White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

The Supernatural Means of Grace: A Building Block for Multi-Ethnic/Cross-Cultural Congregations

In Richmond, Virginia, imposing Confederate statues mark the streets of a wealthy section of the city. Stately churches from the early twentieth century still stand tall, replete with beautiful pews and a balcony for others. A trip to the James River reminds visitors that this body of water provided transportation to the largest port on the east coast for enslaved Africans between 1830-1860. Christianity Today reports, “The history [in Richmond] is as thick as the air on a summer evening.”

As much as we may want to diagnose our society with amnesia for this era of history, we cannot. While enslaved Africans are not walking the corridors of our plantations as they did just 150 years ago, the effects of slavery and segregation work much like the Doppler effect. As the source of the sound is more remote, the sound becomes more faint—but it is still heard. We, in this nation, still hear and feel the effects of our sinful past. It may not be as apparent in the workplace nor in the community in which you live, but it is still extremely realized in the church.

According to Dr. Michael Emerson, sociologist at Rice University, only 7% of churches in the United States are multi-racial. Despite the growing diversity in both urban and suburban settings, our churches remain largely segregated. There are both historical and present circumstances for this phenomenon, yet it appears the Bible presents a different image of the church (Gen. 17:4; Jer. 31:31-34; Matt. 28:16-20; Acts 13:1-2; Eph. 2:11-22; Rev. 5:9-10). What, then, can bring us to a biblical image, in our present circumstances, of the church?

While there are many answers to the previously mentioned question, one of the foundational issues is the supernatural means of grace. Why supernatural? The adjective that is normally associated with the phrase “means of grace” is ordinary. In the Reformed or reforming community, we believe the Lord uses ordinary means to conform us more and more into the image of the Son. The preaching of the Word, the proper administration of the Sacraments, and prayer are the means the Triune God uses to further strengthen us in Christ (WSC 88). These means are ordinary, but we sometimes forget that they are also supernatural. God is miraculously and invisibly fulfilling his purposes in the lives of his people (John 4:21-24; Matt. 28:19-20; Col. 1:21-23; 3:11; 1 Thess. 4:3). If we are going to see the kind of multi-ethnic and cross-cultural tapestry that reflects the purpose and work of God for his church, God must act supernaturally.

Mere human effort will not produce the biblical picture of the church for which many long (Rev. 5:9-10). Bible studies, conferences, and even articles may help inform us of the need to see our churches represent the demographics of our communities, but this information is often forgotten just days after we learn it. Furthermore, mere human effort is not lasting. We Christians find too many reasons to divide. How we educate our children, which type of Lord’s Day music we prefer, dating versus courting, political allegiance, and a host of other issues draw clear lines of division in God’s church. It is easier, therefore, as Cephalus said to Socrates, to remain with those who are similar (Book I of The Republic by Plato).

Despite our educational choices and the person for whom we vote, the supernatural means of grace put us all on the same playing field. “For all have sinned,” the apostle Paul wrote, “and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Regardless of the debates we have in relation to the meaning of all in other places in the Bible, Paul’s meaning here is clear. All are guilty in Adam and have correspondingly sinned against their creator. All, therefore, require the grace, mercy, forgiveness, and righteousness that are solely found in Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:6-11). The preaching of the holy Bible places these conscience-piercing facts before us. However, we are also comforted by the words of Scripture, as announced by the minister, that there is “therefore now no condemnation” in Christ (Rom. 8:1). Grace, mercy, forgiveness, and righteousness are not contained by our categories of ethnicity, cultural preferences, and tax brackets. The latter items segregate; the former unites.

The same is true of the Sacraments. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith 27.1, “Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace… to represent Christ, and his benefits; and… to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the church, and the rest of the world.” The separation that the Sacraments create is not within the church but between those inside the church and those outside. One might not expect that looking at the current landscape of Protestantism; nevertheless, the Confession is accurate. The Sacraments are intended to unite God’s people.

Prayer, which is another supernatural means of grace, also unifies. When you pray, you display your dependence upon the heavenly Father, you express humility by submitting to his commandments, and you demonstrate trust in God’s promise that when we pray according to his will he hears us and answers us (1 John 5:14-15).

Each of these supernatural means of grace are grounded in Jesus’ prayer in John 17, “The glory that you [Father] have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.” The Lord prayed for a holy catholic church. Just prior to this petition, Jesus admitted that his prayer is even for those who have yet to believe. It was the Lord’s desire that all his people throughout the ages would be one as he is one with the Father.

