Monday, October 31, 2011

A Cup of Joy and Sorrow

I have started re-reading Douglas Kelley's wonderful exposition of 2 Corinthians, New Life in the Wasteland. Dr. Kelley pays special attention to Paul's insights on the pains and joys of Christian ministry.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

8 For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

- 2 Corinthians 1:3-11

Dr. Kelley writes:

Paul writes about the value of difficulties, pain, and suffering that God may call us to endure from time to time in our Christian service. The Lord mingles our cup very tenderly and graciously with joy and sorrow, testing and pleasure. But from time to time he does call every true servant of his to go through dark places; it is especially this situation that seems to be in view in 2 Corinthians...

Normally the apostle dwells on God's blessing to the church, as he does in 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians; here he does not dwell on what God has done in the lives of the Corinthians, but on what God had done in his own life. Now why does he take this tack in the introduction? The reason is that in verses 3-7 Paul is giving thanks for what God has done in his life in precise connection with the pain that these Corinthians had caused him. He is saying, "You've hurt me but I can even thank God for the hurt that you caused me because good has come out of it." It is a word of grace and forgiveness to this church; it takes a generous and big-hearted man to utter such a word. "You hurt me but God enlarged me through this and further blessings will come to the church through this." (p. 24)

The Gospel is for Pastors Too...

I am looking forward to reading Tullian's new book Jesus + Nothing = Everything. In it he tells of the tumultuous first years of his ministry [beginning in 2009] as the new pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. Following D. James Kennedy's death, Coral Ridge began pursuing Tchividjian to become their new senior pastor. Tullian however was committed to the church he had planted. After much prayer and planning the decision was made to merge the two churches. And then the proverbial shoe dropped.

With the merger and the leadership transition, a small but vocal group of long-time Coral Ridge members immediately began voicing opposition to practically any and every change we initiated or even considered at the church. Blogs were posted, notes and letters were circulated—some anonymously—with false accusations about me. Just three months after I arrived, a vigorous petition drive was started to get me removed, and it gained steam. Some people began lamenting the huge mistake they’d made in agreeing to the merger, and they grumbled that the whole thing had turned into a “hostile takeover.” Their tone was frequently heated and vicious. Battle lines were drawn, rumors raced, and the spirits of those who supported me sagged. There was a crescendo of misunderstandings, frustration, and pain.

I continued in my determination to bring about what we believed were needed changes at the church, but the virulence of the opposition to them was almost more than I could bear. I was undergoing the shelling of my life—and I was plenty ready to quit and escape elsewhere. I was informed of possible other job offers from around the country, and believe me, they were tempting. It would have been so easy just to walk away from the turmoil I was in and never look back (pp. 21-22).
Church leadership is dangerous. In our context, the danger is usually not physical. Rather, it is dangerous spiritually and emotionally. It is dangerous for a pastor's wife who must help her husband to carry the load. She feels the sting of criticisms leveled against her beloved. In some unfortunate cases, the pastor's wife will be treated poorly by those who oppose her husband's leadership. It is dangerous for a pastor's children who, depending on their age, are able to see their father struggling. Imagine what it must do to a child's love for the body of Christ when they perceive it to be the very thing that makes their father sad.

This is why pastors must regularly, daily, even moment-by-moment declare to themselves gospel truth. Because of the nature of pastoral leadership, the pastor will regularly face the disapproval and even anger of those he is called to lead. There are times when he will respond sinfully which will add the weight of guilt to his already burdened heart. In those times (and many others) the pastor needs the liberating truth of the free grace of God mediated through the Lord Jesus. He needs to learn to take comfort in the acceptance of his crucified Savior, the love of his Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. This the pastor needs, for there will be many days when the costly acceptance of Jesus will be the only acceptance he knows.

Yes, the Reformation still matters

From an article entitled "Abandon the Reformation, Abandon the Gospel" Matthew Barrett:

Does Reformation theology matter today? Absolutely. It is tempting to think of the Reformation as a mere political or social movement. In reality, however, the Reformation was a fight over the gospel itself. The reformers argued that God's free and gracious acceptance of guilty sinners on the basis of the work of Christ alone is at the heart of the gospel. While the political and social context has changed since the 16th century, nevertheless, this issue remains at the forefront. Much could be said as to why, but here are two reasons as to why the Reformation matters today.

