Friday, April 24, 2015

Important News about Whitefield's Prayer and My Blogging Future

For a long time I have wanted to join a blogging team that would not depend upon me exclusively to provide good, Biblical content. I knew I couldn't carry the weight of a good site alone.

To run a healthy blog, new content must be provided daily. For a while, I attempted to provide content here at this site, while encouraging a few others to do the same, and balancing all of my duties as pastor. Unfortunately, Whitefield's Prayer was never able to gain the momentum I had hoped.

But wait...

I have recently been asked to participate in an amazing new blog with over a dozen authors from various backgrounds and denominations - all evangelical Christians with a conservative Scriptural approach. For this reason I am excited to announce that my blogging content will be moved over to A Christian Manifesto.

Writing for A Christian Manifesto is an exciting "step up" for me and I am grateful to Scott Lamb and Carmen Fowler for inviting me to be one of their featured writers.

For a link to all of my content, already moved to A Christian Manifesto, please click here. 

Please join me there for more insightful articles on pastoral theology, Biblical insight, and book and Bible reviews!

- Matthew Everhard

Friday, March 13, 2015

Music Review: "Let Love Reign" by Karyn Morgan (Christian Folk, Bluegrass)

Karyn Morgan and I have been friends for years, and I am glad to recommend her new album to you entitled, Let Love Reign. (Get it here). Karyn is a talented guitarist and vocalist with a unique style and unequivocal vibe.

Let Love Reign contains twelve tracks including her best known single, Martha's Mistake. Throughout the album you will find tracks that could easily be heard in a Starbucks or a local coffee shop, featuring creative lyrics and delightful and engaging melodies.

In terms of genre, this album traverses several, but is probably rooted most closely to Christian folk. Some songs like So You Know feel contemporary; Holy Amen is clearly bluegrass; Let Love Reign is definitely more of a Gospel song, and according to Karyn herself, several would probably fall more into the range of "worship meditations," (Closer to You, Only in You, and Here I Am).

So what is the point of the album? Where does it point us? What is it trying to say? Clearly Karyn is telling you the story of her faith and love for the Lord Jesus Christ. In Martha's Mistake, for instance, she tells the Biblical story of sisters Mary and Martha (recounted in Luke 10:38-42),

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
As Karyn tells the story lyrically she speaks from the experience of a woman who has made the same mistake as Martha at times, pursuing the "stuff" of life without pursuing the Savior Himself. Now on the other side of Martha's error, Karyn bids the listener to come and to settle the heart down and rest awhile at the side of Jesus. In so doing, Karyn is inviting the listener to come to the same Christ whom she has found to be infinitely loving, caring, merciful, and kind.

As I write, I am listening to Only in You, one of the worship meditations. I could easily hear this song being used in a worship setting in the local church to powerful affect.

In fact, as I listen to this "call to worship," part of me wishes I was still back at the Hudson Presbyterian Church worshiping together where Karyn would regularly lead worship with this very kind of song, sitting alone on the platform with her six-string.

It's amazing how some of these songs could be used to great affect in multiple settings: the modern stage, the coffee shop, or the plain style Puritan meeting house. Personally, I like this album best playing on my computer as I work in my office. It is settling. Comforting. Engaging. Meaningful.

The other night, did a social experiment. I played Karyn's CD while our people were informally gathering for worship on a Wednesday Night. I like to select music for the gathering time that doesn't seem drab or austere. It has be rightfully worshipful, and yet peppy enough to help enchant our fellowship gathering with gladness before we begin.

I noticed that Karyn's music did just the thing. It set a warm worshipful vibe in the church before we began our worship time together. I didn't ask anyone their opinion, but I've noticed how the right selection of music before worship "sets the tone" for the mood of the gathering. Based on the response of the people, the delight in their faces, and their readiness to worship, "Let Love Reign" was the perfect mood setter.

Down here in the South, the bluegrass tunes worked especially well too.

--Matthew Everhard

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Creed or Chaos: Why Presbyterians and Reformed Christians Use Confessions of Faith

If you ask a Presbyterian what he or she believes, there may be a number of good answers. We might reply, “We believe in Christ alone.” Or we might say, “We believe that we are justified through faith, not by works.” Perhaps we might even use the Reformation catch-words of sola scriptura; “We believe that Scripture alone is the sole authority for doctrine, life, and practice.” Indeed we do! Those would all be excellent replies.

One possible monkey wrench in the latter response is that a number of cults could ALSO say that THEY believe in the authority of the Bible as well. The Jehovah’s Witness come to mind. Surely we do NOT believe in the same content as the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

For this reason, Reformed believers have tended to be confessional believers. That is, we adhere to what we call the “subordinate standards” of the historic creeds[1] and confessions. Those two words are both important: when we say “subordinate” we mean that our confessions are less authoritative than Scripture. Scripture stands over them as their master. The Bible is the Word of God; the confessions are the words of men. Yet they are also our “standards,” as Reformed people because they delineate clearly between what is orthodoxy and what is heresy.

Think for instance of the purpose of a good fence. The fence is not of itself intrinsically valuable. What it does is mark the boundaries of the field; if it does that well, it is a good fence! The field itself is where the true harvest lies, but the fence exists to keep the thieves out and to keep the fruit of the harvest safe. Or think for example of the walls of a castle. The walls of the castle are designed to keep invaders out and the residents of the royal family safe. In the same way, the historic confessions of the Reformed faith (such as the Westminster Confession, the Heidelberg Confession, the Canons of Dort etc.) are excellent summaries of pure doctrine. They are no substitute for the Bible, but they draw the firm line between what the Scriptures affirm and the dangerous and unmarked lands of heresy.  

Confessions are essentially concise summations of the Church’s doctrine, and they have a long and storied history. They are statements of our shared faith. For as long as Christian believers have gathered to worship, they have taught doctrine (propositional truth claims) in order to pass on the true faith from generation to generation (Jude 3). In fact, the New Testament itself records some proto-creeds that were in use in worship even before the close of the biblical canon. Examples of this type of creed include Philippians 2:6-11, 1 Timothy 3:16, and 2 Timothy 2:11-13. Many biblical scholars believe that these early creeds were memorized in the form of hymns aiding memorization in a pre-literate society. Within the first few centuries after the completion of the New Testament canon, the early church continued to encode its vibrant faith with early formulations of Christian teaching, such as the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and others.

In fairness, there are some branches of the Christian family tree that reject the notion of keeping creeds and confessions. However the vast majority of believers holding to the historic Christian faith have found great spiritual power in honoring the teachings of past generations. In fact, one strength of confessional Christianity is the abiding connection that is forged between previous generations and contemporary believers. Clearly, the universal Church of Jesus Christ connects believers not only to others around the world, but also to our forefathers in the faith who have gone before us in generations past. Creeds and confessions help modern believers to remain humble while avoiding what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery,” that is, the belief that one’s own generation is somehow superior to all those who have gone before it.

Furthermore, confessions and creeds serve to help assure us that the doctrinal faith that we articulate today has not subtly changed over time by being subject to the warping influence of secular society. Creeds stand as ancient landmarks denoting the “boundaries” of believers’ hearts in history. Noting where one deviates from an ancient creed gives a person a clearer understanding of where his or her own theological convictions stand in relation to other believers throughout history. Perhaps this also helps us to discover what direction we are moving. Are we moving closer to Christ? To God’s Word? To the heart of God Himself? Or are we moving further away?

The “subordinate standards” that our church subscribes to is the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, the standard-bearing confessions in the Presbyterian branch of Christianity. Influenced heavily by the thinking of Reformation theologian John Calvin (1509-1564), the Westminster Confession (1647) is a confessional exemplar of Reformed theology.[2] The Westminster Confession of Faith is the premiere example of theological intellectualism absorbed in the beauty of the sovereignty of God. The Westminster Confession, and Calvin before it for that matter, were both completely committed to the theological framework that God is sovereign over the entire universe. Therefore, as you study this Confession you will undoubtedly encounter the Living God as ruler of the cosmos, the world, the events of your life, and hopefully your heart.

Historical Context
While the historical context of the writing of theWestminster Confession has been written about at length in other places and can not be repeated here, a few words about its composition are appropriate. “Composed by an Assembly of Divines convened at Westminster Abbey by the Long Parliament (1643-1648), the Confession was designed to unite the English and Scottish churches in their theology.”[3] In the first half of the 17th century, England was in turmoil. Nearly torn apart politically, many believers in Britain looked to the Scriptures and to their Puritan theologians to help articulate hope for their lives. Many hoped that England, Scotland, and Ireland could all be brought together under one confessional standard. More than anything, believers needed their spiritual leaders to help them understand the whole of Scripture in the midst of a rapidly changing and often chaotic political climate.

Fortunately, these theologians and pastors sought to articulate the strong sovereignty of God as revealed in the Scriptures. Commissioned by the English House of Commons in 1643, work began on a new confession. Originally, it was thought that a mere revision of the Church of England’s Thirty Nine Articles was all that was necessary. It soon became apparent that more work needed to be done. They did not entirely reinvent the wheel; the crafters of this document had been inspired by prior works including the Irish Articles of 1615, principally drafted by James Usher, as well as the Genevan Catechism of John Calvin himself. Their final product was nothing less than breath-taking.

