If you have a link to the Gig Harbor Reformed Bible Study or an RSS feed please update your links to our new website!! It has the exact same look and feel as this site, but has its own domain name. Also the e-mail address for the GHRBS has been changed as well, so please update your address books.

mark *at* gigharborreformed.org


Originally posted on the White Horse Inn blog

In a world which is so connected news spreads fast. I got an e-mail notifying me of a 7.0 earthquake very near Port-au-Prince, Haiti just moments after the event occurred. A magnitude 7.0 earthquake is large regardless of where it occurs on the globe, but in the Caribbean I knew it could have devastating effects–this is not an area that is prepared for such seismic events. Quickly reports began pouring in about the utter devastation of the capital city and the hundreds of thousands of people that officials fear have died.

It is hard to imagine as I sit behind my desk on a beautiful, sunny Southern California winter day that 3,000 miles away there is such horror, despair, and loss of life. But because of that interconnectedness via the Internet, I can see the photos and read the stories coming out of Haiti. My heart truly goes out to those people.

Many of you may be aware that shortly after this earthquake Pat Robertson reported that he knew the reason behind this earthquake: the people of Haiti made a pact with the devil to overthrow the French, and this earthquake is God punishing and bringing upon his judgment upon those people. Interesting. I am truly puzzled where this “pact with the devil” was recorded and where those treaty documents are! I did a word search in the Bible for “Haiti” and didn’t come up with anything. If God hasn’t revealed anything in his revealed Word, then we should immediately be suspect of somebody claiming, extra and special revelation. Robertson is famous for telling the world the underlying cause for natural disasters and even terrorist attacks as God’s judgment for this and that particular sin and here he is doing it again. (Dr. Horton has also reacted to Robertson’s video)

On the other side of the spectrum are people who are struggling with what happened, but yet don’t have answers. This essay is from a reporter who has spent many years in Haiti who laments, “And this? This is too much. How can nature or God or the fates or the universe do this to a country that has borne far too much sadness?”

This may sound strange, but in many ways this is a much more Biblical way of dealing with this situation! Obviously I am not praising Ms. Steber for her inclusion of naturalistic notions of “fate” and “the Universe”, but she did address her question to God–the Creator of the universe. It is pretty apparent that she is not a Christian or even a theist per se, but yet there is something that is drawing her to question God why this event happened. This, friends, is a Biblical response, even for believers. Throughout the Psalms the psalmists are asking God “Why?” Why are the wicked prospering? Why does it seem that you are so far from me? Why, why, why?

It is interesting that in Luke 13 there is a reference to something hauntingly similar to the events in Haiti (but on a much smaller scale).

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5 ESV).

Imagine that highlighted sentence as being “Or those hundreds of thousands on whom their homes in Haiti fell and killed them: do you think they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in the United States?” How would Pat Robertson respond to this question? “Yes, they were worse offenders because they made a pact with the devil.” But how did Christ, the second person of the Trinity respond? “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Did you catch that? Christ said, “NO” where Robertson says “Yes.” Christ then uses this tragic event to remind his hearers that everybody is an offender against God and we will all perish one day; therefore, now is the day of salvation; repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ!

You who are reading this right now may die today from a car accident on your way home. You might die of a heart-attack or in an earthquake in the middle of the night. But the fact remains that God has all the events under his providential care and that nothing escapes his control. However, we are not in the position to begin interpreting that providence. We can ask God “Why?”, but we may never hear that answer. Our pastors need to remind hearers of this and call unbelievers to repentance and faith in Christ alone because we have all made a pact with the devil because of the fall of our representative head Adam in the Garden. Our comfort in facing tragedies comes not from our self-confidence that we are better people than others, but that we have had our own sins paid for on the cross by the final sacrifice of Christ. We don’t look to our own righteousness, but we look to Christ’s perfect righteousness which has been imputed to us freely.

An event of the magnitude which happened in Haiti is yet another reminder to us that we live in a fallen world, and that every single person needs to be reconciled to the Creator God because, until Christ comes again, we will all perish in some way. But in Christ we have a comfort in life and in death that the world does not have, but a Gospel comfort that they need to hear. The Heidelberg Catechism starts with this beautiful expression of this comfort in its first question and answer:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own,
but belong –;
body and soul,
in life and in death –;
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven:
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

That is our comfort and the comfort that the people of Haiti and every person in the world needs to hear.

My Family

I know this might seem awkward, but allow me to interview myself:

What is your name?
Mark Vander Pol

Who is the other person in the photo?
That is my wonderful wife of 6.5 years, Michelle.

Where did you meet?
We met at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, IL. I saw her walking on campus, figured out who she was, called her up and the rest is history!

That is an interesting dog. What breed is she?
That is our dog Holland. She is a Louisiana Catahoula as far as we can tell. We got her from the pound so we aren’t exactly sure how old she is or if she is a pure bred, but she is a great dog and we figure she is about 1.5 years old.

What are you doing on this GHRBS site?
For a couple of years I had been thinking about planting a church in the Seattle area and I jumped on board with a church in Bellingham who had agreed to oversee a church plant in the Gig Harbor/Tacoma area. This blog is a direct result of the efforts to gather a group of people in that area who are interested in being part of a Bible study which, Lord willing could lead to the planting of a church.

Okay, so you are hoping to be a pastor. I assume you went to school to achieve that end?
Actually that is a funny story, and the answer is both yes and no. My undergraduate major was actually in Chemistry with a minor in Biology. However, I recently graduated from Westminster Seminary California with my Masters of Divinity, which was schooling in preparation for pastoral ministry.

Well… that is interesting. So did you do anything in Chemistry and if so what?
After graduating college I worked for 6 years in two jobs that were related to the Chemistry field. My first job was as a Hazardous Materials Chemist for a private company near Chicago. I worked there for 2.5 years until taking a position as a radiochemist at Argonne National Laboratory southwest of Chicago.

Radiochemist… chemistry on radios?
Not exactly. A radiochemist works primarily with those elements that undergo measurable radioactive decay, you know plutonium, uranium, etc. Many of our projects worked on spent nuclear fuel, but we also worked on projects for the Defense Department, NASA, and the Department of Energy to name a few. Most of my work was done in secure areas in glove-boxes and hoods because the material we were working with was quite radioactive.

Alright, so you were a chemist… now you want to be a pastor. What happened?
Well before I go there can I tell you a little bit about my upbringing?

Of course! You are interviewing yourself, you can say whatever you want!
Right. Well, let me tell you first a little bit about my upbringing. I was blessed to be raised in a Christian home by two loving and godly parents. More than just a Christian home, I was raised in a Reformed home and catechized from my youth in the truths of Scripture and the Reformed confessions (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort). My father was an elder in the local Christian Reformed Church and was Vice-President of Development and Administration at Westminster Seminary California. When I went away to college and in “the real world” after graduation he was always my answer man whenever I had any theological questions. In the year 2000 my father suddenly died of a heart attack at the age of 48. Among the many things that changed, one was that I had to begin answering my theological questions on my own.

Since I was catechized as a youth and went to Reformed Christian schools I knew most of the basics, and yet I took those doctrines for granted and couldn’t articulate them like I wanted to. This drove me first of all to rediscovering the Confessions of the Reformation. These are beautiful statements of the orthodox Christian faith, and they became a great source of comfort. Beyond that I was forced to look for other answers elsewhere and found articles on-line written by professors at Westminster. Since I grew up around that institution I immediately found people I could trust to learn from. I quickly discovered Modern Reformation magazine and the White Horse Inn radio show. I began talking to friends who also grew up Reformed, but took it for granted and we all began to discover our heritage together.

This went on for a few years when it began to dawn on me that I wanted to teach this great stuff to others. Certain things were happening in our lives where we were thinking about moving when I mentioned to Michelle, “What if I went to seminary?” Eight months later I was sitting in summer Greek at Westminster Seminary California.

My Graduation from WSC

So you went to WSC to be a pastor?
Actually I didn’t. I went to seminary with the intent of going on to pursue doctoral studies so that I could teach in a college or seminary. When I talked to a number of the professors they all said that I should enter into the M.Div. program even though I didn’t necessarily want to be a full-time pastor. Well, the M.Div. program did me in. Part of the requirements for the program is to participate in an internship in a local church and to exhort (preach) in public worship. I had the opportunity to exhort quite a bit during my time in seminary and the more and more I did it, the more and more I had the desire to preach regularly and I realized that there are many opportunities to teach God’s people in the pews. In the summer of 2008 I was presented with a 6-week summer internship in Lynden, Washington. I took this opportunity to really see if this is where the Lord was calling me. I preached every week and even twice a Sunday a few times, and wrote all new sermons for the following Lord’s Day. Even though I didn’t have the pressures of other pastoral duties, my time in that internship was amazing and I truly wanted to simply preach the Gospel.

Did you do anything else interesting while in Seminary?
Wow, what a great leading question… You must be referring to the Summer of 2007?

Yes. Yes I am.
Well, in the summer of 2007 Michelle and I joined three other classmates and went to the small southeastern African country of Malawi. One of our classmates was from there and he arranged for us to help teach some classes at small theological school there. We were in Malawi for six weeks (Michelle only for four) and we had an amazing time. I could say more, but for the sake of space I will refer people to our trip report with photos (M&M in Malawi).

We are getting close to the end, but if you could just briefly explain what is the URC and why that denomination?
Sure, the URC is short for URCNA, which is an acronym for the United Reformed Churches in North America. It is a small and young denomination, but with direct roots to the Reformation of the 16th century. It subscribes to what are called the Three Forms of Unity as its Confessional standards. These documents are The Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) and the Canons of Dort (1618-1619). The URC is committed to being faithful to Scripture in all areas, but most visibly in its preaching and in its worship. Even though it has many faults because it is still on this side of Christ’s second coming, the URC is one of the few denominations in America that I feel has remained true to the Reformed faith, piety, and practice; and is committed to bringing to the Gospel to lost sinners across the world. Because we are small those efforts may seem meager compared to some, but as the Lord wills he is using these ministers to proclaim the truth of Christ to his pilgrim people.

Before I let you go, just something about your other side. What are your other interests besides theology and church planting?
One of my biggest faults is that I have too many interests and it drives my wife nuts when I pick up yet another hobby. Yet there are a few other things that I am very passionate in addition to the ministry.

On top of Mt. Whitney

I love anything outdoors. I grew up camping as a family, and thankfully I found a wife who like that as well. Even though we don’t get out as much as we would like we both love camping and hiking. Beyond just camping, I also love backpacking (Michelle, not so much). In the summer of 2008 I went on the High Sierra Trail with three friends which is a 75-mile trail that goes across the Sierra Nevada Mountains, ending on top of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48. (Read more and see photos here)

I also love nature photography. Again, something else I don’t have near enough time for, but something I truly love doing. God’s creation is amazing and I love capturing bits and pieces onto film for others to enjoy. (I have a photography website here)

Other than those things, I love sports. I love playing volleyball, softball/baseball, golf and racquetball.

I think that about wraps it up. Thanks for your time.
No thanks for your time!

Back only a few years ago you could open up the Yellow Pages and find all the churches within your given area. Now you can open up Google Maps and find all the churches in your city. If you are “church shopping” you have a plethora of choices within any populated place in the United States. The problem arises when you happen to be discerning about which church to attend. We live in a situation when any group of people can open its doors to the public, and can call itself a “church.” But are all churches the same, and does it matter which one you should attach yourself to? Quick answers: are all churches the same? No; Does it matter which one you attend, Yes.

Back in the time of the Reformation in Europe (mid 1500s) the choices were very limited: The Church of Rome, Protestants (Reformed and Lutheran), or Anabaptists. Granted there were differences in all three groups, but if you were a Protestant walking around a city it was easy to figure out which church to attend. As long as the church wasn’t Roman or Anabaptist, you were in all likelihood okay! Since that time the Protestant Tradition has splintered into thousands and thousands of denominations, and the Anabaptist and Roman churches are still around as well, which makes our discernment much more difficult.

One of the ways that the Reformed tradition has talked about this discernment is to use the category of true/false churches or the later Reformed categories of pure/less pure. The Belgic Confession uses the former language in Article 29 when it gives the “three marks of a true church.” If a church bears these three marks, then it can be considered a “true church.” In today’s world these marks need to be explored in greater depth as to their proper meaning because the distinction isn’t as black and white as it was at the time of the confession’s writing in 1561.

I hope to, in the next week or so, explore these three marks of a true church and how a URC church plant in Gig Harbor would seek to bear faithfully those three marks. There is more in Article 29 than just these “three marks of a true church,” which I hope to also talk about in our discussion. If you have any questions and would like to get the conversation started, then please leave a comment!

To lay the groundwork here are the “three marks”: 1) the pure preaching of the Holy Gospel, 2) the pure administration of the Sacraments, and 3) the exercise of church discipline. Stay tuned as we flesh out these marks.

Finally, here is the text of Article 29 of The Belgic Confession:

We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God, what is the true church– for all sects in the world today claim for themselves the name of “the church.”

We are not speaking here of the company of hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the church and who nonetheless are not part of it, even though they are physically there.
But we are speaking of distinguishing the body and fellowship of the true church from all sects that call themselves “the church.”

The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church– and no one ought to be separated from it.

As for those who can belong to the church, we can recognize them by the distinguishing marks of Christians: namely by faith, and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ.

They love the true God and their neighbors, They love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or left, and they crucify the flesh and its works.

Though great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their lives, appealing constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of the Lord Jesus, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins, through faith in him.

As for the false church, it assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God; it does not want to subject itself to the yoke of Christ; it does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in his Word; it rather adds to them or subtracts from them as it pleases; it bases itself on men, more than on Jesus Christ; it persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke it for its faults, greed, and idolatry.

These two churches are easy to recognize and thus to distinguish from each other.

Come and join us if you can!!

This Lord’s Day I am preaching a sermon on Exodus 20:7 – the third commandment. Quick… what is it?

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”

As I was studying for and writing this sermon it was fascinating to unpack all that this seemingly short commandment tells us as children of God. One of the areas that I was most fascinated with was how this commandment speaks of our salvation. How in the heck can “not taking the Lord’s name in vain” lead to talking about our salvation?

Blasphemy is the direct or the indirect detracting from the glory and honor of God. Doing anything to take away from the glory and the honor that is due the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) alone is blasphemous.

There are many preachers today who are telling believers that they can lose their election and their salvation if they are not righteous enough, if they are not faithful enough. When Christ comes again, in that final judgment these teachers say that when you are standing before God the Judge he will look at your obedience and render a verdict based on what you have done. To put it another way some would have us believe that God’s favor and acceptance of us ultimately depends on our obedience. This has taken root in many churches across the world (unfortunately) under the heading of “Federal Vision Theology.” It is amazing that the Reformed Confessions (both the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity) speak so clearly against this errant theology, but yet somehow they are tolerated even in so-called Reformed churches.

Teaching such as this takes away from the finished and completed work of Christ! Christ’s active obedience is our obedience and righteousness before God. Anybody that teaches or believes otherwise is diminishing the finished work of Christ and making our acceptance before God based, at least partly on our own work. Put simply, this is blasphemy!

Maybe you think that this is too strong. Really? Blasphemy? If you think that then listen to what The Belgic Confession says in article 22:

We believe that for us to acquire the true knowledge of this great mystery [what Christ has done for us] the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts a true faith that embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, and makes him its own, and no longer looks for anything apart from him. (Not even looking at ourselves.)

For it must necessarily follow that either all that is required for our salvation is not in Christ or, if all is in him, then he who has Christ by faith has his salvation entirely. (Its one or the other. Either completely not in Christ, or entirely in Christ)

Therefore, to say that Christ is not enough but that something else is needed as well is a most enormous blasphemy against God– for it then would follow that Jesus Christ is only half a Savior.

This is serious! “A most enormous blasphemy against God.” If this is misusing the name of God, then what does the commandment say? “… And the Lord will not hold him guiltless.” This blasphemy means that you will stand before God still clothed in your own filthy rags trying to impress him. God is not going to look on these blasphemers and see the perfect righteousness of Christ, but their own pitiful merits which the Heidelberg Catechism says in Q&A 114 “even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience.” The name of God and of his Christ is the basis of our salvation. Looking to anything or anybody else means that we are misusing the Name of God and breaking the Third Commandment.

I hope and pray that if you believe in teaching such as this that you will seriously consider the ramifications of holding that position. The Federal Vision is not just a benign, innocent interpretation of Scripture and the Reformed Confessions and the only difference is just a misunderstanding. This theology is breaking one of the Ten Commandments, and one of the commandments that speaks of God’s just punishment for those who break it – “you will not be held guiltless.” Not quite the position that one wants to be in when they are standing before God. I am thankful everyday that I am standing before God guiltless, not because of anything I have done, but because I have been clothed in the pure garments of Christ and that he is my righteousness before God.

Today and tomorrow (10.20-21.09) the Pacific Northwest Classis of the United Reformed Churches in North America is meeting in Bellingham, WA. For those of you not familiar with the Reformed structure of church government, classis is simply a meeting of URC churches within a particular area. If you are familiar with Presbyterian government, classis is similar to presbytery. The classis has a full plate of business to attend to including an examination of a minister to be the welcomed into the URC from a different denomination. This minister could then be officially called as the pastor of Grace Church in West Linn, OR which is a church plant of Immanuel’s Reformed Church in Salem, OR.

Also on the agenda is supposed to be discussion about our church plant in Gig Harbor! So please keep this meeting in your prayers and may the Lord’s will be done in all matters.