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............."Oh, the gallant fisher's life, It is the best of any 'Tis full of pleasure, void of strife, And 'tis beloved of many." ..........[Piscator's Song, "The Compleat Angler" by Izaak Walton] "The fishers also shall mourn,and all they that cast angle into the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish." [Isaiah XIX:8]

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Of Illegal Aliens and the Church

A recent inquirer to the webmaster of http://www.opc.org/ recently asked the following question regarding the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the issue of illegal aliens:

Does our denomination support amnesty for illegal immigrants? This would possibly include government funded health care & education. I certainly hope not! We have enough unemployed Americans here without jobs now. We don't need to encourage illegal immigration to take those jobs.

Here are my comments:

The 73rd General Assembly of the OPC (2006) responded to an overture from the Presbytery of Southern California seeking advice for "presbyteries and sessions regarding the reception of illegal aliens into membership in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church."

The 73rd General Assembly responded "by electing a committee of three, and one alternate, to study the issue regarding the reception of illegal aliens into membership in the OPC and to propose to the 74th General Assembly advice for presbyteries and sessions" (Minutes of the Seventy-Fourth General Assembly, item 93.). That committee did, in fact, present a study report to the 74th General Assembly (2007) which can be seen in the Appendix, pages 334-367 of the Minutes of the Seventy-Fourth General Assembly. This document can be viewed online at http://opc.org/GA/aliens.pdf.

In the report, the Committee argued:

Can an illegal alien, then, honestly promise to obey Christ when he knows that he will continue intentionally or perhaps unintentionally to break the third, fifth, eighth, and ninth commandments? We believe a credible profession of faith requires that the illegal alien seeking church membership should be willing to repent of these sins as he comes to understand them in the light of God's Word and through the ministry of the pastor/evangelist and the elders. What does this mean for the illegal alien? We believe that the illegal alien, out of a desire to serve the Lord with all that is in him, should honor the government by attempting to remedy his unlawful immigration status.

Committee members, however, offered differing views as to what steps should be taken to remedy one's immigration status prior to reception into church membership.

You must understand that study reports that come to the General Assembly in the OPC do not bear constitutional status. They are in the realm of pastoral advice. The OPC has historically, on principle, understood the church’s power in terms of the definition of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Chapter XXXI (“Of Synods and Councils”), Section 4, states the following:
Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.

Thus it is that the OPC, as a church denomination, has not spoken on the issue you raise. The responsibility for doing justly belongs to the courts of the church (sessions, presbyteries, and the general assembly) on a case by case basis in keeping with our constitutional standards—-the Scriptures (our primary standard), the Confession of Faith, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms.

We are well aware that many denominations in America have gone the direction of attempting to speak authoritatively on the many issues that come before the state. We are also aware that the National Association of Evangelicals has recently adopted a Resolution calling for immigration reform in the US and that several churches, including the Christian Reformed Church, have endorsed that resolution. The OPC, however, on principle, is not a member of the NAE and has not endorsed their Resolution or otherwise made any official statement. The study report presented to the 74th G.A. is offered solely as a help.

May God bless you richly.

In Christ,


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Of the Waters of Infant Baptism: A Follow-Up

Infant baptism continues to perplex many. An unpersuaded inquirer offered the following follow-up question/comment:

I was baptized as an infant, and I came to understand that I was completely unable to change my attitude towards God (much less His creation) until He graciously intervened and brought me out of the darkness. So I wonder, is it because of some "Covenant" that God made with Abraham, or was it the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit that ultimately brings us to the real kingdom of God? Also, I still cannot find any biblical testimony which would lead me to the conclusion that infant baptism is a necessity, much less an inference. I reread Galatians and the Apostle Paul repeatedly restates that it is not "circumcision" which counts but a renewed and changed heart/life in Christ!

This is worthy a response. So here goes:

First of all, is baptism a necessity? Clearly, Jesus commanded His church to go into all the world and baptize (Matthew 28:18-20). Is obedience to a command of Jesus a 'necessity'? I think so. So the question is really whether infant baptism is included in the command.

To put it another way, however, we might ask whether water baptism is a necessity for salvation. Here we would reply that the sacrament itself saves no one, neither adult nor infant. It is the reality of the cleansing that comes in being joined to Jesus Christ that saves. Thus, we would affirm that not the sacrament of baptism but the baptism in the Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary for salvation for all who would be saved.

It only by grace through faith that we are saved, because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. By the original covenant God made with Adam, when he sinned, all his descendants (the whole human race) fell into sin and under condemnation. Infants are children of Adam; they are sinners from the womb. They need salvation like the rest.

Baptism does not save them, but baptism is a sign. This means it signifies something. It signifies cleansing. It signifies the outpouring of the Spirit from heaven. It signifies being joined with Christ.

Baptism is also a seal. This means it confirms something, like a seal placed on a document by a notary public. Baptism confirms the truthfulness of God's promise and the obligation placed upon the members of the church. Church membership saves no one. Water baptism saves no one, neither infants nor adults. But when the members are received into the visible church, they are to be baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Their baptism is the rite of initiation which confirms them as members of the church and obliged to obey all that Christ has commanded us, including the commands to repent and believe. Children in the church are to be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They are to taught to obey the commandments of Christ. They are to be called to repent and believe. Again, their baptism does not save them, but they are to be pointed to their baptism (infants don't remember the day of their baptism, but they can be reminded of the MEANING of baptism.) They can be reminded that God graciously allowed them to be born of Christian parents, in a Christian home, and to be baptized into a Christian church. Those are great privileges; and they place great responsibility on the child to heed and obey the gospel they are hearing.

So we say again, water baptism does not save anyone, but baptism means something, and it confirms something.

The Reformed faith affirms the continuity of the Old Testament (Old Covenant) and the New Testament (New Covenant). There is only one way of salvation, through faith in Jesus Christ. The old covenant pointed to Christ; the new covenant is the fulfillment of the salvation by Christ. There is a continuity and a fulfillment. The promises made to Abraham are fulfilled in Jesus Christ (specifically, the promised Seed of Abraham would bring blessing to all the nations: see Genesis 12:1-3, 15:5, and chapter 17.). Baptism in the new covenant corresponds to circumcision in the old. The old was a bloody ritual; Jesus' once for all death was the once for all end and fulfillment of the blood sacrifice. The blood of circumcision has given way to the water of baptism, but they mean the same--cleansing; and the true cleansing they represent (signify) is to be found only in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ and the outpouring of His Spirit.

To close, here is a quote from the instruction we give from the OPC Directory for the Public Worship of God as it relates to infant baptism:
Although our young children do not yet understand these things, they are nevertheless to be baptized. For the promise of the covenant is made to believers and to their seed, as God declared unto Abraham: "And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee." In the new dispensation no less than in the old, the seed of the faithful, born within the church, have, by virtue of their birth, interest in the covenant and right to the seal of it and to the outward privileges of the church. For the covenant of grace is the same in substance under both dispensations, and the grace of God for the consolation of believers is even more fully manifested in the new dispensation. Moreover, our Saviour admitted little children into his presence, embracing and blessing them, and saying, "Of such is the kingdom of God." So the children of the covenant are by baptism distinguished from the world and solemnly received into the visible church.

You are absolutely right in saying, "I was completely unable to change my attitude towards God (much less His creation) until He graciously intervened and brought me out of the darkness." And that is precisely what baptism says, "Unless you are cleansed from above by the GRACE of JESUS and by the HOLY SPIRIT you remain in your uncleanness." That is what baptism says to us and to our children, and that is very biblical!

