Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Reformation’s Contribution to Our Present Age

by: Yuri Bernales

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted the Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. What he did was nothing unusual. It was just like posting an announcement on a bulletin board, inviting other scholars to debate with him on the validity of indulgences.

However, his action sparked the Protestant Reformation. Starting with that significant event, Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, and many other Reformers joined together in an attempt to bring the medieval Church back into accordance with the Bible. Their work generated a huge change in Christian Europe. All this happened more than 500 years ago. How does the Reformation matter to us today?

The Reformation contributed mainly, but not exclusively, to the spiritual awakening of the people. Consider that, before Luther, most people were gullible enough to think that they could buy salvation! Some even went to ungodly conduct just to gain what the Pope or the Church authorities promised to be “forgiveness of sins”.

However, when the Reformers began their campaign against the profanities of the medieval Roman Catholic Church, the blinded people began to see the true essence of salvation. The Reformers preached the Word of God, rather than giving mere promises, so common men and women, who did not read the Bible, could know the truth. These people began to realize that they had to depend on God more than men, and they actually felt the true love of God.

Today, we can still see the legacy of the Reformation. We are not limited to the promises of men, but rather we have Biblical truth and preachers who preach it. We should be grateful for the men inspired by God to reform the blind world they lived in.

Today, we have more social freedom than the people who lived before the Reformation. Since the Roman church dominated Europe and only allowed acts that supported it, the people were not permitted to speak against it, and if they did, they would be excommunicated because of their “heresy” and become outcasts of society. One example of such injustice was an early Reformer, John Huss (from Bohemia, the present Czech Republic). This Bohemian Reformer was excommunicated repeatedly, declared a heretic, and burned at the stake.

Despite the injustices done to people such as Huss, many kept boldly protesting against the abuses and unbiblical teachings of the Roman church. In response, the Church reacted, usually with excommunication, torture, or burning at the stake. Hundreds of early Reformers were victims of these injustices, and the Church continued to persecute them during the Reformation. When their efforts to crush the Protestant opposition became futile, the Christians who chose to become Protestant were given the right to speak and worship freely. Until now we continue to do so.

Our education today has also been affected by the Reformation. The Bible and most of the books of the second millennium were written in Latin, which the majority of the European commoners could not read or understand. When Reformers who learned Hebrew and Greek and understood Latin translated the Bible into the vernacular, any literate person could read it for himself.

Although it was greatly discouraged for people to translate any book to the common tongue, more and more books were translated from Greek or Latin, and more common people read what was usually reserved for scholars and the upper class. As more books were read, a hunger for more knowledge arose. Commoners wanted a better education. Eventually, education became available to the middle and even lower classes.

Today, we tend to take everything for which the Reformers fought for granted, not realizing how difficult it was for a common person to live during their age. The Reformation was an extremely significant point in time, but it is also extremely easy to forget its significance. It is simple just to say, “It began some 500 years ago. It was led by a few rebellious men. What does it matter?”

The question is addressed again, so let us answer it. The Reformation mattered in the sense that we have better knowledge of God’s Word, more social freedom, and a much better education than those who lived before that period. Let us be thankful for the men whom God inspired to reform their dark world.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Reformed Conference this month at Davao City, Philippines

The United Covenant Reformed Church in the Philippines (UCRCP) is holding the Davao Conference on Reformed Theology (DCRT) on November 27-29, 2012, from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM on November 27-28, and from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM on November 29. The theme of this conference is Reformed Confessions and Reformed Ministry. The conference is open to 100 pastors, elders, church leaders and teachers and to those who want to know the Bible, theology and church history from a Reformed perspective. The venue is at the Auditorium of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) along Bonifacio-Legazpi Sts., Davao City. A registration fee of P300 will be charged which includes lunch, snacks and materials.

The featured speaker of the conference is Dr. Changwon Shu of Seoul, South Korea. Dr. Shu graduated from Chongshin University and Theological Seminary in Seoul, London Theological Seminary, Free Church of Scotland College (Diploma in Theology), and New College of Edinburgh University (M.Th., Historical Theology). He earned his Ph.D. on Historical Theology at the Westminster School of Theology in South Korea.

He has been the director of the Korea Institute for Reformed Preaching (KIRP) since 1992. The institute focuses on Biblical Preaching and Reformed Theology in the ministry of the Word. They meet twice a year with special speakers from either the United Kingdom or the United States, such as Iain H. Murray, Maurice Roberts, John Angus Macleod, Philip Eveson, Andrew McGowan, Iain D. Campbell, and Andrew Davies from the UK; Joel Beeke, Joseph Pipa, John Carrick, Richard Guy, and others from the US. Dr. Shu also publishes Reformed books (translated ones and Korean authors) along with the Korean Banner of Truth magazine. He has taught Puritan Theology and the History of the Presbyterian Church at Chongshin Theological Seminary for 18 years as an associate professor and lecturer.

Raised a Buddhist, he became a Christian at the age of 16 after reading the Bible, his conversion resulting in a time of persecution. Through his prayers and witnessing, his parents also came to Christ within a few years of his conversion. He credits his mother's constant prayers for the successes God granted him while studying in the United Kingdom.

He is married to Myoung Jah. They have three children: Dongyoon (28), captain in the Korean Army, Jiheh (26), and June (23), a student of Bob Jones University. They live in the northern part of Seoul, South Korea. Pastor Shu has been the senior pastor of Samyang Presbyterian Church in Seoul since 1997. Before 1997, he served Shinjang Presbyterian Church (now, Joosarang Church) for three and half years as senior pastor.

If you are interested to join this conference and you need accommodation, you may contact me via email at or via mobile phone at 0922-712901.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: A Book Review

(Here's my review of D.A. Carson's Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church)

D.A. Carson begins his book with a broad-stroke survey of the divergent Emerging Church movement, using the stories and writings of the movement's prominent leaders including Spencer Burke, Chris Seay, and Brian McLaren. I was not familiar with the whole emerging church movement until I've read and reviewed Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy. So Carson's brief introduction on the emergence of the Emerging Church has clarified a lot about it.

Carson is especially helpful in understanding this movement when he summarizes his investigation by comparing and contrasting it with the 16th century Protestant Reformation. He says, “To grasp it [the Emerging Church] succinctly, it is worth comparing the emerging church movement with the Reformation, which was, after all, another movement that claimed it wanted to reform the church. What drove the Reformation was the conviction, among all its leaders, that the Roman Catholic Church had departed from Scripture and had introduced theology and practices that were inimical to genuine Christian faith” (42).

Carson's point is that the Emerging Church, like the Reformation, wanted things in the church to change. But unlike the leaders of this new movement, the Reformers cried for change “not because they perceived that new developments had taken place in the culture so that the church was called to adapt its approach to the new cultural profile, but because they perceived that new theology and practices had developed in the church that contravened Scripture, and therefore that things needed to be reformed by the Word of God.

By contrast, although the emerging church movement challenges, on biblical grounds, some of the beliefs and practices of evangelicalism, by and large it insists it is preserving traditional confessionalism but changing the emphases because the culture has changed, and so inevitably those who are culturally sensitive see things in a fresh perspective” (42).

Thus, according to Carson, at the heart of the emerging church movement “lies the conviction that changes in the culture signal that a new church is 'emerging.' Christian leaders must therefore adapt to this emerging church. Those who fail to do so are blind to the cultural accretions that hide the gospel behind forms of thought and modes of expression that no longer communicate with the new generation, the emerging generation”(12).

One can therefore say that the movement's battle cry is not really a return to the Scripture but a reinterpretation of the Scripture or a reformulation of Scriptural truth to conform to the demands of the culture. Having read McLaren, I believe Carson is dead right in describing the movement as such.

