Thursday, May 31, 2012

Children and Communion: How Can Parents Help Their Children Prepare Their Hearts?

My son Elijah and I were pretty excited that evening in March of 2011. That night, at our community group, Eli was preparing to speak to our church elders about taking Communion for the first time. Because he is my son and I love him deeply, we had been working to prepare for that night for a few months. 

Here is an important question: What should parents do to help prepare their children for this big moment of meeting with the elders before taking the Lord's Supper? 

As a church in the Reformed tradition, we have a high view of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper (see WCF 27 and 29). We believe that this is more than just a memorial of Christ's death (although it certainly IS that) but that we are also brought into the Real Presence of Jesus Christ at the Table. For this reason, it is necessary for us ALL to heed Paul's advice in 1 Corinthians 11:28 that a believer "examine himself before he eats the bread and drinks of the cup."

While our elders have not created hard and fast rules for children who profess their faith in Jesus, I would suggest that the following guidelines make a good mental checklist for parents before having a child come before the elders for their interview:

1)     Does the child have an awareness of his or her sinful condition before a holy God? If so, can he or she give a credible explanation about how the cross "paid for our sins"?  Can he or she state this in personal terms?

2)     Is there an emphasis on God's Word at home to correspond with what is taught at church? Have the parents been working through the Children's Catechism Scripture memory system together? Is the child making adequate progress in learning the basic story of redemption?

3)     Has the child memorized the Apostle's Creed yet? Being able to state the content of the Christian faith from memory is an important ability that he or she will want to acquire as soon as possible.

4)     Has the child learned the Ten Commandments by heart yet? Can she give an age-appropriate definition of some of the more difficult words in the Commandments such as "Sabbath,” "adultery" or "coveting"?

5)     Has the child learned the Lord's Prayer by heart yet? This is a vital component of the prayer life of any believer. Also, is he or she able to pray in his or her own words aloud yet?

While we should be cautious not to make any legalistic requirements in order to "quantify" a child's faith, nevertheless, the thoughtful parent should be helping children to grow in their faith by consistently working on these five steps.

For both of my older children, Soriah and Elijah, these steps took a number of months to master. But that night, Elijah was so confident in his knowledge of these Christian basics, he couldn't wait to nail the interview in my office. And he did. 

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Brooksville Florida. Follow him on Twitter @matt_everhard

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Bible, Homosexuality, and Shellfish

By Matthew Everhard 

When President Barack Obama recently endorsed gay marriage this month, an “evolution” of his previous position, the focus of many Americans was again turned to our real national pastime, human sexuality. (No it is not baseball anymore!) More aggressive than in recent months, it seems that many columnists, pundits, and amateur liberal theologians have been discussing--and even mocking--the Bible’s perspective on this controversial matter. 

One of the more common assaults against the conservative “one man, one woman” definition of marriage is to make the Biblical position affirmed in our Scriptures to appear outlandish, strange, and untenable to modern minds. The strategy to make the traditional view of marriage seem obsolete runs as follows (with some slight variations): Yes, the Bible technically forbids the practice of homosexuality in Leviticus 18:22, but it also forbids eating shellfish (Leviticus 11:9-11), and commends the stoning of blasphemers (Leviticus 24:16). Since the latter two are ridiculous, so is the former. This argument would appear credible, if it weren’t such terrible exegesis of the book of Leviticus. 

It is ironic that those arguing such a progressive position would choose these three elements of Levitical law as examples of their “ridiculous by association,” argument. As you will see, these given examples perfectly illustrate the three distinct strands of laws given by God in the Old Testament. 

