Friday, June 30, 2006

Article on the Ordinances

I am putting the finishing touches on an article on Baptism and Communion for the inaugural issue of Theology for Ministry a new journal published by Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. I am encouraged by the goal of the editors which is provide a venue for discussion of shaping our ministries theologically rather than keeping theology neatly closed off from our practical work.

My assignment for this article was to address ways to improve our practice of the ordinances. While I cannot post the article, I thought I would mention the main points I am arguing. This may advertise for the journal and will also (hopefully) generate some conversation here on these important topics. I first gave some of the reasons that I think have led to the downgrade in our practice of the ordinances, arguing along the same lines of what I posted on the topic previously. Then I argue for one point in regard to each ordinance. On baptism I argue that baptism is the profession of faith, and as such it should be administered as closely as possible to conversion (similar to the argument in the post linked above). How else can it be the public profession? Dr. Bob Stein has argued for something similar here. I commend Stein’s article though I think in the end he may argue for too much.

Then, on baptism, as suggested by a Spurgeon quote posted previously, I argue for the weekly celebration of communion. I think the NT suggests this was the pattern of the early church. Beyond that it can be such a help to us as God’s ordained means of keeping our minds fixed on the finished work of Christ.

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

John Donne, Our Need of God to Deliver

Here is another poem. This one by John Donne is a powerful description of our need of a powerful gospel, one where a Sovereign God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, i.e. change our hearts. Donne uses strong imagery to make his point.

John Donne's Holy Sonnets #14

Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn and make me new,
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labor to admit you, but O, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed into your enemy,
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again;
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor chaste, except you ravish me.

I came across this poem in The Poetry of Piety: An Annotated Anthology of Christian Poetry, by Ben Witherington III, and Christopher M. Armitage. The commentary on Donne’s poem in this book includes the following:

“Donne clearly expresses that salvation is not a human self-help program. Human nature is fallen, and redemption comes only through drastic action by God. Radical transformation, not mere modification, is required if a human being is to be remade into the image of God. Donne was not an early advocate of the therapeutic model of redemption. Even more sobering the fact that he speaks as a person who is not adamantly opposed to God; rather, he labors to admit God into his life. Even so, drastic action by God is required. In Donne’s view, if one is not enthralled by God, one is the captive of the usurper. There is no middle ground. Reason is seen as no match for the powers of darkness.
This poem strongly suggests that salvation is not just a matter of knowing or even desiring the truth. It is also a matter of willing the good. However, the human will is portrayed as captive, bent, and fallen unless God remolds it, straightens it, and sets it upright. Information without transformation is inadequate. A change of mind is only the beginning; a change of heart is also required. (p. 15)”

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hamilton, Questions for a Prospective Pastor

Jim Hamilton, at For His Renown, has a great post on questions for a prospective pastor. He frames the discussion by suggesting that the greatest danger facing the church today may come from well meaning pastors who have failed to think clearly and deeply enough about the gospel and thus unwittingly lead the church in imitating the world. This is a well written, substantive, important post and I encourage everyone to read it. Pastors can be challenged and warned by it and search committees, who are so often in desperate need of help, can benefit greatly from it. Pass it on.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

William Cowper on pretentious, primping preachers

Over the last few years I have given some attention to William Cowper and his poetry. I eventually tracked down a fairly inexpensive 19th century copy of his complete poems. I have enjoyed various parts in various ways, but had not worked my way through his long poem, The Task. However, guided by another I looked further along in the poem and found Cowper discussing some errors found in pastors of his day. I was struck by the portion I reproduce here. Wow! What a timely and stinging indictment of arrogance and pretentiousness in preachers. It reminds me a bit of George Truett’s statement about ‘dandy’ preachers. There is still too much of this grandstanding and we dare not imitate it. The language is older and the quote is long, but I found it helpful.

In man or woman, but far most in man,
And most of all in man that ministers
And serves the altar, in my soul I loathe
All affectation.
'Tis my perfect scorn;
Object of my implacable disgust.
What!--will a man play tricks, will he indulge
A silly fond conceit of his fair form
And just proportion, fashionable mien,
And pretty face, in presence of his God?
Or will he seek to dazzle me with tropes,
As with the diamond on his lily hand,
And play his brilliant parts before my eyes,
When I am hungry for the Bread of Life?
He mocks his Maker, prostitutes and shames
His noble office, and, instead of truth,
Displaying his own beauty, starves his flock!
Therefore, avaunt [away], all attitude and stare
And start theatric, practised at the glass.
I seek divine simplicity in him
Who handles things divine; and all beside,
Though learned with labour, and though much admired
By curious eyes and judgments ill-informed,
To me is odious as the nasal twang
Heard at conventicle, where worthy men,
Misled by custom, strain celestial themes
Through the prest nostril, spectacle-bestrid.
Some, decent in demeanour while they preach,
That task performed, relapse into themselves,
And having spoken wisely, at the close
Grow wanton, and give proof to every eye--
Whoe'er was edified themselves were not
Forth comes the pocket mirror. First we stroke
An eyebrow; next compose a straggling lock;
Then with an air, most gracefully performed,
Fall back into our seat; extend an arm,
And lay it at its ease with gentle care,
With handkerchief in hand, depending low:

And thus it is. The pastor, either vain
By nature, or by flattery made so, taught
To gaze at his own splendour, and to exalt
Absurdly, not his office, but himself
Or unenlightened, and too proud to learn,
Or vicious, and not therefore apt to teach,
Perverting often, by the stress of lewd
And loose example, whom he should instruct,
Exposes and holds up to broad disgrace
The noblest function, and discredits much
The brightest truths that man has ever seen.
For ghostly counsel, if it either fall
Below the exigence, or be not backed
With show of love, at least with hopeful proof
Of some sincerity on the giver's part;
Or be dishonoured in the exterior form
And mode of its conveyance, by such tricks
As move derision, or by foppish airs
And histrionic mummery, that let down
The pulpit to the level of the stage;

Drops from the lips a disregarded thing.
The weak perhaps are moved, but are not taught,
While prejudice in men of stronger minds
Takes deeper root, confirmed by what they see.
A relaxation of religion's hold
Upon the roving and untutored heart
Soon follows, and the curb of conscience snapt,
The laity run wild.--But do they now?
Note their extravagance, and be convinced.

Is this not a problem today? Isn’t showiness and display, gimmick-laden performance more appropriate to the theatre common? Indeed it is encouraged in many circles to ‘draw them in.’ This sort of performance will garner attention and be welcomed on the bigger stage. And yet, just as Cowper says, the crowds may be moved (i.e., they may be impressed, they may shout, they may turn out to see this), but they are not taught, i.e. they do not come to know more of the Word of Christ and as a result are not changed into His image. (Is this part of why church attendance is up but the impact of the church is less?) Further, as Cowper notes, this sort of action actually turns off many who see through the self-centeredness.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Peacemaker by Ken Sande

At my church we are going through Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict this summer, watching the DVD’s together while some of us also have the book. We are not doing this because there is conflict in the church. Indeed, just the opposite. We typically do some special study on Wednesday nights in the summer, and we decided it would be good for us to consider this material because conflict of various sorts on various levels is a regular part of life.

We are only three sessions (chapters) in, but so far it is exceptional. Sande holds up good, rich biblical doctrine, and then applies it to concrete areas of life where we face conflict (again from things we consider very small to major issues). So many ‘conflict management’ resources are very thin on biblical, theological reflection that they are practically useless. I rejoiced last night as I listened to Sande root the approach to conflict and restoration in the fact that God is in control, that this did not surprise Him and that He is at work to bring about good for His people.

Conflicts always arise and so often they are handled poorly in the church. I would encourage you to consider using this material with your people to prepare yourselves ahead of time so that the Church might be protected and His name glorified in the way His people conduct themselves.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Luther on a Pastor's Love for His People

When writing the post on Pastors as Protectors, I felt sure Luther has spoken to the issue and just this evening I came across this quote:
“A preacher must be a fighter and a shepherd. He must have teeth in his mouth. Teaching is a very difficult art. Paul contends (2 Tim 4:2; Titus 1:9), as does Peter (2 Peter 2), that sound doctrine must be urged and that those who contradict must be answered.”
However, the right sort of ‘protecting’ will be that sort that arises from deep affection for the people, not simply a hankering for conflict. This deep love, “mother love” (1 Thess 2:7) as Luther calls it, is one thing that seems so terribly lacking in ministries today. This quote is great!
“Men who hold the office of the ministry should have the heart of a mother toward the church; for if they have no such heart, they soon become lazy and disgusted, and suffering, in particular, will find them unwilling. … [Luther drawing from John 21 paraphrases the words of Jesus] Unless your heart toward the sheep is like that of a mother toward her children- a mother, who walks through fire to save her children- you will not be fit to be a preacher. Labor, work, unthankfulness, hatred, envy, and all kinds of sufferings will meet you in this office. If, then, the mother heart, the great love, is not there to drive the preachers, the sheep will be poorly served.”
Amen! And may the Lord grant a fresh baptism of this sort of love for the people of God. Then there will be a decrease in the treating of God’s people as merely steps on a ladder and more awareness of them as the people of God “which He obtained with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Rhetoric and reality- applauding vs. applying