Dr. Carson then ventures on exploring the strength of the emerging church in Chapter 2. He identifies five good characteristics of the movement, namely: (1) it honestly tries to read the culture and respond accordingly (45-49); (2) it emphasizes authenticity both in faith and practice (49-51); (3) it recognizes the church's socio-cultural location (51-52); (4) it is interested in evangelizing people who are usually neglected by the church (52-54); and (5) it also tries to connect with the past and other Christian traditions (54-55). Here Carson is grateful for these good qualities that the emerging church seems to demonstrate. His concluding example, though not part of the emerging church, yet “it displays all the strengths of the emerging church movement while avoiding most of its weakness” (56), is focused on Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, pastored by Tim Keller of the PCA. I think it is important to point out that a real confessionally Reformed church can be, and must be, culturally relevant without resorting to the emerging church's compromises.

In Chapter 3, the author reflects on the weaknesses of the movement, quoting and examining the core thoughts of some Emergent leaders. Dr. Carson, while commending the inquisitive minds of its leaders, also criticizes their reductionistic and manipulative analysis of the contemporary culture and Christianity. Carson has observed that “[s]ome discussion within the emerging movement is more sophisticated and introduces a few of the contemporary strategic thinkers in the broader marketplace of ideas” (84). He then concludes that “apart from occasional concessions, the rhetoric of these discussions is almost always over the top: the church must adapt to the postmodern world or it will die; unless we get on board with the direction of the emerging church movement, we are probably out-of-date modernists and absolutists to boot - all set forth in absolutist terms"(84).

This overgeneralization among postmodern emerging leaders regarding the future of the church “seems to spring,” says Carson, “from the mistaken assumption that most traditional evangelicalism is just like the conservative churches from which they came. That betrays the narrowness of many of their backgrounds and helps to explain why their rhetoric and appeals to postmodern sensitivity so absolutist: this is the language and rhetoric on which they were weaned “ (86).

The next chapter deals with Carson's own reflective analysis on postmodernism itself. I admit this chapter is not easily digestable to the mind, not to mention the longest. However it is also the most helpful in understanding the development and
challenges of postmodernism, and it complements with Dr. David Wells's analysis in his book Above All Earthly Pow'rs. Here Dr. Carson defines and contrasts the epistemologies of premodernism, modernism, and postmodernism. He points out that premodern epistemology states that "knowledge depends on revelation - i.e., on God disclosing some part of what he knows, however that revelation is accomplished" (88).

On the other hand, modern epistemology, "a label commonly applied to the epistemology of the Western world from about the beginning of the seventeenth century until a few decades ago" (92), begins with man instead of God and claims that the right foundation plus the correct method would invariable yield objective truth (92-95). Postmodern epistemology, like that of modernism, begins with the finite "I," but draws very different conclusions. It is "passionately anti-foundationalist," meaning that "there is no ultimate fulcrum on which the levers of knowledge can rest" (97) and it "insists that there are many methods [of knowing], all of which produce distinguishable results and none of which is any more or less `true' than the results produced by the other methods" (97). "Objective knowledge is neither attainable nor desirable" and under this regime, truth "cannot partake of 'ahistorical universality'" (97). With postmodernism come several correlatives (syncretism, secularization, biblical illiteracy, ill-defined spirituality, and globalization) and entailments (98-102).

Carson then discusses both strengths and weaknesses in postmodern epistemology, and helpfully distinguishes between what he calls hard and soft postmodernism. Hard postmodernism concludes that "human beings cannot have objective knowledge about anything" (105), while soft postmodernism, admitting that human knowledge is necessarily perspectival, still insists that "we can in measure approach the truth in some objective sense" (105-106). The appropriate place of "critical realism" (110-111) needs to be recognized and new models for helping us think explored (116-122).

Chapter 5 is Carson's most detailed critique of the emerging church movement itself. His five criticisms of it relate to the movement's handling of truth-related issues, which are: (1) failure to come to terms with the importance of non-omniscient truth-claims (126-132); (2) failure to face the tough questions especially if they are truth related (132-138); (3) failure to use Scripture as the norming norm over against an eclectic appeal to tradition (139-146); (4) failure to handle "becoming" and "belonging" tensions in a biblically faithful way (146-155); and (5) failure to handle facts, both exegetical and historical in a responsible way (155-156).

Three other chapters contain Carson's critique of the thoughts of Brian MacLaren and Steve Chalke (Chapter 6) and exposition of biblical passages to help readers in evaluating postmodernism and the emergent church (Chapter 7 & 8).

Overall. D.A. Carson has presented a carefully written exposition and analysis of the emerging church, in its postmodernistic expression, which is not only critical but also appreciative. Right from the beginning, he says, “[w]henever a Christian movement comes along that presents itself as reformist it should not be summarily dismissed. Even if one ultimately decides that the movement embraces some worrying weaknesses, it may also have some important things to say that the rest of the Christian world needs to hear" (10).

Dr. Carson, in my evaluation, has indeed succeeded in both “conversing” with the basic things the emerging church leaders are saying, and bringing Scripture to bear on their alarming weaknesses.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Godly Wisdom that Informs Intelligent Prayers

(A devotional message based on Proverbs 30:1-9)

Prayer. Intercession. Communion with God. These spiritual activities are something we can’t do without as believers. Prayer is an important part of our congregational life for in it, we express our dependence on God alone. I admit that this is something we usually take for granted. Sometimes we have the notion that we don’t really have to spend much time in prayer because God knows our needs anyway. So why bother to let Him know what we need if in the first place He already knows them.

But prayer is not only about asking God what we need. It is actually a solemn expression of our desire to enter into the throne of God’s mercy, acknowledging who He is and thanking Him for all He has done and has provided for us in His Son by the Spirit. We can’t do this on our own but the Holy Spirit moves us and helps us overcome our weaknesses so we can communicate with God.

I will not go into elaborate explanation of what really prayer is and what are the essential elements of a Biblical prayer. Some other time may be appropriate for that. My aim is to help you eagerly desire and patiently seek godly wisdom for it will help us live wisely, especially in living out and in exercising Christian piety.

The passage before us, Proverbs 30:1-9, tells us that Godly wisdom informs intelligent prayers. We will answer two relevant questions from our passage that will explain our theme. First question, “What constitutes godly wisdom?” Second, “How does godly wisdom shape or inform intelligent prayer?”

What Constitutes Godly Wisdom? (vv.1-6)

A sage named Agur, the son of Jakeh, writes Proverbs 30. We don’t know much about this man nor about his family. Due to its vagueness, Bible translations render differently the second part of Prov. 30:1. Some transliterate it and come up with “This man declared to Ithiel, to Ithiel and to Ucal (NIV).” Others, however, take it as a phrase and end up “The man declares, I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out” (ESV). The latter translation seems to be mood setting because the verses that follow (2-9) have melancholic tone. Thus it prepares the reader what to expect next. The former translation, however, is also possible.

The message of this passage parallels with that of Job or Ecclesiastes.

A. Godly Wisdom Recognizes Man’s Limitation (vv.2-3)

In verses 2-3, Agur despairs for his lack of understanding, wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One. He confesses that he missed these things, which are the stuff of a wise man. Is he just wallowing in self-pity or truly confesses his human limitation in the face of God’s infinite wisdom? I think he is doing the latter.

As a wise man, this teacher of the oracles of God must possess divine wisdom worth pondering for. But confronted by the power, glory, majesty and wisdom of the Holy One, Agur can simply admit his ignorance.

Wise men do not boast of their vast knowledge. It is my observation that the more a person grows in wisdom the more he admits his limitations. Godly wisdom manifests itself in man’s humble recognition of his limited intelligence compared with God’s perfect knowledge and power, which He has revealed in the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). Verse 4 further supports this claim.

B. Godly Wisdom acknowledges the Majesty of God (v.4)

The series of questions in verse 4 calls for God as the answer. These questions parallel in tone and structure with that of God’s in Job 38. There the Lord answered Job with a storm, questioning him and forcing him to admit his ignorance and yield to God’s wisdom.

