Friday, March 27, 2020

The Vision (3.27.20): And the LORD gave Israel a Saviour



Image: Forsythia, North Garden, Virginia, March 2020

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on 2 Kings 13.

“And Jehoahaz besought the LORD, and the LORD hearkened unto him: for the saw the oppression of Israel, because the king of Israel oppressed them. (And the LORD gave Israel a saviour….) (2 Kings 13:4-5a).

2 Kings 13 describes, in part the reign of King Jehoahaz over Israel. Spiritually speaking Jehoahaz was a disaster: “And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD…” (v. 2). Furthermore, “The anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel” and delivered them into the hands of the Syrians” (v. 3).

Then we read something amazing. The historian records that the ungodly Jehoahaz “besought the LORD, and the LORD hearkened unto him” (v. 4a). That is an astounding verse as related to the theology of prayer. We know from Scripture that God hears the prayers of the godly: “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16a). But this verse teaches us that he even hears the prayers of sinful and ungodly men! That ought to give all of us hope. It gives me hope in prayer.

Notice in v.4b the reason given as to why the LORD was pleased to open his ear to the prayer of wicked Jehoahaz: “for he saw the oppression of Israel…”

This is a picture of the compassion of the LORD toward his people. Just as a parent cannot bear to see his child suffering, so the LORD cannot bear to see his people suffering. He is moved with compassion on them.

This strikes a Biblical chord. When the Israelites were in bondage in Israel, the LORD spoke to Moses in the burning bush, saying, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows” (Exod 3:7).

Consider also the book of Judges where time and again the Israelites fell into their hands of their enemies, they cried out, and the LORD heard and raised up a Judge to deliver them.

I am reminded of the description of Christ himself when the saw the multitudes who came out to him: “he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd” (Matt 9:36).

Friends, this is good news. The Lord is not indifferent to the cries of his people!

What comes next is mysterious and told with precious little detail. It begins, “And the LORD gave Israel a saviour… (v. 5).” It sounds like Judges. We are not told the name or the details of this savior at this particular point in Israel’s history, but it points us forward to the ultimate Savior who was sent to deliver his people from oppression: the LORD Jesus Christ.

The sum: The Lord hears the prayers of sinners; the Lord sees their oppression; the Lord sends a Savior.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

CRBC Pastoral Letter (3.27.20)


Image: Screen shot of a CRBC Bible Study of Ephesians via Zoom this week. Serious faces during sharing prayer concerns, but many smiles and laughter were shared too.

Dear CRBC members and friends,

When I served as a missionary in Hungary one of my supervisors suggested that we had to be “flexible” to the point of liquidity. In these circumstances we are learning again about flexibility.

As you know, over the last two Lord’s Days our church been able to maintain, at the least, our 10:30 am morning worship service, for those who were able to attend.

On Tuesday of this week (3.24.20), however, the governor of Virginia issued Executive Order Number 53 stating, “all public and private in person gatherings of 10 or more individuals are prohibited.” This is a temporary order extending to Thursday, April 23, 2020 due to the current virus outbreak. An FAQ document related to this order, anticipates the question, “What about religious services?” and offers the following response:

Virginians are strongly encouraged to seek alternative means of attending religious services, such as virtually or via “drive-through” worship. Places of worship that do conduct in person services must limit gatherings to 10 people, to comply with the statewide 10-person ban.

This week we have been a bit torn over what to do. On one hand, we want to obey those in civil authority. It is our duty as believers to be “subject unto the higher powers” (Rom 13:1-7) and to submit ourselves “to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well” (1 Peter 2:13-14). On the other hand, as Peter put it, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). God’s word says that we are to remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy (Exod 20:8), to proclaim “hold convocations” (Lev 23:2) and not to forsake “the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb 10:25). What is more, Scripture teaches that God is often pleased to bless corporate prayer even above private prayer (cf. Matt 18:19-20; Acts 4:31).

Aside from these matters of scriptural obedience, there are other facets of this that bring one pause.

