Teach Me to Pray!: Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done

When I was in high school, I heard my Bible teacher say “To pray ‘Your kingdom come’ is to pray for judgment.” He excitedly told us how the Israelites had found a legitimate red heifer that might allow them to restart the sacrificial system, should the Tribulation come upon us soon. We had just witnessed the 9/11 attacks, and talk of the end of days was common. Our teacher explained that, in praying the Lord’s Prayer, we were inviting those final judgments and the Millennial kingdom of Christ.

I was a bit skeptical then, and I am even more skeptical of his interpretation now. So what does the phrase “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” actually mean? That is a difficult question to answer, because while the kingdom of God has already been inaugurated, it has not yet been fully realized.

The kingdom of God is chiefly a spiritual and heavenly reality rather than a physical and earthly one. This is not to say that it has no impact on the physical world, but Christ Himself told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) By the same token, the terms “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” seem to be essentially interchangeable in the Gospels.

Christ’s kingdom was inaugurated with His saving death and resurrection. During His ministry, He often proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (Matthew 3:2) whereas prior to His ascension, He said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18) Was there ever a time when creation was not under God’s authority? No, but scripture suggests that the sacrificial humility of Jesus Christ caused Him to be exalted and glorified by God the Father “…that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow…and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-10)

We gain a further clue about the nature of this kingdom when we see a distinction made between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. Those who belong to Christ are citizens of His kingdom in the here and now, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son…” (Colossians 1:13) However, as we have already seen, a day is coming when every person on planet earth, from the least to the greatest, will be forced to recognize the authority of Christ. As John prophesied about the last days, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)

To say that the kingdom of God is chiefly a spiritual kingdom is not to imply that it is not a real kingdom. While the regimes of this world pass away, Christ sits on the throne of David for all eternity. This was granted to Him on account of His saving work, for which the Father said, “Sit at My right hand / Until I make Your enemies a foot stool for Your feet.” (Psalm 110:1)

So what exactly are we praying for when we say “Your kingdom come” if it has already been inaugurated? Note that the Lord’s Prayer links the coming of Christ’s kingdom with His will being done “on earth as it is in heaven”. This reflects a longing for two things. First, that the gospel of Jesus Christ will go forth to the ends of the earth, and that more and more people will become heirs with Christ. Second, that the final consummation of the ages will come about, in which all of creation is restored, “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:23)

This prayer also reflects our desire that all things be brought in accordance with God’s will. That which is under the rule of the kingdom of God is subject to the will of God. Yes, the whole world is under His sovereignty, but at the same time, those who have been transferred to the domain of Christ have been regenerated by the Spirit and may act in obedience to God’s will in a way that is not possible for others. As Christ said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) Therefore, when we pray this prayer, we are submitting our own wills to the divine will and acknowledging Him as our rightful sovereign.

The kingdom of God is not to be associated with any political entity on this earth. It is that land sought by Abraham and the saints of old by faith. “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:15-16) This is the heavenly kingdom, which will endure forever. “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe…” (Hebrews 12:28-29).

Amy Mantravadi holds a B.A. in Biblical Literature from Taylor University. She is an active member of Patterson Park Church in Beavercreek, Ohio. You can read her blog at www.amymantravadi.com or follow her on Twitter @AmyMantravadi.

The Epiphany of Love

Although for many churches, the celebration of Christ’s Nativity is over for another year, for many others it is yet to come. They will celebrate the Feast of Epiphany on January 6th and on into the Sunday that follows. In part it will mark the visit of the Magi to worship the infant Jesus; but overall it will provide further opportunity to reflect on and rejoice in the Incarnation itself.

The key to the significance of this Feast Day is, of course, in its name: ‘Epiphany’ – signifying a ‘manifestation’ or ‘appearing’. The English word is a transliteration of the Greek word that sounds almost the same and captures not just what actually happened when Christ entered our world, but also all that is bound up with it. It is a declaration of gospel hope and it conveys the depth and wonder of how the hope of the gospel uniquely meets and answers the hopelessness and despair endemic to our race since Adam’s fall.

Part of the hopelessness that grips our lives stems from the fact we seem to be caught up in an unbreakable cycle of despair. So much so that even our greatest joys and best experiences are overshadowed by the failure, sorrow and death that surround us. And there is nothing within the cycle that allows us to break free. We see this in the Bible in the grim record of Genesis 5 with its genealogy of death which in turn is punctuated by the even grimmer verdict in the next chapter: ‘The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time’ (Ge 6.5).

God makes it clear that, if there is to be any hope at all for this world, it must come from outside this world. And that is precisely where the hope of the gospel is found. A hope that crystallises in that moment in time when there was the ultimate ‘manifestation’ that would penetrate and break the cycle of despair.

Paul uses this language of epiphany in his letter to Titus, which, interestingly, was intended to address underlying issues that were hindering the growth and witness of the church on Crete. Not once, but twice he reaches for the language of epiphany (Tit 2.11,13) to speak of the divine intervention that changes everything – not just for the immediate situation on Crete, but for all time.

The apostle teases this out in the immediate context of what was happening in the churches Titus had been sent to help. He reminds them that the grace of God they needed was not something they were still waiting for; but, rather, ‘the grace’ that not only ‘has appeared’, but has appeared ‘to all men’ (2.11). It was not as though they needed some kind of divine remedy that was bespoke to them and their needs; but that God had provided the ultimate remedy, once and for all, bound up with the epiphany that altered history.

Paul’s point is that the significance of that once-and-for-all event more than met the present needs of the Cretan Christians, because it was the grace that brings salvation.

This is a pertinent challenge to the mentality of many Christians through the ages that is inclined to diminish the greatness of the salvation that broke through into our world almost 2,000 years ago. The attitude that says, ‘Yes, that was wonderful; but we need something more special for what we’re facing now’. The apostle rightly reminds us that there is nothing that can surpass that moment of epiphany of the past either in the present or the future in terms of what it has secured and guaranteed.

Paul takes this thought further in what he goes on to say. The hope for the present that flows from the epiphany that has already taken place also underpins our hope for the future in the epiphany that has yet to take place. He acknowledges that God’s people have not yet arrived at their intended destination; they are still waiting for something. And the apostle identifies this as being ‘the blessed hope – the appearing [epiphaneian] of our great God and Saviour’ (2.13). The hope provided through the gospel reaches into the future.

We are given a vital clue to what that hope looks like when Paul goes on to define it as being God’s promise ‘to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good’ (2.14). Those words would have resonated in a very particular way with the churches in Crete that were all too conscious of how much still needed to be ‘straightened out’ in their shared life (1.5). Like so many Christians through the ages, our present imperfections are demoralising. So we need this timely reminder that there is a final denouement in the epiphany of God’s saving grace – one that is intimately bound up with what has already appeared – that will be revealed at the end of the ages.

The key to grasping all Paul is teaching here is found in the way he leads us to Christ. The ‘great God and Saviour’ whose epiphany brings such glorious hope is, of course, ‘Jesus Christ’ (2.13). Just as the first stage of his epiphany brought light into this dark world and brought representatives of distant nations to worship him, so its fulfilment will be marked by a ‘glorious appearing’ that will be witnessed by all nations and indeed by all who have ever lived.

One of the beauties of the Feast of Epiphany is that it is located at the beginning of the year. A time of hopes and dreams when people look forward expectantly to what may lie ahead. In that sense it encourages us not only to look back to the hope bound up with Christ’s Advent in the incarnation; but it reminds us that the fullness of his Advent has yet to be seen. And one day it will be seen in the Epiphany that will usher in the restoration of all things. Therein lies our hope, not just for the year ahead, but for the future in its totality!

Sexual Identity: What Does the Bible Say?

Unspoken assumptions make the argument. Debates become fruitful when unspoken assumptions get clarified. Many of us are accustomed to calling these assumptions presuppositions—controlling beliefs that determine how we think. In a culture that has largely accepted the belief that the only thing that really matters, the only thing that is actually real, is the individual’s feelings, opinions and choices, it is very easy for Christians to think and act according to this, even unconsciously.

To regard human feelings, choices and opinions as ultimate reality, or the only thing that really matters can rightly be called “subjectivism;” the knowing the subject is the ultimate determiner of how things are to be interpreted. In this way of thinking and living it is not the object being interpreted that matters most for what passes for knowledge and truth. In a culture controlled by subjectivism people can use terms like “truth,” “knowledge,” “right,” “wrong,” “good” and “evil,” yet those terms often mean whatever the individual decides they mean. The Bible presents us with a different view of reality, humans and knowledge.

Scripture reveals that the Triune God is the creator. The objects God has created are what they are regardless of what we think or feel about them or choose to do with them. According to Scripture, human knowledge is marked by a relationship between the knowing subject and the object known that was created by God. God knows everything because he created all things other than himself. We have true knowledge because God is truth, and he gives knowledge. Our understanding of this does not make it so. What we feel about it or choose to do in relation to it does not make it so. The opposite is also true—wishing that it were not so does not abolish it.       

Humans can and do have true knowledge because God created them in his image. “True” does not mean “exhaustive”; we do not know everything. We know truly. Human knowledge is about the interplay between the knowing subject and the object known. In biblical Christianity God is presented as The Subject who creates and knows all his Objects. Humans are both subjects who know and objects God created. The Bible presents a view of humans and human knowledge that balances objectivity with subjectivity.