First, for Luther justification by faith alone is the article by which the church stands or falls. Today, however, many question and outright reject the centrality of justification. Take the late Clark Pinnock, for example, who attributes Luther and subsequent Protestants' hangup with justification to fear of a wrathful God. Consequently, Pinnock says, "the legal dimension has dominated our thinking about salvation" (Flame of Love, 155). While the legal dimension is important, it is "not necessarily the central motif." Justification is just one step on the way to transformation. Therefore, it "is not the principal article of all Christian doctrine, as Luther claimed."

What is Pinnock's alternative proposal then? "Being saved is more like falling in love with God." In fact, Pinnock says, "legal thinking and the doctrine of justification are not as prominent in the Bible as we have made them." And here is the kicker: "Luther's rediscovery of justification was important for himself and for 16th-century reforms, but it is not as central for us, and not even for an astute interpretation of Paul's theology."

But God's justification of the ungodly is at the very center of Paul theology (Rom. 4:5). This is why the gospel is such good news! The news is so good because not only has Christ died and risen again (Acts 2:22-36), but now we have the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). No wonder Paul can say that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, for "in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith.'" Therefore, Luther's awakening after reading Romans 1:17 was essentially a gospel awakening. To divorce justification from the gospel is to ignore our basic human predicament: how are we, as guilty sinners, to find favor before a holy God? Clearly this was the question in Paul's mind when he concluded, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1).

Second, there is a strong push in our present day either to return or join with Rome. The most notable example of returning in our present day is Francis J. Beckwith, former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, who resigned from his presidency in 2007. While stating that he hopes his Catholic brothers will resist triumphalism, he unequivocally stated, "I, of course, believe that Catholicism is in fact true in all its dogmatic theology, including its views of scripture, ethics, church authority, ecumenical councils, etc." (Return to Rome, 12).

Others argue that evangelicals and Catholics, while remaining distinct, can now join together in light of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, and the Joint Declaration on Justification. Many believe the rift between Protestants and Catholics has been at least substantially resolved. Hence Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom's book, Is the Reformation Over?. (See Scott M. Mantesch, "Is the Reformation Over? John Calvin, Roman Catholicism, and Contemporary Ecumenical Conversations" Themelios, August 2011.)

But as Michael Horton has recently argued (and R. C. Sproul before him), the Reformation is far from over. "There has been no material change in the Roman Catholic position on the issues that led to the excommunication of the Reformers. Even the Joint Declaration overcame the central doctrine of controversy only by embracing a Roman Catholic definition of justification as forgiveness and actual transformation (i.e., sanctification)." Rome continues to reject the evangelical affirmation of justification by grace alone through faith alone. I agree with Horton when he states that it is not about Luther; it is about the gospel.

While many other challenges to Reformation theology could be identified, these two examples sufficiently demonstrate that Reformation theology continues to be at the center of discussion. Many younger evangelicals are embracing Reformation theology today. But the challenge we will face lies in how to defend Reformation theology to light of new ideologies that seek to undermine its credibility. I believe that the linchpin in the effort to defend and apply Reformation theology today can be found in the simple truth made so clear by Luther himself---namely, that the gospel itself is at stake, just as it was in the 16th century. To abandon Reformation theology is to abandon the gospel.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

DeYoung on preaching...

Kevin DeYoung was the keynote speaker this year at Westminster's annual preaching conference. The addresses were excellent.

Tuesday, October 25:
Burnt to a Crisp - Rev. Kevin DeYoung

Wednesday, October 26:
How Can a Biblical Sermon Be So Boring? The Case for Clarity, Specificity, and Authenticity - Rev. Kevin DeYoung

How Can a Biblical Sermon Be So Boring?: The Case for Ingenuity, Spontaneity, and Authority - Rev. Kevin DeYoung

Does the Trinity Change the Way We Preach? - Rev. Dr. Carl Trueman

I.C.B.I. Again? The Living Word and the Lively Pulpit - Rev. Dr. David B. Garner

The King's Speech: Seeing Preaching as Kingdom Leadership - Rev. John Currie

Bearing our Shame - Rev. Kevin DeYoung

Also, if you attend Church of the Saviour, you will recognize some of the attendees from the pictures.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Church discipline is the gospel in action...

From an article by Bobby Jamieson:

Church discipline is not a dirty chore—it’s an imitation of the Father’s own relentless pursuit of us. It’s the gospel in action.

The Father did not leave us in our sin, but came to us, and through the gospel rebuked our sin and freely forgave us. So we should not leave others to fester and ultimately perish in their sin, but instead search them out, chase them down, and do everything in our power to bring them back to God’s grace and forgiveness.