First, by allowing the state to dictate the manner of our meetings do we open the door for other types of restrictions in the future? Can we not use our own best judgment and discretion (as we have been doing) in deciding how to meet and who should attend, rather than relying on the state to dictate this to us?

Second, does this send the message that public worship is a “non-essential” aspect of life? Can we keep the grocery stores and hospitals open but close down the churches? Didn’t Jesus say that man shall not live by bread alone (Matt 4:4)? And, what will it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul (Mark 8:36)?

I was also helped this week by reading Dr. Joseph Pipa of Greenville Presbyterian Seminary’s reflection on the spiritual meaning of this virus (read the full article here). One of the things he suggested is that this virus might just be a chastening of the church:

Corporately, God is refining His church. As Christians, we have repeatedly and rebelliously profaned God’s Holy Day with work and recreation (which God connects with idolatry, Ezek. 20:13-16); because of the virus, many are prohibited from working or playing every day of the week.

Increasingly, the church has substituted entertainment for holy Worship. God has closed the doors of our churches. God’s people have grown satisfied with having one service on His day; God has removed all services. We have taken lightly the privileges of corporate worship; we are unable to worship corporately.

This is an angle not being suggested on the nightly news. Has God taken away all ordinary patterns of our week and closed the doors of our churches to chasten us? Have we made excuse after excuse as to why we could not come to God’s house? Have two services on Sunday seemed like a burden? We are traveling, we have family needs, we have the sniffles, we have tasks to do about the house, we have school-work to complete, we are tired, etc. Well, it seems God has taken all, in the way we ordinarily experience it, away from us for at least a season. I’d encourage us all to ponder these questions, as well as others rightly raised by Dr. Pipa.

In the end, Elder Clark and I consulted and decided that we should both be submitted to the governor’s order and conduct our 10:30 am Sunday morning worship service, with at most ten persons present (including the pastor, deacon, instrumentalist, and media recorder). Sadly, this means we cannot invite everyone to be present. We plan to livestream the service again this Sunday, as we did last Sunday. Last Sunday's service was on Facebook and this Sunday (3.29.20) will also be on our church's Facebook page. We hope to switch over to youtube.com by the first Sunday of April for greater ease of accessibility to viewers. Ethan McGonigal is working on this for us. We will send out a link by email to our members and friends and also post the link to our church website before Sunday.
Given these new circumstances, let me share a couple of exhortations:
First, I’d encourage everyone who is a member of CRBC to participate in our services. Yes, there are lots of resources on the web and lots of churches and ministries doing livestreams these days. There are lots of ways to be “fed.” We have made a covenant commitment, however, to support and sustain the Lord’s Day worship of our church. This should be our first priority.
Second, I’d encourage the following while we are doing the livestream:

Watch the service as it is done live (rather than watching the recording later).

For families and couples, watch on the same screen, rather than separately (parents will need to take the leadership on this).

Participate in the service, as you are able: sing psalms and hymns (they are listed in the Vision); join in silent prayer during prayer times; follow along Scripture readings and the sermon with an open Bible.

Furthermore, make the Lord’s Day special. Give the day to the public and private exercises of the worship of God. Outside of service times, use the day for good spiritual ends. Take a walk and admire creation. Spend time in prayer, reflection, or spiritual writing. Take time to read and meditate on the Bible. Read a good Christian book. Engage in spiritual conversations.

Let me add one more possibility we are considering. Elder Clark has an FM radio transmitter and it is possible, if this meeting prohibition continues, that we might on some future Sundays offer the option of a “drive in” service where you can park at the church while we conduct the service out of doors and you can listen while remaining in your car. We’ll let you know if we decide to try this.

Finally, last week we offered our first “virtual” midweek Bible Study on Zoom. We plan to continue to offer this each Wednesday from 6:30-7:30 pm going forward. We are going through the book of Ephesians, looking at one chapter each week. If you have a computer and internet service, this is great opportunity for learning and fellowship during this time when the church has to be physically apart. We will send out another meeting invitation to members and friends on Tuesday. Just click the link and you will be instructed how to download Zoom for free and join the meeting. If you have technical problems, let us know and we will try to help.

