Friday, December 16, 2005
Thursday, December 15, 2005
B. H. Carroll was one of the giants in the earlier days of SBC life, serving as a pastor and then as the founding president of Southwestern Seminary. He is fun to read and to read about. He was a colorful, thoughtful, profound and passionate man. I have recently come across some old copies of his Interpretation of the English Bible in our library, and they are worth reading. You can find them in reprints and in electronic format.
Here I simply want to pass along two quotes from his ‘Sermons to Preachers’ (1892):
“My brother, if you would magnify your office, make the Word of God your life study. Let down your buckets into the well of salvation; lengthen your cords and let them down deep, and draw up the water fresh and sparkling every day, and give it out freely to your thirsty congregations.”
“how can a man magnify his office who is too lazy to study that Word which it is his business to preach? Who lives year after year in ignorance of the rudiments of Bible teaching? Who has not studied that sacred library, book by book, and chapter by chapter?”
Amen! May we exemplify these truths.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Along the way, Tozer makes this statement: “I recommend some of you who are so nice you’re no good, read the book of Jude.” Enjoy!
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Trueman, while conceding a number of strengths in the book, finds himself in disagreement with the basic argument of the book. I appreciated the discussion because I find myself increasingly uneasy with how many evangelicals seem to embrace Rome. While I appreciate the conservative Catholic affirmation of absolutes in the arena of truth and morality (e.g. abortion), significant problems remain with official teachings like purgatory, penance, indulgences, mass, etc. which reveal deep seated differences in how we understand the gospel.
Here is the concluding paragraph. I hope the heart of the matter comes across from this passage:
It Ain't Over 'Till the Fat Lady Sings A Review by Carl Trueman
When I finished reading the book, I have to confess that I agreed with the authors, in that it does indeed seem that the Reformation is over for large tracts of evangelicalism; yet the authors themselves do not draw the obvious conclusion from their own arguments. Every year I tell my Reformation history class that Roman Catholicism is, at least in the West, the default position. Rome has a better claim to historical continuity and institutional unity than any Protestant denomination, let alone the strange hybrid that is evangelicalism; in the light of these facts, therefore, we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic; not being a Catholic should, in others words, be a positive act of will and commitment, something we need to get out of bed determined to do each and every day. It would seem, however, that if Noll and Nystrom are correct, many who call themselves evangelical really lack any good reason for such an act of will; and the obvious conclusion, therefore, should be that they do the decent thing and rejoin the Roman Catholic Church. I cannot go down that path myself, primarily because of my view of justification by faith and because of my ecclesiology; but those who reject the former and lack the latter have no real basis upon which to perpetuate what is, in effect, an act of schism on their part. For such, the Reformation is over; for me, the fat lady has yet to sing; in fact, I am not sure at this time that she has even left her dressing room.
His point is well taken, that, in fact, the Reformation is over in many churches. But, this is something to be mourned rather than celebrated. He argues at various places that one reason why there is sometimes more agreement today between evangelicals and Rome is that Rome knows her clearly defined positions but evangelicals often lack such definitions and have forgotten their history.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
"Prayer for Ministers"
Chief Shepherd of thy chosen sheep,
From death and sin set free;
May every under–shepherd keep
His eye, intent on thee!
With plenteous grace their hearts prepare,
To execute thy will
Compassion, patience, love and care,
And faithfulness and skill
Inflame their minds with holy zeal
Their flocks to feed and teach;
And let them live, and let them feel
The sacred truths they preach.
Oh, never let the sheep complain
That toys, which fools amuse;
Ambition, pleasure, praise or gain,
Debase the shepherd’s views.
He, that for these, forbears to feed
The souls whom JESUS loves;
Whate’er he may profess, or plead,
An idle shepherd proves.
The sword of God shall break his arm,
A blast shall blind his eye
His word shall have no pow’r to warm,
His gifts shall all grow dry.
O LORD, avert this heavy woe,
Let all thy shepherds say!
And grace, and strength, on each bestow,
To labor while ’tis day.
- John Newton
Monday, December 05, 2005
Now, that was not Barry J.’s question, but it raised the opportunity to speak to that issue. I am not sure where exactly the rest of your question goes, Barry J.- but you are certainly not a heretical idiot! I do think there is need for more careful thinking about the role of baptism in church life.
Then, Barry (in MO), I am fine with calling baptism a means of grace so long as we mean in the way the Reformers did and not the way Catholics do. In fact Wayne Grudem, a Baptist, in his Systematic Theology has a chapter on Means of Grace (Chapter 48) where he lists baptism, communion, and at least 9 other things. In this sense typically ‘means of grace’ refers to God-ordained means for receiving grace (to be edified). So, I agree that it would be useful to use this term once we teach it clearly to our people. God has given to the church ordained ways for us to receive grace to help in time of need.
May the conversation on baptism continue! I hope before too long to comment on Communion.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Yesterday I spoke to a group of ‘ministerial’ students here at Union and my assigned topic was baptism. I chose to frame my comments with the question, “Why is baptism so unimportant in our Baptist churches?” (I am here writing clearly from my baptist perspective, though I realize non-Baptists may read this blog as well). It is a concern to me that though we, Baptists, take our name from this ordinance, we treat it with little concern. So, I argued for four reasons why baptism is so little appreciated in our Baptist churches.