We currently live at a time in American culture where this balance between objectivity and subjectivity is seriously distorted. The very idea that an actual male with empirically verifiable male organs can “self-identify” as a woman reveals how extreme the situation has become. The knowing subject can simply choose how they should be objectively regarded, and they believe their actions (changing their physical anatomy in some cases) and how they feel about themselves determines who or what they are. The examples could be multiplied.

When someone thinks and lives according to the belief that their choices or behavior determine what they are—the reality that they are—they have turned the biblical view of reality on its head. In Matthew 7:15-20 we learn of Jesus warning of false prophets. When he did, Jesus said that by their fruits we would know them. He gave an analogy of a tree and the fruit it produces. Good trees bear good fruit. Bad trees bear bad fruit. Lesson? By their fruits you will know them (Mt. 7:16, 20). In other words, humans are like trees: what they are determines what they do; what they do reveals who or what they are. What humans and other things are is not determined by what they choose to do. Being and doing exist in an unbreakable union, but the living God must create being; The Triune God is the source of all created being. The God of Holy Scripture is the only uncreated being.

I used to ask my students: How many of you consciously chose to be? I wanted to know who exercised their will in order for their will to be created. The question is ridiculous. You don’t exercise your will to create your will. To exercise your will, your will must already be. But when people reject God (I AM) in their thinking the only way they can talk about the category of being is in terms of what they do, feel or think.

The bible does not present homosexuality, or any sin, as an essential trait of any human. Sin is actually subhuman. Adam and Eve were not created as sinners. Jesus is fully human and never sinned. It is a serious category mistake for a Christian to identify themselves by their sin. 2Cor 5:17 tells us that if we are in Christ we are a new creation. This is not merely a way of speaking. It does not mean we have become something other than human; it means God has given actual life to us as humans that we did not have before because of sin. To want to identify yourself as a Christian by placing your sin choice or tendency before the name “Christian” is to fundamentally misunderstand what it means to be a Christian. Perhaps you can begin to see how identifying one’s self as a Gay Christian indicates profound confusion. Those who do so are controlled by presuppositions that drive an ideology that while popular in America is hostile to the most basic doctrines of the Christian faith.

David P. Smith (Ph.D.) is the author of B. B. Warfield’s Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship (Wipf & Stock) and co author with Ronald Hoch of Old School, New Clothes: The Cultural Blindness of Christian Education Wipf & Stock). David is Pastor of Covenant Fellowship A.R.P. Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.  

Teach Me to Pray!: Our Father

The morning air was still cold when Martin Luther entered the shop of Peter the barber. Peter was not only the local barber but a surgeon able to perform minor surgeries like bloodletting and tooth extraction. Likely his specialty cut as a barber prior to the Reformation was the tonsure or the monastic bald spot!   Luther entered waving a copy of a thin book.  It was a gift for his barber and friend of many years.   During a haircut he had asked Luther for help in developing his prayer life and Luther had obliged by writing a thirty-four page book called, “A Simple Way to Pray.” The book was published early in 1535 and it was this wonderful little book that Luther was waving.

This ought to be an example to every theologian who aspires to minister to the church.  Luther was likely the busiest man of his age and yet he carved out time to write a guide for his local barber and friend that this simple man might speak with the Majesty in heaven and not be afraid.  And that is the purpose of these next five posts on Theology for Everyone. 

In the Spirit of Luther’s, “A Simple Way to Pray,” the writers of this series are going to use the Lord’s Prayer in order to teach you how to speak to the Majesty on high.  According to Luther, the Lord’s Prayer was not only an excellent prayer but the perfect prayer guide. Not that it is to be prayed mindlessly.  Luther said, “Everybody tortures and abuses it; few take comfort and joy in its proper use.”[1] For Luther, the right use of the prayer occurs when the heart is “stirred and guided concerning the thoughts which ought to be comprehended in the Lord’s Prayer.”[2]  So, we are going to use the Lord’s Prayer as a guide that we might learn, as Luther did, to “suckle at the Lord’s Prayer like a child, and as an old man eat and drink from it and never get my fill.”[3]

So, let’s start with the first petition, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” In this petition, there are at least three or four subjects for prayer.  First, we are to remember that the ground for all of our praying is our adoption into the family of God.  In other words, if my child came to me with a request for a gift and a child whom I’ve never met arrived on my doorstep asking for the exact same gift, who is likely to receive from me?  That is the way of it with God. He is our Father and because of that we have a right to come to Him in prayer. Begin by extolling and thanking Him for our filial relationship to Him.  

Second, remember that He is in heaven. In other words, He is different from you and me.  He is God.  And that means He is sovereign and in control of all things. He rules and governs all creatures and all their actions.  So, I come to him in confidence. I say, “Lord, I know that praying according to your will is truly a powerful and effective prayer because you are God!  You are God above all. But though you are in heaven you are near to all who call upon you!” 

Third, because He is God His name is to be hallowed. Now, the word hallowed is archaic but it has the common idea of holy or respect. And when we pray for God’s name to be hallowed we are asking that it be treated with the reverence it deserves and demands.  But it’s more than that. Luther reminds us that to pray that the Lord’s name be hallowed is to ask for the strength and courage to protect it, that it not be used uselessly, that it be invoked in our troubles and that our good deeds would incite others to praise and honor His Name above every name.  This and more does Luther have in mind!  It’s little wonder that he could suckle at this prayer like a child.

The fourth subject regarding this petition is the consideration of our chief end. The Westminster Assembly’s first catechism question is, “What is man’s chief end?” The answer is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This prayer drives us to think about our own end even as we think about God’s glory. Thus, we confess our own failures to hallow the Name while we pray for renewed success and present as well as future enjoyment in the Triune God.  

Luther said that he prayed the same general thoughts and ideas day by day. However, he also said,

It may happen occasionally that I may get lost among so many ideas in one petition that I forego the other six.  If such an abundance of good thoughts comes to us we ought to disregard the other petitions, make room for such thoughts, listen in silence, and under no circumstances obstruct them. The Holy Spirit himself preaches here, and one word of his sermon is far better than a thousand of our prayers. Many times I have learned more from one prayer than I might have learned from much reading and speculation.

Therefore, pray the Lord’s Prayer with concentration and singleness of heart. Pray it seeking the Lord in every petition or perhaps even just one or two.  Suckle at it and you will find no bottom to it.  

Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Executive Editor for Place for Truth.

[1] Martin Luther, Works, vol. 43, Devotional Writings II, (Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1968) 200.

[2] Ibid., 198.

Sexual Identity: An Ontological Problem

Over the last several years, some in the church have argued that a person may be oriented toward homosexuality but not act on the inclination or tendency. That may or may not be the case. However, the burden of this article is not that. In this article, I will demonstrate that to claim that homosexual orientation is benign or neutral is an ontologically impossible position.  Let’s flesh this statement out a bit more with the following scenario, “Say there’s a single man who has been teaching music in the local Christian school for 20 years or so.  He is an excellent teacher and has a good rapport with the kids.  He has been active in church, was a deacon, is now an elder.  He has an unassailable reputation in church, school, and community.  Then one day someone asks him if he is homosexual, and he says yes.”[1]  Notice the formulation of this question. The man is asked “if he is homosexual.”  Here we must see that we are speaking in ontological categories, the basic categories of being, categories that make man what he is.  Now, some argue that a man like in the above scenario is either homosexual or heterosexual, and it makes no difference since both orientations are neutral. 

However, to deny that sexual orientation, and specifically heterosexuality, is a basic ontological category of human existence is to deny two basic truths.  First, it is a denial of the Bible’s teaching specifically with regard to the imago Dei.  According to Herman Bavinck, the human body belongs integrally to the image of God.[2]  The body was created for the soul and the soul the body, the body is an instrument of the soul.[3]  Bavinck says that it is “the same soul that peers through the eyes, thinks through the brain, grasps with the hands, and walks with the feet.”  Thus, the body and soul are ontologically coterminous.

We must also remember what the image of God entails, what constitutes this body soul relationship.  Reduced to the lowest common denominator the image consists in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.  Original humanity possessed these from the start.  Man was not created a neutral being.[4]  God made Adam physically and ethically mature, with knowledge in the mind, righteousness in the will, and holiness in the heart.[5]  Bavinck says it well when he writes, “Goodness, for a human being, consists in moral perfection, in complete harmony with the law of God, in holy and perfect being, like God himself (Lev. 19:2; Deut. 6:5; Matt. 5:48; 22:37; Eph. 5:1; I Pet. 1:15-16).[6]  Thus, man, body and soul, was created morally upright and in perfect accord with the law of the Lord.  In other words, the soul exercised righteousness in and through the body.

However, when God created He established a distinction within the human race that is reflected in the human body: “male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).  Hence, there are two sexes, male and female.  Thus, the human body was deliberately shaped male and female – the Hebrew words referring specifically to biological, sexual distinction.[7]  We should also bear in mind that this basic distinction is what gives rise to the “one flesh” union of marriage.  The soul working in and through the body must function according to the righteous way in which it was constituted.  Thus, humanity, created in God’s image, was created to function in a heterosexual manner.   

