Thursday, September 30, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Pagan Planet

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Pagan Planet”
First Published: January 23, 2006

Men, just in case you get this edition of the First Epistle on Friday afternoon, and have forgotten that tonight’s the Mid South Men’s Rally, let me remind you that tonight, this Friday night, January 27, is the 21st annual edition of the Mid-South Men's Rally. The theme for the evening is "Sons and Fathers" and Dr. Al Mohler is speaking. Hurry on down to the church for dinner (5:15 - 6:30 p.m., served in Miller Hall), by some good Christian books to read (bookstore open), hear some great preaching (6:30 - 7:30 p.m. Session I: "The Father's Obligation to the Son" Deuteronomy 6:1-9), enjoy a break, fellowship and cookies! (7:30 - 8:00 p.m. refreshments in Miller Hall), hear some more great preaching (8:00 - 9:00 p.m. Session II: "The Son's Obligation to the Father" Genesis 50:12-21), and bring your fathers, brothers, sons, nephews, grandsons, and friends. No registration is necessary and there is no charge for the rally or the dinner.

I also want to invite everyone in the congregation to a special seminar by Dr. Peter Jones on Saturday, February 11, 2006 from 9-12. Most of you have heard of the “New Age Movement,” or the “New Spirituality,” or “Modern Gnosticism.” But even if you haven’t heard of these things, you’ve encountered them. Whether it was watching the Star Wars movies, or Forest Gump, or reading The Da Vinci Code, you have been introduced to this growing global movement in spirituality.

The technical term for it is neo-paganism. And Dr. Peter Jones is perhaps the world’s leading Christian expert on this new phenomenon that is re-shaping the world we live in. So, on Saturday, February 11, Dr. Jones is coming to Jackson and is going to do a two-session seminar on this important and interesting subject.

There is no cost for the seminar, and no need to register. We would like to especially invite any students (particularly those in high school and college) and those that work with them. Sunday school teachers, youth workers, pastors, parents of adolescents and pre-adolescents, professionals — all are welcome to attend.

Identifying and understanding neo-paganism is a vital part of proper cultural analysis, and it is hard to think of any place more heavily influenced by neo-paganism than our campuses. Truly, anyone interested in under-standing the present world would greatly benefit from Dr. Jones’ insights into one of the most powerful forces that is shaping modern culture.

Peter has a fascinating testimony, by the way. He was born in Liverpool, England, where he would buy fish and chips on Penny Lane with John Lennon (yes, that John Lennon!!), a high school friend with whom Peter shared a desk at school for five years. Peter and John played music together at school, but Peter never became a Beatle because his Christian parents wouldn't allow him to go to clubs! When Peter eventually got serious about his studies, he went to the University of Wales (smile, Derek and Brad!), then across the pond on a steamer to Gordon Divinity School, near Boston, Massachusetts. During Peter’s master's year at Harvard Divinity School, he “met” Francis Schaeffer (through his books) and a pretty and very smart Wellesley College student, Rebecca Clowney, daughter of Edmund P. Clowney, president for many years of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Rebecca became Peter’s wife, and they served as missionaries in France (our church supported them for years).

Now Peter helps Christians become more discerning through his ministry CWiPP – Christian Witness to a Pagan Planet. Don’t miss this opportunity to grow!

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Editorial Note: Dr. Jones’ sermons may be found here,


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: In the Wake of Katrina

The Pastor’s Perspective
“In the Wake of Katrina”
First Published: October 4, 2005

On this past Sunday evening, I had the privilege of participating in the ordination and installation service of Guy Richard, in Biloxi, Mississippi. Guy is now the duly installed minister of the First Presbyterian Church, Gulfport, but the service was held in the First Presbyterian Church of Biloxi’s church building because the destruction wrought upon the Gulfport congregation’s church facility by Hurricane Katrina. The Rev. Richard is a former member and intern here at First Presbyterian Church and a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary. After serving in the areas of Singles and Discipleship here at First Pres, he and his wife Jennifer took their family to Edinburgh, Scotland where Guy pursued doctoral studies at New College, University of Edinburgh, and where he also served as a PCA MTW missionary, assisting in the work of the church. He was called by First Pres., Gulfport this summer, and October 2 was chosen for the date of his ordination/installation long before Katrina ever formed. Who could have imagined the havoc that storm would wreak upon the coast and our PCA congregations there, or that the ordination service would move ahead anyway?

Anne and I dropped the kids off with Marie Phillips on Sunday afternoon right after church, picked up Ruling Elder Bebo Elkin (who had been asked by Grace Presbytery to give the pastoral charge –an exhortation to faithfulness in the Gospel ministry– to Guy in the service) and Dan Chase (RUF intern at Belhaven) and we headed to the coast. The further we went down Highway 49, the more damage we saw (but we were amazed that the progress clean up crews have made in just a month).