1. We have bought our culture’s line that ritual is bad. We don’t tend to have the ability to see the value and beauty of traditional practices. Instead we tend to think that spontaneity and change are always best. But we should examine critically this assumption. Why do we assume that having a regular pattern to our worship is necessarily bad and that ‘changing things up’ is necessarily good? Probably part of the reason is that generations before us failed to think through for themselves and thus to teach to us why we did what we did, so that we saw empty tradition and ritual. However we must not let a bad example turn us away from the real thing. As you search the Scriptures you find that God is pretty big on tradition and ritual- properly done. Jesus and Paul will warn us not to let our man-made traditions obscure Scripture (Mt 15:1-9; Col 2:8); but, Paul also praises the church for holding firmly to apostolic tradition (1 Cor 11:2), exhorts the church to hold fast to apostolic tradition (2 Thess 2:15), and calls for the discipline of those who do not live according to apostolic tradition (2 Thess 3:6). This is pretty high commendation for tradition. The distinction between good and bad tradition is whether it is something God has commanded or whether it is something we have dreamed up. Baptism, and communion for that mater, are traditions Christ has commanded. If we appreciate the place of history and tradition, baptism becomes all the more meaningful as we join with the church through the ages in administering the sign of Christ.
2. This leads to a second and related point. Our culture has largely lost its ability to appreciate symbolism. In short we have lost our poetry and as a result have little appreciation for the symbolic. As people are realizing this many try all sorts of way to integrate the use of the symbolic and dramatic into our worship all the while missing that Christ Himself has instituted for us two symbolic practices which are dramatic portrayals of the gospel.
Our general failure to appreciate symbols is seen in the language used when baptism or communion is described as a ‘mere’ symbol. ‘Mere’?! Why ‘mere’? Not ‘mere’, but Christ-ordained, holy, precious symbols which portray for us the gospel.
3. A third problem is that baptism does not fit well in entertainment driven worship services. Things like baptism (and communion as well) take up too much time and get in the way of our show. They don’t make for good television. It should be a cause for pause when we feel that events commanded by Christ ‘get in the way’ of things desired by us.
4. Lastly, I think we have removed baptism from its proper place as the public profession of faith. We have created new ordinances which are not mentioned in the Scriptures (e.g. walking the aisle, praying the prayer) which have pushed aside the divinely ordained ones. In the New Testament baptism functioned as the public profession of faith (which is expected in Rom 10:9-10) as the new believer publicly identified himself with the Church by taking on himself the ritual sign of this group typically in the public square rather than inside a church building. Notice this with the Ethiopian eunuch, Saul, the Philippian jailer, etc. We tend to make ‘walking an aisle’ the public profession rather than baptism thus robbing the act of baptism of some of its significance.
This connection of baptism with the public profession also helps us to make sense of the texts which could seem to say that baptism is necessary for salvation. Acts 2:38 is an example when Peter calls upon the people to “Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Baptists too often see this as a text to explain away. Having successfully argued that it does not mean baptism saves we contentedly move on without addressing what it does actually mean! It is not enough to be sure what a passage does not mean if we have not wrestled what it does then mean. The typical apostolic call is to repent and believe. Baptism here takes the place of ‘believe’ because it is the expected way of professing this faith. If we would reclaim baptism’s place as the profession of faith, I think we would more readily see its significance.
More could be said on each of these points (esp. more exegetical defense of point 4), but this is long enough already. Perhaps there is enough here to stir some conversation. I am very interested in response and conversation on these points and the basic idea in general.
Monday, November 28, 2005
One item related to a previous post here is an article on perseverance and assurance which no doubt summarizes some of what is found in the book by Schreiner and Caneday.
Thanks to Jim Hamilton whose blog alerted me that these items were now available.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Here is an important statement from Paul regarding the giving of thanks. But what does it mean when it says to ‘give thanks for all things’? Some seem to think it calls for that false façade which pastes on a smile and seeks to ignore reality in order to say ‘Thanks.’ It does of course raise the honest question of how one is to ‘always’ give thanks ‘for all things’ if some of these things and some of these situations are bad, heart rending, or times when down right evil invades our lives and destroys. Does this passage speak to these times as well and does it really call us to refuse to face up to reality?
The answer is found, I think, it placing this verse in its context (often a key to understanding such things). This verse, first of all follows on from the command in 5:18 to be Spirit-filled. The giving of thanks ‘always’ for ‘all things’ is the second result of being filled with the Spirit mentioned here. Among other things this does suggest that this giving of thanks is not something attainable without divine aid. It is the result of the Spirit’s work within us. Yet, the point is that all believers have the Spirit and, therefore, should see this result at work within them. Thankfulness is evidence of the Spirit at work within us.
Secondly, the context more broadly shows us that this passage is part of the larger discussion of how we are to live in light of the gospel. Chapters 1 & 2 have laid out the marvelous work of salvation which God has done completely by His grace (2:8-9) for people like us who were dead in sin and without hope (2:1, 12). Chapter 3 begins to draw out implications for us of being saved in this way (3:1, ‘for this reason’), and after a digression 4:1 continues this (‘Therefore, I … implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.’) The rest of the letter then continues this description of how we are to live in light of the glorious salvation we have received.