Yours in Christ,
Dan Knox

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Of the OPC, PCUSA, and EPC: How Do They Differ?

An inquirer asked:

Do you have any information on specifically what ways the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) differs with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC)?

This is a most timely question. To begin my answer, here is a quotation from a helpful online publication at the OPC website (http://www.opc.org), entitled "What is the Orthodox Presbyterian Church?" (http://opc.org/whatis.html#I). You may want to read it in its entirety.

"During the nineteenth century, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. was largely a strong and faithful church. But liberalism began to creep in from Europe, and little was done to check its spread. In 1924 about 1,300 (out of 10,000) Presbyterian ministers signed the liberal Auburn Affirmation, which denied that the Bible was without error and declared that belief in such essential doctrines as Christ's substitutionary atonement and his bodily resurrection should not be made "tests for ordination or for good standing in our church." Unbelief was taking over the church.

"Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, remained a bastion of Presbyterian orthodoxy. But in 1929 its Board was reorganized with a mandate to put liberal professors on the faculty. Four Princeton professors resigned and (with the support of others) established Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia as an independent institution to continue teaching biblical Christianity.

"The leading opponent of liberalism in those days was J. Gresham Machen, a Presbyterian minister and professor at Princeton (and later Westminster). When he exposed the modernist unbelief that permeated the foreign missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., the General Assembly in 1933 refused to do anything about it. Because he and others would only support missionaries who were actually preaching the gospel, they established the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. The 1934 Assembly condemned their action, and they were soon deposed from office. In response, 34 ministers, 17 ruling elders, and 79 laymen met in Philadelphia on June 11, 1936, to constitute the Presbyterian Church of America. (Because of a lawsuit brought by the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., the name of the new church was changed to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1939.) They wanted to "continue the true spiritual succession of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A." They hoped that a mass exodus of Bible-believing Christians would swell the ranks of the new denomination, but it never happened. Then, on January 1, 1937, Machen's untimely death dealt a severe blow to the new church."

Since its beginning, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church has been committed with integrity to the Scriptures as the inspired, infallible Word of God. Counting the cost of standing for truth, we are persuaded that the Word of God is without error and that the teaching of Scripture is not bound by cultural limitations. We wholeheartedly subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechism in its entirety. Ministers and elders are required to subscribe to those documents and to uphold their teachings.

This in itself is a radical difference from the PCUSA where the Westminster Confession and catechisms are more looked upon as historical documents that summarize what the church USED TO BELIEVE. Ministers and elders in the PCUSA are not required to subscribe to those confessional statements. In fact, I myself experienced first hand in 1979-1981 in what was then the UPCUSA, the courts of the church upholding a minister who openly denied the deity of Christ and who would not affirm either the bodily resurrection of Christ or the blood atonement. That is what led me to join the OPC shortly thereafter. The PCUSA has condoned denials of the Biblical faith and disciplined those men like Dr. Machen and others who have sought to hold her accountable to the Word of God.

In the OPC we believe that the marks of the true church are the faithful preaching of the Word of God, the faithful administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, and the faithful administration of church discipline. In all things the Scriptures are the rule of faith and practice. Those who are delinquent in doctrine or life are subject to the discipline of the church.

While the Evangelical Presbyterian Church generally has a more biblically conservative bent than the PCUSA, the OPC differs from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church particularly in two matters.

First, we wholeheartedly affirm the teaching of the apostle Paul which forbids women teaching or having authority over men. Thus, we do not ordain women to the offices of minister, ruling elder, or deacon. The EPC does permit the ordination of women.

Second, the OPC is also united in its belief that the charismatic gifts such as prophecy and the speaking of tongues ceased with the end of the apostolic age. The EPC believes that those gifts continue into the present day. The OPC is persuaded that those gifts were specifically associated with the apostolic era while the Scriptures were still being written as signs of the authenticity of the apostles. Once the canon of Scripture was completed, those gifts ceased and the Scriptures alone are the sole, sufficient authority given by God for the instruction of His church. We confess, "The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men" (WCF I.6). And further we confess, "The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture" (WCF I.10).

While more could be said, I hope this is helpful.

May the Lord bless your continued pursuit of His truth.

In Christ,
R. Daniel Knox, Pastor
Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Sewickley, PA 

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Of Gluttony and Other Such Sins

Greetings to you in Christ.

Have you noticed that there are some sins we do not like to talk about? Gluttony, I think, is one of those less than popular subjects. When is the last time you heard a good sermon on the sin of gluttony? Or can you remember the last time you read a good book on the sin of gluttony? Even so, a recent inquirer dared to submit a question to the OPC website about it. The writer asked:

How do you handle the sin of gluttony in your church?

My first question was why the Q. and A. administrator handed this question off to me. And then almost immediately I began thinking about my own aptness to overindulge in food, or drink, or fishing, or reading Facebook, or ... So maybe I could write from experience.

My second question was who is apt to read this Web Log entry?? But fools rush in where angels fear to tread. So at the risk of further promoting my own unpopularity, here goes:

Gluttony, like all other sins, can be defined in terms of the Ten Commandments. The OPC is committed to the teaching of Scripture on the matter, and we receive and adopt the Westminster Standards (The Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms) as a reliable summation of what we believe the Scriptures teach.

As you can see in what follows, the exposition in the Westminster Larger Catechism that would describe ‘gluttony’ is found under the sixth commandment (Questions 134-136, cf. http://opc.org/lc.html). I have highlighted the relevant phrases of what is required and what is forbidden that would pertain to gluttony.

Q. 134. Which is the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment is, Thou shalt not kill.

Q. 135. What are the duties required in the sixth commandment?
A. The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defense thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labor, and recreations; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent. [Note: the older meaning of ‘physic’ is medicine.]

Q. 136. What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.

In addition, gluttony can be understood as a kind of idolatry, which is the sin of serving and living for created things rather than for the Creator.

Thus, we would definitely view gluttony as a sin--a sin against oneself, a sin that can and often does affect one’s neighbor, and a sin against God. As such, we view it as one of those sins for which Christ died and from which those in Christ have been set free from the bondage thereof. It is a sin and behavior that belongs to the old nature. As those redeemed in Christ, made alive in Him, raised to newness of life with Him, and adopted into the family of God as members of Christ and citizens of a heavenly kingdom, gluttony is to be repented of and put away, and the new life in Christ is to be put on. The power to do is in the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. We receive the help of the Spirit through the means of grace--the Word, the sacraments, and prayer. We also receive help through the counsel and encouragement of fellow believers, particularly of those who are over us in the Lord, our ministers and ruling elders.

Oftentimes gluttony and obesity are compounded by slothfulness, by inactivity, or by natural weaknesses of the flesh that could include physical or mental illnesses or disorders. Such situations call for wisdom and patience, and the remedy may well include exercise, good work habits, medical help, and counsel in addition to biblical instruction and growth in grace in repentance and faith. At the same time, it is certainly conceivable that unrepentant gluttony could be the ground of church discipline. I can think of cases, for example, where drunkenness (a kind of gluttony) has been the chargeable offense.

As you can see, we view gluttony as not unlike other sins that have been summarily paid for in Christ and are overcome in the victory of Christ. As with other particular sins, even habitual sins, what we cannot do to change ourselves, God can do; with Him all things are possible.

Again, allow me to express my gratitude for the opportunity to attempt an answer to your question. I hope it is helpful, and I would welcome any follow-up questions you may have. You could email me directly if you would like, and certainly feel free to write to the OPC website.

