Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Another Favorite Hymn

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Another Favorite Hymn”
First Published: November 13, 2007

One of my very favorite hymns is “What Wondrous Love Is This.” The lyrics, sometimes attributed to Alexander Means, run like this:

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb Who is the great “I Am”;
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing;
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on.

This is an old hymn, dating from the famous shaped-note songbook The Southern Harmony (1835). If you grew up in Dixie, you probably had Grandparents who sang songs (or at least remembered hearing songs) from that hymnal. The tune is a simple but haunting folk tune.

The focus of the hymn is the love of God. As we grasp the love of God, we learn to love, and are constrained by his love to share it with others, all others. His love is too great to be hidden in silence in the hearts of his people. It must be told out and sung out, and that’s what this song celebrates.

There are but three stanzas of this hymn included in our hymnal, and they each focus on very simple but profound themes. Basically, the song asks us to think about, or rather, to be lost in the glory of the love of Christ. Then it brings home two practical applications of that love: (1) the desire to exalt the Lord for that love, and (2) the comforting truth that we’ll sing this song forever and never tire of it.

In the first stanza we ponder: what kind of love would move Christ, the Lord Christ, to die for me? Indeed it is a wondrous love that moved our Lord to “bear the dreadful curse” for our souls. These words point us to reflect upon the sheer extravagance of God’s love and grace. His love is unexpected and overwhelming and incomparable. And the more we ponder it spiritually, the more baffling and comforting it is.

The second stanza is a response to the realization of Christ’s love as expressed in the first stanza. It proclaims that his love moves us to praise God and the Lamb, along with millions of others who are also beneficiaries of Christ’s devotion.

Finally, in stanza three, the hymnist reminds us that our song of praise will not end in this life. When we cross over to the other side, it will continue and increase. It is a song of joy that will go on for eternity. That truth has comforted many a weary Christian pilgrim, traveling in valleys of trouble and despair.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, November 29, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Presbyterianism in Mississippi

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Presbyterianism in Mississippi”
First Published: October 9, 2007

As we approach our dedication services on Sunday, and remember the Lord’s kind providence over us these past 170 years, it is appropriate for us to recount some history here. Presbyterianism came to Mississippi long before Mississippi became a State (on December 10, 1817). One immediately thinks of, for instance, the old Salem [now Pine Ridge (PCA)] Church in Natchez that dates from 1807 - the oldest extant Presbyterian congregation in the State. Within twenty years of the first Presbyterian missionaries in the territory, the Synod of Kentucky constituted the original Presbytery of Mississippi on March 6, 1816.

But there were Presbyterians and Presbyterian churches here even earlier. For instance, the Presbyterians of the New York Missionary Society (of the Presbyterian Synod of New York) had sent missionaries to work among the Choctaw Indians while Mississippi was just barely a territory (established April 7, 1798), in 1799. In 1801, the Synod of North Carolina sent three missionaries who came by way of Nashville, and down the Old Natchez Trace. They established Presbyterianism in the Natchez area (the Bethel [1804], Salem and First Natchez [1817] churches all resulted from their ministry).

In general, Presbyterianism in Mississippi has spread eastward and north out of the southwestern corner of the old territory, from what is now Adams County. Meanwhile, back in the east-central region of the State, the early influence of Presbyterians from North and South Carolina can be seen in the name of the Carolina Presbyterian Church (1841) in Neshoba County.

Presbyterian churches existed in Edwards and Clinton before Jackson. In 1826, the Bethesda Presbyterian Church was founded in Edwards, and the old Mount Salus Church was established in Clinton, prior to the organization of First Church in Jackson. The Bethesda Church is the oldest church in the Mississippi Valley Presbytery (PCA).

The congregation of First Presbyterian Church, Jackson began its history on a Saturday afternoon, April 8, 1837, by the Rev. Peter Donan and four persons: Mrs. Margaret E. Mayson, Mrs. Susan Patton, and John Robb and his wife, Marion. The organizational meeting was held in “the Old State House,” Mississippi's first capitol, a small two-story structure on the northeast corner of East Capitol and North President Streets.

The organizing pastor (what today we would call a “church planter”) was Peter Donan. Donan studied at Princeton Seminary under Charles Hodge and Samuel Miller, continued as the church’s pastor for four years. There were no elders for two years, no deacons for six years, and no meeting house for nearly nine years. In the first two years of its existence, the church had but three new members.

