From the Pastor’s Desk: The Sacrament of Communion

The Church universal recognizes two sacraments, viz., baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  The Lord’s Supper also is known as communion (since it symbolizes the communion we enjoy with God and with one another) and as the Eucharist (from a Greek word, meaning “thanksgiving”, since we should be overwhelmed with gratitude and thanks for the Lord’s sacrifice on our behalf).

In the sacrament of communion, the congregation partakes of simple elements—bread and wine—which symbolize the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ.  These elements do not turn into Christ’s body and blood, but rather represent His body and blood.
This holy meal constitutes a reminder of what Jesus has done at the cross, in giving His life for His people.  Jesus said to observe this sacrament “in remembrance of Me.”
But this holy feast is much more than a mere memorial.  In a real, yet spiritual, sense, Jesus is present with His people when they partake of the bread and wine, in accordance with His appointment.  The old Scottish way of referring to Jesus’ presence in the Lord’s Supper was that this sacrament is a “trysting place”—a place of deep, intimate communion between the Lord and those for whom He has died.

The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA), reflecting not only its Scottish heritage but, most importantly, the teaching of Holy Scripture, takes these holy matters very seriously. Historically, Presbyterians have confessed that the elders of the church have a responsibility to ensure that only those who can make a valid profession of faith and have been admitted to membership in some evangelical church, be allowed to partake of the bread and the wine.

Accordingly, we ask that only those who have had opportunity to meet with representatives of the Atlanta Commission partake of this holy meal.  While the individual has primary responsibility before the Lord for partaking in a worthy manner, the elders of the church also have a responsibility in the matter.

Those who have received valid Trinitarian baptism and are members of a Bible-believing church, and would like to participate in the Lord’s Supper, are invited to contact us prior to the date of observance, so that arrangements can be made for them to commune with us at the Lord’s table.  Our next observance will be January 31, 2010.

If you are not eligible to partake of this sacrament on this particular Lord’s Day, we still invite you to come and worship with us, and to commune in your hearts by meditating on the great sacrifice which Jesus paid at the cross for sin.  We also encourage you to make inquiry as to how you can join with us the next time we observe this sacrament.

From the Pastor’s Desk: An Open Letter to Brit Hume

Dear Sir:

Let me begin by thanking you for your courage and compassion in giving advice to Tiger Woods as to where forgiveness can be found.  We all need to be forgiven, and it is without question that the only place where we can find such pardon is at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ.

As was predictable, your comments brought severe criticism and derision—a phenomenon which, according to your remarks on The O’ Reilly Factor, bewilders you.  As you have noted, the words “Jesus Christ” are among the most controversial that can be uttered.

Please allow me to offer to you an explanation as to why your advice has caused such angst.  There are, it seems to me, at least two reasons why people get so upset by the mention of the name of Christ, or the suggestion of the need for pardon.

The first is that people don’t want to be reminded of their sin.  Pardon implies wrongdoing having been committed.  And for folks who think that they’re practically perfect—and definitely not totally depraved, as the Bible portrays mankind—any such mention is offensive.

Also offensive is the notion that only in Christianity can forgiveness be obtained.  For if that is true, then all other religions, by definition, are false and worthless.

But, of course, it is the case that there is only one way to be pardoned—it is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, whereby He not only suffered grievous torments in body but, most particularly, horrific punishment in soul.  He took the full weight of the sin of the chosen ones of God upon Himself, and cried, in the words of Psalm 22, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”  He, the totally Just One, suffered for unjust ones such as ourselves.  This is why Jesus proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father but by Me” (John 14:6).

This is also why the sweetest sacrifice ever made evokes such bitter reaction, because what it represents strikes right at the pride and presumption of man.

May the Lord continue to give you courage and grace to testify of the beauty and glory of the gospel, in the midst of a hostile and cruel society.

