- Welcome to Emmanuel Reformed Church (ERC)! We are part of the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS), a small, but confessionally faithful denomination of the Protestant tradition. Our theology is shaped by the historic creeds of the Christian church (Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasian) as well as the confessions and catechisms that were the fruit of the Protestant Reformation (Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession of Faith, and Canons of Dort). While our church and theology is rooted in and borne out of our history, we seek to make worship and fellowship relevant to the 21st century and beyond. The Bible (our ultimate authority in matters of faith and practice) tells the story of redemption, and it is a redemption that is as relevant now as it was back when the Bible was written. It is a story of creation, corruption, cross, and consummation. The biggest problem mankind faces is sin. The solution to that problem is salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The final goal of creation is the consummation of all things in Christ in the new heavens and the new earth. If you feel as if there must be more to this life, but can’t quite put your finger on it, then join us for worship at ERC as we glorify God through the proclamation of the gospel—the only hope for a fallen world.
Is “What Would Jesus Do” (WWJD) Biblical?
I was recently asked by a member of the congregation my stance on WWJD (“What Would Jesus Do?”). Before I get too deep into this issue, a little context is in order. The church in which I serve is a member church in the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS). The RCUS is a denomination with German Reformed roots going all the way back to the Reformation itself. The RCUS subscribes to the Three Forms of Unity (TFU) as their secondary standard of authority after the Holy Bible itself. The TFU are: The Belgic Confession, The Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dordt. These three documents express a decidedly Calvinistic theology.
Why does this matter to the question? Well, in Reformed circles, the emphasis is on God’s sovereignty and free grace. You may have heard of the “Five Solas” of the Reformation (Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria). In English, they read: Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Christ Alone, to the Glory of God Alone. In other words, we are saved through faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone. Furthermore, Scripture alone is the sole infallible source of authority in faith and practice for the Christian.
So when a Reformed person hears WWJD, there is an almost autonomic negative response to it. The feeling is that WWJD reduces the richness of the Christian faith to a slogan: What would Jesus do? It also seems to suggest that to be a Christian is simply using Jesus’ life as an example to emulate. It reduces the sovereign grace of God in salvation to a crass “do this and live” mentality.
Now as one who considers himself Reformed, I understand that reaction to WWJD. There are some segments of Christianity who preach “saved by grace, stay saved by works,” or “saved by grace, sanctified (made holy) by works.” I believe this is a perversion of the gospel. It preaches a “do more, try harder” type of Christianity that creates anxiety or burn out in Christians. The Christian life is a life of faith from beginning to end:
Romans 1:17 (NKJV) For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."
Now this member of my congregation had told me that this question was brought up to a previous pastor at Emmanuel Reformed Church, who reacted much the way I described above. Basically saying that WWJD has no place in a Reformed church and should not be used as means to train children. When this question was posed to me and I was told of the reaction of the previous pastor, I was a little shocked. Now “why were you shocked, Carl” you may ask? Given what I said above, as a Reformed pastor, why would I be shocked by a negative reaction to WWJD?
Two reasons. First, the reaction of this previous pastor was described to me as rather visceral. Here was a dear saint in the congregation attempting to raise her children in the Lord, and she thought that WWJD was a useful tool to help train her children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. So to get such a negative reaction from your pastor would be shocking to say the least.
Secondly, I think there is an aversion to “works” in Reformed circles. I love Reformed theology and I love redemptive-historical preaching, but if all of our preaching application is only and exclusively “trust in Jesus, rest in Jesus, look to Jesus,” I think we’re missing the point. We’re so focused on God’s sovereign grace in salvation that we forget that the Bible does contain commands. Shocking, I know, but it does! We need to preach the commands in Scripture as commands! If all we do in preaching commands is “you can’t do it, Jesus did it, trust in Him,” then I think that kind of preaching is just as shallow as “do more, try harder.”
Reformed preaching needs to be balanced. It must be rooted and grounded in God’s sovereign grace toward us in salvation. Amen! Reformed preaching must emphasize the fact that Jesus Christ is our righteousness, that He did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. Amen! However, we must also not forget that the imperatives (commands) of Scripture flow out of the indicatives (facts) of Scripture. Because Jesus did, we can do!