These are unusual times and, again, we are being asked to be flexible. Still, we can say with David that “the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places” (Psalm 16:6).

May the Lord continue to bless and keep us all by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Cyprian on How Christians Deal with Adversity



Here’s another gem from Cyprian of Carthage (c. 200-258) in “To Demetrian.” The pagans were blaming Christians for a run of plague, drought, and pestilence that had stricken the land. According to the pagans, since Christians had abandoned the old religion, the gods were exacting vengeance. Cyprian, however, seizes on the circumstances to explain how Christians respond differently than pagans to adverse circumstances:

On the other hand, there is no pain from the outbreak of present evils for those who have confidence in future good things. In sum, we are not terrified by adverse events, nor are we crushed by them, nor do we grieve about them, nor do we complain in any natural disaster or physical sickness. Living by the Spirit rather than the flesh, we overcome weaknesses of the body with the strength of the soul. We know and are confident we are being tested and strengthened by means of those very disasters that place you on the rack and harass you (p. 87).

JTR

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Pastor Poh Boon Sing on Redeeming the Time



Pastor Poh Boon Sing of the Damansara RBC in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia has shared some thoughts in the most recent online edition of Gospel Highway magazine for Christians and churches on the redeeming the time during this virus outbreak. Read the whole post here. Here is an excerpt with suggestions on how to spend your days if home bound:

While obeying the MCO (Movement Control Order) and engaging in self-quarantine, we must be usefully occupied. Self-quarantine cannot be more difficult than Noah and his family being confined to the ark for 378 days (Gen. 8:14-16 cf. 7:4, 10-11). It cannot be more difficult than those imprisoned, and placed under solitary confinement, for their faith (Heb. 13:3). Watching shows on the television and computer, reading books, playing board-games (and mahjong?) with the family may have their place, but some sort of order might be more helpful. Those studying and working online would have less difficulty using time well. Others might want to use the morning in study, learning a new language, practicing on a musical instrument, and the like. The afternoon can be spent on the less mentally-demanding activities such as reading, listening to music, watching shows, etc. Some time in the evening may be spent in physical workouts — on the exercise-mat, exercise-ball, workout bicycle, the punch-bag, the martial arts wooden dummy, etc. The internet offers many packaged lessons and workouts. Pastors must keep themselves busy, preparing messages to deliver by live-streaming. The weekly meetings of the church should be kept going, even though virtually, i.e. through the internet.

JTR

Cyprian of Carthage on Pointless Apologetic Exchanges



I’ve recently been reading through Cyprian of Carthage’s On the Church: Select Treatises in the Popular Patristics series from SVSP and was struck by Cyprian’s exasperation in the treatise “To Demetrian” in dealing with the pagan apologist:

You often come to me with an eagerness for making a case against me rather than with intentions to learn anything. On such occasions you prefer, sounding off shouted insults, to press your own case more repeatedly and indecently rather than to listen to ours tolerantly.

It seems silly to engage with you when it would be easier and less effort to quell the billowing waves of a stormy sea with cries of protest than to restrain your rage by means of arguments. It is definitely a pointless task, and not liable to success, to present light to a blind man, speech to a deaf one, wisdom to one irrational, when the irrational man cannot think, nor the blind allow in light, nor the deaf hear (pp. 68-69).

Who has not felt the same when dealing with those who only care to build and knock down straw men? Let the reader understand.

JTR

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Eusebius, EH.7.7-9: Dionysius's Epistles on the (Re)Baptism Controversy



Image: Remains of a cross-shaped baptistery in ancient Laodicea, in modern day Turkey.

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical HistoryBook 7, chapters 7-9. Listen here.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters continue to report on the letters of Dionysius of Alexandria to various persons regarding the baptism controversy. Dionysius sided with Stephen in opposition to Cyprian of Carthage and his argument that the lapsed must be re-baptized.

Chapter 7 describes the third letter of Dionysius On Baptism to Philemon, a presbyter of Rome. In it he claims to have received a vision which affirmed the propriety of his reading the works of heretics so that he might be able to understand and refute them.