We arrived around 4:15 in the afternoon at the home of Ruling Elder Tim Murr, where Guy is currently living (Jennifer and the children have been living in Atlanta, and will join Guy
in a small rental home in Gulfport they’ve just secured soon), and where the “church office” of First Gulfport, such as it is, is now located. We loaded up four cars full of family, members and friends and headed to the Gulfport church building – to view firsthand the damage of the storm.

So many of you who have been there and have showed me your pictures have said “these do not capture the devastation” and now I know what you mean. The massive First Baptist Church of Gulfport, had its mighty seaward wall crushed and swept away by the surge. Nothing is left of the ground floor of that great building and the bare steel I-beams now alone support the listing remainder of the upper story of the sanctuary.

It was disheartening to see in person the harm done to the First Presbyterian, Gulfport buildings. The pews are gone – ripped from the floor-bolts and swept away. The beautiful pulpit has perished too – the scraps of its remains scattered along what once was the chancel wall. The church fellowship hall was wave-washed all the way to the ceiling – removing the letters from the banners suspended therefrom. First, Gulfport and First, Biloxi are two of the handsomest presbyterian houses of worship in the State, and to behold them in their distress was troubling. But the buildings of First Biloxi have weathered the storm in much better shape than Gulfport’s. First Gulfport’s elders and congregation will have some hard decisions to make about what to do. Raze and rebuild? Relocate? Pray for wisdom and resources.

The long, slow drive along 90, down the coast to Biloxi, dodging sink holes and other obstacles, revealed the widespread impact of Katrina’s surge. Beauvoir (Jefferson Davis’ home), which had survived even the wrath of Camille, is in shambles, along with so many other stately homes. But no scene of desolation could dampen the joy given us by the Lord in the gathering and worship that night.

We arrived at First, Biloxi around 5:30 and Bebo and I met with the Grace Presbyterian Commission, in Pastor David Skinner’s office, for preparation and prayer. By this time, several encouragements has already come our way. (1) We’d heard of the crowd at First, Gulfport’s morning service – so many were present that they ran out of their meager supply of elements for communion. (2) We’d heard of the presence of Pastor Rick Phillips of the First Presbyterian Church of Coral Springs in Margate, Florida. He’d preached in the morning in Florida and then flown to Gulfport for the evening service! His congregation has heaped financial support, material supplies and tangible aid on the beleaguered folks at First, Gulfport from the very first days of the crisis. (3) We heard of the presence of several relief crews from PCA churches from Delaware (including folks from Jay Harvey’s church – Evangelical Pres. in Newark), North Carolina, South Carolina (including members of Carl Robbins’ congregation, Woodruff Road PCA in Simpsonville, SC and Mount Calvary in Spartanburg County, where Richard Thomas serves), Florida and points beyond – aiding the PCA churches and congregants from Moss Point to Biloxi to Gulfport and more. (4) We’d encountered a good contingent of folks from First, Jackson who’d made the journey down (thank you, dear friends!).

The service began a little after six. Ruling Elder Tim Murr made a number of announcements and introductions, and expressed thanks to those present who had provided help and support to the Gulfport congregation. Pastor David Skinner of Biloxi led the service. He is an impressive young man (a graduate of RTS Jackson) and set a worshipful tone of solemn joy, enthusiasm and energy from the very start.

We had lights, fans, an organ (with a very capable organist) a sound system and a packed house in the stately sanctuary of First, Biloxi, but no air conditioning – so we sweated profusely in the late afternoon coastal heat. But our delight in and gratitude to God was undiminished. A camera crew was there from the local network, and the ladies of First Presbyterian, Hattiesburg provided a delicious reception outdoors on the front lawn after the service.

Several things struck me. First, here was a glorious demonstration that the church is not a building but a people. Or to put it even more biblically – the Lord’s people is his building. The congregation in Gulfport does not have a habitable building, and had to see their new minister ordained in another congregation’s meeting house, but they are themselves the Lord’s building. The bricks of First, Gulfport are wave-battered and strewn but God is still building his church living stone by living stone.

Second, here was a minister of the gospel who could have pulled out from his commitment and walked away to a more comfortable place of service, but didn’t. Guy is a highly educated and capable young man. He had many opportunities to serve elsewhere. He had made a commitment to come to a church and then that church had been scattered by a great storm. He arrived to find a third of his congregation without homes and jobs, many of the people were scattered afar, he no longer had usable church buildings, no assurance of a salary, no place for his family, no place to live, no certainty that the congregation would survive the ordeal – he could have just said “Well, I’m sorry it didn’t work out, I’ll find some other place to serve,” but didn’t. He went toward the uncertainty and disruption and loss of the situation, and ministered to God’s wounded people. Guy, and the other PCA ministers on the coast, bone-tired, with no end in sight to the recovery, have soldiered on in the face of the devastation. Who knows what gospel fruit this will bear?