A redemptive-historical approach to Biblical interpretation demands that we interpret passages of the Bible with their historical context--as regards God’s saving acts of redemption--in full view. During the giving of the Mosaic Law at the covenant of Sinai, God imposed three types of laws upon Israel: (1) First, God imposed moral laws that are binding and timeless. These relate to holiness, ethical purity, and the natural law written on the hearts of men. Absolute in their application, violations of moral law are always sinful. (2) Second, God imposed ceremonial laws given to distinguish national Israel (the people of the covenant) from their unsanctified neighbors. These dietary and cultural restrictions, along with tabernacle/temple sacrificial regulations, were intended to make clear the distinction between God’s people and the surrounding pagan nations. (3) Third, God mandated civil laws imposed upon Israel as a nation-state, much the same as we have federal law here in the U.S. today. These laws pertained to the application and enforcement of the Sinaitic code, with particular reference to Israel as national government.  As long as national Israel existed by standing in the Sinai covenant with God, all three types of laws (moral, ceremonial, and civil) governed the hearts and lives of the people. 

Nevertheless, the Mosaic/Sinai covenant was a conditional covenant, contingent on national Israel’s fidelity with Jehovah God as Lord (Deut 28). Two events radically changed the standing of Israel forever. First, the nation of Israel abdicated its role as the divine representative to the pagan nations by her overt and incessant covenant infidelity. This persistent covenant infidelity ultimately resulted in the Northern Kingdom being destroyed by the Assyrian in 722BC and the Southern Kingdom being sent into exile in Babylon, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in 586BC. (This is the dire message of Isaiah, Jeremiah and most of the OT the prophets). Israel, as a nation-state, ordained by God as a chosen people, ceased to exist. The civil law was neither possible nor necessary to enforce. 

Click here to read "Fried Chicken and Traditional Marriage?" by Lee Hutchings.

The other major event is of course the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, the pinnacle event of all of redemption history. By dying a sacrificial death for the sin of His people, Christ fulfilled the ceremonial laws in a way that National Israel never could. His perfect obedience and complete fidelity to God fulfilled and abrogated the ceremonial law. Because of His atoning death, no sacrifice and tabernacle/temple offerings are any longer required. We no longer need to offer bulls, goats, or sheep. (This is the whole point of the book of Hebrews). Moreover, Christ fulfilled and abrogated all civil and ceremonial laws initiating a new Kingdom that transcends national Israel in every way. 

At this point, I hope interpreting Leviticus on the other side of the cross and empty tomb is becoming easier. Laws prohibiting shellfish (ceremonial law) and mandating the stoning blasphemers (civil law) seem outmoded and ancient because they are. Christ has come. Christ has died. Christ is raised again. We live on the near side of the cross. 

The moral law (summarized by the Ten Commandments), however, is the timeless law of God revealed in the Sinai covenant for which mankind is still responsible. These are the inviolable moral laws written indelibly on the consciences of all mankind (Romans 2:15), and the standards by which human kind will all be judged. Murder, lying, idolatry and theft will always be sinful no matter where or when they are committed. As homosexuality is a gross violation of the creation order in general (Genesis 2:18-24), and the seventh commandment in particular (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18), the fact that this practice transgresses God’s standards of purity is beyond dispute. This is why the New Testament agrees with and reinforces the Old Testament’s prohibitions of this practice (Romans 1:26-27; Colossians 3:5; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10). 

Simply stated, the “homosexuality and shellfish” argument falls apart entirely when read as the Scriptures are meant to be read—with a redemptive-historical approach in view. 

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Follow him on Twitter @matt_everhard


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Who Was John Calvin? (Part 3 of 3)

[Note: This is the concluding essay in a three-part short introduction to the life of Calvin. See previous posts: part 1/3 and part 2/3].

Calvin's Lasting Legacy
Calvin left a huge legacy for us to follow as Christians in general and as pastors in particular. I will briefly summarize this legacy with the following points.
1. First of all, his literary legacy is unmatched. From his Everest-like work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, to his nearly unending series of Biblical commentaries, to his heart-felt letters, and his printed sermons, Calvin left enough Biblical teaching for a lifetime of learning. Considering the age in which he lived, the technology through which he wrote (pen and quill!) and the turmoil in which he fought, Calvin’s attention to every detail of every Greek verb is simply amazing. While reading his works are daunting and sometimes technical, one is always amazed at the way in which Calvin so clearly spoke as a tender pastor, relentlessly concerned for his people.

2. As a pastor, Calvin stands as one of the greatest of all times. I will give just a bit of evidence of this. Even though he fought valiantly on the cutting edge of theological controversy of his day, Calvin took the time to visit all of the sick and even wrote letters to the martyrs who were suffering under French rule. More than that, Calvin counseled compassionately those who were hurting and in despair, even visiting daily those who were sick or dying under his care.

3. Thirdly, Calvin’s vision for church planting was way ahead of his time. While most within the Reformation movement were concerned more with theological faithfulness, Calvin was burdened to begin as many churches as possible. Newer research is showing that more than ever before thought, Calvin’s church and academy in Geneva was responsible for literally planting hundreds of churches in France, Europe—and even one attempt as far away as Brazil! The Genevan Academy under Calvin’s tutelage continually reproduced impassioned Christ-loving pastors ready to go forth from Geneva and die for the faith.

4. Fourth, Calvin’s theology sunk into the daily lives of his hearers in an unusual way. Because of his fixation upon the glory of God, Calvin taught his followers that God must be glorified by every act of our daily lives! One example will suffice. Today, if you have a watch from Geneva (still the source of all of the very best watches, clocks, and timepieces) it is no doubt because Calvin taught his Genevan brothers 500 years ago to aspire towards excellence in all things for the glory of God.

5. Fifth, Calvin, by his very precision as a theologian, has inspired generation after generation of believers to forsake the error of “easy-believe-ism” as strive instead toward a full and rich theology of heart and mind. Some of the best scholar-theologians in history were inspired by the French Master himself; from the English Puritans to the Dutch Reformed; from the Westminster Divines to Jonathan Edwards; from John Owen of Britain to Benjamin Warfield of New Jersey; from the French Huguenots to the American Presbyterians; from pastors living today such as John Piper of Minneapolis to Mark Driscoll in Seattle—Calvin towers above them all and summons them upwards.

In the end, Calvin would probably be a little bit disturbed if not angry to hear of his followers being called “Calvinists.” I am guessing that he would have disdained that terminology. He had no desires or aspirations in this life for fame or glory and would be satisfied only that his followers were Bible-preaching, God-exalting Christians. Dying in May of 1564, Calvin’s final wishes were honored: he was buried in an unmarked grave in a simple pine box. His lasting testimony was that John the Baptist’s words be made manifest in his own life: “He must become greater; I must become less! (John 3:30). 

Recommended Reading for Beginning Students of John Calvin
• John Piper, John Calvin and His Passion for the Majesty of God. (Wheaton IL: Crossway Books, 2009). A simple and very short 59-page overview of Calvin’s life and ministry by one of the most popular pastors of today.

• THL Parker, Portrait of Calvin. (Minneapolis MN: Desiring God, 1954). An excellent, short biography of Calvin’s life and times.  

• John Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion, Edited by Tony Lane and Hilary Osborne. (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Book House, 2004). This version is a significantly shortened version of the Institutes (thus the slightly altered title). In this condensed presentation, Lane and Osborne present Calvin’s teaching optimistically, that is, they leave out most of his more controversial teaches, especially his attacks on his opponents. For this reason, the book is a good enough sum of what he taught, while leaving out what he taught against.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Follow me on Twitter @matt_everhard. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Poem for a Friend in Times of Trial

Through trials and tribulations
His mercy, grace sustains
In storm clouds and darkest night
He brings the gentle rains

Through many tribulations
of fire, sea, and sod
towards gates of greatest splendor
to Kingdom we must trod

Through many perturbations
of heart, and spirit, soul
with faces down, and hands held up
His glory stay our goal

Like Bunyan's pilgrim Christian
we 'midst Apollyon's lair
the precious face of Jesus
are bid to fix our stare

Endured the cross, despised its shame
our gentle Savior hung
copious blood and righteousness
alone our victory won

And though the world and devil
rage and bare their teeth
My Savior and His cross have won
the victor's crown and wreath

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Follow him on Twitter @matt_everhard

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Who Was John Calvin? (Part 2 of 3)