When we confront a sinning brother, we should have in hand not only a rebuke but also a blank check of forgiveness. If the brother repents, the check gets quickly written and handed over, and we’ve both won (v. 15).

Without church discipline, sin wins. It fractures fellowship. It sows bitterness and division. It chokes the life out of churches. But God, in the gospel, doesn’t let sin win. He forgives its penalty. He breaks its power. He restores what it stole and heals what it broke.

To rebuke sin and extend forgiveness is to push back the darkness that threatens to extinguish the light of the gospel in someone’s heart. It’s to hack at the roots of evil which try to strangle the life out of the church.
Read the whole thing HERE.

Jesus Plus Nothing...

Tullian Tchividjian's new book, "Jesus + Nothing = Everything" is now available.

He was recently interviewed about the stormy first few years of his ministry at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. I identified with much of what he said although I have never had to face things like petitions for my dismissal and vandalism to my car. Of course, there is still time. I was also moved by his comments regarding the toll those trials took on his wife. But through it all it was the indellible beauty of the Gospel that sustained him.

I’d never realized how dependent I’d become on human approval and acceptance until so much of it was taken away in the roiling controversy at Coral Ridge. In every church I’d been a part of, I was widely accepted and approved and appreciated. I’d always felt loved in church. Now, for the first time, I found myself in the uncomfortable position of being deeply disliked and distrusted, and by more than a few people. Now I realized just how much I’d been relying on something other than the approval and acceptance and love that were already mine in Jesus. I was realizing in a fresh way the now-power of the gospel—that the gospel doesn’t simply rescue us from the past and rescue us for the future; it also rescues us in the present from being enslaved to things like fear, insecurity, anger, self-reliance, bitterness, entitlement, and insignificance. Through my pain, I was being convinced all over again that the power of the gospel is just as necessary and relevant after you become a Christian as it is before.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Love and Discipline Within The Church

The following are excellent resources on the meaning of membership and discipline within the church.

Sermons by Jonathan Leeman:

Jonathan's outstanding book The Surprising Offense of God's Love.

HT: 9Marks

This book has me interested...

Phillip Carey, professor of philosophy and director of the philosophy program at Eastern University, has written a book that has peaked my interest. This is not a recommendation yet because I have just started reading it. But so far I like what I am reading.

The book is entitled Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don't Have to Do. I must admit, I love the subtitle.

In the preface (the only part I have read so far) Dr. Carey writes:

[It] is Christ who redeems us, makes us new, and transforms us. Our practical efforts to transform ourselves - our good works - are just not relevant to this task. Our good works are for our neighbors and provide various outward disciplines that are needed to give order to our lives. The inward transformation of our hearts, however, happens not through anything we try to do but through faith in the gospel, because that's how we receive Christ. He is the One who really changes us.

"The new evangelical theology," which I criticize at length in this book, is my name for a set of supposedly practical ideas about transforming your life that get in the way of believing the gospel. They are the result of a long history of trying to be "practical" in evangelical theology, which has now thoroughly adapted itself to consumer society...

[The new evangelical theology] is essentially a set of interconnected techniques or ritual practices for making God real in your life, establishing a relationship with God, and so on - as if all that kind of thing really depended on you. The techniques all have the characteristic that they turn you away from external things like the word of God, Christ in the flesh, and the life of the church, in order to seek God in your heart, your life, and your experience. Underneath a lot of talk about being personal with God, it's a spirituality that actually leaves you alone with yourself...

[The] best way to change our lives is to hear Christ preached, learn who he is, and put our whole trust in him. The alternative not only leads us away from Christian faith over time, but in the present it has the drawback that it's really boring. Here I think is where pastors have been most seriously misled by the new evangelical theology. Of course, they want to be "practical," to change people and transform their lives, but they preach all about our lives, our experiences, and our hearts - as if the only reason we came to church was to hear about ourselves. The secret about this, which would be really liberating for pastors to learn, is that hearing about ourselves rather Christ all the time is dreary and disheartening.
The table of contents also gets me interested:
1. Why you don't have to hear God's voice in your heart
Or, How God really speaks today

2. Why you don't have to believe your intuitions are the Holy Spirit
Or, How the Spirit shapes our hearts

3. Why you don't have to 'Let God take control"
Or, How obedience is for responsible adults

4. Why you don't have to 'find God's will for your life'
Or, How faith seeks wisdom

5. Why you don't have to be sure you have the right motivations
Or, How love seeks the good

6. Why you don't have to worry about splitting head from heart
Or, How thinking welcomes feeling

7. Why you don't have to keep getting transformed all the time
Or, How virtues make a lasting change in us

8. Why you don't always have to experience joy
Or, How God vindicates the afflicted

9. Why "applying it to your life" is boring
Or, How the gospel is beautiful

10. Why basing faith on experience leads to a post-Christian future
Or, How Christian faith needs Christian teaching

If you know me at all, or ever listen to me preach then you will not be surprised that I was refreshed and delighted just by reading those chapter headings. This evening I will read chapter one and let you know what I think.

