A Review of "Don't Call it a Comeback: The Old Faith for a New Day" edited by Kevin DeYoung

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A Review of Don’t Call It a Comeback: The Old Faith for a New Dayed. Kevin DeYoung Crossway, 2011 252 pages (paperback), $16.99

Defining the term evangelical is a tricky thing nowadays. In the sixteenth century, the word (from “evangel,” meaning gospel) referred to embracement of the core doctrines of the Protestant Reformation. But today it is a loose and slippery term for a very broad and unwieldy subculture. Theologically, modern evangelicals are all over the map. According to Ted Haggert, then president of the National Association of Evangelicals, evangelicalism includes in its theological spectrum everyone from R. C. Sproul to Benny Hinn. Yet the political and ethical spectrum for evangelicals tends to be very narrow. The result is a politically conservative movement that finds it easy to express sentiments about personal experience and practice, but hard to define orthodoxy. When it comes to talking about your “walk with the Lord” or how we should vote, evangelicals tend to be united in their speech and convictions. But when it comes to doctrine, they aren’t so sure about what they believe or why they believe it.

Don’t Call It a Comeback: The Old Faith for a New Day is an attempt by a group of young evangelical pastors and writers to address this problem. Editor Kevin DeYoung musters some of the leading lights of the so-called “Young, Restless, and Reformed” camp in hopes of helping evangelicals find their lost theological moorings. In addition to DeYoung, contributors include names such as Tim Callies, Collin Hansen, Justin Taylor, and Tullian Tchividjian. As the title suggests, the authors do not intend to introduce something novel. Rather, they try to articulate the key tenets of the historic Christian faith in a way that the next generation can firmly grasp. “This book has two main aims,” says DeYoung. The first is “to introduce young Christians, new Christians, and underdiscipled Christians to the most important articles of our faith and what it looks like to live out this faith in real life” (16). The second aim is “to reassert the theological nature of evangelicalism” (17). Although they lament that the term evangelical has lost its meaning in our day, the writers are nevertheless convinced that the term still has merit, “provided that it can be infused with theological meaning that manifests itself in some key ethical, social, and ecclesiastical stances and practices” (17).

The book has three parts: history, theology, and practice. The first part provides a historical sketch of the development of evangelicalism. Recognizing that evangelicalism is “a diverse movement with no official membership and no governing body that determines who’s in and who’s out” (33), author Collin Hansen identifies the major events and personalities that in his opinion unite the movement. Beginning with a brief glance at the ecumenical councils of the early church, the chapter jumps to the Reformation, mentioning the contributions of Luther and Calvin, and then to the Great Awakenings in America, highlighting Edwards, Wesley, and Whitefield. Continuing his survey through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Hansen includes Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Pentecostals as belonging to the ranks of evangelicals. With such a wide range of significant doctrinal disagreements represented in one movement, this reader could not escape pondering the question, “What then is an evangelical?” Hansen gives us a definition in the chapter’s conclusion:

On the basis of the divinely inspired Word, evangelicals proclaim the good news that God justifies by faith alone those who believe in Jesus, whose atoning death and triumphant resurrection make it possible for sinners to be born again by the power of the Holy Spirit. Wherever you see cooperation around these core convictions of the gospel handed down through the centuries, you see the evangelical movement. (44)

The second part of Comeback devotes eight chapters on evangelical theology, covering (in order) the doctrines of God, Scripture, the gospel, regeneration, justification, sanctification, the kingdom of God, and Christ as the only way of salvation. The chapters hit on many critical doctrines: the Creator-creature distinction, the perfections of Scripture, human depravity, imputed righteousness, and the nature of faith, just to name a few.

The third part of the book focuses on evangelical practice. There are chapters on vocation, social justice, worship, and missions, but also chapters on specific ethical matters of great import to contemporary evangelicals: homosexuality, abortion, and gender confusion. Surprisingly, this section also contains a chapter on the church – a doctrine that Protestants historically have placed alongside the other “most important articles of our faith,” and not alongside ethics. Even more confusing is that the chapter attempts to explain what the local church is and why Christians need it, yet says almost nothing about the means of grace or church discipline.

Still, Comeback is an edifying read on the whole, exploring several central doctrines at a basic level by authors unafraid to be critical of their own movement. The chapters are short, well-written, and pastoral, and make efforts to show why these doctrines matter in the Christian life.

