Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Packer, Nehemiah and Church Renewal

I have just finished reading J. I Packer’s A Passion for Faithfulness: Wisdom from the Book of Nehemiah . The book wanders a bit, but as would be expected there is much wisdom here. Packer properly points out that the book is about not simply ‘leadership lessons’ but about the renewing of the people of God- in our terminology renewing and reforming the church. I’ll take a few posts to distill some of the points he makes.
Packer points out how Nehemiah begins with a heart broken for the state of the people of God and repentant not simply for the sins of others but recognizing his part in the failure of the people. It is all to easy to point out what others are doing wrong rather than taking our place among the ruins of God’s people and acknowledging our part in the current situation. Of course, before any rebuilding can be done, we must be among the people.

  • We have all had a greater share in the church’s shortcomings and unfaithfulnesses than we know, and we may not therefore treat such sense as we have of its failures as excusing us from the need to confess that we shared in the process of its failing. Nor is it for us to turn our back on the church in impatience...but to pray and work for its renewal, keeping that as the prime focus of our concern at all times. (p. 48)
    Do we in fact start where he started, with the same passion for God’s glory and the same burden of concern and distress when we contemplate the broken-down state of God’s church?
    ‘How few the strong men in these days who can weep at the evils and abominations of the times! How rare those who, seeing the desolations of Zion, are sufficiently interested and concerned for the welfare of the church to mourn! Mourning and weeping over the decay of religion, the decline of revival power, and the fearful inroads of worldliness in the church are almost an unknown quantity. . . . Nehemiah was a mourner in Zion. [E.M. Bounds, Prayer and Praying Men (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, n.d.), p. 73ff.]
    . . . Are we willing to learn to pray for the struggling communities of God’s people as Nehemiah prayed for the Jews, and to accept with Nehemiah any changes of circumstances and any risk that may be involved in rendering the needed service? (p. 67)

Also, Nehemiah’s concern for God’s glory which causes him to be bothered about the status quo, does not allow him to merely carp from the sidelines but compels him into the fray to do something about it. Packer writes:

  • [Nehemiah was] one of those ‘who delight in revering your name’…. Such zeal, though matched by Jesus and the psalmists and Paul (to look no further), is rarer today than it should be; most of us are more like the lukewarm Laodiceans, drifting along very cheerfully in becalmed churches, feeling confident that everything is all right, and thereby disgusting our Lord Jesus, who sees that, spiritually speaking, nothing is right (see Rev. 3:14-22). (p. 33)


Joshua said...

Great insight! Is Packer’s book fairly new?
Another great resource for small groups at least, for the book of Nehemiah as of late has been done by Dr. Bruce Ware @ Southern Seminary.

A little irrelevant, but VERY pertinent for me and my wife, our first born son, NEHEMIAH LEE, will be born any day now!!! We would appreciate everyone’s prayers for my wife and for the birthing process in general. Grace to you all - Joshua

Barry Wallace said...

Great post, Ray. I made the mistake many many years ago, as a new believer, of leaving the "organized" church, thinking it was largely apostate. I failed to see in that the arrogant attitude of my own heart.

As to Nehemiah's zeal, I can't resist noting, with some amusement, that he may have been a bit overzealous on occasion: "And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take oath in the name of God, saying, 'You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves.'" (13:25)

I wonder if that's the reason the ESV subtitles chapter 13, "Nehemiah's Final Reforms"?

Joshua said...

Also, the most recent Southern Baptist Journal of Theology has some great articles on the book. 2 articles may be viewed here:
Or by calling the school at:

Ray Van Neste said...

I actually have a post for tomorrow where Packer addresses Nehemiah's zealous actions!