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).

From the Pastor’s Desk: Remembering D-Day

June 6, 1944—a date that will live in the collective memory.

This year marks the sixty-fifth anniversary of the landings of Allied troops at five beaches in Normandy, codenamed Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, and Utah.

Thousands of American, British, and Canadian soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice on that fateful day. So did thousands of German soldiers, who like their counterparts fought bravely during the horrific bombardments and the assaults that followed.

We have all seen photos and movies of D-Day, but these can only begin to capture the horror of the battle. No cinema experience can reproduce the howling of big guns, the drenching of salt water spray and surf, or the stench of blood amidst wounds and corpses.

Much planning went into D-Day. Secrecy and deception helped to guarantee its success. But once the Allied forces established the toehold in occupied France, World War II, at least in the European Theater, was essentially over—it was only a matter of time until Germany would be defeated.

However, D-Day didn’t signal an end to the fighting. Countless thousands more troops would die over the next eleven months, as the Nazis fought fanatically to try to prevent the unconditional surrender to the Allies.

The situation regarding D-Day has been compared to the rule of Christ in this world, and His rule in the human heart.

When Jesus Christ died at the cross and then three days later rose again from the dead, Satan’s stronghold was broken. Jesus had told His disciples that it was necessary to bind the strong man in order to plunder his kingdom—and that is what Jesus has done and is doing with respect to Satan.

However, from another perspective, the devil, though defeated, is still desperately fighting back. Even though his position is more hopeless than that which Germany faced after June 6, 1944, the devil will not quit in his efforts to ensnare people in his wicked and wily ways. Much fighting remains, both at the cosmic level, and in the individual heart.

But those who have trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior can be assured that the victory has been secured through the blood of Him who is the Lamb of God.

On this D-Day anniversary, let’s not forget the sacrifice for freedom paid by the Allied troops on the sands and the bluffs of Normandy. But let us also remember that D-Day serves as a parable of the time between Jesus’ first coming and His second coming, when He shall complete the mopping up operation and bring in the universal peace. And let us always be mindful of the fact that in the spiritual realm, the fight is even more ferocious and intense than what was experienced on D-Day.

From the Pastor’s Desk: Reflections on MARTA

People — faces — stories — lives.

Hurtling through the darkness of the underground tunnel, the car, brightly lit, speeds its occupants to their destination.

As I journey, I look around at my fellow travelers: dozing, reading, i-podding, blackberrying, just sitting.

At rush hour, we’d be packed like sardines. Now, at midday, the carriage is not half-filled. Yet the two dozen people still represent the wondrous diversity of the human race: black, white, and all shades in between.

More than that, each person has a story to tell as well as a life to live.

As I gaze on the faces, I wonder — what is behind the mask? Is that woman in a happy marriage? Is that other lady suffering from a dread disease? Is that young man realizing his dreams? Is that businessman secure in his job?

But underlying the different stories is a common humanity, for each individual is made in the image of God. That’s what makes the human story so compelling and the human face so fascinating — because we human beings reflect God.

I also wonder as I look about me — how many of my fellow travelers have been converted by God’s grace? With how many of them will I spend eternity — in heaven, with Jesus?

Our trip on MARTA is like a parable of life itself. There are vicissitudes — ups and downs. There are times when we get jerked around curves, and surprised by a sudden rough spot on the rails. And we are all headed, inevitably, to the journey’s end.

“North Springs station,” we are told, in honeyed tones, by the recorded voice, as we reach the end of the line. “All passengers are asked to exit the train.”

Even so, some day all of us will reach the end of the line — we will travel no more miles along the way of life. We will all give account of our lives. And the most important question at that time will be — do we have a Savior, Jesus Christ? For no matter what our socio-economic or cultural background, or what happy or unhappy circumstances we have experienced, “It is appointed unto man once to die but after this the judgment.” Only those who believe in Jesus alone by faith alone by God’s grace alone will be welcomed into the heavenly mansions which He has prepared for His people.

People — faces — stories — lives — grace — salvation — eternity. “All aboard!”

Cordially,
Pastor Frank Smith

From the Pastor’s Desk: Ancient Landmarks

Proverbs 22:28 says, “Remove not the ancient landmark, which your fathers have set.” In a recent sermon on this verse, I pointed out that every society has a set of landmarks which it will defend — whether that be of a moral nature, or even with respect to old buildings and architecture.

Biblically speaking, the landmarks which we who are Christians celebrate and defend are founded upon the Law of God — particularly the ten commandments.

Today, we are witnessing a removing of ancient positions — whether a total removal or a slight displacement which can also have devastating effects — in a variety of areas.

In the sphere of the family, the offspring of godly parents often go their own way, deliberately tearing down and rejecting the faith and morals of those who preceded them. This phenomenon is manifested not only in the home, but also in business: department store magnates J.C. Penney and John Wanamaker were strong Sabbatarians, but their successors have repudiated any notion of keeping the Lord’s Day holy.

In society and government, old landmarks are being replaced on matters such as the sanctity of marriage and an abhorrence of sexual deviance. The “politically correct” are attempting to change history and to erase from monuments all references to the nation’s Christian heritage. Even the very nature of law is being challenged through notions such as a “living constitution” — the perverse idea that a document’s meaning can change even though the words remain the same.

But this proverb has particular and pointed application in the contemporary Church, as historic standards are being set aside in favor of the whims of the moment. This is true not only in leftist denominations, such as the so-called mainline Protestant groups, but also among those who would consider themselves evangelical and Bible-believing. Scripture is being mistranslated, sometimes to suit the latest fads (such as being “gender-neutral”). The “openness theology”, which maintains that God doesn’t even know the future, threatens to dethrone Him. Entertainment has supplanted the genuine, heart-felt worship of yesteryear — a reverent approach to the Almighty. Old familiar guideposts have been swept away even by those who claim to honor the One who set them up.

It is incumbent upon us not to remove the ancient landmarks; and in that regard, we place a great deal of importance upon history. But we also recognize that trying to preserve the “old paths” cannot be done in our own strength, and that we cannot be accepted before God by our good intentions. The Lord Jesus is the One who has fulfilled this proverb. He never transgressed the proper bounds, but rather always sustained His Father’s law and will. In doing so, He thereupon prepared a pleasant heritage for us — which we receive by faith alone in Him.

Cordially,
Pastor Frank J. Smith

From the Pastor’s Desk: Morality and Money

The current economic crisis has caused many of us, I am sure, to think more seriously about financial matters. But what I’d like to do is to focus our attention on the relationship between morality and money.

While pundits and talking heads may concentrate on the political dimensions, and engage in blaming one political party or another, let me suggest that there are more fundamental reasons for the mess in which we find ourselves. The Bible is clear — whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap. This is a principle that applies to nations, too. We have sown the seeds of forgetfulness toward God — and the Almighty has given us over to our materialistic ways and demonstrated that our false gods of money, mutual funds, and 401-Ks cannot save us.

Our forgetting of God has had other moral implications in the realm of finance. If we act as if God does not exist, then of what use is His law? The Eighth Commandment tells us, “Thou shalt not steal.” And the Tenth Commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” is designed to protect against greed. But corrupt businessmen who engage in fraud and corrupt politicians who think they can create money by running the printing presses, have pretended that these laws are irrelevant.

Again, God is not mocked: He will take vengeance on men and nations who ignore Him and flaunt His divine law.

But while we can rightly take financiers and government officials to task, we must remember that we have a personal responsibility regarding monetary matters. Have we acted prudently with regard to expenditures? Have we run up credit card debt irresponsibly? Have we purchased houses and property beyond our normal means? How we spend our personal and family financial resources is also a moral issue. It affects us as individuals, and it affects our offspring.

And yet another issue regarding money and stewardship is that of support for the Lord’s work. It has been said that if Christians would be faithful in tithing their income, the Church would have no problem in supporting all of its ministries and missionary efforts. Is it not the case that the current financial situation is, in large part, the result of the failure of professing believers to support the worship and work of the Church to the best of their ability?

A final aspect of money and morality has to do with the sayings of Jesus. The Lord spoke much about money, and in one of His most famous statements, proclaimed, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Money is a means to an end, viz., the promotion of God’s glory in this world. After all, all of the gold and silver belong to the Lord. How we spend our resources says much about who we are, and, indeed, as to whether we are really Christ’s followers.

May the Lord grant us financial stability in these tough economic times. But may He, most importantly, grant us a contentment with that with which He has blessed us, and a comfort in the sure knowledge that our true treasure is not found in this world, but in Christ.

Cordially,
Pastor Frank J. Smith

From the Pastor’s Desk: Equal Rights for Homosexuals

Recent decisions in Iowa and Vermont, coupled with the approval of Proposition 8 in California, have brought again to the fore the issue of homosexual “rights”, including the right to marry.

Now, let me say right up front that I believe in equal rights for homosexuals. Of course, I also believe in equal rights for thieves, bank robbers, murderers, drunk drivers, swindlers, and child molesters. In other words, I believe that since homosexuality is fundamentally reflective of deviant behavior, it should be treated as such. And, just like all deviant or criminal behavior, a person accused of sodomy should have the right of due process, including his day in court, the right to cross-examine witnesses, the right to counsel, the right of appeal, etc. Yes, sir, don’t let anyone say that Reformed Presbyterians are opposed to equal rights for homosexuals.

Similarly, we believe that those inclined toward homosexuality should enjoy the right to marry—as long as they marry within the parameters set by God. Therefore, we do not object to such people marrying—so long as they marry someone of the opposite gender.

You see, the contemporary advocacy of the right of homosexuals to marry—in the sense of same-sex marriage—involves a contradiction in terms. Marriage, by definition, is between two persons of opposite sex. As one wag has put it, In the Garden of Eden, it was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. This is the way that God Almighty designed marriage to be. And the homosexual movement represents a perversion of God’s intention for mankind, and is, indeed, a direct and deliberate attack on the Creator in whose image man is made.

Those who advocate the homosexual cause contend that homosexuality is not a choice, but rather is just the way some people were born. In response, we would not want to take a simplistic view of the nature of homosexuality. Man is born in sin, his corrupt nature being one aspect of original sin. And just as some people are more inclined toward drunkenness or stealing than are others, so some people may be more inclined toward the sin of homosexuality than are others. However, in none of those three cases—drunkenness, theft, or the practice of homosexuality—should there be any toleration. God’s Law is clear: the seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” covers all types of sexual deviance, including adultery, fornication, unlawful divorce, incest, polygamy, and homosexuality.

However, besides advocating equal rights for homosexuals, we have even better news—God’s grace is able to provide forgiveness for all types of sinners, including those who practice homosexuality. God is not only a God of justice, who wants equal justice for everyone. He is most especially and most wonderfully a God of grace. In the ultimate sense, all of us deserve equal justice before God’s law—which means that we all deserve eternal death because of our rebellion against Him. But Jesus Christ has died on the cross to take the punishment of all kinds of sin—including homosexuality. And that’s very good news, indeed, for those struggling with this enslaving practice.

Cordially,
Pastor Frank J. Smith

From the Pastor’s Desk: Guest Pastor Gilbert Moore

My wife and I are slated to be on vacation for a few days starting around April 15th. I am to present a paper on April 17th at a conference at Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia, entitled, “Evangelism and Ecclesiastical Politics: The Role of the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship in Founding the Presbyterian Church in America.” And I am also to be the guest minister at the Orthodox Presbyterian Church congregation in Lynchburg, filling their pulpit during morning worship on the Lord’s Day. For the Sabbath School hour, I will be delivering a lecture, entitled “American Presbyterianism, Geology, and the Days of Creation.”

While Penny and I are away, Pastor Gilbert Moore, a member of Northwest Georgia Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America, will be preaching for our church here on April 19th. I’ve known Gilbert for fifteen years, and I am sure that you will benefit from his ministry.

From the Pastor’s Desk: What is the Gospel?

The term “gospel” means “good news”. And the best news of all is that salvation comes by the grace of God.

Man is a sinner. All of mankind fell into sin as a result of the rebellion of Adam in the Garden of Eden. And the Bible says that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The death of which Scripture speaks is not only physical death — it also includes spiritual death (separation from God) and eternal death (the punishment of an eternity in hell).

But the “good news” is that the Triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — has provided a way of escape from the punishment of sin, death, and hell. Those who believe in what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, did at the cross as a sacrifice for sin, have their sins forgiven by God. Jesus Christ took the sins of His people upon Himself, so that those who believe in Him are not punished for their sins. This is good news, indeed.

There are many things about which the Bible speaks. But none is more important than the truth that sinful man can be reconciled with His Creator, and that this reconciliation takes place, not because of anything man can do, but solely because of the love of God.

If you’d like to know more about the gospel, please contact us. We love to talk about the good news, and would love to share it with you.

Cordially,
Pastor Frank J. Smith