What Is Prayer?

Have you ever thought about what prayer really is? How would you define it? What makes it so important to you? If you look up prayer in a dictionary it says – “A solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship.” This is obviously inaccurate, for we worship no one but God and we also are able to  pray for the well being or healing of others. In addition to that, the definition is missing other things such as adoration to God and confession that He is God. A good definition of prayer is found in the book “When You Pray” by Herman Hanko. He defines it as “…lovers’ talk, for it is a holy conversation between the living and eternal God and the redeemed child of God in which both speak to each other in the most intimate relationship of love.”

Imagine telling other people that you have a best friend or just a friend in general.  Then you get to school and you don’t even talk to that friend. That isn’t friendship. Friendship includes communication. If we are children of God we need to pray, we need to have that back and forth communication.

In our Catechism, Lord’s Day 45 Q&A 116 says that prayer is “…the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us: and also, because God will give his grace and Holy Spirit to those only, who with sincere desires continually ask them of him, and are thankful for them.” This shows the importance of having prayer in our lives. Without it we are left with no comfort, assurance, or hope of salvation. But in prayer we can come before our Father with confidence and know that He is our Keeper and will never leave us nor forsake us (Proverbs 15:8, Isaiah 26:16, Mark 9:29).

Courtney Spronk

 

Reflections on the Battle for Sovereign Grace (2)

In this post we return to a few matters related to The Battle for Sovereign Grace. This book is very instructive in terms of what it means to be a part of the church militant here on earth, fighting the good fight of faith, not only against our own sin, but also against the continual perversion of the pure gospel, which is the church’s most precious treasure. There are many in the broader ecclesiastical world today who insist that there should not be any battles within the church. Doctrinal disputes, it is often said, are needlessly divisive. Instead, the church ought to be concerned with presenting a united witness before the world, joining together to fight social injustice and the like. This is the message of the ecumenical movement, a movement which often accuses Protestant Christianity of tearing apart the body of Christ because of the proliferation of denominations following the Reformation. Many seem to find this criticism convincing, for the Ecumenical movement continues to gain significant influence within Protestant and Reformed denominations. And the result has been a widespread surrender of the distinctive truths of the gospel among which sovereign particular grace holds a preeminent place.

What does this have to do with The Battle for Sovereign Grace? The material presented in this book is the history of a very significant doctrinal battle within the sphere of Reformed Christianity that has implications for all confessional Reformed churches, not only our own denomination. As the author makes abundantly clear, the Declaration is a document of immense import, for the error of the conditional covenant is one which persists in much of the Reformed church world. However, what I want to focus on briefly is not so much the content of the declaration (which we know and love) but the example that this history lays out for us, that is, how we are to view doctrinal controversy. Although we are called to seek peace and unity, doctrinal dispute is ultimately inevitable. Due to the sinfulness and pride of man, error will not cease to arise within the church. God in His providence often employs these controversies to refine and sharpen the Church’s understanding of the truth. This fact is clear, for example, in the case of the early Christological controversies from which emerged our ecumenical creeds. We ought to be very thankful for the peace and unity which we currently enjoy in our churches that is not imperiled by any serious controversy. This is a blessing from God to be sure.

In this regard, I was very impressed with how instructive this history in this book is for the present day, particularly with respect to the ecumenical movement. Ecumenism is a great threat to the purity of the Church, and it is probable that this threat will only intensify in the coming years. We live in a society, both secular and ecclesiastical, that stresses unity, tolerance of divergent opinions, and which finds doctrine and dogma distasteful. “Peace, peace” it is so often said, yet there is no peace. For those of us who have attended or are attending a Christian college, many have felt the draw of this movement which is especially popular among evangelicals of our generation. As we live in this cultural environment, it is very easy to become acclimated to its lukewarm perspective of the truth of the gospel, and as a result importance of maintaining the distinctive doctrinal standards of the Reformed faith may seem to be increasingly unimportant and irrelevant. This is something for us young people and young adults to consider, since in the coming years the mantle of leadership in the church will fall upon us, and we must have the same knowledge, courage, and strength to stand on the battle lines of truth and error as our predecessors. Will we be up to the task? We can only pray for God’s strength, for of ourselves we are nothing, but by His grace we can stand immovable. The fact is that the battle for sovereign grace is an ongoing battle. The adoption of the Declaration of Principles was certainly a decisive victory. But the danger never quite disappears. Again as church history shows, old heresies never die. They resurface over and over again with a refurbished appearance and behind the cloak of new terminology. By now we have all likely heard of the federal vision, a heresy which has its source in the theology of a conditional covenant; this is just one such example of a new mutation in the genome of “salvation by works” theology.

