Lutherans ask forgiveness for 16th-century persecutions


Leaders of the Lutheran World Federation have approved a statement apologising for the 16th-century persecution by Lutherans of Anabaptists, religious reformers whose successors are found in groups such as the Mennonites, reports Ecumenical News International.

“We ask for forgiveness – from God and from our Mennonite sisters and brothers – for the harm that our forebears in the sixteenth century committed to Anabaptists,” says the statement adopted unanimously on 26 October by the LWF’s main governing body, its council.

The apology is now recommended for formal adoption by the highest LWF governing body, its assembly, meeting in Stuttgart, Germany, in July 2010.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

JOHN CALVIN: The Quincentenary is drawing near


The 10th July 2009 will mark 500 years since the birth of John Calvin. Calvin was perhaps the greatest of the Reformers (and is in my opinion) and no man has had such an impact on the Christian Church as he.

A web site has been set up to help mark this anniversary, including an invite to a tour and conference being held to commemorate this special day. The site can be found at:

http://www.calvin500.org/

As you would expect, the conference will include a large selection of various Reformed speakers from various Reformed denominations and organisations. The event will take place at Geneva.

See also: http://calvin500blog.org/

THE ‘NEW CALVINISM': A Review of the Peter Masters assault on the new breed of Calvinists


I have recently come across an article penned by Peter Masters of the ‘Metropolitan Tabernacle, in London, England. Writing in the ‘Sword & Trowel’ 2009, No 1, Peter Masters attacks what he calls the ‘New Calvinism,’ in a scathing assault on what he sees as the merger of Calvinism with Worldliness.

See: http://www.metropolitantabernacle.org/?page=article&id=13

I have also come across an article written by Collin Hansen (to which Masters refers) in the September 2006 edition of ‘Christianity Today,’ in which he investigates what he calls a resurgent Calvinism, a Calvinism that is making a comeback and shaking up the church. This resurgent Calvinism is that which Peter Masters criticizes.

See: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/september/42.32.html

Peter Masters calls the Hansen article a book, so I am not sure that the entire ‘book’ appears in Christianity Today or whether it is an excerpt from it.

The Hansen article doesn’t come to any conclusions about Calvinism, though it does include a number of people and their comments that are opposed to Calvinism. It also includes people and their comments that wholeheartedly support Calvinism. There seems to be a sigh of relief that the Calvinist resurgence finds its root in the Scriptures and has a major commitment to them and what they teach, so all is not as bad as may first appear.

It is difficult, not being familiar with Collin Hansen, to pinpoint just where he himself stands on ‘Calvinism’ from the article itself.

However, in the Peter Masters article it is clear that he stands opposed to the ‘New Calvinism’ that he detects in the resurgent Calvinism of our day in England and the United States. Far from being pleased with the rise in numbers of those holding to Calvinistic teachings, he is concerned over what he perceives as a merging of Calvinism with Worldliness, and on some points I would have to agree.

I am not yet convinced that he is right in every area of his criticism of resurgent Calvinism as I do not believe you need to embrace the Puritans ‘legalism’ in respect to matters indifferent in order to appreciate the Puritans overall. Nor do I think you need to embrace that legalist spirit in order to stand alongside the Puritans in those matters vital to Christianity, especially from a Reformed perspective.

However, I do agree with some of what Peter Masters has to say concerning the ministry of some of the men he recognizes as leaders in the ‘New Calvinism.’ For example, I would agree with a large amount of what Mark Driscoll has to say and teach – but the manner in which he teaches it, using language that can be described as offensive, is not the way to do it. I have not heard Driscoll preach myself, but I understand he often uses questionable language in order to be relevant to the lost of this current age. What Masters has to say in this respect is quite right in my opinion.

I also question the need to embrace so readily the entertainment of the world as part of the worship service. So as to be clear, I have listened to a lot of secular music, though I draw the line at what I find to be unwholesome and much of today’s current music in exactly that and I largely do not listen to it. I do not believe it necessary however, to imitate the secular style of music and to import it into the worship service. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this means the entire banning of contemporary music, just that greater care needs to be taken in reaching a position on whether to include it in the worship service at any particular time – not including it simply to be ‘relevant.’

I, like Peter Masters, have grave concerns about the Calvinism that I hold to (Particular Baptist) being united with a Charismatic style of it. For me, this has no place and I find it difficult to believe that leaders of such calibre as John Macarthur and John Piper are happy to be united in conferences where Charismatic worship practices occur, etc.

I think overall Peter Masters is saying what I have been saying about the growing trend in reformed circles towards pragmatism. He says it a lot better than me of course. There is a growing embrace of church growth like behaviour and seeker sensitive styled practices that embrace worldliness as a means of attracting people to church.

I found myself being concerned with whole far Peter Masters went in his denunciation of the ‘New Calvinism.’ However, the more I think about it the more right he seems to be.

Masters calls many of the ‘New Calvinist’ leaders brilliant men and I would agree with him. I greatly admire John Macarthur and his associates, and I am sure I would also find much of what John Piper and the others have to say equally as helpful. But I am concerned with what Peter Masters has outlined in his article. I am also a little confused because I thought this was the sort of thing that John Macarthur has also decried in many of his books. I find myself finding it difficult to believe that he could be caught up in this blend that the ‘New Calvinism’ appears to be.

I certainly don’t write off everything that this resurgent Calvinism is doing. I know these men are wholeheartedly committed to the same truths as the Reformers and Puritans held dear. i do not doubt that at all. I also think they are doing much good. But if what Peter Masters is highlighting is true of this movement, than there is great need for concern I think. The real and full consequences of this approach will not be seen until the next generation and I fear those consequences will bring much harm to the church.

VIETNAM: AUTHORITIES BULLDOZE HISTORIC BUILDING IN LAND DISPUTE


Promise of negotiated settlement fades; Catholic leaders threatened with legal action.

HANOI, September 26 (Compass Direct News) – Authorities in Hanoi have responded to months of Catholic prayer vigils and demonstrations over disputed land by destroying the one-time residence of the papal nuncio in central Hanoi.

In suddenly bulldozing the land that once served as the Vatican embassy and residence near St. Joseph’s Cathedral last Friday (Sept. 19), the government broke its promise to Catholic leaders in February to negotiate a settlement concerning the property.

The destruction of the building held sacred by Catholics is the latest blow to Christians’ long struggle to get the government to return confiscated church properties. Catholic, Protestant and other religious leaders deemed the government response to peaceful Catholic pressure a serious setback for religious freedom.

Authorities cite Vietnamese law stipulating that lands subject to “land management and socialist land reform policies in place before 1991” cannot be considered.

On Monday (Sept. 22) the Vietnam News Agency reported that the Catholic Church ceded the Nha Chung Vatican Embassy property to the state in 1961 and that it would be turned into a library and park.

“Bookworms will soon be able to enjoy the facilities offered by a brand-new library, located at 42 Nha Chung Street, in Hoan Kiem District,” the state reported. “In addition to all of the services usually offered by a library, situated on the premises of an existing three-story, French-designed building surrounded by greenery and including a childrens’ playground, the renovation, which began last Friday, aims to better meet Hanoians’ demands for relaxation.”

Sources said Vietnam’s frequent pronouncements of new openness to religion, and the formation of a joint Catholic/government working committee regarding relationships with the Vatican and other outstanding matters, may have led Catholics to test the waters. Late last year Catholics began to hold prayer vigils outside the fence of the long-vacant Vatican Embassy seized by the government in the mid-1950s.

The historic building property on Nha Chung Street is adjacent to the Hanoi archbishop and cardinal’s residence and only a half block away from St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

The daily morning and evening prayer vigils began to draw large crowds, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, when thousands came to Masses at the cathedral. Authorities in a country where demonstrations are not allowed became seriously worried when warnings to stop went unheeded.

In discussion with Catholic leaders in late February, the government agreed to negotiate a settlement in good faith on the condition that Catholic leaders would call a halt to the prayer vigils. Archbishop of Hanoi Ngo Quang Kiet told Compass in April that after agreeing to a joint working committee, the government showed no sincerity in building relationships or in settling grievances.

In late August an aide to the archbishop told Compass in Hanoi that the twice daily prayer vigils had resumed. At that time about 100 people participated each time, but the number and intensity was growing. Catholic leaders made no secret of their appeal to prayer and assembled people as their only tools in their struggle with the government for redress on confiscated properties.

In recent weeks the Redemptorists at Thai Ha, also in Hanoi, also began prayer vigils to recover some of their large property. Over the years their part of an original plot of 60,000 square meters had been reduced by government confiscation to less than 2,000 square meters.

According to observers, the Catholics conducted themselves during their vigils with decorum and order as they reverently marched, prayed and sang. The government’s response however, quickly escalated from accusing the Catholics of interfering with traffic to accusing them of all night public disturbances – and then accusing Catholic leaders of inciting riots and breaking religion laws.

 

Catholic Leaders Warned

Authorities this week delivered a written warning to Archbishop Kiet warning him of “extreme action” if he did not stop the daily prayer vigils. They also issued a warning to four priests at a Hanoi church locked in the land dispute. The archbishop and priests are accused of “stirring the population” and encouraging illegal religious activity.

State and Hanoi city media releases and radio and TV coverage during September painted the Catholics in the worst possible light; sources said the media fabricated stories and paid people to speak against the Catholics. With no opportunity to make their side of the story known through Vietnam’s state-controlled media, Catholics are reporting events through VietCatholic News, Zenit and other overseas news sites.

Catholic calls for media to retract specific, demonstrably false stories and appeals to press laws have gone entirely unheeded. Rather, sources said, improbable accusations and vicious slander against Catholics sharply escalated.

Vietnam Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man, archbishop of Saigon, wrote a letter to all priests, religious and faithful on Monday (Sept. 22) denouncing the state’s media lies. Unrest is spreading throughout Vietnam’s Catholic community, believed to number more than 7 million, as the letter by the cardinal and others by bishops are read in the churches.

 

Thugs Bussed In

Demonstrations escalated this week with estimates of 7,000 to 10,000 people, including students gathered at Thai Ha on Wednesday night (Sept. 24). It was said to be the largest public demonstration since the Communist unification of Vietnam 33 years ago.

Wednesday afternoon (Sept. 24), hundreds of police and plainclothes officers tried to control an upset crowd of Catholics as a statue of the Virgin Mary was removed from the Vatican Embassy area under police protection and taken to an unknown location. The next day, sources said, authorities recruited gangs that included uniformed Communist youth league members and others and bussed them to the site, where they attacked Catholic protestors outside the archbishop’s residence.

Similar gangs destroyed property, including sacred items at Thai Ha, the same day.

The state media also announced that the 17,000-square meter Thai Ha Redemptorist property in Hanoi is also to be turned into a public park.

The reversion to old-style, default Communist repression involving violence cloaked in lies is also worrying to Vietnam’s Protestants, some of whom have joined Catholics in the prayer vigils.

Protestant leaders contacted by Compass were united in their disappointment in and condemnation of the government’s belligerent response to peaceful prayer vigils.

“Sadly, the government has again shown its true attitude toward religions,” said one Protestant leader. “We have doubted the sincerity of recent improvements, and now they have clearly shown everyone what is still in their hearts.”

Some Vietnam observers fear the government’s belligerence may be evidence of hard-liners’ ascendance in an ongoing struggle with more moderate reformers. The timing of this property destruction, some Vietnamese church leaders said, is calculated to take advantage of uncertainty in the United States, especially as elections draw near.  

Report from Compass Direct News

Bringing Out the Iconoclast


 Isn’t it interesting how Protestant churches seem to be doing their utmost to return to Papist ways? OK, that might be going slightly overboard ~ or is it? When you begin to think about the sorts of things that kicked off the reformation, especially in places like England, you see that the early Reformers sought to reform the church away from the corrupt abuses that were going on in it – things like the rampant corruption through the teaching of purgatory, etc.

There was also the movement to get away from idolatry, with the Roman church actively encouraging the worship of saints, Mary, images, relics, etc. I find it interesting (not in a good way) how many Protestant churches have moved back toward this sort of thing, though most certainly they would protest the charge of idolatry most vehemently. You could say, ‘well, didn’t the Roman Church also protest in this manner?’

What am I thinking of? Why is it that some (indeed many) Protestant churches have a lump of wood (a cross) set above the buildings in which they meet and some even have a lump of wood as the direct focus of the congregation at the front of the building. I remember in a lot of church histories that I have read, how the Reformers would object strongly to such items in the church, yet now we seem to be throwing them up all over the place.

You could also mention here the prevalence of pictures of ‘Jesus,’ in direct violation of the Ten Commandments and other Scriptures, where it is clearly forbidden that such images should be made. Yet how many of the them do you see in churches? They may very well be very important stain glass windows as far as historical significance is concerned, but does this make their existence any less a violation of the commands of God?

So you see, this sort of thing when I see it really brings out the iconoclast in me.

Reforming the Church


One of the things you would expect a Reformed Church to be doing is reforming after the Biblical model, whether they be Baptist, Presbyterian, Anglican, etc. But is this the case or have the Reformed Churches lived up to their name – Reformed? Have they already reformed enough – hence the name Reformed? This is a question that we perhaps would do well to ponder – especially if we like to regard ourselves as reformed.

As a Particular Baptist I would be classed these days as being pretty much a Reformed Baptist ~ as much as I would like to protest that I do not believe I am like many modern-day Reformed Baptists, this is still a fairly accurate description. However, I am committed to the idea of constantly reforming after the Biblical model. Now this doesn’t mean that I have to adopt 1st century music, a Grecian Bible, etc. It simply means that I would like to put into practice those principles that are outlined in the Bible as being the Biblical method of doing church, of living, etc.

Now the point of this particular posting is to do with the organisation of the church and church practice – is the modern-day reformed movement being Biblical in its approach to the organisation of the church and church practice? From my observations of the Reformed Baptist movement and those who could be loosely described as such, I would have to say, probably not. A way has been found to do things and there is great reluctance to change that way, even though the Bible would suggest that it isn’t quite right, etc. This would certainly indicate a Reformed Church in so much that it has moved from an error to a certain point and stopped – reformed. This would be like the Church of England in the days of the Reformers and Puritans. There were many men who would have liked to have had the church reform even further than it had done, but this was prevented by the powers that were then in place, hence the withdrawal of these men from the established church and the formation of other assemblies that sought to further reform after the biblical model.

We need today a new committment to one of the principles of the reformation and the reformers, a committment to be constantly reforming after the model of the Scriptures. This is simply an implication of the great reformation catch cry of ‘Sola Scriptura.’ We see what Scripture says should be the way we do things and we then set about to do it. Perhaps this should be a ‘UGR (unwritten ground rule)’ for the church, except it is written, for it is what the Scriptures would have us to do. We read and study the Scriptures, see what it says, and then we set to do it in the true spirit of ‘Sola Scriptura.’

Are we reformed (as in stopped) or are we reforming, as the name was originally seeking to suggest? In what way can we still be reforming in the modern-day reformed setting as churches with a reformed heritage?

This was one of the things we were seeking to do when the ‘Northlake’s Reformed Baptist Church (NRBC)’ was seeking to become established (sadly it is no more) – to be reforming after the model of the Scriptural way of doing things.

One of the things we sought to do was return the Lord’s Supper to the context of the fellowship meal as was the practice of the New Testament church. We would observe the Lord’s Supper as part of our fellowship together, having a meal together after a worship service on a Sunday. It was something we all looked forward to. Now there is no command for that I admit, but it was something we saw great advantages in and so we changed the way we did things and adopted the practice – it was a case of reforming after the biblical model, even though it wasn’t expressly commanded.

We also sought to learn as much as we could from the Biblical text regarding the Lord’s Supper, spending several Lord’s Days preaching through the Corinthians text relating to the Lord’s Supper and seeking to put into practice, both individually and as a church, the truths taught there. Again, an example of reforming the church instead of remaining reformed (reaching a certain point and stopping).

I am not suggesting that NRBC was the perfect model at this sort of thing, no not at all – I am simply holding up the example of NRBC as a church committed to the principle of always reforming the church after the Biblical model. I’m not convinced that we were really brilliant at the task of reforming the church, but we did seek the Lord’s will through prayer and a careful consideration of the Word of God, as well as seeking the ability from the Lord to actually put into practice what we discovered in the Word of God.

There are so many areas that we need to carefully consider again in the light of Scripture – things that have now become merely the tradition of men, rather than the tradition of the apostles (meaning after the biblical model).

When I first got onto the Internet some years ago now, I came across a site that really encouraged me and our church in this area of reforming the church. It has changed URLs once or twice since that time, but I keep returning to it. It is a site called ‘A 21st Century Puritanism,’ operated by a guy called Mitch Cervinka. Obviously what is presented needs to be carefully considered in the light of Scripture and I certainly wouldn’t agree with everything that Mitch presents, yet there is a lot that I find myself having to agree with (gladly) because it is founded on the Scriptures.

The link is:
A 21st Century Puritanism

There are two articles that I really like on the site and these are:

There are some excellent points made in these articles and they should really be considered by reformed churches in this matter of perpetually reforming the church.