Jerusalem, the Bible and Donald Trump

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On Sunday morning we began worship by singing from Psalm 122. Given the events of the past week, it's very important to be clear on what it means for us to 'Pray for the peace of Jerusalem' in 2017.

The city has been in the news after US President Donald Trump's highly controversial decision to recognise it as Israel's capital, in fulfilment of a campaign promise. As PBS reported:

"For Trump, the proclamation was an important way to make good on a pledge to his political base, which includes evangelical Christians and pro-Israel Republicans eager for such a move."
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And while it can't be denied that many evangelical Christians see this as a positive move, the fact that they do is due to a misunderstanding of the Bible.

As a church, we take the Jewish roots of Christianity seriously. We sing the psalms, we read from the Old Testament, and have sermons from it as often as we have ones from the New - things that aren't true of many churches.

But, at the same time, by taking the Old Testament language of Israel and the temple and applying it to Christians, the New Testament makes it clear that the it's those who have faith in the Messiah (whether Jew or Gentile) who are the true 'Israel of God'.

That isn’t to say that the church has replaced Israel (as some would claim we teach). There is one church of God in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament it was largely Jewish. However the prophets foretold that the gospel would go out to the nations of the world, which is exactly what we see happening after the resurrection of Jesus.

In Romans 11, the Apostle Paul describes the church as an olive tree. The natural branches of that tree are Jewish, and we as Gentiles have been added on - but there only ever has been one olive tree. The book of Revelation describes 24 elders which represent the 12 tribes of Israel and Jesus’ 12 Apostles. The church is made up of all who have believed in Jesus, both Jew and Gentile.

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However the Judaism of today is the religion of those who rejected and killed their own Messiah. It’s not the Judaism of the Old Testament, which as we’ve seen from Galatians was a religion of faith in God’s promised Messiah. The Judaism of today is a works religion. Jews today don’t worship the God of the Bible ('No one who denies the Son has the Father' - 1 John 2:23). The book of Revelation even refuses to apply the name ‘Jew’ to the first century Jews (2:9; 3:9). It describes them as: ‘those who say they are Jews but are not, but are a synagogue of Satan’. If they really were Jews, they would have accepted the Jewish Messiah.

Nor is there still an earthly promised land today. The earthly promised land was always a picture of Heaven. Hebrews 11:10 tells us that even Abraham, who received the promise of the land, was looking for something better - something beyond this world.

The Promised Land of Israel has served its purpose. The Modern Day state of Israel is a human creation and not the fulfilment of any Biblical prophecy. So whatever our take on the politics of the Middle East today, we can’t claim the Bible supports one side or the other. Being a Christian and believing the Bible doesn’t obligate you to support the State of Israel today, any more than it obligates you to support Palestine.

Donald Trump declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has no more Biblical significance than it would if he declared that the 2013 UK City of Culture was called Londonderry rather than Derry.

None of this should be controversial in a church of the Reformation - it's what the Reformers taught. So, when Paul describes the church as 'the Israel of God' in Galatians (6:16), Luther comments: ‘The Israel of God are not the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel but those who, with Abraham the believer (3:9), believe in the promises of God now disclosed in Christ, whether they are Jews or Gentiles.’

And so, to bring it back to Psalm 122: When we pray for the peace of Jerusalem today, we’re not to think of the city in the Middle East. Yes we should pray for peace there, just as we should pray for peace in Lebanon and Pyongyang. However as the second half of verse 6 explains, this is a call to pray for 'those who love you'. Psalm 122, then, is calling us to pray for peace among those who are the spiritual descendants of Abraham, who believe in the promises of God and who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, whether they are Jew or Gentile. 

Some helpful books and resources by RP ministers:

Fred Leahy (former principal of Reformed Theological College) - God, Satan and the Jews: the place of the Jews in prophecy and history (Cameron Press, 2015)

'Appendix: Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism' in David McKay (Shaftesbury Square RPCThe Bond of Love: Covenant Theology and the Contemporary World (Christian Focus,  2001)

Jonny McCollum (Milford RPC) - Replacement Theology? (Reformed Theological Journal, 2016)

Some other helpful resources:

R. Scott Clark - Covenant Theology is not Replacement Theology

Keith Mathison - Dispensationalism: Rightly dividing the people of God?

Can a church turn around?

The following was written in 2006 to describe the turnaround which had taken place in the RP church in Airdrie over the previous 12 years. Many of the things that were true of the church in Airdrie could also have been said of the church in Stranraer.

We're grateful to have had the input of two men who experienced the transformation of the congregation in Airdrie serving as interim elders in Stranraer and are confident that what God has done elsewhere he can do here.

The Airdrie congregation today

"What’s the purpose of church? Why does it exist?

It’s a question we had to face a few years ago as it became clear that our church was dying. Attendances were falling year after year, reaching a weekly average in the 20’s, and an average age in the 70’s. People would ‘come to church’ on a Sunday morning, but beyond that there wasn’t any real interest in being together as the church.

As we began to face the question of what could be done, we were soon reminded that the church is God’s, not ours. This in turn led us to realise that unless we did things his way, our descent into oblivion would continue. So we stopped doing things just for the sake of doing them, and started focusing on what God wants from his church. This didn’t happen overnight, it took time. First we concentrated on getting everyone to enjoy worshiping God twice on a Sunday, morning and evening. Then we considered how we could help one another in our study of God’s Word, which gave rise to weekly Bible studies in people's homes, and in the past couple of years we have been encouraging each other to meet together for prayer on a Sunday morning just before worship. The result - God has been transforming our church. We are no longer a small group of elderly people wandering fairly aimlessly along. We now have a clear sense of our purpose as a community of God’s people.

This change in focus has seen God bring new people into the church, people from all sorts of different backgrounds but with one thing in common - a desire to know more about God."

Puritan Reformed Fellowship

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Last month Stephen attended a new gathering of Scottish ministers called the Puritan Reformed Fellowship. The conference was attended by like-minded men from the RPCS, Free Church of Scotland, Free Church Continuing, International Presbyterian Church and Associated Presbyterian Churches, as well as by one brother from the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC).

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The conference was held in the Macdonald Crutherland House Hotel in East Kilbride. It was a good, central location, and with a number of men coming from the Inverness area and the Western Isles, relatively close to Stranraer!

Eating and talking together was one of the highlights of the conference

Eating and talking together was one of the highlights of the conference

Proceedings began on a Monday night a talk by Malcolm Watts (Emmanuel Church Salisbury) on 'What is a Reformed Church?' (he has a book by the same title). The next morning he spoke on 'Five Solas of the Reformation', before an interesting lecture on the Lord's Supper by Malcolm Maclean (Greyfriars Free Church, Inverness). Dr Maclean reminded us that Reformers like Calvin thought the Lord's Supper should be held far more frequently than it is today - and questioned the helpfulness of the traditional Highland Communion Season in this regard.

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In the afternoon Joel Beeke (Heritage Reformed Congregation, Grand Rapids), who had just arrived from America, spoke on 'Puritan Worship' and 'Puritan Preaching'. He spoke twice again that evening at a Scottish Reformation Society meeting that was open to the public.

The next morning, Dr Beeke gave his final talk on 'Puritan Evangelism', before Dr Donald John Maclean (an elder in Cambridge Presbyterian Church and author of James Durham and the Gospel Offer in its Seventeenth Century Context) spoke about the life of Durham, a Covenanter minister and author who died at 36. Dr Maclean challenged the divided Presbyterian denominations in Scotland to unity:

It's at this point that we have fallen furthest from our Reformed heritage. Durham simply would not recognise, could not comprehend, the multiplicity of orthodox Westminster Confession, Presbyterian denominations. He could not understand three psalm singing churches in a small village, struggling to support ministers, while towns with tens of thousands of people have no basic Reformed witness. He would quite simply say that we are, taken as a whole, in a state of sinful division

Perhaps by God's grace this conference will be a first step towards healing these divisions and changing the Confessionally Reformed church scene in Scotland.

First ever Firm Foundations weekend!

During the last weekend of October we held our first ever Firm Foundations weekend. Those signing up for it were promised a weekend of intense theological instruction, made up of both lectures and formal and informal discussion.

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We were delighted to have seven guys attending - from both Scotland and Ireland, as well as inside and outside the RP Church. We were thrilled that David Whitla was able to join us to give the lectures.

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David, a Scottish native and former pastor at Southside Indianapolis (RPCNA) is currently studying for a PhD focussing on Scottish Covenanter Theology and Spirituality at Queen's University Belfast in preparation to return to the States to teach at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

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David also helped pioneer the hugely popular and successful Theological Foundations for Youth programme, which has had a big impact for good in the RPCNA and influenced a future generation of ministers, elders and members.

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Things began on Saturday afternoon (David had been speaking at the RPCS Presbytery on the Saturday morning) with a lecture on the Mediatorial Kingship of Christ - a topic on which the definitive book was written by former Stranraer minister William Symington.

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After tea, David set the guys a 'Bible readiness' quiz, aimed at showing them how well we need to know our Bibles, but which also opened up many areas for discussion.

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On the Lord's Day, the guys joined us for the prayer meeting and morning worship. Following this we had a church lunch, which provided a chance for the congregation to get to know our visitors.

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After lunch, David gave a talk on where the RP Church came from, focussing mostly on the 17th Century Covenanters. We were glad that some of the congregation were able to stay around for it.

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After evening worship, we had a 'Stump the Pastor' session where David answered questions the boys had submitted on topics such as Dispensationalism, God's regrets and Baptism.

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On Monday, David gave two more lectures, on the Lord's Day and the Regulative Principle of Worship. After some more informal discussion, the guys headed for home.

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We are grateful to God for a good weekend of fellowship and teaching, which hopefully gave those who came plenty to think about and work through, as well as giving them a taste of Stranraer!