Our first evening worship service

This past Sunday evening, October 14, the RCSS gathered for corporate worship at the Reformed Church of Cape Town in the city bowl.  The following is the liturgy that was followed and the sermon that was preached.  You are welcome to join us this coming Sunday evening.  Please watch this blog for more details on the venue.

Order of worship or liturgy ~

Call to worship

Invocation and prayer of praise

 Song of Praise: Psalm 23 (#87)

Corporate confession of Faith: Nicene Creed (p846)

Sing Doxology (#731)

Reading of the Law: Matt. 22:34-40

Prayer of Confession

Assurance of Pardon: Rom. 8:1-4

Song of thanksgiving: Psalm 51:1-4 (#486)

Prayer of illumination

Reading of Scripture: Galatians 1:1-10

Sermon: Only One Gospel

Congregational prayer

Prayer for offering

Offering

 Concluding song: Arise My Soul Arise (#305)

 Prayer of benediction

Sermon ~

Only One Gospel

Galatians 1.1-10

Peer group pressure is a universal phenomenon.  We can all relate to the temptation to follow the crowd instead of standing by our beliefs and morals.  It is easier to be one of the bullies in the playground than to stand up for the kid with thick glasses.  It is more attractive to embrace the Hollywood view of sexual expression than honor marriage.  It is more tantalizing to gossip than respect someone’s private life.  It is easier to be politically correct than to express truly virtuous convictions.  It is easier to affirm that all roads lead to God than stand by the exclusivity of Christianity.  It is easier to follow the latest popular Christian teaching than abide by the Word of God.

The Apostle Paul was someone who stood against popular opinion on the basis of God’s Word.  He was more concerned with pleasing God than pleasing man.  In his letter to the Galatians, he addresses the problem of peer group pressure coming from false teachers, known as Judaizers, in the church.  They were smooth talkers and flatters who were influencing the Galatian Christians into believing a different gospel from the one that Paul had initially preached to them.  They had rejected the authority of Paul and his gospel message.  Instead, they were teaching that to be part of the church, one needed faith in Jesus plus obedience to various laws or rules. * In Gal. 1.1-10, Paul responds by defending his divine calling as an Apostle.  In doing so, he also defends the true gospel of grace. * Paul’s words and example are very much relevant for us today.  The pressure to turn our back on Christ and his grace for law and works is no less powerful in our churches.  Like the Galatians, we too must decide whether we will follow God’s gospel from heaven or an imitation invented by the world.

Paul’s commission and his heavenly message

In the opening verse of the book of Galatians, Paul greets the various churches with a defence of his divine office as Apostle.  Why?  Because the gossip circulating in the churches at the time was that – for various reasons – Paul did not have authority to speak on behalf of God.  And therefore his gospel message was being called into question as well.  Part of the problem is that Paul was not willing to follow all of the rituals and customs coming out of the mother church in Jerusalem.  It is also did not help that he was not the most impressive personality or public speaker, or very good looking either.

According to Paul, in vv1-2, to be an Apostle is a special calling from God and not man.  Like the other Apostles, God had commissioned Paul for the unique task during a unique time to help establish Christ’s church.  In Acts 9, we learn that the course of Paul’s life was dramatically altered in an encounter with the risen Jesus on the Road to Damascus.  There, God turned him from persecutor of the church into a preacher of Christ’s grace.  Paul joined the other Apostles in taking up the special and unrepeatable task of laying the foundation of the NT church.

In verses 3-4, Paul exercises his office as a divine ambassador by addressing the church with God’s blessing, with the words: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.”  Paul’s calling as an Apostle was inseparable from the message God had summoned him to preach.  Paul had authority as an Apostle not only because he had a divine calling, but also because he proclaimed the same message that Jesus preached during his earthly ministry.  Paul preached the good news of forgiveness of sins that Jesus accomplished in his own flesh.

Consider for a moment the implication of this forgiveness that Paul describes in v. 4, where he writes: Jesus “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age.”  To be forgiven is to know that God the Father judged Jesus instead of us for our sin.  This means we have escaped this world contaminated by sin and headed for destruction.  To get a better grasp on this reality, perhaps it is helpful to consider how it fits in the larger story of the bible.  Remember that when God created Adam and Eve, he held out to them the possibility of entering into an even more glorious world if they obeyed God’s law.  In other words, the first Adam could have entered into another eternal age if he passed the test in the garden.  But he failed; he sinned.  And as a result, this world and everyone in it was doomed to death and destruction.  No mortal human being could undo the consequences of sin.  No one could escape this world of sin or this present evil age, and enter into heaven or the world to come.

