First Plenary Session: The Bible’s First Word (Derek Thomas)

The text is Genesis 1:1-2. The centrality of God in the very beginning teaches us that our hermeneutical human-centeredness (“what does this passage say to me?”) is fundamentally wrong-headed. We need to ask, “What does this passage teach about God?” Leibniz says that a great question to ask is, “Why is there something, and not nothing?” For the Big Bang theory to happen, there has to be something before that. But the Bible states that the Triune God created by His powerful Word.

The creation account exalts God. Our culture seems to exult in the weightlessness of God (a la David Wells). The vastness of space ought to give us an inkling of how great God is. He notes the apologetic slant to Genesis 1 (vis-a-vis the Egyptian cosmologies, which worshiped the created sun and moon). The creation is Trinitarianly created. All the external operations of the Godhead are indivisibly the work of all three persons of the Trinity.

If someone says that the creation happened through a singularity, then we ask, “What was there before the singularity?” Nothing at all. Out of nothing everything came. (Why then can’t they believe in the resurrection?) This is irrational. Some people say that gases existed before the singularity. Some claim that electro-magnetism existed. This also is absurd. Science can be trusted when it comes to airplanes, cars, and surgery, but when science attempts to invade theology and philosophy, it becomes absurd. Before creation, there was God. Why is there something and not nothing? Because God is.

The creation account emphasizes the Creator-creature distinction. One of the best things that we can learn is that there is a God, and then we are not Him, or the fourth person of the Trinity, contrary to human tendencies. The biggest problem with the Egyptians gods is that they don’t exist (!).

The biblical doctrine of creation teaches the essential goodness of creation and matter. The constant refrains of God’s approval “God saw that it was good” militates against a Platonic rejection of matter as inherently evil, or of the body as the prison-house of the soul. This world will be restored, not obliterated. There are some things more beautiful (“good” versus “very good” in Genesis 1). God is the judge of what is truly beautiful. Grace is always restorative.

The biblical doctrine of creation is the basis for morality and ethics. What God has separated (genes, for instance) let not man join together. When we forget we are creatures, then we make our own morality.

The biblical doctrine of creation is the basis, ground, and motivation for worship. We were made to worship God.

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Jon Payne on the Heidelberg Catechism

This year is the 450th anniversary of the writing of the Heidelberg Catechism. The reception of the Heidelberg Catechism was excellent right from the beginning. Bullinger called it the best catechism ever written. However, little of the knowledge of that catechism is left today.

Elector Frederick II, the ruler of the Palatinate, began to embrace Lutheranism about 20 years after Luther’s posting of the 95 theses. The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 was crucial to making Protestantism legal. The polity of that agreement was that whichever religion the ruler was of a particular region was, that was the religion of the region. Frederick II prepared the ground for Frederick III (not Frederick of Saxony) to bring great reform to the entire region.

Frederick steered the Palatinate more towards Geneva after the death of Melanchthon. The Lord’s Supper controversies between the Gnesio-Lutherans and the Melanchthonians was a bitter debate. The former believed in absolutely no change from Luther’s views. The Melanchthonians were much more open to Reformed ideas. Frederick III decided that the Gnesio-Lutherans had to go. Hence Zacharias Ursinus came to the Palatinate. Ursinus was Polish. Ursinus studied in Wittenburg under Melanchthon. He was greatly influenced by the major Reformers during his tour of Reformation cities. This might explain his gradual shift to the Genevan Reformation out of the Lutheran stream. He studied under Vermigli. Ursinus was like Calvin, in desiring a quiet life of study. But Ursinus was not allowed by God to have that. Frederick II appointed him to the College of Wisdom, and the University of Heidelberg.

There is a great outline of the Catechism, of course, in question 2, which lays out guilt, grace, and gratitude, a good way to share the gospel with someone. It is noteworthy also that the exposition of the law does not come under the section on guilt, which would be more consistent with the first use of the law. In the Heidelberg Catechism, the treatment of the Ten Commandments comes under the section on gratitude. Use the Heidelberg Catechism!

Jon Payne on John Owen and the Means of Grace

Word, sacraments and prayer are the means of grace. Owen is needed, because our churches are losing their Reformed moorings because of an over-emphasis on urban culture, and a substitute of our own means of grace for God’s means of grace.

Owen was raised by a non-conformist father. His time at Oxford was long and fulsome. He went to hear Edmund Calamy, but, in God’s providence, Calamy was not there. Yet the Lord used the substitute’s message to work powerfully in Owen’s life. Married Mary Rook. Had 11 children, only 1 of whom lived to adulthood. Owen was an ecclesiastical statesman, as being chaplain to Oliver Cromwell.