Moreover this history has much to teach us of the cost of standing for the truth, a price which we must be ready to pay.  Ultimately the Declaration’s presentation of the unconditional covenant not only prevented formal ecclesiastical unity with numerous new immigrants from the Netherlands, but also it precipitated the devastating schism of 1953 in which our churches lost a substantial portion of their membership. From an Ecumenist’s perspective, this was a disaster. Schism is in their view the worst possible outcome, and so egregious errors are tolerated because it is better to have divided opinion under one very broad roof. So, was it really worth it? Is the technical definition of the covenant as “unconditional” or “conditional” so important as to justify such a painful event. Our answer should be a resounding yes! Don’t get me wrong, schism is terrible and undesirable. But the history of the Church shows it is necessary to preserve and develop the truth and to purify the Church from error. The Church is better because of it. As Christ said, unless one is willing to sacrifice all and take up his cross and follow Him, one is not worthy of Him. This is a very important reminder for us whenever we feel the allure of ecumenism. Our ecclesiastical unity consists of a common confession of the distinctive truth of the gospel as taught in the Scripture and summarized in the Confessions. Unity that is based on anything else is false unity. As soldiers of Christ we are called to follow the captain of our salvation, and this entails battle. Young people and young adults, are we prepared and willing to defend the truth of the gospel with same devotion as our forefathers?

JS

Read! Read! Read!

For many of us “Young Calvinists” who live in the West Michigan area, we had the pleasure of attending Mr. Terpstra’s recent speech about what it means to be a “Reformed reader.” In this speech we were exhorted to work hard at becoming better readers of books in general, but especially of good, solid and Reformed books. Well, fortunately for us all, the RFPA has recently published a book which makes our task that much easier, a book which easily takes its place in the upper echelons the “good Reformed material” category. That book is Battle for Sovereign Grace in the Covenant by Professor Engelsma.

As indicated by the book’s subtitle, the Battle for Sovereign Grace in the Covenant is primarily about the Declaration of Principles, the document which was adopted by the Synod of 1951. On the surface one might think that a book about a document entitled the “Declaration of Principles” would be abstract and overly cerebral. However this is not the case. The Declaration of Principles is a document that articulates and clarifies the doctrine of the covenant that we know and love. In this regard this book is just as much about the defense and development of the doctrine of the unconditional covenant of grace, the very beating heart of our theology. And what topic could be of more interest to us than this personal, warm, and beloved doctrine? What topic could be more relevant to us as Protestant Reformed young people than the history of that doctrine which more than any other defines us within the ecclesiastical world? Moreover the Battle for Sovereign Grace in the Covenant has been written with us as part of its intended audience. It is not a tome of theology written for ministers and professors, but a book designed for all the members of our Churches in all different stages of life. As the author makes clear: “I write this book for a popular, as distinguished from a scholarly, theological audience, for young people as well as their parents and grandparents” (11-12).

The Declaration of Principles and the history surrounding it are matters with which we ought to acquaint or reacquaint ourselves. Either way we stand to profit. To this end we will spend the next couple of weeks reviewing and considering some of the significant points made in this book, particularly how they are relevant for us as Protestant Reformed young people and young adults today; for they are indeed eminently relevant. As the author writes in the preface: “no minister survives who took part in the controversy. Members who lived through those agonizing years and can therefore speak to the younger generations from experience become few” (9). We are yet one more generation removed from these events, and so it becomes all the more important that we seek out this knowledge and learn it well. This is our duty to our elders, and to our God. I know many who have already read this title and others who are in the process of reading it. I encourage anyone who has yet to pick up this book to join them. The goal of these upcoming blog posts is to stimulate the reading of and reflection upon subjects treated in this book concerning a turbulent period in the history of our Churches. Whether the material in this book is familiar or unfamiliar to you, investing the time to read it will be time well spent. In so doing we all may learn from history’s light, indeed the light of our own history no less, and thereby come to cherish all the more that heritage for which our fathers and mothers contended and have delivered down to us.

Next week we will look at a chapter or two from the book itself. If you can find the time or can make the time, get some reading done!

JS