We’ll continue to tell the story of the history of Presbyterianism in Mississippi, and the history of our congregation, in this column in weeks to come. Meanwhile, I am looking forward to worship services with you here on Sunday morning and evening with R.C. Sproul and Jim Baird preaching. And don’t forget, Jimmy Turner will preach the following Wednesday night (Oct 17). See you here!

Your friend,
Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Singing in Trial

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Singing in Trial”
First Published: September 18, 2007

This coming Lord’s Day, then, we’ll be looking at the moving words and music of the great hymn, “If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee.” It is a glorious and realistic and emphatically Christian and spiritual meditation on God’s providence. It is also worth memorizing.

The Cyber Hymnal™ (a resource you really should bookmark on your web-browser favorites – at www.cyberhymnal.org) says: “It was composed in 1641 with the heading ‘A Song of Comfort. God will care for and help everyone in His own time,’ under the text Psalm 55:22. The author was robbed by highwaymen near Magdeburg as a student and left destitute with no prospect of earning a living. At last he unexpectedly received an appointment as tutor in the family of a judge, ‘which, he says, . . . greatly rejoiced me, and on that very day I composed to the honor of my beloved Lord [this] hymn.’”

In this hymn, we profess our confidence in God’s goodness and guidance, even in the midst of trial. As noted above, the author wrote it after being robbed of almost all his possessions (except a prayer book) and enduring extended unemployment, so when you sing it, you are singing with a fellow Christian who personally understands about destitution and hard circumstances. How encouraging a thought that is. We are never alone in our hardships, and even when we come with great burdens and fears to church, we can sing in a fellowship of suffering, with brothers and sisters from over the ages, who personally understand what we are going through. Isn’t God kind to us?

Here’s a taste of the first stanza, and my translation of it. The song is written in the form of a testimonial (like so many of the Psalms), but is utterly God-centered.
If thou but suffer God to guide thee
If you will only trust God to guide you
And hope in Him through all thy ways,
and hope in Him in every circumstance
He’ll give thee strength, whate’er betide thee,
He’ll give you strength no matter what happens
And bear thee through the evil days.
And he’ll carry through bad times
Who trusts in God’s unchanging love
The person who trusts in God’s unchanging love
Builds on the rock that naught can move.
Builds on a the one Rock that no one can move.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, November 22, 2010

The Pastor's Perspective: Considering the Atonement

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Considering the Atonement”
First Published: July 31, 2007

twitter: some books to help us recognize the fullness of Christ’s death and sacrifice

I have been working on a bibliography on the meaning of the death of Christ, or on the atonement, for a book soon to be published. I thought you might like a peak. These book suggestions are intended for Christians who are thirsting for more good material that will aid them in deepening their understanding of the meaning and significance and consequences of the death of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I hope that these reading suggestions will be helpful to all interested layfolk (not only as a “must-read” list on the atonement for themselves, but also as a list that could also be recommended by them for the use of others).

If you have no idea where to start, look at the following lists of suggestions. If you are looking for a good starting point into the vast riches of sound teaching available on the doctrine of the atonement, and you’d like to read something accessible that would give you a feel for the lay of the land and be edifying at the same time. Try the following.

  • John Piper, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006). Designed for evangelistic use, this book is an easy read. Chock full of devotional worth.
  • C.J. Mahaney, Living the Cross-Centered Life (Sisters: Multnomah, 2006). Nobody applies the truth like C.J. Want the atonement worked into your bones? Read this.
  • Ian J. Shaw and Brian H. Edwards, The Divine Substitute: The atonement in the Bible and history (Leominster: DayOne, 2006). In under 150 pages, Shaw and Edwards provide a sound biblical and historical introduction to the doctrine of the atonement.
  • Tom Wells, A Price for a People: The Meaning of Christ’s Death (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1992). Wells’ book focuses on the biblical material. He is a Baptist pastor in Ohio.
  • Leon Morris, The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance (Leicester: IVP, 1983). Though more challenging that the other books on this list, this is a worthy shorter volume.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Praise to the Lord the Almighty

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Praise to the Lord the Almighty”
First Published: July 17, 2007

twitter: “One of my favorite hymns”

One of my very favorite hymns is Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (#53 in our hymnal). Indeed, it is widely recognized as one of the very best hymns (thinking of the combination of text and tune) written in the last three hundred fifty years, and so it is no surprise that it is also a favorite of our congregation. The text of the song is based on Psalms 103 and 150. In the Scottish Psalter and Church Hymnary of 1929, it finds itself aptly located in the section delineated “God: His Being, Works, Word.” The song’s author was Joachim Neander, the grandson of a musician and the son of a teacher. He studied theology at Bremen, Heidelberg and then Frankfurt, where (at the age of 23) he met the great German Pietist scholars Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705) and Johann Jakob Sch├╝tz (1640-1690). Neander died at the young age of 30, perhaps of the plague, having served in his short life as a school principal and as a minister. He wrote this hymn when he was 20!

Julian, the great hymnologist says “A magnificent hymn of praise to God, perhaps the finest production of its author (the German hymn-writer, Neander), and of the first rank in its class.” “Praise to the Lord” is the opening phrase of each stanza of this song that draws on Psalms 103 and 150. It was translated by the remarkable Catherine Winkworth who “lived most of her life in Manchester, England. The notable exception was the year she spent in Dresden, Germany. Around 1854, she published Lyra Germanica, containing numerous German hymns translated into English. She went on to publish another series of German hymns in 1858. In 1863, she came out with The Chorale Book for England, and in 1869, Christian Singers of Germany. More than any other single person, she helped bring the German chorale tradition to the English speaking world.” (Cyberhymnal.org)

Each stanza begins with “Praise to the Lord.” Stanza one praises the almighty Lord who is the Creator God for his blessings of both health and salvation. It begins with a self-exhortation, as we speak to our own souls (“O my soul, praise him”), echoing Psalm 103:1-2, exhorting our own selves to praise the Lord, and concludes with an exhortation to all within earshot (“All ye who hear”) to draw near to God with joyful adoration.

Stanza two openly, gladly and unapologetically acknowledges God’s sovereignty over all things, especially as it is seen in his protective care of us (“Shelters thee under His wings,” “gently sustains us”). By the way, notice how we are still talking to ourselves – “Shelters thee,” thee being you talking to your own soul! It reminds you of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ suggestion that Christians ought to argue with and preach to themselves! The second stanza concludes with a self-reminder that God has often granted our heart’s desires in his providential unfolding of his plan in our lives.

Stanza three again recognizes that it is the Lord who “prospers the work of our hands” (see Psalm 90:17) and who protects us from our enemies. Once again, this stanza has us exhorting our souls to give praise to God because of his blessings to us (“Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee”). The third stanza acknowledges that “His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee” (reminding one of Lamentations 3:22-23), and then goes on to exhort our heart to “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do, If with His love He befriend thee.” That is, just think of what God can do, if He pours out his saving love on you?

Stanza four acknowledges God has our own maker, the giver of our health, the loving providential guide and support of our life. It’s powerful language crescendos with the bold and believing declaration: “How oft in grief hath not he brought thee relief, spreading his wings to o’er shade thee!” I have often sung this phrase in tears of trust, in the bonds of suffering, in confident peace, in our congregation.

Stanza five, once more, asks our self to give God our all in praise (“O let all that is in me adore Him!”), and then transitions to the words and exhortation of Psalm 150:6 “All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him,” concluding with a call to God’s people to add their “so be it,” their “Amen,” to the praise, and to continue this happy praise forever.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Come and Worship

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Come and Worship”
First Published: July 10, 2007

I am reminded that several of you wrote to me asking for the Sam Storms quote that I used for preparation for worship on July 1. Here it is (and I want to here record my thanks to Justin Taylor who brought it to my attention on his excellent blog “Between Two Worlds” – which all of you can read online at http://theologica.blogspot.com/).

Okay, here it is, from Sam Storms, Signs of the Spirit, pp. 204-205: “Here, then, is how we must come to God, whether to serve him or worship him or enjoy all that he is for us in Jesus: Come, confessing your utter inability to do or offer anything that will empower God or enrich, enhance, or expand God.

“Come, with heartfelt gratitude to God for the fact that whatever you own, whatever you are, whatever you have accomplished or hope to accomplish, is all from him, a gift of grace.

“Come, declaring in your heart and aloud that if you serve, it is in the strength that God supplies (1 Pet. 4:10); if you give money, it is from the wealth that God has enabled you to earn; if it is praise of who he is, it is from the salvation and knowledge of God that he himself has provided for you in Christ Jesus.

“Come, declaring the all-sufficiency of God in meeting your every need. Praise his love, because if he were not loving, you would be justly and eternally condemned. Praise his power, because if he were weak, you would have no hope that what he has promised he will fulfill. Praise his forgiving mercy, because apart from his gracious determination to wash you clean in the blood of Christ, you would still be in your sin and hopelessly lost. So, too, with every attribute, praise him!

“Come, with an empty cup, happily pleading: ‘God, glorify yourself by filling it to overflowing!’

“Come, with a weak and wandering heart, joyfully beseeching: ‘God, glorify yourself by strengthening me to do your will and remain faithful to your ways!’

“Come, helpless, expectantly praying: ‘God, glorify yourself by delivering me from my enemies and my troubles!’

“Come, with your sin, gratefully asking: "God, glorify yourself by setting me free from bondage to my flesh and breaking the grip of lust and envy and greed in my life!"

“Come, with your hunger for pleasure and joy, desperately crying: ‘God, glorify yourself by filling me with the fullness of joy! God, glorify yourself by granting me pleasures that never end! God, glorify yourself by satisfying my heart with yourself! God, glorify yourself by enthralling me with your beauty . . . by overwhelming me with your majesty . . . by taking my breath away with fresh insights into your incomparable and infinite grandeur! God, glorify yourself by shining into my mind the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ!’”

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, November 15, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: The Presbyterian Meeting House

The Pastor’s Perspective
“The Presbyterian Meeting House”
First Published: June 26, 2007

What a glorious Lord’s Day of worship of the Triune God we enjoyed on Sunday, June 24, 2007, our first day of worship services in our new sanctuary. People were here early and lingered long afterwards. I received several encouraging calls before the service from dear friends of our congregation (including a very special message from Claude McRoberts which I’ll share with you later). Both morning services were full. The 11 o’clock service was filled on the floor and balcony, and the 8:30 service was almost as full. Your singing in the morning was heavenly, and what a joy to be able to hear one another again as we sing! Derek’s preaching on Sunday evening was powerful, and you filled up the 800-something seat floor of the meeting house, and sang with gusto!

In my remarks prior to the mornings services, I shared the following. On Sunday morning, October 9, 1853, Dr. Benjamin Morgan Palmer (then the Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC, later the Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, New Orleans – who incidentally preached the dedication of our second sanctuary here in Jackson in 1892) said in his sermon dedicating the new church building for First Columbia – “As for this building, beautiful as it may be in our eyes, let it please us to call only a plain Presbyterian meeting house. The glory we see in it, let it not be the glory of its arches and its timbers; not the glory of its lofty and graceful spire, pointing ever upwards to that home the pious shall find [with] God; not the glory of this chaste pulpit, with its delicate tracery and marble whiteness; not the glory found in the eloquence or learning of those who, through generations, shall here proclaim the gospel; nor yet the glory traced in the wealth and fashion, refinement and social position of those who throng its courts. But let its glory be The Glory of the Lord Risen Upon It! Let its glory be the promises of the covenant engraved upon its walls, which are yea and amen in Christ Jesus. Let its glory be found in the purity, soundness, and unction of its pastors; in the fidelity and watchfulness of its elders; in the piety and godliness of its members. Let its glory be as a birthplace of souls, where shall always be heard the sobs of awakened penitence and the songs of newborn love. Let its glory be the spirituality of its worship, its fervent prayers, its adoring praise, and the simplicity and truth of its ordinances and sacraments. Let its glory be the communion of saints, who here have fellowship one with another and also with the Father and his son, Jesus Christ. Let its glory be as the resting place of weary pilgrims toiling on toward the heavenly city—the emblem of that Church above—Where congregations ne’er break up, And Sabbaths never end.”

Amen! May the glory of the Lord be so manifest in your hearts and lives and public worship, through the grace of Christ in the Gospel, that those who gather with us to join in his praise will ever say, surely God is among you (1 Corinthians 14:25), and surely the Lord is in this place (Genesis 28:16).