Public worship and liturgy was a hugely controversial subject at the time, and figured large in Owen’s work. As Mohler would say, if you want to know what a church is really like, go worship with them and listen to the preaching. You will learn who they are by looking at their worship. Lex credendi, lex orandi: the law of belief is the law of worship. If there is such a thing as acceptable worship, then there is such a thing as unacceptable worship. The persons of the worshipers need to be accepted first. Secondly, worship can only be of God’s own appointment. Evangelical graces need to be exercised in worship. Getting worship outwardly correct is not enough. There needs to be a subjectively active and pious attendance on worship.

God’s means of grace are efficacious: they work! In our modern age where people no longer believe this, we hear from the Word that the means of grace work as efficacious for salvation. Owen didn’t write anything on preaching. The sermons we have are parliament sermons, not his normal week to week sermons. Owen’s sermons on the Lord’s Supper are rich sacramental theology (and are in volume 9).

Jon Payne on Charles Simeon

The overall topic of the pre-conference is “Recovering a Reformed Ministry.”

God rests too inconsequentially on ministers and on ministry. He means this, of course, in the sense that we are not aware enough of God, not that God is at fault in any way.

Simeon’s life and ministry are a good corrective to problems in ministry today. He preached for over 54 years. For decades, Simeon was the object of scorn and derision by students at Cambridge. And yet, he persevered in preaching the true gospel. Born in 1759. Eton at that time was completely devoid of true piety. Simeon entered into Cambridge, which was no different. Simeon thought, upon being required to attend communion, that Satan was just as qualified to attend communion as him. He read William Law’s book on what was required of man, a very moralistic book. Then he read a different book that set out the substitutionary atonement, which converted him.

Simeon faced enormous difficulty in his church at Cambridge, where the people completely rejected him, and found many ways to make his life extremely difficult for many years. The students once threw eggs in his face. Simeon knew that the ministry would not be easy. So many stood against him. But Simeon knew he was on the Lord’s side. He was first and foremost a preacher.

Simeon preached the gospel, but did not forget the imperatives of the Bible. Our anemic preaching of the third use of the law is highly detrimental to the Lord God.

We need to preach when it is convenient and when it is not. Consistently cultivate personal, biblical piety. Cultivate humility. Simeon believed that downward was upward. We are making disciples of Jesus Christ, not disciples of us. We should not neglect the global task of the gospel just because of the local church ministry. Invest in the next generation of ministers. Never negotiate the primacy of preaching.

Live-Blogging PCRT

I will be live-blogging PCRT today through Sunday. The overall topic is the historical Adam. The pre-conference is starting with Rick Phillips doing a devotional on John 6:1-13, the story of the feeding of the 5,000.

Jesus is training the disciples (looking at verses 5-6). It is a primer in ministry. There are four points.

1. The motive for ministry- Note the contrast between the great compassion that Jesus found in the people versus the disciples’ lack of compassion. The disciples in Luke say “send them away.” This is an attitude that many people have towards needy people. We need to be discerning in this. The social gospel has often replaced the real gospel. He takes direct aim at the bad versions of “redeem the culture.” Obviously, we need to have two premises (via John Piper). We need to have the greatest compassion on the those with the greatest need, and we need to focus on the greatest length of need. And the greatest need in both categories is the gospel of salvation by faith. The only true motive for the pastoral ministry is the compassion of Christ for the lost and for the sheep. Being able to pontificate on matters of every subject when people have no choice but to listen to you should not be the motive (ouch! LK). Our motive should not be the joy of digging into the Bible, as beautiful a thing as that is, or the reading of learned books (again, ouch! LK).

2. Our calling in ministry- Note that Bethsaida was the hometown of 3 of the disciples, and so they must have known the resources of that town, and they therefore despaired of providing the food for these people. Then Andrew brings someone to Jesus (which is something that he always does). Our calling is to take what we have and faithfully give it to Jesus- put it in His hands. The little boy gives what he has to Jesus. How much should we give? Everything! As soon as he gives it to Jesus, Jesus starts working. As Pink says, Jesus does not scorn the loaves because they are small and few.

3. God’s provision for us in ministry- We have a divine provision for our ministries in this life. Jesus will go on to say in John 6 that He is the bread of life. The disciples are looking down: where is the food, the money, the resources? Jesus looks upward to God, and thus accesses the infinite riches of God Almighty. George Müller’s example is wonderful in this regard. He did not look down, but always looked up in prayer. We do not have because we do not ask.

4. The boldness of faith we are to exercise in ministry. Verses 11-13 show the disciples beginning to act in faith. The Lord didn’t multiply the loaves and fishes before they started to ministry, but during the time when they were serving. We have no idea of the magnitude of what God will do through us.