Where Comeback fails, however, is in its divorce from the ecumenical creeds of the ancient church and the confessions of the Protestant Reformation. The authors have either overlooked or dismissed the fact that the orthodoxy they want to affirm has already been defined by creeds and confessions hammered out in ecclesiastical assemblies and confessed by Protestant churches for centuries. Granted, DeYoung admits that the goal of Comeback is “not to say, ‘Believe this or else,’ or ‘Believe this and nothing else,’ but to say, ‘Here are the things that seem most essential and basic to the Christian faith in general and evangelical identity in particular.’” (17) But that only begs the question. Here are the things that seem most essential to whom? Who gets to say what is most essential? Instead of looking to the wisdom of the creeds and confessions which already prioritize the most essential doctrines in Christianity, DeYoung and his New Calvinism cohorts have decided for themselves which doctrines are the “most important articles of our faith.” Yet, the confessional Reformed Christian will immediately notice the absence of many things that the historic Christian church has found essential.

In the end, Comeback is yet another attempt to give evangelicalism an identity apart from the Protestant confessions from the Reformation. While it may represent some of the best conversation taking place in the evangelical hallway today, it is still outside the room of any particular church and will inevitably contribute to the shallowness of evangelicalism. So, we will not call this resurgence of Reformed theology a comeback. But we are compelled to call it reinventing the wheel. And the problem with reinventing the wheel, as W. Robert Godfrey once said, is that it seldom comes out round.

For this reason, Comeback is a book that I, as a pastor, would be very reluctant to recommend to “young Christians, new Christians, and underdiscipled Christians.” For that we have rich, time-tested documents such as the Heidelberg Catechism and Westminster Shorter Catechism, which continue to articulate faithfully the old faith for a new day, even as they have done for centuries.

Rev. Michael Brown Pastor, Christ United Reformed Church Santee, CA

What are You Thankful For? - A Sermon for Thanksgiving Day

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“What are you thankful for?” We hear that question a lot this time of year, from Christians and non-Christians alike. It seems that human beings know intuitively, at least to some extent, that the privileges and good things they enjoy in life are, to some measure, given to them and that they are to be grateful for what they have. Some thank God, or some sort of deity. Others thank their lucky stars, good fortune, karma, or some nebulous cosmic force at work in the universe. Among all sorts of people the question is asked, “What are you thankful for?” even if it is not entirely clear who it is that is being thanked. No matter; just celebrate the feeling of being thankful. And people generally seem to understand that being thankful is good for you. One doesn’t even have to be a Christian to say things like, “Count your blessings,” or “Look on the bright side” to know that gratitude in general brings some peace and consolation to the mind. Scientific research proves that gratitude is an essential part of our physical and mental health and well-being. Some studies even suggest that thankfulness and “counting your blessings” is linked to better sleep, increased desire to exercise, fewer physical complaints, and even the tendency to have healthier heart rhythms. So, the question, “What are you thankful for?” seems to be therapeutic.

And this shouldn’t surprise us, because if the Bible is true then thankfulness is really the proper posture of human beings. Humans are by their very nature creatures, and they have been given life and all good things by their Creator. We were made for Him and His good pleasure. We were not made for ourselves. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy HIM forever. Clearly, there is a very real connection between thankfulness and happiness, even if that thankfulness is totally misguided and misdirected by sin.

Here, near the end of his letter to the church at Philippi, the apostle Paul picks up on that connection. He links our thanksgiving to God with peace in our mind. Paul was certainly qualified to speak about such things. Not only was he an apostle writing with apostolic authority and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but he wrote these very words while he was suffering in a Roman prison and facing the possibility of execution. He didn’t write these things as one who knew them only in theory, but as one who knew them by experience as well.

But Paul did not write these words to the church at Philippi as mere good advice. It is important that we do not misunderstand Paul as giving us some platitudes in this text, good advice on how to stay positive and think happy thoughts in life. If Paul were alive today, he would NOT be making an appearance on Oprah promoting a book like, “Transformed by Thankfulness: How I stayed Positive in Prison.” No, he is not giving us platitudes for how to be a better you. Rather, he is proclaiming promises to those who are in Christ. He addresses this letter to the saints who are Philippi, and he is saying that for all those who are saints, that is, all those who are set apart in Christ, God has promised them that if they bring their requests to him “with thanksgiving” he will give them something far greater than a positive attitude; he will provide them with his peace which surpasses all understanding, the peace of Christ. And it will guard their hearts and minds as they travel through this life with its dangers, toils, and snares.

So, for the Christian, the question, “What are you thankful for?” is very serious business. And Paul gives us at least three things in this text and throughout this whole letter, really, for which we are to be supremely thankful and bring to God regularly in our prayers to him. Three things should stand out in our minds immediately when we hear that question: “What are you thankful for?”

I. We are Thankful to Him for Rescuing Us in Christ

In v.4, Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” He says “again” because he already said this at the beginning of Chapter 3: “Rejoice in the Lord.” Now, what does is mean to “Rejoice in the Lord” but to thank God for rescuing us? Remember how the remnant of Judah had been rescued from exile in Babylon and brought home to the land of Canaan. Remember how they heard the law read in that great public worship service, and how they felt deep sorrow over their sin. They felt the sting of the Holy Spirit’s conviction and wept over their own wretchedness. But Nehemiah told them, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” The joy of the Lord is the knowledge that God had rescued them and restored them. The joy of the Lord would be their strength, their refuge.

And here, Paul gets at the same concept, but in the far greater reality of Christ and the new covenant: “Rejoice in the Lord.” In other words, be thankful that God has rescued you from sin, death, and hell. The word “rejoice” simply means “to be glad, to take delight.” From his Roman prison, Paul is telling his fellow believers in the church at Philippi, “take delight in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord.” He is not merely saying, “Be happy.” He is not saying, “Think happy thoughts,” but, “Rejoice in the Lord. Take delight in the Lord.” It is specifically in the Lord.

Only the Christian can rejoice in the Lord. Only the Christian has that privilege, right, and responsibility. Because rejoicing in the Lord means taking delight for what he has accomplished for us in his life, death, and resurrection. Rejoicing in the Lord means to be glad, to be happy for our position in Christ. It means to rejoice and give God thanks for sending His Son on our behalf, as Paul says in Chapter 2, that “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Do we thank God regularly for Christ’s Incarnation, obedient life, and death on the cross? Is that part of the thankfulness we express to him in our prayers? Do we thank him for imputing to us Christ’s righteousness? Do we thank him that we are in Christ, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,” as Paul says in Chapter 3, “but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith”?

Is there anything greater, anything more majestic, any costlier gift for which we can thank God? Nothing compares! Nothing even comes close! The holy God whom we offended and betrayed and to whom we owed an impossible debt has reached down to us and paid our debt in full in the Person and Work of his Son! What grace! What love! What mercy!

We were his enemies and at war with him, yet he made peace with us through the cross of Christ, satisfying all the demands of his law which we could never satisfy in our own obedience. And bec we have peace WITH God through Christ, we are now given the gift of the peace OF God by the Holy Spirit. Christ not only obtained at Calvary that objective peace between us and God so that we are no longer his enemies but his beloved children, he also obtained for us that subjective peace for which we long, that peace that surpasses all understanding and guards our hearts and minds. “Peace I leave with you,” said Jesus to his disciples, “My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

What greater peace is there in knowing that we are AT peace with the living God and that he accepts us despite all our sin? What greater reason is there to give God thanks this Thanksgiving and all the days of our lives than this: God’s great rescue of us in his Son? There is unspeakable joy in knowing that God has reconciled us to himself, that none of our sins can testify against us, and that God adopts us as his own children. There is unspeakable joy in knowing that God never stops pursuing us, and keeps us in the grip of his relentless grace. God says to us today: “Take delight in those things! Take delight in me!”

And this rejoicing will be your strength. In thanking him for these wonderful gifts of grace, he brings peace to our minds and hearts that is like a refuge in a storm. And this can never be taken from you, Christian. Your stuff, status, family, friends, and health – all of that can be taken from you at any given moment. But your union with Christ can never be taken from you. You have been rescued by God! You have been restored to God by God! You are not at war with him, you are at peace. Rejoice! Give him thanks!

II. We are Thankful to Him for His Promise that We Will Be With Christ Soon!

In vv.5-6 Paul says, “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything.” His point is that we will be with the Lord soon, either by his calling us home or by his return. The Lord is at hand, his return is near. You will be with him soon. When we consider this fact and give him thanks for it, what is there to be anxious about, really?

When we thank God that we belong to Christ and will soon be with him, when we remember that our citizenship is in heaven, as Paul says in Chapter 3, “and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body to be like his glorious body,” how can we not be comforted by the peace of Christ?

This is why it is so important not only to hear this good news proclaimed to us by a messenger but also to thank God for this good news regularly in our prayer. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Thank him for the promise of eternal life! Thank him for the promise of the resurrection! Thank him that your name is in the book of life! Thank him that you will be with him soon, in his presence, witnessing his indescribable glory that will fill the new heavens and new earth!

When we thank him for these things, what else can we really say but what Paul says in Chapter 1: “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain”? There is a peace that surpasses all understanding that accompanies our prayers to God when we pray with thanksgiving for all that he has given us in Christ. If we want to be delivered from anxiety, the prescription is prayer with thanksgiving. As Calvin pointed out in Book 3 of his Institutes: “Words fail to explain how necessary prayer is, and in how many ways the exercise of prayer is profitable. Surely, with good reason the Heavenly Father affirms that the only stronghold of safety is in calling upon his name…Hence comes an extraordinary peace and repose to our consciences. For having disclosed to the Lord the necessity that was pressing upon us, we even rest fully in the thought that none of our ills is hid from him who, we are convinced, has both the will and the power to take best care of us.”

If he has given us his Son and promised us eternal life, won’t he surely take care of us and give us all we need to persevere in the Christian life? Of course he will. He has promised. Loved ones, let us give God thanks today that he has rescued us in Christ and that we will be with Christ soon.

III. Thanking Him for Supplying Us with Innumerable Common Blessings

In v.8 he tells his beloved Philippians six things they should think about: whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. Paul says, “think about these things.”

Throughout this short epistle, the apostle Paul says a lot about the mind and how we as Christians are to think. In Chap 2, he tells the Philippians that they are to be “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” He tells them to “have this mind among yourselves which was in Christ Jesus,” that is, the mind of a humble servant. He tells them in Chapter 3 to “let those of us who are mature think in this way,” that is, to think as those who press on toward the goal of becoming like Christ. And in Chapter 4, he tells them how to have “the peace of God which…will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

And now, in vv.8-9, he tells them – and the Holy Spirit tells us right now, for these are ultimately His words – about certain things which we are to “think about.” He uses a verb here that, in this context, means to give careful thought, to ponder, to let one’s mind dwell upon something, to meditate. He deliberately connects the peace of God that surpasses all understanding to our thinking about these things.

Paul knew personally the importance of mediation and peace in the mind. When he wrote these words, he was incarcerated most likely in Rome and facing death. He knew personally the attacks of the enemy upon the mind, how he tries hard to get the Christian to doubt God’s Word. And Paul knew the weakness of his own flesh, how he battled sinful thoughts in his own mind, which are always a threat to enjoying the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.

And so, he tells us to practice a certain kind of meditation. Not a meditation as is popular in the world. Not a meditation of emptying the mind and deliberately turning inward in order to receive some sort of mental or physical benefit. As Paul was sitting in a Roman prison facing death, he wasn’t interested in emptying his mind or transcending thought in order to find his innermost Self. And he wasn’t interested in the Philippians doing that either. Rather, he tells them, with the authority of Christ, to do just the opposite: NOT to empty our minds, but to fill our minds with certain things, NOT to obtain some artificial mental escape, but rather to meditate upon realities, upon the One who has made peace between us and God, and who gives us his peace that guards our hearts and minds in this life.

And just think about all the things in your life, things that God has showered upon you, which are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. Sometimes when we are feeling low or overwhelmed with grief, we begin to think that just about everything in our life is bad, when reality is that it is not. [like being in the splendor of the Yosemite valley and focusing only on the number of tourists…Half Dome, El Capitan Meadows, Merced River, giant Redwoods, wildlife]

Think about all that God has given you beyond your redemption: family, friends, food, clothing, etc. Even today, most of us are looking forward to a large meal that speaks of God’s kindness and goodness. We look forward to having our bodies well-fed, perhaps over-fed. And God is to be thanked today for his goodness and kindness to us in his Creation and Providence.