Thus, the call to give thanks in 5:20 is an outgrowth of the gospel. How can we give thanks in all circumstances? Because, no matter what happens, we know that God the Father Almighty has worked at great cost to Himself to save us. If times are hard, life is difficult, pain is present, death has visited, nevertheless, ‘let this blest assurance control, that Christ hath regarded my helpless estate and has shed his own blood for my soul’! No matter what problems assail me, the scriptures teach me that my greatest problem is my own sin which makes me an enemy of God and which I am helpless in myself to change. Yet, this problem, my greatest one, has been forever and completely dealt with in the gospel.
‘My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin not in part but the whole
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, Praise
the Lord, O my soul.’
Therefore, whatever may assail me I will give thanks. All the smaller blessings which surround me then are icing on the cake and reminders of the care of This One who has saved me. All the hardships which come my way are filtered through the hand of the One who has loved me and saved me even while I was a rebel against Him. How can I then not give thanks always for all things?
When we live in light of the gospel, so much more in the Bible makes sense.
May you have a blessed time in giving thanks.
Sunday, November 20, 2005
Thursday, November 17, 2005
In looking over some old sermon notes, I came across this little poem I had written in response to struggling with a fairly difficult passage- one where I really wrestled to understand its meaning and application, but in the end found it to be very rich and especially pertinent to our situation. Here’s the poem:
“Gems to share have I,
But not with the glib passerby.
Come wrestle, struggle and pray.
Then will I yield light for your way.”
I am not posting this because I think this is especially fine poetry but because it is an expression of my soul in learning to wrestle with the text. We are so accustomed to hurry, and we can’t get an extension on sermon preparation- “Sorry folks, the sermon is not yet ready. If you can come back tomorrow I’ll be ready to preach.” We are pressed for time, but if we would understand the Scriptures, apply them to ourselves and be ready to preach them to others, we must take time to wrestle, struggle and pray.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
As I sat down this evening to prepare for teaching in the morning, my eyes came across my copy of The Church Hymnary, a little hymnal I picked up in Scotland. I had not looked at it recently, so I picked it up, and as I glanced through it I came upon this hymn in the section on evening hymns. I was struck by the view of the church presented here. It was once said of the British Empire that the sun never set on it, meaning that since it spanned the globe it was always day somewhere in the Empire. That is no longer true, but it is certainly true of the Church. I think this is a fitting hymn especially for the weekend as we gather together. It is encouraging to think that the body of Christ worldwide is gathering. We are not alone. As we gather we express our solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world- the persecuted, the impoverished, the new believer in a country where his new faith makes his life forfeit. In various languages, in widely diverse meeting places, in different circumstances praise will be ascending to the One True, Triune God.
" ‘For from the rising of the sun, even to its setting, My Name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My Name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My Name will be great among the nations,’ says the Lord of hosts." (Malachi 1:11)
The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended;
The darkness falls at they behest;
To thee our morning hymns ascended,
Thy praise shall sanctify our rest.
We thank thee that thy Church unsleeping,
While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world her watch is keeping,
And rests not now by day or night.
As o’er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent,
Nor dies the strain of praise away.
The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren ‘neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high.
So be it, Lord! Thy throne shall never,
Like earth’s proud empires, pass away;
Thy kingdom stands and grows for ever,
Till all thy creatures own thy sway.
John Ellerton (1826-1893)
Friday, November 11, 2005
Perhaps one good way (and one I can accomplish at the moment!) is to point you to a statement of philosophy of pastoral ministry I have drawn up. I do not claim in any way that it is complete or definitive. It is a work in progress. It is the fruit of an effort to express on paper for a specific church what exactly I thought the Scripture says about the work of the pastor.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Reading is an essential discipline for the pastor, indeed for any Christian who is able. A few years ago when invited to speak to a group of college students who aspired to the pastorate, I told them (what had become a common line for me), “If you do not like to read, reconsider your calling.” This may sound strong to some, but surely the pastor must be one characterized by much reading of the Scripture at least. Then, if we take seriously the calling to expound the Word of God to the people of God in the sight of God, we will, out of sheer humility and knowledge of our own weakness, desire to read the considerations on the text by others more knowledgeable and more godly than ourselves. Yes, reading- good reading, diligent reading, much reading- is essential for the pastor.
Therefore, I will make a few points of recommendation concerning reading. Much more could be said here, but I will make a start. First, John Piper’s essay, “Brothers, Fight for Your Lives” (in Brothers We are Not Professionals) is brilliant and encouraging in many ways. His encouragement simply to set aside 20 minutes a day for reading and his calculations on what you can accomplish with that have been very helpful to me. Jim Eliff’s essay, “An Argument for Learning,” is also very helpful.
More articles could be listed, but let me conclude with some other specific things that have been helpful to me. During my doctoral work, I began trying to review every book I read. This arose from the desire to capture the thoughts and insights gained from reading. It is discouraging to read something and later not be able to remember what you thought you had learned. This reviewing has become a very helpful discipline. Now, of course the level of reviewing varies- and some have slipped by without recorded comments. Some books receive a thorough review while for others I simply summarize and give the key thoughts which have been stirred in my mind.
Lastly, I have begun keeping a file of quotes from each book. I simply save them in a computer folder titled, “Book Notes.” This has helped me to make use of these gleaned gems in future work. Also, these lists of quotes have often been useful items to share with others. These ideas are ways I seek to make the most of my reading, squeezing optimal use of the effort. May these reflections from my journey encourage you in your own reading.
Monday, November 07, 2005
One of our Wednesday night classes at my church is studying Jerry Bridges’ classic little book, The Pursuit of Holiness. As a part of the class I am re-reading this book which I first read almost 15 years ago in college. As I have re-read especially the first half of the book I have been reminded of how great this little, simply written book is. I cannot recommend it too strongly. If people in our churches grasped the ideas in the early chapters about the necessity of holiness, we would be ready to understand the necessity of oversight. It is not by accident that the book of Scripture which tells us without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14), also speaks so strongly of the need for oversight (Heb 13:17). Bridges clearly and simply explains the biblical teaching of the necessity of perseverance, undercutting the sadly common, but false perversion of the doctrine of perseverance- i.e., the idea that one can profess faith, then live a life with no real concern for the things of God and be considered right with God and fit for heaven. The bible teaches no such thing, regardless of how common the idea may be. I do believe the bible teaches that those who are truly converted will persevere in the faith; but the point is that they will persevere. Those who profess faith but do not go on to progress in holiness and Christ-likeness (progress, not obtain perfection) show that they have never truly been converted (see Titus 1:16).
If you are trying to communicate these ideas with your church (or class or small group), a good way to start could be introducing this little book. Its size and short chapters make it a book that is not intimidating. And you can find inexpensive copies fairly easily.
P.S. While searching for an image of the book to include, the search engine suggested that perhaps I meant "pursuit of happiness" rather than "pursuit of holiness." Interesting!
Saturday, November 05, 2005
One thing I hope to do from time to time is to share my thoughts on certain books on biblical and theological issues for children. It is essential for the church to train parents to disciple their children. One part of this is reading good books to them. Reclaiming this practice will not only instruct a new generation of children but will also lead to dramatic growth in learning for the parents as well.
For the first installment in this topic, let me point out a short piece I wrote a few years back while we were still in Scotland. In it I recommend several books we found especially helpful for our children when they were in the range of 5 years old and younger. In future posts on this I will largely comment on books as I read them to my boys as well as share the thoughts I have jotted down along the way about books we have read together.
P.S. If you are not married or are married but do not yet have children, it is never too early to begin collecting thoughts and books for this important and fun task. If your children are grown, you can be an incredible blessing by passing on good thoughts and books for your grandchildren.
Friday, November 04, 2005
Returning to thoughts from James Stewart’s great little book on missions, Thine is the Kingdom, Stewart regularly pounds home the theme that our eschatology matters in missions. While there are differences in the realm of eschatology, we must be certain and clear that Christ is reigning now- he is not waiting to reign. Christ reigns. The enemy is still running about; the final, ultimate end of the enemy is yet future; but, Christ reigns. This is important for us to hold on to. Stewart writes:
“Now there is all the difference in the world between going out on mission with the motive of helping Christ to become King, and going out because the King has sent you.” (pg.27)Let us go forth in full confidence that Christ has conquered and now reigns. We go not forth to help Him achieve His victory. We go out because He is victorious, and we call all people to submit to this victorious Christ rather than be conquered as His enemies.
“Knowing that the Kingdom had appeared in time and that Christ was reigning now, they turned to face the future with a new intensity of hope, a hope as certain as the promises of God. Realizing that the decisive battle had been won, they flung themselves with magnificent abandon into the remaining toils and dangers of the campaign, sustained in all the hardships and dangers and persecutions of their mission by the certainty of the coming end, and straining their eyes through the darkness towards the final triumph of the Lord. Each Eucharist was a foretaste of the Messianic banquet and marriage supper of the Lamb.” (pgs.31-32)
“The men of the Bible know and declare that if the powers of darkness have a lot of rope nevertheless the end of the rope is in the hands of God. They see that God in His sovereignty can use even what is pagan and demonic as the agent of His purifying judgment upon Israel and the Church.” (pg.56)
“… the watchword on the banner of the Church’s mission, Christus Victor, represents not a pious hope, but a historic, irrevocable fact.” (pg.73)
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Poetry is very valuable for pastoral ministry. At one level, it is valuable for pastoral ministry because it is valuable for life in
general! Yet, our culture has largely lost poetry. We can see this in a common inability to deal with symbols and appreciate the symbolic. Our flat understanding of language results in misunderstandings and poor exegesis. It also often hinders us in the effort to communicate deep truths. Have you ever noticed how many of the great preachers and theologians of the past wrote great poetry (including hymns)?
Here is a poem from John Newton about pastoral ministry. It is the source of his famous statement that pastoral ministry is "A sorrow full of joy". This poem and many other good poems from pastors and theologians of the past can be found in Worthy Is The Lamb: Puritan Poetry in Honor of the Savior (Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2004).
Travailing in Birth for Souls
by John Newton
What contradictions meet
In ministers employ!
It is a bitter sweet,
A sorrow full of joy;
No other post affords a place
For equal honor or disgrace!
Who can describe the pain
Which faithful preachers feel,
Constrained to speak in vain,
To hearts as hard as steel?
Or who can tell the pleasures felt,
When stubborn hearts begin to melt?
The Savior's dying love,
The soul's amazing worth,
Their utmost efforts move,
And draw their bowels forth;
They pray, and strive, their rest departs,
Till Christ be formed in sinners' hearts.
If some small hope appear,
They still are not content;
But, with a jealous fear,
They watch for the event.
Too oft they find their hopes deceived,
Then how their inmost souls are grieved!
But when their pains succeed,
And from the tender blade,
The ripening ears proceed,
Their toils are overpaid.
No harvest-joy can equal theirs,
To find the fruit of all their cares.
On what has now been sown,
Thy blessings, Lord, bestow;
The power is Thine alone,
To make it spring and grow.
Do Thou the gracious harvest raise,
And Thou alone shalt have the praise.
Monday, October 31, 2005
“A central theme of the Reformation spirituality was that the church had lost its way during the Middle Ages. The traditional concerns of the church had become overwhelmed by the involvement of the church in the secular order. In our own day and age, such involvement is generally held to be an excellent and desirable thing. The history of the church during the Middle Ages, however, perhaps sounds a note of caution, indicating what can happen through overextension of resources and personal commitment to the world. During the Middle Ages, the papacy saw its secular powers reach new heights. The ecclesiastical banking system came close to being the medieval equivalent of a modern multinational corporation. Indeed, the pope who condemned Martin Luther in 1520 was a prominent member of the Florentine Medici family, who had bought the papacy outright over the heads of a number of more distinguished and eligible rivals.
But in the middle of this experimentation with political and financial power, there were signs of decay. The arteries of the church became hardened through over involvement in the world. A price was paid for this apparent success. What, it was increasingly asked, have the splendors of the Renaissance papacy to do with the humble figure of Jesus of Nazareth? There was a widespread perception within the church, often at high levels, that a redefinition of its aims and goals was required. A new model was required. And for many—including those who would become the
proponents of the Reformation—that model lay with the early church, as it can be
seen emerging in the New Testament.” (pg.66-67)
Does this not sound strikingly similar? There is plenty of talk about the political power of the church in America today, and its financial prosperity general speaking is clear. Yet, where is its spiritual power displayed by significantly changed lives and counter-cultural communities of faith displaying by their lives and words a credible witness to the gospel? Yes, there are churches like this thankfully, but it certainly is not the norm.
McGrath argues that the Reformation was a returning to the roots of the faith, in an age when the history and roots of the faith had largely been lost. This is true again in our day. What is esteemed too often is what is newest rather than what is biblical, and there is little knowledge of or regard for the historic witness of the church. McGrath writes:
"To return to one’s roots was to recollect one’s birthright. It was to regain the title deeds of faith. It was to catch a fresh vision of possibilities. It was to overhear the conversations of the apostles. It was to allow a tired and weary faith to be refreshed. It was to return to an oasis from which the pilgrimage into the wilderness had begun. And it was to ignite a powder keg under the comfortable yet stagnant certainties of late medieval religion.” (emphasis mine, pg.68)
May we have a serious return to the scriptures so that the church today might be reinvigorated. Of course, this will disturb comfortable yet stagnant certainties of our day. May we choose obedience over comfort.
It is Reformation Day again, and we should be reminded of God’s graciousness in reviving His church in the past so that we might be encouraged to pray for Him to do it again! 488 years ago on this day a typical act by an obscure German monk was used by God to stir into motion the Protestant Reformation, in my opinion the greatest revival since Pentecost. This reformation centered on the rediscovery of the Gospel. Of course it resulted in a renewed understanding of the church, Christian living, etc. but it all started with a renewed grasp of the biblical gospel.
We need such a renewal today. There is much confusion in the church today over what the gospel truly is. This can be seen even in our language. Rather than ‘gospel’ we more regularly hear of ‘the plan of salvation.’ Surely the phrase can be used appropriately, but why has it largely replaced ‘gospel.’ It too easily suggests a mechanistic approach which is really only directed at the unconverted. In contrast the Gospel is not simply a plan but a proclamation of news- what God has done in Christ- and is both the power of God unto salvation and the basis for living the new life which is to be found in Christ.
I hope to write more on the language we use for the gospel, but my point here is that we need to make sure we (and our people) grasp well the basic truths of the gospel. We need to see that we must understand the bad news of our condition in sin before we will ever see the gospel as good news. We need to understand what problem the gospel claims to address- is it the need for self-esteem, the answer for loneliness, the answer for family trouble, or is it something deeper? And we need to understand how the cross stands at the center of this proclamation. How does the crucifixion of Jesus make the forgiveness of sins possible? Far too many evangelistic presentations around today ‘work’ without any reference to the cross.
Romans 3 addresses all these issues. Perhaps this is why Luther himself referred to this passage as ‘the chief point, and the very central place of the Epistle, and of the whole Bible.’ Here is a link to my attempt to preach this passage on a previous Reformation Sunday with these concerns in mind (scroll down to the sermon on Romans 3).
(Picture: Courtesy Wartburg Foundation, Eisenach / Gotha Druck, Wechmar)
Friday, October 28, 2005
You can find all three messages on Union’s website. This link will take you to the main page of the audio messages and you can just look for the three messages by Vodie. At the moment they are on the top of the list since they are the most recent. I encourage you to check them out.
I am thankful to have Vodie Baucham speaking out so strongly and eloquently on the necessity of seeing the church as family and for the importance of our families, discipling our own children, etc.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
As a starter, let me recommend the one entitled, “On Loving Ministry.” Here is an excerpt:
Loving ministry is more than loving the act of preaching, teaching or counseling. Loving the idea of preaching is a love for words. That’s a love for having folks listen to you. Truly loving ministry means loving preaching so much that you invite hell to the ring to meet God’s power. And the fight is not waged with mere words, but with power. There is no diplomacy in Christian ministry—only artillery. And loving ministry means fighting a real enemy with sticks and bats, spikes and knives, not negotiating with it with clever speeches. Loving ministry is not merely loving the fruits of ministry, but getting our hands dirty in the soil to plant the seeds.
Loving ministry means devotion to see God’s power transform lives and overcome ultimate evil ultimately. Loving ministry is to welcome the worst in people because that is where God is at work. Loving ministry is fighting in the ring with hardened husbands and broken wives, cheating spouses and damaged children, abusive families and oppressive regimes. Christian ministry is not being impressed by tri-color, glossy brochures but being compelled by war-torn, blood-stained letters crying for reinforcements. It is a life spent behind enemy lines in shallow trenches.
As pastors, our lives are devoted preach words, teach words, arrange words, counsel words and write words. Yet, Christ’s church is not led by clever wordsmiths, but by men abandoned to swim in the deep with bloodthirsty sharks. If not careful, pastoral ministry can become a mere lifelong accumulation of words. And when the words fail we fail. At that point our effectiveness is only as strong as our vocabulary.
Thanks for being willing to share your ponderings with all of us, Barry. May the Lord continue to bless and use you for His church.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
The importance of our corporate worship also came up. With two sisters dying unexpectedly, fear can set in, for the other sisters especially. Then with many people, well intentioned, saying, “I just don’t know how you are going to be able to make it through this!”, my wife had a difficult evening after the visitation. As she wrestled with this, words from a hymn we sing came back to her mind:
“From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny”
This reminder that her life rests in God’s good and sovereign hands bolstered her and gave her peace. While these other deaths caught us by surprise, God was not surprised. And whatever is to come tomorrow will also be mediated by this God. She knew these truths but being reminded by the words of a song she regularly sings with her church, gave her strength. Oh the value of our corporate worship in helping us to persevere- and the value of songs with substance!
I am back in my wife’s hometown for the second time in three weeks. My wife is one of four daughters. Three weeks ago I was here with my wife for the funeral of her sister closest to her in age. Here we are now for the funeral of her oldest sister. Two entirely unexpected deaths, ages 38 and 54. Many thoughts and emotions arise in such a situation, but one that certainly comes to mind is the brevity and uncertainty of life- no man knows his time. This truth leads directly to another: the desperate importance of clear, faithful preaching of the gospel. Having death interrupt you so unexpectedly so often in such a short period of time reminds me that this is for keeps. The week in, week out teaching and preaching matters desperately. We all know that, but it is easy to lose sight of that fact, to lose intensity. If we love souls we must labor for the purity of the church and for the faithful proclamation of the Gospel. Who knows who is listening today who might not be here to listen tomorrow.
I will have the opportunity to preach at this funeral and my primary objective will be to preach the gospel. Though situations differ, I think we should seek to preach the gospel at every funeral. Of course a word of comfort is needed, but real comfort is anchored in the gospel. At these times people are confronted with eternity even if they typically hide from it. We must lay out the claims of the gospel and clearly call people to repent and believe.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Particularly if you find your self discouraged in your ministry as you regularly see reminders of your own weakness, read on. Read on, and be encouraged. Read on, and exult in the God who displays Himself through human weakness. Then rise up in faith that God will manifest His grace through your weakness, and Christ will build His church.
“This is the answer to the disconsolate moods in which, looking at the Church and seeing its crippling, often stupid divisions, its bourgeois complacency, its failures pathetic enough to make the angels weep, we begin to ask—‘Is this indeed the instrument of the mission of Christ? Is this to go out among the heathen as “the arm of Christ’s presence”?’ It is the answer also to the despairing moods in which we turn in upon ourselves: ‘I the ambassador of this royal Jesus? I to wear the Christian name before the world? God pity me—poor earthen vessel—utterly unworthy!’ This is the answer—that always it is upon human weakness and humiliation, not human strength and confidence, that God chooses to build His Kingdom; and that He can use us, not merely in spite of our ordinaries and helplessness and disqualifying infirmities, but precisely because of them. It is a thrilling discovery to make, and it can revolutionize our missionary outlook completely. For clearly, if this fact be true, the Church that believes it can be irresistible anywhere, and its mission for Christ against the powers of darkness becomes bright with an unquenchable hope; and the individual Christian who lives by it is undefeatable. Nothing can defeat a Church or a soul that takes, not its strength, but its weakness, and offers that to be God’s weapon. It was the way of William Carey and Francis Xavier and Paul the apostle. ‘Lord, here is my human weakness: I dedicate it to Thee for Thy glory!’ This is the strategy to which there is no retort. This is the victory which overcomes the world.” (pgs.23-24)
“One reason, wrote P.T. Forsyth, ‘why the Church is too little missionary is that it is established on good terms with its world instead of being a foreign mission from another.’ The powers of darkness will never be scattered by a Christendom infiltrated by the enemy …. for only to a Church radically different from the world will the world consent to listen; and the whole cause of the Kingdom of God, now as then, is at stake in that appeal.” (pg.19-20)
This connects with so much I have sought to say (not nearly as well) over the years. The labor for the purity of the church is not separate from the work of missions and is not a drain on the work of missions. It is vitally linked to the work of missions! This also speaks to the desire to look and sound like the culture. While of course we should work to remove unnecessary barriers, we must remember that the church was never supposed to look just like the world. It is the difference which makes a difference.
The title of the book is Thine is the Kingdom. It has been out of print for some time though you can find old copies on the web. I have initiated contact with some publishers and will be having further conversations about getting this book reprinted. I plan to post some more quotes soon, If you think you would be interested in this book being available let me know, and I’ll let these publishers know of grass roots interest.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
I have just recently found out that another friend of mine in the ministry has had an affair. How frustrating and scary! I really never would have thought that it would be this guy. This is the second friend in the past two years.If only this was an unusual thing to hear. If you have been in ministry or training very long you have probably seen and heard this same sort of occurrence yourself. In addition to being heart rending as you consider the one who has fallen and his family, church, etc., it is also personally sobering- especially when it is someone you respected and never expected to do something like this. It scares you because you think, “Could I do this?” Of course the answer to any question about whether you could, possibly do any sin is “Yes.” As Calvin said, “The seed of every sin lies dormant in the human heart.” Or to quote Spurgeon:
‘There is tender enough in the saint who is nearest to heaven to kindle another hell if God should permit a spark to fall upon it. In the best of men, there is an infernal and well-nigh infinite depth of depravity. Some Christians never seem to find this out. I almost wish they might not do so, for it is a very painful discovery for anyone to make: but it has the beneficial effect of making us cease trusting in ourselves’We should take note of these things and see that they scare us well, that we might be delivered from self-assuredness and that we might be painfully aware of our desperate need for grace and the accountability of godly men- in short that we might be reminded of our desperate need for the oversight of our souls.
Richard Baxter referred to this as the oversight of ourselves. Pastors often do not have anyone else overseeing them. This is one of the benefits of plurality in leadership. Brother, if you are out there without any real accountability (read: people who will ask you hard questions and follow up on you) get some quick! For the sake of your own soul, for the sake of your family and the church you serve, for the sake of the name of God, find some accountability.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
One thing that stood out to me concerning pastoral ministry occurred when one speaker described Adolf Hitler’s charisma, how he captivated crowds with his mesmerizing speeches and how efficient he was with government. I began to think of the things most often listed as key requirements that people have for their pastor. Here is a list of things that show up most often in such discussions:
- Great public speaker
- Makes us feel better
- Charisma, powerful persona
- Great leadership skills- meaning he can run an efficient organization
- Vision for where we are going
- Ability to attract new members, especially young people
If these are the characteristics we want, then Hire Hitler! Hitler was all of these things! He excelled in each of these categories as historians agree. Being a ‘leader’ is all the rage, and Hitler’s typical title, “Führer,” simply means “Leader.” Is not something drastically wrong when such a man fulfills the typical expectations of a pastor! How desperately we need to return to the Scriptures to gain the right perspective of the pastorate! In fact not one of these characteristics is a biblical requirement for the pastorate. They are more akin to the ideas of Paul’s opponents in 2 Corinthians than anything else.
Friday, October 07, 2005
“Preaching really entails hard work, and this fact Paul made plain when he said: ‘Let the presbyters who rule well be held worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and in teaching.’ But you are responsible for making this toil light or heavy. If you despise my words or, though you do not despise them, do not embody them in your deeds, my toil will be heavy, because I am laboring fruitlessly and in vain.
But if you pay attention and make my words manifest in your deeds, I shall not even be aware of the perspiration, for the fruit produced by my work will not permit me to feel the laboriousness of the toil. And so, if you wish to spur on my zeal and not to extinguish it or make it weaker, show me the fruit of it, I beseech you, in order that, viewing the leafy crops, sustained by hopes of a rich harvest and calculating my wealth, I may not be sluggish in engaging in this promising task.”
Saint John Chrysostom, “Homily 22 (John 2:4-10),” ed. Roy Joseph Deferrari, vol. 33, The Fathers of the Church (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1957), 212.
Great scholars who read a lot, and own lots of books, are not the best Christians…. The best Christians are those who do from a free and willing heart what the scholars read about in books and teach others to do. We must therefore get worried when, in our own day and age, people become scholars through writing lots of books- but do not have the slightest idea what it means to be a Christian.Luther clearly is no anti-intellectual, but neither does he have a place for glorying in our knowledge or for thinking that being able to define and explain Christian truth equates actually living out those truths. This is a good reminder for me- so perhaps it is for others as well. In an age when we for so long missed out on good, substantive theology, we now rejoice in truths we have learned. We take great delight in these truths; we enjoy talking them over, thinking them through and sharing them with others. And rightly so. However, let us be reminded that this is not enough. At the end of the day if these truths do not lead to concrete, every day practice they are nothing. If our knowledge does not lead to tangible practice we actually slander the truths themselves. Being a good Christian certainly entails knowing certain things but it also means doing something about it. It is little use to be able to give an informed exegesis of the Lord’s prayer if we are not faithful in prayer. It is dangerously easier to speak in a theologically informed, profound way about the necessity of holiness than it is to really fight against temptation. We must beware the temptation of resting in our reading without the doing.
The true theologian is one who has indeed thought and wrestled with scripture well but he is also one who has experienced in his life these truths. McGrath follows the Luther quote with these words:
Luther may not have foreseen the academic and scholarly explosion of the modern period; nevertheless, he predicted with grim accuracy the problem that has resulted. The word theologian has come to mean an academic professional, one whose credentials are established by his publication record. For Luther, that word was reserved for those who have experienced, and know they have experienced, the grace of the living God.What a good word. I am tempted to desire more advancement as an academic professional than to desire advancement in actually living these truths out. In fact I can be tempted to wish I could withdraw from actually serving the Church so that I might better establish my credentials with a publishing record. God save me from such narcissistic, self-centered motives that I might truly be of use to the Master.
In her essay, "The Fiction Writer and His Country," Flannery
O'Connor quoted Wyndham Lewis as saying, "If I write about a hill
that is rotting, it is because I despise rot." She uses this quote
to explain that when she (and others) write about the ills of society,
it is not because they rejoice in these ills. Rather, it is because
they despise these ills and seek to change them. The same is true for
those of us in leadership in the church. If we love the church we must
speak of the ills and errors within her. But we must also make clear
that we do so not because we want to defame the church, but because we desire the purity of the church- because we, like our Master, are willing to spend and be spent for the purification of the Church (Eph 5:26-27). "Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend" (Prov 27:5-6a). We must not hide our eyes from error in our midst. But we must speak in love, seeking redemption remembering Whose Bride this is.
(BTW: O'Connor's essay, "The Fiction Writer and His Country", can be read with much profit thinking of parallels for the church and its pastors.)
Thursday, October 06, 2005
“As pastor of a cozy 100-member church in Denver, McHendry harbors no envy for his astonishingly successful counterpart on stage. Sure, he chuckled, "When he lines up the wheelchairs and they're all shiny, and now the people can walk - c'mon, Benny. But I think that showmanship is necessary to reach some people for God.”
First, whatever was meant by the writer, “cozy” is not a complimentary description of a church in my mind. More significantly, however, I was stunned by the statement that “showmanship is necessary to reach some people for God.” While many evangelical pastors would not support Benny Hinn, many do subscribe to the idea that showmanship is necessary to reach some people for God. We may prefer more acceptable gimmicks than ‘healings’, but it is evident that we think gimmicks are the way. We expose by our actions that we fail to believe that the gospel is indeed the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16). Our infatuation with gimmicks makes us sound like Paul’s opponents in Corinth to whom Paul says, “I know people are asking for signs and wisdom, but we refuse. We simply preach Christ crucified, the wisdom and power of God.” (cf. 1 Cor 1:18-25). Paul says he has nothing to do with crafty techniques or watering down the gospel, but rather “by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor 4:2).
If we seriously desire the salvation of souls, let us be clear: showmanship is not necessary for reaching people for God. What is necessary is clear manifestation of truth, i.e. the gospel.
"Kairos Journal seeks to embolden, educate, equip, and support pastors and church leaders as they strive to transform the moral conscience of the culture and restore the prophetic voice of the Church."
In recent months KJ has done articles on Aake Green, a Swedish pastor, who in 2004 was convicted of hate speech and sentenced to prison because of his sermon where he simply stated that the Bible declares homosexuality to be sinful. It is an amazing story worthy to be read and told. The courage and conviction of this small church pastor is exemplary. If we love souls we must be willing to speak truth- particularly the truth which is despised and ignored.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Pastors would also do well to read the article on suffering in Pastoral ministry by Scott Hafemann, A Call to Pastoral Suffering: The Need for Recovering Paul's Model of Ministry in 2 Corinthians.
Faithful shepherds must prepare their people for reality.
“The crying need of our day is for holy men of God pastoring the church of God and being diligent in the oversight of souls” (8/7/97)
I don’t remember now exactly the events which prompted the writing down of this thought, but I have kept it with me on a sticky note through the years as I have become increasingly convinced of the point. Of course you could describe the need of our day in various ways, but I am firmly convinced that this statement does get at least to one of the primary needs for the renewal of the church in our day. That the modern Western church is in desperate need of renewal I take as a given. The things needing addressing for such a renewal are manifold; but, this issue, the restoration of a true, biblical understanding of overseeing souls, I think captures many of them under one heading. This has become a consuming passion of mine, and I have started this blog as one part of an effort to address this issue.
I intend to write as a pastor for pastors, addressing various issues from the angle of the pastorate. I think many things impinge on thinking about the pastorate, from literature to poetry to current events to exegetical and theological musings. If this will prove useful to any laboring in the oversight of souls, or to encourage some in the office of the pastor to actually begin to labor in overseeing souls, then this will be worthwhile.