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Default position

The typical professing evangelical Christian in our day, sadly, is a long way from being able to confess the Reformed faith as summed in our “Three Forms of Unity” and become a member in one of our Reformed churches.

In all likelihood, he (or she) holds some Arminian ideas. Even if he calls himself a Calvinist, he probably thinks that God loves everybody, that Christ died for all men head for head (at least in some sense), and that God earnestly desires to save everybody. Romans 9 does not come into it!

In eschatology, our representative evangelical is probably a dispensationalist.

With regard to the first Christian sacrament, he will likely be baptistic. Even many paedobaptists in our day would dismiss the issue as relatively unimportant.

If you ask him about the covenant, he might respond, “What’s that?” Moreover, most of those who are covenantal believe that it is merely a contract and not a gracious bond of fellowship between Jehovah our Father and us, His beloved people.

All sorts of charismatic ideas are abroad in our day: the baptism with the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, ongoing prophecy, and more. Most evangelicals are charismatics or are open to their ideas or would not condemn them.

The truth that God alone determines how He is to be worshiped—the regulative principle of worship (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 96)—is largely unheard of.

If you speak about the church with an evangelical, the two of you may not even be referring to the same thing, because the truth that churches are to be evaluated according to their faithfulness in the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of Christian discipline may well be new and strange to him (Belgic Confession, Art. 29). Even mentioning church discipline seems scary and unchristian to many, despite I Corinthians 5.

If the catechetical instruction of the children of believers crops up, most evangelicals would respond, “Well our church doesn’t do that. I do not like the sound of it; it sure sounds like a lot of hard work!”

If the conversation turns to the subject of marriage, the typical evangelical thinks along these lines: “Since the state allows (easy) divorce and remarriage (while one’s spouse is living), well then, that should be fine with the church of Christ, too.” It is as if Mark 10:2-12 is not in the Bible!

If you mention the Reformed creeds, your evangelical interlocutor may well ask you, “How in the wide world do they fit with the authority of Scripture? Besides, all these old creeds are too deep and divisive!”

This is what the average professing evangelical in the twenty-first century believes regarding the ten things just mentioned: the doctrines of grace and the end times, baptism and the covenant, charismaticism and worship, the church and catechetical instruction, and marriage and the creeds.

To arrange all this slightly different, the typical evangelical holds views that are “A” for Arminian, “B” for baptist, “C” for charismatic and “D” for dispensational. You could even, if you like, sum up more of his ideas in terms of sub-biblical and erroneous positions regarding the four “C”s—the church, the creeds, the covenant, and the children of believers (including their teaching)—as well as low and false notions of marriage and worship.

In the preceding decades and even the last few centuries, there has been a massive decline in Protestantism from biblical and Reformed teaching. Hosea put it like this: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (4:6).

What I have just described is what I refer to as the “default position,” the standard setting, as it were, for most evangelicals, that is, professing Christians who are not Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic or modernist. This is the default position or standard setting not only for most evangelicals in the U.S.A. but also in Canada, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, continental Europe, the Philippines, and for the most part, the world over.

The default position was once that of the majority of those who have come from the outside as adults—myself included—to join the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church (CPRC) in Northern Ireland and the Limerick Reformed Fellowship (LRF), our mission work in the Republic of Ireland. If we were to exclude from our consideration the sisters who were raised in the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) and have joined the CPRC or the LRF (mostly through marriage), the percentage of our members who joined us as adults and once held the default position is even higher.

The evangelical default position may sound strange to many who were born and bred in the PRC. It is a long way from where you are theologically. All should recognize that there is a big gap, even a chasm, between evangelicalism in the twenty-first century and the Reformed faith of Holy Scripture summed in our confessions.

If we think in terms of the world of the prophet Hosea, our day is not even that of the southern Kingdom of Judah. Our day is that of the northern Kingdom. Hosea 4 declares, “The Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land” (v. 1), yea, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (v. 6).

What is needed is a change in doctrine or belief and, flowing from that, in life or practice. There must be growth in the knowledge of Scripture and in true theology. The accumulated rubbish of years and decades of false doctrine for many people must be cleared away by the Word and Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is necessary for the typical evangelical, never mind those from the cults, from humanism, from Roman Catholicism, or from paganism.

Role of the RFPA

At this stage, you are probably already sensing that there is a role in this for the Reformed Free Publishing Association (RFPA). Of course, the RFPA has many roles and helps many parties. But here we are focusing on “The RFPA, the CPRC and the Spread of the Truth.” More particularly, our concern is with the spread of the truth especially to those outside, such as the typical professing evangelical in the default position or to those who are closer to the Reformed faith of Scripture, as well as the politically correct pagans who rule our decadent Western world.

So how does the RFPA help the CPRC spread God’s truth? First, as well as helping many of our people become members in the church in the first place, the RFPA also assists those who are in membership. Most of us subscribe to the Standard Bearer and some also pass it on to others. Some in the CPRC are members of the RFPA Book Club and those who are not also buy many of their fine books. Two of the classes in our congregation are studying RFPA works: the men are working their way through Mark Hoeksema’s Studies in Acts and the ladies are discussing Saved by Grace by Prof. Ron Cammenga and Rev. Ron Hanko, because this year is the 400th anniversary of the Canons of Dordt.

RFPA literature is important to me as the minister of the congregation because it reinforces the church’s preaching and teaching. In any group, there are also some people who particularly benefit from reading, not only hearing. The two means together strengthen each other. Our members need the conviction that the Reformed faith that we hold dear is both true and important. This builds up both individuals and their families, and it encourages and equips them to be effective witnesses.

The RFPA helps us greatly as regards the CPRC Bookstore, for the vast majority of our books come from them. The RFPA provides us with an excellent and growing range of commentaries, both on biblical books and on our creeds; doctrinal and devotional works; books of church history and biography; books for children and educational materials.

The RFPA publishes the works of our missionary, Rev. Martyn McGeown. Called to Watch for Christ’s Return was his first title. Grace and Assurance: The Message of the Canons of Dordt has recently been produced. Lord willing, the next RFPA publication will be Pastor McGeown’s sermonic exposition of Micah, which proclaims the incomparability of our glorious God [which is now available-ed.].

Our bookstore’s bestselling RFPA title is Rev. R. Hanko’s Doctrine According to Godliness, which consists chiefly of “Covenant Reformed News” articles that he wrote when in Northern Ireland as the CPRC’s previous pastor. Readers like its short but substantive chapters with their helpful application. For similar reasons, Doctrine According to Godliness is also our most translated book, with all or parts of it in thirteen languages.

Numbers two and three on the CPRC’s RFPA bestsellers list are both by Prof. David Engelsma: Prosperous Wicked and Plagued Saints (a perennial concern for the people of God) and Federal Vision: Heresy at the Root (exposing a wicked doctrine assaulting Reformed and Presbyterian churches).

Our bookstore also stocks other Protestant Reformed works, such as, Don Doezema’s three-volume Upon This Rock; Christ’s Spiritual Kingdom, published by the congregation in Redlands, California; and The Confessions and Church Order of the PRCA, a very important work.

The CPRC Bookstore sells the seven British Reformed Fellowship (BRF) books that were written by Protestant Reformed men (Profs. H. Hanko and D. Engelsma, and Rev. A. Lanning). The RFPA helps us with these by negotiating a good price for us with an American publisher, by distributing them to churches and evangelism committees that pre-order them, and by storing the CPRC’s copies for us to transport to Northern Ireland later.

Other fine titles in our bookstore include some sermons by John Calvin and some works by the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Australia.

Besides books, the CPRC Bookstore stocks Protestant Reformed pamphlets on many subjects. These are shorter and simpler items that we give out free to people who are interested in learning the truth. Those who want a longer and deeper treatment often turn to a book, which is where the RFPA material comes in. Before their transportation to Northern Ireland, the RFPA graciously stores these pamphlets for us.

Our church produces sermon series, Belgic Confession classes, and conference addresses in DVD and CD box sets. Thus we have a range of materials in different formats: written, audio, and video.

When it comes to displaying our Reformed resources, the attractive RFPA books are of great help. There are many RFPA titles in the cabinet in the narthex of our church building. We place these books and our other materials on tables after all our lectures or conferences in Ballymena, South Wales, or elsewhere. We want the attendees to leave with something in their hand that will reinforce the truth that was taught.

The CPRC uses various other means to promote RFPA literature. Our main website (www.cprc.co.uk) contains a large section on our books, which can be ordered online. Lord willing, when my longsuffering wife completes the massive job of revamping of our current website, it will have a completely new appearance. Then our online articles and pamphlets will automatically display a link to pamphlets or books on the same subject.

When we send out the “Covenant Reformed News,” a short monthly paper that Prof. H. Hanko and I write, we include a flyer advertising our RFPA books. The RFPA mails us several hundred copies of the “RFPA Update” which is also inserted into the envelope with the “Covenant Reformed News.”

We advertise and link to RFPA books on Facebook, and sell some this way too (www.facebook.com/CovenantPRC).

The RFPA assists us when we fill our orders and post them out, because we send color RFPA catalogs with the books that we often wrap inside an old Standard Bearer. This has even gotten some Standard Bearer subscriptions! When they send the check back for their order, people will often say, “That is a great magazine. I really liked this or that article.”

Financially speaking, we are very pleased with the discount and the good credit that we receive. The RFPA even helps us by taking credit-card payments from some of our foreign customers (and taking it from the CPRC Bookstore’s bill with the RFPA), because we do not sell enough to justify the cost of our installing credit card facilities. The RFPA staff go the second mile!