I am currently deriving much benefit and pleasure (not mutually exclusive categories by any means!) from reading essays by C. S. Lewis collected in On Stories and Other Essays on Literature. I hope to write several things arising from reflections on this book. Here though I want to focus on a line from Lewis found in a transcript of a conversation held between him and two author friends. Along the way Lewis brought up the point that a certain person demanded ‘moral earnestness’ but Lewis himself preferred ‘morality.’ He explained:
“I’d sooner live among people who don’t cheat at cards than among people who are earnest about not cheating at cards.”
His response brought appropriate laughter. Indeed we know of situations where people substitute earnestness for something for actually doing that thing. What good is it to say you really care about being honest if in fact you are not honest.

This point, ready for many helpful applications, reminded me of a phenomenon I observed at the SBC. There was great earnestness about ‘expository preaching.’ Quite often expository preaching was extolled and encouraged; and each time such statements were met with enthusiastic applause. However, we rarely if ever saw any example of expository preaching actually being done. I fear we are those who are earnest about expository preaching but not those who are actually doing it. I for one would certainly rather have a pastor who preaches expositionaly than one who was simply earnest about it.

Brothers, it will not do simply to extol expository preaching. We must actually do it. Taking up a certain verse, even verses in order though a book does not itself insure expositional preaching. We must approach a text asking what the text itself (as written by the author) intends to say and we must then apply that message to our people. We simply may not take texts to say what we desire to say- no matter how orthodox the statements we desire to make. Truly expositional preaching is rooted in the idea that in Scripture God speaks inerrantly. Thus, what matters is what the text itself says. Who cares what sort of creative thing you might be able to come up with! It is practical nonsense to extol inerrancy and then ignore what a passage says in context for what you want it to say. Inerrancy becomes irrelevant when the message is more dependent on the preacher’s ideas than the text itself- for the preacher himself is not inerrant! No, we must preach the text and not creative concoctions, dreams, rhetorical flourishes or anything else. Let us not merely be earnest about expository preaching but let us do it.

For more on true expositional preaching see especially this interview with Phillip Jensen, and these other articles from 9 Marks Ministries.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Pastor as Protector

A number of people have asked me how our little girl, now 8 weeks old, is doing. She is doing quite well, and her brothers adore her. Our only problem with the boys is that they all want to always be holding, kissing, touching or helping her. They take much pride in calling themselves her “Mighty Protectors.” In fact this role of theirs was the main topic of conversation as they came to the hospital to see her for the first time. As we have talked over time about the role of men, I have emphasized to them that being a man entails protecting women and children.

Then, in our first day home I overheard Jonathan (our third, 6 yrs old) talking to Benjamin (our fourth, 4 yrs old) while they both peered over the crib at their new baby sister. Jonathan was instructing Benjamin, in his younger child voice, once more on their role as Abigail’s protectors. I listened in as he simply passed on the instruction he has heard. Then, though, Jonathan moved to his own application. He said, What this [being her protectors] means is this: If someone comes in the house to get her …” I thought to myself, “We have not talked about this.” He continued, in his attempted baby voice, “If someone comes in the house to get her, this is what we do. We get a metal bat and we take care of them.” It was all simple matter-of-fact. I stifled my chuckle so they would not hear me, and I also thought, “Way to go!” While we had not addressed this specific scenario, he really understood that he was to do what he could to protect his baby sister (I had primarily envisioned protecting her from sharp objects, falls, etc.!).

Now, what does this have to do with the pastorate? Well, just as men in general today do not think often enough about our role as protectors, so also there is a lack of consideration of the pastor’s role as protector. But, this is certainly a key aspect of our role. Paul’s description of the pastor in Titus 1 closes with:
holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that
he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who
contradict. (v9)
The reason for this qualification is seen immediately in 1:10f. Pastors need to be the sort of men who can refute false teachers because false teachers are around and they will cause trouble unless they are dealt with. This is also in view when Paul exhorted the Ephesians elders:
"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears” (Acts 20:28-31)
You cannot serve the church as pastor if you are unwilling to confront error for the good of the church. Those who cower at danger or try to say these issues are not their concern show themselves hirelings and cowards. The true shepherd is willing to give his life for his flock. Surely here we are to imitate the pattern of the Chief Shepherd who said:
I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He
who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees
the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and
scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about
the sheep. (John 10:11-13)
The hireling mentality is too easily encouraged today. The hireling thinks more of his next move, of his reputation, his advancement. The shepherd loves his flock and is ready to die for them. This is not the creating of unnecessary conflict (as some take it). This is love in action, and can only really emerge as we establish close knit community where pastors are not CEO’s or simply hired guns but rather members of the community, the family, who have been called out for service. Brothers, let us protect the church.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Posting Interruptions

Blogger has been having all sorts of problems the last few days which is causing numerous problems for me in posting. Hopefully I will be able to access them consistently soon! When I catch Blogger working I will get things up but it looks to be difficult the next few days.