But the good news of the gospel is that God sent his very own Son, in the likeness of the first Adam, to reverse the damning effects of man’s fall into sin.  After Jesus completed his earthly ministry of perfect obedience, suffering and death, God raised him to new life in heaven.  When Jesus, the second Adam, was resurrected from the dead he gained for us the prize held out to Adam in Garden of Eden: that is entrance into heaven or the age to come.  Therefore, friends, if you have trusted in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus this morning, you too have become participants in the age to come, even now, by faith.  Our deliverance out of this world or age of sin is an already accomplished reality.  Just as surely as Jesus has triumphed over sin, death and hell, and is seated at the right hand of God in heaven, so too have we.  In Eph. 2.6, Paul exclaims that God has raised us up with Christ and “seated us with him in the heavenly places.”  In Col. 3, Paul writes that we have been raised with Christ and our life is now hidden with Christ in God.

The earthly perversion of the gospel

If this is Paul’s conception of the gospel, then it is little wonder that he is astonished, in v.6, that so many are quickly accepting a different version taught by the false teachers.  What is it exactly that is so twisted about this counterfeit gospel?  Basically, the message of Paul’s opponents or the Judaizers is that justification is by obedience to the law.  This is not to say that they did not believe in Jesus.  Their error was subtle and therefore all the more dangerous.  For the FT, like the Pharisees during Jesus’ earthly ministry, the blood of Jesus was not enough to ensure forgiveness of sins.  Therefore, they were insisting upon was obedience to ceremonial laws found in the OT, especially the rite of circumcision.  Their formula was Jesus plus our obedience.

Now, you may be wondering what is so wrong about abiding by God’s law in the OT?  The problem with OT ceremonial laws, such as circumcision and ritual sacrifice, is that they served a purpose for a limited time.  They were supposed to point forward to coming Messiah.  When Jesus did finally arrive, he fulfilled all of the OT laws: not only the ceremonial, but the judicial and moral laws as well.  He provided the final cleansing from sin symbolized in circumcision by being cut off by God in bloody judgment at the cross.  Therefore, for the false teachers to require circumcision for salvation is to in effect deny the atoning death of Jesus.  In essence, their teaching was no different from any self-help book or moral reformation program.  It was certainly popular – because we as prideful sinners like contribute to our salvation – and it got results – we can change on the outside if properly motivated – but it was powerless to take away sin.

What or who are you trusting in?  The number of times you have shared the gospel?  Abstaining from certain foods and pleasures?  The latest devotional exercise regime?  Your progress in holiness?  Your victory over a certain sin? How do you view your baptism (NT replacement of circumcision)?  Is it about you and your pledge of faithfulness to God?  How about the Lord’s Supper?  Is it a time to clean up your act and offer up your holiness to God?  Are you, like the Galatians, tempted to mix law and gospel in order to be saved.

For Paul, the threat of false teaching that denied God’s grace was a threat to the gospel and the church, and therefore also a threat to his authority as an Apostle.  Paul had preached the pure gospel of grace to the Galatians, but now they were turning away from Christ and the Apostle who had introduced them to the faith.  Like any lover of Jesus, his gospel and his church, Paul could not stand by idly and watch as souls headed for destruction.  This would be a violation of his Apostolic calling.  So in vv 8-9, Paul issues the harshest possible judgment against the false teachers.

Paul’s stand against the world

There is no way to soften it.  Here Paul boldly declares that if anyone preaches anything other than Christ’s gospel, “let that person be cursed!”  Even if it were possible for an angel from heaven to preach a message contrary to Christ, that person is damned.  Again, Why?  Because to preach that forgiveness depends at all upon our works is, in Paul’s words in Gal. 2.21, to “nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”  To deny justification by grace alone through faith alone is the ultimate diabolical heresy, because it leaves us in our sins and without Jesus, and therefore without eternal life.  To exchange grace for works is to exchange the church for the world: and its clubs, self-help schemes, 12-step programs and political parties.

The thing about the false teachers is that they were telling the Galatians what we sinners by nature like to hear, and the masses were buying it hook, line and sinker.  Again, remember that we like to have some part in our salvation.  We like people to flatter us.  We like people with personalities.  We like to be a part of what is popular; hip; relevant, world-changing etc.

But in v10, Paul is clear that he is no people-pleaser, which is obvious from his stand against the false teachers, and his chastisement of the churches in Galatia.  It is evident that Paul is a servant of Christ, and not man.  He is not concerned with winning any popularity contest.  He is concerned with pleasing GodPaul knows that the message of the gospel cuts against the grain of our sinful natures.  He knows that God’s vision for the church is counter-cultural and not of this world.  Nevertheless, he is unwilling to give an inch to the pressure to compromise God’s Word, especially its heart, justification by faith alone.

Brothers and sisters, Paul’s words here to the Galatian churches are God’s Words to us today.  Like the Galatians, we are sinners and we live in the same world of sin.  The church today still has false teachers. Sure, we don’t have Apostles anymore, but God has nevertheless given us ministers who preach the same gospel with no less power through God’s Spirit.

Therefore, Paul’s gospel is our gospel and Paul’s vision for the church is our vision for the church.  Let us therefore be careful to listen to God speaking through Paul and not ourselves, or the popular masses out there or the latest passing fad in the church.  Each one of us needs to be under preaching that gets the gospel right.  We need an understanding of baptism and the Lord’s Supper that confirms the gospel of grace, and not confuses it.  We need to be part of a church that safeguards the gospel through faithful government and disciplineIn other words, we need to exercise discernment in light of Paul’s words here.  Let us, therefore, seek out a ministry that desires to please God and not man; one which understands that a true church is not like the world, in the way it thinks or acts.  And let us not despise those faithful ambassadors that God has put over us today, but listen to them.  For they proclaim Paul’s message, which is Christ’s message, which is God’s promise of eternal life by grace alone through faith alone.  Amen.

Simon Jooste, Cape Town Reformed Church, October 14, 2012

The church, relevance and worldliness

We as Christians no doubt want to see sinners repent and believe, and our churches grow in grace.  We should take the Great Commission seriously (Matt 28).  We should support our church in missions and evangelism.  We should always be ready to witness to our faith when asked (1 Peter 3:15).

God’s sure and effectual means of converting sinners and building Christians up in holiness and comfort through faith is the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word (cf. Romans 10; WSC 89).  In other words, the church grows through the Word and the Spirit.  However, the ministry of the Word and Sacraments is certainly not attractive and impressive by the world’s standards.  In fact, the preaching of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18).  As an otherworldly institution and as a pilgrim people in this present age, the church is to go about its ministry in counter-cultural ways – ways that are foreign and nonsensical to the world.  We are to resist the temptation to be like the world in order to make Jesus relevant, as if Jesus were a product or commodity to be marketed and sold.  The church is to resist the spirit of this age and, therefore, what the world values, things like: instant gratification; prioritizing feelings; unfettered individualism; the politicization of everything; self-help; the winner; good looks; therapy; celebrity; entertainment; brand marketing; being hip; moral reformation; big crowds; popularity, etc.

Think of the Israelites with the golden calf; the idolatry of God’s people in Canaan; the thick-headed disciples on the road to Golgotha… We are no different in our tendency to be dazzled by the world and its allurements.  But, Paul exhorts us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

The Word of God makes us and the world relevant to its dramatic story.  The Bible tells us that we all fell into sin in the Garden of Eden (Romans 3).  The playing field is leveled.  We are all losers in Adam.  But by putting our faith in Jesus Christ – the second Adam – our sins can be forgiven and we can find peace with God (Romans 5).  To believe the gospel and to continue to believe the gospel is a work of God through his Word by His Spirit.  Nothing that the world values, nothing that works in the world can make Christ’s kingdom grow.

We don’t have to be wiser than God and be like the world in order to win the world.  We don’t have to spice up the Bible as if it were not powerful and sufficient enough in and of itself.

Consider Paul’s model of faith: “And I, when I cam to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2.2)

The church in the best of the confessional Reformed tradition has historically sought to be counter-cultural and otherworldly in its ministry for the sake of the gospel, because this is the picture of the church painted for us in the Word of God.

The following are links to some of the main Reformed and Presbyterian confessions, which include Scripture references (please note that I do not necessarily endorse everything on the websites that host the confessions/catechisms listed):

Heidelberg Catechism (HC)

Belgic Confession (BC)

Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF)

Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC)

Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC)