Worshiping with Calvin Podcast

Dear Church Family,

My family and I recently returned from our denomination’s General Assembly in Atlanta, GA. In addition to conducting the work of the church, one of the things that I enjoyed most was the opportunity to attend several seminar presentations. One that I attended was taught by Pastor Richard Phillips of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC. The seminar was entitled, “Reformed Worship: Eurocentric or Word-centered?”

Upon returning from General Assembly, I listened to a podcast from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals that touched on several of the same themes. In the podcast, the hosts interview Pastor Terry Johnson of Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, GA. The podcast is entitled, “Worshiping with Calvin.” You may listen online here. I commend it to you.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

2018 PCA General Assembly

Dear Church Family,
 
My family and I will be travelling next week to the 46th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in Atlanta, GA. This is the highest church court of our denomination. Over one thousand delegates (pastors and elders) will gather for worship and to conduct the business of the church. We hear reports about the work of the various agencies of our denomination, debate and vote concerning matters of the church, and set general policy and procedures for the greater church. There are also informal times of fellowship, catching up with old friends, and making new ones.
 
For most members of the church who have never attended General Assembly, a regional presbytery meeting, or even a session meeting at the local church level, it is sometimes difficult to follow or understand what takes place in these meeting. For those who would like to learn more and get a glimpse of what goes at these church courts, here are some links to items that may be of interest:
 
Docket – this is a six-page document with the scheduled events and business of the General Assembly.
 
Overtures – this is a list of the thirty-nine overtures that have been sent up to the General Assembly. Overtures can come from individuals, sessions, or presbyteries; they are a kind of petition, requesting the General Assembly to discuss and vote on a particular matter (e.g., a change to the constitutional documents of our church).
 
Worship Schedule – There will be three worship services during the General Assembly, one each on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
 
Live Streaming & Video Archives – There will be live-streaming video of all the business sessions and worship services of the General Assembly. Soon after each session, those videos will be archived at this site, as well. Even if you’re not able to watch while it happens, I recommend viewing the worship services and parts of the business sessions of the archived video just to get a sense of what General Assembly is like.
 
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
 
Please pray for our family as we travel, and for this meeting of the highest court of our denomination.
 
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Two Origins of Temptation

Dear Church Family,

In the passage for our sermon this coming Sunday (1 Corinthians 10:13-22), our faithful God gives us a wonderful promise to guard and protect us from temptation in our pursuit of holiness:

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

 

On Sunday, we’ll talk a little bit about the two different kinds of temptation that we, as believers, must war against. One is external to us, in which the world and the devil seek to lead us into sin. The other is internal, the lusts of our own flesh. Both the external and internal temptations work in concert to wage war against the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:1-3).

We’ll talk more about the very practical ways in which the Lord limits our temptations, strengthens us, and provides us with the means to grow in grace on Sunday. For now, though – and in preparation for our sermon on Sunday – I recommend a recent article that helpfully explains these two kinds of temptations: “Identifying Our Identity” by Jared Nelson.

In the article, the author explains how a misunderstanding, or even a denial of these two kinds of temptations (external and internal), is being promoted in some Christian circles today with very deleterious effects.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Preaching: The Threat of Legalism and Antinomianism

Dear Church Family,

Over the last several week, I’ve been reflecting on preaching. You may read the previous installments online:

Preaching: What is the Gospel?
Preaching: The Foundation and the Superstructure
Preaching: The Abuse of Redemptive Historical Preaching, Part 1
Preaching: The Abuse of Redemptive Historical Preaching, Part 2
Preaching: The Abuse of Redemptive Historical Preaching, Part 3
Preaching: The Same Message No Matter the Text?
Preaching: Commands, Threats, and Promises, Part 1
Preaching: Commands, Threats, and Promises, Part 2
Preaching: Commands, Threats, and Promises, Part 3
Preaching: Depravity, a virtue to be embraced? Part 1
Preaching: Depravity, a virtue to be embraced? Part 2

Introduction

Today, at long last, we come to the final topic of this series on preaching: the threat of legalism and antinomianism. I use the word “threat” because preachers must always be on guard against both of these dangers.

The Relationship Between Legalism and Antinomianism

Before we talk about that, however, let’s first try and define these terms. Legalism – which is perhaps our default nature as fallen creatures – is the belief that a person can in any way earn favor with God through obedience to the moral law (that is, the Ten Commandments). Antinomianism is defined by James Thornwell as “a system of doctrine which naturally leads to licentiousness of life. Those who deny that the law of God is the measure of duty, or that personal holiness should be sought by Christians, are those alone who can properly be charged with Antinomian principles.”