Let’s not forget that in the RCUS, our very own beloved Heidelberg Catechism is organized as: Sin, Salvation, Service; or Guilt, Grace, Gratitude. In fact, LD32, Q86 asks “Since, then, we are redeemed from our misery by grace through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we do good works?” That’s a really good question! The Catechism gives three answers: (1) “We show ourselves thankful to God for His blessing, and that He be glorified through us;” (2) “We ourselves may be assured of our faith by the fruits thereof;” (3) “By our godly walk win also others to Christ.”
This is so much more than simply “rest in Christ, look to Christ, trust in Christ.” Jesus Himself said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” (John 14:23). Obedience = Love of Christ! Let’s not also forget that the Bible does speak of WWJD. Consider the following:
1 Corinthians 11:1 (NKJV) Imitate me, just as I also [imitate] Christ.
Ephesians 5:1 (NKJV) Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.
Colossians 2:6 (NKJV) As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him
Imitate Paul as he imitates Christ, be imitators of God, as we have received Christ so walk in Him...all of this sounds like WWJD. Not to mention all of the passages that speak of “walking” in general.
So is WWJD Biblical? Yes. There are clear commands in Scripture which call us to walk as Christ walked. Can WWJD be abused? Yes. Like anything good and useful, it can be reduced to a cliche and abused. Should we balance obedience with faith? Absolutely! We must always remember that our obedience to Christ flows out of His salvation for us. It is always a walk of faith that is grounded in God’s great salvation for us; never as a means to obtain God’s favor.
- Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) posted an announcement
Upcoming New Sermon SeriesFor the months of December and January, we will be taking a break from our current sermon series through the Gospel of John to start a recurring series through the Book of Psalms. Starting on Sunday, December 6, 2020 and going through Sunday, January 31, 2021, we will begin preaching through book 2 of the Psalms (Psalms 42-72).
- Stairway to HeavenIn this sermon, Pastor Carl preaches through John 1:43-51 and Jesus’ calling of Phillip and Nathanael. Jesus tells Nathanael that he will see the heavens open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man (a clear allusion to Jacob’s dream at Bethel in Genesis 28). The point being is that it is Jesus Christ, the Son of God and King of Israel, who brings heaven down to earth.sermons.faithlife.com
- Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) published a newsletterReadERC Monthly NewsletterOctober 2020
From the Pastor’s Corner
Of RBG, the Supreme Court, and Vacancies...Oh My!
This past week saw the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Badger-Ginsburg (commonly referred to as “RBG”). Justice Ginsburg died last Friday, September 18, 2020 from a prolonged battle with pancreatic cancer at the age of 87. She was appointed to the court by President Clinton in 1993 and has been a stalwart defender of gender equality and women’s rights. She was a remarkable woman who led a very accomplished life overcoming her own form of gender discrimination as she was coming up the legal ranks. Myself, as a conservative, there are some areas in which I would agree with RBG, and many areas in which I would disagree with her (most notably her “pro-choice” stance in regards to abortion).
However, my concern isn’t to talk about her life, but to talk about the aftermath of her death. You see, in case you haven’t noticed, we’re nearing the end of one of the most contentious presidential election years I’ve ever witnessed. RBG’s death came with just 46 days left until the election. Because RBG was considered one of the members of the “liberal wing” of the court, naturally, democrats are saying that her seat on the court shouldn’t be filled until after the election. Republicans, on the other hand, are saying that the seat should be filled, and filled now!
What muddies the waters even more is that in 2016, a nearly identical set of circumstances occurred. On February 13 of that year, Justice Antonin Scalia died. Then President Obama wanted to appoint Judge Merrick Garland to replace Scalia on the bench, but senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to hold hearings on Judge Garland. In fact, many republicans were “quoted” as saying that in an election year, we should let the people decide who will appoint Scalia’s replacement. Some of these very same republicans are now saying that RBG’s vacancy should be filled.
This opens up the republicans to charges of “hypocrisy.” How could they deny a hearing to Judge Garland in 2016 266 days out from the election, but then be in favor of appointed a replacement for RBG in 2020 only 45 days out from the election? Seems like a clear cut case for hypocrisy, right? Let’s examine this.
The first thing to say is that the same democrats who are accusing republicans of hypocrisy in 2020, were the ones saying “fill the seat” back in 2016. So the charge of hypocrisy seems to cut both ways (welcome to the world of politics). The point being, politicians are politicians. Now you might say, “Carl, you’re a pastor. How can you be in favor of ‘naked hypocrisy’ in American politics?” Well, I’m not in favor of “naked hypocrisy” in American politics. I am just simply stating the facts as I see them. This is the “partisan battle” we see happening everyday before our eyes. Should we expect better from our politicians? Yes, absolutely. But that’s not the reality we live in, so we have to deal with what we have.
Secondly, there is the “precedent” issue. To hear the rhetoric, what is being proposed is “unprecedented” in American history. However, 29 times in our history there has been a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year. Each of these 29 times, the sitting president has nominated an individual to fill that vacancy. The only difference is whether or not the senate has confirmed the nominee. In a majority of the cases, whether or not the senate as confirmed the nominee has been largely determined by which party controls the senate. When the president’s party has control of the senate, the nominee has been confirmed the vast majority of the times. When the opposition party has been in control of the senate, the president’s nominee has not been confirmed the vast majority of the time.
Why does all of this matter? In general, it speaks to the “will of the people.” In 2014, Americans voted to give the senate to the republicans. The republicans maintained control in 2016 and in 2018. In part, one could say, the American people made a decision as to which party controls the confirmation of Supreme Court nominees. Similarly, when the country elected Donald Trump as president in 2016, one could say, that there was a mandate as to what kind of Supreme Court justices the people wanted nominated. So it makes sense why the republicans didn’t confirm Merrick Garland, but are willing to confirm whomever President Trump nominates (and vice verse the democrats).
Another question can be asked of me, “Carl, being a pastor, how can you be in favor of such ‘naked partisanship?’” In general, I’m not. But there is an ideology, a philosophy, behind the parties. I am in favor of the judicial philosophy to which the republicans hold. That philosophy is that the Supreme Court should judge laws based on their constitutionality as understood by the framers of the constitution. In other words, I do not believe that the U.S. Constitution is a “living document” that needs to evolve to fit our modern understanding. I believe the Constitution set forth limits on the power and reach of government as put forth in their enumerated powers. The Constitution also holds forth as sacrosanct the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Conversely, I do not agree with the judicial philosophy of the Democratic Party. They generally tend to nominate justices who will interpret laws and the Constitution in light of current thinking on “social justice,” “economic justice,” etc.
A final question can be asked of me, “Carl, aren’t you espousing an ‘end justifies the means’ argument?” No, and let me explain why. The U.S. Constitution (Article II, Section II) grants that the president shall nominate individuals to the Supreme Court and that the senate shall provide their “advice and consent.” It is fully within the constitutionally mandated authority of the president to nominate a person to the Supreme Court, and for the senate to confirm (or not confirm) that nomination. The fact of the matter is that in this particular case I happen to approve of whomever would be nominated. If the parties were reversed, I would not be happy, but there is no constitutional argument to be made against such a situation. Now do I wish that the rhetoric of our elected politicians were more honest and less partisan? Absolutely! But I can only hold my own senators (Ben Sasse and Deb Fischer of Nebraska) accountable for any hypocrisy in their speech.
In closing, what is disconcerting to me about all of this is the importance we, as a people, place on the Supreme Court. We’ve invested these nine individuals with so much mystique and power that they’re almost seen as “holy seers” or “sacred prophets.” The fact of the matter is that they, like all of us, are flawed, sinful individuals. They need the forgiveness of sins just as much as the next person. Though they may be esteemed members of the highest court in the land, they are all under the sovereign control of THE Supreme Judge, God, and His Son, Jesus Christ. As Christians, we should be concerned with the goings on of our nation, but the Bible reminds us that we are “in the world, not of the world” (John 17:11, 14). Meaning we live in this world, but our citizenship “is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). As such, we should have minds that are “seeking those things which are above” (Colossians 3:1). This is difficult to do when we see all of the craziness going in in the world, but one of my favorite verses is this: “In the world, ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Go forth in the knowledge that your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has overcome the world, and that through Him, we are all overcomers!