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Irresistible Grace

"Uncle Glen"

Irresistible Grace

Dear James,

The word on the street is that you are very fond of a young woman—a freshman, no less—from New York. Yes, this could be yet another instance of too much information. But what are you going to do when your parents are so close to one of your elders? Of course, knowing about your life is what elders do. That could explain why one critic of Presbyterian church government said, "Better the Spanish Inquisition than Geneva's Consistory."

I have also learned that your new friend, Nicole, finds the worship at Franklin Street OPC dull—not at all like what she is used to at her home church in Manhattan. Up there, the numbers at worship are much larger, I know, and the music has more spunk than what you can generate out of Trinity Hymnal. Her church, I hear, also has many more programs and seems to emphasize "word and deed" over "word and sacrament."

I will concede that Pastor Beach is probably not as commanding a presence in the pulpit as your friend's regular preacher, although I wonder if Beach's resolve to stick to the text and avoid subjects in the news is a major reason for his apparent irrelevance. Whatever the problem, it sounds like you are having trouble convincing Nicole to return to worship with you at Franklin Street.

At one level, it's good for you to think now, at an early stage of adulthood, about the potential challenges that romance creates for your faith and devotion. Of course, you know it is wrong to become involved with an unbeliever, and I am glad that Nicole is baptized and has made a credible profession of faith. At the same time, as your time at Rutherford College has taught you, not every Protestant—let alone Presbyterian—believes that biblical worship and church government are important.

Worship can be a particular source of questions: Why is your church so subdued? Why aren't there more opportunities for the congregation's participation? How can such a service at Franklin Street really be effective in either reaching the lost or encouraging the faithful? These are questions that you likely hear from your peers. I've heard them many times from new families in town looking for a church home. You need to consider whether these are questions you want to hear the rest of your life, if you marry a person who is asking them now.

On another level, reservations like these about church services that seem to lack drama or vibrancy often stem from a view of worship that is inconsistent with the doctrine of irresistible grace. This teaching, as I'm sure you remember, affirms that in the application of redemption—in effectual calling, that is—one of God's elect cannot resist the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. The idea here, as John Murray so well explained, is not simply to counter the impression that sinners may resist the Holy Spirit or not respond to the effectual call. It also aims to show how profound and deep human sin is, because only the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit can draw a totally depraved person to God in faith and repentance.

Now, if you're wondering how this relates to worship, think about the motivation for many so-called improvements in worship—changes designed to make it more engaging, lively, or moving. The argument invariably is that such changes will make worship more effective, as if our efforts in ministering God's word will make the grace of the gospel irresistible. (The same logic seems to inform churches with lots of programs. Programs will seemingly be more influential than a narrow focus on ministering God's word.)

To be sure, the doctrine of irresistible grace should not make ministers complacent about the hard work involved in crafting faithful sermons that communicate clearly the whole counsel of God. Nor should it encourage sessions to be lax about the right and appropriate ways to order the reading and preaching of the Word, the sacraments, prayer, and the offering in the course of a worship service. The Reformers objected to Roman Catholic worship, not only because it taught a false gospel, but also because it was unintelligible—it was in Latin, after all. So our services must continue to manifest this Protestant concern.

Still, we should never confuse our efforts to be faithful in conducting and participating in worship with the sovereign grace of God in making "the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort."

I am coming to campus in a month or so for an alumni meeting. Maybe we can talk about this more then. It would also be good to meet Nicole.

Uncle Glen

"Glen Roberts" is a pseudonym for two Orthodox Presbyterian elders. Reprinted from New Horizons, March 2009.

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