At first glance, legalism and antinomianism might seem to be opposite to one another. After all, a legalist clings to the law of God in a misguided effort to merit salvation while an antinomian eschews the law of God as the way of righteousness in a misguided desire to live as he pleases. On the surface, then, legalism and antinomianism seem to be distinct and opposite problems, but they are not.

Usually what happens is something like this: a believer is raised in the context where the moral and ethical demands of Scripture are emphasized and taught apart from the context of God’s redeeming grace. And so this person comes to believe that God requires certain behaviors in order to be made acceptable to Him and receive His blessing. Since the fall, man’s default view is legalistic; so this kind of teaching comports well with our natural inclinations.

The believer who is reared in such a context may remain a legalist; however, when he is exposed to (and embraces) the proper teaching concerning the extravagance of God’s grace to us in Christ, he often becomes an antinomian, believing that God’s grace does away with the law. The turn from a legalist to an antinomian is an easy and natural one to make because in both instances God’s law is viewed as the enemy; and, in both views, God’s law is viewed as separate and distinct from God, Himself.

So, while legalism and antinomianism may seem opposites of one another, “legalism and antinomianism are, in fact, nonidentical twins that emerge from the same womb” (Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ, 84). Here, I’m quoting from – and indebted to Sinclair Ferguson. Years ago, I ran across some audio recordings online in which Dr. Ferguson explained the history and relevance of “the Marrow controversy,” a theological controversy in the Scottish Presbyterian church in the 18th century. The audio recordings of that three-part lecture series are still available online here.

More recently, Ferguson has written a book – based on the content of those lectures – called, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters. Concerning this idea that legalism and antinomianism are nonidentical twins that emerge from the same womb, Ferguson shows how both arise from a distorted view of God and His law:

Within the matrix of legalism at root is the manifestation of a restricted heart disposition toward God, viewing him through a lens of negative law that obscures the broader context of the Father’s character of holy love. This is a fatal sickness. Paradoxically, it is this same view of God, and the separation of his person from his law, that also lies at the root of antinomianism. The bottom line in both of these -isms is identical. That is why the gospel remedy of them is one and the same. (The Whole Christ, 85).

 

You see, both legalism and antinomianism fail to see that both law and gospel are expressions of God’s grace:

The Relevance in Preaching

So, how does this relate to preaching? Well, as I said at the beginning, preachers must always be on guard against these twin dangers of legalism and antinomianism. In fact, one of the greatest dangers for preachers is to over-react to one of these dangers and thereby fall into the other. You see, on the one hand, out of a fear of being labeled a legalist, a preacher can be tempted to never preach the imperatives or commands of God’s Word. On the other hand, out of a fear of being labeled an antinomian, a preacher can be tempted to never give assurances in the grace of the gospel.

However, the law is not contrary to the grace of the gospel, but sweetly complies with it (WCF 19:7). Therefore, the preacher must learn to put away the fear of false labels and trust the Holy Spirit to work as he seeks to preach the whole counsel of God. As Herman Bavinck writes, the law must be proclaimed in the context of the gospel:

The law, after all, is an expression of God’s being. As a human being Christ was naturally subject to law for his own sake. Before the fall the law was inscribed on Adam’s heart. In the case of the believer, it is again engraved on the tables of his heart by the Holy Spirit; and in heaven all its inhabitants will conduct themselves in accordance with the law of the Lord. The gospel is temporary; the law is everlasting and precisely that which is restored by the gospel. Freedom from the law, therefore, does not mean that Christians no longer have anything to do with that law, but that the law can no longer demand anything from them as a condition for salvation and can no longer judge and condemn them. For the rest they delight in the law in their inmost being [Rom. 7:22] and meditate on it day and night [Ps. 1:2]. For that reason that law must always be proclaimed in the church in the context of the gospel. Both law and gospel, the whole Word, the full counsel of God, are the content of preaching. Accordingly, among the Reformed the law occupies a much larger place in the doctrine of gratitude than in that of misery. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 4: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, 454-455)

 

Or, as a former seminary professor of mine, Mike Glodo, once wrote:

While it’s true what Lloyd-Jones said – ‘If your preaching of the gospel...does not provoke the charge...of antinomianism, you're not preaching the gospel…’ – it's also true that if you’re not accused of being a legalist or moralist, you’re probably not preaching the gospel.

 

Conclusion

Here’s the main point – and really the bottom line of this entire series on preaching: those who are called to preach the gospel must have faith in the power and purposes of God’s Word by preaching the main point of the text before them; and those who hear must trust the Holy Spirit to convince and convert sinners, and build them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation through the preaching of the Word (WSC 89).

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

 

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch