The Corporate Confession of Sin

 

A regular part of our worship each Lord’s Day is the Corporate Confession of Sin. We join together as God’s people, confess that we are sinners, and that we would have no hope apart from God’s pardoning grace. It is always a meaningful part of our worship, but today’s confession of sin really hit home for me. Our family has been going through some challenging times lately, and it has been particularly difficult for us to rest in God’s sovereignty. Thus, when we began to confess these words today my heart was laid open before God:

Most merciful God, we admit that we have transgressed Your law in many ways. Particularly, we have been people of little faith; worrying about what we shall eat, what we shall wear, what we shall do with tomorrow’s problems. We have not sought Your kingdom and righteousness as You have commanded. O Lord, forgive Your people! O Lord, deliver us from evil worry! O Lord, lead us to see You as our portion and our inheritance. O Lord, increase our faith, that we may rest in Your care and providence and thereby show to the world that You are our Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.”

It was so good to know that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) And, furthermore, the beautiful words of God’s assurance of pardon from Psalm 103 that we heard read, gave me great hope to face whatever the future holds:

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.”

I am so grateful for the ordinary means of grace that God has given us for our spiritual health Sunday in and Sunday out.

 

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“Be Thou My Vision”

Around the turn of the 20th century an old medieval hymn (probably as early as the 6-8th centuries) was found in the bowels of the Royal Irish Academy. This was during the time of the militant Irish Home Rule Movement and the Irish took great interest in all things that were distinctly Irish; so Irish scholar, Mary Byrne, translated the manuscript into prose in the Irish Journal, Eriú. A few years later one of the founders of the Irish Text Society, Eleanor Hull, versified that translation and published it in The Poem Book of the Gael (1912). When it was paired with the Irish folk tune, SLANE, it began to pop up in English hymn books, and before long, Be Thou My Vision, was being sung in churches around the world.

No one knows who the author was, although some claim 6th century Irish poet, Dallán Forgaill, was responsible for the words. However, there is no real historical evidence to back up such a claim. What we do know is that it was written in Old Irish which could very well place it as early as the time of Forgaill. It, therefore, is another reminder to us that we have a connection to the people of God of all the ages when we sing these great old hymns.

When we sang Be Thou My Vision this morning at Reformed Presbyterian Church in Beaumont, Texas, we were singing to the same Lord of my heart as that 6th century Irish Christian. We are a part of that one body and one Spirit and share in that one hope of [our] calling in Christ Jesus. And, we can have the same confidence as the author of that hymn did that our prayer will be heard by that one Mediator between God and man, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
naught be all else to me, save that thou art –
thou my best thought by day or by night,
waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

 Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word;
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord;
thou my great Father, I thy true son;
thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

 Be thou my battle shield, sword for my fight;
be thou my dignity, thou my delight,
thou my soul’s shelter, thou my high tow’r:
raise thou me heav’n-ward, O Pow’r of my pow’r.

 Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
thou mine inheritance, now and always:
thou and thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my treasure thou art.

 High King of heaven, my victory won,
may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heav’n’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

“He is risen!”

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Easter (or Resurrection Sunday, if you prefer) is not the earth shattering holiday for Old School Presbyterians that it is for so many others. Why, you may ask? It is simply because we celebrate His resurrection fifty-two Sundays a year. Every Sunday we gather to worship Him, confess our sins, be reminded of His sacrifice, and hear His glorious Gospel preached directly from His inerrant Word. For us, contemplating the phrase, “He is risen,” is not a yearly occurrence, it is a weekly occurrence. Three hundred years ago Isaac Watts captured with pen and ink the hallowed good news of the cross/resurrection event when he wrote:

Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain,
Could give the guilty conscience peace,
Or wash away the stain:

But Christ, the heavenly Lamb
Takes all our sins away,
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.

My faith would lay her hand
On that dear head of thine,
While like a penitent I stand,
And there confess my sin.

My soul looks back to see
The burdens thou didst bear,
When hanging on the cursed tree,
And knows her guilt was there.

Believing, we rejoice
To see the curse remove;
We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice,
And sing his bleeding love.

So for the thirteenth time this year we will gather, worship, and praise our Risen Lord this coming Lord’s Day, and look forward to next Sunday when we can do it all over again!

Tuesday Hymns: “Thee We Adore, Eternal Lord”

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In the “Trinity Hymnal” one will find hymns written by Martin Luther, Charles Wesley, Francis of Assisi, the Bonar brothers, Isaac Watts, Jack Hayford, Margaret Clarkson, and others representing the Body of Christ around the world and through the centuries. Today our Tuesday Hymn comes from the Moravian Collection of 1724, “Thee We Adore, Eternal Lord!” These spiritual descendants of John Hus have passed on to us a hymn of praise that begins with Christians singing praise to Lord who are then joined by angels, apostles, prophets, and martyrs who make up a congregation that will sing the Triune God’s praises throughout all eternity.

It is sung to Frederick M. A. Venua’s familiar tune, PARK STREET. I used to snicker when one of the prisoners at the Federal Prison would come up to me after one of our worship services and say, “I really like that NEW song that we sang today.”

Thee we adore, eternal Lord!
We praise thy name with one accord.
Thy saints, who here thy goodness see,
Through all the world do worship thee.

To thee aloud all angels cry,
The heavens and all the pow’rs on high:
Thee, holy, holy, holy king,
Lord God of hosts, they ever sing.

Apostles join the glorious throng,
And prophets swell th’immortal song;
Thy martyrs’ noble army raise
Eternal anthems to thy praise.

From day to day, O Lord, do we
Exalt and highly honor thee!
Thy name we worship and adore,
World without end, for evermore.

Tuesday Hymns: “Jesus, with Thy Church Abide”

Because of family issues, Dixie and I have been alternating going to church for a while, but Sunday we were able to attend together. When we got into the car to head for home, I turned to her and said, “Did you notice the words to the offertory hymn?” and she responded with, “Yes, I was about to mention that. They were really good.” It was a hymn that I was not very familiar with; thus “Jesus, with Thy Church Abide” becomes our Tuesday Hymn for this week. Thomas Benson Pollock (1839-1896) was an Anglican pastor from Ireland who spent much of his life ministering to the poor at St. Alban’s Mis­sion in Birm­ing­ham (plus, he had a great beard). This hymn is a prayer to the Lord to use His church to minister in a fallen world.

John H. Gower’s tune may be a bit pedestrian, but frankly, so is the Indelible Grace tune. The lyrics, however, make it a hymn worth singing, which we did at our evening service.

Jesus, with thy church abide,
Be her Saviour, Lord and Guide,
While on earth her faith is tried:
We beseech thee, hear us.

Keep her life and doctrine pure;
Grant her patience to endure,
Trusting in thy promise sure:
We beseech thee, hear us.

May she one in doctrine be,
One in truth and charity,
Winning all to faith in thee:
We beseech thee, hear us.

May she guide the poor and blind,
Seek the lost until she find,
And the brokenhearted bind:
We beseech thee, hear us.

Save her love from growing cold,
Make her watchmen strong and bold,
Fence her round, thy peaceful fold:
We beseech thee, hear us.

May her lamp of truth be bright,
Bid her bear aloft its light
Through the realms of heathen night:
We beseech thee, hear us.

Arm her soldiers with the cross,
Brave to suffer toil or loss,
Counting earthly gain but dross:
We beseech thee, hear us.

May she holy triumphs win,
Overthrow the hosts of sin,
Gather all the nations in:
We beseech thee, hear us.

“Old Truth in Old Forms”

Givens Brown Strickler lived quite a life. He was born on April 25, 1840 in northern Virginia. While a student at Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion in the South. Promptly, many in the student body formed themselves into “The Liberty Hall Volunteers,” and became a part of the Stonewall Brigade to protect their beloved Virginia against an invasion by their own countrymen. Strickler fought bravely until he was captured at the top of Cemetery Hill during the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg. While a prisoner of war he “prayed, conducted religious meetings, made religious addresses; and in every practicable way sought to exert the best moral and religious influence on his fellow sufferers in prison,” according to John Miller Wells.

After the war he returned to Washington College (where Robert E. Lee was president at the time) to finish his degree and then on to Union Seminary to prepare for the ministry. As a pastor and seminary professor he touched many lives for the Gospel of Christ. But, his friend and colleague, Thomas Cary Johnson, said something about him which spoke volumes to me about what a pastor should be:

Dr. Strickler was a pre-eminently great teacher of the Reformed Theology. He gave himself to inventing no new statement of any old truth; but accepting the old truth in its old forms he exhibited unrivalled skill in expounding, defending, and impressing this theology as set forth in the Westminster Standards—that rugged and massive system of Christian truth which so perfectly matched his own character, which had moulded his own character.”

Pastors don’t have to “cast visions,” be clever, entertain, come up with new and imaginative ideas, etc., they just need to “expound, defend, and impress” the truth of Scripture to their congregations. God’s flock needs to be fed with the green pastures of God’s Word, not the spirit of a shallow and callous culture. Thank you, Dr. Givens Strickler, for showing us a better way.

“Signs, signs, everywhere signs…” Part IV: “Reformed”

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In the last several blog posts I have been discussing what our sign says about Reformed Presbyterian Church. To begin with I wrote about our identity: we are a “Church,” the called out people of God living our lives in a fallen world by the grace of God. Secondly, I mentioned our ecclesiology: we are “Presbyterian,” a Biblically conservative, confessional branch of the Presbyterian realm. Today I would like to give a short synopsis of our theology: we are “Reformed” in our doctrinal beliefs. R. C. Sproul has written an entire book entitled, “What is Reformed Theology?” so let me say from the very beginning that I will not in a short blog post cover all that is included in this brand of Christian belief.

When one looks at the word “Reformed” he will see a close kinship with the word, “Reformation.” The modern manifestation of this movement began (at least it came to prominence) in the 16th century with the rediscovery of the Biblical Truth of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. One must remember, however, that one of the slogans of the early Reformers was “ad fontes,” (to the sources) which showed a heavy reliance upon the early church fathers, and even more so, the Biblical record in its original languages. So it was actually a movement that desired to return the church to its original Biblical, God-centered state of being. This theology is presented in detail in both the Westminster Confession of Faith and The Belgic Confession.

To put it very simply, those who hold to Reformed Theology (which would include RPC) ascribe to the Five Solas of the Reformation:

  1. Sola Scriptura–Scripture alone
  2. Sola Christus–Christ alone
  3. Sola Gratia–Grace alone
  4. Sola Fide–Faith alone
  5. Soli Deo Gloria–the Glory of God alone

Included within the Five Solas would be the Soteriological Statements (How we are justified before a righteous God) often called the Doctrines of Grace:

  1. Total Depravity
  2. Unconditional Election
  3. Limited Atonement
  4. Irresistible Grace
  5. Perseverance of the Saints

How would I say all of this in Southeast Texan? I would simply describe RPC in the language that I used when I would send letters to those who visited our church: “RPC is a church that desires to be God-centered in our theology, God-centered and reverent in our worship, and God-centered in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost world.” Or, maybe I would just hang a sign out in front of our worship center which simply said, “Reformed Presbyterian Church.”

 

“Signs, signs, everywhere signs…” Part III: “Presbyterian”

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The late 1980s and early 1990s were the great heyday of the Church Growth Movement. Everybody had some kind of quick and easy formula to “grow your church“. When someone figured out that 41% of the people who are on a Sunday School roll eventually are baptized, a new plan for church growth appeared. The idea was to enroll people in Sunday School, anywhere, anytime, anyplace, etc., with the idea that eventually 41% of those people will visit the baptismal waters. High attendances days in Sunday School (If you are a Baptist you will remember, “Great Day in the Morning”), big events, and other special emphases all promised to bring the people in. One of the new church growth ideas was not to put the name of your denomination on your church sign because it would automatically turn some people off. But, if you notice, right there in the middle of the sign it says that we are “Presbyterian.” Why would we do something as goofy as that? Because that is who we are.

Granted, we do have to spend some time ever so often explaining, “No, we are not THOSE PRESBYTERIANS (Presbyterian Church in USA)!” We are the Presbyterian Church in America. In the preface of our Book of Church Order it spells out what makes up our constitution:

The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America, which is subject to and subordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the inerrant Word Of God, consists of its doctrinal standards set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith, together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the Book of Church Order, comprising the Form of Government, the Rules of Discipline and the Directory for Worship; all as adopted by the Church.”

The final authority in our churches is the Bible, and if you want to know what we believe the Bible says, look at our Confession of Faith, the Shorter Catechism, or the Larger Catechism. If you want to know how we do things peruse the Book of Church Order. There are no secrets. One does not have to sign off on all that the standards say to become a member of a PCA church; all that is required is a “credible profession of faith.” But if you want to know what is going to be preached from the pulpit, or taught in a Sunday School class, you need only to look at our Standards. Why? Because we’re Presbyterians.

(Of course, there is more to know about being Presbyterian: our form of government, our connectionalism, etc., but the heart of Presbyterianism is to be found in its doctrine.)

Next: Part IV, Reformed.

“Signs, signs, everywhere signs…” Part II: “Church”

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As I mentioned in my last post, our church sign, while not saying everything, says much about who we are at Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPC). And since the adjectives, “Reformed” and “Presbyterian,” both define the noun, “Church,” I will start with “Church.” What is a church? As a child growing up in a Baptist church in the south during the 1960s, I learned in Royal Ambassadors (a boys mission group) that a church was a “group of baptized believers.” That isn’t a bad start, but a church is a little more complicated than that.

I do not have the time or the space to delve into what the church universal, the church triumphant, and the church militant are, but the Westminster Confession of Faith gives us a pretty good picture of what the visible church is:

The visible church, which is also 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: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” (WCF 25:3)

RPC is a particular congregation within that worldwide church. What is the primary responsibility that Christ has given to His Body on earth? It was not formed to be a political action committee. It was not formed to be a social work group (although benevolence work does go on there). It was not formed to be a center of entertainment. It was not formed to be a mover and shaker of culture.

Again the Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of the mission of the church:

Unto this catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto.” (WCF 25:4)

The church is here to gather and perfect the saints through Word, prayer, and sacraments in the power of His Spirit. The Apostle Paul told the Ephesians that the church was on earth “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:12) And, that the focus of the church is to be found in “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42) May we never lose our focus on the primary objective to chase after the superficial baubles and trinkets of our modern culture.

Next: Part III, Presbyterian.

“Signs, signs, everywhere signs…” Part I

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I remember the day even though it was two decades ago. I was a pastor in a small East Texas town and a very pleasant family that had been visiting our church invited my wife and me to their home for snacks. My first thought was, “That’s nice.” Then, someone mentioned to me that this particular couple sold Amway. The warning meter went off inside my little brain (Been there, done that, got the t-shirt). So I very carefully called and mentioned that if the invite was about Amway they would be wasting their time, because I could not sell their product. I tried to explain that I didn’t want people to wonder when I showed up at their door if I had come with the Gospel or some SA-8. Thankfully, they understood, and, yes, they had invited us over with the plan of giving us the “Amway spiel.” (Good end of story: the husband was eventually converted and I had the joy of baptizing him.)

Bait and switch” is an often used tactic by some companies to sell their products. They promise one thing: “a nice visit with snacks,” and provide another: “a sales pitch about their products.” It can be the same way in the religious realm. I still remember the very slick brochure advertising a “prophecy conference” that I received in the mail when I was living in Shreveport. The Seventh Day Adventists were very careful to make sure that their name appeared nowhere on that brochure. One wouldn’t discover who was sponsoring the event until one’s arrival.

I am thankful that the sign outside our church building doesn’t lure people in under false pretenses. It is straight-forward about saying exactly who we are: Reformed Presbyterian Church. I would like to take my next three blog posts to go into to some detail about what our “sign” says about who we are. Each word speaks volumes about what one can expect to find at 4220 Crow Road, in Beaumont, Texas.

(Next: Part II, Church)

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