mgpcpastor's blog

August Australian Presbyterian – Reforming The Church

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The slow barge, pack mule and carrier pidgeon have come through again.
The August Australian Presbyterian examines the theme of Reforming the Church. While the Protestant Reformation is primarily associated with the issue of salvation by grace alone through faith alone there was also a tremendous amount of reform in the life of the church itself.
In a era of emphasis on individualism and personal experience the church is becoming increasingly atomised. As the primary vehicle through which the biblical message of salvation is to be proclaimed to the world, this atomisation could serve to threaten the purity of the Gospel as unity and discipline fall by the wayside.
The feature interview this month is with Mark Dever, lead pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. Dever has seen that church grow by a balanced mixture of faithful biblical teaching, conservative worship and purposeful body life. All elements which are considered culturally out of favour, especially in a liberal city like Washington.
Dever’s interview is fascinating, not so much for what he says, because much of that will be very familiar to those of us versed in historical reformed church practice. What is encouraging is the simple firmness with which he maintains the need for local churches to maintain orthodoxy and discipline in their practice, as well as their doctrine.
As an aside, I find it interesting that the Australian Presbyterian Theological Colleges all affirm conservatism in their practice of church life and worship, inviting visiting speakers who also represent that conservatism, while many pastor and congregations continue to forsake these practices. Australian Presbyterian’s themes and interviews demonstrate this contrast as well. All the authors of articles are mature in age and or conservative in outlook. Frankly I agree with with their positions, this is not a criticism of these bodies. I just wonder how major streams within our denomination’s life go pretty much unrecognised by these bodies.
Complementary articles by three other U.S. preachers are included. The venerable John MacArthur warns that biblical preaching that fails to invite sinners to repent and trust Jesus’ sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sins is deficient. I have seen services at which ‘altar calls’ have been given and ‘salvations’ recorded when all that has happened is that people have been invited to come forward and seek God. MacArthur’s words resonate.
Richard D. Phillips, whose work editing and contributing to the book Precious Blood I appreciated, surveys Jesus’ words of commendation, warning, admonition and invitation to the seven churches in Revelation. A living, growing church will find elements of all seven of these churches relevant to their circumstances at various times and should always remain conversant with Christ’s proclamation.
As a change of pace Leland Ryken provides a precis of a funeral sermon preached by the puritan Thomas Brooks. Christians live well when they keep their death in focus.
We’re a bit light on for local news this month, but congratulations to Ian Smith as his appointment as principal of the Presbyterian Theological Centre, Sydney.
It was also good to see the advertisement for the pastoral position in my neighboring parish here in South Australia.
David Palmer and Ben Saunders provide an adapted version of a paper presented to the panel reviewing exemptions in the Equal Opportunity Act 1995. The actual paper can be downloaded here. David and his colleagues are doing excellent work in this area.
The letters page in AP has struggled for years. Some times it just seems to descend to ad-hominem attacks strung out over some months. I can’t see a lot of value in publishing letters where someone defends themselves against comments made by someone in response to something originally published months ago. If that sounds confusing, I feel sorry for anyone reading AP for the first time and opening up at the letters page.
Again, as an aside, some sort of forum where people of reformed conviction in Australia could exchange views would be welcome. Some guys in Victoria tried a forum a few years ago and the original Australian Presbyterian website also made an attempt. The problem is that the fewer the contributors, the easier it is for one or two difficult contributors (cough>trolls<cough) to make it an unpleasant place to visit.
Book reviews are useful, but the choices often seem esoteric.
Peter Barnes closes out the issue with a position paper that opposes the idea of a Bill of Rights for Australia. A lot of his criticism is based on negative outcomes in other places (and in the case of the Victorian Religious Tolerance Act, right here) and the thought that no Bill of Rights guarantees absolute freedom, it simply provides a framework by which our freedoms are limited in the interest of a greater good. Who determines that greater good? With a Bill of Rights, no longer the people through their elected representatives, but the judiciary and the legal system. Is it cynical to point out that judges and lawyers seem most in favour of such a Bill. It's probably my imagination.
So there you go, that's August, bring on September.

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