Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Relevant & Rich: 1517-2017 Seventh Annual CRTS Conference

(This article appeared in Clarion, vol. 6, no. 5, March 10, 2017.)

On January 12th-14th our seminary (CRTS) hosted its seventh annual conference. Fittingly, the topic for this quincentenary (500th) anniversary was the Great Reformation. On October 31st of this year we will commemorate how the Lord, 500 years ago, began to bring his church out of a long Babylonian captivity. The conference did not disappoint.

In this little article I will not give a summary of the speeches since the interested person can watch video recordings of them on the seminary web page at www.canadianreformedseminary.ca. Rather, I will give some broad and general information about the conference, my impressions as a participant, and some further reflections.

The two-day conference had a modest international flavour. Not only did some of the 150 participants come from five Canadian provinces—BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, and Ontario—but there was also representation from a smattering of other countries—Australia, Brazil, and New York state. Catching up with old friends and making new ones is always a great side benefit of such a conference. It was well run: the online registration and payment were easy to navigate and the time allowances for the speeches and workshops were well managed—perhaps to the chagrin of some presenters. Almost everything was right on time. The catering was top notch and the singing, led by gifted organists and pianist, was transcendent.

The speeches themselves were interesting and informative. The conference did not focus only on Martin Luther and John Calvin but, in addition to these better known men, we also got to hear about Ulrich Zwingli and Guillaume Farel.

Two of the speeches were open to the public and at both times the large Ebenezer Church auditorium was comfortably filled. Ebenezer Church seems to have become the “home”of the annual CRTS conference, and we appreciate its comfort and roominess. In addition to the more important things we learned in the first speech was a new “why did the chicken cross the road?” joke, but to hear it you will need to listen to Dr. Van Raalte's speech.

All the speeches and workshops in one way or another addressed the theme of how the Great Reformation is still relevant for us and of how we are the richer because of it.

We have been made the richer by it because it turned us back to the five solas (“alones”) of our salvation: By scripture alone, by grace alone, by faith alone, by Christ alone, and all glory to God alone. These are five foundational biblical principles central to the doctrine of salvation. Each sola represents a fundamental teaching of the Bible undermined by the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). The RCC, and especially its head, the Pope, had usurped the throne of Christ in both the church and the world. The Pope plagued the church and society with corruption and abuse. The Pope and the ecclesiastical hierarchy had led the church away from the essential and original teaching of Christ, the prophets, and the apostles, especially with regards to how people can be forgiven of their sins by the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of how they can receive eternal life with God. The Reformation re-oriented Christianity back on the original message of the Old and New Testaments.

We are rich because of the Reformation, and the conference stopped and explored each of the five solas.

The Reformation is relevant to us, for several reasons.

First, we always need to be reminded that salvation is by Christ alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, through scripture alone, and that we, as forgiven people, need to live to the glory of God alone. Thanks be to God and all praise to him alone that there are yet countless churches and pulpits where the true gospel is still proclaimed. At the same time we know that there are many places in the world, and even in our own countries, where the preaching is being overshadowed by false doctrines and the candlestick is, in my judgment, being removed. We need to remember the five solas.

Second, the cults are as active as they have always been. The cults teach a false view of our Lord Jesus Christ, usually denying his deity. They teach that salvation is by faith plus human effort, and so deny the biblical preaching of faith alone and grace alone. The cults add their own human documents to scripture. The cults deny God the glory that only he merits. The cults deny each of the five solas, and so the Reformation and the true preaching it revived is as relevant as ever.

Third, the Reformation is relevant because there are those who leave the Reformed faith and embrace the Roman Catholic. There are websites where one can read the writings of former Reformed pastors, seminarians, elders, and church members, who turned away from the Reformed faith and embraced Catholicism. For this reason, too, the Reformation and knowledge of its message are relevant.

Also during the first evening “Celebrate 1517 in 2017” was unveiled. This is a joint initiative of CRTS and the Teachers College (CCRTC), a project meant to help us celebrate throughout the year the faithfulness of God in granting reformation. This initiative has made its own splash in this magazine, so nothing more needs to be said about it here.

