Books

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?

Church membership: how the world knows who represents Jesus (book review)

Church Membership: how the Bible knows who represents Jesus
Jonathan Leeman
Crossway, 2012

Isn't it enough to just go to a church? What does it mean to join a church? Is it something for others but not for you? If you are a member of your church, how should that affect your life?

If you have ever wondered about any of those questions, this book is a must-read. We live at a time when 'organised religion' is looked on with suspicion if not horror. But within the 130 pages of this short book, Jonathan Leeman shows that church membership is expected by the Bible and absolutely vital.

There is much here for long-time church members as well as those new to the concept. Most church members would never imagine that the local church should affect decisions such as where to live or whether to take promotions at work - but Leeman shows that it should.

Even in churches where people could argue the Biblical case for church membership, members often don't have the slightest clue how they should interact with those under church discipline. Leeman here addresses that issue too.

As he's coming from a Baptist perspective, we wouldn't go with absolutely everything in the book, though Leeman himself acknowledges that in the New Testament 'Christians are ordinarily united to individual but interconnected churches' (which sounds a lot more like the Presbyterian position than the Baptist one!). However those minor disagreements don't detract from an absolutely brilliant book.

Cheapest online price: £6.79 delivered

Those wanting to read more on what the church is and how it should be run should check out Guy Waters's How Jesus Runs the Church (150 pages) or, if you're really keen, James Bannerman's The Church of Christ (1000 pages - though a great abridged version is also available).

Beginner, intermediate, advanced!

A day with Jonty Rhodes

Two of the Stranraer congregation made the trip to hear Jonty Rhodes of Christ Church Derby speak at Cornhill Belfast about the covenants of the Bible. Much of the material was taken from Jonty's excellent book Raiding the lost Ark: recovering the gospel of the covenant king (known in America by the less entertaining but more informative title Covenants Made Simple: understanding God's unfolding promises to his people).

If you want to understand the big picture of the Bible and see how all the different parts tie together, this is a must-read. It costs £6.75 (delivered) and you can read a sample chapter here. It's also available to buy on kindle.

Here's a review by Mark Loughridge of New Life Fellowship Letterkenny (RPCI):

"I've been waiting for a book like this to be written for years - now it has arrived. For me it is now the go-to book for anyone wanting an introduction to Covenant theology - clear, straight-forward, readable and most of all biblical. In it Jonty Rhodes tells the big story that runs through the Bible.

He explains, illustrates and anticipates questions well.

He shows the interconnectedness of the covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David--how they are all part of the one rich means of God interacting and relating to mankind. He unpacks the Covenant of Redemption--that glorious agreement between Father and Son, out of which all the other covenants flow. With clarity he sets out the differing viewpoints on the Mosaic Covenant and then opts not to go with the view of Kline and Horton, an outcome I was happy with.

As a Sabbath keeping, paedobaptist, Presbyterian I was pleased to see him connecting the dots between covenant theology and these spheres as well.

An excellent book, and a joy to read. My copy is well highlighted."

You can read an interview with Jonty about the book on Reformation 21.

Recommended books: Mark, Ecclesiastes, Peter

On Sunday mornings we've just started back into Mark's gospel. Let's Study Mark divides the book into small sections, and adds 2-3 pages of explanation for each part. 

It would be an ideal way to get more familiar with the message of Mark's gospel, reading one section per day.

It's written by Sinclair Ferguson, who has been a minister in Glasgow, South Carolina & Dundee. All his books are worth looking out for.

There are also Let's Study guides for the rest of the New Testament books. Cheapest online price: £6.99

Finally, we've just finished a series on 1st Peter in the evening services and we're still bumping into him quite a lot in our series on Mark's gospel (Peter is most likely the eyewitness who gave Mark his information).

Peter: Eyewitness of His Majesty by Edward Donnelly (formerly minister of Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland) is a great introduction to one of Jesus' closest disciples, and shows what we can learn from him today.

Cheapest online price: £5.20

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At our Thursday evening Bible study we've recently started into Ecclesiastes - which has been called the most difficult book of the Bible to interpret!

However it's also been called 'the most contemporary book in the Bible' because it 'exposes the mad quest to find satisfaction in knowledge, wealth, pleasure, work, fame, and sex'. So it's worth working hard to try and understand it!

Destiny is a brand new book which came out the day we started studying Ecclesiastes. It's easy to read, and gets the message of Ecclesiastes across very well.

It's written by David Gibson, a minister in Aberdeen and comes recommended by Dale Ralph Davis & Alec Motyer (anything they've written on the Old Testament is worth reading).

Cheapest online price: £6.79