After 1,163 sessions meeting in Westminster Abbey, the so-called “Westminster Divines” (comprised of 151 believers including theologians, parliament members, and Scottish advisors)[4] completed a document that would stand as perhaps the most excellent summation of Reformation-inspired doctrine to date. The Confession was approved by the English Parliament and then also approved by the Scottish General Assembly in 1647.  While Calvinism itself waxed and waned throughout England’s history, the final product of the Westminster Assembly lives on in many denominations today.

The Westminster Confession also includes two “catechisms” (from the Greek word meaning instruction) that were designed to help believers learn to articulate their faith. These two surveys of biblical teaching take the form of question-and-answer sessions, as could be given from a mentor to a student. The Larger Catechism is designed to give thorough definitions of such great theological concepts as sanctification, effectual calling, and sin. Its precision has been of tremendous help to preachers, teachers, and theologians throughout the centuries. The Shorter Catechism is briefer and is suitable for use in Christian instruction for new converts, youth, and even children.

In America, the Adopting Act of 1729, “an action of the Synod of Philadelphia whereby the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms were adopted as the doctrinal position of the Presbyterian Church in colonial America,”[5] made the Confession a primary theological tool by which candidates for ministry were examined in the colonies of the New World. This act ensured that all ordained pastors and licensed preachers received the Confession “as being, in all the essential and necessary articles, good forms of sound words and systems of Christian doctrine; and… as the confession of our faith.”[6] Interestingly, the Westminster Confession of Faith was studiously learned by rote, as it was often included in copies of the New England Primer, the booklet by which most school children learned to read.

Today, the Westminster Confession of Faith lives on as the primary confessional standard of Reformed denominations such as the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (the EPC), the Presbyterian Church in America (the PCA), the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (the OPC), and several other denominations around the world. 

If you have never done so before, perhaps it would be a good time for you to begin a study of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. You will find that, although it can never be a replacement for Bible reading, it greatly enhances your walk with Christ.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville Florida. He is also the author of Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647. 

[1] The Apostles’ Creed, for instance is recited often in our gathered worship. The Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed have also both enjoyed prominent places in Reformed Churches.

[3]Westminster Confession of Faith” in The Dictionary of the Presbyterian and Reformed Tradition in America. Ed. by D.G Hart and Mark A. Noll. (Phillipsburg NJ: P & R Publishing, 1999) p. 276.
[4] This group was comprised of 121 ministers (Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Independents, and Erastians), 20 commoners or tradesmen, and 10 landowners.
[5] “Adopting Act (1729)” in The Dictionary of the Presbyterian and Reformed Tradition in America. Ed. by D.G Hart and Mark A. Noll. (Phillipsburg NJ: P & R Publishing, 1999) p. 13.
[6] Ibid. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

You Are a Significant Part of God's Plan

“Moreover, Josiah put away the mediums and the necromancers and the household gods and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might establish the words of the law that were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord.” – 2 Kings 23:24

During my reading through the scriptures I recently came across the story of Josiah and his reign over Judah in 2 Kings. I was stricken by the reformations that took place under this young king who had taken over as ruler at the age of eight. In his thirty-one year reign he repaired the temple, restored the Passover, and recovered the law of God and it’s application among his people. What makes this so impressive is not just his youthfulness but also the fact that he had been preceded by generations of evil kings and Judah was deeply steeped in idolatry and the pagan religions of the surrounding nations. He was an isolated case of faithfulness in a long line of wicked and idolatrous kings. Furthermore, prior to his reign God had already decreed the judgment of Judah for this wickedness and reaffirmed his intentions during the reign of Josiah. Josiah’s reformations were a great blessing to his generation but did not avert the judgment of God for the sins previously committed. Shortly after Josiah’s death, Judah returned to idolatry under the reign of Jehoiakim and taken into Babylonian captivity under Nebuchadnezzar. God had decreed judgment prior to Josiah’s righteous reign and carried it out after his death.
To think that the effects of Josiah’s reforms were short lived would be a mistake. What is not evident in your reading of the story in 2 Kings becomes very clear when you get to the book of Daniel. What is barely mentioned in 2 Kings is elaborated on in Daniel. What you learn by considering these two books in their chronological relationship is that during the reforms of Josiah, Jewish families returned to the law and reestablished the practices that would raise a generation of young people who would be faithful to God. Among those young people were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Also known as Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. This explains how Judah could be so steeped in idolatry for generations, while still producing such godly young men. Josiah’s reign appears as an isolated caveat in Judah’s history. However, God was providentially preparing a remnant of faithful people in order to preserve his promises through the captivity that he ordained would come. God is faithful to his promises.