Second, homosexuality is a denial of the natural order that God created. It is impossible for heterosexuality and homosexuality, as descriptive conditions of sexuality, to be neutral positions because homosexuality is contrary to nature (Romans 1:26, 27).  By contrary to nature I mean that homosexuals are not able to procreate because reproduction belongs to the male/female relationship.  Thus, to say that homosexuality is simply a neutral ontological condition like heterosexuality is a denial of Scriptural teaching and a misunderstanding of the unnaturalness of homosexuality.  Therefore, it is quite clear from Scripture and the natural created order that heterosexuality is the basic ontological category of human existence.  So, when the man is asked “if he is homosexual,” he is being asked what he is.  And according to the man, as described in the story, he is homosexual.  Therefore, this statement in and of itself is rebellion. 

But let me now take up my case from another angle.  Let us look at sexual orientation through the perspective of the doctrine of sanctification.  But before I begin let me once again clarify what I am not arguing.  I am not arguing how one overcomes homosexual temptation.  Rather, I am arguing against the position that homosexuality is a basic and neutral orientation of human existence.

Consider first the doctrine of sanctification.  Vital to understanding sanctification is the relationship between the indicative and imperative.  The indicative describes what God has done in Christ for us and is the ground of the imperative to be what we are in Christ. In other words, we are becoming in Christ what we already are in Christ. 

Now, let me pose the question.  If homosexual orientation is a neutral condition that does not need the eradicating work of the Spirit (which is the obvious implication), then at the consummation, when we will be what we were becoming, will there be those oriented toward homosexuality?  Perhaps the objection will be offered from Matthew 22:30, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”  However, this verse does not mean that humanity will become sexless.[8]  Perhaps it simply means that the command to procreate will no longer be needed in the new heavens and new earth.  Nevertheless, if sexual orientation is neutral, does that mean that there will be glorified gays in the new creation?   Obviously, such a position would be, as we have already witnessed, contrary to Scripture and nature.

Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Executive Editor for Place for Truth.

[1] “Homosexuality, the Culture, and the Gospel,” The Reformed Presbyterian Witness, January 2004.

[2] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, v. II (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 559.

[4] Ibid., 557.

[7] Greg Bahnsen, Homosexuality: A Biblical View (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1978), 28.

[8] W. D. Davies and D. C. Allison, Matthew 19-28; International Critical Commentary (NY: T & T Clark, 2004), 226-230.

Introducing a New Series!

Today, at Place for Truth, we are launching another endeavor in the hope that the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ will be served by our efforts. We realize the truth of what R C Sproul once captured in a book title – everyone is a theologian! Therefore, the question is not whether you are a theologian but how Biblically accurate is your theology? 

So, we are creating a program to help men, women and even children become better – more Biblical – systematic theologians.  It’s called, Theology for Everyone, and it’s our deep desire that it will serve not only to ground God’s people in good Biblical thinking but that it will develop systematic and theological thinking regarding God’s Word. 

However, Christian theology is not simply an intellectual exercise.  The transformation of our thinking is the ground of life transformation.  Therefore, our first series of articles begins with prayer because every good theologian approaches the Word of God with a simple cry, “Teach me, show me, and instruct me!” But not everyone finds prayer easy.  Some find it rather difficult.  Therefore, our first series of articles is not going to be on the nature of prayer or the beauties of prayer or how prayer intersects with God’s sovereignty. The first series will teach the very fundamental lesson, “How do I Pray?” 

Consider what Martin Luther said of prayer, “Ah, how great a thing is the prayer of the godly?  How powerful it is before God that a poor human should speak with the high majesty in heaven and not be afraid before him, but know that God smiles on him with a friendly countenance on account of the will of Jesus Christ, his loving son, our Lord and Savior! Here the heart and the conscience must not run away, neither remain in doubt because of its unworthiness, nor allow itself to be terrified.”

Our desire is to help you understand the friendly smile of God as you seek Him in His Son Jesus Christ. So, let’s get started with the first lesson of the theologian, prayer.

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield on Sexual Identity

This week on Theology on the Go we are replaying an old conversation between our host, Dr. Jonathan Master and Dr. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. Dr. Butterfield is a former tenured professor of English and women’s studies at Syracuse University, converted to Christ in 1999 in what she describes as a train wreck. Her memoir The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert chronicles that difficult journey.

Rosaria’s second book, Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ, addresses questions of sin, identity, and repentance that she often encounters during speaking engagements. Her heart’s desire is for people to put the hands of the hurting into the hands of the Savior, who equips us to walk and grow in humility.

Rosaria is married to Kent, a Reformed Presbyterian pastor in North Carolina, and is a homeschool mother, author, and speaker. Rosaria is also zealous for hospitality, loves her family, cherishes dogs, and enjoys coffee.

This week on Theology on the Go the topic will be on sexual identity, the first in a series focusing on sexual identity and the public square. In light of recent cultural events, Theology on the Go believes that a series like this is an important service to the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.  So, grab that cup of coffee and meet us at the table!

Just for listening, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals would like to give you a free resource. An MP3 of Rosaria Butterfield’s message, “The Testimony of an Unlikely Convert” is yours free as our gift to you.  Go to ReformedResources.org to download your free MPS!

History: Helping Church to Love it

 You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. Deuteronomy 11:19, NASB

It’s somewhat ironic for me to be writing an article on helping children love church history. I love church history, and that’s part of why I studied history in college. But when I was a child, I hated history. I argued with my parents about why I had to waste my time on such a pointless subject. It was boring, and it was useless. I would have much rather spent my time on math and science.

Maybe you’re like I was as a child. Maybe you think history is boring and useless. You may be asking yourself why does it matter if our children love history, particularly church history. We should love history and teach our children to love it, because history is the story of how we got here and why things are the way they are. As Christians, church history is family history. It’s the story of how our family of believers came to be and how God has worked in the lives of believers and the church throughout the ages.

The Bible is full of history. It opens “In the beginning” (Gen. 1:1) and tells the story of how God created the world and mankind, how sin and death entered the world, and how God saved humanity from their sins. History reminds us of God’s sovereignty and His work through and for his people. Frequently the Bible tells us to remember what God has done (Psalm 105) and to teach our children (Exodus 12:26, Joshua 4:6).

The Deuteronomy 11 passage about teaching our children is specifically about teaching them God’s commandments. However, even the giving of the law in Exodus is prefaced by a statement of who God is and what God has done for His people. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2, NASB)

The other reason we should love history and teach our children to love it is to protect them from making the mistakes of the past. As the saying goes, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” For Christians, most often the danger is falling into heresy when we forget our church history. A love of church history helps to guard against error because we know what battles have been fought before us and why our doctrinal statements are formulated the way they are.

So how do we as parents go about encouraging our children to love church history? We do it, in part, by teaching it in such a way as to peak their interest and to give them a desire to learn more on their own. This is not done by forced memorization of facts. Names, dates, and places are useful, but on their own, they are dull and boring. They are placeholders for understanding the big picture of what was going on. The important part of history is the story.

Most children love to hear stories. They often like to hear stories about their families. How did our family come to live here? Where are we from? How did their parents and grandparents meet? Church history can be approached in much the same way. We can tell our children the stories of how our church “family” came to be, where we came from, and how our ancestors lived and died for the gospel. Focus on the flow of the story and the important themes of our history. Don’t get bogged down in the minutiae. It’s not that the details don’t matter. They do, but they’ll come naturally as the children learn the stories.

To teach church history to children, I recommend reading biographies. Simonetta Carr has a wonderful series of biographies for children. From Augustine to Luther, Carr has written engaging stories that tell the history of some of the most influential men and women in church history. These biographies can be used to discuss weightier theological topics with children. For example, a biography of Athanasius could be used to begin a discussion on the Trinity and why the Nicene Creed was written.

Another good way to teach children to love church history is through historical fiction. Now, not all historical fiction is worth reading. It’s necessary to be discerning. Historical fiction is fiction, so it’s not completely accurate. However, the stories can spark interesting discussions over what isn’t accurate and what artistic license the author has taken. Most Christian publishers have historical fiction as a genre of books they publish. I would encourage you to read these with your children. Your interest in the subject will encourage theirs.

Primary sources are an additional resource when teaching our children about church history. Historical sermons, speeches, and church documents are not quite as exciting, at times, as biographies and historical fiction, but they can be useful. For example, you could read Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” as part of a discussion on the Great Awakening.

Movies and documentaries can also be a great way to help our children learn to love history. With the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this past year, there have been many movies and documentaries about Luther, for example, that give insight as to what was going on in the early Reformation. There are also documentaries on the people who worked to translate the Bible into English that I highly recommend. Historical movies and documentaries are a fun way to approach history.

Over all, the way to teach our children to love church history is love it ourselves and to make use of the various resources we have available to us. In this way, we can show them that history isn’t boring and pointless. Once they appreciate the interesting and relevant story of history, children will come to love it.

Rachel Miller is News Editor for the Aquila Report. She has a BA in History from Texas A&M University. She is a member of a PCA church in the Houston area and the homeschooling mother of three boys.

William Tyndale and Sola Scriptura

William Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament, first published in 1526, was met with sharp disapproval in England – not only because it was common knowledge that Scriptures should not be placed in the hands of the uneducated masses, but also because of the translation itself.

            Translating “congregation” instead of “church,” “superior” instead of “priest,” and “repentance” instead of “penance” was to have potentially huge consequences on the Church’s doctrine. For example, penance implied an action performed by the sinner for the remission of his or her sins, but repentance could simply be an admission of guilt and turning of the heart. It would have dismantled many of the Church’s “remedies” for sin, such as confession to a priest, pilgrimages, and indulgences.