Third, and following on that, it struck me that Katrina may well turn out, unexpectedly, to be God’s strategic design to bring about everlasting spiritual good to those who have suffered so much temporally and physically from her battering waves. Will Christian love shine brighter in the wake of Katrina? Will hearts be open to the Gospel that were not so before? Will God use gospel love to all in need, in the midst of this widespread human misery, through local Bible-believing, Christ-exalting, Gospel-preaching-and-living churches, to bring spiritual renewal to the coast? Let’s pray so.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Monday, September 27, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: God and Katrina

The Pastor’s Perspective
“God and Katrina”
First Published: September 6, 2005

Mississippi has endured in this last week was, perhaps, the most significant “natural” and human disaster in the history of our State. Yes, one could argue that the Flood of 1927 rivals the extent of this storm’s impact, and one could rightly note the impacts of the Civil War, and the two World Wars on the citizenry of the state. But the intensity of Katrina’s affect is staggering. Virtually the whole state has been touched.

We have now seen the images of the devastation of our coast (and the storm surge was significantly higher than Camille’s – the storm by which all others are measured in Mississippi), but consider this too, even here in Jackson, as of Tuesday morning after the storm’s passing, something like 90% (or more) of the homes in our metro area had no light/power, and at one point over half the state was in the dark. Water supplies have been dramatically impacted by the storm, and much of the state has been under a boil water alert. The disruption of petroleum flow has been an obstacle for the relief operations, and a daily challenge and nuisance in our city, and for a while at least had nationwide consequences (including isolated gas shortages/rationing/price gouging [over $5 a gallon in Atlanta it is said], disruption of air travel, etc.). Meanwhile, thousands are sheltering in Jackson, Vicksburg and elsewhere.

Our church buildings took some water damage but are basically fine. Except for the office suite, we went all of last week without light and power, and were not able to host meetings or Wednesday services. The steeple of Brandon PCA was blown off. Our Twin Lakes Conference Center housed evacuees from New Orleans (including folks from Desire Street), but Twin Lakes, too, lost power and also endured the wrath of the winds.

First Presbyterian Church (PCA), Gulfport’s buildings were ravaged by wind and water. Gulfport was set to install Dr. Guy Richard (one of our former interns) as their minister next month but now there is uncertainty as to what that ministry will look like. Many of their members lost homes and may not remain in Gulfport but move elsewhere. The future of our PCA presence all along the coast is thus uncertain. One of their members, who literally lost everything, called Missye Rhee Breazeale last week and said “My wife and I have been married for 37 years and all we have left is one another.”

Yes, these days have been hard, but glorious too. I’ve had calls and emails from pastors and churches in Arizona, South Carolina, Texas, Georgia, Maryland, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Florida, Tennessee, Scotland, England, Japan and elsewhere who want to help come to the aid of those in need. We’re sad, very sad, when we think of all of the destruction, but we are trusting in the Lord who is the God of storms and “gathers the winds in his fists.” Katrina’s waves were his and now we must study the message of his providence and respond to it humbly by his grace. And there have been so many encouragements.

For instance, I asked many friends around the US and World to pray for us, here at First Presbyterian Church, specifically, (1) that we as a congregation would care for others more than for ourselves, (2) that we would bear good witness to Christ in word and life, (3) that we would be able to contact and help evangelical churches on the coast and South of I-20, (4) that we would get power back at the church, and (5) that the ministers would be able to get fuel for our autos so that we can do visitation and be of more help during this hard time.

I am struck today at how the Lord has answered all those prayers. First, daily I am learning about how various members are taking a lead in the relief operations here and on the coast. It causes my heart to rejoice every time I hear of it. Keep on in love and good deeds. Second, in connection with the first, the strong attendance at public worship yesterday coupled with the way families are taking in those who have been displaced, are surely good witness to the glory and grace of God, in Christ. Third, I have been able to make significant contact with PCA ministers south of I-20, plus there will be important efforts this week to coordinate our relief work with other area evangelical churches and leaders. Fourth, the power came back on at First Presbyterian Church on Saturday evening. We hope to be able to resume a reasonably normal schedule of activities in the days ahead. Fifth, a church member enabled our ministers to get fuel for their cars that should last us to the end of this week. God is good. Keep praying.

And what a glorious worship service we had out on the lawn at the pavilion on Sunday morning. You don’t know how you encouraged me!

Over the days to come, I want to suggest that all of you who have internet access to visit the following websites and weblogs regularly, in order to track the ministry of First Presbyterian Church, Jackson during these difficult days, and in order to find out how you can serve alongside of the congregation in our ongoing efforts at disaster relief.