Vance Havner on the Ministry

Here is an excerpt from Vance Havner (1901-1986), the prominent Baptist preacher. He is reflecting on Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. His words are at least as relevant to us today as they were then. So much of what people today call 'succesful' in ministry is simply the exertion of the flesh to impress the world with our show and numbers as Havner describes here.
We’re a little short on prophets. We need to rebuild the broken altar and put the sacrifice of a dedicated life thereupon. But before we can expect any fire from heaven, we must drench the altar. I’ve heard plenty of preaching about rebuilding the altar. I’ve heard sermons about presenting our body as living sacrifice. But the hardest lesson for anybody in Christian service to learn is that we cannot help God out in the slightest by warming up the altar in the energy of the flesh. We try to start a fire of our own and think that’ll help out God’s fire. It won’t do it. We’re ashamed to be laughed at by the world. We don’t dare face the Midianites with Gideon’s band, so we mob-o-lize.
We don’t mobilize, we mob-o-lize a multitude who know little and care less about spiritual warfare, who never have understood that the Bible is the Lord’s and the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. We’re afraid to face old Goliath today with sling and stone. We want to wear the latest equipment, and Saul’s armory is working overtime. We must be up-to-date and borrow all the technique of the world to do the work of God. But you can’t organize revivals as you do secular things, as the world puts on its drives and campaigns.
You can’t run a church as you would a business corporation. You can’t work up mere human enthusiasm to put over the work of the Lord. We all give lip service, of course, to the Holy Spirit: “Not by might nor power, but by my Spirit” (Zech. 4:6). We sing, “Kindle a flame of sacred love in these cold hearts of ours” (Isaac Watts, "Come Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove,” 1707). But actually we’re so wired up to our own devices that if the fire doesn’t fall from heaven, we can turn on a switch and produce some false fire of our own. And if there’s no sound of a mighty rushing wind, we’ve got the bellows all set to blow hot air instead. But God answers by fire, not by feelings, not by fame, not by finances. You can blow up quite a blaze today on Carmel. We can do it, yes. But people are not crying out today, “The LORD, he is the God” (1 Kings 18:39).
Vance Hanver, When God Breaks Through: Sermons on Revival, edited and complied by Dennis J. Hester (Grand Rapids, MI; Kregel Publications, 2003), 54-55; emphasis mine
(HT: Kairos Journal- registration required)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Eric Alexander and Unction

At the recent pastors’ luncheon in Memphis I mentioned previously, I had a number of good conversations. One was with a pastor who told me about a fairly recent conversation he had with Eric Alexander, the Scottish preacher regarded by many as one of the great preachers of our era. The man with whom I spoke expressed to Alexander his appreciation saying, “When I hear you preach I sense the real presence of God.” Alexander thanked him saying, “That is something for which I have prayed all my ministry.”
I thought that this was a humble way to receive such a compliment and a good encouragement to pray regularly for the Lord’s blessing on our preaching, for what the Puritans called ‘unction.’ We must labor to understand the text and to express it well; but, then it all depends on the Lord’s blessing of our labors to take His word and apply it powerfully to the hearts and minds of men.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

J. C. Ryle on the Need for Preachers

I recently spoke with someone who only half jokingly said, “We already have enough preachers.” I took issue with the statement, conceding that we do have many filling the office but not enough properly preaching the word and overseeing souls (indeed many not even considering that such oversight is their duty- for which they will answer to God! Heb 13:17)
Then a friend who is desperately searching (so far in vain) for a church in her area where they can find straightforward biblical exposition sent this quote to me.

"Let me leave this branch of my subject with an earnest request that all who pray will never forget to make supplications and prayers and intercession for the ministers of Christ, that there never may be wanting a due supply of them at home and in the mission field, that they may be kept sound in the faith and holy in their lives, and that they may take heed to themselves as well as to the doctrine (I Timothy 4:16)."
J.C. Ryle, "Holiness"

Fellow pastors, may we labor to be such preachers and do all we can to help and encourage the development of more such preachers.