He claims that in his practice he was following “the rule and pattern” of Heraclas of Alexandria, called here papa or “pope”, who did not require those who had drifted into false teaching to be re-baptized when restored.

He also notes that the African practice extended back to previous bishops.

He next cites the fourth letter of Dionysius On Baptism directed to Dionysius of Rome, at this time a presbyter but later the bishop.

Chapter 8 continues to describe this fourth letter as dealing with Novatian, whom he says falsely accused “our most compassionate Lord Jesus Christ of being without mercy.”

Chapter 9 describes a fifth letter of Dionysius to Xystus, bishop of Rome. Here he describes a brother in Alexandria who had received a disorderly baptism at the hands of heretics and with a tender conscience desired rebaptism, but this was refused by Dionysius.

Beyond these letters of Dionysius, two others are mentioned, a second to Xystus and the church at Rome, and another to Dionysius of Rome.

Conclusion:

These chapters expand upon the (re)baptism controversy and Dionysius’s role as an advocate through his letters in opposition to the position of Cyprian of Carthage and others who were promoting the necessity of baptism for the lapsed. He appeals to the leaders of the Roman church, noting, in particular his agreement with Heraclas of Alexandria.

JTR

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Eusebius, EH.7.1-2: From Decius to Gallus & the Death of Origen



Image: Bronze statue of Trebonianus Gallus who lived from 206-253, and ruled as emperor from 251-253. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 7, chapters 1-2. Listen here.

Notes and Commentary:

These opening chapters describe transitions that began to take place after the Decian persecution. Book seven begins with a preface in which Eusebius tells the reader he will continue to draw the writings of Dionysius as he conveys his narrative.

Chapter one begins by describing the murder of the emperor Decius and his sons and the rise of Gallus.

It also gives a brief note on the death of Origen, who had been the focus of so much attention in Book 6. Origen is said to have died at age 69 (“seventy save one”). Oulton points out in the note that the date here is vague, since Origen apparently died later in 255, during the reign of Valerian (who ruled from 253-260).

Citing a letter of Dionysius to a certain Hermammon, Gallus is described as little better than Decius in that he rebuffed even the prayers of the Christians on his behalf.

Chapter two shifts from the emperors to the bishops. In Rome Cornelius was succeeded by Lucius, who died after only eight months in office, to be succeeded by Stephen.

It is noted that Dionysius had written the first of his letters to Stephen on baptism, in response to another controversy that arose after the Decian persecution and Novatian controversy, in that some were saying that the lapsed and those who had fallen into heresy had to be (re)baptized, while others said they could be restored only by prayer and the laying on of hands.

Conclusion:

These brief chapters set the stage for Book 7 and its description of Christian life following the Decian persecution. How to handle the restoration of the lapsed and heretics continues to be a major problem, as the Novation controversy was followed (or accompanied by) a baptismal controversy.

JTR

Eusebius, EH.7.3-6; Cyprian and Stephen's Conflict Over the (Re)Baptism of the Lapsed



This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea's Ecclesiastical HistoryBook 7, chapters 3-6. Listen here.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters continue to review the baptismal controversy that followed after the Decian persecution and the Novatian schism. What should be done to the lapsed, fallen, or heretics who desired to be restored to the church?

Chapter 3 begins with the position of Cyprian of Carthage who held that the lapsed had to be submitted again to baptism for purification. This view was opposed by Stephen of Rome who held that baptism (or rebaptism) was not required for restoration.

Chapters 4-5 shares a letter from Dionysius of Alexandria to Stephen celebrating the peace now achieved in the churches. It provides a summary of the churches and their bishops, including:

Demetrian at Antioch;
Theoctistus at Caesarea;
Mazabanes at Aelia (Jerusalem);
Marinus at Tyre (succeeding Alexander);
Heliodorus at Laodicea (succeeding Thelymidres);
Helenus at Tarsus and Cilicia;
Firmilian at Cappadocia.

At the death of Stephen, he was succeeded as bishop by Xystus, to whom Dionysius wrote a second letter On Baptism.

Dionysius describes how Stephen wrote regarding his conflict with Helenus and Firmilian over this issue of baptism of those who had “come over from heresies” and his threatening withdrawal of fellowship with them because of it.

Mention is also made to his communication with two presbyters, Dionysius and Philemon, who “had formerly been of the same opinion as Stephen.”

Chapter 6 notes that in this same letter Dionysius also makes reference to “the Sabellian heresy.” It is described as having begun “at Ptolemais in the Pentapolis” and as being an “impious doctrine” offering blasphemy against God the Father and “great unbelief” in “the only begotten Son.”

Conclusion:

These chapters describe the conflict between Cyprian and Stephen over the baptism (rebaptism) of those who had fallen during persecution or heresy. It again describes the writing of Dionysius and his efforts to forge peace and unity. Two of his letters are cited, one to Stephen, and a second to Xythus, Stephen’s successor. Lastly, mention is made of his combatting the Sabellian heresy. When the church has outward peace, it must also be vigilant to maintain inward peace and fidelity.

JTR

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Vision (3.20.20): The Repairer of the Breach



Image: Modern view of Jerusalem

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on 2 Kings 12.
Let the priests take it to them, every man his acquaintance: and let them repair the breaches of the house, wheresoever any breach shall be found (2 Kings 12:5).
Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up (John 2:19).
Joash (Jehoash) was crowned as king as a seven-year old boy, thus preserving the line of David (2 Kings 11). It is said that he “did that which was right in the sight of the LORD” while under the tutelage of the godly priest Jehoiada (2 Kings 12:2). Later, however, he fell into apostasy and was assassinated (2 Kings 12:19-21; cf. 2 Chron 24:17-18). Nevertheless, Jehoash is most favorably remembered in 2 Kings for his efforts to repair the temple in Jerusalem
What can we learn from his life?
We can focus first, on the things that Jehoash did which were right. He wanted to repair the breaches in God’s house. He wanted to restore worship to its rightful place in his own life and in the life of Israel.
Second, however, we must also focus on the things that Jehoash did which were wrong. While he was under good authority, under the teaching of Jehoida, things went well. But he slipped into apostacy and even, like Saul, persecuted the church of God.
A statement in 2 Kings 12:18 is telling. It says he forfeited the “hallowed things” that had been stored up in previous generations. Think of what is being forfeited in our day regarding the treasures stored up by previous generations.
Third, consider Jehoash as an anti-type of Christ.
Jehoash repaired the breaches of the physical temple, but Christ came to bring true worship, true renewal, true restoration (John 4:24).
Isaiah took up the image of the repair of the temple to prophesy Christ: “and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in” (Isaiah 58:12).
Jehoash repaired the temple. Christ cleansed the temple, declaring it “the house of prayer” for all nations (Mark 11:17).
Jehoash committed apostacy and died a gruesome death as the result of a conspiracy against him. Christ committed no sin and was faithful till the end, though sinners conspired against him to take his life.
Jehoash was laid in a tomb in Jerusalem and succeeded by his son on the throne. Christ was laid in a tomb and three days later he rose again, declared to be the Son of God with power.
Christ himself prophesied this, saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up” (John 2:19).
And after the cross and his resurrection, Christ’s followers never went to the temple again to offer sacrifices. They did not need a physical temple any longer.
They quoted from Psalm 118, saying the stone that the builders rejected had become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes (see Matt 21:42).
The apostle Peter would describe believers as “lively stones” who are “built up a spiritual house” in order “to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
The great repairer of the breach was not Jehoash, but Christ!
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

"Kept Pure in All Ages" Conference Postponed


The "Kept Pure in All Ages" Conference, scheduled for March 27-28, 2020 in Reedsburg, Wisconsin has, understandably, been postponed under the present circumstances.

Here is the note that Pastor Christian McShaffrey sent out yesterday to those who had registered:

Dear friends,

The Kept Pure in All Ages Conference is postponed due to the present difficulties related to interstate air travel.

We apologize for the inconvenience and will be consulting with our main speaker about possible dates for a reschedule.


God willing, we will be able to reschedule the conference later this year. Look for upcoming announcements for the new meeting date.

Blessings, JTR