Ten Commandments

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From a small collection of juvenile literature at the PCA Historical Center, the following artwork is from a Scottish publication titled THE MORNING WATCH, dated 1910. The caption reads:

“These young Scottish theologians are settling the point as to whether the Shorter Catechism says the Sum of the Ten Commandments is . . .  to love our NEIGHBOR, or, our NEIGHBORS. The upper boy says it’s the plural, the under says it’s the singular, each of them, especially the upper one, forgetting that the important thing in the sentence is not the letter S, but the word LOVE. But so did their fathers before them!

youngTheologians

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The True Meaning of Separation of Church and State

Four months after the Declaration of Independence was presented to the fledgling country, Hanover Presbytery in Virginia presented a memorial on October 24, 1776 on the subject of the free exercise of religion.

On the one hand, there was stated in the memorial the realization that “the gospel does not need any such civil aid.”  These Presbyterian teaching and ruling elders recognized that the Savior declared that His kingdom was not of this world, and therefore renounced “all dependence upon state power.” Our Lord’s weapons, this mother of all southern presbyteries, stated, “are spiritual and were only designed to have influence on the judgment and heart of man.”  Biblical Christianity will continue to prevail and flourish in the greatest purity by its own native excellence and under the all-disposing providence of God, as it was the case in the days of the apostles.

Then, they humbly petitioned their civil counterparts by saying, “we ask no ecclesiastical establishments for ourselves, nor can we approve of them when granted to others.”  In other words, let there be no state or national church in this new republic, such was the case in England, and for that matter, in Virginia up to this time, where Anglicanism was the religion of the state.  ”Let all laws,” they said in their appeal to the General Assembly as it met for the first time, “which countenance religious domination be speedily repealed, that all of every religious sect may be protected in the full exercise of their several modes of worship.”  Every church then “will be left to stand or fall according to merit, which can never be the case so long as any one denomination is established in preference to others.”

This was the full meaning of the separation of church and state in the early days of our country. These early Presbyterians did not desire that Presbyterianism be the religion of the new land.  But neither did they desire that any other denomination have the priority in America. Let there be a separation of church and state.

Words to live by:  In our day and age, this separation of church and state has been misinterpreted to mean the separation of God and state.  So there is a constant effort to erase any mention of the God of the Bible from our local, state, and national arenas of life.  From the removal of the Ten Commandments in monuments to the hindrance of placing cradles of the baby Jesus at Christmas time on courtyards to religious jewelry like crosses being forbidden by workers — all this is being done supposedly on the basis of the separation of church and state. Christians must be vocal in denouncing such opposition and correcting the misinterpreting of the slogan in the minds and hearts of America.  Let us not be silent in this. We must be more theologically correct than politically correct.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Excluding Some from Partaking of the Lord’s Supper

It was back on November 20th that this historical devotional began to look at what the Larger Catechism states about  partaking of the Lord’s Supper.   We continue with that theme on this day, November 25, finding no specific Presbyterian topic for our consideration.   What is involved in excluding some people from the Lord’s Supper.

Larger Catechism question 173 asks “May any who profess the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s Supper, be kept from it?  And the answer, “Such as are found to be ignorant or scandalous, notwithstanding  their profession of faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s Supper, may and ought to be kept from that sacrament, by the power which Christ has left in the church, until they receive instruction, and manifest their reformation.”

It is clear that this catechism answer speaks of some “who are found to be ignorant or scandalous” being excluded from the participation in the Lord’s Supper. On their part, they have a profession of faith and an equal desire to partake of the elements of bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.  And so many might think that the issue is settled.  They believe and they have the desire to participate. Isn’t that enough? Our Confessional fathers answer that it is not enough of a reason to participate in this Sacrament.

First, there may be by these ready participants an “ignorance” about their profession of faith.  This ignorance may be the result of simply an absence of what biblical Christianity is, or on the other end, they might believe and accept some theological errors regarding biblical Christianity. Both of these constitute a reason to exclude them from the Sacrament when it is offered by the church.

Then there is another exclusion, and it is with respect to a “scandalous” manner of life.  The profession might be present, but the possession of faith is doubtful due to a carnal or fleshly lifestyle. The individual is openly carrying on a conduct which violates the Ten Commandments, for example. Such an individual shows that he or she does not understand the work of sanctification in the Christian life.

Now, in both of these cases of ignorance and scandalous living, the Catechetical fathers do not specifically state what they mean. They wisely leave it up to the spiritual courts of session, presbytery, and general assembly to determine this.  Sometimes, a local church will designate conduct which it believes is contrary to Christian doctrine and living.The “power which Christ has left in his church”refers to biblical church discipline which must be carried on by each church for its overall purity. And with most of our Presbyterian and Reformed churches, that is the purpose of the Book of Discipline in our Book of Church Order. There are found specific guidelines with respect to the use of “that power which Christ has left in his church.”

This catechism holds out the remedy to any who might be precluded, namely, “until they receive instruction, and manifest their reformation.” There is a place, and it usually is found in the membership class held to any who wish to join the church, for “instruction” with respect to both faith and life as seen in the Bible. When reformation is manifested after instruction is given with respect to their manner of lives, (and it may have to  happen for a definition or indefinite period of time,) then the door will be opened to participate in the Lord’s Supper.

Words to live by:  In the early part of our country’s history, in Presbyterian circles, this was the task of the pastor, and Session of Elders, if there were any, to examine the participants as to their faith and life.  Finding an understanding of the things which were of God, and hearing about their conduct, they then gave each potential participant a metal token, which was then turned in on the day of Communion. That practice has gone away and it  is then dependent upon the discernment of the Session of Elders that they have a spiritual understanding of the members under their shepherding care in determining their qualifications to partake of the break and wine. Pray for your elders—teaching and ruling elders—in this important ministry.

Through the Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 13 – 16

Through the Standards:  Elements of the Lord’s Supper remain unchanged

WCF 29:5, 6
“The outward elements in this sacrament, duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ, have such relation to Him crucified, as that, truly, yet sacramentally only, they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ; albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before.  That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ’s body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation) by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense, and reason; overthrows the nature of the sacrament, and has been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions; yes, of gross idolatries.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

The True Meaning of Separation of Church and State

Four months after the Declaration  of Independence was presented to the fledgling country, Hanover Presbytery in Virginia presented a memorial on October 24, 1776 on the subject of the free exercise of religion.

On the one hand, there was stated in the memorial the realization that “the gospel does not need any such civil aid.”  These Presbyterian teaching and ruling elders recognized that the Savior declared that His kingdom was not of this world, and therefore renounced “all dependence upon state power.” Our Lord’s weapons, this mother of all southern presbyteries, stated, “are spiritual and were only designed to have influence on the judgment and heart of man.”  Biblical Christianity will continue to prevail and flourish in the greatest purity by its own native excellence and under the all-disposing providence of God, as it was the case in the days of the apostles.

Then, they humbly petitioned their civil counterparts by saying, “we ask no ecclesiastical establishments for ourselves, nor can we approve of them when granted to others.”  In other words, let there be no state or national church in this new republic, such was the case in England, and for that matter, in Virginia up to this time, where Anglicanism was the religion of the state.  “Let all laws,” they said in their appeal to the General Assembly as it met for the first time, “which countenance religious domination be speedily repealed, that all of every religious sect may be protected in the full exercise of their several modes of worship.”  Every church then “will be left to stand or fall according to merit, which can never be the case so long as any one denomination is established in preference to others.”

This was the full meaning of the separation of church and state in the early days of our country. These early Presbyterians did not desire that Presbyterianism be the religion of the new land.  But neither did they desire that any other denomination have the priority in America. Let there be a separation of church and state.

Words to live by:  In our day and age, this separation of church and state has been misinterpreted to mean the separation of God and state.  So there is a constant effort to erase any mention of the God of the Bible from our local, state, and national arenas of life.  From the removal of the Ten Commandments in monuments to the hindrance of placing cradles of the baby Jesus at Christmas time on courtyards to religious jewelry like crosses being forbidden by workers — all this is being done supposedly on the basis of the separation of church and state. Christians must be vocal in denouncing such opposition and correcting the misinterpreting of the slogan in the minds and hearts of America.  Let us not be silent in this.  We must be more theologically correct than politically correct.

Through the Scriptures:  Mark 4 – 6

Through the Standards:  Safeguard on the truth of communion of saints

WCF 26:3
“This communion which the saints  have with Christ, does not make them in any wise partakers of the substance of the Godhead; or to be equal with Christ in any respect: either of which to affirm in impious and blasphemous.  Nor does their communion one with another, as saints, take away, or infringe the title or propriety which each man has in his goods and possessions.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Our Sorry State in Light of the Law

Finding no historical record of Presbyterianism on this date, the Shorter Catechism which immediately follows the exposition of the Ten Commandments, number 82, occupies our attention on this day, September 4, 2012.  Our Confessional Fathers ask and answer, “Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?  Answer: No mere man, since the fall, is able, in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God: but does daily break them in thought, words, and deed.”

We could sum up the commandments of God from Exodus 20 here so that we could know exactly what we are talking about in this answer.  The children’s version, found in Alexander Whyte’s book of several centuries ago on “The Shorter Catechism with a Commentary,” helps us with their remembrance:

1. You shall not have more gods but Me.

2. Before no idol bow the knee.

3. Take not the name of God in vain.

4. Nor dare the Sabbath day profane.

5. Give both your parents honor due.

6. Take heed that you no murder do.

7. Abstain from words and deeds unclean.

8. Nor steal, though you are poor and mean (e.g. low).

9. Nor make a willful lie, nor love it.

10. What is your neighbor’s do not covet.

No ordinary person since the fall can keep God’s commandments.  That is the sense of those beginning words in this catechism.  Certainly Jesus kept perfectly His Father’s laws in His active obedience, but He was both God and man, not an ordinary man.  Adam and Eve kept God’s moral law perfectly before the fall, but this answer defines itself with the phrase “after the fall.”  No ordinary people, either of themselves, or by any grace received in their lives, can be perfectly obedient to the commandments of God.

Indeed, we, as the Confessional Fathers all too sadly acknowledge, “daily break them in thought, word, and deed.”  All of our sins which we commit are thus reduced to three areas of our lives.  Our thoughts no one but God sees, and so no one knows the sinfulness of ourselves better than us.  Jesus enumerated the list of sinful thoughts in Matthew 15:19 when he spoke of “murder, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” (NASB)  James in chapter 3 of his letter spoke of the futility of controlling our tongues, in that we sometimes bless God and curse men, who have been made in God’s image.  And John, in his letter in chapter 3, mentions the practice of sin, which is lawlessness. (v. 4)

And yet, here the good news.  All of these sins are under the blood of Christ, and therefore forgiven by His grace with genuine biblical repentance on our parts.  Every sin does deserve God’s wrath and curse, but praise God, Jesus become a curse for us, taking the wrath of God upon Himself on that cursed tree.  To escape this holy wrath, God required faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, using the appointed outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption.

Words to live by:  Every time this contributor thinks he has been successful in  pleasing God more and more, he goes back to the Ten Commandments, and their treatment of them in the Westminster Standards.  He then finds that even in his best efforts, there has been plenty of weakness exhibited in thought, word, and deed.  Where would we be without the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ?  Praise God for His work of sanctification, which enables us to more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

Through the Scriptures:  2 Chronicles 14 – 16

Through the Standards:  Direction of prayer   

WLC 186 — “What rule has God given for our direction in the duty of prayer?
A.  The whole word of God is of use to direct us in the duty of prayer; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which our Savior Christ taught his disciples, commonly called The Lord’s Prayer.

WSC 99  “What rule has God given for our direction in prayer?
A.  The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in prayer; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called The Lord’s Prayer.

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