 By Matthew Everhard

As I suggested in my previous post (see part 1 of 3) Calvin’s theology is nothing short of brilliant—not for its innovation, but rather for its fidelity to God’s Word. We might be able to summarize his theology accurately under four primary headings. First, as a basic presupposition, Calvin held that the Bible is the very Word of God. While we may take this for granted today, it was not at all certain among those living in the 1500’s! Church tradition, the authority of the Pope, and even “the dreams of fanatics” (a phrase he often used to deride his heretical opponents) all battled for authority against the sacred text of Scripture. He often relied heavily upon this doctrine, “Sola Scriptura,” with his many conflicts against the Roman Catholics as well as against outright heretics like Michael Servetus. If the Bible was not seen to be the Word of God, common ground would be impossible. Calvin worked tirelessly to overthrow all rivals to Scripture itself.

Secondly, Calvin was absolutely consumed by the glory of God. For Calvin, God was the supreme ruler over the entire universe. God is the creator of all things, the writer of all history, and the planner of all events. For this reason, Calvin was consumed by the providence of God as an explanation for all events, including the salvation of the soul. Calvin rightly recognized that, due to the fall of man, human beings are simply incapable of being saved by their own work or efforts. God Himself would have to intervene. God’s chosen way of intervention to redeem humanity was to become a human being Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ’s perfect life and death on the cross as a substitutionary sacrifice afforded mankind the only hope of salvation by grace, through faith. Calvin insisted, as all evangelicals rightly do today, that “salvation is found in no one else; for there is no other name given under heaven among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Because of Calvin’s passion for the sovereignty of God, he firmly taught the biblical doctrine of election (or predestination) found in such Biblical texts as Ephesians one and Romans nine. This, for Calvin, was an essential that must be understood, for apart from divine grace through election, mankind was simply unable to “choose” God on his own without God intervening first, to give new birth to the heart. Salvation then, for Calvin, was entirely a matter of God’s work. True, mankind must repent and believe the gospel, this much is certain, but without God’s work through the power of the Holy Spirit to change our hearts (conversion) and give us new life (regeneration) we are simply too blind to recognize the danger of our sinful condition or the necessity of saving faith in Jesus Christ on our own. God would have to do the work of conversion!

Thirdly, Calvin placed a tremendous stress on Christian piety, or holy living. Having been redeemed by grace through faith alone, man can do no other thing that respond in joy and obedience. Having been saved, Christians ought to determine to live lives of joyful obedience and mission. The Law in the Old Testament, Calvin taught, still had three primary purposes for the believer that must be put into effect. First, the Law shows us our weaknesses. Like looking at our dirty faces in the mirror, the commands of the Scripture show us where we constantly need to repent and improve. Second, Calvin taught that the commands of the Bible (especially the Ten Commandments) show us how to live in harmony and unity as the covenant people of God. Even unbelievers ought to be restrained by the promises of a harmonized society and the dangers of punishment for disobedience! But thirdly and most importantly, Calvin stressed that the precepts of the Lord show us how we can truly live lives that please and glorify God! This, Calvin would insist, ought to be the purest motivation for Christian obedience.

A fourth primary heading of Calvin’s theology might be summarized by his ardent stress on the nature of the Church and the mandate of Christian witness in the world. For Calvin, the true Church was defined as a covenant community of believers where the Scripture are proclaimed faithfully as the authoritative Word of God, and the Sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are rightly administered. Surprising to some who are new to Calvin’s works, his longest chapter in the Institutes is not about predestination, but rather on prayer! Yes, the Church and her people, empowered by the Holy Spirit, are to be the primary vehicle by which the Kingdom of God is triumphantly proclaimed in the world. For this reason, Calvin’s successors would be ardent missionaries, planting hundreds of churches in France and beyond! Calvin urged his parishioners to live boldly together as the people of God must: bound in submission to the Word of God, yet free to live as Spirit-empowered witnesses in a broken and hurting world.

Because of Calvin’s powerful passion for the unrivaled glory of God, it is no wonder that many of his hearers would rather die for their faith in Jesus Christ than recant their new found passion for the saving grace of God!

Calvin’s later followers would summarize his teaching in the compact acronym called “TULIP.” While Calvin himself did not invent or use this device, those who read and value his writings have held this to be a faithful representation of his work for several centuries.