Blessings to you in our Savior.

In His Service,

R. Daniel Knox, Pastor
Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Sewickley, PA

Friday, September 4, 2009

Of Football and the Christian Sabbath

A recent inquirer wrote,

Recently we have been studying "Celebrating the Sabbath" by Bruce Ray. In our discussions the matter of professional athletes came up. Often their schedule would inhibit them from attending church during the season of their sport. Some of whom may commit themselves to regular Bible Study. This issue did not seem to be addressed in the book and it created quite a controversy at our study as to whether they should give up their vocation because of being unable to attend regular church service in season?

To further complicate matters one of the members gives Golf Lessons on Sunday but still attends the evening service. The difficult economic times have led to him undertaking this.

Any guidance on this matter would be greatly appreciated.

My answer follows:
Your question is one that has occupied my thinking for a long time. In elementary school, I had visions of becoming a professional football player. Lack of talent, however, coupled with knee and ankle surgeries in successive years of high school football, pretty much was God's providential answer that such a career was not going to happen.

But as I came to deeper Christian convictions, the matter was settled on principle as well.

The OPC's doctrinal statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith is quite clear on the matter. Chapter XXI, section 8, reads as follows:

This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.

The Confession understands the Scriptures to teach that the first day of the week is to be kept as the Christian Sabbath and to teach us to keep a holy rest that day from our own "works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations."

That, however, does not disqualify duties of 'necessity' and 'mercy'. The OPC has adopted the following proof texts (citations from the King James Version, without prejudice to other versions) to provide the Scriptural support for such works of necessity and mercy:

Isa. 58:13-14. If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

Luke 4:16. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.

Matt. 12:1-13. At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day. But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; how he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day. And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue: and, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him. And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days. Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.

Mark 3:1-5. And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.

We recognize Jesus and His disciples putting forth their hand to pluck some grain for their daily bread on the Sabbath was not a violation of the Sabbath. The picture is that of the Son of Man and his followers as the poor of the earth gleaning from the field of another, which had been mercifully left available to them (cf. Leviticus 23:22). It is certainly not the picture of the
farmer harvesting his field on the Sabbath.

We recognize too the propriety of Jesus' merciful healing of the man with the withered hand, and of His implied approval of releasing one's sheep or son or ox that fell into a pit (well) on a Sabbath (cf. Luke 14:5).

Thus, we can certainly think of similar acts of goodly service and mercy that would be in keeping with the heart of the Sabbath commandment to do good and to show mercy and to enter into the worship of the living God and to encourage others to do the same.

The question then is, "Do professional sports and other such employments and activities qualify as either works of necessity or mercy?"

As Christians we called to stand for Christ and to confess Him before men. The prevailing culture has little or no respect for the Sabbath. Should we? Should we be willing to suffer loss in worldly goods as those who whose hearts are set on an eternal inheritance in the heavenlies?

Am I saying that Christians should be willing to look for jobs that will enable them to keep the Sabbath? Am I saying that Christians should be willing to express their convictions about the Lord’s Day in job interviews? Am I saying that we ought to trust God to provide for us as we seek first the kingdom of our heavenly Father and His righteousness? Yes, I am.

Blessings to you,
in Christ,

R. Daniel Knox, Pastor
Grace OPC in Sewickley, PA

P.S. What follows is an open letter I recently sent to Ben Roethlisberger, the star quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers:

August 8, 2009

Pittsburgh Steelers
Attn. Ben Roethlisberger
3400 South Water
Pittsburgh, PA 15203

Dear Mr. Roethlisberger,

Greetings in Christ.

My heart goes out to you in the face of the civil suit currently before you.

Like others, I listened with great interest to your public statement. In what I heard in the media presentation, you rightly expressed concern for your own name and reputation, and for your obligation to preserve the respect and reputation of your family, your teammates, the Steelers organization, and your fans.

The one thing I did not hear was a concern for the glory and honor of the name of your Savior. Whether you have committed immoralities or not (I trust as a Christian that you believe sexual union outside of marriage is a sin), your reputation as a Christian athlete, as one who professes Christ, is at issue. Your conduct in public and in private is a reflection upon Him and His good name. Thus, I would hope that you would take that to heart. Many, including many children, look up to you and to your example.

While I am writing, I would take opportunity to express an ongoing concern for you and others. How is a professional athlete able to maintain a right relationship with Christ and His church when he or she is continually being put in the situation of compromising the Lord's Day and the public assembling of the saints? As much as I like football and many other sports, as much as I might enjoy watching you or others play, I cannot see professional sports as either a work of necessity or a work of mercy in reference to the Fourth Commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy. I remember a former Pittsburgh Pirate, Vernon Law, who refused to pitch on a Sunday, and of course, there is the example of Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire), who refused to run a particular race on the Lord's Day. What is a football player to do? Our culture has little concern for such things as Sabbath-keeping, but you must answer to the Lord. You must face the dilemma, and thus I say again, my heart goes out to you. But the nagging question of Jesus remains, "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?"

I truly do hope the best for you. That is why I write.

Yours in Christ,

R. Daniel Knox, Pastor
Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Sewickley, PA

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Of Mountains and Rivers

Standing before a group of ministers gathered in Philadelphia on November 27, 1933, J. Gresham Machen read an essay he had written. The topic was perhaps surprising given Machen’s stature as a theologian and the church wars in which he was embroiled at the time. The essay was neither about the nature of true faith nor about the dreadful effects of liberalism. It was not about the virgin birth or the infallibility of the Scriptures or the origin of Paul’s religion. We can imagine a group of ministers hanging on every word if the topic had been any one of those mentioned. For that reason, “Mountains and Why We Love Them” might seem to have been far removed from the concerns of the day, but nothing could have been further from the truth.

Machen begins his essay in a most unassuming manner, asking the question, “What right have I to speak about mountain-climbing?” and answering, “The answer is very simple. I have none whatever. I have, indeed, been in the Alps four times.” Machen viewed himself a novice by comparison to those guides upon whom he depended to ascend mountain peaks; but he loved mountains, and of this he wrote. In Machen’s own words, his essay is not about the mountains, per se, but “about the love of the mountains.”

So it is then that for several minutes, Machen shared his love of the mountains. He spoke in the first person, describing his ascent in the Alps near Zermatt, endeavoring as it were to bring us along on a novice climb to enjoy the heights with him. But ever so humbly, J. Gresham Machen demonstrates again why he is considered by many to be a mountaineer of the first rank in the church, having led them to see things clearly from on high. Indeed, even here, by essay’s end, we the hearers and readers are with Machen looking out from the summit of the Matterhorn upon the vista of the world and the entire scope of human history, seeing things from the lofty vantage point of God and His grace. Machen writes,

What will be the end of that European civilization, of which I had a survey from my mountain vantage ground—of that European civilization and its daughter in America? What does the future hold in store? Will Luther prove to have lived in vain? Will all the dreams of liberty issue into some vast industrial machine? Will even nature be reduced to standard, as in our country the sweetness of the woods and hills is being destroyed, as I have seen them destroyed in Maine, by the uniformities and artificialities and officialdom of our national parks? Will the so-called "Child Labor Amendment" and other similar measures be adopted, to the destruction of all the decencies and privacies of the home? Will some dreadful second law of thermodynamics apply in the spiritual as in the material realm? Will all things in church and state be reduced to one dead level, coming at last to an equilibrium in which all liberty and all high aspirations will be gone? Will that be the end of all humanity's hopes? I can see no escape from that conclusion in the signs of the times; too inexorable seems to me to be the march of events. No, I can see only one alternative. The alternative is that there is a God—a God who in His own good time will bring forward great men again to do His will, great men to resist the tyranny of experts and lead humanity out again into the realms of light and freedom, great men, above all, who will be messengers of His grace. There is, far above any earthly mountain peak of vision, a God high and lifted up who, though He is infinitely exalted, yet cares for His children among men.

I too love mountains. In my high school speech class my ‘persuasive speech” was an endeavor to convince the class that the mountains were the place to go. Vacations for me growing up meant a four hour drive to the Allegheny Mountains in the northern tier of Pennsylvania. My dad had a cabin in the mountains, well actually an old bus that was terminally parked on a mountain-top on a small plot of land adjoining the great woods of the mountains, where we hunted, and hiked, and fished, especially fished.

The memories vividly remain. Once in a small woodland clearing, we saw a pair of fox pups, playfully sparring with one another on their hind feet. One spring day, I recall hiking toward a mountain stream and coming upon a newborn fawn nestled beside a log in the woods, not daring to leap from its ‘hiding’, but its tiny nose twitching in my direction. And another time, crawling on hands and knees to approach a promising-looking fishing hole, I eventually glanced up to see a huge, shimmering black bear sitting on her haunches just a few feet across the stream from me, watching my every move.

I love mountains, but I also love rivers and I love fly-fishing. Taking my cue from Machen, I might ask what right have I to write about river fly-fishing? The answer is very simple. I have none whatever. Oh sure, I have watched A River Runs Through It several times and read Norman Maclean’s tiny novella that lies behind it. Indeed I have, dampened my wading boots in some pretty impressive streams like the Yellow Breeches Creek and the Letort Spring Run in Pennsylvania, the Nantahala River in North Carolina, the Arkansas River in Colorado, and the White River in Arkansas. As a youngster I even waded clear across the Allegheny River near Tidioute years before the Kinzua Dam changed that fishery forever and there cast my Heddon Midget River Runt Spook (What a great name for a lure!).

But the number of trout I have caught on a fly on those and a score of other streams in my lifetime, all combined, probably would not equal the best single day catch in the life of a top-notch fly fishing guide. Yes, I have read a number of books and articles (more than I would like to admit) on fly fishing, fly casting, and fly tying, and even dabbled in stream entomology (the study of insects); and the flies I have tied have actually snagged an occasional trout or two. And yes, I have reflected on environmental issues and the importance of conserving fresh, flowing waters, have joined Trout Unlimited and have sent off a few letters to congressmen and senators. I have even read The River Why, another book about to make its way to theaters everywhere, describing a young man’s quest for the meaning of life set against the backdrop of a river and fly-fishing, before it became a movie.

But why do I love rivers? Rivers are full of life. Rivers are refreshing. Rivers start somewhere and they go somewhere with lots of changes along the way, gaining volume, increasing momentum, irresistibly drawing things along in their path. Around every bend is something new, a new turn, a new view, a new opportunity. I guess that’s why I never quite knew when to turn back on a day of fishing. One more promising hole, one more sunken tree, one more undercut bank, just one more cast might offer up the trout of the day.

Why is it that standing in a mall, within minutes my back stiffens, my legs ache, and I am ready to make a dash for the parking lot? But let me stand in a river or stream, and for some odd reason I am able to stand for hours, perhaps even glued to the same spot and never once think about my back or legs? And why is that crossing a stream, I have this sudden urge to flip over rocks to see what is clinging underneath?

I think I will always cherish the little runs and brooks, the tiny, gurgling and clear-as-crystal mountain springs that emerge out of the rock of a mountain slope. There, you might bend the knee to take a sip of the coldest, clearest, and sweetest water the earth has to offer up. First making its way down a little crevice, it begins cascading over boulders and logs, creating little nooks guarded by native brook trout that snatch every bite size morsel that dares intrude. Streams so narrow, you can step across or wade barely wetting the top side of your boot, yet there beneath miniature waterfalls, a little brookie would in a flash, dart out of nowhere to rip into a worm or a sunken fly and then race for cover. I always want to go back there.

But streams and rivers, like life and time, never turn back. Did you know there is a river that runs through the Scriptures that appears in the beginning, flows through the pages of history, and reaches out to eternity? Here are three texts to consider, one from the beginning, one from the middle, and one from the end of the Bible:

  • Genesis 2:10 "Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers."
  • Psalm 46:4"There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, The holy dwelling places of the Most High."
  • Revelation 22:1-2 "Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street (On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

In the beginning God provided refreshment to the Garden He had made. His word speaks of the life and blessing He offers as refreshment to His people. It is no accident that the revelation of God in the flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ, speaks of Himself as the "living water." It is He who gives life and refreshment in a dry and thirsty land. It is He who waters the garden; it is He who makes glad the city of God; it is who He brings healing to the nations. The river precedes time, He appears in history; He goes somewhere; He has an end, a destination. So do we have an end, a destination, in Him--"to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever."

R. Daniel Knox

P.S. Dedicated to my Dad, who in large measure helped to instill in me a love for mountains and rivers.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Who Watches the Shepherds?

A church member asked me a while ago, "Should the OPC ruling bodies check their minister's beliefs are not changing over time and becoming more liberal or not aligning with our confession and catechism? As they grow as shepherds and pastors it would be easy for these men to stray from our confessions and catechisms, and no one in the presbytery or general assembly would know otherwise. Wouldn't it be wise to develop a system where pastors check their belief systems/doctrine on a regular basis, instead of 'once ordained, always ordained' current system?"

My answer follows:

The OPC charitably operates from the standpoint that a man's ordination to office is valid so long as he remains faithful and has neither demitted his office nor been deposed by judicial discipline from it. Thus, while we do not repeatedly reexamine men to insure that their ordination is valid, that ordination is always subject to the review of the church. That is not doubletalk. Let me explain.

The question raised here definitely addresses an important concern for the church. The apostle Paul's injunction to the elders from Ephesus rings true throughout the present experience of the church: "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:28-30).

Indeed, Paul's various writings suggest that times of trial and trouble are sure to come upon the church. For example, in I Timothy 4:1 and following, he states, "But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paing attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, ..." Again in II Timothy 4:3-4, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths." And the apostle Peter speaks likewise, "But false prophets also arose among the people, just there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves" (II Peter 2:1).

The ministers and ruling elders who comprise sessions, presbyteries, and general assemblies must continually be on guard, watching the gates and caring for the flock of Christ. As the OPC's Form of Government states, "Ruling elders, individually and jointly with the pastor in the session, are to lead the church in the service of Christ. They are to watch diligently over the people committed to their charge to prevent corruption of doctrine or morals" (X.3.).

The person asked, "Wouldn't it be wise to develop a system where pastors check their belief systems/doctrine on a regular basis...?" My answer to that is that the Lord Jesus indeed ordained the system of presbyterian church government for the very purpose you indicate. Church governors are to be ever diligent and watchful! None of us are to be left to our devices. We are to be continually measured by the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit and measuring what we hear (and what we read) from those who preach and teach in the church.

Presbyterian church government is the system the Lord ordained to provide for the safety that comes from a multitude of counselors (cf. Proverbs 24:6, KJV). True presbyterianism takes seriously man's total depravity and his aptness to err, and it is the very system the Lord has provided to practically deal with this. Each minister or elder is not his own judge, but the Lord has provided for a plurality of ministers and ruling elders to keep watch in the churches.

Unbiblical forms of church government miss the mark. On the one hand, independent church government fails to properly and adequately take into account the need we have for the connectiveness of the whole church and the need for the various governing assemblies that keep check on one another. On the other hand, hierarchial church government fails to acknowledge the parity of those church governors that the Lord has ordained to keep check on one another.

The OPC Form of Government, chapter XII, makes the following provision for governing assemblies:

  1. All governing assemblies have the same kinds of rights and powers. These are to be used to maintain truth and righteousness and to oppose erroneous opinions and sinful practices that threaten the purity, peace, or progress of the church. All assemblies have the right to resolve questions of doctrine and discipline reasonably proposed and the power to obtain evidence and inflict censures. A person charged with an offense may be required to appear only before the assembly having jurisdiction over him, but any member of the church may be called by any assembly to give testimony.
  2. Each governing assembly exercises exclusive original jurisdiction over all matters belonging to it. The session exercises jurisdiction over the local church; the presbytery over what is common to the ministers, sessions, and the church within a prescribed region; and the general assembly over such matters as concern the whole church. Disputed matters of doctrine and discipline may be referred to a higher governing assembly. The lower assemblies are subject to the review and control of higher assemblies, in regular graduation. These assemblies are not separate and independent, but they have a mutual relation and every act of jurisdiction is the act of the whole church performed by it through the appropriate body.

The responsibility of keeping watch, however, does not fall exclusively on ministers and elders. The whole church shares in that responsibility. The Form of Government states, "The power which Christ has committed to his church is not vested in the special officers alone, but in the whole body. All believers are endued with the Spirit and called of Christ to join in the worship, edification, and witness of the church which grows as the body of Christ fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in due measure of each part. The power of believers in their general office includes the right to acknowledge and desire the exercise of the gifts and calling of the special offices" (III.1.). What that means is that the members of the body of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, are to be discerning in their hearing. The members of the body, in accordance with the measure of the grace given to them, are to be constantly measuring what they hear from their ministers by the Word and the Spirit also.

Thus, if the officers or the members of the body discern doctrinal deviation or error in an office bearer, they have the right and the responsibility to pursue those matters with their brother in agreement with Matthew 18:15ff. If not resolved, such matters may be pursued in the courts of the church.

The OPC Book of Discipline states, "A charge of an offense may be brought by an injured party, by a person not an injured party, or by a judicatory. The offense alleged in the charge should be serious enough to warrant a trial...No charge shall be admitted against an elder, unless it is brought by two or more persons, according to I Timothy 5:19" (III.1.). In that same section the Book of Discipline goes on to state that, "an offense in the area of doctrine for the ordained officer which would constitute a violation of the system of doctrine contained in the Holy Scriptures as that system of doctrine is set forth in our Confession of Faith and Catechisms", is an offense serious enough to warrant a trial. Any two or more witnesses to such doctrinal aberration could enter charges in order to pursue orderly disciplinary process.

To sum up, the Church with its officers and its many members, are to be always watching, always praying for the preservation of sound doctrine and for the maintenance of the integrity of the ordained offices.

May the Lord continue to encourage you to such watchfulness and prayer. May He bless and keep you.
In Christ,

Saturday, June 6, 2009

What's the Difference?

Recently I was handed the question, "Does the Orthodox Presbyterian Church have any theological differences with the commentaries of C.H.Spurgeon, A.W. Pink, Horatius Bonar, Andrew Bonar, J.C. Ryle, L.R. Shelton, Jr.?"

My response follows:

The works of the men whom you have mentioned are found generously in the libraries of men in the OPC. We certainly see them as men who embrace the Reformed doctrine of salvation (soteriology) in God's electing grace (by grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone). Each of those you have mentioned would have seen himself as deeply indebted to the Reformation and to the older Puritan writers.

Of the list, the two Bonars were Presbyterians, Ryle was a bishop in the Church of England, and Spurgeon, Pink, and Shelton were Baptists.

That statement, in itself, says something about their doctrine of the church (ecclesiology). But it also points to their difference in views in regards to the sacraments (sacramentology).

Presbyterians are committed to the Presbyterian form of government, which stands over against the hierarchialism of the Church of England on the one hand, and independency or congregationalism of the Baptist churches on the other hand. In Presbyterianism the emphasis is upon the governance of the church through elders (presbyters) who may be ministers or ruling elders who together hold office and share rule in the church. Presbyterianism, also, sees biblical warrant for the various judicatories of the church: sessions, presbyteries, and synods or general assemblies. To my knowledge Ryle, Spurgeon, Pink, and Shelton did not particularly address themselves to ecclesiology in most of their writings.

For them and for many of the older Puritans, the great tendency is to focus on individual salvation in what might be called experimental (or experiential) religion in which the doctrines of grace are dealt with in terms of the order of salvation (predestination, election, regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification), applicable to the individual believer.

The Westminster Confession of Faith and catechisms, however, very much emphasize what might be called the history of salvation, the doctrines of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, and the theology of the church as church, collectively rather than individualistically. That is not to deny the order of salvation applicable to individuals but to also give due weight to the whole scope of redemption in the church, and the corporate expression of the kingdom of God coming to bear in the church in the world.

And, of course, in terms of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, the Presbyterian confession and standards emphasize them as sacraments, serving not merely as ordinances given to the church, but also means of grace through which the Spirit is communicated, not in any mechanical or magical sense, but as the administration of the signs and seals of the Lord's covenant of grace.

Baptists and Presbyterians think quite differently about baptism and children in the church. Whereas Presbyterians receive the children of believing parents as holy and thus set apart to the Lord and rightly the recipients of baptism and included in the church, the Baptist writers tend to view their infants as little devils, not members of the church, and not to baptized until they profess faith. The Presbyterians see them as those privileged to be born and reared in the bosom of the church and to be treated as such, with the ongoing call to repentance and faith in keeping with their covenant status.

Assuming that Ryle and the Baptists you mentioned were true to their convictions, Anglican and Baptistic, respectively, they would not have been able to be ordained in the OPC. Even so, we would still rejoice in those many places where we so wholeheartedly agree with them in the things of God.

In Christ,

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A River Runs Through It

A River Runs Through It--what is it about the movie that captures our attention and imagination? The artistry of fly fishing? The beauty of Montana? The aspirations and recollections of youth? The love story? The tragic life? Or the mystery of a river that runs through it?

I love rivers. I also love fly-fishing, even though I am not particularly good at it. But the book and the movie are about more than just fly-fishing.

Sixteen years before the movie had been produced, I had read a quote in a fishing magazine, not even realizing at the time that it was from the book A River Runs Through It. It was a fly-fishing columnist picking up on the humorous impression that a particular fly-fishing, Presbyterian minister had left upon his sons.

