Fellowship and the Incarnation

John 1:14 “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us”

 Introduction

What is fellowship, according to Scripture? How are we in danger of mere socialising instead of having true fellowship? The Salt Shakers committee requested that these issues be dealt with. There are two possible scenarios we face in the church with regards to fellowship.

One situation could be that fellowship in the church has the beginnings of growing cold or has even grown cold. Even before one steps into church, one hopes not to bump into certain church members at the bus stop or in the carpark. In the church, gazes are averted; the existence of another is ignored. In cliques, invisible boundaries are erected; conversations are repeated, shallow and cold.

A second situation is that at present, fellowship is flourishing, and we simply cannot get enough of it. There is a spring in one’s step as one catches up to walk and talk with another member. In church, everyone looks one another in the eye, and with genuine Christian joy greets another. Yes, there are groups of friends formed, mothers sharing with each other the same struggles, but there are no boundaries between such groups. Conversations are filled with spiritual matters. Friends engage in frank sharing of the spiritual highs and lows of their Christian walk. One is ready to receive encouragement as much as to give it. One simply cannot get enough of this blessed fellowship and is sad to leave church.

As a church called Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church, we are deeply interested in true fellowship. For that is how the Scriptures understand the concept of the covenant: not as a cold contract, but as a warm relationship of friendship. And the heartbeat of that friendship is fellowship.

What is true fellowship?

True fellowship among believers is the sharing of all things in light of our relationship with God, realised in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

To fellowship is to share in all things with another. But what does this mean? It means that there are some things that belong to us as individuals which we must share with others. These may be unique struggles, personal problems, or secret struggles. But to fellowship is to appoint someone, and then give to that person a certain portion of all these personal things. Now it is not just one person that is carrying the burden, but two. By that verbal sharing, two hearts now share and participate in that same suffering and joy together. To fellowship is to share.

This sharing is in light of our relationship with God. If this is not so, all our conversations and interactions with one another would be mere socialising. By “mere socialising” we refer to having conversations that are void of a spiritual mindedness. It is talking about things for things’ sake. It need not be just talking about the news, weather, food, or sports. Merely socialising can also be talking about church matters. It is mere socialising when we backbite and destroy the good reputation of other church members. Whereas biblical fellowship involves talking about God and the things concerning God, “mere socialising” is fellowship without its heart, Jesus Christ.

 On the other hand, we may be discussing something as normal as the weather, but there can still be true fellowship. Don’t think so? Hear what David says to us about the weather: “The clouds poured out water: the skies sent out a sound: thine arrows also went abroad. The voice of thy thunder was in the heaven: the lightnings lightened the world: the earth trembled and shook” (Ps. 77:17-18). Or how about talking about the weather and sports at the same time? “(T)he  firmament sheweth his handiwork …  In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which … rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race” (Ps. 19:1, 4-5). The difference between fellowship and mere socialising is not the subject of the conversation, but the worldview and spiritual discipline to be spiritually minded in all our conversations.

This fellowship is not merely made possible by Jesus Christ and the cross, but it is realised and made effectual. It is crucial to remember this. If we don’t, the warm fellowship in the church will slowly evolve into isolation and avoidance of each other. To forget our fellowship in the Son (1 Cor. 1:9) will result in the isolating of oneself. That is where one attempts to live apart from the body of Jesus Christ even though one is engrafted to it. It is like if a body part is cold, numb, and frostbitten, perhaps by bitterness, offence, or some sin ,so that now that part of the body does not communicate with the rest of the body. This happens in the church when members mark other members, seeking not to say anything to them, or do their  best to keep all interaction to a minimum. This isolation and avoidance, like frostbite, does not just harm the body part itself, but the whole body is painfully affected.

To fellowship with each other, we must remember our fellowship with the Son. Therefore, we now turn to that beautiful and mysterious doctrine of the incarnation. The incarnation is God’s gracious act of the Son of God taking on our full, weakened, real human nature, in order to fellowship with us. This amazing truth is taught in John 1:14: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us”.

To let the full force of this truth sink into our souls, we must ask first: just who is this Word?  He is the second Person of the Trinity! He is “the only-begotten Son of God”. He is “begotten of the Father before all worlds”. He is “God of God”. He is  “Light of Light”. He is “true God of true God”. He is “begotten, not made, being of one essence with the Father ”. He is the one “by whom all things were made”.[1] The Word is God!

Now just what did God do? He took on our flesh! He became human, like us in all things, sin excepted. To say that He  stepped into our shoes is a gross understatement. The second Person of the Trinity  has a human nature so real that now there is nothing that we go through in this life that Jesus does not understand. So weakened and complete is this human nature that He is so moved by our sufferings and sorrows of life that He even wept together with us (John 11:35)! He is Immanuel, God with us.

But why will the Son of God leave heaven, come into our world, and take on our complete human nature? He did so to fellowship with us.

What is the relationship between the two phrases in John 1:14: “And the Word was made flesh” and “dwelt among us”? It is the relationship of purpose. The Word was made flesh in order to dwell among us. The word “dwelt” means “to tabernacle” in the original. The tabernacle is the OT picture of God dwelling, living with His people in covenant fellowship. This is the purpose of the incarnation — God dwelling with us, God fellowshipping with us.

Have you ever wanted to fellowship, to have intimate and personal conversations, with someone that hates you, slanders you, offends you by doing the exact opposite of what you say?

This is what Jesus does to us. He fellowships with us. Jesus, who is truly God and perfectly righteous, did not hold us filthy sinners at arm’s length. He did not give us the cold shoulder or a forced “hi”. He did not come to merely socialise with us. He did not just come to tell us we are sinners and to point out our sin and weakness.

He shared in all things with us. He shared in our greatest suffering, sin. He took upon Himself all the guilt of our sin. He took on even the curse of our death that rightfully belonged to us. He did not hesitate to be numbered with us shameful sinners. The extent of Jesus’ fellowship? The depths of hell for us. At the cross He was alienated from the Father so that we might be reconciled and have fellowship with Him. He now shares with us the secret of the Father, the covenant (Ps. 25:14). He now shares with us His resurrection life and righteousness. There comes a day when He will share with us His glory when we are glorified in heaven (2 Thess. 2:14, Rom. 8:30).

What does Jesus’ fellowship with us have to do with the fellowship in CERC currently? Everything. The extent and warmth of our fellowship with those whom we find most difficult to fellowship with now is but a reflection of our understanding of the Son’s fellowship with us. Will you “merely socialise” or have true fellowship in Christ this Lord’s Day?

In the next article we will focus on how the truth of the incarnation shapes our fellowship.

 

Written by: Josiah Tan | Issue 54

 

[1] Nicene Creed

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Fellowship with God (2): The Believer’s Good Works

The editorial staff of Salt Shakers asked me to write on the subject of fellowship with God. The last installment established that fellowship with God is grounded on the believer’s justification before God. Fellowship with God is the essence of the covenant of grace. The covenant of grace is the gracious relationship of fellowship that God establishes with His elect people in Christ. To be a member of the covenant of grace is salvation. The fellowship that God establishes with his elect people — the covenant — is based objectively on the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Jesus Christ accomplished by Him at the cross. By the cross of Christ, God confirmed His eternal covenant of grace. All His promises are yes and amen in Jesus Christ. Fellowship with God is also based exclusively on the cross of Christ in the believer’s own mind and conscience. This is the lovely experience of justification. By God’s gracious act to forgive the sinner his sins and to impute to him the righteousness of Jesus Christ by faith alone, God also assures the believer of His grace and eternal life. Fellowship with God is in no sense based on the believer’s works, especially works done in faith.

How, then, are the works of believers related to fellowship with God? That is the subject of this article.

At the outset it is necessary to state that insistence — uncompromising — on the truth that justification is by faith alone wholly apart from the consideration of the believer’s works does not in itself imply that the believer does not have a calling to do good works. This is always the slander by those who do not believe justification by faith alone against that doctrine. Against that slander the believer must double down on the insistence that works are not part of his righteousness and thus not part of the basis of his fellowship with God. In justification God justifies the ungodly. Where sin abounds the grace of God much more abounds. In justification there is no calling, no ability, and no necessity for the believer to do good works. A man must damn his own works in the judgment of justification, otherwise his conscience will always be tossed about with doubt, and he will be condemned before the tribunal of God. To condemn works as of no account toward righteousness with God is exactly the power of faith. True faith casts off all confidence in one’s own works and clings to Jesus Christ and His perfect righteousness alone as the only ground and foundation of salvation and righteousness before God.