Cordially,

Frank J. Smith, Ph.D., D.D., Pastor

From the Pastor’s Desk: The Manhattan Declaration

In November 2009, a group of evangelical, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox leaders released a document, the Manhattan Declaration, which expresses concern with regard to abortion, the homosexual movement, and religious freedom.  Signed initially by about 140 leaders, it has now been signed by many thousands of people.

Despite much with which traditional Protestants might agree in this statement, I find myself having to decline from joining the other signatories.  For this document promotes an ecumenism that would no longer distinguish between the genuine Biblical faith (as represented by historic Protestantism) and damnable heresies (such as the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church).

Now, let me be clear —- I am dead set opposed to abortion and the homosexual agenda, and am concerned about the increasing threats to our ability to preach and promote a Christian world-view.  (Those interested may want to check out a couple of my articles, “Equal Rights for Homosexuals!” and “Luther Must Be Spinning in His Grave”, in the “From the Pastor’s Desk” section of our congregation’s website.)

However, there is something even more important than these issues, and it is the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  I don’t think that the Apostle Paul would have regarded the Judaizers of his day, who were trying to subvert the Galatian church, as being genuine Christians.  Nor should we regard those who anathametize Protestant teaching on justification by faith alone as being genuine Christians.  Paul is clear: “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9).

In the early 1980s, at the Westchester County (N.Y.) courthouse in White Plains, I helped lead an anti-abortion rally that featured both Roman Catholics and evangelicals.  In helping to co-ordinate that event, and in drafting a statement signed by more than 50 evangelical leaders in our county, I was careful not to give the impression that the two groups were doing anything other than sharing the same platform in order to address, from each group’s perspective, a pressing moral and social issue.  I was following the pattern of the late Francis Schaeffer, who wrote that Christians may be able to advocate similar positions with those who are opposed to them on the basis of “co-belligerency”, but not on the basis of an alliance.  (For Schaeffer, Scripture and gospel were the twin issues that defined the divide between faithful confession and faithless denial.)  But the evangelicals —- including a number of high-profile Calvinists -— who signed the Manhattan Declaration, by placing their signatures on this document along with Roman Catholics and those of an Orthodox persuasion, have given the impression that evangelicals and Catholics and Orthodox really are together.

It is easy to understand why a document such as this Declaration, with its clarion call for morality and accountability and courage, could appear to be such a welcome development.  Nevertheless, it does not change the fact that this document not only is deficient, but also insidious -— it threatens to entrap people by confusing them as to what the fundamental issue is, viz., the gospel itself founded on the doctrine of sola scriptura.

At best, this document is a band-aid which will not cut out and extirpate the cancer of our culture.  Only the gospel -— that is, the true gospel, not some seeming replica with which Roman Catholic apologists can agree—will avail.  The need, as always, is for a consistent adherence to and proclamation of that gospel.  And preaching the truth necessarily entails pointing out the soul-destroying errors of systems such as Romanism which deny the truth as it is in Jesus.

From the Pastor’s Desk: Christian Worship in Pagan Drag

One of the “mega-trends” which we’ve been witnessing the past decade or so, is that of making church “hip” and “relevant”. Part of the “inspiration” for this avant garde approach is found in the words of the Apostle Paul, who proclaimed that he was willing to be all things to all people, in order that he might win some to Christ. Accordingly, leaders of the contemporary church claim that by utilizing modern techniques, they are merely repackaging Biblical material in a more palatable form—changing the method but not the message.

Now, let me be clear—I’m all in favor of reaching out to a lost world with the gospel, and even being innovative to some degree: sponsoring a float in a local parade, offering free blood pressure screening at a country fair, employing modern technology (such as websites), and so forth, may all have a role to play in efforts to raise an awareness of the church and to provide opportunity for evangelism. But what is not appropriate is to prostitute the worship of the living God, and particularly to do so by adopting worldly standards and mores.

Consider statements made by some “contemporary” churches. They want, they say, to re-think church, and to do church differently, and to ensure that at the end of a church service, you’re happy!

