Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Reformation Day

Happy Reformation Day! I hope you make much of this day and the truths it commemorates with you family and church this weekend. My family gathered around last night to listen to Max McLean’s wonderful rendition of Luther’s defense at Worms, “Martin Luther’s- Here I Stand” (available for free download through tomorrow!). He includes not only Luther’s speech, but also sets the scene well and records Luther’s prayer before his defense. It is very well done.

Sadly, some Baptists think they have no part in this. They believe the Reformation is someone else’s story, and it does not relate to them. This is simply the separatist folly that afflicts us in various places. The Church was blessed by the recovery of the gospel, and we ought to celebrate that.

I pulled down an old book I found a few years ago titled, Scenes in Luther’s Life. It was published in 1848 by the American Baptist Publication Society (the author’s name is not given). This Baptist work was written, it says, to celebrate the work of God in the life of Martin Luther and to draw lessons from his life for us today. The author clearly believes this connects to the Baptist story. The introductory essay closes with this paragraph:

“The Reformation, therefore, in whatever aspect viewed, must be interesting to all classes of men. Its history cannot be studied too critically, or understood too well. Its leaders, also, especially Luther who was the most prominent, are our bothers, whose thoughts and feelings, joys and sorrows, conflicts and victories; it affords great pleasure to understand.”
Amen. Let us remember the past that we might be faithful in the present and future.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Funeral Message Online

Following some request I have posted the print version of the funeral message for my brother. It is basically complete except for the gospel proclamation at the end.
I have been delayed in getting this up due some technical issues, and that has caused me to reflect on the fact that it has finally, in full form, gone up just as we get to Reformation Day. It seems to me appropriate in a few ways.
1. Doug had a great appreciation for the Reformation and the truths recovered there.
2. In fact some of these Reformation truths were what he most liked to talk about.
3. One of the last things he did was to order study bibles drawing from the Reformation for his daughters.
4. The truth of justification by faith, far from merely an academic, abstract doctrine, is a central ground of comfort in the light of death.
“to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom 4:5)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Luther and the Reformation

The Van Neste household has been gearing up for Reformation Day this weekend as we celebrate the work of God through Martin Luther and others recovering the gospel of grace. In thinking about this I returned again to a book which is a treasure in my library, What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian, Edited by Ewald M. Plass. I commend this book to you as a good one to but for yourself for a Reformation Day present!

In this volume I found the following quote from Luther on the beginning of the Reformation. May we also be so committed to the Word of God and bold in its teaching.

“I, Doctor Martin, was called and compelled to become a doctor out of pure obedience, without my will. So I had to assume the office of a teacher (das Doctorampt) and swear and promise my most beloved Holy Scripture that I would preach and teach it faithfully and purely. In the course of this teaching the papacy blocked my way and wanted to keep me from doing so. But it fared as you may see, and it will fare increasingly worse and will not be able to defend itself against me. In the name and at the call of God I will ‘tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon [I will] trample under feet’ (Ps. 91:13). And this shall be begun during my life and completed after my death. St. John Huss prophesied of me when he wrote from his prison in Bohemia: They will no roast a goose (for Huss means a goose), but after a hundred years they will hear a swan sing; him they will have to tolerate. And so it shall continue, if it please God.” (p. 1175)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Spurgeon, All of Grace

Many of you have probably already read Spurgeon’s little classic, All of Grace. I have had a copy for years but never read it. Then fairly recently I got an audio copy of someone reading it (from Christian Audio as their free download one month). My soul as soared as I have listened to this book the last couple of weeks! I strongly commend this book, and I think listening to it may have been the best medium- at least for me.

There were so many portions that I thought about quoting here because Spurgeon is so theologically rich and so good with his words and illustrations. The main point I want to emphasize here, though, is what a powerful example of real pastoral preaching this little book is. Spurgeon is not here simply restating truths (however glorious those truths may be). Rather he is in earnest to communicate these truths well to the benefit of his reader. This thought came to mind repeatedly as I listened and then Spurgeon himself made it explicit in his closing when he wrote:

It is all in vain, dear reader, that you and I have met, unless you have actually laid hold upon Christ Jesus, my Lord. On my part there was a distinct desire to benefit you, and I have done my best to that end. It pains me that I have not been able to do you good, for I have longed to win that privilege. I was thinking of you when I wrote this page, and I laid down my pen and solemnly bowed my knee in prayer for everyone who should read it. It is my firm conviction that great numbers of readers will get a blessing, even though you refuse to be of the number. But why should you refuse? If you do not desire the choice blessing which I would have brought to you, at least do me the justice to admit that the blame of your final doom will not lie at my door. When we two meet before the great white throne you will not be able to charge me with having idly used the attention which you were pleased to give me while you were reading my little book. God knoweth I wrote each line for your eternal good. ... The tears are in my eyes as I look at you and say, Why will you die?

This same sort of personal earnestness ought to mark our preaching. May we always have our specific people clearly in mind as we prepare. We are not merely describing truths but proclaiming them with the intention that our people understand and benefit eternally.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Patristics and Pastoral Preaching

In his volume on Jeremiah and Lamentationsin the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Dean Wenthe makes this comment:
“It should also be noted that for all their imaginative and intellectual capacities, the Fahters remained pastors. Their use of the sacred Scriptures was not the abstract debate of the academy but the concrete pastoral care and nurture of the church. Hence, their use of the Old and New Testaments is shaped by churchly needs. Homiies, catechesis, apologetic and liturgy are prominent. Even the few commentaries are deeply pastoral in that their exposition addresses the church’s life.” (xix-xx)

I think this serves not only as a description of these leaders of the past but also as the goal for us today. May the same be said of us. I don’t know if anyone else is like me, but I remember thinking early on in my training that this deep connection to actual church life was a limitation of people’s work- they were not able to step back and analyze more objectively. I now see the folly of my thinking, and this description is what I have in mind when I talk about “pastoral preaching” and the way in which oversight impacts preaching.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Teaching People to Die Well

Justin Wainscott and Matt Crawford have recently posted helpful items on the importance of theology for helping us to live and die well. Justin reflected on the first two question s of the Heidelberg Catechism in light of preparation for a funeral and Matt quoted the trial of several early Christian martyrs in North Africa.

Both of these brought back to mind a comment from J. I. Packer in the recently released volume of essays on his life and work, J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future: The Impact of His Life and Thought. In Packer’s response essay he wrote:
“ ‘Our people die well,’ said John Wesley somewhere, commending Methodist Christianity. Dying well, as the final climactic step in living well, was a prominent theme in older Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox teaching on the Christian life and in some places may still be so. But in the West death has become the great unmentionable, like sex in Victorian times, and little is taught to Christians in these days about preparing for it. Instead, we live as if we shall be here forever, and very many churchpeople, one fears, have matched the self-protective young man in Charles Williams’s Many Dimensions who ‘passed . . . a not unsuccessful life in his profession, and the only intruder he found himself unable to cope with was death.’ This being so, and knowing as we do that life in this world is a terminal condition, it is surely most important that our catechesis should promote readiness for dying. When the late Dag Hammarskjold wrote that only one who knows how to die can know how to live, he was absolutely right, and our churches are much at fault in having forgotten it.” (177)

These are reminders of important truths. As pastors, our teaching and preaching is not merely abstract. We must keep in mind that we are preparing people to live well and ultimately to die well. We will all die. Let us prepare to do so well.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hezekiah Harvey on Care of Souls

Here is another quote I used in my paper calling for a renewed emphasis on oversight of souls. This one is from the book on pastoral ministry by Hezekiah Harvey, prominent Baptist pastor and theologian in the 19th centruy Northeast US.

The care of souls is the radical idea of the pastor’s office. he is a shepherd to whom a flock has been committed to guide, to fee, to defend; and the divine command enjoins: ‘Take heed to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers’ (Acts 20:28). he is to be the personal religious guide, the confidential Christian friend, of his charge. Our Lord, in his description of the Good Shepherd, said, ‘The sheep hear his voice; and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before the, and the sheep follow him; for they know his voice’ (John 10: 3-4) Each member of his flock is a soul entrusted to his care by the Lord; and if true to his trust, he is one of those who ‘watch for souls as they must give account.’ Paul, when in Ephesus, taught not only publicly, but ‘from house to house;’ and in his farewell charge to the elders of that city he said, ‘Watch, and remember that, by the space of three years, I ceased not to warn every man night and day with tears’ (Acts 20:31).
- Hezekiah Harvey, The Pastor: His Qualifications and Duties (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society, 1879), 78.

Monday, October 19, 2009

P. H. Mell the Pastor

Here is another quote I used in my recent paper arguing for the centrality of the oversight of souls. This one concerns P. H. Mell, a pastor who also served as President of the SBC multiple times.

“ ‘Very much of his power as a preacher lay in the way he had of getting close to his people. His custom was to visit all of them, and so anxious were they not to miss the expected pleasure that he made engagements ahead often as far as three months. The humblest householder was glad to entertain ‘Brother Mell,’ and the same ease of manner characterized him whether he sat at the bountiful board of the rich, or broth the plain bread and partook of the cup of milk from the pine table of the poorest. . . . If a poor man was harassed with debt, broken hearted over a willful child, or bowed down with bereavement, he never felt his load to be quite so heavy after he had talked it over with ‘Brother Mell’.”

(reminiscences of Mrs. D.B. Fitzgerald about Patrick Hues Mell, in P.H. Mell, Jr. The Life of Patrick Hues Mell [Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1991.], 61-62)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Keller on Overseeing Souls

Justin Wainscot just pointed me to a recent post by Tim Keller on our theme here. In the post Keller mentions that he fears too many think that expository preaching is a “magic bullet” that will make everything else in a church go right. If you know Tim Keller you know that he is not demeaning preaching. But he goes on to say that too many want only to preach but not to engage the daily lives of their people. He rightly points to Calvin as an example of depth of preaching combined with real interaction with his people.

The entire post (which is brief) is worth reading. Here is his closing:
If you put in too much time in your study on your sermon you put in too little time being out with people as a shepherd and a leader. Ironically, this will make you a poorer preacher. It is only through doing people-work that you become the preacher you need to be--someone who knows sin, how the heart works, what people's struggles are, and so on. Pastoral care and leadership (along with private prayer) are to a great degree sermon preparation. More accurately, it is preparing the preacher, not just the sermon. Through pastoral care and leadership you grow from being a Bible commentator into a flesh and blood preacher. (emphasis added)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Piper on Overseeing Souls

Justin Taylor today posted on John Piper moving to the pastorate 30 years ago. In that post he cited an excerpt which John piper’s dad sent to him advising him on the realities of the pastorate. There is much wisdom here and it affirms the argument often made here of the importance of involvement n the lives of your people. The full excerpt cited by Justin is well worth reading, but here is an excerpt of the excerpt.

"Now I want you to remember a few things about the pastorate. Being a pastor today involves more than merely teaching and preaching. You’ll be the comforter of the fatherless and the widow. You’ll counsel constantly with those whose homes and hearts are broken. You’ll have to handle divorce problems and a thousand marital situations. You’ll have to exhort and advise young people involved in sordid and illicit sex, with drugs and violence. You’ll have to visit the hospitals, the shut-ins, the elderly. A mountain of problems will be laid on your shoulders and at your doorstep."

"Just ask yourself, son, if you are prepared not only to preach and teach, but also to weep over men’s souls, to care for the sick and dying, and to bear the burdens carried today by the saints of God."

HT: Chad Davis

P.S. Justin's photo of Piper 30 years ago is well worht seeing. :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cura Animi

I am currently refreshing my Latin by working back through a grammar with a friend. It has been a delight. Today in the exercises for translation was this sentence:
Pauci viri de cura animi cogitabant.

Which means, “Few men were thinking about the care of the soul.”

Given the concern of this blog and the paper I gave this last week, it felt providential. The Latin source being summarized probably had something a bit different in mind, but I think it is true today in the church that too few people are giving serious attention to the care of souls.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Conference Completed

I was away from blogging most of last week with my duties at our “Southern Baptists, Evangelicals and the Future of Denominationalism” conference. I was very pleased with the way things came together. I think ti was an important conversation about the future of the SBC with implications for broader evangelicalism.

Several bloggers gave summaries including:
Trevin Wax
Steve Weaver
Micah Fries
Baptist 21

Also audio of all the sessions are now available.

My paper was an exposition of the central thesis of this blog: that the oversight of souls is the heart of pastoral ministry. In the context of this conference I argued that the future of any broader church movement (any denomination or ‘evangelicalism’) is dependent on the health of specific local churches, and the health of churches will depend on (among other things) faithful pastoral ministry. Yet, this vision of caring for souls, it seems to me, is not a common idea in the church today. I am calling for a recovery of this vision, arguing that is the command of Scripture and the testimony of the church through the ages.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Oversight of Souls: Pastoral Ministry in Southern Baptist and Evangelical Life

This week Union will be hosting the “Southern Baptists, Evangelicals and the Future of Denominationalism” conference which I have mentioned here previously. As part of that conference I will be giving a paper under the title of this post. My aim will be to argue that the oversight of souls is the heart of pastoral ministry. As part fo that argument I have been gathering quotes from pastors voer the centuries that exemplify this goal.

One great source is the letters of Samuel Rutherford (available in complete text on Google Books). Letter 225 is particularly powerful as he writes to his beloved church while he is away from them in exile in Aberdeen. Here are two excerpts from that letter:

This is the heart of a pastor.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Erskine on Knowing Your Flock

Just this week I came across this quote from John Erskine. He is discussing various challenges of pastoral ministry and urges his readers to know their flocks. This is just one more piece of the long chain through the history of the church of understanding pastoral ministry as involving personal knowledge of one’s people.

“Sermons, like arrows shot at a venture, seldom hit the mark when we do not know the character of our hearers; and, in many instances, our knowledge of their character must be imperfect if we contract no familiarity with them. Yet this, however desirable, is next to impossible in a numerous charge, or in a charge almost continually shifting its inhabitants.” (191-192)
- John Erskine, “Difficulties of the Pastoral Office,” in John Brown, compiler, The Christian Pastor's Manual(1826. Reprint. Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 2003)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Bray on Wright and Justification

As I mentioned previously Dr. Gerald Bray is with us at Union for a couple of weeks as our Scholar-in-Residence. On Tuesday he spoke at our Christian Studies colloquium addressing the current debate on justification particularly the recent interaction between John Piper and N. T. Wright. Bray’s editorial on this topic in the Churchman stirred a lot of conversation previously.

The audio of this lecture is now available here. Bray was informative and entertaining as always! Perhaps the most intriguing portion of the lecture is the beginning where he discusses his personal interaction with and knowledge of Piper and Wright. Bray described the trajectory of Wright’s thought as beginning in a thoroughly Calvinistic framework (Bray referenced Wrights first book, a co-authored piece, published by Banner of Truth) to which was then mixed a more critical approach to biblical studies. Bray then described Wright’s position (apparently his work on Paul) as essentially hyper-Calvinistic.

This is an informative lecture worth listening to.