We thank everyone who contributed to the CRTS conference. We look forward to celebrating throughout the year of our Lord 2017 the great thing that God did 500 years ago. We are the beneficiaries of the labours and faithfulness of countless who went before us. Let us with them, and together with the church of all ages, say, Soli Deo Gloria!

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The evening public lectures:
  • Dr. Ted Van Raalte, professor of Ecclesiology at CRTS, “By Grace Alone: How and Why the Reformation Occurred.”
  • Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn, OPC minister and professor of Historical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) in Washington, DC, “Luther on Solo Christo: The absolute sufficiency of the Saviour for sinners.”
Day time speeches:
  • Rev. Bill Boekestein, pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church (URCNA), Kalamazoo, Mich, “Zwingli on Sola Scriptura: The clarity and certainty of Scripture.”
  • Dr. Jason Van Vliet, professor of Dogmatics at CRTS, “Calvin on Sola Fide: Justified only by an assured faith?”
  • Dr. Jason Zuidema, elder in the ERQ in Repentigny, PQ, and executive director of the North American Maritime Ministry Association, “Stealing God's Glory: Farel, Calvin, and the Importance of Scriptural Perspective.”
Panel discussion:
  • Brs. Boekestein, Van Dixhoorn, Zuidema, and Van Vliet addressed the question: “Navigating Change in the Church in a Bold but Balanced Way: What Can the Reformers Teach us?”
Breakout sessions:
Speakers:
  • Mr. Martin Jongsma, music teacher and member of the Royal Canadian College of Organists.
  • Rev. Bram de Graaf, missionary working in Maceio, Brazil sent out by Cornerstone Church in Hamilton.
  • Dr. Ted Van Raalte.
  • Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn.
Topics:
  • How the Reformation Helps us in Worship and Psalm Singing.
  • How the Reformation Helps us in Prayer and Spiritual Life.
  • How the Reformation Helps us in Church Planting and Mission.
  • How the Reformation Helps us in Politics, Church, and State

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Who do you say that Jesus Christ is?

The main question of the Gospel according to Mark is: “Who do you say that Jesus Christ is”? That there was a flesh-and-blood man named Jesus of Nazareth who once walked upon the face of the earth cannot be denied. The gospel writers were careful historians. Many early Christian writers wrote about him. Also several early secular writers spoke of Jesus as a historical figure: Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Josephus, and Lucian of Samosata–all first or second century authors–mentioned Jesus in their writings.

Mark is concerned with this question. He told us right at the beginning who Jesus is. The opening words are, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Only a few sentences later Mark told us about the heavenly Father confirming who Jesus was at his baptism. As Jesus emerged from the water the heavens were torn open, the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus like a dove, and a voice resounded that said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (1:17). There is no room for equivocation: Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

As you read through the Gospel you see that so few understood who he is. Hardly anyone understood that he is the Son of God. There were a few who did understand: notably the demons and the centurion presiding over Jesus' crucifixion. Consider the irony!

His family did not understand. They thought he was crazy. In 3:21 we read about a large crowd gathering around Jesus seeking healing from him. When his family heard about this they went to seize him saying, “He is out of his mind.”

The people of his hometown did not understand. In 6:1ff we read about Jesus coming to Nazareth and teaching in the synagogue. The people had heard about the mighty deeds he had done in other places. They wondered where he had acquired his wisdom and power. After all, he was just the carpenter's son, and they knew his mother, brothers and sisters, and they took offence at him.

The Judean leaders did not understand who he was; in fact, they called him a blasphemer. They understood the claim that Jesus was making about himself, that he was the Son of God. At the trial the high priest put the question before Jesus: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed” (14:61). Jesus answered, “I am” (v. 62), at which the high priest accused Jesus of blasphemy and the Sanhedrin said that he deserved to die.

The disciples did not understand who he was. When Jesus calmed the storm they were filled with great fear and asked each other, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (4:41).

