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Four Reasons Why Christ Came to Earth

Rudyard Kipling called why one of the “six honest serving-men” who taught him all he knew. Why is a marvelous teacher because it helps us to identify the purposes, reasons, and meaning behind events that we observe. Christ himself frequently employed this “serving man” as he taught about his first coming. Learning the reasons for his advent will help us more deeply celebrate his birth and understand how it is connected with the rest of his life and why it is important for our lives. So why did Christ come to earth? Here are a few reasons.

To Become Like His Brethren

“Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same” (Heb. 2:14; cf. vv. 15–17). Christ came to earth as God to partake of our flesh and blood. This is a profound statement. The baby in the manger had the same human nature as you and I, only without sin. Christ was born as the perfect human. As the perfect man, Christ represents the hope of imperfect men. Sometimes little babies inspire the hope of a fresh start. Much more so this little baby.

His incarnation says to us, “You cannot solve your problems on your own. You cannot attain perfection and peace by your own strength. I am what you need.” Christ did not come to earth simply to be our moral example. If he had, he could have come as an angelic being without our flesh and blood. Instead, he came to become like one of us so that he could raise us up to be like him. This purpose of Christ’s coming relates directly to his death, as Hebrews 2 says. Christ came to be like us so that his death would actually accomplish healing for us.

By faith, when we think of Christ we see ourselves in him. As we glimpse into the manger we can say, “There is my flesh and my blood.” As he grows and matures and continues to do the will of God, we can say, “There is my flesh and my blood.” As he goes to the cross and bleeds and dies, we can say, “There is my flesh and my blood.” When we see Christ seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, we can say, “There is my flesh and my blood” (cf. Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 49). And when we see Christ return on clouds of glory to take us home to be with him we can say, “There is my flesh and my blood.” None of this would be true if Christ had not taken on our flesh and our blood and been born in a crude stable in Bethlehem.

To Bear Witness to the Truth

“Pilate therefore said to Him, ‘Are You a king then?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice’” (John 18:37). Christmas is a curious time of year because it tends to bring together people of various backgrounds. Even those who disagree regarding significant truth claims seem to mutually enjoy the so-called “Christmas spirit.” The amazing thing is that Jesus declared to Pilate on a world stage shortly before his death that he came “to bear witness to the truth” (and by implication to expose falsehood).

We live in a day where the existence of truth itself is questioned. Sometimes we may even wonder whether truth matters. When we think about Christ’s coming, we should be considering the truth claims to which Jesus’ birth testifies. He came to testify to the truth that all men are sinners and that God hates sin. But he also came to address the problem of sin through his righteous life and redeeming death. Notice how freeing this truth is. Pilate questions the very existence of truth, and his life bore the fruit of these doubts. He lived in fear of losing his position. He gave deference to the mad requests of the people against his own conscience. He disregarded the sane advice of his wife who urged him to have nothing to do with Jesus’ death. Pilate was in bondage because he didn’t know the truth.

When we look to Christ by faith, we will be overwhelmed by the radical truthfulness of God and the radical deception that is found in each of us. As Paul says in Romans 3:4, “Let God be true but every man a liar.” Jesus said, “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Christ came to bear witness to the truth that frees. Have you received his testimony?

To Bring Light to a Dark World

“I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46). There are few things in this world that are more precious to us than light. We take light for granted, but when it’s gone we notice. You may remember the last time you tried to find your way in the darkness. You probably held your arms out in front of you as you groped for something to take hold of (cf. Acts 17:27).

The world into which Jesus came was dark. There was little true religion being practiced, even by God’s people. The religious leaders had become little more than legalistic life coaches. A pagan nation, Rome, ruled over much of the world. Men and women lived without a light to guide them.

Every person is conceived into this world under this same darkness. We can’t see which way to go because of our spiritual darkness. We can’t make sense of our lives until the light of Christ shines into our hearts, leading us to God.

How appropriate that the birth of Christ was marked by a bright star and bright lights. The shepherds were watching their flocks by night. All of a sudden, in the midst of this darkness, “an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Luke 2:9). Later, the magi were directed to Jesus by a bright star (Matt. 2:1–12).

A more glorious light accompanied Jesus’ life and ministry. The apostle John says that when the Word became flesh he beheld his glory (John 1:14). Shortly before his death Jesus said, “A little while longer the light is with you . . . while you have the light believe in the light, that you may become sons of the light” (John 12:35–36). In this same context, Jesus says, “If I am lifted up I will draw all peoples to myself” (John 12:32). When Christ was born, the light fell, as it were, from heaven. As Christ ministered throughout his earthly life, the light was held close to the ground. But when that light was lifted up, it shone for all to see! On the cross the spotlight of God was shining on his justice and love.

To Save Sinners

“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Tim. 1:15). The first coming of Christ was the implementation of a rescue plan conceived in the mind of God from eternity past. He did not come to promote holiday cheer. He did not come to boost end-of-year sales or to be the central figure in a nativity scene. He came to save sinners. Paul recognizes who that sinner is when he says, “I am the chief of sinners.” It’s not enough to say that Christ came to save sinners. Each of us needs to affirm that Christ came to save sinners—and that I’m one of them!

Several years ago I sat next to the bed of a man who was in his last years in a nursing home. As we talked about his life, he began to painfully recall some of the sins he had committed. Beginning to weep, he blurted out, “I’m such a terrible sinner. I’m such a terrible sinner.” I said to him, “That’s wonderful!” He looked at me as if I had misunderstood him so I explained: “You are a terrible sinner. But that’s wonderful because it was exactly for people like you that Christ came to earth.”

Paul doesn’t just say that he is a terrible sinner. He says he’s the worst. Isn’t he exaggerating? No. Paul refuses to focus on the greatness of the sin of others. He will look only at his own sin. If he had been the only sinner in the world, Christ would still have had to shed every drop of that precious blood to save him.

Great sinners need a great Savior. And that is exactly what Christ is. Christ, says Hebrews 7:25, is able to save to the uttermost—that is, completely! If he can save a Paul who was a blasphemer and a murderer, then he can be a Savior to you. Are you a flesh-and-blood sinner in need of the light of God’s truth? Then Christmas is for you.

This article appeared in The Outlook, Nov/Dec 2012.

 

Rev. William Boekestein
is the pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, MI.

 

The Hands of God

When we think of the hands of God we often think of them as upraised in blessing.

Thus, God told Aaron to bless the people in his name: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Num. 6:24–26, New International Version). That the hands were also raised in blessing can be gathered from the practice of Aaron in Leviticus 9:22, where after offering sacrifice, “Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them.” Our Lord Jesus did the same thing upon departing from his disciples: “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them” (Luke 24:50). It is only natural, then, that when we think of God’s upraised hands, we think of them as bestowing a blessing on us.

However, the hands of God also represent much more than blessing people. God’s hands are said to be mighty and powerful. That’s how Joshua explains God’s backing up of the Jordan River so that Israel could cross over on dry land. He declares that “he [God] did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God” (Josh. 4:24). God’s mighty acts are not done simply to cause us to be filled with wonder and awe at them, though that also happens. There is a purpose to what God does with his powerful hands, namely, that “you might always fear the Lord your God.”

In contrast to God’s powerful hands being indicative of blessing, there is another important aspect which we must not fail to observe. The Lord’s hands can also be symbolic of opposition to his enemies and of strong punishment upon them. That’s how the symbolism is used in regard to the Philistines after they had captured the Ark of God and took it to Ashdod. Scripture tell us that “the Lord’s hand was heavy upon the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors” (1 Sam. 5:6). God’s hands, therefore, may be conveyors of his opposition to people and indicative of judgment to come because of their sins. Such a truth is made clear to us by the prophet Isaiah when he relates that because the people “rejected the law of the Lord Almighty” (Isa. 5:24) and practiced injustice, “therefore the Lord’s anger burns against his people; his hand is raised and he strikes them down” (Isa. 5:25). Regarding this text, E. J. Young comments: “The preceding judgments had all been insufficient. God’s outstretched hand, the symbol of His power and strength, will still carry out His purposes, inflicting new judgments beyond those which had already been executed” (New International Commentary on the New Testament, Isaiah I, 226).

The same truth is imparted to us in Isaiah 10:4, where the prophet, describing the consternation of the unjust in the judgment upon them, adds: “Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.” Again, Young comments: “This is not the end but the prelude to greater judgments” (ibid., 358).

When we speak of the hand of the Lord being upon one, we must always ask whether it is for blessing or for judgment and condemnation for sins. We need the Lord’s hand of blessing upon us to be the faithful people of God. Without God’s hand of blessing upon us, there is nothing that we do which will truly be a good work. Yet, thanks be to God, there is still hope for us if we detect his hand of judgment upon us. God’s purpose in punishment is that we may repent of sin and turn to him in faith. It is because God’s people “spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel” (Isa. 5:24) and did not repent when he punished them that “his hand [was] still upraised” (Isa. 5:25)

When we think about the hands of God, therefore, we must also reflect on our own lives and behavior to determine how God’s hands are raised upon us. If we sense that his hands are raised upon us in condemnation of our sins, then we must heed the call to repent of sin and seek him anew. In Jesus, God’s hands are outstretched in human form, and he calls sinners who are under the judgment of God “to come to me, . . . and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). It is in returning to Jesus in penitence and faith that we “will find rest for our souls” (Matt. 11:29).

Let us, therefore, consider the hand of God as calling us to always fear the Lord. The psalmist says that God’s right hand is filled with righteousness. That’s why God’s people can rejoice and be glad because of his judgments (Ps. 48:10b–11).

 

Dr. Harry G. Arnold
is a retired minister in the Christian Reformed Church and lives in Portage, MI.
He is a member of Grace Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, MI.

 

Marks of a Healthy Church: Biblically Grounded

Introduction

In recent months my wife and I have been thinking a lot about healthy eating. There is no shortage of information on the subject, from Internet blogs and websites to magazines, books, and articles. And everyone seems to have an opinion! More fruits, less meat. More meat, less carbs. Coffee is bad, a little coffee is good, coffee is great, and so on. It’s all so complex.

Yet one thing every health expert can agree on is this: vegetables are important. Really important. Especially the green ones. So go ahead and help yourself to an unlimited heaping plate of Brussels sprouts and your doctor will be proud.

And water. Lots of water. I have yet to hear someone ask me, “Could it be that you’re drinking too much water?”

After extensive research, we have discovered that by far and away the two most important staples of a healthy diet are . . . green vegetables and water (I was hoping that Chick-fil-A would crack the top two, but it didn’t even make honorable mention).

In this series of articles I am attempting to highlight some of the most important characteristics of a healthy church. But don’t worry, they’re more exciting than green beans and H20.

Yet they are basic. No real surprises here. There is nothing that I’m going to say that hasn’t already been said, nor that will surprise you. But sometimes, like with physical health, it’s helpful to take a step back and remember what is most important.

Last time we considered that any healthy church must be shaped by the glorious gospel of God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. The gospel isn’t a slogan we tack on; it’s the essential message we preach, teach, and celebrate.

But there is more to a healthy church than this. In addition to being gospel-shaped, our churches must be biblically grounded. Of course, you could make an excellent claim that this should have come first. The gospel we treasure is revealed in the Word God has given.

What does it mean to be biblically grounded? Every Protestant church I know claims to be Bible-believing, and thanks be to God, many of them are. We should praise God for the unity we share with other denominations that elevate the Word of God above tradition and the philosophies of this age.

Yet my concern in this article is to consider what it means to be biblically grounded when it’s easier to say it than to be it.

Churches are spiritually healthy when the Bible is shaping them in at least the following three ways: when the Word is prioritized, known, and shared.

When the Word Is Prioritized

This year we are celebrating the five hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses and the start of the Protestant Reformation. Among the most important reforms was a return to the Scriptures as the ultimate authority.

Next time we’ll consider the importance of our Reformed confessions in shaping our identity as churches, yet a warning must be issued. Our confessions are not inerrant, infallible, or inspired by the Holy Spirit.

And while we all know this, there is a practical danger. This came to my attention several years ago when I was teaching a new members class. One of the attendees was a man who grew up in a confessionally Reformed church. As I was teaching on the relationship between the Scriptures and the confessions, he admitted that as a kid he was quite confused. His church preached through the Bible one service, and through the catechism the other service, so he figured they were equal.

Now I have no doubt that this would horrify the church where he grew up. I’m certain they had no intention of communicating this. Yet, this was his perception. He grew up concluding that the confessions were just as important as the Bible. And that’s a problem.

How do we avoid this same trap in churches where we use the Reformed confessions in our services and in our preaching?

Pastors, teachers, and parents need to be clear and intentional. We need to communicate what the confessions aren’t, what the Scriptures are, and the difference between the two. I’m not suggesting that they are pitted against each other; this would be a false dichotomy. We’ve never said that the confessions are authoritative, nor do the confessions themselves claim to be. Yet we must bend over backwards to teach our people, our kids, and our visitors that we prioritize the Bible. That it, alone, is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.

When Paul addresses Timothy, he doesn’t say, “In season and out of season, preach the catechism!” He says, “Preach the Word.” So as we use the catechism as a scaffold, let us make sure that it serves the Word, not the other way around.

Another way we ought to be prioritizing the Word in our churches is in our worship and discipleship. Our services and studies should be robustly scriptural. We should be singing Scripture (see the Psalms), praying Scripture, preaching Scripture, and hearing Scripture. Our Bible studies, too. While it might be appropriate at times to cover topics, there is nothing quite like studying the Word together. The Bible transforms our minds!

When the Word Is Known

We are living in biblically illiterate days, and the church is a big part of the problem. Dr. Albert Mohler, in “The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem,” writes, “Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments.” He continues: “Secularized Americans should not be expected to be knowledgeable about the Bible. The larger scandal is biblical ignorance among Christians. Choose whichever statistic or survey you like, the general pattern is the same. America’s Christians know less and less about the Bible. It shows.” He concludes: “We will not believe more than we know, and we will not live higher than our beliefs. The many fronts of Christian compromise in this generation can be directly traced to biblical illiteracy in the pews and the absence of biblical preaching and teaching in our homes and churches.”

We can hold up sola Scriptura all we want, but the Bible was never meant to collect dust on our shelves or in our pews. Healthy churches are churches where the Bible is known, studied, examined, discussed, memorized, and taught.

To know the Word is to know God. If we don’t know the Word, we don’t know God. And if we don’t know God, we can’t be healthy.

Let me press this close to home. How well attended are our adult Sunday school classes? Our adult Bible studies? Our evening services? Have our adults graduated from needing to learn more about the Word? Or are we on cruise control now that we’ve made profession of faith? Satan’s trickery includes his ability to persuade lifelong church members that they already know enough about the Bible.

When the Word Is Shared with Others

The final indication that a church is truly biblically grounded is when the the Scriptures are faithfully and eagerly shared with others.

The Word has a way of multiplying. The more we study it, the more we want to share it. Like dining at a great restaurant or visiting the Grand Canyon, we want to share our experience with others.

If the Bible bores us, we’ll have no interest in telling others about it. But when it interests and captivates us, we can’t help but want others to bask in its glory.

Healthy churches have fathers sharing the Word at home in family worship. Healthy churches have women gathering around the study of the Bible. Healthy churches send missionaries who love reaching the lost with the gospel. Healthy churches have Sunday school teachers who are eager to pass on the faith to the next generation. Healthy churches know the Word, and the God of the Word, and want others to know God in his Word, too. And healthy churches treasure the opportunity to make the Word plain to visitors, to explain why we do what we do as churches, and to point them to the hero and center of Scripture, Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

We all want to be Bible-believing. But these can easily become empty words. In churches where Scripture grounds everything, the Word is prioritized, known, and shared. May this be our prayer: “Let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God” (Col. 3:16).

 

Rev. Michael J. Schout
is the pastor of Grace URC in Alto, MI.
He welcomes your feedback at mikeschout@gmail.com.

Remembering Rev. Arthur Besteman May 23, 1933 – October 1, 2017

 “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” 

–Philippians 4:19

I first heard of the Rev. Arthur Besteman when I was a seminary student more than thirty years ago. He had a call to First Christian Reformed Church in Rock Valley, Iowa, where my wife, Kathy, and I were on summer assignment back in 1985.

We showed Rev. and Mrs. Besteman the parsonage and talked about the wonderful people in that wonderful northwest Iowa town. Three weeks later, I read his letter of decline to the congregation. His name came up again in 1991. After serving a church in Ireton, Iowa, for five years, the Lord led me to accept a call to western Michigan. While still packing all our worldly goods in Ireton, the congregation extended a call to Rev. Art Besteman. Once again, Kathy and I showed Rev. and Mrs. Besteman the parsonage and talked about the wonderful people in that wonderful northwest Iowa town. Three weeks later, I read his letter of decline to the congregation.

I still have both of those letters—along with several others that I read in various other vacant churches that had called Rev. Besteman to be their minister. By the time I left northwest Iowa, I thought, “Who is this man who seems to be wallpapering his office with letters of call?”

And then we met.

It began simply enough. Road trips with Rev. Besteman and his good friend, Rev. Ed Knott, to Dyer, Indiana, where Rev. Besteman often served as president of the board of trustees for Mid-America Reformed Seminary. To listen to those two seasoned ministers talk was not only educational; it was absolutely amazing for a young man just five or six years in the ministry.

Then there were the Concerned Member meetings, Alliance meetings, Reformed Fellowship meetings, and more. The knowledge these men had of church history, their love for the church of Jesus Christ, and their love for the Lord was truly genuine and obvious.

Rev. Besteman frequently served on the board of Reformed Fellowship. He began to write in The Outlook already in the early 1960s lamenting the lack of gospel preaching in many Reformed pulpits. Rev. Besteman was instrumental in starting the federation of United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA). He was the first minister to be deposed for leaving the Christian Reformed Church. Years later, he would confide in me his fear that the URCNA was slowly becoming more and more legalistic and less and less focused upon preaching about God’s grace freely given through Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

When Rev. Besteman retired, he served as the interim pastor at the Covenant URC in Kalamazoo, Michigan, while they were vacant. I followed him to Kalamazoo after serving the Faith URC in Holland, Michigan. Rev. Besteman followed me to Faith URC as their interim pastor during their vacancy.

While we lived in Kalamazoo, Kathy and I would have lunch with Rev. and Mrs. Besteman on a regular basis. His boisterous laughter would fill the restaurant. He would comment on some current event in the local and universal church only to receive a mild rebuke from his wife, Audrey.

“Art!” she would say, but her shoulders would rise up and down as she tried to stifle a giggle.

It didn’t take very long for me to realize that the reason that Rev. Besteman had declined all those calls was because he, along with Audrey, had a dear, dear love not only for the Lord but also for the people that God had called them to undershepherd.

And then there was his preaching.

Readers of this article who heard him preach may recall the wonderful catchphrases he used. When he was about to make a dramatic point, he would say, “Hold on to your pews!” When he proclaimed the good news of the gospel—faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone—he would act startled and then add, “I’m not making this up! If I were to say this on my own you would accuse me of heresy, but it’s all right here! It’s right here in the Bible!”

What made Rev. Besteman an amazing preacher was not that he could explain the great doctrines of the faith in deep theological terms that no one understood. It was not because he was a man of great stature with a great imposing pulpit presence. No. It was because his preaching was simple. He preached to the seventy-two-year-old lady in the back pew and the seven-year-old child sitting with his parents. “Wyb,” he would tell me, “there’s a heartache in every pew.”

He met those heartaches head-on. He met their concerns, their griefs, and their worries and gave the perfect answer to them all. He gave them the gospel. Straight up, pure and simple, he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. He would bring people in need to the cross of Jesus Christ. That was always his bottom line.

Ordained in 1959, Rev. Besteman proclaimed the grace of God, shown to a sinful human race in the death of his Son on the cross, for more than fifty-five years. He was emphatic about that. Every sermon would reflect that.

His favorite verse was Philippians 4:19, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

It was an incredibly fitting verse for a young boy who lost his father when he was two years old. After her husband’s death, Rev. Besteman’s mother moved back to her parents’ home, and little Arthur grew up living with his grandfather and grandmother. As a young boy who grew up in severe poverty, he saw all his needs supplied by the Lord.

The Lord called him to the ministry. While serving in Leota, Minnesota, he was in correspondence with a minister’s daughter named Audrey Hondred. Soon they were married, and the Lord led them to serve several churches in western Michigan. They were encouraged to buy a condo while serving Beverly URC in Wyoming, Michigan. By the time Rev. Besteman retired it was pretty much paid for. He would frequently remind us that God had supplied his every need.

Social Security took care of most of his needs, but he would tell me that it was really the income he received as interim pastor in Kalamazoo, Holland, Walker, and Eastmanville that tided him over from month to month. He would add, with tears in his eyes that—YES—God had supplied his every need.

It wasn’t that he and his wife weren’t frugal. Shortly after their forty-fifth wedding anniversary my wife and I were visiting at their condo. Even though Rev. Besteman didn’t drink coffee, we would have the hottest coffee ever. It was made in a coffee percolator that he and Audrey had received as a wedding gift.

While we were visiting, the coffee percolator quit perking. It had perked its last cup of coffee. Mrs. Besteman said, “O dear.” She always said, “O dear.”

Rev. Besteman said “Wait a minute.” He ran downstairs and returned with a coffee percolator still in the box. “We got two of them as wedding gifts,” he said. We had coffee in a brand new forty-five-year-old coffee percolator. Rev. Besteman’s comment: “God is so good to us.”

Through his entire life, Rev. Besteman’s constant refrain was “God is so good to us.”

Rev. Besteman knew that it was not only our physical and material needs that God supplied; he faithfully proclaimed that our spiritual needs were met by God’s Son, as well. He preached it every week not just for the seventy-two-year-old lady in the back pew; not just for the seven-year-old sitting with his parents; he preached it because he knew it was for him, too. He needed to be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And God had supplied that need for him.

Rev. Besteman’s last pulpit appearance was on January 7, 2016, at the ordination service of Rev. James Oord at Community United Reformed Church in Schererville, Indiana. His charge to this young man entering the ministry was the same advice Rev. Besteman had given to ministers young and old for decades: “Jim, I’ve been a three-point man all my life. You know that I’m a three-point man, but I can only think of two points for you to remember: Preach the gospel and love God’s people.”

That little sentence—preach the gospel and love God’s people—exemplified the life and ministry of Rev. Art and Audrey Besteman.

This past May, Kathy and I had the joy of visiting with Rev. Besteman at the care facility where he was living. He knew this would be his last home and was selling his condo. I asked what he was going to do with all those wonderful sermons. He said he had told his daughters to shred them.

I don’t remember exactly what I said, but my wife tells me that the look of horror on my face startled Rev. Besteman, and he asked, “Why? Would you want them?”

Seriously?

Rev. Besteman was ordained in 1959. More than fifty-five years of ministry. Fifty-five years of sermons. Two boxes. All his sermons were in two boxes. Some of the early ones from his first charge in Leota, Minnesota, are typed out on paper older than many of our readers. Most of his sermons are little one-page or half-page outlines. All of them bring the reader to Jesus Christ.

And sometimes, out of these two boxes, when I pick up an old sermon or an old outline for my morning devotions, I can still hear him say, “Hold on to your pews! It’s all right here in the Bible!”

Well done, good and faithful servant.

 

Rev. Wybren Oord
is the former editor of The Outlook. He is the pastor of Grace Reformed Church in Lethbridge, AB.

 

 

Letters from Inmates Who Receive The Outlook and/or Books from Reformed Fellowship

 

An inmate who was transferred to another prison facility in the state wrote,

I am finally settled in and boy is it hot here. No climate control!! But God is going to use this too for his glory and my good! :) I wanted to let you also know that I just received a letter from a pastor down here in the OPC. He said that you sent him my way. Thanks!! I’ll be sure to let you know how things go.”

He added a PS: “Please keep me in prayer for the following:

1.That all of those whom I’ve hurt so badly over my life will forgive me and be reconciled to me.

2.That God helps and allows me to overcome all things that are standing in my way to being closer to him.

3.That God help me to be the man that he wants me to be and grant
me the wisdom that I need to help those that he has put in my path.
(So many hurting people.)”

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Another inmate, a woman, wrote to ask for books that would be of help to her. She wrote, 

Almost three years ago God saved me during a class I was taking on the doctrine of grace. In an instant I saw how big my sin is to our holy God and how much bigger his grace is. Since then God has given me a desire to know him and his Word more.”

A letter was sent to her informing her that books are being sent along with a subscription to The Outlook, thanks to contributors to a designated fund for that purpose. She replied,

“Thank you so very much for your letter. I am humbled and thankful for the forthcoming books. :).”

She added that the class on the doctrine of grace was taught by an inmate friend who has since been released. 

Some of my Christian sisters and myself have been able to continue to introduce and teach the basics to other offenders on a one-on-one basis. My desire is to one day help other broken women after my release by sharing the hope I have in me, God willing.

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Another inmate describes his sinful past which resulted in losing his family and being sentenced to prison for life. He wrote, 

“It so happens my first two Christian friends in that level 4 prison were of the Reformed faith and they helped me understand the gospel and discipled me. Once I was saved I began to read everything Reformed, especially regarding the atonement. I was introduced to the Westminster Confession of Faith in 2010, and the Three Forms of Unity in 2012, and I hold to these. In time I grew in Christ and by grace began teaching Reformed Bible study in 2013, and have a great love for teaching the truth for God’s people.”

He goes on to say that he met a Reformed Christian inmate and they have become good friends. There are 750 inmates in their yard with whom they share Reformed literature, including The Outlook. He says, 

“I am always trying to be a good steward of God’s blessings and hope to use The Outlook, not only for my personal edification but as an instrument to bring sound doctrine to many men here.”

Outreach Donor Investments Influence Many Lives

The picture above shows the pastors of the RPCCEE (Reformed Presbyterian Church of Central and Eastern Europe) assembled together for a week of prayer, teaching, and fellowship during which they received books donated by Reformed Fellowship, Inc. Pastor Peter Szabo (pictured second row, third from left) offers this introduction to the RPCCEE

The RPCCEE was founded in 1998 when sixteen young men started to plant faithful biblical Reformed congregations in fifteen places throughout Hungary, Romania, and Ukraine. During the 2000s the work progressed slowly in the midst of spiritual darkness and heavy disinterest of the people. By the grace of God, our men persevered and we rejoice that in recent years the work has started to speed up. Though half of our congregations have severe financial difficulties, beginning with 2013 we were able to start the first steps toward self-governance and self-support. Right now we are doing church planting work in more than 20 places and we have 16 men working full-time in this ministry.

Besides the church planting efforts, we continue to have our own theological training program at the KGITM for those who are called to ministry. We also have a small publishing house called “Presbiterianus Kiado,” where currently we are working on the translation of R. C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. (For the already published titles see www.reformatus. net/en/publications). Moreover, we organize church-wide conferences and great variety of summer camps (evangelistic, youth, family, English-teaching etc.) Over the years we have been blessed to host such speakers as Jay E. Adams, Dr. Jack Whytock, Maurice Roberts or Pastor William Boekestein.

You can find more information about this work on the Internet (www.reformatus.net/en) or through Peter Andras Szabo, Pastor of the RPCCEE Church in Budapest (peter.a.szabo@gmail.com).

Rev. William Boekestein
s the pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, MI.

Book Review: David Meengs Excelling in Relationships

Everyone is surrounded by relationships. First, and foremost with God, our Creator; then with others including family, friends, fellow workers, and casual acquaintances; and finally, ourselves.

David Meengs’s book, Excelling in Relationships, is a clear and simply written guide for daily Christian living and a biblical guide for solving and overcoming present and potential pitfalls that we all face at some time or another in our everyday interpersonal relationships.

Excelling in Relationships is suitable for both personal study and for group discussions. It is laid out in thirty-two short two-page lessons. Each lesson is backed by biblically related proof texts. A third page for each lesson is devoted to questions for further study and discussion, along with scriptural references that are relevant to the questions and lesson. Although the author does not state it, I’m sure he recognizes that there are times when a competent Christian counselor should be engaged for assistance in resolving deep-seated problems in relationships.

Throughout the lessons Meengs makes a strong argument for following Christ’s directions found in Matthew 25:35–40 for putting God first, others second, and then self. He also emphasizes the need to fix our own hearts through confession, forgiveness, and repentance before we can fix our own problems properly. The final lesson is devoted to a study of Psalm 23.

Some of the topics he covers include:

•Why and how you must forgive others

•Fear and worry stop relationships

•Addictions and idols

•Depression

•Tests, trials, and temptations

This book belongs on every Christian’s bookshelf. I heartily recommend it without reservation.

David Meengs, Excelling in Relationships.
Distributed by Reformed Fellowship, Inc.
104 pages, paperback, $6.99.

 

Mr. Gaylord J. Haan
is a retired Christian school teacher and guidance counselor.

 

Marks of a Healthy Church: Gospel-Shaped

Introduction

In the previous installment, I introduced a new series of articles on the marks of a healthy church. Notice healthy. The Belgic Confession already defines the marks of a true church as the following: the pure preaching of the gospel, the faithful administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline. Our churches can’t be healthy if they’re not true.

But my concern in these articles is not to distinguish the difference between true churches and false churches, or even true churches from less faithful churches. It is, particularly, to facilitate a conversation about what it looks like when our confessionally Reformed churches are healthy.

We all want to be healthy. The challenge is to define what healthy means. I think we can all agree that the Bible must be our measuring stick. But what does the Bible say? Does it speak about healthy churches, or are we left to navigate these waters ourselves? I believe it does tell us. We don’t have to draft a vision statement based on the latest Barna poll or the pragmatic pressures of the day. The Word sets our agenda, and anything less misses the mark.

Yet there is no verse in your concordance that reads, “The marks of a healthy church are as follows . . .” So, where do we start?

I believe we must start with the gospel.

The vision statement I suggested last time, the one our church leaders have adopted, reads as follows: “Grace URC seeks to be a gospel-shaped community of biblical grounded, confessionally Reformed worshippers, disciples, and witnesses of Jesus Christ.”

Notice that gospel-shaped comes first. This is intentional. In what follows, I want to explain why the gospel is the first and primary mark of any church that is truly healthy in the biblical sense.

Gospel-Shaped Defined

The gospel has seen a resurgence lately across evangelicalism, at least in terms of terminology. Just check your local Christian bookstore and you’ll see an entire category of books that have “gospel” in the title: gospel centered, gospel driven, gospel shaped, gospel everything. And in this we should rejoice! There seems to be a growing awareness of the dangers of legalism and moralism, together with an understanding that the gospel must take center stage in all that we do.

However, like anything, especially when something becomes popular, the word can easily lose its meaning. Just because our vision statement says gospel-shaped doesn’t guarantee our church is shaped by the gospel. Moreover, the term gospel means different things to different people. Before we go any further, we should define our terms.

When we speak of the Gospel, we mean, as the word itself means, “good news.” Properly speaking, the gospel is an announcement of an event which we did not do but was done for us. The gospel is not the call to obedience, nor is it, strictly speaking, even the Word of God. The good news is the proclamation of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Listen to how the apostle Paul defines it: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1–4, English Standard Version).

J. Gresham Machen, in “The Christian Faith in the Modern World,” wrote: “What I need first of all is not exhortation, but a gospel, not directions for saving myself but knowledge of how God has saved me. Have you any good news? That is the question that I ask of you. I know your exhortations will not help me. But if anything has been done to save me, will you not tell me the facts?”

The gospel is an announcement we receive, not an exhortation we do. That is what makes it such good news. We can’t save ourselves, but thanks be to God that we are saved by faith in Christ!

And here’s where a danger looms. Our tendency is to think we’ve graduated from the gospel. It’s what got us in, but it doesn’t really help us grow or show gratitude. That part is up to us.

Yet as soon as we think the gospel is only for outsiders is the moment our self-righteousness can take over. Our worship services become solely about what we give to God and nothing about what God continues to do for us in Word and sacrament. Where the gospel is assumed, absent, or misunderstood, our churches can quickly become insular, joyless, and legalistic. We become interested only in what we are to do instead of what Christ has already done, which often leads to frustration, pride, and confusion.

But when the gospel is of “first importance,” our churches become hospitals for sinners, places of refuge for the weary, and beacons of hope for those who thirst for God. When the gospel is central, our worship becomes saturated by humble dependence. Our fellowship really becomes focused on what unites us instead of what makes us different. Our discipleship is fueled by God’s acceptance of us in Christ, which makes us want to know him more and obey his commands. And outreach becomes the natural result: we’ll want to share this good news in a world where bad news dominates the headlines.

So to summarize: the gospel is not something we do. We can’t live the gospel any more than we can be incarnated. The gospel is the good news that Jesus, God incarnate, lived a perfect life and died an atoning death so that by faith in him we might be made right with God. We live in light of the gospel, because of the gospel, and are called to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. But the gospel is the announcement we preach and the news we receive.

Gospel-Shaped in Practice

As we all know, theory and practice are two different things. It’s one thing to say we’re gospel-shaped. It’s another thing to be gospel-shaped. So, what would it look like for our churches to be centered upon the gospel of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection?

While I want to explore this answer further in future articles by looking specifically at the four coordinates (worship, fellowship, discipleship, and outreach), here I want to suggest two areas where being gospel-shaped helps us become healthier.

Hospitality

The first is hospitality. As we’ve been welcomed, so we welcome. “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7).

If we are honest, sometimes, and perhaps much more than we like to admit, our conservative Reformed churches aren’t setting the standard for welcoming outsiders and visitors. We have our cliques, our comfort zones, and our cultural expectations. At times we act surprised and unprepared when strangers enter our doors, and often stand staring, hoping somebody who’s good with people will break the awkward silence.

But when the gospel takes center stage, our natural response is to welcome gladly the stranger and outsider. This becomes normal. We look for them because we were one.

If you’ve ever been an outsider to a church, you probably know the feeling of wondering if anyone will welcome you. Here’s the gospel: in Christ we have all been graciously and undeservedly welcomed by God! And not just put up with, but really welcomed. Invited. Treasured. God left heaven to pursue us, welcome us, save us, and protect us.

Where is that same gospel-shaped hospitality in our churches? What would the last month of visitors say about your church? Is it a place where the gospel shapes your welcoming practice, or just something we toss around in theory? What about people from different ethnic backgrounds? How about poor people? What about people with special needs? What about with different political views? What about people struggling with same-sex attraction? What about sinners?

Preaching

The second area where being gospel-shaped makes a difference is in the week-by-week event of preaching and in the overall tone it fosters.

Preaching that focuses its attention almost exclusively on the law and our response tends to create an atmosphere that is more critical, self-righteous, and fake. Preaching that majors on the good news tends to build a community of joy, humility, and genuineness.

Admittedly, I’m painting in broad strokes here. I’m speaking in generalities. But preaching that understands that what we need most is not another list of do’s and don’ts but the amazing news that Christ is all our righteousness will produce Spirit-filled Christians whose response to the gospel is wonder and awe and obedience.

This is not to suggest that we don’t preach the law. As free followers of Christ, the law becomes our delight as we walk on its path. Yet there is a difference from preaching that regularly centers upon our response and preaching that consistently centers upon Christ and his work for us and in us.

We need the gospel every Sunday in the preaching of God’s Word. The gospel is where the power is. May our preachers and our churches be committed to the weekly exposition of the Scriptures as they center upon Christ and him crucified. “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:28–29).

Conclusion

To be a healthy church, we must be regularly and intentionally shaped by the gospel that both saves and sanctifies. We could be booming with programs, bustling with numbers, and building new buildings; but churches without the gospel, even when it says Reformed on the sign, are unhealthy indeed.


Rev. Michael J. Schout
is the pastor of Grace URC in Alto, MI. He welcomes your feedback at mikeschout@gmail.com.

 

Archaeology: Friend or Foe of Biblical History? The Archaeology of David’s Kingdom

For many years, though critics questioned the historicity of the patriarchs, the exodus, and the biblical portrait of the settlement of the land of Canaan, the historicity of the monarchy in Israel was more or less assumed. But with the rise of postmodernity, many scholars began to cast doubt even on the period of David and Solomon. The 1990s proved to be a volatile time in biblical studies as the trajectories begun by postmodern literary criticism began to intersect with biblical studies. Hence any number of postmodern biblical criticisms began to emerge, including feminist criticism, womanist criticism, postcolonial criticism, LGBT criticism and queer theory, cultural criticism, trauma/victimization criticism, and the list goes on.1

On the one hand, some of these criticisms—as bizarre as they seem—can at times provide a service to interpreters by drawing attention to details in the text often overlooked by those of us who are focused on different sets of details and categories. And yet, on the other hand, nearly all of them more frequently fall prey to postmodern deconstructionism, an approach that believes that “texts have no intrinsic ‘meaning,’ at least none that is recoverable in the case of ancient texts; the modern interpreter gives to the text whatever ‘meaning’ seems appropriate in the social context of his or her own ‘realm of discourse,’ whatever the ‘realm’ of the original author may have been.”2

When postmodern deconstructionism came to roost in biblical studies, the historicity of the united monarchy, once accepted as factual by nearly everyone, was now called into question. Thus the modern-day postmodern critic will claim that even though the biblical authors spoke of a David who ruled from such places as Hebron and Jerusalem, these stories are insufficient to provide us with reliable historical information and thus cause us to doubt their reliability. These critics have been labeled as “minimalists” in that they believe the Bible provides us with minimal access to “what really happened” and contains a minimum of historical truth.

By contrast, maximalist scholars—those who believe the Bible provides us with large amounts of historical data—have responded to minimalism in two primary ways

First, they have pointed out that minimalist writers who disparage the Old Testament for its supposed ideological stance (e.g., monotheism, Jerusalem-centeredness, etc.) while at the same time praising ancient Near Eastern texts which themselves exhibit ideological stances are guilty of a glaring inconsistency. For example, the Merneptah Stele, which we considered in a previous article,3 is unashamedly propagandistic, yet minimalist scholars demand that the people and places in the Bible be verified by texts like this before accepting them as historical.4

Second, maximalist scholars have mustered data from the archaeological record that doesindeedcorroborate the biblical texts. Though we noted in our first article that the Bible does not require attestation from outside sources (it is, after all, the self-authenticating Word of God, above which nothing is able to stand in judgment), archaeology does at times help us “respond to challenges” and “confirm the text.”5 In the remainder of this article, we will consider some of this data and witness how they give insight into the nature of David’s kingdom and support the historicity of the united monarchy.

Ancient Extrabiblical Mention of King David

In the early 1990s, several scholars began to opine that King David was on par, historically speaking, to the legendary King Arthur. The Bible’s description of David’s reign was said to be a fiction invented by later kings to explain their own kingship as originating in a divine covenant granted to the eponymous ancestor of their dynastic line (so 2 Sam. 7). There are no ancient extrabiblical texts that mention the man David by name, and this is because there was no David about whom to write.

Now it is true that no ancient extrabiblical texts record anything like this: “And then I fought alongside the armies of David of Jerusalem whereupon he smote our enemies with a mighty smiting!” We dohave texts that refer to individual Israelite and Judean kings by name from a later period (as we will see in our next article), but we have no such texts for David. In the case of David, however, we do have texts that mention his dynasty and possibly even reference a region made famous by his military activity prior to the death of Saul. Let us look at these examples in turn.

The site of Tel Dan, 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, is known from the Bible as one of the sites of Jeroboam’s golden calves. Excavations began in earnest in 1966 and continued without interruption until 2000. In 1993, archaeologists found a fragment of a stele written in Aramaic that sent shock waves through the biblical studies guild. Its text—written in the late ninth century B.C.—made mention of the “House of David” (Hebrew byt dwd). The author of the text, who is not identified by name but is described as having been made king by the storm god Hadad, boasts of having defeated the king of the northern kingdom and overthrown the king of Judah. Though fairly fragmentary, the Tel Dan stele reads:

Hadad went before me [and] I went from [ . . . ] of my kings.

I killed kings who harnessed . . . chariots and thousands of horsemen,

[Jeho]ram son of [Ahab] king of Israel,

And [I] killed [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram king] of the house of David.

I imposed [tribute] . . . their land . . . 6

Though the names Jehoram, Ahab, Ahaziahu (= Ahaziah), and Jehoram are reconstructed, what is absolutely clear is the reference to a dynastic succession going by the name “House of David” less than 150 years after the death of David himself.

The importance of this text was immediately recognized. Many scholars saw that 150 years is too short of a time for a King-Arthur-like lore to develop about King David. And for the critics who tried to demote David (even if he did exist) to the status of a “petty chieftain of little significance,” the Tel Dan stele annulled such speculation by showing the inconceivability of promotingDavid in less than 150 years to the full-blown eponymous ancestor of a Judean dynasty. (We will say more about “David demotion” below.) David-deniers began floundering: some challenged the translation of byt dwd as “House of David” and proposed a hitherto unknown and unattested Semitic god (apparently named Dod, achieved by translating the w not as a consonant but as an o vowel) as the referent in the stele. Others claimed that the inscription itself was a forgery, likely manufactured by conservative Jews or Christians trying to invent evidence for David. In the end, critics were forced to admit that there was a man named David who reigned as some kind of a king and from whom were descended the Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem.

Shortly after this, scholars revisited the translation of a stele discovered in 1868 from Dhiban, the ancient capital of Moab. The “Mesha Inscription” or “Moabite Stone” (as it is commonly called) not only described the deliverance of Moab from the Omeride dynasty of Israel, it even mentioned the God of Israel, YHWH, by name. In addition, it contained a reference to the House of David (bt [d]wd), although this had originally been obscured by the fact that the word house was spelled in short form (bt—i.e., missing the letter y) and the letter d of David was obscured. But since the Tel Dan stele had placed the Davidic dynasty on the radars of epigraphers, this new reading of a well-known text became even more widely accepted. Again, an ancient, extrabiblical text now provided witness to the historicity of a Davidic dynasty, and indirectly to its eponymous founder, King David.

Though the Tel Dan inscription and the Mesha Inscription are the best exemplars of extrabiblical references to the dynasty of David, the respected University of Liverpool Egyptologist Kenneth A. Kitchen has also revisited a possible reading from the famous Karnak Reliefs in Thebes.7 After raiding Palestine in 925 B.C., Pharaoh Shoshenq I of Egypt commissioned this victory scene which covered various place names from regions in both Israel and Judah, including a southern Judean location called “the highlands of d-w-t.’” Since in Egyptian the letter t can be used to render the Semitic letter d, and since an Old South Arabian inscription spells the name of King David as d-w-t, Kitchen has suggested a very high probability that less than fifty years after David’s death, the Karnak Reliefs of Shoshenq I speak of the area of David’s military exploits in the final years of Saul’s reign as “the highlands of David.”

So in summary, archaeology has unearthed several inscriptions that make mention of David. Since these inscriptions cannot be dismissed as forgeries or misreadings, the burden of proof is upon the skeptic to show why one should not see these texts as attesting to the historicity of David. Is there anything else from archaeology, however, which sheds light on David’s reign?

Davidic Archaeology in Jerusalem

As noted above, some scholars have reluctantly admitted the existence of a man named David but have gone on to suggest that archaeology contradicts the portrait of David found in the books of Samuel. He was, in their reconstruction, not so much a king as a tribal warlord. The title “king” suggests a degree of societal organization and urbanization that is unattested, so it is claimed, in the late eleventh to early tenth centuries B.C. when the Old Testament says David existed. But is this really the case?

It should be noted that though Jerusalem is one of the most excavated cities in the Levant, few unequivocal tenth-century B.C. remains have been uncovered. One key reason for this is that pinpointing the tenth century (let alone the early tenth century when David reigned) is notoriously difficult. Traditionally, a pottery type called “red slipped/hand burnished ware” was attributed exclusively to the tenth century B.C., such that where one found this pottery type, one knew he was studying a tenth-century B.C. ruin. Minimalist archaeologists, however, began to down-date these assemblages by seventy-five to one hundred years, effectively removing sites traditionally attributed to David and Solomon from the tenth century and placing them in the ninth century B.C.8 Pottery found at Jezreel, however, demonstrated that red slipped/hand burnished ware had a longer lifespan than the minimalists allowed: it spanned both the tenth and ninth centuries B.C. Thus while finds containing this pottery type cannot be limited to the tenth century, they also cannot be denied a tenth-century date unless other factors point that direction.

Having said that few unequivocal tenth-century B.C. remains have been uncovered, there is one significant find that has been attributed to the tenth century, though whether it was constructed duringthe that century or constructed just prior is open to debate. In the mid-2000s, Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar announced that she had discovered remains from the tenth century B.C. in Jerusalem, an edifice she named the “Large-Stone Structure.” In a 2006 article, she asked the question: Did I find King David’s palace? She has been given several different answers. Some suggest that the Large-Stone Structure is a Jebusite fortress (with some conservative scholars identifying it with the “Stronghold of Zion” that David conquered [2 Sam. 5:7]), but Mazar has her doubts. She suggests that it was built too late in the history of Jebusite occupation of Jerusalem (right about 1000 B.C.) and along vastly different architectural lines from what one would expect of a Jebusite construction. What is more, the Large-Stone Structure was built on bedrock, just outside the boundary of the earlier Jebusite city, and is thus clearly a late addition to a previously existing city plan. Instead, Mazar believes the Large-Stone Structure is best explained as the palace David built for himself (2 Sam. 5:11).9

If she is right, we have corroborating evidence that David is rightly termed a king since the label “tribal warlord” would not seem to reflect adequately the centralization necessary for the building of a project like the Large-Stone Structure. And while not all scholars agree with this conclusion, it is important to note that even a Jebusite construction of the Large-Stone structure does not conflict with the biblical portrait of David reigning as a king from a centralized Jerusalem. After all, at minimum this illustrates that Jerusalem was and remained a city of prominent size and stature during the periods before and after 1000 B.C., one perfectly suited to serve as the capital of the emerging Israelite kingdom.

Khirbet Qeiyafa: A Davidic Administrative Center

In addition to Jerusalem’s Large-Stone Structure, a site ca. 16 miles west of Jerusalem, Khirbet Qeiyafa, has yielded important finds from the time of David. Radiocarbon dating of olive pits from the site has shown that the site was built ca. 1020–980 b.c. Some have suggested that Qeiyafa is the location of biblical Shaaraim (Josh. 15:36; 1 Sam. 17:52; 1 Chron. 4:31) due to the two, multichambered gates found at the site. (Note that the Hebrew word sha’araim  literally means “two gates.”) But what is most significant is that Qeiyafa has characteristics best explained by viewing it as a royal administrative center on the outskirts of a larger kingdom. And who is the most likely candidate for such a kingdom?

Some scholars, unwilling to accept that a real King David began to rule a real kingdom from Jerusalem around 1010 B.C., have suggested that Qeiyafa was a Philistine administrative center, perhaps a satellite of nearby Gath ca. 12 miles to the southwest. The absence of pig bones at the site (usually found in abundance at Philistine sites) and the site’s extant pottery repertoire, however, point toward the Judean hill country as the center of this kingdom. Other scholars, recognizing the unlikelihood of Qeiyafa as being Philistine, have invented a hitherto unknown and unattested group of “Saulides” who built the site as a base for their opposition of the “war lord” David in Jerusalem. But since these Saulides are exactly like Israelites, and since the only way to posit their existence is to deny the only textual evidence we have (i.e., the Bible), it is hard to take seriously such a suggestion as anything but special pleading.10

No, Khirbet Qeiyafa is an Israelite site and provides a glimpse into the early days of David’s kingdom. The multistoried administrative structure in the middle of the site could only be built in the context of an urbanized, centralized state. Qeiyafa has also yielded one of the few examples of alphabetic writing from Judah, a sherd of pottery found in 2008 inscribed with Canaanite/pre-Hebrew letters, indicating the presence of a scribal bureaucracy at the site. The massive fortifications of the site (estimated to have used some 200,000 tons of stone), make the site a perfect outpost and military staging area for David’s kingdom near the boundaries of Philistine territory.

Conclusion

In conclusion, though we do not have extrabiblical writings attesting to the man King David by name, we do have extrabiblical texts describing a dynasty that descends from David. And while we do not have archaeological ruins with signs saying “David’s Palace” or “David’s Administrative Center Near Philistia,” we do have structures and sites from the period of history when the Bible says David reigned in Jerusalem. What is more, these structures and sites make little sense apart from positing the existence of an urbanized kingdom in Jerusalem around 1000 B.C. And so, as we have seen from other periods of Old Testament history, archaeology contextualizes, complements, responds to challenges, and even confirms the beginning of the united monarchy as it is described in the books of Samuel.

---------------- 

1. A. K. M. Adam, ed., Handbook of Postmodern Biblical Interpretation (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2000).

2. William G. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? What Archaeology Can Tell Us About the Reality of Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 25–26.

3. The Outlook 67, no. 2 (March-April 2017): 28–29.

4. Iain Provan’s critique of minimalism is a must-read for any interested in countering the philosophical underpinnings of this movement. See Iain Provan, V. Philips Long, and Tremper Longman III, A Biblical History of Israel, 2nd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2015). See chapters 1, 2, 3, and 5.

5. See The Outlook 66, no. 3 (May-June 2016): 8–9.

6. This translation is a modification of that found in William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, The Context of Scripture, vol. 2: Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2000), 161–62.

7. See Kenneth A. Kitchen, “A Possible Mention of David in the Late Tenth Century BCE, and Diety *Dod as Dead as the Dodo?,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 76 (1997): 29–44.

8. For an able critique of the so-called low chronology, see Steven M. Oritz, “The Archaeology of David and Solomon: Method or Madness?,” in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture, ed. James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 497–516.

9. Eilat Mazar, “Did I Find King David’s Palace?,” Biblical Archaeology Review 32 (January-February 2006): 16–27, 70.

10. For the implications of Qeiyafa for David’s kingdom, see Michael G. Hasel, “New Excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa and the Early History of Judah,” in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture, ed. James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 477–96. See too Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel, and Martin Klingbeil, “An Ending and a Beginning: Why We’re Leaving Qeiyafa and Going to Lachish,” Biblical Archaeology Review 39 (November-December 2013): 44–51.

 

Rev. R. Andrew Compton
is assistant professor of Old Testament at Mid-America Reformed Seminary.

The Submergent Church

Several years ago, when I pastored a church in Michigan, another nearby minister rose to international popularity as an “emergent” poster boy. His name is Rob Bell, his large mega-church was Mars Hill in Grandville, MI, and he had authored the books Velvet Elvis, Sex God, and Jesus Wants to Save Christians. The purpose of this article is not to discuss or critique the “emergent” movement but to ask some hard questions about our own non-emergent, confessionally-reformed churches.

With church buildings on nearly every corner, the Grand Rapids area can hardly be described as “un-churched.” Several NAPARC churches exist in the area, including many URCNA churches. So I asked myself why Mars Hill was attracting so many while many of our churches were struggling? There were, and still are, many ways one could answer that quesion: Rob Bell was a gifted speaker with a certain charm and charisma. Our entertainment-saturated culture made their worship style more attractive to many. People increasingly lack spiritual discernment. People could worship there without feeling as though they were being judged. People could worship there “anonymously” without any meaningful oversight. All of these are true and I’m sure there are any number of other factors that might explain such a phenomenon.

But here’s one other possibility that I considered for why such a church attracted so many: might it be that many join emergent churches because our churches are submergent?

A submerged church is a church that exists under the radar. For all its internal activity, it is virtually invisible to the community. Outreach, evangelism and missions are budget items, but nothing more. A submerged church is lethargic, apathetic, self-focused with a “we’ve arrived” attitude that refuses to evaluate itself or its ministry. It’s a church satisfied with the answer, “that’s the way we’ve always done it before.” It’s a church that takes “negotiable” things (adiaphora) and makes them non-negotiable, or refuses to deal with deficiencies in those things that actually are non-negotiable. It’s a church that wears the cloak of “conservatism” but underneath is the corpse of traditionalism.

I came to realize that the real threat to non-emergent, conservative Reformed churches is not the “emergent-church-movement” but the “submergent-church’s-lack-of-movement.”

Is your church a submergent church? I encourage you to think about and evaluate your own church in these following areas: the church and worship, the church and one another, and the church and the world.

The Church and Worship

To state it positively, our worship must be passionately God-honoring and Christ-centered in which we meet in covenantal dialogue with our Creator and Redeemer. We, God’s people, gather corporately before him to offer praise, petitions, confession, and offerings while God speaks words of forgiveness and salvation, calling us to a life of faith and obedience.

Negatively, our worship must avoid what God described in Isaiah 29:13 and repeated by Jesus in Matthew 15:8,9: “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

These things—what our worship ought to be and what it ought not to be—are non-negotiable.

Jesus responded to the Samaritan woman’s question about worship with these words: “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24).

To worship “in spirit and truth” is, for Jesus, non-negotiable. What does this mean? Hendriksen rightly explains it this way:

“In such a setting, it would seem to us, worshiping in spirit and truth can only mean a) rendering such homage to God that the entire heart enters into the act, and b) doing this in full harmony with the truth of God as revealed in His Word. Such worship, therefore, will not only be spiritual instead of physical, inward instead of outward, but it will also be directed to the true God as set forth in Scripture and as displayed in the work of redemption.”1

This means worship is not entertainment. It is not tailored to draw a crowd. Nor is worship primarily evangelism. The purpose of worship is not to recruit unbelievers but for believers to sincerely offer God what is due him, and be instructed and fed by him through word and sacrament. This was the practice of the New Testament church. They came together for worship and edification (Acts 2:42; Hebrews 10:24–25), then, in obedience to Jesus’ great commission, went to evangelize the world. Worship was the “fuel” for evangelism.

If these things describe a vibrant, healthy worshiping church, then how is your church doing? To worship with sincerity is admittedly a difficult thing to evaluate. Still, I do wonder what is happening in a person’s heart when we begin worship with singing that great hymn “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” and it looks as though he or she is singing about their next dentist appointment. I cannot judge such a thing, but it appearsas though there’s little praise going on. And, of course, with others the opposite might be the case. A person may appear to be very engaged when inside he or she is not. The elders can regulate worship so that the essential elements are done in truth, but they cannot make a hypocrite sincere.

Though only God can change hearts, the elders are responsible to ensure that our worship is done in truth. “Our preachers are faithfully preaching the whole counsel of God!” we say. “We have catechism sermons.” “The law is read each Lord’s Day.” As important as these things are in worship, there is more. In particular, I’m thinking about music. This ought to be a matter of real concern. The URC Church Order states in Article 39: “The 150 Psalms shall have the principal place in the singing of the churches. Hymns which faithfully and fully reflect the teaching of the Scripture as expressed in the Three Forms of Unity may be sung, provided they are approved by the Consistory.” What songs are being sung from your second hymnal, or “floppy” book? Do they meet this criterion?

In a submerged church the elders are unwilling to biblically and confessionally evaluate the songs being sung, while being equally unwilling to biblically and confessionally evaluate new songs being written. The conviction seems to be: old hymns must be good (some aren’t), and anything contemporary must be bad (some aren’t). If, in your church, C. Autin Miles’ In the Gardenhas greater appeal than Stuart Townend’s In Christ Alone, pardon my bluntness but you’ve got problems. The former, written in 1912, makes allusions to the scene of Mary meeting the resurrected Jesus at the empty tomb, though this can be easily missed by the singer.2 Beyond that illusive imagery, the song can hardly be said to “faithfully and fully reflect the teaching of the Scripture as expressed in the Three Forms of Unity.” In comparison, the latter, written in 2001, does a much better job reflecting biblical and confessional truth.

This refusal to do the hard work of evaluation is either due to laziness, stubbornly clinging to personal taste, or a fear of man that is greater than a fear of God. Whatever the case, it is a mark of a submergent church.

A further consideration of music concerns accompaniment. In some circles one gets the impression that the only God-sanctioned instrument for worship is the organ. Any effort to integrate other instruments to accompany the singing of God’s people is, at best, met with suspicion; at worst, fiercely opposed. By demanding organ only, taste and tradition is raised to the level of commandment, making what is negotiable non-negotiable.

When these and other matters are not able to be discussed and evaluated by the leadership, when there is an unwillingness to biblically and confessionally consider the various aspects of worship, the church has submerged into tired, worn-out traditionalism.

The Church and One Another

Another area for evaluation is how we relate to one another as fellow church members. Scripture speaks clearly—and so God takes seriously—our mutual fellowship in the body of Christ. Notice the following passages:

Hebrews 10:24–25: “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together.”

Romans 12:9–10: “Let love bewithout hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.”

Galations 6:1–2: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

Galations 6:10: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

In Matthew 18:15–17, Jesus instructs us on how to deal in a godly way with someone who sins against you. Added to this, Peter says, “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet 4:8)

What is biblically non-negotiable is that our relationships with one another be characterized with love, encouragement, building up, restoring, forgiving, warning, and admonishing. Does this describe you and your church? Sadly, some churches have an undercurrent of anger, bitterness, and possibly even hatred—a condition that will negatively affect your fellowship, your worship, and your witness.

This is contrary to the will of God for His church:

Ephesians 4:31: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you.”

Hebrews 12:15: “ . . . looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;”

Galations 5:15: “But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!”

Where these things exist in the body of Christ, they must be dealt with. Believers need to love one another enough to humbly admonish one another or, if unable to admonish, to forgive! Elders need to love Christ enough to firmly deal with those who would ravage his bride. Where such ungodliness remains unchecked, members and visitors will take notice and eventually search for a more loving fellowship while that church submerges into irrelevance.

Another aspect of this is the congregation’s attitude toward the leadership of the church, toward its pastors and elders. Christ gave the church pastors and elders “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:12) And Paul instructs elders to “take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

These verses, and many others, are indictments against the all-too-pervasive distrust of leadership today. The individualistic, anti-authority mindset of the world is alive and well in the church. “Who are theyto equip me? I don’t need shepherding.”

These attitudes are often focused on the minister who becomes the target. “Pastors come and go, but the congregation remains.” With that attitude, one has no reason to listen to the pastor. He’s seen as the hired hand rather than Christ’s ambassador to the flock (2 Cor. 5:20). Having that sinful attitude toward a minister of the Word allows one to ignore Paul’s instruction: “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.” (1 Tim. 5:17)

Where these unbiblical attitudes toward office-bearers exist in Christ’s church, the leaders will not be able to lead with any effectiveness, and the church will submerge into irrelevance.

The Church and the World

Another important matter for evaluation is the way in which your church interacts in and with the world. When Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, he began by commending them for their witness: “And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything (I Thess.1:6–8).

As the church of Jesus Christ, we are called to worship and make disciples. We make disciples within our church body through education and instruction (Bible Studies, catechism, Sunday school, etc.). But, sadly, this seems to be where the vision of some churches end. While we certainly should be training our children, studying God’s Word, and growing in our knowledge and understanding, we need to see that there is more. Our vision must be greater. We are to go to the nations and make disciples: “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).

A submerged church lacks such a vision. Its vision is one of simple maintenance. “As long as we have regular worship services and good preaching; as long as Bible studies are offered (whether or not I attend is beside the point); as long as I’m visited when I’m sick—then the church is healthy.” Such a church is completely focused on itself. It views ministry as nothing more than a “religious cushion.” As C. John Miller writes:

“The local church was intended by Jesus to be a gathering of people full of faith—strong in their confidence in Him—not a gathering of religious folk who desperately need reassurance. Perhaps seeking personal comfort is not wrong in itself. But it is desperately wrong when it becomes the primary reason for the existence of the local church. When that happens, the local church is no living fellowship at all, but a retreat center where anxious people draw resources that enable them merely to cope with the pains of life. The church then becomes a religious cushion.”3

For the maintenance church, right doctrine is something to be taught, but not lived. It views our Reformed doctrine defensively, as something simply to preserve and defend rather than to proclaim and promote. The vision for missions and evangelism goes no further than contributing money to the offering plate (and often without thought or prayer as to its destination).

But Jesus said we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13–16). If that is who we are, then let us be that. Our vision should be offensive, not only defensive. We have the truth of the Almighty Creator God. We have the good news of his free sovereign grace—a message this world needs so desperately to hear. Our vision must be to advance that truth in order to change lives and win sinners for Christ. Our churches need to take responsibility for reaching the unreached rather than assuming this responsibility belongs to others.

One way to start changing that vision is to raise children to have hearts for missions and the lost. Years ago, when my children were still young, a couple from our church had volunteered several weeks to help an orphanage in Kenya. When they returned they gave a presentation to our church on a Wednesday evening. I made sure my children were present because hearing about the needs of children in Kenya was more important than getting to bed on time. Afterward, we picked up a photo and information about one of the boys in the orphanage whose name was Moses. For years afterward, at our devotion time and at the dinner table, my children would pray for Moses. In that small way they were acquiring a global vision for the spread of God’s kingdom.

Such an outward vision should also shape our youth programs. What a wonderful opportunity to train our young people to be servants instead of consumers. Rather than only providing activities and pizza, let’s search and find projects for them to help others and serve. There might be an older couple in your neighborhood whose yard is covered with leaves and need them raked and bagged. There may be an inner-city organization that needs volunteers. Our churches should be training our children to think about and care about things beyond themselves, to love their neighbors, and gain a global vision.

A submerged church doesn’t even consider sending out missionaries. Jesus said the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few (Matt. 9:37), yet he has supplied our small federation with an abundance of laborers. Our church polity recognizes that for them to labor in foreign missions, they must be called and sent by the churches. But there are very few who have actually done it.Churches need to stop their navel-gazing, acquire a global vision and send missionaries.

Neither does a submerged church think about church planting. Some confessional Reformed churches are actually growing numerically. Praise the Lord. Now what? The tendency is to build a bigger building, increase the annual budget, and try to maintain. The result is that the pastor and elders become burdened—too often over-burdened—with the inevitable increased needs that arise within the body so that there is no time or energy to engage the community. Such a church, with all its frenetic activity within the “church walls” is virtually invisible to the world. Our churches need to recognize when this is happening and look for biblical ways to remedy this. One such way is church planting.

When our worship is truly in spirit and in truth, when members truly love one another, when our vision sees our community and the world as our mission field, then the inevitable human weaknesses within the church body will be more easily overlooked. Instead of fights, anger and bitterness, our focus will be on much greater things. Our vision will be refocused on the reputation of Christ and the advancement of His kingdom.

I suspect that like so many other “movements” in church history, the emergent church movement will eventually submerge into nothing more than an interesting footnote. My fervent prayer is that our confessionally Reformed churches that have received such a blessed inheritance will not only be “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15), but also “a city that is set on a hill that cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:14).

Now that would be truly emergent!

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1. William Hendriksen. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to John, Vol 1. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953), 167.

2. Miles’s account of the writing of this hymn can be found in 101 Hymn Stories by Kenneth W. Osbeck (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1982), 124.

3. John C. Miller. Outgrowing the Ingrown Church. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 20.

(The author recently edited the above article that was originally printed in the February 2009 issue ofThe Outlook.)

 

Rev. Derrick J. Vander Meulen
is the pastor of Coram Deo Reformation Church in Littleton, CO


Current Issue: November/December 2017
Volume 67 Issue 6

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