Friday, May 26, 2006


At our session meeting Wednesday night, our elders decided to begin a Men's Society at Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church. Having seen a need to help men grow in the grace of Christ, and becoming excited in what he is seeing in church history through his study with Dr. Roy Blackwood, Jason Camery gave a presentation of how the Reformation spread as men had rigorous studies and discussions with one another over the Scriptures. John Calvin referred to these meetings as "prophecying" and John Knox called them the "Exercises." They followed a certain format. Our particular meeting will have the following structure patterned after these Exercises:
  1. Have a twenty minute study on the passage preached in the previous Lord's Day sermon.
  2. Have an elder give a ten minute presentation on his own study of the passage, stressing application.
  3. Give time for questions and further discussion.
  4. Pray together in accountability pairs.
  5. Conclude with some robust psalm singing.
In recent years "Reformation Societies" have been popping up in different communities based on a similar format which have transcended denominational lines. Our hope is that others will join us in due time.

The only hitch? Jason proposed that we call this the "Men's Reformation Society." Later that night when I got home I realized something. What will invariably happen is that this gathering will be acronymized and be referred to as MRS. Inviting men to come to the "Missus" will not work. So we still have to work a bit on the name, but we are excited about the potential.

Our first one is scheduled for Wednesday, June 7th, at 6:30 p.m. at Sycamore RPC. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

No Creed but Christ's Creed

Often people and even congregations boast of "No Creed but Christ" or "No Creed but the Bible," meaning they are downplaying the importance of having formulated doctrines of the Scriptures. A while back I wrote the following letter (edited slightly for the blogosphere) to a man named Tony living near the church to whom I had been witnessing. Tony had stated this belief to me and said he did not need to go to church. Perhaps some of the thoughts contained in this letter might be of help to you.

Dear Tony,

Thank you for the letter that you sent me at the beginning of the month. I thought about visiting you, but then decided to write back so you could think through my answers to your concerns. Then if you would like to talk personally about these things, I would be glad to meet with you.

A statement you made in your letter seems to be a good summary of your concern: “Having been associated with a legalistic church one thing I don’t need is much more doctrine.” You asked if the Reformed Presbyterian Church is big on doctrine. I can understand the concern you are expressing here.

What I would like to ask you to consider, Tony, is that the question you need to be asking at this point in your life is not “How much doctrine is necessary?” but “Whose doctrine am I going to follow?” Jesus warned the Pharisees (who we know were big on doctrine) in Matthew 15 that “Well did Isaiah prophecy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Jesus is stating that their problem was not that they had doctrines, but that the doctrines they had were men’s commandments rather than God’s. He told them the result was that, “You have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.” In this same story (Matthew 15:1-20), Jesus chastises them because they are more concerned about keeping their ceremonially cleansings (which were not commanded by God but came from the traditions of men) than they were about keeping the fifth commandment regarding honoring their parents.

What this means is that we must be very careful that what a church is teaching comes from the Scriptures and is not man’s false philosophies and traditions. That we must be diligent to do this is seen in the Lord Jesus’ warning to His disciples to “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:5-12). The way to be sure that we are not following cunning teachings and lies is to carefully study the word of God. That’s why God’s word must be like bread to us (Matthew 4:4) as we constantly eat from it so that we will be strong enough to avoid the devil’s temptations. Jesus says His disciples must abide or live in His word, for it is only then that they will be free (John 8:31-32).

That's why the Lord has given the church teachers so they can build up the saints, so they will not be like children tossed here and there by the crafty doctrines of men, but mature and stable in Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). That’s why every Christian must diligently study the Bible, to make sure the teachers he has put himself under are speaking the truth of God’s Word (Acts 17:11). As a pastor, I take God’s commandment in I Timothy 4:13-16 very seriously, “Give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine….Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” How important true doctrine is, for it leads to Christ and salvation (John 5:39)! And false doctrine leads to damnation (Matthew 18:6-7)!

Tony, please be careful about going to a church that makes light of teaching and doctrine as a reaction against the legalism of your former church. It can sound pious to say things like “No creed but Christ.” Yet what someone has said is true, “Men trade in the Ten Commandments of God for the thousands of commandments of men.” If a church does not have a clearly written confession of faith that explains what they believe on essential issues, then people soon find themselves under the binding influence of man’s opinions and traditions rather than the freeing word of God.

I invite you to return or to speak further with me about this issue, for one final encouragement I would give you is to not give up on the church. Often people use a bad experience they have had as an excuse not to go to church at all. Remember, Christ is still Lord and has promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18), which is His body (I Corinthians 12:12-14) that He is the head over (Ephesians 1:22). One of His commands that we must keep is not to forsake worshipping Him and fellowshipping with His body (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Your motto should not be "No Creed but Christ." Rather, it should be "No Creed but Christ's Creed."

Sincerely in Christ’s Service,

Barry York

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A Doctrine to be Whispered

I do not often shout at my wife. If not for some foolish moments of indiscretion in my youth, I could even say I never shout at her. Why? Well, I would like to convince you of how noble I am, but that's not really the truth in this situation. The bottom line, I would have to say, is that it simply just does not work. I always lose, and I hate losing.

For some reason, every time I have shouted at Miriam it has failed to move her to see things my way. Can you believe that? The Proverbs say, "The anger of man does not accomplish the purposes of God." The few experiments where I have tried to prove the opposite hypothesis have ended in dismal failure. I have pulled a few Mount Merapis on her, which I think I could count on no more than my own fingers (though I am sure Miriam, being the sweet helpmeet she is, would lend me hers for the ones I have forgotten). At those times, I have only succeeded 1) in convincing her how utterly wrong I am anyway, 2) in making it nearly impossible to communicate further, and 3) in creating a stituation where only some serious confessing has reconciled the situation. So though I could offer piety as a reason I have learned to control my temper, I have to say losing has been the more powerful motivator for me. Like a dog that learns to stop barking to avoid the old swat across the snout, I have been trained.

(By the way, this may be off the point a bit, but I can say Miriam has never shouted at me. I certainly have given her ample reasons for doing so, but not once has she really yelled at me. She also does not have any cavities. Now you can understand even better why I think twice before opening my mouth wide in her direction.)

On the positive side of our marital harmony, which at twenty years plus is going strong, is that, at the times where our communication is most intimate, quiet talk and even whispering is taking place. Usually expressions of love and devotion mean more when spoken softly. I have also had to have a lot of training in this area as well.

So where does that leave us? Yelling ruins communication; speaking gently enhances it.

With this in mind, could this be one reason (certainly not the only or chief reason) that some of the great doctrines of the reformed faith are so despised? They are given to us by the Lover of our souls to speak gently and soothingly to hearts of His precious love for us. But what do we do with them? We take them, shout them at people, and then wonder why so few believe them. As one of my mentors in the faith likes to say, it is not the truthfulness but the tone that is under discussion here.

Take the doctrine of limited atonement, or particular redemption, for instance. Reformed folk typically like to take this teaching and have endless debates about it, give a black & white, twenty-installment defense of its truthfulness, or, in the worst cases, use it like the Westboro Baptist Church to justify expressions of hatred. In so doing, they are yelling what needs to be whispered.

For limited atonement is about God's love. God's redemptive love is so special that He did not send His precious Son to die an ignoble death just to make salvation a possibility for anyone; God sent His Son to die on behalf of those He has loved for eternity to make salvation a reality for each particular one. Read this familiar verse softly to yourself and see if you cannot hear the quiet reverence in Paul's tone brought on by the knowledge of God's particular love: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). If you know Christ, do you not hear hear the Spirit of God testifying with these words in gentle tones of the love of Jesus for you in a way that leaves your spine tingling and your heart racing? Christ loves me.

As the Westminster Confession of Faith says about another of our doctrines, limited atonement is also to be "handled with special prudence and care, that assured of their eternal election." We use some tools such as a hammer to pound and bang away to bring the point of the nail home, and certain doctrines need to be taught with some pounding and banging for that purpose. But using a hammer to drive in a wood screw can split and damage the wood, where instead the quiet, determined action of a screwdriver can draw the two pieces together. Should not the doctrine of limited atonement be used to draw hearts to the heart of Christ quietly rather than loudly driving them away?

As marriage teaches loud, crude men who are willing to learn, soft speech and gentle actions can go a long way. Yes, we can get people's attention by shouting, but a whisper can also do the same and actually prepare the hearer for the message they are about to be told. Believe that Christ died for you, and tell others of it - softly, humbly, reverently.

For the holier the ground, the quieter the worshipper.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Glory of Old Men

Despite the fact that I re-sprained the arch of my left foot doing so, and had to hobble the rest of the way through it, I thoroughly enjoyed getting out on the basketball court with my two oldest sons last night at the spanking new YMCA in Flora. We played with dads and sons associated with our local home school team. When the local yoga class dismissed after the first hour, we were able to go full court. Someone had the idea of letting the young bucks on the team play together against the rest of us, which meant mainly us dads. I thought they would run us into the ground, but was surprised that, well, actually the opposite occured. As I scratched my head afterwards wondering how we pulled it off, it came to me when I remembered the ancient proverb:

The glory of young men is their strength, but the glory of old men is they know how to pass.

Monday, May 08, 2006

A Reminder Outside My Window

While I was in the Philippines in 2004, Miriam orchestrated, with the help of several friends in the church, the redecoration of my office. I had worked in it for months with it looking like a bomb shelter that had taken a direct hit. Two walls, invaded by outside moisture, had to have the plaster knocked completely off, with the west wall having only lath left and the northern wall being a rough, ugly brick of several varieties. The gray indoor-outdoor carpet was worn through in spots, stained, and dust-ridden. The two windows were both stained glass, but the glass had been broken in spots, the wood was rotting around the frames, and the lack of light was depressing. On the very day I arrived, Miriam took me that afternoon to the church, where I was met by a surprise party of dear friends and family in my new office, whch had been utterly transformed. It had freshly dry walled and painted walls, all color-coordinated with the new carpet and office chairs that were recovered in a sharp royal blue. New bookshelves lined my walls, where my books could finally display themselves appropriately rather than being double-stacked or piled somewhere. And I had new vinyl windows. I was bone-tired from my journeys, but rejoiced then and still do today over my inspiring surroundings.

Many have spoken in admiration of my office, but then have also followed their compliments with laughing comments on my view out the window. From my desk I look out on an alley filled with trashcans, and an old house that has been turned into several apartments. The clientele living there can be somewhat sordid. My suspicions about drug activity were confirmed when I watched the police kick in the door to one of the apartments to bust a meth lab set up in there just a month or two ago. The rest of the day men in safety suits went in and out carrying paraphenalia around the yellow police tape. Even this morning the police were here again, as a long-haired, tattoed fellow seemed to be upset about something stolen from him. This afternoon some grungy, cussing folks moved out so that, if the past is any indication, some more grungy, cussing folks can move in. The view out my desk window could be seen as not very inspiring, especially compared to my comfy, studious-looking surroundings.

Yet I'm thankful for this reminder outside my window. For it does inspire me. I'm reminded by it that though we are not to be of this world, we are to be in it. I look at the riches I possess, represented in these books that surround me containing treasures of wisdom that my ancestors in the faith have handed down to me, and I see how poor those right outside my window are. I pray to my heavenly Father, who has blessed me with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, and ask that the gospel would be known by those I see outside my window. This view reminds me that the Lord did not save our building from the eminent domain issues earlier this year just so we can only worship in comfort in it, but also so we could use it to reach those who are lost.

And, almost everyday, I remember again that is only by His grace I'm looking out this window instead, as I once did and too many of my neighbors still do, of not even caring to look in.