The supernatural means of grace must be the bedrock of our churches, especially if we desire them to represent the demographics in our community. The latest church growth tactics will fail. Only the supernatural work of God can meet our common need for his mercy and grace—while not flattening our distinctions—and bring a people together from various ethnicities, cultures, educational backgrounds, and socio-economic standings.

Last February, therefore, I embarked on a journey to plant a cross-cultural, multi-ethnic church—in Richmond, Virginia—whose foundation is the supernatural means of grace. To date, we have been blessed with diversity ethnically, culturally, generationally, socio-economically, and politically. Although we know this road will be difficult, we also recognize our foundation—one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. These supernatural means draw us together at the foot of the cross, seeking mercy, forgiveness, and righteousness that is only found in Christ.

—–

Leon Brown is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America. Crown and Joy Presbyterian Church will celebrate its first service on October 26, 2014. For more information, please contact the church at info@studythebiblewithus.com.

The Messianic Feast, Part 1

In their most recent album, Songs of Innocence, U2 has included a song that evokes a number of biblical images. The song is titled “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight,” and the particular lines that I find interesting are as follows:

You dress in the colors of forgiveness
Your eyes as red as Christmas
Purple robes are folded on the kitchen chair.

I love this imagery. Forgiveness is presented as a kind of “coat of many colors,” and the recipient is like a starry-eyed child on Christmas morning who can hardly believe what he sees with his own eyes. But the most interesting line mentions “purple robes folded on the kitchen chair,” which hints at a great royal feast yet to come.  Not only have we been invited to this feast, but we’ve already been given the proper wardrobe in anticipation of it.

It’s interesting isn’t it that at both ends of the Scriptures we find the theme of feasting with God. Right at the gate, at the very beginning of the story, God invited man to eat from every tree in the garden but one. Man was designed to delight in his Father’s creation; he was a son, not a slave, and he was granted all the rights and privileges thereof. But there was one particular tree that God kept to himself saying, “You shall not eat of this tree.” It was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But the temptation was too great. Our first parents, thinking God was keeping something good from them, left the great garden banquet in the pursuit of their own happiness, thinking that it’s fruit would give them their best life now. Instead, of life, their rebellious choice brought death. Though they were clearly purpose-driven, they ended up entangled in a web of sin.

But, theme of feasting with God returns once again in the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. Those who have slept in the dust of the earth come alive and stand before the judgment throne of God. Those who have sinned, yet trust in their own righteousness are condemned to eternal punishment, and those who are found in the book of life, are invited to the great marriage supper of the lamb. In other words, there is something about feasting that gets to the heart of who we are as human beings. And though we have all been estranged from God and lost the right to feast with him as fallen children of Adam, yet in Christ, though we are as strangers and aliens to the covenant of grace, have once again been invited to participate in the great feast that is being prepared for those who trust in God’s mercy and gift of righteousness.

Early in John chapter 7, Jesus begins to head toward Jerusalem during the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles), and in verse 14 we read, “About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching.” This is something that the Apostle John does frequently throughout his gospel. He informs his readers about important events during the ministry of Jesus, particularly those that occur during important feast days. The first of John’s great feast’s occurs at a wedding celebration during which Jesus turns water into wine (John 2), which was foreshadowing the great wedding banquet to come. The context of John 6 is the feast of Unleavened Bread, and it’s in this chapter that Jesus declares, “I am the bread of life.” In John chapter 9 Jesus heals a man born blind and tells him, “I am the light of the world.” Yet, just a little later in the narrative we are told that this took place at the time of the feast of Dedication. Regarding this feast, Josephus writes that after the time of Temple desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes around 164 BC,

Judah Maccabee celebrated the festival of rededication…for eight days, feasting upon very rich and splendid sacrifices as they honored God by hymns and psalms. They were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when after a long time of intermission, that they made it a law for their posterity that they should keep a festival on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate the festival called Lights.

Today we know of this eight day celebration by the name Hanukkah. Isn’t it interesting that just as Jesus declared that he was the bread of life during Passover, here Jesus declares that he is the light of the world at the time of the festival of lights. This unique correlation between the things Jesus says and does and the particular feast that was in progress is also found in John chapter 7. In verse 2 of this chapter, John indicates that the Feast of Booths was at hand. So what exactly is this feast? This is not an academic question for practicing Jews, for even up to the present day, many Jews throughout the world celebrate this week long festival, which they refer to as Sukkoth. In Lev 23 (vs 39-43) we read:

On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. …42 You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, 43 that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

In it’s essence, this is a year-end harvest festival, which is why the Feast of Booths is also referred to as the festival of ingathering. The creation of this annual festival ensured that each successive generation throughout the history of Israel, was able to reenact the exodus from Egypt and wilderness wandering experience. In fact, it was not merely a reenactment of, but more of a participation in that wilderness experience, as they were being called to trust in God’s provision.

This was one of the fundamental mistakes that the Pharisees had made. Rather than seeing themselves as wandering pilgrims on their way to Zion, they thought of themselves as those who had already arrived. They had put their trust in their own obedience to the law of Moses, yet this very law had been given to the people during their years of wandering through the desert. The law of Moses was not the ultimate destination, but was a list of regulations for the people as they were making their way toward the heavenly Jerusalem. This is essentially the argument that Paul makes in Galatians chapter 4, when he says that those who are actually in slavery are the ones who have placed their hope in the law which was given from Mt. Sinai in Arabia. This now corresponds, he says, to the present city of Jerusalem (vs. 24-25). Those who are free are children of the Jerusalem that is above, “she is our mother” (v. 26).

But as the children of Israel wandered through the desert, God provided for their needs, and this time of relying on God’s provision, is what the Feast of Booths was commemorating. In this way, each generation would know, accord to Lev 23:43 that “I (YHWH) made the people of Israel to dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.” In Ps. 27:5 we read, “For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent.” Similarly, we read in Is 4:6 “There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.” Now, as you begin to think about the meaning of texts such as these, you begin to see that the Feast of Booths not only looked backwards, but it also pointed forward, to the time of God’s ultimate provision, to his ultimate feast day. There will be a booth for shade, that shelters us from the heat and storm of God’s wrath on the last day, and we will be invited to rest from our labors and to feast with God, as his expense, forever and ever.

This post is continued here:  The Messianic Feast, Part 2

WHI-1224 | Feasting with God

Throughout our series on Divine Hospitality, we’ve been exploring the feasting themes in Scripture. On this program the hosts continue their discussion as they consider how this theme is addressed throughout Luke’s Gospel. Here we meet with a God who exhibits such a lavish hospitality that he invites even strangers and foreigners to become co-heirs of the everlasting estate. Join Michael Horton, Kim Riddlebarger, Justin Holcomb, Steve Parks as they unpack this theme of feasting with God in the Gospel of Luke.

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PROGRAM AUDIO


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RECOMMENDED BOOKS

Making Room
Christine Pohl

John MacArthur on The Ordinary Church

Pastor John MacArthur’s recent sermon on Acts 2:42-47 takes up an issue near and dear to our own hearts: the ordinary Christian life and the ordinary church. You can find audio, video, and a transcript of the sermon here. We agree with him that the primary problem is American revivalism and the pervasive influence of Charles Finney.

Program Mixup

oopsLast week we inadvertently uploaded the Sept 14th audio rather than the podcast file for Sept 7th.  So if this week’s program sound’s like a re-run, you need to go back and listen to the Sept 7th program, which you can access here.  Sorry for the mixup!

WHI-1223 | Avoiding the Feast

Rather than trusting in God’s provision, the people of Israel “demanded the food they craved” as they wandered in the wilderness, This unbelieving generation cried out saying, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” (Ps. 78:19). On this program, Michael Horton, Kim Riddlebarger, Justin Holcomb, and Steve Parks will discuss the sinful human tendency to question God’s promises rather than to rely on his fatherly kindness.

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PROGRAM AUDIO


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Life Together
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The Gospel-Driven LIfe
Michael Horton
Living Into Community
Christine Pohl

RECOMMENDED AUDIO

The Messiah
WHI-1078
Salt & Light
WHI-1089

Looking Up Down Under

I’ve just returned from nearly 3 weeks in Australia, encouraged and enlightened. I went to Moore Theological College in Sydney to deliver the annual Moore Lectures, founded in 1977 with F. F. Bruce. My topic was “Lord and Giver of Life: A Theology of the Holy Spirit.” I added a week-long intensive course at Sydney’s Presbyterian seminary (Christ College), finishing up in Brisbane on Saturday (Queensland Theological College) and Sunday (preaching at Village Church).

Founded in 1856, Moore College is not only the premier Anglican seminary in Australia, but has long been a model and resource for evangelical Anglicans worldwide. As the website puts it, “The college has a strong tradition of conservative evangelical and Reformed theology with a strong emphasis on biblical languages, the use of primary sources and, critically, the importance of learning in community.” With 600 students, Moore continues to train all of the ministers in the Sydney diocese as well as many others. There aren’t many seminaries (much less Anglican dioceses) with an unbroken succession of evangelical ministry. Especially when compared with the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and Canada, Sydney churches are thriving.   And they’re planting churches locally in challenging mission-fields (including Muslim neighborhoods) as well as training ministers for Asia, India, and beyond.

I first became familiar with Moore as an outsider when I was doing my doctoral work in Oxford, England. You might recognize other Moore faculty from the recent past, such as Broughton Knox, Paul Barnett, Peter Jenson, Graeme Goldsworthy, and the recently retired but still (happily) active New Testament scholar, Peter O’Brien.

Today Moore College is led by Mark Thompson. Prof. Thompson has written a number of key articles and books on the theology of Luther and Calvin as well as critiques of contemporary challenges to classic views of Scripture and Christ’s saving work. Mark is also a key leader in the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, the result of the 2008 Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem. GAFCON leaders called for the event because of “a false gospel” actively promoted in the Anglican Communion that “denies the uniqueness of Jesus Christ” and affirms homosexual practice “as a universal human right.” I met Mark in Oxford many moons ago (sharing Alister McGrath as a supervisor) and he was my host—with his wife Kathryn and four lovely girls for the two weeks in Sydney. Fellowship with faculty members and their family over dinner and morning tea with scholars like Peter O’Brien were additional privileges.

Over one afternoon, Glen Davies, Archbishop of Sydney, explained the work that the Lord is doing not only in Sydney but through “confessing Anglicans” globally.  I also taught a week-long intensive course at Sydney’s Presbyterian seminary, Christ College.The course was “Reformed Ecclesiology in Changing Contexts,” with a full class of students, pastors, and—to my delight—faculty who were especially encouraging and informative. I also gave their annual Ferrie Lecture. The Presbyterian Church in Australia is composed of the 600 congregations (with 54,000 members) that refused to join the Uniting Church in 1977 and is engaged energetically in church planting and missions.

The trip concluded with a weekend at the Presbyterian seminary in Brisbane (Queensland Theological College) and preaching at Village Church. It was especially nice being hosted by a good friend from Oxford, Gary Millar, and his family. Gary is a superb Old Testament scholar and is actively engaged in missions. You may know him as a regular participant in The Gospel Coalition, both in the States and in Australia.

As Archbishop Davies pointed out, there are more Anglicans in Nigeria than in the Church of England and the Episcopal denominations of the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand combined.   The same can be said of Reformed and Presbyterian churches: with 8 million Nigerian members, compared to 367,000 members in the Presbyterian Church in America, the largest conservative Reformed denomination in the US.. Establishing closer ties with reformers in key centers of the Global South will be crucial for us at WHI especially as we seek to help brothers and sisters in the developing world to avoid catching North American viruses and to help them to know what they believe and why they believe it.

WHI-1222 | God’s Hospitality

The hosts begin a new series exploring the feasting themes from Genesis to Revelation. After eating the forbidden fruit, humanity was cast into sin and death. As Scripture unfolds, we discover God’s gracious plan of redemption which culminates in the great feast at the end of the ages. We who were strangers and enemies of God are welcomed to the wedding feast of the Lamb. Join the hosts as they begin this new series on Divine Hospitality. Michael Horton and Kim Riddlebarger will be joined in discussion with special guests Justin Holcomb and Steve Parks.

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The Invitational Life
Chad Van Dixhoorn

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PROGRAM AUDIO


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RECOMMENDED BOOKS

Making Room
Christine Pohl
The Art of Neighboring
Pathak & Runyon

RECOMMENDED AUDIO

Making the Switch

We need your help, dear readers, for a future issue of Modern Reformation magazine.

Have you made the switch from a broadly evangelical megachurch to a church in one of the Reformation traditions that does ministry…shall we say, slightly differently?

We’re particularly interested in hearing from people who were on staff at church A and now are working in some form or fashion at church B. We want to ask some questions about the differences, the similarities, and the challenges with making the switch.

Even if you weren’t on staff at the megachurch, but have recently made the switch yourself from megachurch to a Reformational church, we’d like to hear about your experience, too. What led to the switch, how have you adjusted, what do you miss, what have you gained?

Feel free to leave a comment or send us an email at editor@modernreformation.org.

Thanks!

WHI-1221 | A Christian Among Muslims

There are over a billion Muslims in the world, and, according to many, that number is likely to double over the next twenty years. How are we to reach this group with the gospel of Jesus Christ? What do we need to know in order to be effective in our witness toward Muslims? On this edition of White Horse Inn, Michael Horton discusses these questions with Fikret Böchek, who recounts his fascinating conversion from Islam and his current ministry among Muslims in Smyrna, Turkey.

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Christ & Islam
Michael Horton

RELATED STUDY AIDS

PROGRAM AUDIO


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