Yes, I am a Calvinist

The following piece was written by Rev. D.Douglas Gebbie

Hi.  My name is Douglas; and I’m a Calvinist.

This is no small admission.  I may just have been stuffed into a pigeon hole from which I might never be exhumed.  I am enthralled by the Psalms of David, yet anyone with the slightest literary pretension thinks me a Philistine.  I don’t believe in human evolution, but to the enlightened I am a theological Neanderthal.  I hold to a religion of grace, still I am condemned as a legalist.

The first two assumptions don’t bother me.  We all know that the writers who have most eloquently put the boot in ‘dour’ and ‘repressive’ Calvinistic Presbyterianism have been able to do so only because of John Knox’s manifesto for mass literacy.  And I am quite happy dragging my knuckles down the ‘Old Paths’.

Now, the third does bother me.  That one hits a nerve like tinfoil on a filling.  How can a Calvinist be a legalist?  Don’t the very things about Calvinism which provoke ridicule, if not revulsion, disprove such an idea?

The Calvinist holds to the doctrine of total depravity.  This means that every aspect of every person’s being has been affected by sin.  Now, the knowledge that everything one does is tainted or flawed cannot be of much encouragement to an aspiring legalist as he works to establish his own perfect righteousness.

The Calvinist holds to the doctrine of unconditional election.  God has chosen the people whom He intends to save; and He has chosen them without regard to their good works.  Whether the legalist is boastful or sycophantic, this must be ultimately devastating.

The Calvinist holds to the doctrine of limited atonement: Christ died for the elect.  This means that Jesus saves specific people by dying in their place, suffering the penalty for their sins.  Why should God send His Son to die the death of the cross if one could out do one’s misdeeds by one’s good deeds?

The Calvinist holds to the doctrines of irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints.  Because they are powerless to do it for themselves, God sends the Holy Spirit to work within His elect to enable them to believe in Christ; and those who believe will have eternal life because they are being kept by the power of God.  This utter dependency leaves little room for legalistic pride.

Yet, the raw nerve isn’t hit merely by misunderstanding or misrepresentation.  There is a truncated Calvinism which gives credibility to the charge: a Calvinism in which election is too mysterious, effectual calling too subjective, and the Cross too presupposed.  In short, a Calvinism in which grace is taken for granted.

When that happens, only law is left.  But, it is law without its context.  The preamble is dropped from the Decalogue.  Rather than love, duty, or even social conformity, becomes the motivation for keeping Christ’s commandments; and the One who first loved us is given something less in return.

Making Good Use of the Means of Grace

Some time ago I watched a sales instruction video in which the instructor said something that was incredibly simple and yet had profound implications. He said we already know what to do. The problem was that we’re just not doing it.

I have been involved in sales for most of my adult life, and I knew precisely what he was talking about. He was talking about all the things that a good sales representative has to do in order to be successful, and he was right: Most people in sales knew what those things were, but many of them weren’t successful because they just didn’t do them.

I couldn’t help thinking that there was a spiritual application to what he said.

How many times have you been listening to a sermon, or reading a theological book or article, or maybe been in a Sunday School class and the urgency of making good use of the means of grace was communicated to you? If you are like me, you’ve experienced that many, many times. And you’ve also been convicted about how relatively little time you’ve spent in the Word or in prayer.

We knew. We knew the benefits of using the means of grace and we knew the risks of failing to use them. We already knew what we needed to do. We just weren’t doing it.

the-pastor-at-prayerAre we spending time in prayer?

I remember reading about some Puritan of old that said he if he didn’t spend at least three hours in prayer, the day was lost. I’m not suggesting that has to be our practice. I do think, however, that it does illustrate how vital prayer was seen by great men of God in times past. We have ample reasons for why we should pray, and we certainly have plenty of things to pray about. (Phil 4:6, Mark 11:24, 1Thess 5:17, Matt 6:6, 1Tim 2:1-4)

Are we spending time reading the Word of God?

The Scripture informs us of a lot of things, but the Word of God is more than mere information. It also has the power to sustain us in our walk with God. Even when the passage is familiar to us, we will be reminded of the great truth written there and the Spirit will use it to our benefit. (Psalm 119:105, Psalm 119:169, 1Peter 2:2, Eph 6:17, John 17:17)dusty-bible

Are you going through a spiritually dry time? If you answered “no” to the earlier questions, should you really be surprised that your spiritual life is dry? The old Puritan that I spoke of earlier understood both the nature of the world and the nature of the human heart. He understood from experience and observation the impossibility of sustaining spiritual vitality without the diligent use of the means of grace.

We know what we need to do, by the grace of God. It’s time to start doing it. (Luke 11:28)

 

You Are Cordially Invited To Join Us!

I am inclined to believe that there is a growing interest here in America in what we might call “historic Presbyterianism”. This interest comes from Christians who have experienced everything from curiosity to conviction with regard to such subjects as Psalmody, the Regulative Principle, and experimental religion, just to name a few. The advent of social media has greatly facilitated both the spread of information on these subjects and the connection of Christians who are interested in them.

There are many other subjects, of course, that could be mentioned as matters of interest for those who are enthusiastic of historic Presbyterianism. My assumption is that most who will read this post are already familiar with most of these matters, and have some level of understanding of them.

I recognize that for some, interest in the historic Presbyterian expression of Christianity is not (in itself) particularly life changing. Perhaps you are quite happy in your present situation, ecclesiastical and otherwise. Or, for whatever the reason, you simply aren’t in a position to pursue another church in another place. Maybe you have been blessed to already be a part of a Reformed church whose doctrine and practice embraces the things earlier mentioned.
Lions-ClubHowever, if you are becoming convinced that you need to be a part of a church that believes and practices the historic Presbyterian expression of Christianity, and you are in a position to make the move, you are cordially invited to join us at Trinity Presbyterian Reformed Church in Johnston, IA.

Yes, that’s right. You were just invited to move to Iowa.

One could certainly find other denominations that uphold the same doctrine and practice as we do that have congregations throughout the world, including a number in the U.S. and Canada.

So why us? Why Iowa? Please allow me to make the case.

Trinity Presbyterian Reformed Church was organized in 1985, and joined the Presbyterian Reformed Church in 1992. The Presbyterian Reformed Church (PRC) was formed in 1965. So we have a congregation that is now over 30 years old, and one that has been part of the PRC for nearly a quarter of a century. The PRC as a denomination celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. This demonstrates a level of stability and an ecclesiastical heritage that I hope you will find desirable.

Our congregation is a small but happy one, and we look forward to worshipping together and fellowshipping with one another every Lord’s Day.

We have a session of four, collectively with many decades of experience in congregational oversight. There is genuine harmony and love among our elders, even when difficult situations arise.

pastor-ericsonOur pastor, Rev. Mike Ericson (B.A., M.A., M.Div., Th.M.), has been in the ministry for twenty five years and has been our pastor here at Trinity since 2001. His in-depth expository preaching and gentle approach to shepherding God’s people is much appreciated by the congregation. The gospel of Christ crucified for sinners is always set forth.

So what is missing? In short, you are.

I have become convinced that, in God’s providence in this day and time, the people who ordinarily desire to come to a congregation such as ours are people who already have convictions about such things as, for example, Psalmody and the Regulative Principle. They want to enjoy the “stark simplicity” of our worship, with its absence of liturgy and focus upon the Word of God preached, read, and sung. We look forward to the day when Christians in large numbers grow tired of “contemporary worship” and begin to seek out churches with the focus I just mentioned. But until that day comes, we need people who are like minded with us to join us. We need your gifts, we need your labors, we need your fellowship. We need you.

Iowa has a quality of life that is truly excellent. Economically speaking, there is much to appreciate here. In CNBC’s  list of “Top States for Business in 2010”, Iowa was recognized as the sixth best state in the nation. Iowa is known for agriculture, but it has a diversified economy with manufacturing, biotechnology, finance and insurance services all contributing significantly to Iowa’s economy. As of December 2015, the state’s unemployment rate is 3.4% (Yes, I know the number is bogus, but it is a useful comparator to other states).

Iowa crime is well below the national median in every category. In the crime rate per square mile category, Iowa is less than half the national median. You and your family can feel safe here.

Iowa has a vibrant Evangelical Christian community. This is evidenced by the Iowa Republican party electing an Evangelical Christian as its presidential caucus winner the last three election cycles. According to the Pew Research Center, of the 77% of Iowa adults that consider themselves to be Christian, 28% are what Pew categorizes as “Evangelical Protestant”. There are also several NAPARC churches in the state, and a number of them are in the Des Moines area where Trinity PRC is located. Trinity has cordial relationships with these churches.

I would charitably challenge anyone who has convictions about the distinctive doctrines of historic Presbyterianism, and isn’t presently in a church that holds to them, to prayerfully consider moving  near to a church that does. Further, please prayerfully consider whether or not Trinity PRC may indeed be that church. We need you, and would love to have you be a part of our congregation.

TPRCgroupphoto1

For more information, please call 515-795-3676 or send an email to roadexecutive@yahoo.com.

 

John Frame on Confessional Dissent: Please Allow Me to Make a Retraction

retractionA few days ago, I posted an article in which I was critical of a statement regarding confessional dissent that John Frame had made on his Facebook page. In this article I brought out the negative implications of what I saw as the plain meaning of Frame’s words.

Today I took my article down from this site. While I am still deeply concerned about the implications that arise from what I still believe to be a more than plausible interpretation of the statement, I see now that Frame’s words can be interpreted in a more positive light.

I left room in my original post for the possibility that Frame’s intentions were not as I had feared. Nonetheless, I still should have cast the piece in a different way, at least demonstrating how else his words might be taken. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any other way at the time I wrote it, perhaps due to my mind being hijacked by its own alarm. Or, maybe I’m just thick headed. Feel free to take your pick.

I am still in hopes that Dr. Frame may at some point remove the ambiguity from his Facebook post. A few minor changes to the statement would provide some much needed clarity, as some who commented on his Facebook page have already requested.

In any case, I apologize for the problems with my earlier post and you may take this as a formal retraction of it.

I’d also like to thank those of you who let me know your concerns about the post. Your comments were helpful and appreciated. Proverbs 27:6

 

Rare Sermon Digitizing Project

20151202_174422I’ve finally started on what hopefully will be a very nice digital “library” of old and rare sermon recordings. I say finally, because I’ve spent quite a lot of time and a bit of money trying to get an appropriate reel to reel tape deck to play the rare tapes that are presently in my possession. Two tape decks and a lot of frustration later, I have the first sermon posted on the Presbyterian Reformed Church website. It’s by Professor John Murray, and it was preached in 1959 at the Old Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids.

I haven’t looked through all of them yet, but there are sermons from Dr. David Freeman and Dr. William Young in this collection along with Professor Murray and a number of others as well. This is priceless stuff!

The audio quality isn’t as good as I’d hoped, and some of it is not the fault of the old tape or the recording itself. Some of the noise is coming from the ancient tape deck I’m using for playback. I hope to get another one in the near future that is in better working condition and that should really help the quality of the digital recording.

Anyway, here’s a link to the first installment:

http://presbyterianreformed.org/2015/12/1297/

The Theological Distinctives of the Presbyterian Reformed Church

At the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Presbyterian Reformed Church last month, Brian Myers spoke on the formation and early years of the Presbyterian Reformed Church, and Rev. Douglas Gebbie spoke on the theological distinctives of the Presbyterian Reformed Church.

This is the second of the two lectures: The Theological Distinctives of the Presbyterian Reformed Church

PRC anniversary

 

 

The Formation and Early Years of the Presbyterian Reformed Church

At the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Presbyterian Reformed Church last month, Brian Myers spoke on the formation and early years of the Presbyterian Reformed Church, and Rev. Douglas Gebbie spoke on the theological distinctives of the Presbyterian Reformed Church. The audio quality is less than stellar, and we hope to have transcripts published in the near future.

This is the first of the two lectures: The Formation and Early Years of the Presbyterian Reformed Church

 

PRC anniversary

Fond Recollections of Dr. William Young

Doc Young

I met Dr. William Young in November of 1992. Our congregation in Des Moines had petitioned the Presbyterian Reformed Church to be taken into their denomination. He had been part of a committee sent by the Presbytery of the Presbyterian Reformed Church  to meet with our congregation and examine the church officers. I walked into the room where we were meeting and he was already there seated at a table. He was unpretentious and, as always, a bit disheveled. He introduced himself simply as “William Young”.

Over the course of the day, we discussed a lot of things: Who we were, who the Presbyterian Reformed Church was, and, of course, during our examination they asked us a lot of questions. As we got to know a bit more about where the other was coming from, we also had the occasional small debate as well. I found myself in a rather protracted debate with Dr. Young about the Received Text and the meaning of providential preservation  in the Westminster Confession.  I had absolutely no idea who I was dealing with at the time, but in retrospect I was like a kid with a pea-shooter going up against a Howitzer.

He was incredibly kind and patient with me, and didn’t destroy me with his intellect and his vast knowledge, which he certainly could have done.

That evening we stopped at a tobacco shop before heading back to my home, where we stayed up very late sitting by the fireplace smoking cigars and talking. I learned that if you asked the old boy a question you’d better be prepared to listen to the answer for the next forty-five minutes. That first night, I learned about the Clark-Van Til controversy that Dr. Young had found himself in the middle of, I heard about the beginnings of the Rhode Island congregation of the Presbyterian Reformed Church, and Herman Dooyeweerd’s “cigar shop” analogy. He also spoke at some length about his relationship with Dr. Clark, the discussions they had, and how, on one occasion when they were discussing quantum mechanics, Dr. Clark replied to Dr. Young, “I am silenced, but unconvinced.” By this time, I had an inkling of who I was dealing with: This was the most brilliant man I was ever to meet. And one of the most eccentric as well.

That first night I found myself wiping a pile of cigar ash off his necktie before it caught on fire. It wouldn’t be the last time for that sort of thing. He was just oblivious to stuff like that.

The next evening, several of us were gathered together at our home, and Dr. Young was once again seated near the fireplace. I can’t recall exactly how it came about, but he ended up with my son Jonathan on his lap, and Dr. Young was reading Vergilius Ferm’s Pictorial History of Protestantism to him. Jonathan sat on the old man’s lap for most of the evening listening to him tell about Luther and Zwingli at Marburg and such like. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized what a special thing that was, and I hope Jonathan remembers the night he was tutored in Protestant church history by a man who possessed one of the greatest minds in all of Reformed Christianity.

By the time the weekend was over, I knew I had definitely made a fast friend. I admired him immensely and really got a kick out of him. I looked forward to seeing him again. I think he genuinely liked me too. I think he generally liked anybody that he could go have a smoke with, and I guess I fit that bill.

So, for the next twenty years or so we’d see one another on a fairly regular basis. We’d be at a Presbytery meeting together or we’d see one another on one of my many trips to Rhode Island where he was pastor of the Presbyterian Reformed Church congregation there. Between sessions of Presbytery meetings or between services at church, Dr. Young would almost always shuffle over to wherever I was and ask if I was interested in going outside to join him and Vinnie Gebhart and whoever else for a smoke. Some of my fondest memories of Dr. Young involved conversations we had during the enjoyment of a couple of good cigars. We had a lot of laughs, too. He was always happy with a cigar in his hand.

Over the years he and I managed to tick one another off at Presbytery meetings, but the irritation never lasted long between us. We’d be out having a laugh and a smoke afterwards, and that would be the end of that.

He certainly had an opinion on lots of things, but frequently he could be rather puzzling as to just where he really stood. On the one hand, he was always ready to tell you that he didn’t think much of Geerhardus Vos’ biblical theology or Abraham Kuyper’s presumptive regeneration, but, on the other hand, he would make these cryptic statements about other subjects that just left you guessing and scratching your head. I think he liked it that way.

Sometimes he could be incredibly funny. You more or less had to know him a bit to understand that.

One Lord’s Day after a Presbytery meeting in Portland, OR, several of us were on an afternoon walk near the base of Mt. Hood where one of our church families lived. A couple of us were holding on to Dr. Young’s arms as we walked up the hill, and he was asked how he was doing and if the pace was okay. He was, after all, in his early eighties at the time. “Oh,” he said, “this is child’s play.” The way he said it made it sound as if he was incredulous that we would even ask such a thing, and we all broke into laughter as soon as he said it.

But he wasn’t done: “I admit I’m not the man I was when I took my alpenstock and traversed the glacier…” He went on to tell us about how he and his companion misread the signs and took a trail that was extremely dangerous, and that he nearly fell into a crevasse. From there he went on from one story to another going back some sixty years. By the time he had described to us his struggles with Phys-Ed classes at Columbia, I had tears rolling down my face and my sides ached from laughing so hard. We were all listening and laughing, and the old boy knew he was working us like a stand up comedian. He was loving it.

He would occasionally make a face to show how absurd he thought something was, and it involved sticking his tongue out, closing his eyes, and shaking his head rather violently. It was priceless to see that.

Traveling with Dr. Young must have always been a memorable event. On one occasion, Dr. Young was traveling with Vinnie and John Humphrey via airplane to a Presbytery meeting somewhere. One of them must have asked him a question, and the next thing they knew, there was Dr. Young, loudly lecturing on the philosophical history of the nature of perception and Einstein’s theory of relativity. It had to be quite a treat for the rest of the passengers, who Dr. Young was, no doubt, quite unconscious of.

The last several years were difficult for him, as his health was increasingly failing, and he was in and out of various medical facilities, including nursing homes that he absolutely abhorred. Through the efforts of Michael Ives, he eventually was able to receive around the clock in-home care, but in the beginning he was stuck (imprisoned was how he viewed it) in a nursing home. On one of my visits to Rhode Island during this time, he asked to speak to me privately. I went to his room convinced he was going to give me a list of grievances about his situation, but I was completely wrong. He simply wanted to make an inquiry about the spiritual well being of my two sons. I was deeply touched by his concern, especially knowing how stressed and unhappy he was at the time.

I owe the man a great deal. It was through hearing his lectures and reading his articles that I gained an understanding and appreciation of experimental religion. He pointed me to writers like Archibald Alexander and Thomas Boston. And for the first time, I was able to reconcile my Calvinism with the warm Evangelicalism of my youth.

I’m grateful to him for other things as well. Some of our dearest friends came to know Christ under his ministry, and his involvement in the denomination I love has left an imprint that I trust the rest of us will always take notice of.

It’s been awhile now since I last had a smoke and a laugh with my old friend. I miss those times. In my mind’s eye I see him pretty clearly, however: It’s Winter, and he’s wearing his heavy wool overcoat and his coonskin hat, and, just like I did the first time I saw him wearing it,

I chuckle.