Of course, I agree that much of what goes on in the name of “the church” today (and has gone on over the past several decades) needs to be critiqued. However, the “rethinking” being offered up by “contemporary” churches consists of following the latest fads, rather than a radical following of the Word of God. For example, I concur that “traditional” church choirs have got to go; but I would also suggest that replacing them with “worship teams” does not solve the problem, but compounds it. Such musical performances distance the congregation from a direct encounter with God, while at the same time playing into a worldly sensualism. That is true of “traditional” church choirs; it is especially true of “worship teams.” And the result may be an emotional “high” that is mistaken for a spiritual experience, but in actuality is spiritually deadly.

And what of the result of attending a church service? We all want folks, ultimately, to be “blessed”—a Biblical term that has been translated as “happy”. However, the blessedness of which Scripture speaks is deeper than the modern notions of happiness. Moreover, despite our penchant for immediate gratification, said blessedness does not occur automatically and very rarely immediately: there’s no “insta-happiness” product or guarantee that comes from being in the presence of God. Rather, it is more often the case that a person must wrestle with eternally significant matters such as his relationship with God, and guilt, before coming finally to rest in the atonement of Jesus Christ.

No doubt many of these “contemporary” church leaders are sincere, and perhaps even sincere believers in Christ. But good intentions cannot disguise the fact that much of what they are doing is trying to dress Christian worship in pagan drag—a jarring incongruity that not only dangerously distorts the message but perverts the worship of God.

From the Pastor’s Desk: Luther Must Be Spinning in His Grave

Martin Luther (1483-1546) is surely one of the most significant figures in church history. A German monk, he was captivated by the grace of God, as he rediscovered the wondrous Biblical truth that salvation comes by faith alone, and not by any works which we can do.

Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on the door at Wittenberg sparked the Protestant Reformation—a great spiritual revival which brought saving knowledge and the freedom that flows from it to countless millions of people.

For centuries, the term “Lutheran” has been a respected one, reflecting the liberating truths which Luther promoted. But over the past several decades, churchmen (and churchwomen) who do not respect Luther’s God or Holy Scripture have hijacked the name “Lutheran” in order to bring it into disrepute.

We have just witnessed another example of the dastardly deeds of these purveyors of darkness. At its biennial meeting in August 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) opened the door for those who engage in same-sex abominations to be ordained to the ministry.

This travesty was a long time coming, and it was predictable. These so-called “Lutherans” had long ago abandoned the teachings of the Reformation. Playing footsie with homosexuals followed a flirting with those who deny divine grace, and a watering down of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The truths of sola fides (by faith alone) and sola scriptura (Scripture alone) go hand-in-hand: abandoning one leads to a rejection of the other.

It is abundantly clear that these apostates in Minneapolis, masquerading as Christians, don’t have a clue as to what Luther was all about. Or, if they do, they obviously don’t care to embrace his teaching, but are intent rather to twist and distort the Lutheran conception of grace into a perversion of Scripture—a position which turns grace into licentiousness.

A Baptist pastor up in Minneapolis blogged about the strange weather that coincided with one of the scheduled sessions of the ELCA Synod that was discussing whether to allow various views on sexuality in the denomination. Out of nowhere came a tornado that hit the convention center where the Synod was meeting, and took off a portion of its roof. The twister also toppled and ripped the steeple of Central Lutheran Church. That pastor noted that it is the Lord who rules the winds, and that this was a gentle reminder from the Almighty that He is not to be mocked. These supposed Lutherans, however, chose to ignore this timely warning as well as Scripture.

Thankfully, Luther is with his Savior, and therefore not perturbed by such wickedness and folly as was perpetrated by those who claim his name. But here on earth, anyone who is a genuine Christian will recoil from and repudiate the embrace of such perversions, no matter what the denominational pedigree that is claimed or the piety that is pretended.

From the Pastor’s Desk: The 178th Synod of the RPCNA

From June 22^nd to 26^th , 2009, the campus of Geneva College in Beaver

Falls, Pennsylvania, served its customary role of hosting the annual meeting of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA). Elected Moderator was the Rev. Bruce Hemphill, pastor of Covenant Fellowship Reformed Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. For the twentieth consecutive year, the Rev. J. Bruce Martin of Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, was elected as the Clerk of Synod.

