The Method to My Madness
People often asked me how I chose topics for the feature articles when I served as editor of New Horizons from January 2001 to March 2004. There was a method to my madness. The March or April issue focused on Christ's resurrection and related themes, the December issue focused on Christ's incarnation and related themes, and the November issue focused on Worldwide Outreach and the Thank Offering. But what about the other eight issues?
I earnestly wanted to communicate the full-orbed Reformed ethos, so I took the four membership vows as my starting point. Because there is only one requirement for communicant church membershipa credible profession of faith in Christeach vow addresses a different facet of the same point. As I see it, that point is: Are you following Jesus Christ? I took the four membership vows and extrapolated themes that they implied. Next, I considered challenges that could be inferred from those themes. Then I sought to cycle through those themes and challenges. Here's the basic strategy I sought to follow:
The first membership vow is: Do you believe the Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, to be the Word of God, and its doctrine of salvation to be the perfect and only true doctrine of salvation?
The leading theme of the first membership vow is revelation. From that leading theme, I extrapolated themes like: knowing God (triunity, attributes, works), Scripture (revelation, inspiration, authority, sufficiency, sola Scriptura, tota Scriptura, illumination, interpretation), covenant, guidance, and Word and Spirit. I think the first vow presents this challenge to us: Are you following Jesus Christ as your Prophet?
Thus, I sought articles that presented such challenges as: Do you delight in the wonderful privilege of knowing God? Do you seek, day by day, to see him more clearly, to love him more dearly, to follow him more nearly? Are you diligent to hear, read, study, and meditate on God's Word? Knowing that the Bible is God's very Word, are you quick to receive the Bible's statements of fact, bow before its commands, tremble before its warnings, and rest upon its promises? Are you a doer of God's Word and not a hearer only?
The second membership vow is: Do you confess that because of your sinfulness you abhor and humble yourself before God, and that you trust for salvation not in yourself but in Jesus Christ alone?
Its leading theme is salvation. That theme suggests themes like: God's accomplishment of redemption, God's application of redemption, sin, the doctrines of grace, Christ (person, character, work), salvation (grace alone, Christ alone, faith alone, God's glory alone), conversion, faith, repentance, contrition, confession of sin, justification, adoption, heaven, hell, etc. The second vow presents this challenge: Are you following Jesus Christ as your Priest?
As a result, I sought articles which presented challenges such as: Do you consider and confess yourself to be a sinner, completely without hope except for the sheer sovereign grace of God in Christ? Do you love God so much that you hate sin? Are you humble and contrite before the Lord? Does it grieve you to know that your sins grieve the Lord? Do you regularly and sincerely confess your sins to your heavenly Father? Are you resting upon Jesus alone for salvation? Do you know the Lord (and not just know about him?)
The third membership vow is: Do you acknowledge Jesus Christ as your sovereign Lord and do you promise, in reliance on the grace of God, to serve him with all that is in you, to forsake the world, to mortify your old nature, and to lead a godly life?
This time the leading theme is Christian living. I extrapolated themes like: the lordship of Christ, the means of grace ("reliance on the grace of God")especially the Word, the sacraments, and prayer (public, family, secret), the law of God, spiritual warfare (the world, the flesh, and the devil), sanctification, doubt and assurance, glorification, covenant nurture of children (family worship, catechism, Christian education, and discipline), and vocation. The third membership vow presents this challenge: Are you following Jesus Christ as your King?
Consequently, I sought articles which presented challenges such as: Do you love the Lord with all your heart and soul and mind and strength? Do you fear and revere God? Are you continually relying on God's grace by diligently using the means of grace that he has giventhe Word (especially as it is preached), the sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper), and prayer (especially in concert with his people)? Are you devoted to and actively seeking his gloryhis supremacyin all things? Are you fighting against the enemies of Christ and yourselfthe world, the flesh, and the devil? Do you diligently seek to obey God, even when it means going against the grain of our culture? (For example, do you remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy?) Are you striving to crucify the old man and to walk in newness of life, to kill self-centeredness and cultivate God-centeredness?
Head of the Church
The fourth membership vow is: Do you agree to submit in the Lord to the government of this church and, in case you should be found delinquent in doctrine or life, to heed its discipline?
Its leading theme is church involvement. From that, I extrapolated themes like: the importance of the visible church; church government (Christ's sole kingship, creeds and confessions, connectional relations, biblical church officers), Christ's pastoral care and discipline of his sheep through his church, worship (public, family, secret), prayer, fellowship, peacemaking (conflict and reconciliation), giving together, serving together, witnessing together, supporting missions, catholicity, etc. The fourth membership vow confronts us with this challenge: Are you following Jesus Christ as the Head of the church?
Accordingly, I sought articles which presented challenges such as: Do you consciously recognize and act on the fact that the church is the body and beloved bride of Christ, the covenant community and people of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit, God's ordained lampstand for evangelism, the central institution of the kingdom of ChristGod's place for God's people? Do you consciously recognize and act on the fact that the church is not a democracy, but is a monarchy? That Christ alone is its King and Head? That he gathers and perfects his church by the agency of his Spirit working through and with his Word? That he rules her through officers to whom he delegates his own authority? Do you value the fact that the church is confessional, that she has stated her understanding of what God's Word teaches in black and white? Do you value the fact that the church is connectional, that your relationship with the regional church and the denomination is just as vital as your relationship to the local church? Do you value the fact that God has given you an extended church family? Do you know the officersyour pastor, your elders, your deacons? Do you actively seekfor Christ's saketo obey them and submit to their authority as men who must give account to God? Do you seek to make their work a joy and not a burden? Do you pray for them? Do you rejoice that the Lord disciplines those whom he loves? Are you valuing, submitting to, and supporting the discipline of the Lord himself through his officer bearers? Do you value the tremendous privilege of meeting with Christ and his people? Are you diligent in attending as many public worship services and meetings of the church as you can? Are you accepting all of God's peoplefor Christ's sakeno matter what their age, sex, social standing, race, nationality, temperament, etc.? Do you devote yourself to following Christ's commands that we love one another, bear with one another, greet one another, show hospitality to one another, bear one another's burdens, etc.? Are you supporting the ministries of the church with your tithes and offerings? Are you cultivating the "foot-washing" servant attitude that Jesus exemplified and commanded? Are you seeking to use your gifts to build up the body of Christ? To edify other believers? To warmly welcome visitors and guests? To serve? Are you seeking to obey Christ's command to be in the world but not of the world, to bear witness to Christ in your lawful vocation? Are you supporting the evangelistic and missionary outreach of the churchlocal, regional, and wholewith your giving, encouragement, prayer, personal involvement, etc.?
Three Additional Elements
My strategy had three other important elements. The first was God's Word. Above all, I tried to recruit or find articles that showed where our God teaches these things in Scripture. I sought to give priority to sound explication of God's Word.
The second important element was prayer. The Christian Education staff met each Monday to pray, among other things, for the preparation and the fruitfulness of New Horizons. Each month when the magazine first arrived from the printer, I had my own private ritual. I took a magazine into my office, closed the door, held it up before the Lord, and prayed to this effect: "Lord, this is not very good, compared to what it needs to be, but please use it anyway."
The third important element was our readers. I was always happy to hear their ideas and inputeven their complaintsbecause they helped us to better serve the church. I wished more people had voluntarily sent in their presbytery and local church news than actually did. We had no money to send reporters out onto the field, and we were by no means clairvoyant! But more than anything else, we needed our God's gracious blessing.
Although I'm no longer editor of New Horizons, I still hope to continue to serve by sending in occasional news items, articles, or reviews, but above all I hope to serve by praying. "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain" (Ps. 127:1). Please join me in praying that our sovereign God will enable and guide and use the ministry of New Horizons in making disciples for Jesus Christ.
The author is the pastor of Christ Covenant OPC in Indianapolis, Ind. Reprinted from New Horizons, January 2005.