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Pastor's Perspective: Faithful Response to Federal Vision

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Faithful Response to Federal Vision”
First Published: June 19, 2007

The 35th General Assembly of the PCA met last week in Memphis, with just over 1,200 commissioners present. We heard informational reports from all our denominational committees and agencies, all of which were encouraging. This year the formal business meetings took less than two days to finish. This efficiency was (at least in part) due to the new organization of GA that we passed last year.

The Moderator of GA alternates each year from Teaching Elder (or a Minister) to Ruling Elder. The Moderator this year was a Ruling Elder from Colorado, named E.J. Nussbaum, who was nominated by Jospeh Wheat (Pastor of our daughter church – Highlands). Mr. Nussbaum was very good at procedure. He kept things from getting personal and moved everything along on or ahead schedule. No easy thing to do with a room full of preachers!

The main event at this years GA was the debate over a study committee report that dealt with a new theological movement within the church known as the “Federal Vision.” The “Federal Vision,” sometimes called the “Auburn Avenue Theology” (after one of the key churches teaching it) along with what has been called “The New Perspectives on Paul” have been controversial in the PCA the last few years.

To make a long story short, the Study Committee report was adopted overwhelmingly – something like a 95% majority affirmed it. Well it means that in the strongest possible terms the 35th PCA General Assembly is asking presbyteries and local churches to distance themselves from this teaching.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Three Timeless Traits for Worship

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Three Timeless Traits for Worship”
First Published: April 24, 2007

Quick note: this Sunday, we begin a new expository series in the book of Philippians on Sunday mornings. The series title is Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility, Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians. I had been thinking of another series, but I think it is time for Philippians at First Presbyterian. More on that soon.

Meanwhile, like many of you, I’ve been thinking of our worship in the new sanctuary. Anticipating it with great longing, actually. I want us to make our first year in this beautiful meeting house a deliberate exercise in learning again what it mean to worship God together. As such, I think that three traits (among a dozen others) ought to mark our public worship. Our worship should be word-based, God-centered and Christ-delighted. Here’s what I mean.

We want our worship to be word-based, biblical, ordered by God’s own Word. One of the distinctives of Presbyterian worship is that it aims to be completely guided by Scripture. It is, in fact, worship that is according to Scripture. This is known as “the Regulative Principle.” Since our worship is for God, our first question is not, “What do we want to do?” or even “What would others like to do?” but “What does God want us to do?” For direction we look to the Bible where God directs by command or approved example how to worship Him. In the Bible we find God accepting these acts of worship: Singing, praying, reading the Bible, preaching, celebrating sacraments, giving offerings, confessing the faith, and making holy vows. We want to assure that our corporate worship is Bible-filled and Bible-directed, that the substance and structure are biblical, that the content and order are biblical. To put it slightly differently, we want to worship “by the book” in two ways: so that both the marrow and means of worship are according to Scripture. We want the form and substance of corporate worship to be suffused with Scripture and scriptural theology.

Second, we want our worship to be God-centered. Christian worship is all about God. He is the object of our worship, the focus of our worship. We gather as a congregation, not to seek an experience but to meet with God and give him praise. The whom of worship is central to true worship (see John 4:22, 24). It is what the first commandment is all about. We aim to worship the God of the Bible. Many Christians leave Sunday services asking the “what did worship do for me?” Yet it is more helpful and biblical to think just the opposite. “What did I give to God in worship?” “How did I encourage the brothers and sisters to praise Christ for his grace?” “How did I take advantage of the means of grace in order to glorify God?” Ask not what this service will do for you, but what you will give to God through this service B the rest will take care of itself. Don Carson puts it this way: “Should we not remind ourselves that worship is a TRANSITIVE verb? We do not meet to worship (i.e. to experience worship): we aim to worship GOD. ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’: there is the heart of the matter. In this area, one must not confuse what is central with byproducts. If you seek peace, you will not find it; if you seek Christ, you will find peace. If you seek joy, you will not find it; if you seek Christ, you will find joy. If you seek holiness, you will not find it; if you seek Christ, you will find holiness. If you seek experiences of worship, you will not find them; if you worship the living God, you will experience something of what is reflected in the Psalms. Worship is a transitive verb, and the most important thing about it is the direct object.”

Finally, we want our worship to be Christ-delighted. That is, we want to worship together in a way that is totally consumed with delight for Christ, passion for Christ. Does that sound un-presbyterian? Well it’s not! True Christian worship is filled with delight—the delight of the believer’s heart in God himself. The congregation delights in God because he is God. Jonathan Edwards put it this way: “True saints center their attention on Christ, and His beauty transcends all others; His delight is the source of all other delight; He in Himself is the best among ten thousand and altogether lovely. These saints delight in the way of salvation through Christ, because it demonstrates God’s perfection and wonder; they enjoy holiness, wholeness, while they take no pleasure in sin; God’s love is a sweet taste in their mouths, regardless of whether their own interests are met or not. They rejoice over all that Christ has done for them, but that is not the deepest root of their joy. No, they delight merely because God is God, and only then does their delight spill over onto all God’s works, including their own salvation.” John Piper puts it this way: “The authenticating, inner essence of worship is being satisfied with Christ, prizing Christ, cherishing Christ, treasuring Christ. . . . [This] is tremendously relevant for understanding what worship services should be about. They are about ‘going hard after God.’ When we say that what we do on Sunday mornings is to ‘go hard after God,’ what we mean is that we are going hard after satisfaction in God, and going hard after God as our prize, and going hard after God as our treasure, our soul-food, our heart-delight, our spirit’s pleasure. Or to put Christ in His rightful place—it means that we are going hard after all that God is for us in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.”

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, November 08, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Twin Lakes Fellowship 2007

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Twin Lakes Fellowship 2007"
First Published: April 17, 2007

Well, I want to give you all a report on the 2007 edition of the Twin Lakes Fellowship (TLF) – because it was nothing short of extraordinary. The TLF is a ministerial fraternal that promotes church health and planting here and around the world. It is sponsored by our Session here at First Presbyterian.

What a blessing it was to welcome to our Twin Lakes Conference Center faithful ministers from all over North America and the world – from the PCA, ARP, PCUSA, OPC, RPCNA, Church of Scotland, Free Church of Scotland, and other Presbyterian/Reformed bodies, as well as from Baptist churches, Bible churches, et al. Dr. Dominic Aquila, the current Moderator of the PCA was with us, as was Dr. Guy Richardson, President of RTS-Jackson, and Brad Bradley of the Southwest Area Church Planting Network.

Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Peter Jones, founder and executive director of Christian Witness to a Pagan Planet and Scholar in Residence (and former Prof of NT) at Westminster Seminary California, gave a stellar lecture on Christianity and the New Spiritualities. Then we enjoyed an interview with Dr. Phil Ryken, Senior Pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA concerning the forthcoming Literary Study Bible and the Reformed Expository Commentary Series (by P&R). This commentary series is designed to provide a comprehensive exposition of the text that is doctrinal (committed to the Westminster Standards), redemptive-historical (committed to a Christ-centered view of the Old Testament), and practical (committed to applying the text to people today). Co-editors with Phil are Rick Phillips, Iain Duguid and Dan Doriani.

Tuesday night, Dr. Doug Kelly (Jordan Professor of Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC) preached a powerful message on forgiveness, and hit us all right between the eyes. Jay Harvey remarked to me afterwards that Dr. Kelly has this amazing way of disguising his own intellect, learning and profundity behind the simplicity and clarity of his sermons. Dr. Kelly's hallmark emphasis on prayer and the importance of unseen, supernatural reality was everywhere evident. Dr. Harry Reeder of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham led the service, and his prayers (in particular) were exceedingly powerful.

On Wednesday morning, The Reverend David Robertson (Senior Minister of St. Peter's Free Church, Dundee, Scotland and Church Planting Consultant to PCA MTW Europe) gave a brilliant address on Robert Murrary M'Cheyne drawing applications from the life and ministry of that famous 19th century Scottish inner city Pastor and using them to inform church planting and ministry today. Later Wednesday morning, the Reverend Brian Habig, PCA church planter, former RUF campus minister and now Pastor of the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina brought a tremendously convicting and challenging word to us to be more intentional in our Gospel witness as pastors, right in our own contexts. This worship service was ably led by the Reverend Kevin Smith, a self-identified "recovering church planter" and currently the Senior Pastor of the Pinelands PCA Church in Miami, Florida.

On Wednesday afternoon, we enjoyed a scintillating conversation with Wy Plummer, Lance Lewis, Kevin Smith, Erwin Ince and Thabiti Anyabwile about Reformed outreach to the African-American community. These dear friends gave us tremendous insights about the most important things for the PCA to do in its witness to African-Americans. Hearing their own testimonies of how they came to Christ, to the doctrines of grace and to the PCA (except for Thabiti -- who said his name meant "token Baptist on the panel" in Swahili!) was hugely inspiring. They also spoke forthrightly and helpfully about obstacles to African-Americans embracing reformed theology and becoming members of PCA churches. Then we enjoyed interviews with Dr. Don Carson Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago and leader in the Gospel Coalition; and Dr. Mark Dever, Senior Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and head of IX Marks Ministries. Don told us about his upcoming book Christ and Culture Revisited (Eerdmans) and about the Gospel Coalition meeting in May. Mark told us about a number of his current and forthcoming writing projects, and kindly answered our questions about how Presbyterians could benefit from the ministry and resources of IX Marks.

Wednesday night, the Reverend Thabiti Anyabwile, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands preached a powerful message on Ephesians 2. His introduction was riveting, his exposition solid and his final four applications were penetrating. He was ably assisted in the worship service by the Reverend Jay Harvey.

Thursday morning, our own Dr. Derek Thomas preached a gloriously encouraging message on the Benediction. So many of the men told me how they anticipate hearing Derek each year. What a joy to my heart! The Twin Lakes staff spoiled us all rotten, fed us well and generally waited on us hand and foot. Of course, an annual highlight for me is singing with and hearing the men sing. I'd come just for that!

A friend wrote me just the other day and said: "thanks for another wonderful Twin Lakes Fellowship oasis in the sometimes-desert of solo pastoral ministry. Once again, TLF was a Providentially-appointed blend for me of encouragement, instruction, rebuke, and inspiration. It was a particular treat for me to bring a Ruling Elder with me this year. After the introduction to the TLF on Tuesday afternoon, he turned to me and said, 'I understand you so much better now.' The singing, as always, nearly reduced me to tears several times and the readings from Alexander Whyte have whet my appetite for a new vicarious friend."

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Thinking again about the Supper

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Thinking again about the Supper”
First Published: April 10, 2007

We are just over two months away from moving into the new sanctuary, and I have an update for you all on our first Sunday services. God willing, Sunday, June 24, 2007 will be the date our first services in the sanctuary. The construction on the sanctuary will have been completed early that month, but the organ builders will need to occupy the building for three weeks (with large organ pipes and pieces strewn all over the main floor of the sanctuary) before we can occupy it ourselves. I visited the premises this afternoon, and I must say it is strikingly beautiful. I am not sure that I have ever seen a more handsome Protestant meeting house in all the world. Well, you and your family will want to be here that fourth Sunday in June, when, by God’s grace and provision, we will be worshiping together in this extraordinary facility.

Now, to an important matter at hand. This coming Sunday we celebrate communion. As we prepare for the Lord’s Supper, an act of public worship and a precious privilege for believers that displays our union and communion with Christ, let’s meditate on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper with the help of J.I. Packer, who says:

“The Lord’s Supper is an act of worship taking the form of a ceremonial meal, in which Christ’s servants share bread and wine in memory of their crucified Lord and in celebration of the new covenant relationship with God through Christ’s death.

Our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein he was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of his body and blood, called the Lord’s Supper; to be observed in his church, unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of himself in his death; the sealing of all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in him, their further encouragement in and to all duties which they owe unto him; and, to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other as members of his mystical body. (Westminster Confession 29.1)

“The passages dealing with the Supper on which the above statement is based are the four institution narratives (Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-25) and 1 Corinthians 10:16-21; 11:17-34. Jesus’ sermon (John 6:35-58) about himself as the Bread of Life, and the need to feed on him by eating his flesh and drinking his blood, was preached before the Supper existed and is better understood as being about what the Supper signifies (i.e., communion with Christ by faith) than about the Supper itself.

“At the time of the Reformation, questions about the nature of Christ’s presence in the Supper and the relation of the rite to his atoning death were centers of stormy controversy. On the first question, the Roman church affirmed (as it still affirms) transubstantiation, defined by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. Transubstantiation means that the substance of the bread and wine are miraculously transformed into the substance of Christ’s body and blood so that they are no longer bread and wine, though they appear to be. Luther modified this, affirming that was later called “consubstantiation” (a term that Luther did not favor), namely, that Christ’s body and blood come to be present in, with, and under the form of the bread and wine, which thus become more than bread and wine though not less. The Eastern Orthodox churches and some Anglicans say much the same. Zwingli denied that the glorified Christ, now in heaven, is present in any way that the words bodily, physically, or locally would fit. Calvin held that though the bread and wine remained unchanged (he agreed with Zwingli that the is of “this is my body . . . my blood” means “represents,” not “constitutes”), Christ through the Spirit grants worshippers true enjoyment of his personal presence, drawing them into fellowship with himself in heaven (Heb. 12:22-24) in away that is glorious and very real, though indescribable.

“On the second question, all the Reformers insisted that at the table we give thanks to Christ for his finished and accepted work of atonement, rather than repeat, renew, reoffer, re-present, or reactivate it, as the Roman doctrine of the mass affirms.

“The prescribed ritual of the Supper has three levels of meaning for participants. First, it has a past reference to Christ’s death which we remember. Second, it has a present reference to our corporate feeding on him by faith, with implications for how we treat our fellow believers (1 Cor. 11:20-22). Third, it has a future reference as we look ahead to Christ’s return and are encouraged by the thought of it. Preliminary self-examination, to make sure one’s frame of mind is as it should be, is advised (1 Cor. 11:28), and the wisdom of the advice is obvious.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, November 01, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Rejoicing over an Installation

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Rejoicing over an Installation”
First Published: March 20, 2007

We are just over two months away from moving into the new sanctuary. Earl gave me a quick tour the other day, and it is breathtakingly beautiful. You will want to be here that first Sunday in June when (we hope to) be worshiping together in this handsome facility.

I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the installation service of the Reverend Kenneth A. Pierce, as the new Senior Minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church here in Jackson, this past Sunday evening. Ken was a Thornwell scholar (a Teaching Assistant) for me at Reformed Theological Seminary many years ago. He has grown into an outstanding preacher and pastor. What a blessing he will be to that church, and what a delight to have him in this presbytery.

The service was joyful, with good rousing hymns and psalms. Dr. John R. De Witt (onetime professor of Theology and Church History at Reformed Theological Seminary here in Jackson, then Senior Minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, then Senior Minister of Seventh Reformed church in Grand Rapids, MI, then Senior Minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC) preached the induction sermon. I had the privilege of delivering the charge to the minister. Dean Rydbeck of Northpark PCA delivered the charge to the congregation, and Dennis Watts, an elder, who is now part of the new Madison Heights Church in Gluckstadt chaired the presbytery commission and administered the vows to Ken.

Our own congregation was instrumental in planting Trinity Church back in the early 1950s. Indeed, Reed Miller was the church planter/founding pastor of Trinity Church, before he came to First Presbyterian (while he was still teaching philosophy at Belhaven College). Let’s pray God’s rich blessing on the work at Trinity Church.

Now, by the time you are reading this, we will be in the midst of the PCRT (that is, the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology) here at First Presbyterian Church. The theme of the conference is “The Word: Above All Earthly Powers.” The PCRT is a conference designed for Christian laypeople, to enrich us with the deep and practical truths of the Bible. And this year’s PCRT is focusing on the Bible! On Sunday morning, Jerry Bridges will be preaching both services and we’ll have well over a hundred visitors from all around the region and country joining us (editorial note: The audio from this sermon may be found here).

Jerry Bridges has a special connection to our congregation, in that he is related to our former pastor, Reed Miller. For those of you unfamiliar with Jerry and his writings, he is a widely read and respected author and Bible teacher. His most popular book, The Pursuit of Holiness, has sold well over a million copies. As a full-time staff member with The Navigators for many years, Jerry has served in the collegiate ministry and community ministries. For 15 years he was the vice president for corporate affairs for The Navigators. He has also written: The Fruitful Life, Growing Your Faith, The Gospel for Real Life, Trusting God, The Chase, You Can Trust God, The Practice of Godliness, Transforming Grace, The Joy of Fearing God and more!

Don’t miss this soft-spoken but powerful and much beloved godly man bring the word. And bring some friends to hear him too.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan