Dr Sproul on the Church Celebrating Christmas

Mistletoe - WikipediaThe Aquila Report published a story from the Ligonier Ministries web site where the esteemed Dr R. C. Sproul shared his thoughts on the church celebrating Christmas. In that post Dr Sproul comments, ‘I can’t think of anything more pleasing to Christ than the church celebrating his birthday every year.’

That statement is rather startling as it stands (Really? Nothing more pleasing to Christ?), but I suppose we should understand Dr Sproul to be speaking with some measure of hyperbole. Dr Sproul continues.

While the New Testament doesn’t require that we celebrate Christmas every year, I certainly see nothing wrong with the church’s entering into this joyous time of celebrating the Incarnation…

While Dr Sproul imagines that the invention of an annual church holiday celebrating the Incarnation is a good thing, he admits it is not something required by God in Scripture.

This is remarkable coming from a conservative Presbyterian minister who suggests that the Westminster Standards ‘are the most precise and accurate summaries of the content of biblical Christianity ever set forth in a creedal form…’ That creed speaks specifically and clearly to the matter of worship approved by God, as well as to the matter of ecclesiastical holidays invented by men.

But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture. (From Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21, ¶1.)

Acceptable worship is only that which God has revealed as approved in His Word. This means that God may not be worshipped according to what we imagine may be good but rather He is to be worshiped only in the way He Himself has established in Scripture.

And this is not an isolated teaching of this creed, but is integral to the doctrine of holy worship which it confesses to be revealed in Scripture.

Q. 51. What is forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The second commandment forbiddeth the worshiping of God … [in] any … way not appointed in his word. (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 51)

Q. 109. What sins are forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; all … corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever… (Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 109)

Now, presumably Dr Sproul simply doesn’t believe the portions of this creedal standard that speak to the matter of biblical worship, but Dr Sproul goes much further, even admiring Rome for manufacturing holy days!

I wish we had more annual festivals. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, celebrates with great joy the Feast of the Ascension every year. Some Protestant bodies do, but most do not. I wish we would celebrate that great event…

Christ has established a holy day, the first day of the week, the Christian Sabbath. We have 52 of these divinely appointed holy days each year. Each one of these sacred holidays is filled up to overflowing with worship ordinances that are saturated with the Word and commanded by God! Each Lord’s Day the New Testament priesthood of believers celebrates the fulness of Christ, our exalted Prophet, Priest, and King in all His glorious self revelation through Word and Sacrament. Is this not sufficient for our spiritual good? Are God’s appointments inadequate so that we must manufacture our own holy days and our own ritual piety to meet our own spiritual needs? Does not God’s Word go far enough in telling us what is pleasing to Him in sacred matters? Must we rather add our own inventions? When did God approve of such a thing ever in all of Scripture? To the contrary, has not this behaviour eventually brought the severest judgements of God upon His people?

Let me hasten to say how much I appreciate the benefits I have experienced from the teaching ministry of Dr Sproul. He has been a blessing to countless people and has been used by God to revive the teachings of Calvinism in our day. Also, let me be clear that I am not opposing voluntary annual seasonal festivities by families or general society outside of and altogether apart from the worship of the church and her thankful obedient observation of the one true holy day, the Christian Sabbath.

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Protest Filed Against PacificNW Presbytery Decision

The Rev. Jason Stellman was the prosecutor in the case examining the Rev. Dr Peter Leithart. I was disappointed that the Pacific Northwest Presbytery ruled against the prosecution in that case, but I am encouraged that orderly procedures continue in this case in keeping with our Book of Church Order. The Rev. Jason Stellman is filing a protest against the ruling and has begun publishing portions of that protest on his blog at the following links.

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George Smeaton’s Doctrine of the Atonement on Sale at Banner of Truth

Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement

  • Price: $ 21.25 $17.00
  • ISBN#: 9780851516004
  • Binding: Cloth-bound
  • Page Count : 520

Fathers’ Day Special Price, U.S. & CANADA: $17.00 after additional 20% Web Discount, through midnight June 12, 2010 (List Price: $26.00).

From the Desk of C.H. Spurgeon:
The production of such a work as this by Mr. Smeaton is an era in theology; adhering as he does to the old orthodoxy, and proving his positions from our Lord’s words, he deserves the gratitude of all lovers of an efficient atonement by a real substitution. The author is thoroughly acquainted with those who have preceded him in his field of research, and he judiciously follows or differs from them, but his work is full of deep original thought, and pervaded ever with lowliest reverence of the august sacrifice. If, instead of giving their people a dead philosophy, certain preachers would search their Bibles by the aid of this volume, and extol a living Christ, they would have a far fairer prospect when their last account will be required of them.

The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement

  • Price: $ 21.25 $17.00
  • ISBN#: 9780851515991
  • Binding: Cloth-bound
  • Page Count : 568

Fathers’ Day Special Price, U.S. & CANADA: $17.00 after additional 20% Web Discount, through midnight June 12, 2010 (List Price: $26.00).

From the Desk of C.H. Spurgeon:
We have been greatly profited by the masterly expositions of the apostles’ sayings which this book affords …. our ministerial brethren will sit down to it as to a banquet, which will afford food for meditation through many days.

From the Desk of Sinclair B. Ferguson:
George Smeaton’s magnificent studies of the New Testament’s teaching on the work of Christ – Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement and The Apostle’s Doctrine of the Atonement – [are] two books which I am convinced ought to be in the possession of every minister of the gospel, preacher, teacher and student for the ministry.

Professor Smeaton deals with each passage in the New Testament relevant to the work of Christ. One volume is devoted to the teaching of our Lord in the Gospels; the second to the rest of the New Testament. The two volumes present an unparalleled exposition to which preachers can turn when expounding any New Testament book.

These books are reliable; but they are also wonderfully readable. Ministers at every age and stage will benefit from them, and be led by them through careful, biblical, spiritual exposition of the cross. They combine biblical exegesis, doctrinal exposition, spiritual meditation, depth without dense style, clarity without technical clutter.

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Thoughts on Determining the Doctrine of the Church

The Rev. Lane Keister posted an insightful quotation from Francis Turretin contrasting the opinions and judgements of individuals with the authoritative teaching of the Church as held forth in her public doctrinal standards.

Hence they are accustomed to drawing nothing from public standards to prove their calumnies, but only from the writings of private divines from which they falsely weave consequences.

Concerning the public and received opinion of any church, a judgment cannot and ought not to be formed from the writings of private persons … because we do not stand or fall with the judgment of each private divine, however illustrious (Volume 1 of Institutes of Elenctic Theology, p. 529).

Turretin is pointing out the problem with attacking the teachings of a Church based strictly upon what this or that individual says or teaches. The synodical determinations of a Church have a different status and authority than the determinations of any one individual member of that Church. It is precisely this point that Turretin is pressing. No single individual speaks definitively for what the Church believes and teaches. Rather, we who are Reformed believe that the definitive statement of a Church’s beliefs is found in her confessional declarations. And we believe that this is by God’s design. It is precisely in this capacity that a Church functions as the pillar and ground of the Truth in upholding and establishing the truth of Scripture through confessional standards.

The Reformed believe that the doctrinal determinations of a Church represented in her confessional standards, if they are true to the Scriptures, ‘are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in his Word.’ (WCF 31.2) There is a ‘power’ (i.e., authority) spoken of there that belongs to the Church corporately and is exercised through her Elders corporately in synod. That authority Continue reading

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