At one point the disciple Peter had a flash of insight and confessed Jesus to be the Christ. Jesus had asked his disciples who the people were saying that he was. They told him people were saying that he was John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the prophets. Then Jesus asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” This is the question of the Gospel according to Mark. Note that Mark asked it near the centre of his gospel. It is a climax of a sort. Note also that when Jesus, upon Peter's confession, began to tell them what it meant that he was the Christ, viz., suffering, death, and resurrection, Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. Peter's flash of insight was flash-in-the-pan!

Finally, yet about the disciples not understanding who Jesus was, no matter which ending of the four possible endings of Mark one accepts as authentic (see notes in a good study Bible or commentary), the disciples do not understand. Even after hearing about the resurrection they were afraid and Jesus upbraided them for their unbelief.

Some other people had flashes of insight into who Jesus is: The rich young man called him “Good Teacher” and Jesus replied by asking the young man why he had called him good considering that only God is good (10:17ff).

Blind Bartimaeus had a flash of insight. When he was told that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by he called out to “Jesus, Son of David.” He knew that Jesus of Nazareth was the messianic King.

Legion” had such a flash. After Jesus had cast out of the man the legion of demons, Jesus told him to go and tell his family and friends how much the Lord had done for him; however, he began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him (5:19-20). Note also that the society of the Decapolis was a mixture of Hellenistic and Semitic cultures.

So we see that, besides a few flashes of insight, no people understood that Jesus was the Son of God. Besides Peter, the people who had the “flashes” were mostly social and/or racial outsiders.

Ironically, the demons did understand exactly who Jesus is. When Jesus confronted demons at the outset of his earthly ministry a demon cried out, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” Mark added in v. 34 that the demons knew Jesus. Yet other demons repeatedly fell down before him in defeat and cried out, “You are the Son of God!” Legion (the man filled with thousands of demons) shouted at “Jesus, Son of the Most High God” (5:7).

There was one human being who understood who Jesus was: the Roman centurion who presided over Jesus' execution. In 15:39 Mark told us that when the centurion saw how Jesus had died he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

The unspoken question of the Gospel according to Mark is, “Who do you say that Jesus is?” Do you confess him to be the Messianic King, the Christ, the Son of the Most High God? When you read the opening words of the Gospel, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” do you say, “Yes and Amen!”?

That is who Jesus is. May all who read the Gospel according to Mark confess Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, the only Saviour.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Shack, the movie

In 2007 William P. Young published The Shack, a book that rose quickly on the bestseller lists. Predictably it has become a movie. Wherever there is a dollar to be made Hollywood will be sure to be. It will come to the theatres March 3 and star Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, and Tim McGraw.

Tim Challies, who reviews many books and movies, wrote a worthwhile post on his blog, Challies.com, explaining why he won't be going to see the movie nor write a review on it. He makes a compelling argument, and if you are at all inclined to see the movie, I would advise you first to read his comments. For my (similar) opinion on the book, which I will continue to hold, and even more strongly as it pertains to the movie, I would also refer you to a review I wrote of the book in October of 2008.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Decet Romanum Pontificem

On this date, January 3, A.D. 1521, Pope Leo X excommunicated Martin Luther and his followers. Leo published Decet Romanum Pontificem ("It befits the Roman Pontiff"). By it Leo effected the excommunication threatened in his earlier document of the previous year, Exsurge Domine ("Arise O Lord!") in which Leo called upon the Lord, St. Peter, St. Paul, and all the church to rise up against the "wild boar" of Psalm 80:13 said to be trampling upon "the vine" mentioned in the same Psalm, v. 8. Leo promulgated Exsurge Domine as a response to Martin's publication of his 95 theses on the power of indulgences, on October 31st, 1517.

This year we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Great Reformation of the church. Next week CRTS will commemorate this work of the Lord and we will celebrate it many times, especially as we approach October 31st. But it is good already to remember the Reformation today, the anniversary of our excommunication from the false church.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

New arrangement

On this page you can find a new arrangement prepared by John Van Iperen of my "He Is Risen." John arranged it for TTBB and hopes to have it sung by his men's choir, Chorus of Praise, at their Easter concerts.