Listen to the author Norman Maclean:
"In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ's disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman."
The quote in the magazine ended there; but the book, I would discover years later, goes further.
"It is true that one day a week was given over wholly to religion. On Sunday mornings my brother, Paul, and I went to Sunday school and then to "morning services" to hear our father preach and then in the evening to Christian Endeavor and afterwards to "evening services" to hear our father preach again. In between on Sunday afternoons we had to study The Westminster Shorter Catechism for an hour and then recite before we could walk the hills with him while he unwound between services. But he never asked us more than the first question in the catechism, "What is the chief end of man?" And we answered together so one of us could carry on if the other forgot, "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever." This always seemed to satisfy him, as indeed such a beautiful answer should have, and besides he was anxious to be on the hills where he could restore his soul and be filled again to overflowing for the evening sermon. His chief way of recharging himself was to recite to us from the sermon that was coming, enriched here and there with selections from the most successful passages of his morning sermon.
“Even so, in a typical week of our childhood Paul and I probably received as many hours of instruction in fly fishing as we did in all other spiritual matters."
But wait! Is fly fishing a spiritual matter? Is that just a clever turn of phrase? Or does it mean we give ourselves to things of this world with religion-like fervor? Or is fly fishing or writing a book or producing a film a spiritual matter? Is going to school or the office or the factory or raising the children a spiritual matter? What is not a spiritual matter? Or to put it another way, is there one cubic inch in the universe that does not belong to God? Does not even a river tell us something about the God who made it? Hear Maclean also in his concluding lines:

"Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now I course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn't. Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

"Eventually, all thing merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

"I am haunted by waters."

Beautiful! The longing for the transcendent. Did you know there is a river that runs through the Scriptures that appears in the beginning, flows through the pages of history, and reaches out to eternity? Here are three texts to consider, one from the beginning, one from the middle, and one from the end of the Bible:

Genesis 2:10 "Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers."

Psalm 46:4
"There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,The holy dwelling places of the Most High."

Revelation 22:1-2 "Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street (On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

In the beginning God provided refreshment to the Garden He had made. His word speaks of the life and blessing He offers as refreshment to His people. It is no accident that the revelation of God in the flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ, speaks of Himself as the "living water." It is He who gives life and refreshment in a dry and thirsty land. It is He who waters the garden; it is He who makes glad the city of God; it is who He brings healing to the nations. The river precedes time, He appears in history; He goes somewhere; He has an end, a destination. So do we have an end, a destination, in Him--"to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever."

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Fisherman's Take on Original Sin and Total Depravity

We ask a simple question
And that is all we wish:
Are fishermen all liars?
Or do only liars fish?

~by William Sherwood Fox, Silken Lines and Silver Hooks, 1954


Two men in a boat:

One said to the other, "All fishermen are liars, except you and me; and sometimes I am not so sure about you."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What About the Altar?

Part of the enjoyment of trout fishing for me is creating a few flies each winter at the tying vise in preparation for the upcoming season. Thus, I am happy to report the first catches of the 2009 PA trout season. In a few hours last week on Big Sewickley Creek, the Lord was pleased to bring to net a brown trout and two rainbows that were attracted to a March Brown wet fly (bottom photo) and a Bead-Head Prince Nymph (top photo), respectively. Yes, the sovereignty of God applies both to fishing and man-fishing. The fly is cast into the brook, but its every decision is from the LORD (That is a paraphrase of Proverbs 16:33, by the way.)

On another matter, ______ asked the following:
"I belong to a conservative Presbyterian Church. Although we don't practice "altar calls," which I understand the reasoning behind, I often still hear the front of the church referred to as "the altar." What is the origin of this terminology in the church? Is the origin fairly recent? How does referring to "an altar" in our churches today relate to Scripture? Does this type of terminology really have any Scriptural warrant, or method, especially in view of Christ's death and resurrection?"

My answer follows:

Your question is a discerning one. Typically, the term "altar" is understood to refer to a raised structure on which sacrifices are offered or incense is burned in religious worship.
The word "altar" first appears in Holy Scripture in Genesis 8:20 which says, "Then Noah built an altar tothe LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar" (NASB). In Genesis 12:7 Abram built an altar unto the LORD at Shechem and called upon the name of the LORD; we note that there is no mention of a sacrifice there. But in Genesis 22:7, Abram built an altar in Moriah on which he intended to offer his son Isaac. In Exodus 17:15 before receiving the Law at Mt. Sinai, Moses "built an altar, and named it The LORD is My Banner"; again there is no specific mention of a sacrifice.

The Law given at Mount Sinai included provisions for Moses to build altars unto the LORD (See Exodus 27:1-8 and 30:1-10.). These particularly had reference to the offering up of burnt sacrifices of animals and grains, on the one, and incense, on the other. Those types and shadows of the Old Testament had their fulfillment in Christ, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

In that Christ, by His once for all sacrifice on the cross, brought to an end the ceremonial sacrificial system of the Old Testament, we might have expected that the altar would have disappeared from the Christian places of worship. The churches, however, throughout the centuries after Christ retained the use of ornate wood and stone "altars" which served as communion tables. Over time, however, Roman Catholicism corrupted the Lord's Supper in their conception of the mass. They understood the mass to be a renewed sacrifice of Christ through the breaking of His body and the pouring out of His blood, in accordance with their doctrine known as transubstantiation (that is, the elements are believed to undergo a change of substance from common bread and wine to the actual body and blood of Christ). Thus, the "altar" in Romanism's understanding returned to a being a place of sacrifice. This the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century found to be abhorrent and an insult to the finality and completeness of Jesus' death. With that, the Reformation churches in Switzerland, Holland, and Scotland determined to remove the ornate "altars" from the places of worship and introduce plain, even removable, communion tables.

Typically, then, Presbyterians do not refer to the communion table or even the raised platform where the preacher stands as the "altar." Again, this is to emphasize the end of the O.T. sacrificial system and the "priesthood of all believers" in the New Testament church. Worship is offered up by the whole congregation who have been brought near to God through the death of Christ. The church members "are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (I Peter 2:5). Thus, the writer of Hebrews says, "Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name" (Hebrews 13:15). Not on a physical altar but "in Spirit and truth" (John 4:23-24) are we to worship God, presenting ourselves as "a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God" (Romans 12:1).

Thus, Christians would do well to avoid the use of the term "altar" to refer either to the communion table or to the "front of the church."

Words, however, tend to have a certain flexibility of connotation. Well-meaning Christians have been apt to speak about "the family altar." What they mean is simply the regular practice of offering up family worship and devotion to God through Bible reading and instruction, hymn-singing, and prayer. They do not, at least for the most part, mean an actual place or an altar of sacrifice in the Old Testament sense; rather they are simply thinking in spiritual terms--the act of offering up prayer and praise to God. In fact, a well known Reformed denomination at one time, not very many years ago, even named the daily, devotional booklet that it published for private and family use, The Family Altar.

One final note is in order. Significantly, we see the book of Revelation (certainly a New Testament book that takes into account the death and resurrection of Christ) referring to a golden altar before God that yet remains in heaven (6:9, 8:3, 9:13, 11:1, 14:18, and 16:7). How shall we understand this? Is there a literal, physical altar in heaven that covers the souls of the martyrs? No, for we see something of the symbolism intended here when in Revelation 16:7, the altar speaks! The very presence in heaven of a worshipping congregation that has overcome the world is a living testimony to God that declares, "Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Thy judgments."

May God bless you in your understanding of His Word and in the offering up of true and faithful worship in Christ. We hope you continue to seek the truth.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Blessing from God

What follows is a revision and update of an article that appeared in the June-July 1985 issue of Priorities (Vol. 2 No. 5, pp. 1ff.), the newsletter of the then-existent Protestants for Life in Pittsburgh. The original occasion was the birth of the author’s and his wife’s fourth child in January 1985. Now there is more good news.

"Behold, children are a gift of the Lord;
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;
They shall not be ashamed,
When they speak with their enemies in the gate" (Psalm 127:3-5).

Do we believe these words of Psalm 127? Do we really see children as a blessing from the Lord? Or have we been deceived by the spirit of this age which counts any form of responsibility, including the rearing of children, as part of the curse? After all, was not the apostle Paul culture-bound when he wrote, “But women shall be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint” (I Tim. 2:15)?

On January 18, 1985, we had a “blessed event” in our household in which we received our fourth child from the Lord. Rachel was (and still is to us) a special child in that she was born with spina bifida and, as we were to discover later, hypothyroidism. These two conditions resulted in serious leg deformities and renal complications, as well as an initial growth deficiency. Considering the severity of the problems, Rachel has done very well, for which we are very grateful. Enduring a multi-year process of surgery, leg-casting, medication, and rehabilitation, Children’s Hospital and the Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh became our homes away from home. Learning to walk with the assistance of braces and a child’s walker eventually gave way to splints and crutches and the continuing use of a wheel chair.

Prior to Rachel’s conception we had contemplated the thoughts of Psalm 127 quoted above. “Surely children are a gift.” And we casually pondered the prospects of having a fourth child, to make an even number, two boys and two girls. After all, we thought together, “Christians need not be ashamed of large families.” But no sooner had we discovered that a child was on the way, that we began to think, “Oh no, another mouth to feed, more diapers and just when we were about to get on with our lives. What would people think? What would they say? Perhaps these might be called “normal’ thoughts, but does this kind of thinking not express some doubt of God’s Word on the matter? Little did we know at the time how much further our faith would be tested.

Little by little, we got used to the idea of a new baby coming, and the pregnancy went quite routinely. Regular checkups made us think all seemed well—until the eighth month. At that point the doctors became concerned that perhaps the calculated due date was wrong for our child seemed unexpectedly small. A sonogram was ordered, which was not all routine in those days. The doctor’s comments stunned us when we were informed that there appeared to be a “deformity on the spine,” which might be only a cyst of no real consequence or perhaps it was an indication of spina bifida with the possibility of severe physical and mental handicaps.

Suddenly, all those “normal” doubts and fears, questioning God’s word on the matter, which we had experienced earlier, now burst forth with a passion. “Why would God allow this to happen!” Here we were, Bible-believing Christians who would never have an abortion, harboring angry thoughts toward one another and toward God.

In the days that followed her birth, we were astounded how much our contentment rested upon Rachel’s “quality of life” reports. We were quite anxious whether the initial thyroid deficiency would cause developmental problems for her. What would life look like, dealing with severe physical handicaps? The very things we ‘pro-lifers’ would reject as unacceptable, illegitimate reasons for justifying abortions (concerns about brain power, muscular control, appearance) were the things that caused our hopes to rise and fall. Suddenly, we were confronted with the challenge of the potential difficulties that lay ahead, and the arguments were not abstractions. Through it all, we came more and more to understand the Lord’s providential hand of discipline upon us. We were being called to love our child, and made more and more to understand that we needed God’s help to love as we ought to love. The Lord was making more and more clear that true godly love must not be a respecter of persons, but we must love another simply because that person is precious and created “in the image of God.” What was being exposed, however, in our culture and in our own hearts was that we tend to love only insofar as it does not interfere with our comfort, our freedom, or our autonomy to live as we want.

Not that we accept spina bifida and sin and death as normal—they are not. As the Scriptures teach, sickness and death are in the world because of sin’s entrance into the world. As such they ought to make us all the more to desire life and the restoration and perfections of heaven and of resurrection life in Christ. Meanwhile, in the world, we are being called to love one another and to bear with one another’s infirmities, doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. We are reminded that Christ loved us, and gave Himself for us sinners when we were still weak and helpless, and He commands us to love others in the same way.

Several persons attempted to comfort us in those days after Rachel’s birth by suggesting to us that God gives special-needs children to special parents. We are convinced that that is not so. Instead, we are persuaded that such children are a gift of the Lord to us.

God is good. More than twenty-four years have now passed. Yesterday was a special day for my wife and me as our son-in-law called from Chattanooga to inform us that his wife, our Rachel, had given birth to their first child. As we think back we are amazed. Now we see that grandchildren, too, are a gift of the Lord, for which we give thanks. We invite you to rejoice with us.

R. Daniel Knox
Ambridge, PA
April 17, 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Guide to Fishers of Men

I just caught on cable a few minutes of the Outdoor Channel program "Adventure Guides:Fishing Edition." The host is John Dietsch, the expert who taught Brad Pitt a bit of of fly fishing and then doubled for Pitt in the climactic fishing scene in "A River Runs Through It." Tonight's episode focused on fly fishing guides, who for a fee take their clients on the prime trout rivers of Colorado, teaching them to become fly fishers.

On this good Friday, I would rather speak of The Guide to Fishers of Men, Himself the Chief of Fishers, who said, "Come, follow Me; and I will make you fishers of men."

Is Jesus God? Are those who deny Christ's deity really Christians and should we fellowship with them in the church? Such questions were posed to me recently by an honest inquirer.

Here's my answer:

Your questions immediately bring to mind the book Christianity and Liberalism written by J. Gresham Machen in 1923.

As you may know, Machen was a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1915-1929 and at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia from 1929-1937. He witnessed firsthand the effects of liberalism and a lack of church discipline that impacted the Presbyterian Church in the USA in those days. One of the issues that particularly drew his attention was the fact that the PCUSA was sending out missionaries who did not affirm the essential tenets of the Christian faith, like the deity of Christ.

In Christianity and Liberalism, as the title itself suggests, Machen argued that Christianity and liberalism were in fact different religions. As you suggest, Christianity without the Christ who is the eternal Son of the Father, the great "I am" who existed before Abraham, the Word of God by whom and through whom all things were created and who became flesh in the fullness of time, is simply a contradiction in terms.

Machen’s stand against liberalism eventually led to a separation and to the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1936. Machen and others refused to accommodate themselves to those who denied Christ. Machen himself was defrocked by the PCUSA for his refusal to support the liberal agenda, but his courage and willingness to suffer loss for the sake of Christ has been an encouragement to many others to stand faithfully for Christ. The OPC has understood her calling to “to go to (Jesus) outside the camp and bear the reproach He endured” (Hebrews 13:13).

True Christianity affirms Jesus as the King of kings, the Lord of lords, who was and is and ever more shall be and to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given. He the Lord's Anointed, the Prophet, Priest, and King to whom the whole of Scripture points. He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. He has returned to the glory that He had with the Father before the world began. He powerfully and effectively loved the Church and gave Himself up for her that she might be saved and share in His glory. He has been raised in resurrection body to ascend to heaven at the right hand of the Father.

The Westminster Confession of Faith, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s official statement of faith, speaks to your question regarding the deity of Christ in chapter IX, “Of Christ the Mediator,” especially in sections 2 and 3 which read as follows:

2. The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man's nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.
3. The Lord Jesus, in his human nature thus united to the divine, was sanctified, and anointed with the Holy Spirit, above measure, having in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell; to the end that, being holy, harmless, undefiled, and full of grace and truth, he might be thoroughly furnished to execute the office of a mediator, and surety. Which office he took not unto himself, but was thereunto called by his Father, who put all power and judgment into his hand, and gave him commandment to execute the same.

Remember the strong instruction and exhortation of the short epistle of II John, especially verses 7-11 which says,

"For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.”

As the apostle Paul writes in II Corinthians 6: 14-15, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?” This passage speaks to church membership and to marriage. Believers should be equally yoked, believers joined to believers. The cup and the bread we share at the Lord’s Supper testify that we are holily joined to the God-man Jesus Christ and to one another in Him. The church, holy and catholic (that is, worldwide), is His body, and the church is to be composed of those who believe in Him and their children. Those children are to be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

As Christians, then, in love, we call men, women, and children everywhere to repent of their sin and rebellion and to embrace Jesus Christ with us, as He is so freely offered to us in the gospel. He is named Jesus, which means “Jehovah (or Yahweh) saves.” “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Blessings to you in the name of the Resurrected Son of God,

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Spring Water Rites: A Question about Maundy Thursday

Springtime traditionally has marked the opening of trout season. After a winter of anticipation, men, women, boys and girls will be lining the banks of streams and lakes for the ritual of casting a line on "first day." That ritual has been repeated for decades as eager fishermen and fisherwomen hit the waters, scurrying to claim their spot. It is not uncommon for zealous anglers soon to have their lines tangled (I remember the time as a child I caught a boat that was passing too close to shore.). On the other hand, it takes a measure of self-control not to follow the multitude to the places where the stocking truck had only weeks earlier unloaded its hatchery-fed, legal-sized cargo. Some seek out the more more pristine and secluded reaches where stream-bred trout populate the waters, fishing the way it was meant to be.

Last time we did a brief piece entitled "Of the Waters of Infant Baptism. It was but a brief introduction to a topic that has been keenly debated over the centuries of the Christian Church. Rightly reading the Scriptures and rightly interpreting the waters, we argued, is of the essence.

This time we take up an inquiry about another water ritual. Some time ago a question was posed to me about a tradition in the Roman Catholic Church that has begun to make its way into Reformed terminology. What about Maundy Thursday? This particular inquirer was asking why Grace Church did not have a Maundy Thursday communion service like another church in our presbytery was having. My answer follows:

We believe that the Scriptures do not command such a service on that day. Maundy Thursday, as understood in Roman Catholic terms, is a mandated feast in the so-called Holy Week. It is associated with the Passover gathering of Jesus with His disciples presumably on the Thursday before His crucifixion. The word Maundy [“Origin: 1250–1300; ME maunde < OF mande < L mandātum command, mandate (from the opening phrase novum mandātum (Vulgate) of Jesus' words to the disciples after He had washed their feet)” (See Dictionary.com.)] has its origin in the Latin Vulgate. Rome has taken the “mandate” to mean that the church ought to hold a special foot washing and mass on ‘Maundy Thursday’.

As Protestants we understand Jesus is our Passover. He speaks of the Lord’s Supper being administered “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup.” Obviously, we administer the Supper typically on the Lord’s Day, the Christian Sabbath, the first day of the week. As far as the foot washing, we have not understood that as a mandated ritual, but as the pattern of Christian service wherein we humble ourselves to serve one another as Christ served His disciples. That is the ‘mandate’, as we understand it.

Having said that, we recognize the Christian church as having the liberty to call for worship on other occasions besides the Lord’s Day. We state in our church Directory for the Public Worship of God the following: “Although it is fitting and proper that the members of Christ's church meet for worship on other occasions also, which are left to the discretion of the particular churches, it is the sacred duty and high privilege of God's people everywhere to convene for public worship on the Lord's Day. God has expressly enjoined them in his holy Word not to forsake the assembling of themselves together” (DPW I.6.).

In other words, it is certainly appropriate for churches to exercise their discretion to meet on a Thursday to worship and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper if they choose to do so. A concern, however, is that we not make a command out of something that was not meant to be such. We believe the keeping of the Lord’s Day and the administration of the Lord’s Supper are commands; Maundy Thursday is not.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Of the Waters of Infant Baptism

Let's begin by wading into the water, the water of infant baptism, in the hopes of catching 'little ones'. The water seems shallow enough, but many have slipped on slippery stones, even close to shore, and many 'little ones' have gotten away. Any successful trout fisherman will tell you, you must first learn to 'read the water' to learn the secrets that lie underneath the surface.

Yes, Roman Catholicism says that infants should be baptized in the church. And they believe that infants need to saved from sin and the power of the devil. But their misunderstanding of the sacraments makes salvation dependent upon the power in the sacraments themselves, failing to understand the sacraments as signs and seals of the covenant of grace. This is a crucial distinction and difference from the faith professed in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

In the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter XXVIII, paragraphs 1 and 4, we in the OPC affirm the following:

1. "Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church; but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ's own appointment, to be continued in his church until the end of the world."

4. "Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized."

Further, in Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 95, we confess the following:

Q. 95. "To whom is baptism to be administered?"
A. "Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized."

Underlying the importance of baptism in the Reformed churches like the OPC is the whole biblical understanding of the covenant. In the old covenant, the sign and seal of circumcision pointed to the covenant made with Abraham and his descendants the Jews. God promised to be their God and for them to be His people; He would be their shield and their great reward. All males were to be given the sign and seal of the covenant, namely circumcision. The descendants of Abraham and those received into his house were to be circumcised. In Romans 4:11, Paul describes circumcision as a sign and seal of a faith and salvation, which Abraham already had by God's grace. To be sure, not everyone circumcised in the covenant community (Israel) was saved, but only those who had true saving faith. Still the sign and seal were to be applied to the many, including the infants, before they evidenced any faith or not.

We confess (WCF XXV.II.) that the visible church, which is ... catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children. The new covenant includes both Jews and Gentiles. The new covenant like the old includes the believers and their children and also includes both privilege and responsibility.

Baptism marks a person as a member of the covenant community (the church). But baptism, like circumcision, does not save. It does, however, stand as a sign and seal of the covenant, pointing both the parents and the child to the promises and the warnings, the privileges and the responsibilities of being included in the covenant in the church.

We believe baptism sets us apart from the world. Scripture says that the children of a believing parent(s) are holy (I Cor. 7).

The baptism of our children says to them that they belong not to themselves but to God in Christ. Therefore, they are continually reminded and called by their baptism to covenant faithfulness. Woe to that child who does not improve upon his baptism, who does not repent and believe. Like a Bethsaida or Jerusalem to whom the ministry of Christ had come, only to be rejected, how great will be the woe to come upon the child who does not respond to God's covenant faithfulness and His testimony of compassion and love in Christ.

In a certain sense, infant baptism epitomizes covenant grace. Like the child who cannot understand, who cannot say yes or no, the baptism of an infant points to the wonderful truth that our sovereign God saves the weak, the helpless. Again, I say, God speaks to us through baptism; it is, as it were, a sermon in picture (sign) and an awesome confirmation that binds us to the covenant (seal).

We acknowledge that the covenant sign and seal set before us both God's covenant blessing and curse, both promise and warning. The child included among those receiving the covenant privileges of the ministry of word, sacrament, and discipline are more than doubly accountable. Not only are they created and included in the original covenant with Adam, but they are privileged to be accounted among the people of God. Thus, their baptism continually beckons them to obedience and faith.

Baptism no more saves our children than circumcision saved an Esau, for example. Nevertheless, the sign of the covenant testifies to us and to our children of the new covenant. Baptism is not so much what we say to God as it is God's testimony to us. It says to us that it is God alone who saves, God alone who washes and sanctifies. It is the washing of the Spirit from above, the washing that comes through the blood of Christ, that saves us.

This will have to do this evening for a first lesson in 'reading the water', an essential in 'man-fishing'.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Stepping into New Waters: Of Trout and Men

Welcome to this new WebLog, i.e. 'blog' for short, entitled Of Trout and Men, a play on the book title Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, and reminiscent of Robert Burns' famous line: "The best-laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley," from his poem "To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough."

Preaching and fishing, at least for me, are full of surprises.

The famous print in the heading is Fly Fishing, Saranac by
Winslow Homer.

In Christ,