The most controverted issue confronting this meeting of the church court was a complaint against the Presbytery of the Alleghenies with respect to a judicial matter. Earlier this year, Mr. Brian Hasenkopf, a ruling elder, had been found not guilty by a Presbytery commission of denying the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The Presbytery rescinded that finding by its commission, and subsequently re-tried the case and issued a finding of guilty. While no one at the Synod was interested in defending Mr. Hasenkopf’s views on justification, the controversy revolved around whether the overturning of the original verdict constituted “double jeopardy.” After hours of debate extending over a two-day period, the Synod, by a vote of 35-29, ordered the Presbytery to rescind its verdict of guilty.

The Synod voted to terminate its long-standing membership in the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Concerns raised included an increasing willingness by NAE officials to associate with liberal Protestants, Romanists, and Muslims. The Interchurch Committee was given the task of composing a letter which will delineate the rationale for leaving the interdenominational organization.

In response to a paper authored by Pastors Paul McCracken and Laverne Rosenberger of the Presbytery of the Alleghenies, the Synod voted to appoint a study committee on activities dubbed “informal worship.” One of the particular concerns has to do with chapel services at Geneva College, which are not always conducted in accord with the RPCNA’s Biblical principles.

Worship permeated the sessions of the Synod. The meeting began on Monday evening with the preaching of the Word by retiring Moderator Dennis Prutow. Starting on Tuesday, the day’s proceedings began with a devotional service; and at the end of each morning, afternoon, and evening session, time was set aside for Psalm singing and for prayer in small groups. Among the topics for prayer were the following: the worship ministry of the Church; the administrative ministry of the RPCNA; the ministry of the Presbyteries; the educational ministry of the RPCNA; the ministry of mercy; the RPCNA in relationship to the worldwide church; the RPCNA’s evangelistic and missionary ministries; just dealings in the government, worship, and discipline of the RPCNA; the progress of the church for Christ’s sake; and encouragement for RPCNA congregations. On Thursday, the Synod was presented with copies of a long-awaited new psalter, The Book of Psalms for Worship.

From the Pastor’s Desk: COVFAMIKOI

Our congregation belongs to the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA). In the Presbyterian Church, regional bodies called “presbyteries” exist not only to examine and ordain ministers, but also to give expression to fellowship among the churches within that region. Our presbytery is a rather large one geographically, stretching from Michigan to Florida.

For several decades, Great Lakes-Gulf Presbytery has conducted a family conference, called COVFAMIKOI, which is hosted on the campus of Asbury College in Kentucky. This year, the conference was from June 15^th to 19^th , and featured Anthony Selvaggio speaking on the biblical Proverbs.

Pastor Selvaggio hails from Rochester, New York. Among his published works are books on marriage, the Minor Prophets, the book of James, and Proverbs. Besides being a minister, he is also an attorney who is employed in the wealth management field. He brought all of those interests to his addresses.

On Tuesday, in an overview of the book of Proverbs, he delineated five points: (1) Jesus is a man of wisdom; (2) Jesus is wisdom, in His very being, in that He is God; (3) Jesus is the way of wisdom: we can walk in the way of wisdom or the way of folly; (4) Jesus is the giver of wisdom, who dispenses it to His people; (5) Jesus reminds us that wisdom is not enough—we need something more, viz., salvation through His blood. The speaker averred: “God gives the framework for our thinking, but He will not do our thinking for us.” He distinguished between the law and wisdom literature, as he noted, “The Proverbs are the Ten Commandments in shoe leather.”

On Wednesday, his topic was “Proverbs & the Financial Crisis.” He gave six principles: (1) a fool returns to his folly (there’s a cyclicality to human nature—it’s part of human nature to drive up prices); (2) pride goes before a fall—and pride wiped out the top investment banks in their thinking that they could eliminate risk; (3) financial haste makes waste; (4) don’t pretend to be rich (“Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming without a suit”—Warren Buffett); (5) wealth is of limited value (or even worthless); (6) it’s not what you own that counts—it’s what owns you. He offered the Anthony Selvaggio guide to certain wealth: work hard and save.