Because the subject is fellowship with God — the covenant — and in light of the fact that Christ’s righteousness is the only ground of the believer’s salvation, it is important to connect the doctrine of justification and the doctrine of the unconditional covenant.

The doctrine of justification by faith alone is the truth that guarantees salvation without conditions. Because the believer’s right to eternal life — now and forever — is based solely on the imputed righteousness of Christ, the believer’s works cannot contribute to his salvation. Since the faith by which the believer is justified is natural to no man, but is the free gift of God given to the elect alone, justification by faith alone means that salvation is unconditional. To say that the righteousness of Christ is the only ground of salvation is also to insist that fellowship with God is grounded on that righteousness alone, since the covenant is salvation. So also because fellowship with God is based solely on the righteousness of Jesus Christ merited at the cross and imputed to believers by faith alone, the covenant cannot and does not have any conditions — works that believers must perform in their own strength or by grace — upon which the covenant of grace, fellowship in the covenant, or any benefit of the covenant of grace depend.

When the discussion turns to the subject of works in the covenant, justifying faith — the faith that refuses to work for righteousness and cleaves only to Christ for righteousness — is the starting point again. It must be the starting point because apart from justification it is impossible for a man to do good works. Apart from justification he only works out of self-love or fear of damnation, motives that are abominable to God and thus make all the man’s works wicked.

The Belgic Confession in its treatment of good works in article 24 begins with justifying faith: “This true faith, being wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of God and the operation of the Holy Ghost, doth regenerate and make him a new man, causing him to live a new life, and freeing him from the bondage of sin”. The confession uses the word “regenerate”, in the sense of conversion and sanctification, not in the sense of the first work of God in salvation to make the dead sinner alive. So the subject of article 24 is sanctification and good works. The confession says sanctification is by faith. Faith makes a man a new creature. Faith causes him to live a new life. Faith frees him from the bondage of sin. What the confession means by “this true faith”, it explains later as “this justifying faith”. The faith that refuses to work in justification and for righteousness is the same faith that causes a man to live a new life. As righteousness is by faith only, so sanctification is by faith only.

Faith makes a believer a new creature because by faith God sanctifies the believer. Sanctification is God’s gracious act in the heart of the justified believer to break the dominion of sin and to cleanse him from sin’s pollution. The sinners, who in justification appear as ungodly and as ungodly are declared perfect for Christ’s sake and worthy of eternal life, must also be made saints. In justification God declares ungodly persons worthy of eternal life. In sanctification God makes ungodly persons saints.

The fruit of the act of God to sanctify the believer by faith is that out of faith he practices good works. True faith works by love. Faith is the root out which come the fruits of good actions of love of God and love toward the neighbour. The same faith that condemns its works in justification is the faith that works those works as the fruit of God’s work of sanctification. The believer, then, is not sanctified by his works any more than he is justified by his works. Rather, because God cleanses his heart by faith from the guilt of sin in justification and by sanctification from the dominion and pollution of sin the believer brings forth the fruit of good works. To put that very simply: he is not a saint because he does good works, but he does good works because God made him a saint.

This sanctifying act of God is closely related to and dependent upon justification. An illustration will show this. Two acts are involved in jailing a criminal. The first is the declaration of his guilt by the judge. The second is the act of the bailiff to lock the guilty criminal in prison based on his sentencing. So there are also two acts involved in freeing him from prison. First, the judge must declare the criminal not guilty. Second, the bailiff must release the acquitted criminal from prison based on the judge’s verdict. In justification God releases the believer from guilt. In sanctification God frees the believer from the prison and filth of sin.

The sinner by nature and on account of his guilt is the slave of sin and Satan. He must sin because he is guilty. He must be given over to sin because he is guilty. He must be destroyed by his sin and eventually perish in hell for his sin because he is guilty. By justifying His people God frees them from guilt. As a necessary consequence He also releases them from bondage.

The righteousness of Christ that is imputed to the believer in justification is worthy of life, blessing, and freedom from sin. In sanctification God gives that life, blessing, and freedom from sin. The justified believer is also the sanctified saint whom God frees from the dominion of sin and cleanses from the pollution of sin.

Just as the guilty criminal lives a filthy life in a dungeon, so the guilty sinner lives a filthy life in bondage to sin. When God releases the sinner from sin’s guilt, God also releases him from the filthy bondage to sin, makes him clean and holy, and causes him to live a new life.

Relating sanctification and its resultant fruit of good works to the fellowship of the covenant of grace follows from this. In the gracious and wonderful work of sanctification, the believer experiences God as his God, who for the sake of Christ’s perfect righteousness given in justification frees the believer from the power and dominion of sin in sanctification. Sanctification is a work of God no less wonderful and no less gracious than justification. In justification the believer experiences God as the one who frees him from guilt, liability to punishment, gives him the right to eternal life, and grants peace in his soul. In sanctification the believer experiences God as the one who cleanses him from the terrible dominion and pollution of sin and causes him to live a new life.

This sanctifying work of God belongs to the gifts of the covenant of grace and is part of the believer’s fellowship with God in Christ. Because God is his God in Christ, God not only justifies him but also sanctifies him. Because God sanctifies the believer, he does good works and walks with his God over against the world. The believer does not have fellowship with God by works any more than he has salvation or heaven by works. The believer does not experience fellowship with God by works any more than he will experience heaven by his works. Rather, because he has fellowship with God, he experiences God as the God who frees him from the dominion of sin and causes him to live a holy life in covenantal fellowship with his God. Good works are fruits, fruits that God gives to him by the gracious work of sanctification as his covenant God.

This work of sanctification, with its resultant fruits of good works, are inseparable from justification but must be sharply distinguished from it. The sanctification of the believer and the works that are the fruits of sanctification are in no sense to be considered part of his righteousness before God or as the ground or foundation of any benefit of salvation. The Reformed creeds teach this simply by saying that works do not merit. Because clever heretics avoid the word merit but teach the substance of the term, it must be said that works do not gain, obtain, or work any part of salvation. After we have done everything that is our duty to do, we remain unprofitable servants. This must necessarily be the case not only because the doctrine that works obtain with God robs God of the glory of His salvation, but also because the works that the believer performs by the power of God’s grace and Holy Spirit are still in this life polluted and defiled with sin. That which is tainted with sin is worthy only of punishment.

Because good works proceed from the good root of faith and are all sanctified by God’s grace, they are good and acceptable in the sight of God, but they are not of any account toward justification and thus cannot be the ground or reason for any benefit of salvation or blessing from God. Since Christ’s righteousness is perfect and obtains all salvation and every blessing of salvation for the elect, there is simply nothing for works to gain.

What place then do works have in the covenant? The lives of good works that God causes believers to live are testimonies of gratitude that God requires of those whom He has redeemed and reconciled to Himself by Christ Jesus. In light of the truth that God sanctifies believers and causes them to live new lives — He works in them both to will and to do of His good pleasure —  God gives them their thanksgiving too. Godliness, good works, and thanksgiving are not works of men any more than election, the cross, and regeneration are works of men. They are the works of God that He graciously gives and in which He causes believers to walk. In their lives believers become active, and all their activity is to be attributed to the grace of God. To those thankful lives they are called, and all their obedience to that call is to be traced and attributed to God’s gracious work in them.

It is only in light of this understanding of good works that the reward of grace, about which Scripture speaks, can be considered properly. God rewards the works of His people. The reward, though, is of grace. Put plainly this means that while God rewards the works of His people, that reward is not obtained or gained by those works. Rather, the reward given to the works has the same basis and foundation that the works themselves have. God’s people are sanctified and as the fruit of that they do good works on the ground of Christ’s cross alone and because of His righteousness alone. He is made unto them wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Such is the value of the righteousness of Christ imputed to believers that His righteousness not only merited for them lives of good works, but also rewards for the good works. The works are gifts, and God also graciously crowns His gifts with His reward.

 

Written by: Rev. Nathan J. Langerak | Issue 53

Fellowship with God (I): Grounded on Justification

The editorial staff of the Salt Shakers asked me to write on the subject of the believer’s fellowship with God.

It is necessary to begin by defining fellowship with God. Fellowship with the Father is the covenant. The covenant is the gracious relationship of fellowship and friendship between God and His elect people in Christ. So God said to Israel throughout the Old Testament, “I will be your God, and you shall be my people”. This covenantal formula teaches that the essence of the covenant is that believers have fellowship with God. To have the covenant is to have the experience of the covenant, which is fellowship. To have fellowship with God, which is the covenant, is to have the experience of fellowship with God. There is no separation that can be made between the covenant and the experience of the covenant or between fellowship with God and the experience of fellowship with God. The inseparability of the covenant and its fellowship must be clear when fellowship with God is explained. Fellowship with the Father is to know God as one’s God and to walk with God as one’s God in the world and finally in the perfection of that covenant in the life to come. The fellowship of the covenant is that the believer through God’s gracious work knows God, experiences God, and walks with God as his gracious God in the world.

Equally important as the definition of fellowship with God is the confession that the covenant is salvation. The covenant is not the means or instrument that God uses to save believers, but when God incorporates believers and their seed into his covenant that is their salvation. It is the highest good of man to be in covenant with God. In that covenant with God man has been delivered from sin, death, and damnation, and he enjoys God forever as his God. The salvation that God appointed to the sinner in election and that Christ merited for the sinner at the cross comes into his possession in the covenant.

The Reformed describe the benefits that God bestows on the elect sinner in the covenant as regeneration, calling, conversion, faith, justification, sanctification, and glorification. The order of these benefits is important. The order gives the logical and experiential order in which the Holy Spirit bestows these benefits on the elect sinner. All these benefits are blessings of the covenant of grace. Because God is the God of the believer and because God has made with the elect sinner an eternal covenant of grace, God regenerates, calls, converts, bestows true faith, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies the elect sinner.

The believer’s experience in the covenant is the enjoyment of God’s gracious work to bestow all these blessings on him and save him. By the reception of these benefits he experiences God as his gracious God and enjoys God’s fellowship. For example, in regeneration he experiences God as the one who raises him from the dead. In the calling he experiences God as the one who speaks to his heart and summons him from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. So it is true for all the benefits of the covenant of grace. The point is that the covenant is salvation. In the covenant the elect sinner is saved in his own mind, heart, and conscience by God’s gracious work to bestow Christ’s benefits on him.

Because the covenant is to have God as one’s God, to have fellowship with God and to have full salvation, the covenant is also life. Life is the grand benefit that God promised in Christ Jesus. In Adam all whom he represented died. In the garden Adam departed from God who was his life and being guilty God inflicted the punishment of death on him and all his posterity. So all men are conceived and born dead in trespasses in sins, far from God, and outside God’s covenant. To live apart from God is death. Death is the experience of the sinner in Adam. In Christ all whom He represents shall be made alive. To be a member of the covenant of grace is life. It is specifically life with God. God alone is life and to live with God is life for man. The life promised in Christ is eternal life so that the believer in the covenant on this side of the grave has in principle what he will receive in perfection in heaven.

Thus the covenant is essentially also union with Christ. To have fellowship with God is to have fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ. God incorporates the elect sinner into his covenant of grace when God incorporates the sinner into Jesus Christ and makes him a member of Christ. To be in Christ is to be in God’s covenant of grace. To be a partaker of Christ is to be a partaker of the fellowship of God in the covenant and thus also a partaker of all the benefits of the covenant.

The fundamental question, then, is this: What is the ground and foundation of the believer’s reception of salvation and of all the benefits of salvation and of the covenant and the fellowship of the covenant? What is the ground now in the believer’s conscience and experience? What is the only ground in the world to come when he receives the perfection of the covenant? The answer is the cross of Jesus Christ, who merited salvation for the elect sinner and reconciled him to God by the death of his cross. At the cross specifically Christ merited righteousness for the sinner. This righteousness is God’s verdict that the sinner is perfect in God’s sight and worthy of every blessing. God blesses — God always blesses and God only blesses — the righteous.

How can an elect sinner be righteous before God? The answer is the justification of that sinner before God by faith alone. In justification God declares the ungodly sinner who believes in God to be righteous and worthy of eternal life and of every blessing of salvation. By faith alone the believer receives from God in his own conscience the forgiveness of his sins and the gracious imputation of the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Jesus Christ as his very own. That gracious verdict of God overcomes the testimony of the believer’s conscience that he has broken all the commandments of God and is worthy of condemnation. By His justification of the believer, God cleanses the conscience of the believer and establishes peace with God in his conscience.

Peace and the covenant are synonyms. Always the promise of God’s covenant is the promise of peace with God. This was the very form of the original covenantal promise in Genesis 3:15. The promise was enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. Enmity is hatred and leads to warfare. The promise of Genesis 3:15 positively stated is peace with God. So God calls his covenant “the covenant of my peace” because peace is the covenant’s fundamental and all-embracing benefit (Isa. 54:10). For the same reason God says in Ezekiel that he will make with Israel “a covenant of peace” (Ezk. 34:25; 37:26). The reign of the Messiah is prophesied as a time of “peace” (Ps. 72:7). At the birth of Jesus, the angels sang of “peace” (Luke 2:14). And the fulfilment of the promise given in Genesis 3:15 is described as peace: the “God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom. 16:20). The good news is the “gospel of peace” because it proclaims and brings this peace to all who call on the name of the Lord (Rom. 10:15).

This peace, which is the covenant, comes into the believer’s conscious possession by justification. This is the testimony of Romans 5:1: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”. Peace with God is the grand benefit of justification. The believer knows God as his God and understands that God is for him and that nothing can be against him. To be at peace with God is to understand that God is one’s covenant-God and to live in that reality. To put it another way, the believer is reconciled to God in his mind.

The same relationship between justification and the covenant is stated in James 2:23: “The scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was it was imputed to him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God”. In the first part of the verse, James quotes from Genesis 15:6, the great Old Testament passage on justification by faith alone. In the second part James gives the benefit of Abraham’s justification: he was called the friend of God. He was called that by God and he was called that in his own conscience and experience because God justified him by faith alone. Scripture establishes here that in the believer’s own conscience and experience the benefit of justification for the believer is that he is at peace with God and is called the friend of God. It is as if in justification God says, “I forgive your sins, friend. I impute to you the righteousness of Christ, friend. On this basis and for this reason you are my friend now and for eternity”. To be the friend of God is nothing less than to have the covenant and to enjoy God’s fellowship. Abraham was called the friend of God because he was justified by faith alone.

Before God justifies the elect sinner in his conscience, there are several gracious works that God works in the sinner’s heart: God engrafts the him into Christ, which is the essence of the covenant; regenerates him with the life of the covenant; calls him from fellowship with sin into God’s fellowship in the covenant of grace; and works faith in his heart, both the will to believe and the act of believing. But the ground of these gracious works remains the same: the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. So the ground, the only ground, of all of the believer’s salvation is that perfect righteousness of Christ Jesus merited at the cross. Consider any benefit of salvation and always the ground of that benefit remains the same: the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. This is true whether one considers the elect sinner’s regeneration, his sanctification, or his glorification and the reception of the reward of grace. The only ground and foundation of that gracious bestowal of salvation and the grant of every reward and blessing of salvation is the righteousness of Christ alone merited at the cross and imputed to the believer by faith only.

In the believer’s justification God brings that truth into the conscience and possession of the believer by faith. By faith God acquits the believer of his sins and sinfulness and justifies him, freeing him from the guilt of his sin and dreadful sense of liability to divine punishment. In so doing God also causes him to understand that God is his God, that God does him good, and will always do him good, and that he is the friend of God. When God justifies him, the believer understands that God has loved him from all eternity, that Christ has died for him personally, that God has united him to Christ, regenerated him, called him, and given him faith, and that God will also sanctify him and glorify him and present him in heaven among the assembly of the elect in life eternal.

This is what Zacharias said concerning the ministry of John: “To give the knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins” (Luke 1:77). The knowledge of salvation means the knowledge of all of God’s merciful and gracious acts of salvation. That knowledge comes into the consciousness and experience of the believer by the remission of sins, or his justification. If we understand knowledge as experience of salvation, then we experience God as the gracious God of our salvation by the remission of sins. If we understand that the covenant is salvation, then the knowledge of fellowship with God comes through justification. The justifying work of God is the entrance into the experience of salvation and all the experience of salvation comes by it and is founded upon it. The reason is that every benefit of salvation rests solely on the righteousness of Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross and that righteousness becomes the believer’s only by faith.

This is the same thing that the apostle Paul teaches in Romans 5:2: “By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God”. The apostle here adds to the truth that he taught in verse 1: “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”. He adds the truth that those who have peace with God, or justification, also have access by Jesus Christ into this grace wherein they stand, and they rejoice in hope of the glory of God. The apostle speaks of the all-embracing effect throughout the whole life of the believer and into glory of that justification by which he has peace with God. By “this grace” the apostle means that by faith the believer is justified and has peace with God. To have that peace is basically the same as to have the experience of God as one’s covenant-God — the one who loves him, the one who is for him and is never against him, and the one who averts all evil or turns it to his profit. A believer has that peace being justified by faith.

The apostle calls justification “this grace” because justification is a wholly gracious act of God itself and because justification is the believer’s introduction into the sphere of God’s favour and wonderful grace. Being justified, the believer lives in the presence of God in God’s favour. Paul says that the believer’s access, or introduction, is “by Christ” because Christ provided the righteousness that is the basis of this introduction into divine favour and further because Christ by His Spirit brings believers into that favour. He says this access is “by faith” because the believer is a partaker of Christ’s righteousness in no other why than by faith only, and by faith the Spirit also works in the believer and brings him into God’s gracious presence.

The apostle’s point with the words “wherein we stand” is that this position of standing in the favour of God on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone by faith alone is that in which the believer constantly abides. He stands always in the presence of God in God’s favour. The believer stands in this life. He stands in the judgment every day. He stands over against every affliction, sorrow, tribulation, and suffering. He stands over against the wicked world and the kingdom of Satan. He stands over against his own sinful flesh and his own actual sins. He stands in the final judgment. He stands and abides in God’s covenant, in his peace, and in his favour. The believer stands to all eternity in God’s grace. The believer stands in life and to all eternity on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone received by faith alone. To say this in another way: the believer stands as God’s covenantal friend in this life and to all eternity on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone received by faith alone.

By “and rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” the apostle means that because the basis of the believer’s standing in God’s favour is Christ and His righteousness and because that basis is sure and unchanging, the believer also rejoices in hope of the glory of God. Because he stands in grace through faith alone on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone, the believer rejoices in the sure and certain expectation that he shall see the glory of God in eternal life.

Always in all his life he stands in God’s grace because always in all his life the only ground and foundation of his salvation and of every benefit of salvation is Christ’s righteousness received by faith alone. Christ alone is the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by Christ. The one who has Christ has the Father also. The one who has fellowship with Christ has fellowship with the Father. The one who believes in Christ is called the friend of God. The one who is justified by faith shall live, live now in God’s covenant and live in eternity in the perfection of that covenant when God’s tabernacle will be with men.

 

Written by: Rev. Nathan Langerak | Issue 52

Love for God’s People

Read 1 John 3:16-18

Our life in God’s fellowship — or as we sometimes speak of it, our life in God’s covenant — comes to expression. Such life comes to particular expression. One way that life of fellowship with and love for God comes to expression is in love for God’s people. That is an emphasis of the inspired apostle John in his first epistle.

To live in God’s fellowship, to walk in the light, is to love the brother. It is to fulfil the commandment of God which He set before us from the beginning. So emphatically a part of the Christian life is that love for the brother, that the Spirit tells us it is impossible to claim God’s fellowship apart from that!

In 1 John 3:16-18, the apostle directs our attention to the way that love comes to expression. It is quite easy to say that we love the brother. But let that love be proved by our actions. Let us love in deed and in truth.

A High Calling

The glorious reality of living in fellowship with God is a reality that comes to practical expression in our lives. It comes to practical expression in this amazing concept called love. Scripture describes this love in Colossians 3:14 as the bond of perfectness. The bond of perfectness. You understand immediately, therefore, that we are not talking about love in terms of a natural affection. It is not merely a sentiment, an emotion or feeling. It is a bond that has its sphere in perfection. Only those who are in Christ can love.  Only those who have righteousness and holiness can love. This love, in other words, comes as a fountain out of our unbreakable covenant relationship with God in Christ and for that reason comes to expression in love for the brother.

There is a necessary distinction to be made between loving someone and liking someone.

Likes and dislikes belong to the very makeup of our nature. Some like or enjoy the taste of durian. Others dislike it. The same is true of persons. Some are instantly likeable. Others we find hard to like. Those things that move us to like or dislike someone can be, and often are, very superficial. Perhaps it is as superficial as the person’s appearance or the way a person dresses. Sometimes a certain characteristic of the person that we observe — whether it be a sour personality, a loud mouth, an appearance of being full of one’s self, the way a person behaves, or any number of characteristics — that move us to dislike him or her. And if we really look at ourselves carefully, we can probably find any number of traits that make us pretty unlikeable. On the other hand, our likes are formed on the same basis. Liking someone is a focus upon and an interest in the superficial things of appearance, temperament, behavior. It is not even a matter of effort. It is simply something natural.

Love, on the other hand, the biblical concept of love, is something entirely different. Love is an exercise of the mind and will that goes beyond the superficial and visible. Love is that which comes from the heart which is in union with Christ. It is the experience and expression of the love of God which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us (Rom. 5:5). That is why it is impossible for a person apart from Christ to have or to exercise this love which we are called to express. This love overcomes obstacles and excuses to embrace even the unlikeable. But more, love seeks the good of its object.

The Expression of Love for God’s People

This love is active. Love is sacrificial. Love is not just words, even less feelings, but giving.

In 1 John, the apostle speaks emphatically of love for the brethren. When the apostle speaks not of the neighbour, but of love for the brother, his purpose is not to limit the concept love. The law of God which is from the beginning calls us to love the neighbour. The neighbour is anyone who crosses our path in the daily course of our life. John, however, speaks of those born of the Spirit, brothers and sisters in the faith.  He speaks of that relationship established by the blood of Christ. When the apostle speaks of the brethren, therefore, he is pointing to those in whom God Himself stands before us.

So John would emphasise that when it comes to members of the household of faith, to fail in our calling to love them is a most blatant denial and rejection of God Himself. For that reason, the more that we stand before the question of love, the more careful we have to be not to make it a mere abstraction. Let us not love in mere word. The reference in 1 John 3:18 is not to the speech so much as to the idea or doctrine.  The more we get an idea of love in our minds, the more careful we must be not to fall in love with a mere idea and fail to put it to practice.

Often those who most vocally point to the need for more love in the church and who claim therefore to have an idea of what that love ought to be are at the same time those who are most harsh and critical of others. They fail to practice the word. That failure is easy for each one of us. One aspect of love is to reach out in expressions of kindness to our brothers and sisters. Here is just a small example. If we might say of anyone in the congregation, “I don’t even know so-and-so,” whose fault is that? We certainly are able to speak one to another, to give expression to the most basic expression of love, a care one for another.

The apostle adds, “neither in tongue.” Let us not love merely by saying we love. Words are cheap. Shall we boast of our love, while we do nothing to show it? That must not be.

The apostle gives a concrete example. He would bring the necessary doctrine right down to its practical application. “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” This is a brother, a member with him of the same church, if you will, the body of Christ. How many needs do your brothers and sisters have? There aren’t just material needs. There are needs in many different forms — physical needs, material needs, spiritual needs, needs for a friend, for comfort, for spiritual support. How shall we, who know God’s sacrificial love for us in the gift of His own dear Son, neglect and ignore the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ? The positive implication here is that the brother’s needs must be taken care of to the best of our ability.

That is the essence of love. It gives; it expresses itself; it must seek the welfare of the brethren. And when you look at this concept in the light of Scripture, you find great emphasis upon this truth that we must be doers of the Word. We have a high calling. Love is not self-seeking, but seeks the glory of God and for that reason gives out of a desire to seek the brother’s good. It gives in the consciousness of our own fellowship with God because of what He and His Son gave for us.

Our Supreme Example

So John calls our attention to the supreme example of love, the very love of God. “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us.” That love of God, which we have come to know as a matter of our own experience as His children, was revealed very specifically, even powerfully. It was revealed in this, that “He laid down his life for us.” He laid down His life, Romans 5 tells us, even though we were yet enemies. Not those who were lovable did He love; not even those who were likeable. He gave His life for those who were in the bondage of sin and death, consumed with hatred.

I speak of Christ as our supreme example, because that is the emphasis of 1 John 3:16. You realise, however, that Christ’s sacrifice was more than an example. He saved us! He did all that was necessary that you and I might live in God’s covenant fellowship as members of His redeemed family. Nor did His love cease there. His love was shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which He has given us (Rom. 5:5). And He continues to abide with us in the unbreakable embrace of His love, even through all the trials and sorrows of our earthly life, providing for our every need according to His sovereign will and good purpose as He knows what is best for us. He is always seeking our good — without fail.

If we live as members of Christ by faith, the consequence ought to be a willingness “to lay down our lives for the brethren.” The love of Christ in us is bound to show itself. It cannot be contained. And obviously if we are prepared to lay down our lives for the brethren, we certainly cannot refuse to assist them when they have some temporal, physical or material need. If we should do the greater, then certainly the lesser must be something we do spontaneously.

So you see from the greater to the lesser, love in deed and in truth embraces everything in between, looking to the spiritual and physical benefit of our brothers and sisters in Christ. It provides for the elderly in their needs, as well as the church’s children in their spiritual nurture. It also seeks out the brother or sister who has gone astray from the pathway of life, and spares no expense or hardship in the attempt to bring them back. Galatians 6:1-2: “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.  Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” And if we love in deed and in truth, we will even seek out those brothers and sisters who have yet to see the wonder of this gospel, who have yet to be called out of darkness into God’s marvellous light.

A Blessed Result

Hereby perceive we the love of God (1 John 3:16). When we live in fellowship with God and with His Son Jesus Christ, we know His love. We know the extent of that love. We know the power of that love.  We know the sacrifice of that love as it embraced us.  We have that love not only in our minds, but in our hearts. For the life of that loving Saviour is in us. It is sure. It comes to expression by our love for the brethren.

So God is glorified by us, over against a gain-saying and unloving world. And so, as we see in verse 19, “we know that we are of the truth”. May God so work in us.

 

Written by: Rev. Steven R. Key | Issue 52

 

 

Fellowship in Singing

What is biblical singing? What is its purpose, and what benefits does it bring to God’s people? This article hopes to address these points.

What is Singing?

The verb “to sing” is defined as “to produce musical tones by means of the voice”. In the context of biblical singing, that would also include words. The activity of singing is deeply intertwined in the lives of God’s people, and the Bible is full of examples of it. A search of the word “sing” brings up 102 distinct verses, and if we include the various tenses “singing”, “sang”, and “sung”, the number rises to 144, 59 of which are found in the Psalms alone! The list goes on if we include other descriptions of singing in the search criteria. It is evident that the Old and New Testament church sang — plentifully!

Biblical examples of singing are divided into two main categories. The first is in the corporate worship of God (e.g. Ps. 95:1 — “O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation”.) The second is in a personal capacity, whether as an individual or as a group. Some examples are the Israelite women singing about David’s valour (1 Sam. 18:6-7) and Paul and Silas singing in prison at Philippi (Acts 16:25). Songs were sung in thanksgiving, to give praise to God for His various attributes, out of joy, to comfort, and to confess and express sorrow for sin and seek forgiveness. One question we can ask is — why?

Why Sing?

Why does the child of God sing? Does he or she even need to sing? After all, we have the preaching of the Word as the means of instruction, and prayer as the means by which we communicate with God.

The answer is a resounding “yes”. We sing because we have to and because we want to! Singing is a necessary element in corporate worship, which God Himself commands in Scripture. In Psalm 111:1, God through the psalmist commands, “Praise ye the LORD. I will praise the LORD with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation”. In the New Testament, Paul in Colossians 3:16 calls the church to sing in worship: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord”. Singing in corporate worship is not optional or a matter of preference; the Word of God requires it.

We also want to sing. Singing can have many purposes, but its primary purpose is to praise God with the intent to glorify His Name. The words “sing” and “praise” are often put together in the Bible, especially in the Psalms, as if praise is itself the definition of singing. One example is Psalm 47:6: “Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises”. The child of God wants to sing praises to God — he who has tasted the goodness of God in salvation; does he not want to burst out in joy and exultation, glorifying God for His mercy and grace? We think of Moses’ song in Exodus 15 after Israel’s deliverance through the Red Sea, and Mary’s song in Luke 1 after realising her child was the promised Messiah. We think of the many Psalms that David wrote exulting God’s Name in his deliverance from his enemies. There is indeed much reason to sing!

You may be wondering what the difference is between singing and prayer. Prayer can also convey praise, sorrow for sin, thanksgiving, and other similar expressions. In fact, both are elements of worship by which we respond to God speaking to us in His Word. One difference is that the melody in songs conveys the emotions of the words to a greater degree than prose can. This is not to say that singing is in any way superior to prayer — both are ordained means by which we worship God. But there is something unique in the ability of songs, set in appropriate tunes, to combine ideas and emotions and heighten them, which make it a unique, poetic, and powerful way of praising God.

We have to be careful though, because songs are prone to abuse. There is the danger of emotionalism, when singing becomes purely an emotional release. A person can feel “touched by the Holy Spirit” and that he is praising God even if he sings heretical words. The emotion may be genuine; however, it is not of the Spirit, as the Holy Spirit always uses the truth of God’s Word. A poetic, well-written, doctrinally sound song with an appropriate melody brings about healthy emotions that the Holy Spirit uses to fill the mind of the singer, enabling him to praise God with his whole heart (Ps. 111:1).

Singing as Fellowship

Last, we deal with the subject of singing as fellowship. Singing is first and foremost fellowship with God. In corporate worship, it is a form of spiritual dialogue with God in response to His Word. Singing is a response of praise, and we have examined that in the earlier section. But as we sing, we are also singing to each other. For example, in Psalter 255 (versification of Psalm 95) we sing:

Now with joyful exultation

Let us sing Jehovah’s praise,

To the Rock of our salvation

Loud hosannas let us raise;

Let us sing praise to Jehovah, the Rock of our salvation! We exhort one another to sing, even as we direct this praise to God. We rejoice together as a congregation, and as we hear those in the pews behind us singing with gusto, we are reminded that indeed, let me sing praise to God; and the whole church rings with the beautiful voices of the congregation!

There are many other examples of singing as fellowship. We sing to instruct, to admonish, to encourage, to rejoice, to express sorrow… the list goes on. This is always primarily for the praise of God and for the edification of our fellow saints.

The child of God is one who sings. Let us use our voices to praise His Name, for He is the Rock of our salvation.

 

Written by: Matthias Wee | Issue 49

Book Review: Side By Side

Another year is coming to a close, and a closing year for most students brings much free time. Before you, my readers, conclude that this is a boring nag to read intellectually heavy books on Reformed theology, please hold back your judgment and realize that the book we review here is on practice—godly living based on sound doctrine.

Side by Side, by Edward T. Welch, is the book.

Those of us who have read this book would have recognized that it is not doctrinally sound. Before speaking of the depravity of our hearts, the author claims there is “good” (12) and that man still bears the image of God (88). In addition to the lack of soundness, we do not appreciate the author’s use of the NIV, which is known to be an unfaithful translation of the Bible.

Yet, the book is not wholly founded upon its doctrinal errors. There is doctrine with which we can heartily agree; in it, we will find the author promotes edifying conversations leading to spiritual counseling that all of us in the church need from each other.

Two themes struck me as I read the book, and I hope an open reflection of those themes will encourage you, my brethren, to pick this book up.

One recurring theme in this short book is fellowship in the church.

The author, in a way, forces us to examine what characterises our conversations in our church. What are our conversations like? Are they made up of laughs and banter only? Are they circled around earthly matters, without any Scriptural insight? Let everyone judge himself; but I know I have missed too many opportunities to steer a conversation for the spiritual edification of my brethren. And the author assumes that that is the case for most Christians.

The author assumes so on the basis of two experiences. As the ones speaking, we are often “afraid of what people will think” when we share about our struggles (p. 11). Hence, to run away from our fear, we avoid such conversations. As the ones listening, when it comes to helping others, “we feel unqualified” (p. 12).

Identifying these common experiences, the author offers encouragement to overcome them. We must not, he writes, be afraid about sharing our “neediness” in life (pp. 60, 63-64). As needy people, we naturally need others to help us; and as the Lord uses us to be a helper to others, we must know that the Spirit qualifies us to have such spiritual conversations and be of help to others in those conversations (pp. 68-71).

The author also realizes that these experiences   paralyze   our   speech; we do not know how to start and maintain spiritual conversations. So he briefly goes through the process of a conversation: Greeting others (pp. 73-77), finding topics to start off with (pp. 79-84), leading the conversation into speaking about the heart (pp. 87-93), etc. Through his suggestions, the author clearly does not intend to teach that every conversation must be aimed at talking about others’ problems. The intent, rather, is that one creates a rapport that, in God’s providence, may be used to help. Not all the suggestions in these pages must be used in every conversation; but they are worth our attempts. Perhaps, through our attempts, we will find better ways to start and maintain edifying conversations.

The second recurring theme in this book is sympathy. Again, the author leads us to examine our sympathy towards our brethren in Christ. Do we show sympathy? Or is there, instead, a   cold—perhaps   harsh—response to the needs of our brethren? Or, in response to the weaknesses of our brethren, do we jump straight in to a scolding? Again, let every one judge himself; but I know I have not shown sympathy to those who were in need of it. And, once more, the author assumes that that is the case for most. What does the author have to say about sympathy? Our words must express our sympathy for our brethren (p. 103). Even the words of our rebuke must be marked with that sympathy. One cannot go to the brother or sister without sympathy, and the author shows the need for sympathy by devoting an entire chapter on it (pp. 101-110).

Having    established    the    need    to show sympathy, the author points out specific words that do express sympathy, and others that hinder that expression (pp. 104-107). Once again, the author understands how often we lack the wisdom to choose the best words to use, so he offers concrete suggestions for our consideration. Having spiritual talk and sympathy— but overarching them is the one truth that the church is the body of Christ. Having  spiritual  fellowship, and in  such fellowship having true sympathy, is part and parcel of the body of Christ. “We were meant to walk side by side, an interdependent body of weak people…. That is how life in the church works” (p. 12). Why? Because Christ our Head did so with us! He walked on this earth with us—to experience the weaknesses of our earthly bodies, and even the temptations in our hearts— to save us from these weaknesses and temptations (p. 13).

To this truth we give our hearty consent. Discern and disagree with the doctrinal errors of the book; but receive its instruction from cover to cover!

But…perhaps something still bugs you. What good does this book do for us, Reformed Christians?

Certainly, reading a wavering view of total depravity does not add to our knowledge of Reformed doctrine positively. However, what does help is that we discern these doctrinal errors and, in our minds, replace them with right doctrine as we read the book.

Yet, what seems to be of greatest help is to keep our confessions in mind as we read the book. What do our confessions say about helping one another in the church? The Belgic Confession has strong language for this: “…all men are in duty bound…” To what? Join the church? Absolutely. To stand for right doctrine in the church? Definitely. But also, “… as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren.” We are duty bound to serve—to help—one another! Certainly, then, we are interested in learning how to counsel one another. With that interest, read the book!

Written by: Lim Yang Zhi | Issue 46

Our Continuing Heritage: Interview with Jemima Joy

Salt Shakers: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview with Salt Shakers! First of all, can you tell us a bit about your family’s background with regards to church membership?

Jemima Joy: We came from a church in which I was born. I grew up there. It was a church that called itself reformed, but really was not. We left that church and ended up at a reformed church for about two years, but decided to find another church. That’s when we came to CERC.

SS: So how did your family come to CERC and why did you decide to stay?

JJ: We thought that CE had very firm doctrines, from the preaching of God’s Word on the pulpit every Sunday. Actually there were many issues that we considered before membership that hindered us from joining earlier as members. Because on one hand, we saw that there’s faithful preaching of God’s Word, but on the other hand, we were uncomfortable with some aspects of practical living that we observed in the church. Though as man it seems like we should not judge what we see on the surface, I think as the Bible tells us to judge righteous judgment, this is one of the very important ways through which we can tell a church that follows her Shepherd from one that doesn’t. So other than the faithful preaching of God’s word, the sacraments, the Lord’s supper that is done every…

SS: Once in two months.

JJ: Yes, once in two months, and the offices and all, everything is in place but the only other thing we can see is how the people of God lead their lives. So at one point of time we were very worried about joining because we felt that some things weren’t kept as strictly as they should be. Like in terms of Sabbath- keeping, people observe it in a very wide spectrum. There are some people who keep it very strictly and some people who don’t. We didn’t know why there could be such varying strictness to the keeping of the Sabbath. And then there started to be a lot of questioning about how Christian liberty can be used as an excuse to sin. That is a big issue. And the other thing – why the need to join a church? I think a lot of people who just come to visit a church don’t know exactly why we need to join a church. We weren’t taught why we needed to join a church. We thought we could just, like, worship at home and get everything we need from sermons we hear online. Only until we joined the camp last year in June in Malacca, about the need to join a church and how important it is to join yourself to the body of Christ.

SS: Yes, yes.

JJ: Yeah so that’s one big thing that made us realize we need to join a church no matter what. We also had some other questions on various matters which we asked Pastor about.

SS: I see. So why then did you decide to join?

JJ: We joined because all these reasons were… not that they were not important, but just, categorized under Christian liberty and different families can interpret these things differently. How sure we are now cannot be as sure as when we go to heaven. So these are things we cannot say for sure that we are right and not join the church because of them. So the main reason we joined is because this church is a true church and it preaches the faithful doctrines of what the Bible teaches, and there are sacraments and offices. And we pray that if it is God’s will to keep the church, that God will continue to preserve all these in the church.

SS: I see. Thanks for sharing!

JJ: I think the most important thing is that Christian liberty cannot be used as an excuse to sin. And the other thing is that besides the other two marks of the true church, I think church discipline is very important. We often don’t see this because church discipline is something that is usually done by Session; in a way we can’t always see that it’s there. But I guess what we can do as a church is to be very observant on each other’s lives. Not in terms of judging each other, but more to encourage our brethren and always look out for them in case they step onto the wrong path. Not knowingly, a lot of us just get complacent when we are in the church. Like for me, even just after my first year, I feel like I can get complacent. I don’t really look out for others as much as I did in the past when I first came in and felt burdened for people. But now it’s just like, okay, settle down, Sunday comes, Sunday goes, little thought about others and how your fellow brothers and sisters are doing spiritually. I think the other thing other than Christian liberty is that our Christian life shouldn’t be walked complacently and we should always look out for each other.

SS: Can you think of some ways to improve the organic life of the church so that we are more closely knit? Like what you mentioned about looking out for each other – that would be one way – to help us be more closely knit as a church?

JJ: Hmmm… no, I don’t think so.

SS: Okay, I have another question then. What’s your favourite part about the life of the church in terms of like… the fellowship, activities, camps? Like what do you look forward to most in terms of life within this church besides the worship services?

JJ: That means the organic life of the church?

SS: Yeah, the organic life of the church. What’s the BEST part for you?

JJ: I think spiritual fellowship. Encouraging each other and being able to pray for each other. If I were to compare with other churches, this church definitely has more of that than other churches, but I think there should be a lot more, not just fellowship like normal conversation, but fellowship on the Word of God.

SS: Yes. How can we improve this? I guess it doesn’t come very naturally to a lot of people, to sit down and discuss something spiritual.

JJ: Yeah, like how are you? How are you spiritually? (laughs) I think it’s more of being courageous… It’s more like a pattern of life, so the moment you start it, and if your circle of friends does this often, then you will not be worried to just start doing it with other people also.

SS: That’s true. And I suppose if we all encourage each other to talk about spiritual things then it becomes a part of life?

JJ: Yup. Previously we had the prayer meeting which was quite good I thought, but now there’s no prayer meeting… Maybe that can be one way to help, because it’s an opportunity for us to share about these things. Because sometimes it’s so difficult to start sharing informally. I do think that a lot of people like to share, just that they feel uncomfortable.

SS: Yeah… Okay, another question on a different topic. Being a relatively new member of our church, what’s your perspective on the history of CERC in general?

JJ: It’s good that the church made the decision to split, because that’s when we all know what’s right and wrong about the issue. If not, we would still be oblivious about these things and often if we don’t talk about something, we assume that it is right or assume that remarriage is possible. But when we talk about it then everybody knows.

SS: Another question. What do you feel is the most exciting thing that’s going on in church right now? Like maybe the Kolkata mission work, or all the babies being added to our church recently, or the Christian school work or something?

 

JJ: Exciting? Hmmm… exciting? What’s exciting? (laughs) I think the camps are exciting! (laughs) Church camps are exciting. Actually I think the mission work is exciting. Because it’s very, very miraculous, not something that we will do on our own. Like we can plan for church camps and other things but we never planned for a missionary. And it’s somebody whom God brings… amazing!

SS: Okay, let’s end off by talking a bit about the future of the church. What are your thoughts and hopes regarding the future?

JJ: That we will all be faithful to the Word of God, and will stand up for what is right and wrong especially as the world grows very grey in a lot of things… that we will differentiate the truth from the lie and even through the trials and tribulations that will come our way, that we will hold fast to the Word of God.

SS: I think this is especially important to preserve and pass on to the next generation, isn’t it? How do you think we can help the future generation? I know there’s work going on for the Christian school but it’s not up yet, so…

JJ: I think it’s about the current youths that need to be trained up in the Word of God, and then only can the next generation follow. Then only can we teach them the right things.

SS: Yes. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

JJ: No.

SS: Okay then, thank you!

Written by: Jemima Joy Boon | Issue 46

Boldness in Social Settings

Mary pushes “Send” and leans back contentedly in her computer chair. She has made all the necessary plans, the invites have been sent out on Facebook messenger, and the only thing left now is to prepare the food for the social gathering on Sunday evening. She is excited about the young adults coming over; she enjoys hosting and is comfortable conversing with people. If Mary were to complain, which she is very hesitant to do, it would be that she can feel overwhelmed at times. It seems like she always must do all the work for social settings. If she does not do the work of hosting, then who will? But she keeps these thoughts to herself and consoles herself with the fact that she is doing a good work, promoting unity and fellowship among the young adults of the church. Someday, perhaps, someone else will take over the work of inviting others to social settings.

What has been described in the above paragraph is a hypothetical scenario, not intended to call out any specific “Marys”, but to call to mind the idea of “social settings”. What are social settings? Who is to set them up? Should Christian young people feel obligated to RSVP positively to invitations to social gatherings? And finally, how can Christians be biblically bold in social settings?

A social setting is a gathering of people who   interact   with   each   other   with the purpose of enjoying each other’s company. They are not gathered with any explicit religious, political, or financial motivation. In other words, Mary is not having people to her home to worship God, nor to select the next ruler of their nation, nor to make money by working. Instead, Mary has arranged this social gathering in order that she might enjoy the fellowship and company of other people.

We who are Christians have an important motivation to be active in Christian social settings, because we believe God is a covenantal God who is jealous for fellowship with His people. The primary way God fellowships with His people is on the Sabbath day, in the official act of worship. But God’s fellowship with people is not limited to the Sabbath day; He lives in and with His people at all times.   2 Cor. 6:16, “Ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people”. Immediately after giving the covenant formula, God gives a command that has important application for social settings: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord” (2 Cor. 6:17a).

We see that God’s word has important commands regarding fellowship with Him and with His people. But we also know that the devil goes forth as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. The devil will use any tool he can to prevent God’s people from speaking and fellowshipping with each other and with their heavenly Father. In the beginning, the devil used a lowly serpent as the means by which he pitted husband against wife and mankind against God. Let us examine several ways we can be biblically bold in social settings.

The first way we can be bold is by taking the initiative to host, or at least contribute to, a social event. Especially the young men do well to remember this. If Singapore is similar to America in this regard, then it is generally the young women who take the initiative in setting up social events. I am thankful for the young women’s willingness to do this. But young men, I encourage you, step forward. Prepare to be a leader both in marriage and in the church by being a leader now, taking a role in organising social events. Do not be not like Barak, who hid behind the skirt of Deborah while she led the men of Israel into battle.

Another way in which we can be biblically bold is by putting forth effort to attend the good social events which have been planned. If a man wants to have godly friends, then he must show himself friendly to godly people. Proverbs   17:18,   “A   man   that   has friends must show himself friendly”. The individual who lives on the edge of the church, rarely attending social functions with other church people, may not expect in return that the people of the church will go out of the way to be kind to him. If you want friends and the benefits of friendship, then show yourself friendly.

But there is another important aspect regarding the RSVP to social functions, and that is the ability to say “No” to ungodly invites. There are certain times when the child of God must be bold to decline an invite, because he knows that being in that social setting will tempt him to sin. When your secular work colleague invites you to come to the bar with him after work hours, ask yourself, “Is this something that the antithetical child of God should attend? Will it build me up in holiness? Will my eyes be tempted to lust after that which God has not given me? Will my hands be tempted to touch things that should not be touched?” The same questions must be asked as you consider joining online social gatherings. In today’s world, one does not even need to leave the bedroom to attend a social gathering; they can join groups and communities and games right on their smart phone. Say “No” to online invites that will tempt you to disobey God’s holy law.

But now you are at the social gathering, and the environment is a good one. Mary has sent out the invitation, the date has come, and the people have arrived. What does the Bible say about boldness at the event itself?

First, pray that the Lord give you boldness to set a watch on your mouth. Psalm 141:3, “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips”. The tongue is a little member, but it can work so great an evil. One particular way the lips can work a great evil is by being continually argumentative and schismatic at social gatherings. The cantankerous individual ceases not to complain, whether it be about politics, the weather, the minister, personal difficulties, or family struggles. Proverbs 18:17 calls such a man a fool: “A fool’s lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for strokes”. Before you go to the social setting, pray that God will give you boldness not to speak about contentious matters which only stir up strife and controversy.

Another way in which the lips can work a great evil is by gossiping. The gossiping individual is generally insecure in himself, so he consoles himself by degrading others. Sometimes he tells the truth, other times he does not, but always his stories have this intended effect: make the other person look worse, while making himself look better. The biblically bold Christian who is making plans to attend a social gathering must pray for boldness not to gossip or slander, but instead to speak the truth in love, to defend and promote the honour and good character of his neighbour, as much as he is able (H.C., L.D. 43).

If the thought of attending a Christian social function fills you fear and anxiety, then remember that true, biblical boldness is not natural to fallen man. Feelings of anxiousness at the thought of attending or hosting a Christian social function is quite normal. But what must not be normal is how you respond to the anxiety. Instead of responding by clamming up and refusing always to attend, respond by lifting up your supplications to God in prayer. Ask Him for a rich measure of the Holy Spirit, who is able to empower and comfort His people.

For those who tend to be more outgoing but who struggle to control their impulsive tongue, continue to seek the forgiving grace of Jesus Christ. We all are sinners, and we all behave at times like the impetuous Peter, who, in light of social pressure “began… to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man [Jesus Christ]” (Matt. 26:74). When we deny Christ with our words or our actions at social settings, and consequently we feel shame for our sinfulness, then be bold to go to God’s throne of grace. And as you confess your sins to God, be assured that He is faithful and just to forgive you your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Written by: Stephan Regnerus | Issue 45

Public School Christian Organisations

While walking around my university campus recently, I noticed many posters promoting various events of campus para-church organizations (CPOs), such as teas, talks, and Bible studies. These posters flash titles like “God is Calling You”, “Permission to Dream”, and “Celebrate Christ”, with the hopes of attracting Christians from all denominations to their events. This situation is not unique to my university. Most of these CPOs operate branches in the other tertiary institutions in Singapore, and organise similar programmes for the students of those institutions.

If you are a student, you too may have been approached to attend a CPO activity, or even to join the CPO itself. Or perhaps you may one day be approached by a CPO. As Reformed Christians, what should be our view of these fellowships? Should we join them? Before we answer these questions, we must understand the missions and purposes of these CPOs.

Their Mission

For this section, we will examine the stated missions of some prominent CPOs in Singapore, including the Navigators, Cru (previously called Campus Crusade), and Varsity Christian Fellowship. While the precise missions will differ among individual CPOs, and we cannot analyse every single CPO’s mission here for lack of time and space, we can notice that at least among the few prominent CPOs, there are certain similar overarching messages that they wish to bring forth through their activities.

The one most similar goal among all CPOs is evangelism. Their goal of evangelism is advertised through statements such as “to know Christ and make Him known” and “reach, build, and send Christ-centred multiplying disciples who launch spiritual movements”. The CPOs hope to achieve this through events such as tea sessions, summer camps, and talks. Some also organize campus evangelism efforts like giving out snacks and offering to pray for other students. Some even try to be “a blessing beyond borders” by participating in overseas social mission trips.

At first glance, this may sound like an excellent way of fulfilling the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, where Jesus commands “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations”. However, we must understand these CPOs’ bases for their evangelism efforts. For example, The Navigators quote 2 Corinthians 5:14 as their motivation, stating that “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that Christ died for all” (emphasis mine). This is a clear expression of the Arminian doctrine of universal atonement, in contradiction to the Reformed and biblical truth of limited atonement. While this does not necessarily mean that everyone in the CPO holds to an Arminian viewpoint, from the organization’s own statements, it   is   clear   that   the   organization’s efforts are founded on false Arminian teachings.

To be in a supposedly “Christian” organization that holds to doctrines contrary to the Reformed faith, especially contrary to a doctrine that is a cornerstone of the Reformation, is extremely dangerous for a Reformed young person, especially in his youthful years when he can be easily swayed by compelling mentors who disagree with the Reformed viewpoint.

In addition, one must ask if he can truly support the activities of an organization when they are clearly grounded on a basis that we cannot agree with. An evangelism effort grounded in Arminianism fails to give God the glory that is due, since it now shifts the emphasis to man’s work. If we were to join such an effort, would we not be – at least implicitly – supportive of this false basis?

Furthermore, let us not be tempted to forget the rest of Matthew 28:19. After “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” comes “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”. This demonstrates that the calling to evangelise is given to the church, because after preaching the Word comes baptism, and from there, church   membership.   An   individual can share the gospel, but he may not preach, and neither can he baptize. In their evangelism efforts, CPOs neglect the importance of church membership, choosing to focus only on the process of individual conversions, with no thought for what happens afterward. In addition, when CPOs think to convert men through their personal evangelistic efforts, they go against God’s will for man to be saved through the preaching of His Word in the worship service, through the ordained minister.

Another common mission of these CPOs is to foster growth and maturity among their existing members. They seek to “help believers mature in their relationship with God so that they can in turn reach the lost and help others mature in Christ”. Bible studies, quiet time sharings, prayer meetings, and testimonial sharings characterise the weekly sessions among the disciple groups (DGs) of the CPOs. Fellowship and fun are also encouraged through sports activities, potluck dinners, camps, and vacation training programs.

Once again, this sounds exactly like what is taught in Scripture. Does not Proverbs 27:17 say that “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend”? Surely, this must mean that we must help our fellow believers along in their walk with God. In fact, even our own CK/CKS constitution states a similar purpose: “To assist the young people as they grow in the knowledge of Christ to be godly, Reformed men and women, integrated into the organic life of the church.”

However, we must note that the attendees of the CPOs’ activities include Christians from any church and denomination. Unlike in CK/ CKS, where we have a common doctrinal ground, in the CPO there will be those who hold to erroneous teachings including common grace, universal atonement, the conditional covenant, pre- and post- millennialism, or even charismaticism and tongue- speaking. When people from such diverse backgrounds come together for a Bible study, it is inevitable that differences in scriptural interpretation will surface. Who, then, has the right interpretation? Is it not very confusing for a young man or lady to come to a Bible study and hear several different explanations of the same text, and leave without knowing which is the right one? Or worse, adopting the wrong explanation? This is no help at all to the growth of a fellow believer.

The other alternative, as some might advocate, would be to go the way of   having   “no   creed   but   Christ”, an attractive proposition that in reality preaches tolerance rather than the defence of the truth. To avoid confrontations   with   others   in   the group who hold to different beliefs, a Reformed Christian in a CPO may be tempted to keep silent in the face of incorrect doctrines, choosing simply to bury the differences and enjoy the company of fellow Christians, rather than incur the ire of the group by speaking out.

Our Differences

These organizations proudly announce that they are inter-denominational. They welcome Christian youth from all churches, all distinctives, and all beliefs. They encourage each other with their mutual love for Christ and evangelism.

Here is where we ought to be careful of the dangers of a false ecumenism. In our earlier discussion about the Bible study sessions organised by CPOs, we have highlighted how the differences in our doctrines could make it difficult for us to have truly fruitful meetings. By welcoming Christians of every background into one big fellowship, despite the differences, CPOs really leave no choice except to send out this message: it does not matter if we differ on doctrine. As long as we love Christ, let’s come together and do things together.

This is in contradiction to Scripture, which asks the question: “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). What basis is there for unity if we cannot agree, especially on such important things as doctrines? If we choose to persist in remaining in a CPO, chances are we will choose to remain silent, rather than defend our faith and offend.

While unity is important, the basis for unity is founded solely on the truth – the truth taught in Scripture and expressed in our confessions. We do not seek unity at the expense of the truth, covering it up and smoothing out the sharp edges so that it will not offend.

To join or not to join?

So, should I join my campus’ Cru or Nav? While there are no hard and fast rules, perhaps a young person should consider some of these factors when deciding whether to join a CPO.

Firstly, what is your purpose for wanting to join a CPO? Are you joining to make friends? If you are, then remember the words of Amos 3:3. It is not wrong to be friendly to people, including those who participate in CPOs, but there is no true unity if you cannot be agreed. Are you joining to share the Reformed truth?

While that may be a noble motive, you would do well to reflect if that is the best way to do so, considering you will be severely outnumbered by those who do not share the same views. Perhaps it would be more fruitful to use your time to privately share the Reformed faith with those who show interest, rather than attempting to fight for change in an entire organization.

Secondly, consider that our time and energies are limited. While we are called to serve God and His kingdom, this is primarily through membership and service in the local church. Will your participation in a CPO cause you to become so busy that you no longer have time to attend CK/CKS or other church programs? Will you be so burdened with your duties in a CPO that you cannot serve on committees in the church? Or will you end up with no time even to meet and commune with the saints in CERC? If your membership and participation in a CPO is causing you to neglect your church, then you should seriously reconsider if you should be devoting that much time to the CPO over the church.

Finally, while we may generally disagree with the purpose of CPOs, there are nevertheless lessons which we can learn from them. For example, their zeal for evangelism is one trait that we can emulate, albeit in the correct, biblical manner. God is pleased to use His church as the means to call His people to Him, and as a church we would do well to be zealous in promoting the gospel. We may also learn from how the members in the CPOs take great interest in communing with and encouraging   their   fellow   members. As brethren, we too would do well to remember that our Christian walk is not done alone, but that we ought to lead each other along, because “iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Prov. 27:17).

Written by: Isa Tang | Issue 45

BRF Review

The British Reformed Fellowship (BRF) Conference is a Reformed conference that is held in the United Kingdom biannually, for a week. This year, it was held from Saturday, 16 July to Saturday, 23 July, at Castlewellan Castle in Northern Ireland.

The theme of the conference was “Behold, I Come Quickly: The Reformed, Biblical Truth of the End”. There were six speeches on that topic, given by Prof. David Engelsma and Rev. Andy Lanning. In addition, there were three special speeches by Rev. McGeown (“Disorderliness and the Second Coming of Christ” [2 Thess. 3]), Mr. Pete Adams (“The Renaissance and the Reformation, Highlighting the Eschatological Implications”), and Rev. Stewart (“Dispensationalism, J.N. Darby, and Powerscourt”).

The first speech by Prof. Engelsma taught us about the signs of Jesus’ second coming and that He returns quickly. Rev. Lanning’s first speech dealt with the subject of premillennial dispensationalism, especially the views of premillennial dispensationalists about the rapture and antichrist. Against those views, he stated the Reformed belief about being “caught up together…in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (1Thess. 4:17). Prof. Engelsma’s next speech was entitled “The Coming World-Conquest of the Beast from the Sea”, taken from Revelation 13. In the fourth conference speech, “Jesus’ Coming as a Thief in View of Abounding Lawlessness and Great Apostasy”,   Rev.   Lanning   explained what it means that Jesus comes as a thief and how that is connected to the signs of apostasy and lawlessness (Matt. 24:11-12). The last two conference speeches were given the day before the conference ended. Prof. Engelsma gave a speech on “The Two Witnesses of Revelation” (Rev. 11) in the morning. Later that day, Rev. Lanning gave the last conference speech, “Called to Live in the Expectation of a Final Judgment and in the Hope of Life Eternal”.

On the Sunday of the conference we had the church services at the castle. The morning sermon was preached by Prof. Engelsma on “The Hope of Creation for Christ’s Coming”, his text being Romans 8:19-22. The evening worship service was led by Rev. Lanning, who preached about Methusaleh, with Genesis 5:25-27 as his text.

During the conference there were two day trips. One of them was on Monday, 18 July. That trip was to Hillsborough Castle, where the queen and other British royalty stay when they come to Northern Ireland. We got a guided tour of the castle and then got to spend some time outside in the queen’s garden. The other day trip was on Thursday the 21st to Boyne Valley, a 1690 battle site, and Trim Castle. In the town of Trim we also had time to walk around the town next to the castle and fellowship with each other.

At the BRF Conference there were people from many different countries: Australia, Canada, England, Hungary, Northern Ireland, the Philippines, Ireland, Singapore, the United States, and Wales. Psalm 22:27-28 talks about this: “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the LORD’S: and he is the governor among the nations”.

Every morning and every night there was devotions, led by different people attending the conference. Devotions included singing from the Scottish Psalter, which the church in Northern Ireland also uses for its worship services. We used this Psalter before and after each speech as well.

There was also free time every day, when we could talk, walk around a lake by the castle, cycle, kayak, go to one of the world’s largest hedge mazes, sing with people at the conference, and many other activities.

We are thankful for the time we could spend with God’s people at the conference.

“I love Thy saints, who fear Thy name And walk as in Thy sight; They are the excellent of earth, In them is my delight” (Psalter 27, stanza 2).

Written by: Jessica Lanning | Issue 41