How appropriate it was that Derek should be preaching on Lamentations 3:22-23 on last Sunday morning, even as this colossal storm Katrina hurtled towards New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, Mississippi and even our beloved Jackson. God was faithful to us. We are still here. God is faithful, and we sang that truth back to him last Sunday morning. And now we will bear witness to that in life and death, and in word and deed.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Predestination in the Episcopal Tradition

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Predestination in the Episcopal Tradition”
First Published: August 9, 2005

For the last two weeks, we have been looking at the Bible’s teaching on predestination. We said that predestination means God’s eternal and sovereign plan or purpose of salvation. We also said that the Greek word that we render in English as “predestine” or “predestinate” is found in several times in the New Testament (for instance, Acts 2:23, Acts 4:28, Romans 8:29-30, 1Corinthians 2:7, Ephesians 1:5, 11) .

We argued and demonstrated that the Bible unambiguously teaches predestination. But then we also asked, isn’t predestination just a presbyterian thing? Isn’t it just a presbyterian interpretation of Scripture that nobody else agrees with? We answered with an emphatic no! And we showed how, for instance, that Baptists used to believe exactly as do presbyterians on this subject (and many still do).

What about the Episcopal or Anglican Church? What have they traditionally believed regarding predestination? Well, here is a taste from the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England, still the most notable doctrinal statement of the whole Anglican communion worldwide. It says:

XVII. Of Predestination and Election.
Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God, be called according to God's purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.

As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchedness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.

Furthermore, we must receive God's promises in such wise, as they be generally set forth to us in Holy Scripture: and, in our doings, that Will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God.

So there is another example of a non-presbyterian church tradition that affirms the biblical teaching on predestination. But that still leaves us with some questions. Does predestination make us puppets? How is it different from determinism? What about free will? Is this fair? What about evil, did God ordain that too? If so, how could he?

But that’s for next week!

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Baptists and Predestination

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Baptists and Predestination”
First Published: August 2, 2005

Last week, we began a brief consideration of the Bible’s teaching on predestination. We said that predestination means God’s eternal and sovereign plan or purpose of salvation. We also said that the Greek word that we render in English as “predestine” or “predestinate” is found in several times in the New Testament (for instance, Acts 2:23, Acts 4:28, Romans 8:29-30, 1Corinthians 2:7, Ephesians 1:5, 11).

We looked briefly at each of these passages and observed how they emphatically affirm the doctrine of predestination. Acts 2:22-24 clearly teaches that God’s predetermined plan was for Jesus to be betrayed by wicked men. In Acts 4:27-28 the early Christians openly acknowledging in prayer that God predestined/predetermined/preplanned for Jesus’ enemies to oppose him. Romans 8:29-30 declares that God predestined everything in life (even trials) to work for our sanctification. 1 Corinthians 2:1-10 asserts that God predetermined to reveal his wisdom to believers in Christ, but not to the worldly wise. Ephesians 1:5- 11 joyfully acknowledges and praises God that he has predestined us, not simply to salvation, but also to adoption as sons and inheritance in Christ.

But isn’t predestination just a presbyterian thing? Isn’t it just a presbyterian interpretation of Scripture that nobody else agrees with? No. In fact, there was a time when almost all Protestants heartily embraced the Bible’s clear teaching on predestination. Baptists, Congregationalist, Independent, Episcopal, as well as Reformed and Presbyterian churches all used to have predestination as a part of their corporate statements of faith. Don’t believe me? Well, check this out, from the Second London Baptist Confession:

Chapter 3: Of God's Decree
1. God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree. ( Isaiah 46:10; Ephesians 1:11; Hebrews 6:17; Romans 9:15, 18; James 1:13; 1 John 1:5; Acts 4:27, 28; John 19:11; Numbers 23:19; Ephesians 1:3-5 )

2. Although God knoweth whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything, because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions. ( Acts 15:18; Romans 9:11, 13, 16, 18 )

3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise of his glorious grace; others being left to act in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of his glorious justice. ( 1 Timothy 5:21; Matthew 25:34; Ephesians 1:5, 6; Romans 9:22, 23; Jude 4 )

4. These angels and men thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished. ( 2 Timothy 2:19; John 13:18 )

5. Those of mankind that are predestinated to life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any other thing in the creature as a condition or cause moving him thereunto. ( Ephesians 1:4, 9, 11; Romans 8:30; 2 Timothy 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; Romans 9:13, 16; Ephesians 2:5, 12 )

6. As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so he hath, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto; wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ, by his Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation; neither are any other redeemed by Christ, or effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only. ( 1 Peter 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:9, 10; Romans 8:30; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:5; John 10:26; John 17:9; John 6:64)

7. The doctrine of the high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election; so shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel. ( 1 Thessalonians 1:4, 5; 2 Peter 1:10; Ephesians 1:6; Romans 11:33; Romans 11:5, 6, 20; Luke 10:20)

How about that? That is what the Baptist ministers who founded the Southern Baptist Convention believed! And it’s the same thing our good friend Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky believes today. And we agree with them every step of the way. Because they are just affirming what the Bible teaches.

Next week, we take a look at the what the Episcopal Church has historically believed regarding predestination.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, September 20, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Electing Love

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Electing Love”
First Published: July 26, 2005

The past few Sundays we have had the opportunity to ponder, albeit briefly, the glorious truth of God’s electing and predestining love. Very often predestination is a matter of debate rather than a matter of praise, so this week and next (and longer if we need to) in this column, I’d like to offer to very basic explanation in relation to this oft-disputed but truly comforting biblical truth.

By predestination, we mean, in general, God’s eternal and sovereign plan or purpose of salvation. The Greek word that we render in English as “predestine” or “predestinate” is found in several times in the New Testament (for instance, Acts 2:23, Acts 4:28, Romans 8:29-30, 1Corinthians 2:7, Ephesians 1:5, 11) and in all of them it has the same meaning. Each of these passages teach that God’s eternal, sovereign, unchangeable, unconditional decree, or his predetermined purpose, governs all events.

The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way – “God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” Naturally, this raises all sorts of questions in people’s minds. Does this make us puppets? How is this different from determinism? What about free will? Is this fair? What about evil, did God ordain that too? If so, how could he? But before we go down that track, let’s just go to the Bible, and agree that we will believe whatever it teaches, whether it is hard to understand or not.

* First, notice how Acts 2:22-24 clearly teaches that God’s predetermined plan was for Jesus to be betrayed by wicked men.
22 "Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know– 23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 "But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.

* Second, just a couple of chapters later, we find in Acts 4:27-28 the early Christians openly acknowledging in prayer that God predestined/predetermined/preplanned for Jesus’ enemies to oppose him.
27 "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.

* Third, Paul reminds us in Romans 8:29-30 that God predestined everything in life (even trials) to work for our sanctification.
28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

* Fourth, in 1 Corinthians 2:1-10 Paul again tells us that God predetermined to reveal his wisdom to believers in Christ, but not to the worldly wise.
1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. 6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; 9 but just as it is written, "THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM." 10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.

* Fifth, as we are currently noting in our study of Ephesians, Paul’s great prayer in Ephesians 1:3-14 (see especially Ephesians 1:5, 11) joyfully acknowledges and praises God that he has predestined us, not simply to salvation, but also to adoption as sons and inheritance in Christ.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.

It is clear enough from these passages that predestination is an indisputably biblical teaching. But even if the very thought of the subject stretches and boggles your mind, it is important to recognize the practicality and comfort of this glorious truth. Charles Hodge, the great Princeton theologian (who taught the first pastor of this church theology over 170 years ago) has truly said that: “rightly understood, this doctrine (1) exalts the majesty and absolute sovereignty of God, while it illustrates the riches of his free grace and his just displeasure with sin. (2) It enforces upon us the essential truth that salvation is entirely of grace. That no one can either complain if passed over, or boast himself if saved. (3) It brings the inquirer to absolute self-despair and the cordial embrace of the free offer of Christ. (4) In the case of the believer who has the witness in himself, this doctrine at once deepens his humility and elevates his confidence to the full assurance of hope.”

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Looking forward to the new sanctuary

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Looking forward to the new sanctuary”
First Published, July 5, 2005

This Lord’s Day, Sunday, July 10, 2005 will be the last Sunday on which we will worship in our sanctuary in its present form. That same Lord’s Day, we will be (very appropriately) celebrating the Lord’s Supper in our morning services. These imminent realities bring a number of thoughts to mind. First, we need to give praise to God for his faithfulness to us and the manifold blessings he has heaped on us over the years we have gathered in this beautiful place. Betty Edwards tells me that the last Sunday service in the “old church” down on the Corner of North State and Yazoo (near today’s First Baptist Church) was on August 26, 1951. The last prayer meeting in the old church was August 29, 1951. So the first Sunday service in the “new church” was September 2, 1951. Almost 54 years of preaching, Sunday morning and evening worship services, Wednesday night prayer meetings, weddings, funerals, Missions Conferences, Men’s Rallies, and even a General Assembly were hosted in this venerable old meeting house. Think of how many came to know God here – the conversions, the Christian growth, the encouragements and the challenges. And thank God.

Second, let us think of the blessing of the communion of the saints, even as we celebrate the communion of the Lord’s Supper this Sunday – and let us recommit ourselves to it. These two coming years are going to present many challenges to our convenience and patience, but they will also afford opportunities for us to love one another selflessly. Be doubly thoughtful, patient, and helpful to one another as we begin the renovation/expansion project. Determine right now that this time away from our beloved old sanctuary is going to be a time for growth in grace, congregational and harmony, self-denial for the sake of our fellow members, and extra effort to come to the aid of our visitors.

