grace though they may appear sometimes to be very heavenly. A true citizen of heaven will discern at one time or another if they do not have grace. The truth is also that unregenerate people will reveal their true heritage too.
But when Christians have a constant way of life that is heavenly, it is very convincing. There are the rays of heaven around them, they have the lustre of heaven shining wherever they go, and in all company. Surely such a person seems to be in heaven continually. This will force the very consciences of others to say: “certainly these are the citizens of heaven if any are.”
The rich man wanted Abraham to send someone to warn his brethren who had risen from the dead, because they would hear him. We might say that if God would send one from heaven to live among people and preach to them, surely they would pay attention to him. Would it not be a great benefit to the world if God would send a saint from heaven, or an angel to converse in a bodily way among us? Yet Christians should live as if they came from heaven every day, as if they had been in heaven conversing with God. When in the morning they seek to get alone between God and their souls, they should never stop striving until they get their hearts so much in heaven that when they come down to their family their very faces may shine. And that you may see by how they live that certainly they have been with God upon the mount.
Do you live in such a way that your family and your neighbours may see that you have been in heaven that morning? Every morning we should have some converse with heaven. If we did our way of living would be convincing all the day long and very profitable to the world. Christians that live in a heavenly way are of very great use in the places where they live. When Christ ascended up to heaven, He gave gifts to men. And if we would oftener ascend up to heaven, we would be more able to be beneficial to the world.
By Greg Gifford — 3 months ago
The Puritans believed that regeneration enables the believer toward obedience in all areas of life, and motivated them to obedience and good works. It is only from this understanding that the Puritan perspective of habits can truly be discerned.
In the history of the church, and particularly counseling within the church, there has been a house, of sorts, that is being constructed. Faithful, competent men and women are slowly building the house of biblical counseling on a solid foundation. One of these men—Jay Adams—spoke to some of the load-bearing walls within this house, and one in particular:
Few, if any, recent theologians have discussed the relationship of habit to behavior. Their efforts have been expended on important questions having to do with Adam’s sin, the effects of sin upon the nature of his descendants, and the process by which sin has been transmitted to his posterity. These are all vital questions…But so is the matter of habit—especially for counseling.
Jay Adams did not create biblical counseling, but he is perhaps the father of biblical counseling as it is modernly known. Yet he asserted that no “recent theologians” have dealt with the important issue of habits as a load-bearing wall within the house of biblical counseling.
This raises a question: What historical theologians did discuss the relationship of habits to behavior? And what did they say? In this series, I’d like to answer this question from the perspective of English Puritanism. The Puritans are to be noted for a distinctly theological approach in most of their writings and sermons, which informed the way they addressed issues from national sins to the place of penance. Regarding habits, the Puritans had much to say, which this study summarizes as follows:
The Puritans believed that habits were a means of cultivating spiritual maturity in the believer by giving a believer a greater capacity for future obedience, by uniting a believer’s will to God’s, and by conforming a believer to the image of Christ.
To demonstrate this, we will survey the way the Puritans spoke of habits, synthesizing their voices to a singular definition, and developing an understanding of their view of habits in relationship to spiritual maturity. At the end of this synthesis, the reader will have a better understanding of habits and their relationship to supporting the house of biblical counseling within a historical perspective. Most importantly, the reader will be emboldened to speak more of habits in counseling and, perhaps, see that an emphasis on regular action is a necessary part of spiritual maturity.
Scope and Delineation
The scope of this paper is to keep within the confines of Puritan thinking in regard to habits and the role those habits play in spiritual maturity. There are many who have written before and after the Puritans about habits, but the emphasis is given to these men due to their special attention and theological treatment of such issues. Thus, a quick definition of terms is warranted for sake of clarity.
Definition of Terms
The term habit is used by the Puritans in many ways, all suggesting the same thing. In this paper, habit simply means a learned, automatic, or frequent action. There are varying facets of this definition, but by and large, it simply encapsulates the scope of varying opinions on habits. It should be noted that a habit does not need to occur on every possible occasion; however, the researcher is using this term in its common usage, which implies a consistent, regular action.
The term Puritan, although originally a pejorative term, was coined to describe the group of Englishmen who wanted to purify the Church of England from the practices of Catholicism. These men lived, preached, and wrote between the 17th and 18th centuries, with the passing of the North American Jonathan Edwards in 1758 seen by many as the end of the Puritan era.
The term cultivate is used in the sense that spiritual maturity is existent within a person and that spiritual maturity is being developed or advanced. Cultivate is commonly seen as an agricultural term that insinuates a plant is already existent, but that it is fed, nourished, and grown by further means of nutrition. This common understanding is the way in which the researcher seeks to employ this meaning, and the idea of spiritual maturity as being existent is a primary component of the researcher’s delineation.
Oswald Sanders states the matter succinctly: “Viewed from another angle, spiritual maturity is simply Christlikeness. We are as mature as we are like Christ, and no more. He was the only fully mature man. His character was complete, well-balanced, and perfectly integrated. All His qualities and capacities were perfectly attuned to the will of His Father, and this is the model, the standard God has set for us.” This common understanding of spiritual maturity will be developed in regards to the capacity of a believer to obey, the conformity of a believer’s will to God’s will, and overall greater Christlikeness in the believer (cf. Eph. 4:12-16).