See part 3/3. 

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Follow him on Twitter @matt_everhard

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A True Sign of Repentance...

By Pastor Matt Ellis

Josh Hamilton
On Thursday, July 11, 2011, Shannon Stone took his son, Cooper, to see the Rangers play some baseball. Six-year-old Cooper's favorite player was All-Star outfielder Josh Hamilton. At one point during the game, Josh tossed a foul ball into the stands and Shannon attempted to catch it for his son. As he reached over the railing, he lost his balance and fell headlong to the concrete slab twenty feet below. He died as he was being rushed to the hospital. This unimaginably horrific incident played out as his son sat alone in the stands.

After the game, the Rangers' owner and CEO (Nolan Ryan) addressed the press. He said that the team was distraught and when asked how Josh Hamilton was doing, he noted that he was taking it pretty hard.

How would you respond if Josh had a press conference and nonchalantly said that he regretted that the man fell and, while Josh chomped on his gum, said he was sorry? 
What if his body language spoke of someone who really didn't care about the man who lost his life or his family? I'll tell you what would have happened ... Josh would have become the object of disdain from everyone watching. 

Everything within us knows that even though the event was not Josh's fault, he was part of an event that cost a man his life. His obvious signs of remorse would be a natural response for anyone with a conscience. In fact, his sorrow would be necessary because of the gravity of the event ... someone died!

In Joel 2:12, God called out to His people to return to Him. He instructed them: "'Yet even now,' declares the Lord, 'return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.'" 

So, the people of Israel were not simply to "chomp on their gum" and nonchalantly ask God to forgive them. They were to come with obvious signs of remorse. Why? Because it was the natural and necessary response for actions that led to a man's death. In fact, whenever you and I sin (every time we sin), those actions play a significant part in that same Man's death ... on the cross. 

While Josh Hamilton's actions were not the cause of Shannon Stone's death, our sins were precisely what caused the death of God's dear Son, Jesus. Wouldn't it be appropriate for us to show the same signs of remorse as Josh Hamilton when we come to the Father and ask for forgiveness?

Pastor Matt Ellis is Senior Pastor at the First Baptist Church in Brooksville, Florida. Follow him on Facebook @

Friday, May 4, 2012

Who Was John Calvin? A Very Short Introduction. (Part 1 of 3).

By Pastor Matthew Everhard

You don’t have to attend a Presbyterian, Reformed, or evangelical church very long before you hear the name John Calvin bandied about. In fact, this stalwart hero of Christian history is honored in most protestant churches still today, five hundred years after his death. Dozens of denominations trace their spiritual lineage through this man in some way or another. In fact, in a recent Time Magazine article, the “New Calvinism” was heralded as one of the most influential movements in the world today.  Period! In other words, a renewed interest in this man and his teaching is energizing the Christian movement worldwide.

We recently celebrated the 500th birthday of John Calvin. But why is this man so significant? Why is he so popular? Why is he still so influential? Hopefully this article will help you to understand more about this monumental figure in Christian history and why the present writer (a pastor myself) gravitates toward him.

Personal Life
John Calvin was born in Noyon France in 1509. Like most in France at that time Calvin was raised as a Roman Catholic. Displaying a sharp mind from his youth, Calvin was reared and groomed by his father to attain a career as a churchman, perhaps a priest or even bishop. Later, his father changed his mind and switched the young Calvin to the pursuit of a career in law. Calvin had many privileges as a young man, perhaps the most important of which was his formal education at the University of Paris, and the College de Montaigu among others. His acumen for intellectual precision would serve him well in his later years as a theologian, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves just yet.

During his college years, the ideas of a certain German named Martin Luther were sweeping through Europe. One generation younger than Luther, Calvin was soon swept up on the coattails of the Reformation. Of course at the time, Luther did not want to create any new “denomination,” he merely sought the restructure and purity of the existing church. It is difficult to pin down, but at some time during his university years, Calvin would become inflamed with the gospel truths put forth by Luther and his followers. In his own words, he experienced a “sudden conversion.” In a controversial moment, one of Calvin’s dear friends, Nicholas Cop was asked to give an address at the University of Paris. In the address, this bold young man took the opportunity to promote the Reformation gospel. Some suspect, due to the brilliance of the essay, that Calvin himself may have written it for him!