            Tyndale stood by his translation. He had an excellent knowledge of both Greek and the Scriptures, and knew enough of the history of the church to see how these “remedies” had developed throughout time in response to a felt need.

Tyndale’s Early Life

William Tyndale was born in Gloucestershire, England, probably in 1494, to a large and influential family. He graduated at Magdalen College, Oxford with a BA in 1512 and MA in 1515, when he was also ordained priest. He was appalled to discover that his studies of theology didn’t include Scripture. Most likely, he supplemented his studies with Erasmus’s new Latin translation of the New Testament, which was published together with the original Greek.

            Tyndale continued to preach while working as tutor for the children of a noble family. His preaching, with a strong emphasis on scripture for the people, was well accepted by many but also strongly opposed by some – so much that Tyndale was suspected of heresy. This only strengthened his desire to print the New Testament in English. In 1523, Tyndale was in London, where he stayed for almost a year, preaching and looking for support of his project. When he realized that his efforts were in vain, he left for Germany, supported by a few cloth merchants in London (who later got in trouble for that).

Tyndale the Translator

            Tyndale moved to Wittenberg and enrolled in the university. By 1525, he had translated the New Testament into English and was looking for a publisher. The first publisher who accepted the task, Peter Quentel, had to stop when his workshop was raided by opponents of this work. Tyndale fled to Worms, where the translation was finally published in 1526, and began to be smuggled back into England on merchant ships. There, the ecclesiastical authorities sought to have it burned.

            Over the next ten years, Tyndale made at least two revisions to his translation of the New Testament and – after learning Hebrew (which was virtually unknown in England) – he began translating the Old Testament, completing Genesis to Deuteronomy, and the book of Jonah. At the same time, he wrote a long series of polemical treatises arguing the claims of reformed theology – particularly sola fide, sola Scriptura, and the precedence of God’s calling over our faith. These pamphlets were also smuggled into England.

            Tyndale’s most influential book outside his Bible translations, The Obedience of a Christian Man, came in October 1528. Enemies were asserting that the reformers throughout Europe were encouraging sedition and teaching treason. Tyndale wrote to declare for the first time the two fundamental principles of the English reformers: the supreme authority of scripture in the church, and the supreme authority of the king in the state. These pamphlets were widely read and immediately banned.

 Tyndale and Thomas More

            Thomas More, councilor for King Henry VIII, was zealous in his critique of Tyndale. A large portion of his Dialogue Concerning Heresies (1529) was devoted to Tyndale’s translation of the Bible and some of Tyndale’s teachings. Tyndale replied point by point with An Answer unto Sir Thomas More’s ‘Dialogue.’ In his view, the church’s opposition to his translation showed much more than a simple desire for accuracy. “There be secret pangs that pinch the very hearts of them,” he said, “whereof they dare not complain. The sickness, that maketh them so impatient, is that they have lost their juggling terms. For the doctors and preachers were wont to make many divisions, distinctions, and sorts of grace ; gratis data, gratum faciens, prceveniens, and subsequens. And with confession they juggled; and so made the people, as oft as they spake of it, understand shrift in the ear[1]; whereof the scripture maketh no mention: no, it is clean against the scripture, as they use it and preach it; and unto God an abomination.”[2]

            These “juggling terms” included Purgatory, which Rome based mostly on a reading of 1 Corinthians 3:15. It was such a flimsy interpretation that even Peter Martyr Vermigli, while he was still a committed Roman Catholic priest, had to admit it was forced. More presented other verses to prove the existence of Purgatory, but they were all strained deductions which were easily rebuttable.

            “For since God in His righteousness will not leave sin unpunished and in His goodness will not perpetually punish the sin after the person’s repentance, it follows there must be temporal punishment. And now since the person often dies before undergoing such punishment . . . a very child, almost, can see the conclusion: that the punishment remaining due and undone at death is to be endured and sustained afterward.”

            A Lutheran or Reformed Christian would have taken the first sentence, and finished it with “it follows there must be a divine Savior who can take the punishment for our sins.” More’s replies shows how far the gospel had been removed from the consciousness of Christians.

            Not much has changed. As recently as 1987, Pope Benedict XVI commented on critics of the Purgatory by saying, “This biblicism has scarcely anything to do with the Catholic understanding, according to which the Bible must be read with the church and her faith. My view is that if Purgatory didn’t exist, we should have to invent it … because few things are as immediate, as human, and as widespread – at all times and in all cultures – as prayer for one’s own departed dear ones.”[3] Once again, felt needs come before a strict adherence to the Bible.

Tyndale’s Death

In 1535, just when Tyndale was nourishing hopes to finish his translation of the Old Testament, he was betrayed by a young Englishman who had pretended to be interested in the work of Bible translation. In reality, he had agreed to betray Tyndale for cash. After persuading Tyndale to leave the house, he led him straight into an ambush prepared by English officers. All of Tyndale’s property was confiscated. Thankfully, his later translations were safe in another place.

            Tyndale was taken to the castle of Vilvorde, outside Brussels, where he was imprisoned for sixteen months and condemned as a heretic in August 1536. In October, he was led to an open space outside the castle where he was strangled and then burnt at the stake. His last words, cried with a loud voice, were “O Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!”

            His prayer was answered only three years later, in 1539, when King Henry VIII allowed the printing of the “Great Bible” – the first authorized Bible in the English language. The first page of the book shows Henry while he assigns, with the visible blessing of God on high, Bibles to the clergy who in turn distribute it to the laity.

[1] Auricular confession

[2] Tyndale, William, An Answer unto Sir Thomas More’s ‘Dialogue,’ Cambridge, University Press, 1850, p. 22.

[3] Ratzinger, Joseph, and Messori, Vittorio, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, Ignatius Press, 1987, p. 146.

History: Why Read it? A Pastoral Perspective

I am an avid history reader. I have been since about the age of five. That’s 48 years of history reading. I became an avid church history reader when I came to faith in Christ in 1983. Since then church history, among all sorts of historical works, has been a staple part of my reading diet. As a Christian, but especially as a pastor, reading church history and reading theology done in the past is essential.

I read church history because the Holy Spirit didn’t begin working in the church with me. On the contrary, he has been working in the church since the fall and more especially since our Lord poured forth the Holy Spirit on the church at Pentecost. In other words, church history is a gift of God to the church in the present age. Unlike Scripture, of course, church history is not inerrant nor is it infallible. But as C. S. Lewis once noted, the blind spots of other eras are different than ours so that fact makes spotting blind spots all the easier.  All of this is to say that church history is a fallible record of the Holy Spirit working with his church and we can learn much from it.

More importantly, reading church history is about participating in the reading of Scripture in community with others from the past. Just as it is wise to learn from our brothers and sisters in the church now as we wrestle with the meaning and significance of Scripture and attempt to daily live out the Scriptures, so also it is prudent to learn from brothers and sisters in ages gone by. In other words, those who have gone before us have read the Bible and in many instances have discovered the true meaning of the biblical text through the Holy Spirit directed use of ordinary means (i.e., attending public worship, having private and family worship and using things like Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and atlases and other helpful literature). To put the matter simply, why reinvent the wheel? We in Reformed and evangelical circles sometimes have an overly individualistic mentality. Reading the great theologians and biblical commentators from the past is of great benefit.

So too is reading about pastors and laypeople who have been used by the Lord in the past to build the kingdom of God or the church. Reading about the ancient church and

 battles with the powers that be is inspiring and encouraging. Discovering the depth of biblical devotion among the saints in the Middle Ages is humbling. Even when the church went astray as it did in Medieval Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, there were saints who have much to teach us. The same is even more so as we come into the era of the Reformation, the discovery of the Americas, and church history events which have occurred closer to our time. Of course, because church history and historical theology are not infallible nor inerrant, we must read both primary sources and the secondary literature with critical care. Personally, I find great encouragement from reading church history. I often think to myself, if the Lord could do great things back then, perhaps he will do it again in my lifetime. This exponentially assists me in my prayer life.

Because church history, like all history, is a mixture of the good and the bad, we learn both habits to inculcate and habits to avoid. We discover the truth about the saints, warts and all. Church history has its protagonists and its villains. The presence of sin in the lives of all saints makes the picture much more complex. We find this to be the case in the Bible itself, do we not? Think of David in 1st and 2nd Samuel. David is God’s chosen and anointed king and is a man after God’s own heart. But he is a sinner saved by grace too. He sins by committing adultery with Bathsheba and arranges for the death of her husband, which leads to spillover in his own personal life, the life of his extended family, and ultimately in the life of the Israelite kingdom. The Apostle Paul reminded us that biblical history was written down for our benefit so that we could learn what to embrace and what to shun.

If I can encourage my people, as a pastor, to read their Bibles and church history their growth in Christian grace and truth will be greatly enhanced. One way I do this is through using illustrations from church history in my teaching and preaching. My goal is not to overload my congregation with historical factoids to fill their heads, but to provide illustrations from biblical and church history which will illuminate a point being made from the text of Scripture. At the end of the day, the benefit of reading church history, a benefit which assists me in my pastoral labors, is greater understanding and hopefully meditation upon and obedience to the Scriptures and the Lord of the Scriptures.

Jeffrey C. Waddington (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is stated supply at Knox Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  He also serves as a panelist at Christ the Center and East of Eden and is the secretary of the board of the Reformed Forum.  Additionally he serves as an articles editor for the Confessional Presbyterian Journal.