On Thursday, he addressed the use of technology in our culture. He warned against three symptoms of technopoly, viz., disengagement (loss of community), distraction (amusing ourselves to death), and disembodiment (being led into a virtual world which divides mind from body). That evening, he proclaimed Jesus as the answer to the riddles of life, and urged that it is “our duty and calling to tell the world” about Him. The final seminar, on Friday, encouraged us to cultivate genuine friendship with others and to be friends indeed to others.

As I was sitting there listening to these presentations, and then the discussions, I found myself wishing that Neil Cavuto or other “talking heads” could have been there in order to benefit from the caliber of teaching. Those interested in ordering CDs of any or all of these talks may contact the Conference Manager, Shane Shoop, at slshoop@sbcglobal.net.

From the Pastor’s Desk: Happy 500th Birthday!

July 10, 2009, marks the quin-centennial of the birth of one of the most influential men in history—John Calvin. Born in France and trained as a lawyer, Calvin became associated with the Swiss city of Geneva. Calvin, through his systematizing of Biblical doctrine, helped to perpetuate the Protestant Reformation.

Calvinism as a theological system is most known today for its commitment to God’s sovereign rule over the world. This sovereignty includes predestination—the truth that the Triune God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, including the salvation of the elect, or those whom He has chosen from before time began to be His people.

This Calvinistic viewpoint has seemed to many to carry a dark and foreboding aspect. However, in actuality, this Biblical teaching was celebrated during the time of the Reformation, as believers, many of whom were being persecuted, could be assured that nothing could wrest them away from the care of a heavenly Father who regarded them as the apple of His eye.

The doctrine of predestination is one facet of divine grace. Another is the teaching that a person is justified, or pronounced “not guilty” before God, on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, received by faith alone. Justification by faith alone was key to the Protestant understanding of salvation, and Calvin continued this emphasis that Martin Luther had begun.

Another essential doctrine was that of sola scriptura—“only the Scriptures.” In contrast to the Roman Catholic approach of putting church tradition on a par with the Word of God, Protestants believed that what God has written is the only infallible rule of faith and life. Calvin and his followers were more rigorous than the Lutherans in applying this doctrine to the worship and government of the church.

Calvin’s influence was felt far beyond the walls of Geneva. In France, Bohemia, Poland, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Great Britain, Calvinists rose to places of prominence. Perhaps nowhere was this more evident than in Scotland, where John Knox, who had sat under Calvin’s instruction, thundered forth his teaching.

Calvin was concerned with more than strictly church matters. He was a scholar of great learning. He reformed the civil government of Geneva, and helped to turn it from being the cesspool of Europe into its model city. His ideas of freedom and individuality created a climate that led to the overthrow of oppressive regimes; indeed, competent historians have argued that Calvin should be viewed as being the founder of America.

Scripture tells us that we should remember the great acts of God in history. It is quite fitting, therefore, on this five hundredth anniversary of Calvin’s birth, to recall his life and ministry, and to seek to emulate his motto: “My heart I offer to Thee, O Lord, promptly and sincerely.”

From the Pastor’s Desk: Forty Years of Wedded Bliss

This June marks the fortieth anniversary of the merger of two branches of the Church.  On June 7, 1969, the Associate Presbyterian Church of North America was merged into the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.

Both of these branches of Presbyterianism had roots in Scotland, and both were transplanted to this continent in the 1700s.  The Associate Presbyterians were also known as the “Seceders”, as they were forced to secede from the Church of Scotland over issues related to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In 1733, venerable churchmen such as Ebenezer Erskine led a small group out of the Established Church.  Even though constituting a tiny minority, these pastors and others who “associated” with one another soon grew into a significant number.

The Reformed Presbyterians, also called “Covenanters”, trace their specific heritage to the 1600s.  In that seventeenth century, Scotland suffered through what became known as the “Killing Times”: during the reigns of Charles II (1660-1685) and James II (1685-1688), at least 18,000 men, women, and children were either killed, imprisoned, or sent into exile.  What was their crime?  It was their unswerving profession that Jesus Christ is the only Head and King of the Church, and that no earthly monarch dare usurp His authority over His Bride.  The Glorious Revolution (1688-1689) that brought William and Mary to the throne brought an end to the religious persecution.  However, there were those who objected that the Settlement of Religion (1690) was not based on a recognition of the Scottish covenants that had bound the people and the Kirk to King Jesus according to His divine right.  These “Covenanters” remained outside of the Church of Scotland, and continued to bear testimony to Christ’s kingship.

Even though the Associate Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Presbyterian Church developed their distinct existences for different reasons, they held much in common.  Both churches adhered to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, the classic expression of historic Presbyterianism which was formulated at Westminster Abbey in London in the 1640s.  Both churches  were committed to Presbyterian church government.  Both churches continued the practice of Presbyterian worship, particularly the singing of the 150 Psalms of Scripture without musical accompaniment.  By the 1960s, the few differences between the Seceders and the Covenanters seemed to be quite surmountable, and at a solemn service, the two groups came together.

Today, forty years later, we are happy to report that both partners have adjusted well to this marriage—indeed, they have come to resemble each other so much that one can scarcely tell any remaining family distinction between them.

In a day when the Church is fractured and too often splinters, it is good to remember that forty years ago, at least in small measure, there was a fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer, “that they all may be one” (John 17:21).

From the Pastor’s Desk: A Pilgrim People

One of the most memorable events in American history was the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in present-day Massachusetts in 1620. What school child hasn’t been thrilled by the story of these hardy pioneers, enduring a storm-tossed journey across the Atlantic, formulating the Mayflower Compact, barely surviving that first year in the wilderness, being befriended by an American Indian, and hosting a thanksgiving feast with their Native American neighbors?

Of course, what particularly characterized the Pilgrims is a fervent faith in and deep commitment to Almighty God. One of the original Pilgrims, in arguing for the lawfulness of leaving England for America, wrote that “we are all, all places, strangers and pilgrims, travellers and sojourners, most properly, having no dwelling but in this earthen tabernacle; our dwelling is but a wandering, and our abiding but as a fleeting, and in a word our home is nowhere but in the heavens, in that house not made with hands, whose maker and builder is God, and to which all ascend that love the coming of our Lord Jesus.”

The term “pilgrim” may also evoke scenes from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, a masterpiece penned by a seventeenth century English lay preacher while he was imprisoned for daring to proclaim the gospel without a government license. This book, with its compelling portrait of Pilgrim as he journeys to the Celestial City, avoiding the temptations of Vanity Fair and the Slough of Despond, remains one of the world’s best sellers.

All genuine believers in Jesus Christ are on a pilgrimage: they acknowledge that this world is not their home, but (in the words of an old gospel song) they’re just a-passin’ through. That’s why St. Peter wrote: “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation” (I Peter 2:11-12).

I got to thinking about the pilgrim nature of us as the people of God because of the fact that our congregation, on June 14th, will be “on the move.” On that particular Lord’s Day, we will not be able to meet at our regular location (Hampton Inn and Suites at Exit 11 off of Route 400) because of a scheduling conflict. We have instead secured the Kiwanis Club in Cumming—located, perhaps appropriately enough, at 417 Pilgrim Mill Road—for worship on that date. (Besides a change of venue, the time of the worship service will also change, from the regular 10 AM to 10:30 AM.) We will also be sharing a fellowship meal with one another, to which you are also invited.

But I trust that we can use this occasion to reflect on the temporal nature of our lives, and the fact that, along with Abraham and Sarah and other believers in the true and living God, we must confess that we are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” who “desire a better, that is, a heavenly country” (Hebrews 11:13-16).