When you feel the apparent irrelevance of your own obedience in the grand scheme of things, remember that it is God and not men, in their limited scope, who makes all things work together for our good. Our lives are one small piece of a magnificent puzzle that our great creator is putting together. The puzzle must have that small piece to be a finished work.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Breaking Your Addiction To Coveting

     My favorite baseball player, Josh Hamilton, recently made the news because he relapsed into cocaine and alcohol use. He’s facing a lengthy suspension that could likely cost him about 4 million dollars a month in lost salary. Criticism has begun to swirl and judgments are plentiful. It is hard for many to understand how someone who makes mega millions playing baseball would take a chance on blowing it because he can’t control his addiction. It’s sad to watch someone struggle so hard with a sin that they can’t seem to overcome. I pray that he will, by God’s grace, be delivered from his addiction. However, his addiction happens to be a socially unacceptable addiction. Funny how people’s struggles with these types of sins are so much more difficult to understand than people’s addictions to socially acceptable sins. It’s true that the use of mind altering drugs, legal or not, is a sin, but it’s equally true that covetousness is an equally damnable sin and very few people seem to be as troubled about the epidemic of it in our culture. Consider Paul’s words,

“For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” Ephesians 5:5

     You can be absolutely sure that God is every bit as offended by the sin of covetousness as he is with the sin of drug use. In our culture you can be completely consumed with this sin and no one will raise an eyebrow. If you wake up tomorrow tempted to give in to this addiction, you can go out and buy a new boat to feed it. No one will judge you. The next day you can struggle with it again and go purchase the hottest car on the market to satisfy your lust. Your friends will rejoice with you. Day after day you can feed the flesh like a glutton and no one will notice or care because they will share your addiction. In our culture, this wicked sin disguises itself as the American dream.

     The Apostle Paul had an entirely different perspective on this sin. When he read, “Thou shalt not covet” (Exodus 20:17) it killed him. That is to say, he was brought under the conviction of his profound sinfulness and became aware of his personal spiritual death. Sin is any violation of God’s law (1 John 3:4) and that law brought Paul to the realization that his heart was filled with the sin of covetousness, making him an idolater (Romans 7). This realization is essential to the work of grace that leads to salvation. You cannot be redeemed by the grace of God until you’ve been condemned by the law of God. Jonathan Edwards once said, “It’s easier to scream down a thousand sins of others than it is to mortify one sin in yourself.” Similarly, it’s easier to scream down the sin of a drug addict than it is to mortify the sin of covetousness in yourself. That’s why “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24). Do not let our culture’s tolerance of covetousness lull you into thinking that your addiction is any more tolerable to God than a cocaine addict’s. Do you think that you are any less a sinner than someone else? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3)

Keep Your Opinions to Yourself and Speak with Authority

     Frankly, your opinion doesn’t matter. Not if you are a Christian and your goal is to speak authoritatively to our culture on the myriad of social issues facing the world around us. Whether it’s gay marriage, legalizing drugs, the war on terror, or whatever issue is most likely to move you to engagement in the battle, the last thing we need is yet another opinion. Opinions carry no authority. Whether you are a Christian or not, your opinion is no more valuable than the next person's. What is vitally needed is someone to speak with authority. We need someone who can lay down an objective standard of right and wrong for us to measure the validity of every opinion on every issue. That someone is God, and he has spoken.

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,…” Hebrews 1:1-2a

     The prophets of the Old Covenant foretold of the coming Son and he came and “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the Word of his power.” (Hebrews 1:3a) At his first coming he communicated to his Apostles the glory of the New Covenant and filled them with his Spirit to write it down in the New Testament. The close of the New Testament canon finalized God’s Word to man on every issue required of us to fulfill his will in our lives and in society (2 Timothy 3:16-17). God has spoken and his Word is final. Therefore, as Christians we are not called to share our opinion, but rather to proclaim his Word. When we proclaim his Word on an issue then we, like Titus, are to “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority.” And “Let no one disregard you.” (Titus 2:15). Where the scriptures are silent, we have no authority, where the scriptures speak, we can speak with absolute authority. Learn the Word of God well enough to make a clear and accurate case based on the scriptures, and you will speak with godly authority instead of sharing another irrelevant opinion.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Reflections on Finishing Up the King James Version (For the First Time).

Last September, I wrote about beginning my venture into the King James Bible for the first time in my 37 years of life (now 38). As I mentioned in that article, I was embarrassed to admit that having been a Christian for nearly 25 years, I had never poured much time into the Authorized Version before. And this for a pastor!

Embarrassing indeed.

Mind you, I'm no slacker. I've read the Bible nearly every day since my conversion. Just never the KJV. From ages 12 to 28, my translation of choice was the NIV84. I almost never use it now. Political correctness and the gender neutral controversy has damaged it for me, and the NIV11 is just not same book to me anymore.

From the ages of 28 to 38 I have used the ESV almost exclusively. My friend Pete Garbacki and I joke about being ESVO (English Standard Version Only).

But this past year, I threw myself into the KJV hardcore. I was motivated by both a desire to engage myself with the same Bible of Spurgeon, Edwards, Hodge and others as well as to increase my knowledge of one of the most timeless treasures of the Christian faith. (At least in the Western World).

Beginning in September and finishing sometime this month (I have a few short books in the latter half of the NT still to complete), I read the KJV with reckless abandon. At times (especially on my vacation) I read for hours. Morning, noon, and night, I had an Authorized text with me.

Some vital stats about my journey: I will have completed the KJV Bible in about 24 weeks, assuming I stay on course for the next 7 days or so. This averages about 7 chapters a day. That's a pretty good clip for most folks, and probably faster than I would recommend for others. I used three different physical copies of the Bible (see below). This completes the third translation in which I have read Scripture in its entirety. 

Moreover, here are a few of my gleanings from this venture:

1. Regret. If I could live my life over, I would not have waited this long to throw myself into the King James. This should have been done long ago. For those who have never tried this, do it now. The AV is a treasure that has been passed down to us from many stalwart Christians and we owe ourselves the favor of reading the English-speaking world's only truly dominant translation.

2. Beauty. I was often struck by the sheer majesty of the text. Many complain about the ubiquitous "Thee's and Thou's." Get over it. It's not that hard. Reading the text with these ancient pronouns does seem to have a positive affect on the reader's awareness of the divine, especially as he reads the Psalms and prayers of Scripture. Calling God by a pronoun that is no longer in common use (such as Thou) does seem to me to have the affect of setting Him apart, in the same way as capitalizing "Him" or "His" does when I refer to God in writing.

3. Challenge. I started off reading the KJV like a ball shot out of a canon. Much of my 7 chapters per day average came in the beginning as a I read eagerly and voraciously. I did begin to struggle mightily in some of the places that you might expect: kings, name lists, sacrifices, and temple descriptions. I feel that I glossed over too quickly on quite a bit, in the minor prophets especially, that I should try again to recover sometime.

By the time I got to the latter stages of the OT, I literally couldn't wait to get to the New Testament.   I was frustrated that the King James Version made many passages obscure to me, and made them seem as if I had not read them before. Not in a "fresh" way, but in a disappointed-in-myself way. I should have slowed down and focused more on comprehension.

At the same time, I was so excited to meet Jesus again in the words of the KJV! So yeah, getting through the whole OT was a challenge.

4. Joy.  By the time that I finally got to the New Testament, I was again reinvigorated for the project. In fact, when I got to the NT, it slowly became less and less obvious that I was reading a translation that was "foreign" to my experience. It did not seem foreign to me at all anymore. I often completely forgot that I was even reading the KJV, as it all felt very comfortable, familiar, and enjoyable to me. The Gospel narratives were particularly familiar and the story line of redemption history carried me right to the cross.

As I finish out the KJV in the coming days with the prison epistles and writings of Peter and John, I can't help but thank God that He commended such a translation into the hands of the English speaking world. The KJV is timeless, beautiful, and accurate. If you would like to take this journey too, I urge you to begin on your own time and do so on your own pace.

Tangibles - A Good Bible. 

I think a good Bible is a necessity, and I have written on this topic before.

For this project, I actually acquired three new KJV's for usage. (I didn't even own a good copy before. *Blushing*). I kept these three Bibles in various places (office, home, travel) so that I always had one about me within arm's length. I can recommend a couple of good ones that are well made and durable.

  1. Local Church Bible Publishers makes some of the best leather, sewn AV's you can find. They are a KJVO company, so don't expect to get an ESV there! I ordered the Cowhide #355 and loved it. It was only $35. This is an incredible KJV for the price.
  2. Cambridge too makes many good editions. The should! They are the oldest continuous Bible publisher in the world. I used their Split Calf Concord reference model which was given to me free for the "price" of simply doing a review of their books. Being a blogger and product reviewer doesn't hurt!
  3. Finally, I kept a Trinitarian Bible Society Windsor in my office and read it at least twice a day during my office hours. That too was around $35 and paid for itself in devotional sweetness.

-Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.