Verse 4 shows not only the limitation of human wisdom in understanding the design and power behind creation but also highlights the glory and the majesty of God the Creator. Those who do not fear the Lord will always end up in ignorance of these things because they do not only understand the world, they also do not know the Lord who created it.

Thus Agur needs not be in total despair because such problem of ignorance is common only to those who do not trust God. Those who fear Him and acknowledge Him, however, have the privilege of knowing Him. The wording “what is His Son’s name” ‘opens the passage for a New Testament interpretation: “No one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matt. 11:27).’

Godly wisdom boasts on the glory of the sovereign God. But even if we possess such wisdom, we may not totally comprehend how everything works in this world. God reserves to Himself the many mysteries in our world that our finite mind cannot contain.

But these mysteries shake us up from our self-confidence and lead us to behold the infinite wisdom of our God. God pressed the mystery of creation to Agur ‘in order to relieve him of his depression and assure him that he was not alone in his doubt and ignorance.’ God always do this to make us realize of His greatness and to trust Him all the more.

C. Godly Wisdom Boasts on the Reliability of God’s Word (vv.5-6)

Verses 5-6 further show us what constitutes wisdom. Godly wisdom also underscores the reliability of God’s Word. It talks about its flawlessness or purity (v.5a). It also boasts of its trustworthiness by stating that those who put their trust in it will finds it to be like a shield (v.5b). ‘Such reliability cannot be improved on’ (v.6). God’s Word is sufficient to make us wise unto salvation. If we trust in the Lord and in His promises with all our heart, He will direct our paths. Those who lean on their own understanding, those who do not recognize the completeness of God’s Word, will be rebuked and be found a liar (v.6). So be wise. Don’t lean on your own wisdom. Fear God and trust in His covenant faithfulness to you.

How Does Wisdom Shape Intelligent Prayer? (vv.7-9)

These holy truths give us godly wisdom. As we can see, these realizations led the speaker to pray intelligently in verses 7-9. We will briefly examine this prayer and see that intelligent prayers are done persistently and according to our need.

A.Intelligent Prayers are Done Persistently (v.7)

After the passage affirmed the reliability of God’s Word, the author records a prayer that is very insightful. First, this prayer is characterized with persistence. “Do not refuse me before I die,” is an expression of strong perseverance of the one praying to the Lord. This is a kind of prayer not for one’s immediate deliverance from a pressing crisis but a plea for continual help in never-ending difficulties. The phrase “before I die” can actually be translated “as long as I live.”

Persistence is an important quality of intelligent prayer. Not that God is unwilling to answer us when we call, but it is more of an attitude of continual trust in Him that glorifies God when we patiently pray and not being discouraged. Jesus Himself told His disciples to pray always and not give up when he told them the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8). God is more than willing to hear us when we pray and ‘deliver the goods’, so to speak, when we ask Him with persistent faith.

B. Intelligent Prayers are Presented According to One’s Need (v.8-9)

Intelligent prayers are not only characterized by persistence. When we pray intelligently we also tell God what we need. There are two petitions the author presents here. Both are in the imperative mood. The first asks for integrity; the second for contentment.

1. Since man is naturally a liar, we pray for honesty and integrity (v.8a)

The first petition “Keep falsehood and lies far from me” requires no elaborate explanation. It recognizes man’s propensity to tell a lie or to live in self-deception. It also projects ‘the damaging results to the person who deals in dishonesty’ and the harmful effects to those who are victims of dishonesty.
“Falsehood” or “deception” is literally “emptiness,” worthless behavior or speech. “Lies are regularly condemned in Proverbs for their disruptive impact on the social and especially judicial welfare of the community” (6:19; 19:5,9,22).

A person who recognizes his inclination to deceive himself and others will surely ask God for honesty. To us who had lived in persistent lies, it is insightful to pray such kind of prayer. Truth is always a threat to those who live in dishonesty. But to us who have been set free by the truth, we want our lives to be free from falsehood and ‘empty’ promises.

2. Since man is naturally greedy, we pray for what is enough that brings contentment (vv.8b-9).

The second petition “Give me neither poverty nor riches” is even more insightful and requires further explanation. In the original language, both petitions place the nouns, not the verbs, in front of the sentence. This is a literary device to put emphasis on what is being asked. Here ‘the petitioner knows what he needs in terms both of protection and supply, and he asks for it in the straightforward manner of the children of God (Matt.7:7-11). He counts on the Lord to determine his basic needs to meet them.’

“Give me only my daily bread” is almost identical to the supplication for daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer. In its Hebrew form this petition ‘portrays the divine hand extending a loaf of bread (“food”) and telling him exactly what his portion is to be.’ In other words, the petitioner asks God to give him what is only necessary in order to live and fulfill his duties.

One author noted that ‘the most fascinating about the prayer is the balanced and worldly wise wisdom present in the motivation clauses beginning “lest” [or otherwise] (v.9).’ Riches or overabundance may lead to an arrogant self-sufficiency that loses all sense of dependence on God. The question ‘Who is the Lord?’ in v.9 carries the same weight as the statement ‘I have no need of the Lord.’ This is always the potential danger that faces many rich people.

Poverty, on the other hand, may drive a person to desperate act of stealing. Theft has a very devastating effect to oneself. But most importantly, it profanes or dishonors the name of God. ‘It does so by breaking His law against stealing (Exod.20:15; Duet.5:19) and by declaring that God will not provide for His own as God has promised. The worldview expressed here is remarkable. The supplicant knows both the frailty of his own human nature and also the sanctity of God’s name. Earthly sins have heavenly significance and the ultimate result of human crime is to insult the name of the Lord who made us, and who made us for better things than lying and stealing.’

Psalm 23 assures us of God’s providential care as our Great Shepherd. God also promises His people that ‘He will supply our every need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus’ (see Philippians 4:19). Thus Paul can say in Phil. 4:11-12 that he has learned to be contented in whatever situation he was in.

But the provision that God has given us in Christ is more than just material. Christ has secured for the greatest need that we have. He provided for us salvation from the wrath of God. He provided for us forgiveness of our sin in His death. He has given us victory over death in His resurrection. He has set us free from the tyranny of the devil in His death. He has clothed us with His righteousness which by faith we continually wear. These are the blessings that God has given us in Christ which beyond our comprehension. We would never ask these things without the grace of God, the grace of new birth, working in our lives. We would rather ask for more money, more stuff of this world, more success in our career and more conveniences.

Our natural tendency to be a liar and greedy person needs to be checked with the wisdom of God. Our compulsion to acquire many things through dishonest gain must be stopped and be put to light. God’s Word reminds us of the spiritual dangers inherent in wealth and material prosperity, as we have seen in our text.

Do not be deceived. Material abundance cannot bring real, lasting peace and satisfaction. Left on our own, it only feeds our compulsion to acquire some more. Our true satisfaction is in our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our life, our wisdom and our righteousness. Putting our trust in Him brings us the greatest reward God can ever promise, which is eternal and abundant life in His presence. We would ever be blessed if the thing we seek in this life is to do the will of God. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you, says Jesus (Matt. 6:33). Even the things He has given us must serve to glorify Him and bless others. If we don’t use our possessions, may they be money or non-monetary resources, to serve God they will use us to serve our ourselves and our materialistic desires.

As we conclude, let’s read 1 Timothy 6:17-19. If you think that only rich people struggle with greed and materialism think again. Greed is not only the problem of the rich people. “None of us is immune, for materialism is not a sin of having, but one of wanting. It grips us in the heart, and not in the wallet,” said Dr. John Sittema.

So the next time you pray, ask intelligently. Recognize God and His faithfulness first in your life. If you find satisfaction in Him, you will also find contentment in what He gives. May this encourage us to trust Him more in our daily life.

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