In any case the address was highly controversial and Calvin bolted town, feeling the heat. As you may imagine, to be counted among the “reformed” Christians was a deeply controversial thing in a profoundly Roman Catholic nation such as France. Due to political pressures, many of the Reformed sought out other havens to escape the increasing persecution. Calvin too would soon be seeking refuge elsewhere. In January of 1535, he arrived in Basel Switzerland, a safe haven.

Calvin became increasing consumed by knowing the Scriptures in a comprehensive way. No surface familiarity with Scripture would do. He needed to master them. He was driven by His love for God and His Word. He soon rose above his peers in his ability to know, understand, and articulate the Scriptures. Calvin acquired an immense knowledge of the Biblical languages, Greek and Hebrew (as well as Latin) and began penning a work that would truly become one of the most important Biblical works of theology of all time. He called it “The Institutes of the Christian Religion.” At first, The Institutes was a simple book, six chapters. With parallel versions in French and Latin, Calvin’s goal was to show the world (especially the King of France to whom he addressed the preface) that the Reformers taught a biblically pure doctrine—certainly no heresy as they were often accused of propagating. It must be remembered that Calvin wrote to defend the biblical doctrine for which many of his brothers in the faith were literally dying at the stake. To isolate The Institutes from its historical context is to rob it of much of its power today.

Well, to make a long story short, the Institutes were a smashing success. Since Luther was a bold, outspoken (and often brash) man—who spent most of his time putting out the fires of controversy—Calvin neatly stepped into the role of the Reformation’s most excellent, precise, and Spirit-filled theologian. Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s immediate successor and closest friend, called Calvin simply “The Theologian.” Luther himself, who never met Calvin, read one of his works on the Lord’s Supper and was deeply impressed, “This is a work that has hands and feet!” Luther boasted in rare fashion.

As with all great men, history would soon foist itself upon Calvin. Enjoying some success with his hot little book, Calvin determined to retire and live the “ivory tower” life of a professional theologian, away from the controversy and excitement of the day. His goal was to move to Strasbourg, a German protestant city. Serendipitously, Calvin was literally and physically deterred from his path to retirement and ease as a scholar. On his way, Calvin was forced to take a detour through Geneva—the armed conflict between France and the German emperor literally blocked his path. He never intended to stay, but on that night a fiery redhead named William Farel heard of Calvin’s brief stop in the equivalent of a Genevan Motel 6.  Having heard of Calvin’s now famous work, Farel immediately went to Calvin’s room and proceeded to call down the fires of heaven cursing Calvin’s retirement unless he should stay in Geneva to help establish the Reformation there. Farel himself had already persuaded the city counsel in Geneva of the worth of the Reformed movement; he needed only a partner.

Because of Farel’s insistence (and not a little bit of fear from his imprecation!) Calvin agreed. Here in Geneva, he would find his most important pastoral work. He was made pastor of the Church of St. Peter. There, he worked tirelessly preaching as many as five sermons a week to the gathered people, hungry for God’s Holy Word. One might hope that Calvin could have found the peace he had longed for to work on his Biblical commentaries and the constant revisions of his burgeoning Institutes. Unfortunately, this could not be. Embroiled in a political power struggle with the City Council, Calvin and Farel were both soon kicked out of the very city they loved! In Easter of 1538, they were sent away.

For a couple of years, Calvin labored as a pastor to the French refuges in Strasbourg. Surprisingly in 1541, the city counsel of Geneva abruptly changed course and invited the Reformers back, admitting the error of their ways! Famously, when Calvin returned to Geneva after his expulsion, he resumed his preaching—on the very next verse of the text in which he had left off those months ago!

Soon Calvin became increasingly more powerful in his authority as a Bible expositor. By 1559 The Institutes had reached their full potential and Calvin had now become satisfied at their final form. The once-small pamphlet had become a massive tome that encompasses over 1,300 pages of miniscule type-font in my bedside edition! Each page, of course, was stocked full of the most precise biblical exposition and application imaginable, unfolding a truly comprehensive systematic theology of the Christian faith. Calvin continued to do a few things very well: he preached, taught, instructed seminary students, helped plant churches, and of course, wrote fervently. Calvin wrote massive commentaries of nearly all of the books of the Bible. Just to get an idea: my collection of his works, when setting next to each other on a book shelf, are longer than my leg!

As for his personal life, Calvin married a widow and mother named Idelette de Bure. His bride, however, died leaving him with the step-children that he had gained through marriage. I think it interesting that the world’s most excellent theologian in the last 500 years was also a step-father! Physically, Calvin was born with a frail physique and suffered from his weak condition most of his life. Remaining portraits of Calvin present a man often gaunt and emaciated. Like most men of his era, Calvin suffered immensely with physical conditions that could not be countered by the medical technology of his day. For this reason, working through pain, his production in his writings is absolutely amazing.

See part 2/3.
See part 3/3.

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

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Putting the Gospel acCENT on the Wrong syllaBLE

By Pastor Matt Everhard

I just finished reading Simone her goodnight story. It was an endearing tale called "The Night You Were Born." In this storybook with brightly colored pictures, the narrator extols the greatness of the person hearing the book read to them, presumably the small child cuddling up next to mom or dad.  

On the night you were born, the moon smiled with such wonder that the stars peeked in to see you and the night wind whispered, 'Life will never be the same.' Because there had never been anyone like you...ever in the world. 

As the child hears page after page, the impression is unmistakable: she is incomparable. Unique. A snowflake.

For never before in story or rhyme (not even once upon a time) has the world ever known a you, my friend, and it never will, not ever again. 

At this point I should acknowledge that this is a Christian children's book. It even begins with a Scripture quotation on the flap (Psalm 139). But I wonder if this isn't putting the Gospel acCENT on the wrong syllaBLE.

I know what the author is attempting to do. I don't mean to be a theological critic of picture books. The author is attempting to show each child just how precious he or she is in the eyes of God. God has created each of us with the imago dei (the image of God) stamped on our DNA, as it were.

So enchanted with you were the wind and the rain, that they whispered the sound of your wonderful name...Until everyone heard it and everyone knew of the one and only ever you.

Now wait a minute. I though the creation extolled the Creator?  (Psalms 145-150 collectively make this point). Is it possible that we have reversed the Gospel completely? Isn't the wonder of the Gospel that God should take notice of wretches and sinners such as us? And yet most of contemporary evangelicalism likewise presents the Gospel exactly backwards: the most glorious thing about God is that He recognizes my glory! Astounding in its twisted emphasis.

Let's call this "Gospel Narcissism" for lack of a better term. Gospel Narcissism is an expression of God's love that intentionally or unintentionally reverses the polarity of the Gospel. Instead of us recognizing His greatness, He sent His Son to recognize ours. It even finds its way into our more popular praise songs, 

"Above all powers above all thrones...You took the fall and thought of me, above all!" 

I admit that that sort of "gospel" is attractive to the masses. Hearing about a God whose primary virtue is that He recognizes your virtue will sell books and fill stadiums. It will grow churches and nab blog "pageviews." But reversing the glory of the gospel isn't the gospel.

Jonathan Edwards diagnosed this narcissistic version of Gospel presentation long ago, "They first rejoice and are elevated by the fact that they are made much of by God; and then on that ground, [God] seems, in a sort, lovely to them...They are pleased in the highest degree in hearing how much God and Christ make of them so that their joy is really in themselves and not in God." Exactly.  

What really makes the grace so amazing (as the old hymn extolls) is that God who is perfect in holiness would set His electing grace upon us in the first place. That God would take on flesh in the incarnation is stunning indeed. That the Eternal Son would impute His righteousness upon us, and take our guilt upon Himself at the cross is gracious beyond comprehension. But let's not make any mistake in our emphasis in our presentation of the Gospel. The "only begotten" one-of-a-kind is neither us nor our children. He is Christ the Lord.