And so on this Thanksgiving Day, let us respond to the great things God has done and let us commit ourselves to be people who show our gratitude to God more frequently. Let us give him praise for his marvelous deeds which has rescued us from the pit of slavery and given us a future and a hope. And let us look specifically at what the Lord has done for us, and then let us talk specifically about how great the Lord has been to us. And may we express our thanks in joyful singing, joyful service to our neighbor and our brothers and sisters, and joyful saying of thanks, blessing his holy name with all that is within us. And let pray “with thanksgiving.”

John Chrysostom [Bishop of Constantinople in the 4th C; in a sermon he preached on this passage]: “It is comforting to know that the Lord is at hand…Here is a medicine to relieve grief and every bad circumstance and every pain. What is it? To pray and to give thanks in everything. He does not wish that a prayer be merely a petition but a thanksgiving for what we have received…How can one make petitions for the future without a thankful acknowledgement of past things” Thanksgiving is like a medicine not bec “prayer works,” but bec we recognize that God is good, and that he supplies us with all we need in this life for body and for soul.

And even when it seems that we lack in some area, even when there is some thorn in our side that we desperately want removed, even then he supplies every need of ours by sustaining us with his grace which is sufficient for us. And in this way, the God of peace continues to give us his peace which surpasses all understanding.

God himself is the God of peace; peace is the atmosphere of heaven. You are in a world full of trouble and anxiety, far from the heavenly city of which you are a citizen. But God sends a garrison of peace to guard you while you are away from your homeland. Yes, both joy and peace are possible, even in a world like this. He supplies them to us.

Loved ones, we live in a world where things are uncertain, and we live lives where things are uncertain. None of us knows what will happen to any one of us tomorrow or next week or next year. But whatever may happen in life or in death; whatever may take place in any conceivable situation or circumstance, whatever may be your lot, KNOW THIS: the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ will be sufficient, it will hold you, it will sustain you, it will even enable you to rejoice in tribulation, it will strengthen you, establish you, keep you, and cause you to persevere to the end. It will see you through and present you faultless, blameless, perfect in glory in the presence of God with joy!

Amen.

This sermon was preached by Rev. Michael Brown at Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, CA on Thanksgiving Day 2010.

What Does Confessional Christianity Look Like?

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Dr. Brian Lee, pastor of Christ Reformed Church, Washington DC, recently visited and ministered to CERF in Milan, Italy. He wrote this article for Christian Renewal. It is used here by permission.) What does confessional Christianity look like?

I recently had the privilege of trying to answer that question at a Reformation Day conference with a confessionally Reformed church in Italy — in truth, the only confessionally Reformed church in Italy — Chiesa Evangelica Riformata Filadelfia (CERF), in Milan.

To say that CERF is the sole confessionally Reformed church in Italy is no exaggeration. The church is pastored by URCNA missionary, Rev. Andrea Ferrari. It is the only known church in Italy that takes the Three Forms of Unity as its confessional standards, and it is the only Reformed church that confesses Reformed standards in a robust fashion and uses them weekly in the life and worship of the church.

For its annual Reformation Day conference this year, Rev. Ferrari focused our attention on the Belgic Confession, which was lobbed over the wall of the castle of Doornik on November 2nd, 450 years ago.

The Heidelberg Catechism is more well-known and celebrated than the Confession, and no doubt its 450th anniversary two years hence will draw a good bit more attention. Though the Confession and Catechism were written within two years of each other, they were written under radically different political circumstances. While the Catechism was created at the direction of Frederick III and the authorities in the Palatinate, the Confession as a defensio produced by a persecuted church, a church under the cross.

Because it was borne of persecution, the Belgic Confession bears witness to a crucial aspect of confessional Christianity, namely, its awareness that the Christian life is lived under the cross. The first editions of the Confession contained a letter to King Philip of Spain, under whom they were suffering, followed by a listing of “Certain passages of the New Testament, by which the faithful are exhorted to render a confession of their faith before men”:

Matthew 10 [32, 33]. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. Mark 8 [38] & Luke 9. For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” 1 Peter 3 [15]. Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; Romans 10 [10]. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 2 Timothy 2 [12]. If we deny Jesus Christ, he also will deny us. Guido de Bres, the author of the Confession, is justifying his disobedient action before the civil authorities, much as Luther had done a generation before, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

But he is also expressing something that he and his fellow confessors had learned through much hard experience and the shedding of blood. Jesus promised his church not prosperity, but suffering. He prepared his followers for that day when they would be hauled before the tribunal, and asked to recant their faith, and he promised that the Holy Spirit would give them words to say. And it is the confession of faith in the most difficult of circumstances, against the most stern opposition, that is the true test of our fidelity to the Son of Man. If we are ashamed of Him, of His Gospel, he will be ashamed of us when he comes in glory. If we deny Jesus Christ, he also will deny us.

Read in the light of these prefatory texts, the confession takes on a whole different significance. De Bres alludes to Romans 10 in the opening words of the first article, “We believe with all our heart and confess with our mouth that there is one simple and spiritual being, whom we call God.” The confession is not an intellectual exercise, nor an abstract statement of theological precision made for the sake of proving detractors wrong. It is, rather, a matter of life and death, made in the teeth of a furious earthly judgment, with an eye to coming heavenly judgment.

Obviously, I don’t dream of the day when the Reformed churches will once again be persecuted for their faith. Nor do I seek to draw an easy equivalency between the severe suffering of an earlier day and the relatively insignificant opposition we face today in North America.

But there is nevertheless a confessional sensibility, for lack of a better term, to the Belgic Confession that should characterize confessional churches whether they are a persecuted minority, or a ruling elite. It is, nevertheless, a bit easier to sense when you are a minority, as we forty saints were who gathered for worship and study in Milan a few weeks ago, as the sole confessional Christians in a nation of 60 million souls.

And it is this: Pure faith in Christ, truly confessed, will not ultimately be popular. It will draw opposition, from both within and without the church. It will be confessed at a price. While we should pray for the great success of our evangelistic efforts, we should not be surprised if this message doesn’t fill stadiums, or win laurels from cultural appraisers.

This point was brought home to me in reading the online comments on a Wall Street Journal article this week, “How Calvinists Spread Thanksgiving Cheer” (Nov. 18, 2011). One commenter dismissed the article because it discussed the charitable efforts of small church of “only” 1,500 members, and was therefore culturally irrelevant. I was reminded that the entire Eastern Classis of the URCNA has a little more than 1,100 professing members.

This confessional sensibility also results in a polemical statement of the faith. No fewer than 21 of 37 articles in the confession explicitly frame their teaching up by opposing errant views — a pattern the confession learned from the very pages of the New Testament. It is also a pattern that we see in the earliest days of creedal Christianity, as the church has ever sharpened and defined its faith in the face of error. Confessional Christians should not be afraid of clearly stating what we believe, and the errors we reject.

Reformed Christians in the west are no longer hung for their faith, as De Bres was, or consigned to the flames (though many around the world are still persecuted mightily). But we are tempted to seek influence, or to soften the difficult doctrines we confess. I know as a church planter, I have often worried how the rougher edges of our confession will sound to the new visitor. Many of us do speak — absurdly, given our size — of transforming the broader culture in which we live. As though we should expect to be welcomed as guiding lights by a world lost in darkness and opposed to the things of God.

We are also tempted to send our missions dollars off to grand programs which are accomplishing great things, we are lured by glossy brochures and internet video. The desire for bigness that permeates our culture, permeates also our church. It is a difficult choice to support a minister of Word and Sacrament, laboring against such long odds to plant confessionally Reformed churches in the challenging context of Italy.

What does confessional Christianity look like?

It is a small church in a small storefront in a small suburb north of Milan, the only such church in an entire nation. It is the preached word, the breaking of bread, and a handful of professions of faith. It is a faithful and learned pastor, praying and working that Christ’s church might be established in a land of long-dead faith.

[Please pray for CERF in Milan, and for Rev. Ferrari. Please support their work through the consistory of Christ United Reformed Church of Santee — they are outgrowing their building and wrestling with whether to remodel or build elsewhere. Please pray that the Lord would raise up church planters to assist Rev. Ferrari in his labors, Italians and/or Americans who are willing to come alongside him and continue to build a foundation for a federation of Reformed Churches in Italy.]