Third, we need to re-commit ourselves to our collective vow “to support the church in its worship and work” to the best of our abilities, in at least two ways. First, in church attendance. We all need to determine now to continue (or improve or begin) the habit of every Lord’s Day morning and evening worship attendance, and to avail ourselves of the prayer meeting and Wednesday evening’s fellowship times. Healthy Christian life is fostered in a congregation when all the members of the body faithfully commit to the public means of grace – to joining together under the reading and preaching of the word of God, the taking of the sacraments and corporate prayer. Second, in church giving. The next three years are going to challenge us and stretch us as to our church’s ministry budget, missions giving and support of capital expansion. Unless we are faithful, generous, regular, and sacrificial, the ministry of the church could face serious interruption.

For instance, already this year we find ourselves deeper in the red in cash flow for the regular budget than any time in recent memory. Our church ministry budget expenses in the year-to-date have already outpaced our giving by around $650,000. That is, we are well into the negative in giving versus expenditures, though we are only halfway through the year. Primarily, this is because we are behind our pace in regular giving. I will give the staff orders this week to stop all non-essential spending. If we do not see a dramatic change in the giving patterns over the next couple of months severe measures will need to be taken by the elders and deacons.

So if you are behind in your regular giving: catch up! If you are a member who is not giving, now is the time to begin. If you have been focusing on charitable giving outside of the church, now is the time to focus on supporting the work of this body. If you are able to give above and beyond your pledge, do so. If the Lord has granted you a windfall – give it to the church. Let’s not allow the Lord’s work to be hampered by a lack of material support, now or anytime over the course of the next three or four crucial years. I’m still dreaming of a year when we never go into the red!

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, September 13, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: From the Retiring Moderator

The Pastor’s Perspective
“From the Retiring Moderator”
First Published: June 20, 2005

I’m writing this from Greenville, South Carolina, where we’ve enjoyed two nice days with my family (all of whom were in town on this past Sunday for my youngest brother’s firstborn son’s baptism – Melton Ledford Duncan, Jr.). We’ll be on the way to Anne’s folks in Columbia later today.

I’m still rejoicing about the successful VBS we’ve just enjoyed, and thankful for the good hard work of all our dedicated VBS workers, especially our Director, Beverly Harmon, our Assistant Director, Anne Pringle, Cynthia Carter, Skit Director, Jane Yerger, Music Coordinator, and our Children’s ministry directors Barbara Porter and Weezie Polk. Thank you dear friends, for all you’ve done for our children.

General Assembly week in Chattanooga was glorious — filled with good preaching, helpful seminars and many happy reunions. On Monday and Tuesday, I had the pleasure of participating in a pre-Assembly conference sponsored by RTS called “The Westminster Confession for Today.” The lectures delivered were outstanding. Sinclair Ferguson’s address on the moral law was a tour de force. Chad Van Dixhoorn’s paper on the Westminster Assembly’s debate over the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us (which is again a hot topic today) was stellar. Al Mohler’s plenary address on preaching was seraphic. Buy a set of these CD’s and give them to a seminarian. They’ll love it.

After enjoying a luncheon with the conference speakers on Tuesday, I gave the first of three seminars at GA. The first seminar I did was on public worship: From Worship Wars to Biblical Consensus: Doxological Commitments and Commonalities for the PCA. The room was packed and the people seemed interested and receptive. Later that afternoon, I did a video interview for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) and then hosted a dinner sponsored by CBMW for PCA leaders.

On Tuesday night, my whole family was with me for the worship service. Anne’s mom and dad, Marge and Bill Harley, came over from Columbia, SC. Her brother Bill Harley and his wife Becky, came over from Clemson, SC. My brother John was up from Orlando. And my mother, Shirley, and brother, sister-in-law and newborn nephew, Mel, Lynda and Ford Duncan, were all over from Greenville, SC. I preached the retiring moderatorial sermon, along the theme of this year’s GA – “The Year of the Ruling Elder.”

On Wednesday morning, I did two more seminars, the first was on The Marks of a Healthy Church. Again, to my surprise(!), the attendance was strong. Immediately following it, in the same room, I gave my third and last seminar, on Justification by Faith and the New Perspective(s) on Paul. I chose this subject because the hottest theological debate in the Reformed community today relates, surprisingly, to the doctrine of justification by faith.

Wednesday at lunch, I enjoyed hosting a luncheon for all the living and present former moderators of the PCA GA. It was provided by our elders at First Pres., and was a delightful time of fellowship for this faithful servants. Sinclair Ferguson’s sermon on Wednesday night was stratospheric, and John Piper’s message on Thursday night was glorious and powerful. I’m so thankful for those two brothers. Jim Moore has already shared with you a little about the business of GA, but I’ll comment more later.

Can’t wait to see you all again this Sunday morning and evening!

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Thursday, September 09, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Bearers of God's Image

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Bearers of God’s Image”
First Published: May 16, 2005

Last week, we looked at the issues relating to the Terry Schiavo case (Is it sinning to withdraw nutrition and hydration (food and water) from a patient when death is not imminent? To what extent do human beings have autonomy over our bodies in relation to our own death, in light of the sovereignty of God and the sanctity of human life, at least with regard to refusing medical treatment? At what point does quality of life become so bad that ending life is justified?) via the lenses of the sixth commandment and the Larger Catechism.

Several things stood out to us in that study. First, the Catechism reminded us, in expounding the sixth commandment, that we have a duty “to preserve the life of ourselves and others.” This, of course, means that suicide and enthanasia are forbidden under the sixth commandment, but it also has implications for the question of withdrawing hydration and nutrition. Second, the Catechism explains that we are to avoid “all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any.” Third, the Catechism reminds us that we have an obligation to comfort and aid the distressed. Fourth, the Catechism also tells us that “the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life” is a violation of the sixth commandment. This principle is particularly relevant to the Schiavo case.

So what do these principles mean for the Schiavo case and others like it. Well, for one thing, the Catechism indicates that obedience to the sixth commandment, forbids the withdrawal of hydration and nutrition (food and water) unless death is imminent and inevitable. That is, the withdrawal of food and water must not be the proximate cause of death. Food and water are basic necessities of life (not “heroic” or “extraordinary measures”), and if we were to withdraw them from a perfectly healthy person for a time, he or she would die. Whether the means by which nutrition and hydration are provided (by spoon and fork, straw, enteral and parenteral, or other means) is immaterial to this fundamental to this obligation.

Secondly, even in cases of severe dementia, end-stage Alzheimer’s, or the patient’s own desire to end his life, such conditions are subordinate to the prior obligation of obedience to the sixth commandment. In such cases, our following God’s Word, is both an act of obedience to the sixth commandment and an act of love and compassion, regardless of the perception of an unbelieving world.

Thirdly, regarding the recent withdrawal of food and water from Terri Schiavo, and her subsequent death (a case that has received more attention across our nation than any medical ethical case in recent memory): though it is not the Church’s calling to engage in a post-mortem concerning who failed, how, and why, nevertheless, it has presented us with a teachable moment in our national life. There are circumstances in which Terri Schiavo’s food and water might morally and lawfully have been withdrawn: namely, if death had been imminent and inevitable and if the continued provision of food and water–within that specific context of imminence and inevitability–would have been determined to be excessively burdensome. However, the one thing certain about Terri Schiavo was that her death was not imminent and inevitable. On the contrary, she was quite persistent in living, and there is no reason to believe the loving care she was provided--specifically her nutrition and hydration–was burdensome. Rather, her physical condition was burdensome, while being completely compatible with life.

To accomplish her death required withdrawing the necessary means of the sustaining of her life with the direct intent of killing her, which it did. Consequently, her starvation was a violation of God’s Moral Law as revealed in Scripture, the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). Terri Schiavo bore God’s image and was owed by all those involved the basic means necessary for the preservation and sustaining of her life–specifically, the provision of food and water.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

NOTE: I am indebted to Tim Bayley and the Ohio Valley Presbytery for many of the thoughts and words in this article.


Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: On the Sanctity of Life

The Pastor’s Perspective
“On the Sanctity of Life”
First Published: May 9, 2005

A few weeks ago, we began to ponder the issues relating to the Terry Schiavo case. A congregation member posed a series of outstanding questions, including: Is it sinning to withdraw nutrition and hydration (food and water) from a patient when death is not imminent? “To what extent do human beings have autonomy over our bodies in relation to our own death, in light of the sovereignty of God and the sanctity of human life (at least with regard to refusing medical treatment)? At what point does quality of life become so bad that ending life is justified?

A good place to start in this whole area is with the sixth commandment: You shall not murder (Exodus 20:13). Our Larger Catechism gives us some excellent help in understanding how this command applies to medical ethics when it speaks to the duties and violations of the sixth commandment:

Q.135 What are the duties required in the sixth commandment?
A. The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defense thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physic [exercise], sleep, labor, and recreations; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.

Q.136 What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.

Several things stand out in these two questions and answers that are applicable to the Terry Schiavo case, and to end of life decisions in general. First, the Catechism reminds us that we have a duty “to preserve the life of ourselves and others.” This, of course, means that suicide and enthanasia are forbidden under the sixth commandment, but it also has implications for the question of withdrawing hydration and nutrition. We’ll explore some of those implications next week.

Second, the Catechism reminds us that we are to avoid “all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any.” That is, we are even to take care to avoid the opportunities and actions that might lead to the unjust death of another person.

Third, the Catechism reminds us that we have an obligation to comfort and aid the distressed. Those who are in a vulnerable condition are a particular concern of ours.

Fourth, the Catechism categorically states that “all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense” is murder. This obviously highlights the sanctity of life, and reminds us of the sobriety with which we must approach all end of life decisions about ourselves and others.

Fifth, the Catechism also tells us that “the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life” is a violation of the sixth commandment. This principle is particularly relevant to the Schiavo case. We’ll explore it next week.

Sixth, the Catechism tells us that “whatsoever else tends to the [unjust] destruction of the life of any” is forbidden under the sixth commandment. This global statement again reinforces the care we must take in these matters. Next week, we’ll start drawing some implications for end of life issues.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, September 06, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Biblical Womanhood

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Biblical Womanhood”
First Published: March 22, 2005

It’s Spring Break week at First Presbyterian, and so many of us are scattered to the four winds. Nevertheless, there is much going on at the church.

This coming Lord’s Day will feature some of our very favorite hymns of the Christian church – there are almost too many good resurrection hymns for us to sing! This day may also afford you a special opportunity to invite friends to attend church, who do not attend regularly or at all.

Remember too, the importance of Jesus’ resurrection to the Christian faith. J.I. Packer says:
“Christianity rests on the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection as a space-time occurrence in history. All four Gospels highlight it, focusing on the empty tomb and resurrection appearances, and Acts insists on it (Acts 1:3; 2:24-35; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30-32; 13:33-37). Paul regarded the Resurrection as indisputable proof that the message about Jesus as Judge and Savior is true (Acts 17:31; 1 Cor. 15:1-11,20). Jesus’ resurrection demonstrated his victory over death (Acts 2:24; 1 Cor. 15:54-57), vindicated him as righteous (John 16:10), and indicated his divine identity (Rom. 1:4). It led on to his ascension and enthronement (Acts 1:9-11; 2:34; Phil. 2:9-11; cf. Isa. 53:10-12) and his present heavenly reign. It guarantees the believer’s present forgiveness and justification (Rom. 4:25; 1 Cor. 15: 17) and is the basis of resurrection life in Christ for the believer here and now (John 11:25-26; Rom. 6; Eph. 1:18-2:10; Col. 2:9-15; 3:1-4).” You may want to study these passages during the week as you prepare for worship this coming Lord’s Day.

I recently picked up a copy of Girl Talk: Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood (Crossway Books), by Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Mahaney Whitacre. It may prove a stimulating book for mothers and daughters looking to read something together to jump start some good conversation about the things that really matter. One appendix in particular deals with modesty. I thought Carolyn’s questions for a “heart check” were right on: “What statement do my clothes makes about my heart? In choosing what clothes to wear today, whose attention do I desire, and whose approval do I crave? Am I seeking to please God or impress others? Is what I wear consistent with the biblical values of modesty, self-control, and respectable apparel, or does my dress reveal an inordinate identification and fascination with sinful cultural values? Who am I trying to identify with through my dress? Is the Word of God my standard or is the latest fashion? Have I asked other godly individuals to evaluate my wardrobe? Does my clothing reveal my allegiance to the gospel, or is there any contradiction between my profession of faith and my practice of godliness?”

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Thursday, September 02, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Belhaven ‘College’

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Belhaven ‘College’”
First Published: February 22, 2005

twitter: since going “coed” in 1954, Belhaven University has done great things, and continues to do so

The latest edition of the Belhaven Tartan (118.1, Winter 2005) is out and there are a number of things to which I’d like to draw your attention. First, this edition celebrates Belhaven going co-ed in 1954 and thus highlights a numbers of ministers, members, missionaries and friends of our congregation who were part of that grand change in 71 years of Belhaven’s history as a women’s college. Buck Mosal, Brister Ware, Bill Hughes and Palmer Robertson were all parts of the early days of co-educational experience at Belhaven. There are lots of good stories and pictures relating to those times in the magazine. I’d encourage you to make a contribution to Belhaven and sign up for the Tartan so that you can keep up with the encouraging developments at this historic institution with which we have long-standing ties.

Second, this edition of the Tartan tells a little about Belhaven’s President, Dr. Roger Parrott’s leadership of the 2004 Forum for World Evangelization, put together by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (LCWE). As many of you know, the LCWE is a ministry network to promote cooperation and collaboration in the task of missions. It was established with the leadership of Billy Graham and John Stott back in the early 1970s. What an honor for our own Belhaven President to take such a lead in this venerable and important organization.

Third, there is a nice note in the Tartan about Guy Waters’ new book Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul. Guy and his wife Sarah are part of our church family, and Guy leads the presbytery’s credentials committee. His lectures on and written critiques of new theological trends that are undermining or attempting to modify our Confession’s exposition of the biblical teaching on justification by grace alone through faith alone are widely respected and are proving a great help to the whole PCA.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan