August, 2016

John Flavel’s Double Table, part 6

The first half of John Flavel’s Double Table[1] listed ten sins that are common to members of the Church and forbidden in Scripture. The commission of these sins warrants God’s displeasure. The second half of his table lays out ten duties for the church member to fulfill as drawn from Scripture. If these duties are discharged, then the member will receive “signal Fruits of his Favour.”

The third duty is to humbly condescend to the infirmities of the weaker brother. The Christian is to deny himself in what he can, without sin. Flavel is arguing that the duty of the Christian is to go the extra mile to benefit his neighbor. He roots this duty in Paul’s exhortation in Romans 15:1, 2. “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” Paul’s instruction to the church is to think about the building up of your brothers and sisters in Christ more than your personal gain. John Calvin simply puts it this way, “The object of our desires is their edification.”[2]

Paul in 1 Corinthians 8-10 argues that there are many things permissible to the Christian but not all things are beneficial. For example, he reasons that there is only one God. Since there is only one God, there is no reason to avoid meat that is offered to idols. This is because idols, which are not the one true God, are nothing. So, meat offered to idols is not really consecrated to anything, therefore, it is perfectly fine to eat. However, Paul argues, if your weaker brother’s conscience is conflicted about this, if he believes it is wrong to eat that meat, then the stronger brother ought to deny himself his liberty to eat it so as to not wound the conscience of his brother. The stronger brother must defer to the weaker brother. The conscience is not infallible, but to do what your conscience prohibits is sin. So, to do something permissible that leads my brother to violate his conscience is leading my brother to sin. This is sin for the stronger brother. The Christian must deny himself for the sake of the weaker brother, for whom Christ died (1 Cor 8:10). He should then work to inform the conscience of the weaker brothers, so that it is conformed to God’s Word. Ultimately, when we deny ourselves, we follow the example of Christ who denied himself for our benefit (Rom 15:3, Ps 69:9). Our actions must be guided by a faithfulness to God and a love for our brothers.

The fourth duty of the Christian is to be tender of the church’s unity. The admonition here is to promote unity in the church with respect to judgment, love, and practice, and to avoid (as much as may be, and as far as the gospel rule allows) all causes and occasions of division and offenses. Flavel roots this duty in Paul’s instruction in Romans 16:17, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” and Philippians 2: 1, 2, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, an affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

Few things attack the witness of Christ’s Church more than church divisions. The non-believer’s doubts about the power and benefits of the Gospel are confirmed when he sees division and conflict in the Church. In our interactions with other believers, we ought to labor to be of one mind. If we have been united in Christ, then we should find unity in our fellowship with one another.

The Church must, however, stand for what is true. Flavel acknowledges this by noting that we should avoid division “as much as may be, and as far as the gospel rule allows.” Wicked men will seek to create divisions and obstacles in the church. They are not to be tolerated. Our unity is to be found in Christ and His Word, not in some arbitrary sense of community. Those who deny the doctrines of our faith while claiming to stand for unity are to be, as Paul instructs, “avoided.” Our catholicity (i.e. oneness) in the church is a great witness to the power of the Gospel. But ungodly division and conflict disparages Christ’s church. We should be exceedingly tender of the church’s unity.

[1] A Double Scheme, or Table; containing, in the First Column, The Sins most incident to the Members of particular Churches, plainly forbidden in the Word, and for which God sets Marks of his Displeasure on them. And, in the Second, The Duties enjoined on them in the Scripture, in the conscientious Discharge whereof, they receive signal Fruits of his Favour.

[2] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 515.

John Flavel’s Double Table, part 5

The first half of John Flavel’s Double Table[1] listed ten sins that are common to members of the Church and forbidden in Scripture. The commission of these sins warrants God’s displeasure. The second half of his table lays out ten duties for the church member to fulfill as drawn from Scripture. If these duties are discharged, then the member will receive “signal Fruits of his Favour.”

The first duty of the Christian is to “be often together in acts of Christian communion.” The Christian cannot live by himself but is part of a covenant community. From the beginning, it was ordained by God that man should live in fellowship and community with others. When Adam was the only person in all of Creation, God said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen 2:18). It continues to be true that it is not good for man to be alone. The Christian is not meant to live in isolation. A quick search of the phrase “one another” proves this point. The Apostle Paul uses this phrase over 40 times in his letters to the churches. There is a clear assumption that the Christian life was to be lived in communion with “one another.” The author of Hebrews admonishes the Church to, “consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:24, 25). Primarily he is addressing the weekly corporate worship of the Church, but this verse shouldn’t be limited to just that.

Flavel mentions that these meetings are to be used for “prayer, the repetition of sermons, and Christian conference.” This communion involves the weekly gathered worship on the Lord’s Day, but it also involves so much more. As a church, we ought to gather together informally for fellowship. And that fellowship should be marked by things like prayer, discussion of Christian topics, and encouragement in our Christian walks.

This type of fellowship is what Paul encourages in Eph. 4:11-16. Paul begins by explaining the gift that God has given the church in the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. They serve to build up the body of Christ. They lead the members to a unity of faith and maturity that allows them to withstand the craftiness of human schemes. Instead of being like children who subject to those base temptations, the body should be grown up, speaking the truth in love. We should reflect our Head, Jesus Christ. Paul then explains that this maturity resembles the way a whole body is held together with joints and works. The implication in Paul’s metaphor is that the individual only grows in his faith as he participates in the means of grace which are given to the whole body.

The second duty listed by Flavel is “to follow and back the great design of the gospel in the world, and therein assist the public ministry, by their private and prudent helping on the conversion of the carnal and careless world.” The great design of the gospel to which Flavel is referring is the Great Commission. The members of the church have a duty to support and participate in the “conversion of the carnal and careless world.”

The Scriptures present a consistent story from Genesis to Revelation of a God whose heart is for the nations. If you were to highlight every passage in the Bible that refers to God’s plan for the nations, you would run out of highlighter before you run out of Bible. Flavel references Philippians 4:3, where Paul encourages the church at Philippi to assist Euodia and Syntyche in their reconciliation and then their labors in the gospel. One crucial manner in which the church member is to do this is in prayer. Paul pleads with the church to “strive together with me in your prayers.”

Our Missions Committee’s mission statement is, “Connect, Support, Go!” In order to be faithful to God’s call for the church to “back the great design of the gospel,” we want to connect with our missionaries. We pray with and for them. We support them with our dollars. We encourage them. And we go. Our great prayer is that we will send out the sons and daughters of Covenant Presbyterian Church to the mission fields to reap the harvest the Lord has prepared. Our hope and prayer is that our faithful duty in this endeavor will produce the Fruits of the Lord’s Favour in his Church.

 

[1] A Double Scheme, or Table; containing, in the First Column, The Sins most incident to the Members of particular Churches, plainly forbidden in the Word, and for which God sets Marks of his Displeasure on them. And, in the Second, The Duties enjoined on them in the Scripture, in the conscientious Discharge whereof, they receive signal Fruits of his Favour.

John Flavel’s Double Table, part 4

We finish up the first half of John Flavel’s Double Table[1]  with the eighth through the tenth sins. Next week we’ll turn our attention to the list of duties for church members which will result in “fruits of His favor.”

The eighth sin common to church members is a failure to give and receive reproofs among one another. Far too often we take a laissez faire approach to our relationships with other church members. Everyone has blind spots. And the whole problem with blind spots is that you are blind to them. You can see them in others, but you are oblivious to your own. We all need someone to love us enough to correct us. “Let a righteous man strike me – it is a kindness; let him rebuke me – it is oil for my head” (Ps 141:5). We are commanded that when there is sin between members of the church, they must confront it and deal with it in a godly manner. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (Matt 18:15). And also, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal 6:1). So often we simply ignore these sins, but sins left unchecked do not disappear. They grow and fester under the surface and lead to greater infection. Sin left alone will only create greater and deeper problems down the road. Christians have to love each other enough to give and receive rebukes and reproofs with grace and humility.

The ninth sin is when strife and animosity among brothers and sisters is aired out in public view. Sometimes families have disagreements. Sometimes we fight. But those fights and disagreements need to be handled behind closed doors among the members of the family. This is what Paul is arguing in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. There were grievances among brothers in the church at Corinth. But instead of handling those disagreements among themselves, they took the matter before the civil court system. Paul rebukes them for at least two reasons. First, the church is holy and the civil court system is not. How can the unrighteous judge the righteous? The civil law has no standing in adjudicating these matters among believers. Second, this brings great scandal upon Christ’s church. There should never be a civil trial between two Christian brothers. Never. It would be better to be defrauded, cheated, or wronged than to see disagreements in the church aired out in public. While there will be strife and animosities among even believers, these ought to be handled within the church and not from without. Instead of fighting for your civil “rights” among brothers and sisters, you ought to seek the glory of God’s name. Allow the authority of the church to adjudicate these disagreements, because this is one of the reasons God gave us the gift of elders.

The tenth and final sin listed in Flavel’s table is that of spiritual self-centeredness. Flavel’s concerns in the 17th century England obviously predate the revivalistic and pietistic emphases of the late 19th century America. So we can say that the hyper-individualism of the church today is not isolated to the church today. In fact, this issue predates Flavel’s concerns. Paul wrote to the Philippians that he would send his disciple Timothy for their mutual encouragement. Paul’s concern was that few were genuinely concerned for their welfare. All too often, members in the church “seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:21). There is a persistent temptation for Christians to strike it out on their own and to seek their own welfare above the good of the body.

Too often we isolate our faith to our own personal opinions on the Bible and the practice of our faith. The great Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) is then transformed into solo Scriptura (only Scripture). The former refers to the primacy of Scripture as our authority. The latter refers to the use of Scripture to the exclusion of any other authority, such as the Church. The former leads to faithfulness. The latter leads to heresy. There is no “Lone-Ranger” Christianity. The Christian who is more fixated on his personal needs than on the glory of God has missed the mark by a mile. It is often a hard reality for us to accept that the Bible never says that Jesus died for you (singular) but rather that Jesus gave himself up for her (the Church) (Eph 5:25). When you are united to Christ you are made “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19). Christians don’t get a private faith. They are swept up into the whole body of all who are redeemed by the blood of Christ. So no member of the Church can focus on their own concerns to the exclusion of the Body. When the Christian faith is self-centered the individual Christian and the Body of Christ both suffer.

 

[1] The full title is A Double Scheme, or Table; containing, in the First Column, The Sins most incident to the Members of particular Churches, plainly forbidden in the Word, and for which God sets Marks of his Displeasure on them. And, in the Second, The Duties enjoined on them in the Scripture, in the conscientious Discharge whereof, they receive signal Fruits of his Favour.

John Flavel’s Double Table, part 3

John Flavel (1628-1691) was an English Puritan minister. His writings were a favorite of such Puritan luminaries as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Robert M M’Cheyne, and Andrew Bonar. The first professor at Princeton Seminary, Archibald Alexander commented, “To John Flavel I certainly owe more than to any uninspired author.” At the end of this complete works is a short work titled, “A Double Table.”[1] It is a list of ten common sins among church members and ten duties required of church members. This list of ten “Do’s and Don’ts” of the Christian life can serve to really challenge us to greater growth in sanctification. This week we pick up with the sixth in his list of sins.

The sixth sin is in a similar vein to the fifth (absence from worship). The sixth in Flavel’s list is tardiness in attending worship. Tardiness happens to the best of us. Life happens, circumstances snowball, and you just can’t make it to church on time. Getting kids dressed and fed and loaded into the car with both their shoes on can be a Herculean task. Don’t forget to brush their hair! It happens. The occasional tardiness is not what is being addressed by Flavel. Rather, it is the chronic and consistent lateness in attending church. He is addressing the person who is usually looking for a seat during or after the first hymn.

Getting a whole family (or just yourself) ready in the morning can be a struggle. But I don’t believe that is the most common problem with arriving late to worship. The greater problem is a lack of zeal in attending worship. If we’re honest with ourselves, how often is our attitude like that of David in Psalm 122:1, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’”? Would your attitude in preparing for worship be described as “glad”? Is there a joy and zeal in your heart when you think about gathering with the people of God on the Lord’s Day for corporate worship of the Triune God? If worship on the Lord’s Day is a source of gladness for you, then you probably won’t be late. Chronic lateness is not a result of busyness. God has given every person 24 hours in his day. And God has never given us more than we can handle.

I would suppose that for most people, their lateness is simply a bad habit that needs to be re-calibrated. But from where did this habit arise? It is a matter of priorities. Was your Saturday evening too late? Do you not provide for enough time in traveling to church? Is your life so disorganized that pulling things together in time is impossible? If I were meeting friends to play a pick-up game of basketball that started promptly at noon, then I’d arrive several minutes before noon to stretch, warm-up, and shoot a few shots before the game started. Your Lord’s Day worship is no different. You should arrive with enough time to pray, quiet your heart from all the busyness of the week, and prepare to worship the Almighty God of the Universe. Sticking with the illustration, arriving after the Call to Worship runs the risk of pulling a spiritual hamstring. Chronic lateness is a sign that something in your heart is askew.

The seventh sin listed in Flavel’s table is irreverence, particularly in worship. Likely what Flavel had in mind for irreverence in 17th century Puritan England is quite different than what we might have in mind. There is some cultural accommodation that must be accounted for. But the general idea translates across the generations. If I could illustrate this, when I was in college I attended a large historic downtown church. There were many Sundays when during the sermon I could hear a clicking. One Sunday I managed to catch a glimpse of the source of this clicking. The clicking was coming from an older man’s fingernail clippers. He would take the time during the sermon to trim his fingernails. And no one ever confronted him about this! Our irreverence is exhibited in our posture, attention, and habits during worship. Does slouching in your seat or leaning against the wall communicate that you are ready to hear from God in his Word? Is the urge to read and respond to emails and texts or check social media during the service too great? What does this communicate about your priorities?  Would you interrupt or ignore your boss while he was speaking to you in order to reply to an email from your pastor? Of course you wouldn’t, so don’t do the opposite. This isn’t for the ego of your pastor, but it is for the office he represents. He stands in the pulpit to declare God’s Word, “a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all those who are around him” (Ps 89:7). We must approach the worship of our Great Triune God with reverence and awe. “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God” (Eccl 5:1).

[1] The full title is A Double Scheme, or Table; containing, in the First Column, The Sins most incident to the Members of particular Churches, plainly forbidden in the Word, and for which God sets Marks of his Displeasure on them. And, in the Second, The Duties enjoined on them in the Scripture, in the conscientious Discharge whereof, they receive signal Fruits of his Favour.