Depicting Our Commitment to Jesus

Greg Strand – March 9, 2017 6 Comments

H. Wilbert Norton, a dear old saint recently died. He lived a faithful life and fruitful life, for his whole life. He was 102.

Will was ordained in the EFCA in 1940, and served as a missionary with the Free Church in the Belgian Congo. While there, he served as the founder and director of the Bible Institute of the Ubangi. Upon the Norton family’s return in 1949 to the United States, he taught at Colombia Bible College for a semester before joining the faculty at Trinity Seminary and Bible College, beginning in the fall of 1950. Here is a summary of Norton’s ministry at Trinity:

Norton’s work in education included serving as professor of missions, dean of education, and president of Trinity College and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School from 1950-1964 in Bannockburn, Ill. During his administration Trinity Seminary and Bible College became a liberal arts college, Trinity College. The seminary was named Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  The transformation included purchase of 79 acres for a campus in Bannockburn.

In addition to his ministry in the EFCA and at TEDS, he also began missions department at Wheaton College, and he helped to found the doctoral program in missions at Reformed Theological Seminary. While home during a furlough (1945-1947), Christy Wilson, general secretary of the Student Foreign Missions Fellowship, asked Norton to aid in the planning of the first InterVarsity Missions conference, Toronto, Canada. This was the genesis of the triennial Urbana Missions Conference.

In a tribute written by his son of his namesake, Will, I was encouraged by many things of Will and Colene’s life and ministry. The thing that most struck me was a memory shared from a return visit to Zaire in 1985. Will, the son, captured the moment in this way:

During a quiet moment, Dad led Mom across the palm lane, down a grassy path to the mission cemetery where Timothy Lambie Norton is buried. Timmy lived only two days in August 1949.

In tears, Mother and Dad stood arm-in-arm, talking to their Lord and thanking Him for Timmy and the privilege of serving Him.

For my brothers and me that grave symbolized Mother and Dad’s commitment to Jesus.

Timothy’s death occurred in 1949. In the wake of this Colene became ill, which led the Nortons to depart from the Belgian Congo. Not only did they leave a ministry and people they love, they left a son and brother. In the good providence of God, he used this return to the United States in innumerable ways. However, this brief recollection speaks volumes about God, about Will and Colene and their commitment to the Lord and their love for one another, and about their legacy of a life lived in joyful, sacrificial obedience to the Father.

Karen, my wife, and I now have grown children. As I read that I pondered the question, “what depicted or symbolized our love for and commitment to Jesus?” Often those closest to us see those things better than we see them ourselves. For most of us, this commitment is not depicted through a major catastrophe like the death of a spouse or a child. That does happen, and it requires strength only God provides to get through such pain. Rather, it is frequently seen through the thousand daily deaths to sin, self, and fleshly aspirations, and the joy of sacrificially loving and serving others.

In sharing and processing this with our adult children, I wrote, “if there were not something in the way Mom and I spoke and lived that evidenced our love for the Lord and the joy of serving him, even when it cost, I would be grieved.” I also encouraged them to remember these truths as they begin their own families.

I reminded myself and shared with my family the following: Might it be said of us as of the Thessalonians (1:9-10): “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58

In the EFCA, we strongly affirm the infallibility, inerrancy, authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures.  We also affirm unequivocally the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ is grounded in the Scriptures, God’s Word, which is living and active. Consider what our commitment to this gospel means, according to God’s Word.

  • We are not ashamed of the gospel (Rom. 1:16).
  • We affirm the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16).
  • We testify to the gospel of God’s grace (Acts 20:24).
  • We affirm the gospel is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:1-3).
  • We live a life worthy of the gospel (Phil. 1:27).
  • We experience (and proclaim) the gospel in Word and power (1 Thess. 1:5).
  • We have been entrusted with the gospel (1 Thess. 2:4).

This unwavering commitment to God’s Word, the Scriptures, and God’s gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ, also has significant implications in how we live life together with other believers. Grounded in the essentials of the gospel, we are willing and eager to partner with other like-minded and like-hearted believers, and grant liberty and charity on some of the non-essentials.

In the Free Church, this has been referred to as “the significance of silence.” What this means is that we will discuss and debate an issue, but we will not divide over it. We believe our unity in the gospel of Jesus Christ, both a doctrinal purity and a practical unity, enables us to live life together with others in the local church, and to partner with other gospel-committed ministries outside our local church and denomination (consider Ephesians). In fact, the gospel of Jesus Christ allows us not only to survive in such a setting, it enables and empowers us to thrive and flourish. And we believe this practical unity grounded in doctrinal purity manifests the gospel in practice which we preach and teach in doctrine. This is rightly referred to as evangelical unity.

The Spiritual Heritage Committee is working on a new book, Evangelical Unity, which will address these issues, and which will serve as a companion to the book that spells out our understanding of the essentials, Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America (2011). In the past, these two works were This We Believe: The Background and Exposition of the Doctrinal Statement of The Evangelical Free Church of America (1961) and The Significance of Silence (Vol. 2 Heritage Series) (1981).

There are historical precedents of those who have been committed to a similar gospel-centeredness in doctrine and practice. Richard Baxter (1615-1691), one of those from the past, delineates what Christian unity means, cf. Richard Baxter and William Orme, The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, vol. 5 (London: James Duncan, 1830), 155.

Baxter writes “there must be an union among all churches and Christians in these following particulars.”

  1. They have all but one God.
  2. And one Head and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
  3. And one Sanctifier, the Holy Ghost.
  4. And one ultimate end and hope, even the fruition of God in heaven.
  5. And one Gospel to teach them the knowledge of Christ, and contain the promise of their salvation.
  6. And one kind of faith that is wrought hereby.
  7. And one and the same covenant (of which baptism is the seal) in which they are engaged to God.
  8. And the same instrumental founders of our faith, under Jesus Christ, even the prophets and apostles.
  9. And all members of the same universal body.
  10. And all have the same new nature and holy disposition, and the same holy affections, in loving God and holiness, and hating sin.
  11. They all own, as to the essential parts, the same law of God, as the rule of their faith and life, even the sacred canonical Scriptures.
  12. Every member hath a love to the whole, and to each other, especially to the more excellent and useful members; and an inclination to holy communion with each other.
  13. They have all a propensity to the same holy means and employment, as prayer, learning the Word of God, and doing good to others.

Some questions to ponder:

  • What would you add to the list? What would you delete? What would you edit?
  • Where do we come short in our understanding and in our living out of this unity – created by the gospel of Jesus Christ and expressed by our unity with others in Jesus Christ?

 

A couple of years ago, David Dockery, president of TIU, established the Founders’ Day lecture series. He did so for the reason of learning our history for the first time, or for others to be reminded of our history.

It consists of a “two-day long event where students, faculty and staff of Trinity come together to celebrate the founding of the university and reexamine its history.” Foundational to our history, is a keen sense and awareness of the goodness and grace of God in sustaining his good work through the TIU, our EFCA school.

In this year’s third annual lecture, Doug Sweeney, Professor of Church History, chair of the Church History department, and director of the Jonathan Edwards Center, addressed the theme, “Immeasurably More Than We Asked or Imagined: The Trinity Story.” Sweeney “traced the institution’s history from its roots within the Scandinavian immigrant community to its present focus as a global institution.” (You can read a summary of Sweeney’s lecture here: Sweeney traces ‘The Trinity Story’ in Founders’ Day presentation.)

From its humble beginnings, God has used TIU to train and equip and compel into ministry for the Lord Jesus Christ 23,000 alumni living in 89 countries around the world.

In summary, Sweeney concludes,

Who could possibly have guessed that a school with such a pedigree—founded in a slum, transplanted several times, often tested by expansion and economic strain—would be used by the Lord in such a global way today? God has forged our identity through trial, to be sure. But He has done so in order to bless the church and the world, engineering a way of life and a culture here at Trinity that edifies us all.

It is great to hear once again our history, and to be reminded of God’s good providential plan, his “amazing grace,” that he has done a work that is “immeasurably more than we asked or imagined!”

Our EFCA 2017 Theology Conference was excellent! We learned, we worshiped, we were encouraged – and we encouraged one another, and we were equipped.

Resources

Resources from the Conference have been posted: Reformation 500: Theology and Legacy – God’s Gospel and the EFCA

On the website you will have access to the recordings of all the messages, and you will also find notes that accompanied many of the lectures. You will also be able to peruse or download the Notebook, which consists of information about the speakers, an introduction to the Conference, and bibliographies of each of the lecture themes.

Challenge: Listen and Learn

In light of this year being the 500th anniversary of the posting of Luther’s 95 Theses, I encourage you to “attend” this exceptional Conference by using these outstanding resources. In fact, I encourage you to do it with others. Plan to listen and discuss the material as a ministry team. If you desire to go further, consider choosing one of the books listed in the bibliographies. If you want some recommendations of some key books to read this year on some specific topic or theme of the Reformation, or even Pre or Post-Reformation, ask in the Comment.

Conclusion: Lord, please do it again!

We remember and celebrate the theology and legacy of the Reformation. We do so by focusing on some common and known truths about the Reformation and the resultant fruit from the Reformation. We also emphasize some lesser-known truths from the Reformation that have also shaped our theology and left a legacy. We do so not because it was the discovery of something new, or because that historical period of time is the pinnacle of the work of God.

Rather, we recognize the Reformation as an important time at which the gospel was rediscovered, which formed and shaped all that followed. Furthermore, we do not today want to recapture the historical time period of the Reformation. Rather, we ask God to revive and reform again, based on the truth of the Word of God, the theology of the Reformers, with the prayerful desire we leave a faithful legacy for the glory of God and the good of his people.

Pre-Reformation: John Wycliffe

Greg Strand – February 19, 2017 Leave a comment

On this date this date, February 19, in 1377, John Wycliffe (1330-1384) was on trial at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, for having criticized the Roman Catholic Church.

What were his criticisms? Wycliffe spoke against . . .

  • the sale of indulgences;
  • the worship of saints;
  • the veneration of relics;
  • the meaninglessness of some church traditions;
  • the sloth and laziness of clerics.

These matters sound a lot like the issues the Reformers addressed in their reform from the Roman Catholic Church. Wycliffe stated them 140 years before the posting of the 95 Theses (October 31, 1517).

Interestingly, even though five papal bills were issued for Wycliffe’s arrest, he was never convicted as a heretic.

For the rest of Wycliffe’s story, he died on December 31, 1384. He was officially condemned as a heretic in 1415, the time at which another Pre-Reformer, Jan Hus, was martyred. Finally in 1428, Wycliffe’s bones were exhumed, burned, and scattered in a little river called Swift.

What was the meaning of all this? Did justice finally catch up with Wycliffe? Or was this the ironic yet beautiful providence of God such that Wycliffe’s ashes in the little Swift river were carried into the ocean known as the Reformation?

One writes,

As a postscript to his life, it must be noted that Wycliffe died officially orthodox. In 1415 the Council of Constance burned John Hus at the stake, and also condemned John Wycliffe on 260 different counts. The Council ordered that his writings be burned and directed that his bones be exhumed and cast out of consecrated ground. Finally, in 1428, at papal command, the remains of Wycliffe were dug up, burned, and scattered into the little river Swift. Bishop Fleming, in the reign of Henry VI, founded Lincoln College for the express purpose of counteracting the doctrines which Wycliffe and his followers had promulgated. As history has revealed, Wycliffe’s bones were much more easily dispersed than his teachings, for out of a sea of controversy and angry disputation rose his greatest contribution-the English Bible.

The chronicler Fuller later observed: “They burnt his bones to ashes and cast them into the Swift, a neighboring brook running hard by. Thus the brook hath conveyed his ashes into Avon; Avon into Severn; Severn into the narrow seas; and they into the main ocean. And thus the ashes of Wycliffe are the emblem of his doctrine which now is dispersed the world over.”

 For more, see Christian History, Issue 3 (1983), “John Wycliffe and the 600th Anniversary of the Translation of Bible into English