Posts by bobbyhowell23

I am a husband, father, follower of Jesus, and aspiring theologian, academic, and spiritualist. My reading habits are all over the place, as are my tastes in music and entertainment. I love helping people, so I pray that my insights will be profitable for you.

The Ancient and Modern Church

The below post was for an assignment regarding the separation engaged in by the ancient church. To what extent should a church separate from certain practices? Is there anything in culture a Christian abstain from? Please share your thoughts below!

Separation Based on Acceptance

When Constantine granted freedom to the Christian religion, many people would have rejoiced. The terrible persecutions ended, and now practicing Christians could enjoy open worship of God.[1] Austin notes the detrimental effect Constantine’s decision had on the church, “While Christianity converted the world, the world also converted Christianity. The natural impulses of pagan humanity were openly displayed among professing Christians. Doubtless tens of thousands had followed their emperor into the fold of the church without ever experiencing true regeneration or new birth.”[2] Because Christianity was legal, everyone wanted to join. Whereas the illegal religion was once looked upon as a blessed protection, it was now enjoyed by all.[3]

There is a similarity between the legalization of Christianity in ancient Rome and the once, wide-acceptance of Christianity in the United States. Though there is a decline at the moment, there are cultural benefits to “being Christian.”[4] One might place their involvement in a leadership position in a youth group on a resume. One may say that he is a Christian in order to be well received at work.[5] However, these people may not be true Christians. They reject the commandments of God and live as if He does not exist.[6] The Ancient Church would have rejected the inclusion of these professed believers, individuals who may look and act the part but not truly be Christians.

Separation Based on Culture

The early church received persecution for many reasons, but one of the reasons for their persecution was their refusal to engage in the cultural norms of the day. One group of authors note, “Christians gathered in private, and their exclusive monotheism compelled them to refuse all participation in pagan religious observances….they were marked out as a small group of willful dissenters from the very basis of communal life.”[7] Roman culture was anything but Christian.[8] The early Christians, then, separated from the social norms of the day.[9] They separated from the culture, though it cost them everything.[10]

The modern church, however, has allowed much of the American culture to infiltrate and devastate the church. Views of music, dress, and personal sanctification are cast aside in order to “by all means save some.”[11] The Ancient Church would separate from the culture, not embrace it.

Separation Based on Methodology

The Ancient Church experienced a traumatic event in AD 313. The Edict of Milan provided unparalleled freedom to the Christians, in addition to many financial and political advancements.[12] This changed everything. One group of writes discuss this monumental shift, “Thus the church passed from persecution to privilege. In an amazingly short time, its prospects changed completely. After centuries as a counter-culture movement, the church had to learn how to deal with power.”[13] There were many advantages to becoming a Christian after the Edict of Milan.[14] The Church, then, was able to utilize many methods (including financial gain) to gather people into her membership. The Ancient Church, no doubt, rejected these underhanded methods, ultimately bringing further persecution.[15]

The modern church would do well to follow their example. The variety of unbiblical and downright sinful methods utilized in churches today is sickening.[16] The Ancient Church would have separated from this, following Paul’s example of “preach[ing] Christ crucified.”[17]

 

[1] This is a highly simplified description of the events. For more information, see Bill Austin, Austin’s Topical History of Christianity (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1983), 85-93.

[2] Austin, Austin’s Topical History, 90.

[3] “Rome, the imperial order, was perceived not as the real source of the evil by which Christians were afflicted but rather as a power which, in God’s providence, kept things from getting much worse—and this was a judgment which, no doubt in a very rough way, reflected the actual state of affairs.” Williston Walker, Richard A. Norris, David W. Lotz, and Robert T. Handy, A History of the Christian Church 4th Edition (New York, NY: Scribener’s Sons, 1985), 53.

[4] David Kinnaman, UnChristian: What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007.

[5] This is the idea that Mark Dever discusses briefly in, Mark Dever, Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 14-16.

[6] For a deeper treatment of this, see John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith? Revise & Expanded Anniversary Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 9-11.

[7] Walker, et. al, History of the Christian Church, 51.

[8] Cynthia Long Westfall, “Roman Religions and the Imperial Cult,” Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder, The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[9] Jonathan Hill, Zondervan Handbook to the History of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 54-57.

[10] J. Hebert Kane notes the differences between Christian and Roman culture, and the cost of following Christ. See J. Herbert Kane, A Concise History of the Christian World Mission: A Panoramic View of Missions from Pentecost to the Present Revised Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1982),24-33.

[11] 1 Corinthians 9:22, KJV.

[12] Hill, Handbook to the Christian Church, 74-77.

[13] A. Kenneth Curtis, J. Stephen Lang, and Randy Petersen, The 100 Most Important Events in Christian History (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1998), 34.

[14] Walker, et. al, History of the Christian, 129-130.

[15] The space does not allow a full discussion on this topic. The reader should consult the following materials for additional information: Walker, et. al, History of the Christian, 130-131; William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism Third Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996); and Henry C. Vedder, A Short History of the Baptists: New and Illustrated Edition Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication, 1958)

[16] For one example, see Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Megachurch pastor Steven Furtick’s ‘spontaneous baptisms’ not so spontaneous,” Religious News Service (24 February 2014, https://religionnews.com/2014/02/24/megachurch-pastor-steven-furticks-spontaneous-baptisms-spontaneous/ accessed 30 November 2018).

[17] 1 Corinthians 1:23, KJV.

 

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How To Worship Reverently

How do we worship? Does it matter how?

I am slowly working my way through In Reverence and Awe. It has been superb. Every chapter brings me to the truth that God is a glorious, holy God before Whom I should fall in worship and adoration. I am reminded, on almost every page, that I am a wicked sinner deserving at every moment to be cast into hell for eternity. Thankfully, I am also reminded that Jesus bore God’s righteous indignation and saved me forever.

As the name implies, Hart and Muether discuss worship throughout the book. In chapter eight, the two enumerate on the thought “Worship with Godly Fear.” So, according to the authors, how should we worship?

D. G. Hart and John R. Muether write,

“The joy we experience in contemplating and worshiping the risen Savior is an emotion that is always tinged with sobriety and humility. It is not the high-fiving ecstasy of fans who have just seen their team win the national championship. Nor is it the celebration of a job promotion. It is a joy that recognizes not only the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, but also our own complicity, because our sin, in his pain and death. When we contemplate the suffering of Christ we come in humility, restraining sinful impulses, and we embrace a bleeding Savior as the fountain of our comfort.” (Hart and Muether, 128)

There is a beauty in this type of worship. It is God-honoring, for it does not treat God lightly. Truly He is immanent (or close). However, we must never forget that He is transcendent as well. He is, as Isaiah describes, “One who is high and lifted up, who inhavits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isaiah 57:15, ESV).

We take too causal an approach to the Holy One of Israel. Hart and Muether argue along the same lines as does the author of Hebrews. “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28-29, ESV).

How do we worship? With reverence and awe.

 

 

 

 

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Creation Meets the Christian

It is currently that wonderful time of the year where the wind becomes chilly, the sky deepens in its blueness, and the leaves of the trees become a wonderful display of the variety found all over creation. It is the time of pumpkin spice, of warmly, welcoming fires, and the renewed joy of drinking coffee. It is a time to look upon the changes of the season and reflect on the changes that come to us all.

One of my favorite aspects of fall is the change of leaves. The brilliant reds and the flashy yellows, the vibrant greens and burnt oranges, they all present a certain joy in simply beholding them. The trees range in sizes, some just a few feet in height, others towering above everything around them. Just as the ant can provide us with instruction (Proverbs 6:6-8), so too, the trees which paint our fall landscapes with breathtaking beauty can also take us under their wings and help us grow in our faith.

Sanctification is often view in an academic and intellectual manner.[1] Sanctification, as John MacArthur helpfully defines, is “the believer’s growth in spiritual maturity, practical holiness, and Christlikeness through the power and leading of the Holy Spirit (as He applies biblical truth to the hearts of His saints).”[2]

You may ask, “What does sanctification have to do with fall, or trees?” That is an excellent question! During this time of the year, I find myself constantly looking at the trees and their leaves. While engaged in the beauty of creation, I remembered a quote I previously heard, “When God wants to make an oak, he takes a hundred years, but when he wants to make a squash, he takes six months.”[3] The massive spread of the ancient oak provides shade during the summers, protection during the storms, and safety for the squirrels and birds. That same oak also provides a glimpse into the sanctification process.

Think about how long it takes for the tiny sapling to grow into the colossal hardwood. Years past, seasons come and go, children are born and grow up and have their own children. Sanctification is similar. Paul discusses this process in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”[4] Get that? We are being transformed. It is a process. Just as the oak takes years to grow, so too the Christian takes years to become more like Jesus (see 1 John 3:2).

I think there are two helpful truths from this:

  1. Do not despise the process!
  2. Brothers and sisters, we all get discouraged with our constant failures. They are daily reminders of our sinfulness, of the infiltration of the world into the very fibers of our beings. The constant and unstoppable war between our flesh and the Spirit is exhausting. It left Paul asking, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”[5] Have we not all struggled with wanting to do right but failing? Take heart! Our sanctification, our becoming like Christ is a process. It is grueling, at times. Let the trees encourage you, because just as it takes time for them to grow, so too it takes time for us to grow. But there is a delightful difference between the oak and the Christian. A horrible hurricane can demolish the tree. Nothing can prevent the Christian. Thanks be to God, because “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”[6] Therefore, do not despise the process!
  3. Learn from your failures.
  4. While our failures are sin and must be confessed (1 John 1:9), we can still learn from them. One of my favorite authors, Thomas Brooks, writes on this thought, “Ah! you lamenting souls, that spend your days in sighing and groaning under the sense and burden of your sins, why do you deal so unkindly with God, and so injuriously with your own souls, as not to cast an eye upon those precious promises of remission of sin which may bear up and refresh your spirits in the darkest night, and under the heaviest burden of sin?”[7]Brooks later offers reasons for the constant battle of sin. He writes, “…partly to keep them humble and low in their own eyes; and partly to put them upon the use of all divine helps, whereby sin may be subdued and mortified; and partly, that they may live upon Christ for the perfecting the work of sanctification; and partly, to wean them from things below, and to make them heart-sick of their absence from Christ, and to maintain in them bowels of compassion towards others that are subject to the same infirmities with them; and that they may distinguish between a state of grace and a state of glory, and that heaven bay be more sweet to them in the close.”[8]As we approach to Thanksgiving, spend time in prayer on these thoughts, especially those of Thomas Brooks. Do not be discouraged by the process, stay faithful to the spiritual disciplines! Contrary to our “have-it-now” society, our progressive sanctification (becoming more like Jesus) takes time. Look to the oak, and meditate on it. Finally, learn from your failures. Let each sin point you to the Savior. Let each mistake cause you to marvel as His magnificent grace. Let each heart break cause you to long for the wonders of heaven.

Remember Strong’s words, “When God wants to make an oak, he takes a hundred years, but when he wants to make a squash, he takes six months.”[9]

[1] A perusal of many systematic theologies will provide ample proof for this. See, for example, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible has this, “Term meaning being made holy, or purified, it is used broadly of the whole Christian experience, though most theologians prefer to use it in a restricted sense to distinguish it from related terms, such as regeneration, justification, and glorification.” Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. “Sanctification.” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1898.

[2] John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2013), 56.

[3] Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology: A Compendium and Commonplace Book Designed for the Use of Theological Students (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society, 1909), 871.

[4] ESV

[5] Romans 7:24, ESV.

[6] Philippians 1:6, ESV.

[7] Thomas Brooks, The Works of Thomas Brooks: Volume I (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1980), 93.

[8] Brooks, Works of Thomas Brooks, 94.

[9] Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology: A Compendium and Commonplace Book Designed for the Use of Theological Students (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society, 1909), 871.

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Worship: Advice Worship

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Worship: Advice on How to Worship

I am slowly working my way through D. G. Hart and John R. Muether’s With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship.[1] It is a wonderful book! In my reading, I came across the chapter, “Leading and Participating In Worship.” In the chapter, Hart and Muether discuss the different roles individuals (ministers and lay-people) play in worship. This post is not a discussion on that particularly (though the question is of upmost importance), I did want to highlight a few helpful points they offer for engaging in worship.

  1. Worship is God-centered

    In a previous chapter, Hart and Muether address the importance of remembering what worship is: “Worship is the work of acknowledging the greatness of our covenant Lord.”[2] We must always remember that we are worshiping God. That is what worship is all about. It is dangerous to be rash with our mouths because “God is in heaven and [we] are on earth.” (Ecclesiastes 5:2, ESV) We are worshiping the Creator of the Universe, the “One who is high and lifted up.” (Isaiah 57:15, ESV) We are not nearly as careful as we should be entering into worship. Toward the end of the chapter, Hart and Muether remark, “…if a problem exists with Reformed worship, the difficulty may be inappropriate expectations.”[3]

  2. Worship is active

    Worship is not a passive event. It is one of action. We worship The question may be asked, “How do I worship God?” Here are several ways offered by Hart and Muether:

    1. Hear the Word of God “diligently and prayerfully”
    2. Prepare for reception of Communion (self-examination, meditation on Christ’s body, etc.)
    3. Live in light of your baptism[4]

“Worship really is a verb when it consists of Word, sacraments, and prayer.”[5]

Is this how you view worship? Do you invest in worship? Do you read the Scriptures to be preached? Do you examine yourself prior to observing the Lord’s Supper?

Worship, far from being passive, is an active participation in glorifying the great and everlasting God.

“It is a time when heaven and earth meet; it is a holy conversation between the Creator of heaven and earth and his redeemed creatures.”[6]

Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! Psalm 95:6

_____

You can purchase With Reverence and Awe, and other helpful resources, from Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company.

[1] D. G. Hart and John R. Muether, With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002).

[2] John M. Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1996), 1.

[3] Hart and Muether, With Reverence and Awe, 116.

[4] Ibid., 113-114.

[5] Ibid., 115.

[6] Ibid., 116.

“The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke” Review

“The father never found his daughter or laid eyes on his granddaughter again. They, and the entire colony for which he was responsible, vanished from history.” (xx)

Such is the beginning of The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and The Search for The Lost Colony of Roanoke, written by Andrew Lawler. Historians and researchers have long pondered the disappearance of the Colony of Roanoke. Lawler details the events and figures leading up to the founding of the colony in part one of the book (chapters 1-4). Lawler’s research and footnotes are balanced with a winsome depiction of the events leading up to the Colony of Roanoke. While following the conquests of European and Spanish conquistadors, Lawler focuses his attention on the famous (or infamous) Sir Walter Raleigh. He also paints beautiful landscapes in the minds of the readers as they embark on their own voyagers. Lawler also contrasts the generosity of the Native Americans with the greediness of the colonists.

Part two shifts from a look at history to a National Treasure search for the lost colony. Lawler tracks his research for seven chapters. From conversations to fellow-researchers, to voyages to strange towns, Lawler weaves his own search on the backs of White and others. Part three continues the trek through this search, where Lawler continues to meet new people, getting more clues and seemingly no closer to the answer. Does Andrew Lawler discover the Lost Colony of Roanoke? Does all his research pay-off? You will have to buy the book and learn for yourself!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Cotton Mather: Directions For A Candidate Of The Ministry

This month I celebrated my 34th birthday. My in-laws gave me four books for my birthday. They have been tremendous blessings already!

The first of the four that I read was Cotton Mather’s Directions For A Candidate of the Ministry, edited by Nate Pickowicz.

The first time I ever heard this book mentioned was in a message by John MacArthur on 1 Timothy. He quotes, at length, part of the introduction to the book written by John Ryland. The quote changed my perspective on the gloriousness of the pastoral ministry and the remarkable privilege God has given pastors all over the world.

Ryland describes the wonders when he writes,

“The office of the Christian Ministry, rightly understood, is he most honorable and important that nay man in the whole world can sustain; and it will be one of the wonders and employments of eternity, to consider the reasons, why the wisdom and goodness of God assigned this office to imperfect and guilty man!” (Mather, 23)

Brother pastors, do you feel the enormous weight that falls upon our shoulders? Have you considered the remarkable wonder that God called us, sinful though we are, to be His spokesmen?

Not only is the calling remarkable, but the work of the pastor is unrivaled. Ryland continues,

“The great design and intention of the office of a Christian preacher are: to restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of men; to display in the most lively colors, and to proclaim in the clearest language, the wonderful perfections, offices, and grace of the Son of God; and to attract the souls of men into a state of everlasting friendship with Him.” (Mather, 23-24)

When MacArthur read this quote, I was weeping. That God should call me to such a high and lofty office is beyond my ability to comprehend. Were it not for His salvation and sanctification, I would immediately run from the task. Yet, I was compelled to read more of Cotton Mather’s work. If the introduction to the book is this profound and soul-stirring, what would the rest do?

I began searching for the work and came up disappointed. I had failed through numerous searches. I gave up. Through the course of events I began receiving a catalog from Reformation and Heritage Books. In that magazine I saw many books that I would love to digest. One thing led to another, and I eventually found Mather’s book! I could not believe it. So, when my mother-in-law asked for birthday ideas, I immediately passed this along.

The book exceeded all my expectations. It would be an exaggeration to say every page was gold, but it would not be too far off to say that at least every other page is gold.

I do not want to offer a full review, but I do want to highlight a few of the points that stirred my affections for God and excited my heart for the work.

Cotton’s second chapter is titled, “The True End of Life.” The true end of life, as biblically stated, is to glorify God. I have read a dozen books or so on ministry, and few if any begin with the glory of God.[1] Mather’s work builds off the wonderful privilege of human beings to glorify their Creator. He prays,

“May my life be such a continual homage to the Glorious GOD, as He may through His Christ look down with delight upon.” (Mather, 42)

He offers several questions with which the minister may poke and prod his own heart and soul on pages 48-51. I am to glorify God in my reading, my exegetical work, my prayers, my visits, etc. There is nothing more essential to do than to glorify God. It is, as the Westminster Confession of Faith states, “the whole duty of man.”

The rest of the book builds from this theological foundation, offering practical advice on reading, studying, language acquisition and retention, how to read Scripture, how to read works of theology, personal health and well being, and even general rules with which to govern one’s life.

I recommend this book heartily. As of yet, it is one of the most profound works on the office of the minister that I have read. Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor is on the same field in terms of sheer brilliance and digestibility. If you are a minister, purchase this gem and live it out. If you know of a pastor, buy this book for them. It will be a blessing to their soul, and will only provide you richer foods upon which you will eagerly dine.

No matter what you do, may God be glorified!

[1] One exception would be John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. The second chapter addresses God’s glory.

Jonathan Edwards and Preaching

(image credit)

I recently finished reading The Preaching of Jonathan Edwards, by John Carrick. Edwards is by far my favorite preacher. I feel a connection with him through his writings and sermons. When I read one of his sermons, my heart is ushered into the presence of God in sweet and delightful communion. I think that is the main reason I admire the gifted Northampton preacher.

I found one aspect of the book particularly helpful: Edwards’ delivery. Carrick addresses various aspects of the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, from introductions to conclusions and everything in between. His treatment of Edwards’ delivery was a special blessing and encouragement to my soul. I share this with the hope that it may prove helpful and encouraging to someone else.

After spending several pages debunking the myth that Edwards was a boring preacher (pages 409-421), Carrick addresses the views of others on Edwards’ preaching. One gentlemen, a Dr. West of Stockbridge, is reported as answering Sereno Dwight’s question regarding the preaching of Jonathan Edwards with the following words:

               “But, if you mean by eloquence, the power of presenting an important truth before an audience, with overwhelming weight of argument, and with such intenseness of feeling, that the whole soul of the speaker is thrown into every part of the conception and delivery; so that the solemn attention of the whole audience is riveted, from the beginning to the close, and impressions are left that cannot be effaced; Mr Edwards was the most eloquent man I ever heard speak.”[1]

As a younger preacher, I found great encouragement in these words. In the midst of preachers like John Piper, R C Sproul, and David Platt, how in the world could I ever preach like them? My gifts are not like theirs. So, in my focus of other preachers I can easily become discouraged. Paul warns against this type of comparison (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 and 2 Corinthians 10:12). I found encouragement, because Jonathan Edwards may not have been the most boisterous preacher of his day (think of the fact that George Whitefield was a contemporary!). Yet, he was still a powerful preacher.

May God encourage our hearts, as we exercise and develop our gifts, to be preachers who faithfully preach the Word of Life.

[1] As quoted from Works, cxc in John Carrick, The Preaching of Jonathan Edwards (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2008), 429.

You can access Yale’s online edition of the works of Jonathan Edwards for free, here.