Church, Change, and Conflict

In 2009 Tullian Tchividjian was called to be the senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. It made headlines not only because Tullian is the grandson of Billy Graham but because Coral Ridge had been led by only one pastor during her history: D. James Kennedy. Another dynamic made the situation unique. Tchividjian's church would merge with Coral Ridge. The opportunity raised exciting possibilities but also myriad problems. And the problems came. And they came quickly.

Recently, Tullian was interviewed by Christianity Today about the challenges, wounds, and heartbreaks he experienced as the new pastor of Coral Ridge. While the situation is unique, the things Tullian experienced are, sadly, not unusual for a pastor called to lead change.

Some of the reasons you were opposed seem trivial. You didn't wear a robe, like Dr. Kennedy did. You weren't political enough from the pulpit. Was there something beneath those objections?

Not preaching politics was a big one. But yes, I'm sure there was something underlying those complaints. Part of it may have been an old-fashioned power struggle. There were people who had been in places of power under Kennedy who felt that this was their church, and they should be in charge of running it. I think some of them probably saw in me a young guy who would be wide-eyed by coming here and would basically do whatever they said. What they underestimated was that we had prayed and thought hard about what God wanted this church to be, and we were very determined to get there.

What was your initial reaction to the resistance?

Well, we expected it. But it's one thing to talk about war and another to be a soldier on the ground when the bullets are flying. It was hard. It was the first time in my life where I was leading a church where I knew many people didn't like me.

Things started blowing up pretty quickly because there were things that had to change immediately. There were issues on staff that had to be addressed immediately, dangerous things. Yet if you're not in the know, all you see are these changes taking place. To some it looked like we were just being disrespectful, that we were bulls in a china shop. We were coming in as the guest and taking over. So there were a lot of those kinds of accusations. They weren't accurate, but we couldn't disclose all the reasons we had to make the changes.

It was tremendously uncomfortable coming to worship every Sunday morning during that time not knowing who liked you and who hated you. There were people in the choir who, when I would stand up to preach, would get up and walk out. People would sit in the front row and just stare me down as I preached. It was extremely uncomfortable. People would grab me in the hallway between services and say, "You're ruining this church, and I'm going to do everything I can to stop you." I would come out to my car and it would be keyed. Some people would stop at nothing to intimidate.

They put petitions on car windows during the worship service. They started an anonymous blog, which was very painful. Here we were trying to build consensus and there's this anonymous blog fueling rumors and lies. The blog almost ruined my wife's life. Anonymous letters were sent out to the entire congregation with accusations and character assassinations. It was absolutely terrible.

Did you ever question yourself and think, Was I really called here?

Oh, definitely. The shelling got so bad I thought to myself this was a huge mistake. Two churches are ruined now. I could hardly eat, had trouble sleeping, and was continually battling nausea. I felt at the absolute end of myself. In the summer of 2009 when we were in the midst of this, my family and I left to go on vacation. On the first day of vacation, I went out on the balcony of a cabin we rent, looking over the Gulf of Mexico. And I finally just unleashed all of my fury on God. What have you done? I've been trying to keep a stiff upper lip and play the role of martyr for truth. But bottom line is, I'm mad. I've done everything you asked me to do. I put my baby, the church that I planted, on the altar. I didn't want to do this in the first place but I submitted and did it. And this is the payment I get from you?

But then I started thinking, why does this bother me so much? Yes, I have people writing nasty things about me, lying about me, spreading rumors about my team. They're after power. And they're not getting it, and these are the tactics they're using. But why does that bother me so much? I remember saying to God in that moment, "Just give me my old life back." And he said, "It's not your old life you want back. It's your old idols you want back. And I love you too much to give them to you."

I opened up my Bible. In the reading plan I was following, it so happened that the day's passages included the first chapter of Colossians. As I read those verses, my eyes were opened. My true situation came into focus. I'd never realized how dependent I'd become on human approval and acceptance until so much of it was taken away in the roiling controversy at Coral Ridge.

In every church I'd been a part of, I was widely accepted and approved and appreciated. I'd always felt loved in church. Now, for the first time, I found myself in the uncomfortable position of being deeply disliked and distrusted, and by more than a few people. Now I realized just how much I'd been relying on something other than the approval and acceptance and love that were already mine in Jesus.

I was realizing in a fresh way the now-power of the gospel—that the gospel doesn't simply rescue us from the past and rescue us for the future; it also rescues us in the present from being enslaved to things like fear, insecurity, anger, self-reliance, bitterness, entitlement, and insignificance. Through my pain, I was being convinced all over again that the power of the gospel is just as necessary and relevant after you become a Christian as it is before.

When that biblical reality gripped my heart, I was free like I had never felt before in my life. It gives you the backbone to walk into a room full of church leaders and say "this is what we're going to do and this is why we're going to do it, even if it gets me thrown into the street."

There is a fresh I-don't-care-ness that accompanies belief in the gospel. Whether you like me or not doesn't matter, because my worth and my dignity and my identity are anchored in God's approval. Christ won all of the approval and acceptance I need.

Read the whole interview HERE.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On becoming less...

"Rejoice in the good of others, though it eclipses your light, though it makes your parts, your abilities, and your excellencies dimmer in the eyes of others. Were it not for the eminence of some above you, your parts perhaps would shine more brightly and be of high esteem. Yet to rejoice in this from the heart, to bless God from the soul for His gifts and graces in others, that His name may be glorified more by others than I can glorify it myself; to be able to truly say, ‘Though I can do little, yet blessed be God there are some who can do more for God than I, and in this I do and will rejoice’—this is indeed to be able to do much more than others. This shows a great eminence of spirit."
- Jeremiah Burroughs from Excellency of a Gracious Spirit

Lessons from and questions for the seeker church

Kevin DeYoung has written a thoughtful reflection on James Emory White's new book, What They Didn't Teach You In Seminary. Dr. White is a mega-church pastor who happens to be in sympathy with seeker church movement. He is certainly an intelligent man who no doubt cares deeply about the church of Jesus Christ. DeYoung lists a number of lessons that we can learn from the seeker church. He also includes some vital questions for those within the seeker movement to ask themselves.

In his conclusion, DeYoung writes:

I’m not sure how to move forward with the impasse between the YRR [Young, Restless, and Reformed] world and the church growth world. No doubt, there are unfortunate stereotypes on both sides. For our part, we could learn from our seeker church brethren when it comes to administration, strategy, being honest about stagnation and lack of evangelism, and being sensitive to the way we are perceived by outsiders. We can be intellectually snobbish and blissfully unconcerned about whether the church grows, reproduces, or multiplies.

As for those on the seeker church side: I encourage you to read ten theological books for every business book. I encourage you trust in the word of God to do the work of God. I encourage you to listen not just to this culture of Christians, but to the centuries of Christians that have come before. I encourage you to explicitly, unapologetically love theology and teach your people to do the same. I encourage you to worship in such a way that it won’t be out of date in five years. I encourage you to use the language of Zion instead of the language of Collins. I encourage you to proclaim, not just to communicate.

And lastly, I encourage all of us to take a hard look at all the deep theological things we learned in seminary (or should have learned) and consider whether their seeming irrelevance is owing to the them, to our people, or to us.

New Christmas Music

Keith and Kristyn Getty have released a Christmas CD - Joy: An Irish Christmas.

Throw the book at them

2011 is the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. The impact, both religious and cultural, of this event would be difficult to hyperbolize.

Please take time to listen to Carl Trueman's excellent lecture "Throwing the Book at his Enemies: King James I and his Bible."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I preached part 3 of our current series The Mission. It is entitled "One Lord" is taken from Matthew 28:16-18. You can listen to or download it HERE.

Monday, October 17, 2011

No Compromise with the World

Thanks to Carl Trueman at Ref21 for posting the following words from B.B. Warfield:

We see, then, that the Apostle's urgency here [“2 Cor. 6:11 - 7:1”] is against not association with the world, but compromise with the worldly. Compromise! In that one word is expressed a very large part of a Christian's danger in the world. We see it on all sides of us and in every sphere of life. We must be all things to all men, we say, perverting the Apostle's prescription for a working ministry; for there was one thing he would on no account and in no way have us be, even that we may, as we foolishly fancy, win the more; and that is, evil. From evil in all its forms and in all its manifestations he would have us absolutely to separate ourselves; the unclean thing is the thing he would in no circumstances have us handle. Associate with the world, yes! There is no man in it so vile that he has not claims upon us for our association and for our aid. But adopt the standards of the world? No! Not in the least particular. Here our motto must be and that unfailingly: No compromise!

The very thing which the Apostle here presses upon our apprehension is the absolute conflict between the standards of the world and the standards of Christians; and the precise thing which he requires of us is that in our association with the world we shall not take on our necks the alien yoke of an unbeliever's point of view, of an unbeliever's judgment of things, of an unbeliever's estimate of the right and wrong, the proper and improper. In all our association with unbelievers, we, as Christian men, are to furnish the standard; and we are to stand by our Christian standard, in the smallest particular, unswervingly. Any departure from that standard, however small or however desirable it may seem, is treason to our Christianity. We must not, in any case, take the alien yoke of an unbeliever's scheme of life upon our necks.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"Bring the books"

When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.
2 Timothy 4:13

"We do not know what the books were about, and we can only form some guess as to what the parchments were. Paul had a few books which were left, perhaps wrapped up in the cloak, and Timothy was to be careful to bring them. Even an apostle must read. Some of our very ultra Calvinistic brethren think that a minister who reads books and studies his sermon must be a very deplorable specimen of a preacher. A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot, and talks any quantity of nonsense, is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call a dish of dead men's brains—oh! that is the preacher. How rebuked are they by the apostle! He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a men to utter, yet he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books! The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, "Give thyself unto reading." The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men's brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master's service. Paul cries, "Bring the books"—join in the cry."

- Charles Spurgeon

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lay your convictions bare

“When principles that run against your deepest convictions begin to win the day, then battle is your calling, and peace has become sin; you must, at the price of dearest peace, lay your convictions bare before friend and enemy, with all the fire of your faith.”

- Abraham Kuyper

On Guard

To be an elder is a high and sober calling. Scripture makes clear what that calling requires from the man who fills that office. I am fortunate to serve in a church whose elders I am able to honor with a clear conscience. If you are part of a church with faithful elders give thanks to God. They are a blessing.

Carl Trueman writes well of the distinictive qualification for elders:

Last week, I posted a note on Ref21 concerning the importance of guarding the teaching office in the church. As a result of that, I was asked what the implications of such might be for those often called 'ruling elders' in Presbyterianism, men who are called to leadership roles within the church which involve significant doctrinal responsibility but who are not regularly engaged in preaching or the administration of the sacraments.

Such elders are, according to Paul, to be competent to teach (1 Tim. 3:2) and doctrinally sound and trustworthy (Tit. 1:9), in addition to being competent managers of their own lives, above reproach and respected in the wider community outside the church. Needless to say, the vows they take are as serious and as binding as those who preach (incidentally, membership vows are just as solemnly binding; a vow is, after all, a vow). And they do need to take such vows -- accountability is critical for all involved in any way in the public teaching of God's word.

Doctrinal competence is non-negotiable. It is the one major difference between qualifications for being a deacon and being an elder and it speaks clearly to the nature of the office. Elders have responsibility for the doctrinal integrity of the congregations in which they are placed. They are to be sound in life and doctrine and be able to teach. This does not necessarily mean pulpit ministry; but it does mean the ability to instruct others in the faith in some church context, as, for example Sunday school or pastoral visitation or in so

This means that the elders are have a responsibility to make sure that the minister's teaching each week is orthodox. If it is not so, and if they then fail to act, they are as culpable for the propagation of error as the minister himself.

It also means that the elders are to help ensure an environment conducive to the sound teaching of the word. This may take many forms. Most significant, I believe, is the consistent protection of the minister from hypercritical members of the congregation. This is not because the minister is above criticism but because he is always vulnerable to discouragement at the hands of cranks with assorted axes to grind. Elders should function as his bodyguard, weeding out unfair criticism and rebuking crackpots.

Because of the huge responsibility towards the church which elders carry, they are also to continue to study diligently and thus to make sure that their knowledge of theology is constantly being strengthened.

Finally, elders find their place in a structure of accountability which connects
congregation to eldership to presbytery, at least if one is a Presbyterian. The call comes from the congregation. There is no self-appointment to this role any more than there is with ministers. Public accountability to the church is the name of the game. After all, when it comes to the public teaching of the Word and the promotion of that teaching, there are no biblical structures of accountability which are not simultaneously churchly structures of accountability.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Clear thinking on Mormonism

With the presidential campaign in full swing, Mitt Romney's candidacy has brought the issue of Mormonism into the public debate. Mormonism is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. It is not longer the backwoods little cult struggling to survive in northwest Missouri. But while there is more public acceptance of Mormonism than there was in the mid 19th century, it is still as far from Christianity as any other false religion.

Al Mohler writes:

Mormonism does not claim to be just another denomination of Christianity. To the contrary, the central claim of Mormonism is that Christianity was corrupt and incomplete until the restoration of the faith with the advent of the Latter-Day Saints and their scripture, The Book of Mormon. Thus, it is just a matter of intellectual honesty to take Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, at his word when he claimed that true Christianity did not exist from the time of the Apostles until the reestablishment of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods on May 15, 1829.

From a Christian perspective, Mormonism is a new religion, complete with its own scripture, its own priesthood, its own rituals, and its own teachings. Most importantly, those teachings are a repudiation of historic Christian orthodoxy — and were claimed to be so from the moment of Mormonism’s founding forward. Mormonism rejects orthodox Christianity as the very argument for its own existence, and it clearly identifies historic Christianity as a false faith.

Mormonism starts with an understanding of God that rejects both monotheism and the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The Mormon concept of God includes many gods, not one. Furthermore, Mormonism teaches that we are now what God once was and are becoming what He now is. This is in direct conflict with historic Christianity.

Mormonism rejects the Bible as the sole and sufficient authority for the faith, and insists that The Book of Mormon and other authoritative Latter-Day Saints writings constitute God’s final revelation. Furthermore, the authority in Mormonism is mediated through a human priesthood, through whom God is claimed to speak directly and authoritatively to the church. Nothing makes the distinction between Mormonism and historic Christianity more clear than the experience of reading The Book of Mormon. The very subtitle of The Book of Mormon — Another Testament of Jesus Christ — makes one of Mormonism’s central claims directly and candidly: That we need another authority to provide what is lacking in the New Testament...

It is neither slander nor condescension to state clearly that Mormonism is not Christianity. Taking Mormonism on its own terms, one finds a comprehensive set of teachings and doctrines that are self-consciously set against historic Christianity. The larger world may be confused about this, but biblical Christians cannot make this error, for we are certain that the consequences are eternal.

Next, Dr. Mohler addresses whether or not Christians should vote for a Mormon:

It is on this question that Evangelicals must think forcefully, faithfully . . . and fast. We need to recognize that we are asking this question from a privileged historical and political context. For most of our nation’s history, voters have chosen among presidential candidates who were identified, to one degree or another, with some form of Protestant Christianity. To date, for example, America has had only one Roman Catholic president and one Jewish candidate for vice president as a major party nominee.

It can be argued that our contemporary political context puts greater emphasis on the religious identity of candidates at all levels than has ever been experienced in American history. Both major political parties have sought various elements of the religious electorate and have developed strategies accordingly.
Read on HERE.

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I preached a sermon from Matthew 16:13-20 entitled "Christ Builds His Church." You can listen to or download the sermon HERE.

Indelible Grace

This Sunday (October 15) Indelible Grace will be leading worship in all three morning services at Church of the Saviour.

Indelible Grace Music grew out of ministering to college students, primarily through Reformed University Fellowship (RUF). We saw many touched by the gospel, and gripped by the rich theology and great poetry of the hymns of the Church. As these students began to taste more of the depth of the gospel and the richness of the hymn tradition, many began to join the music of their culture with the words of our forefathers (and mothers!), and a movement was born.

Our goal is not change for change's sake, but to rekindle a love of hymns and to invite many who would never associate rich passion with hymns to actually read the words. We believe that we are impoverished if we cut off our ties with the saints of the past, and that we fail to be faithful to God in our own moment of history if we don't attempt to praise Him in forms that are authentic to who we are.

We believe that the words of a hymn actually have more emotional nuance than one piece of music can adequately capture. Thus singing even familiar hymns with different music can bring out shades of meaning that had remained unnoticed. For instance, while the traditional music for Toplady's "Rock of Ages" conveys the power and strength of the words, James Ward's more recent tune brings out the sweetness and tenderness that is also part of the emotion in the lyric.

Many wonderful hymns have unfortunately fallen out of use and part of our love is searching old hymnals for hymns and hymnwriters that have been forgotten. How many today have heard of Anne Steele? She was the first female hymnwriter, the first to write hymns of lament without happy endings, and the first to meditate on the inadequacy of human language to express our love to God. Her hymns are incredibly relevant to what we often consider very modern issues and yet most hymnals include almost nothing by her. But when students read her words, now set to music that connects to them, they are blown away. They are able to have the incredible experience of communing spiritually with a saint who lived and suffered 300 years ago in a little town in the English countryside. All of the sudden, the kingdom of God grows bigger for them. They see that the Body of Christ is huge! We hope that you too can experience the "mystic sweet communion" with those who have gone before us.

But our true goal is even more ambitious. We want to be a voice calling our generation back to something rich and solid and beyond the fluff and the trendy. We want to remind God's people that thinking and worship are not mutually exclusive, and that not everything worth knowing happened in the last three years. We want to invite the Church to appreciate her heritage without idolizing it. We want to open up a world of passion and truth and make it more that just an archaic curiosity for the religiously sentimental. We believe worship is formative, and that it does matter what we think. So, we hope this site will prove helpful in encouraging and nurturing a growing movement. We want to provide resources such as chord charts, CDs, and useful links. But we also want to share with you the stories behind the authors of the hymns, and in many cases the stories behind the writing of the hymns themselves, as well as theological reflections upon the hymns. We believe that this theological poetry is supremely suited for expressing the seeming paradoxes of the faith that drive us to worship. Our prayer is that Jesus would be made more beautiful and believable, and we have found few things better suited for this than hymns.

"O Love incomprehensible, That made Thee bleed for me The Judge of all hath suffered death, To set His prisoner free!"

Soli Deo Gloria, Rev. Kevin Twit
Campus Minister, Reformed University Fellowship at Belmont University

Friday, October 7, 2011


From a disturbing article published by the Schaeffer Institute:

When I was with another church growth consulting firm, we did a major study of pastors and came up with some astounding statistics. We found that 90% of pastors work more than 50 hours a week. One out of three pastors state that being in the ministry is clearly hazardous for their families. One out of three pastors felt totally burned out within the first five years of ministry. Over 70% of pastors do not have anyone they would consider to be a friend, and hardly any pastors had any close friends. Ninety percent (90%) of pastors feel they were not adequately trained to cope with ministry coordination and the demands of the congregation. Seventy-five percent (75%) of pastors experience a significant crisis that they faced due to stress in the ministry (Fuller Institute, 1989-1992). We at the FASICLD retested that data by various means starting in 1998 and also retested the results in an internet survey form several times over the last eight years. We found it has slightly worsened. Most pastors now work up to and more than 60 hours a week. Hence, why the divorce rate among pastors is rising and pastor’s children rarely stay in the church or keep their faith. In both studies, over 40% of the pastors reported serious conflicts with their parishioners every month. This leaves pastors physically tired, spiritually weary, and even distant from God! Thus, they cannot properly minister or connect with their flock.

Repenting of Ministry

A story from Reuters records the following sad words concerning Steve Jobs' decision to authorize a biography on his life:

Steve Jobs, in pain and too weak to climb stairs a few weeks before his death, wanted his children to understand why he wasn’t always there for them, according to the author of his highly anticipated biography.

“I wanted my kids to know me,” Jobs was quoted as saying by Pulitzer Prize nominee Walter Isaacson, when he asked the Apple Inc co-founder why he authorized a tell-all biography after living a private, almost ascetic life.

“I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did,” Jobs told Isaacson in their final interview at Jobs’ home in Palo Alto, California.
I was not shocked by Jobs' acknowledgement that his vision for Apple took priority over his children. This does not, after all, seem to be the exception but the rule for many corporate leaders and visionaries. What struck me is that he seems to lack remorse for this reality. Clearly, I do not know what was going through Jobs' mind. I certainly am not his judge. But taking his words at face value it seems that he is justifying the fact that his children do not really know him but that once they read his biography perhaps they will understand why. I wonder what solace that will provide his children?

Of course, I'm no better than Jobs. I've never invented anything, although I was pretty creative with Legos as a child. I'll never be wealthy unless there is something about my family that I do not yet know. People will never hail me as a game changer or genius. No, really, they won't. And yet this I have in common with Jobs: my tendency to sacrifice my children (and my wife, for that matter) to my calling.

A few nights ago my wife had, what we like to call down south, "a come to Jesus meeting" with me. For not one moment did I like the things she said to me. For what seemed like an agonizingly long time I heard that I was not available or responsive. I heard that I was not encouraging or even loving. This was no run-of-the-mill, "honey could you do a little better" talk. All this one needed was a woodshed and willow switch. I resisted what she said. I denied it. It seemed so unfair. It was a Sunday. It was late. I was exhausted. Didn't she know the kinds of pressures I have been under the last several months? But she was absolutely right.

It has become increasingly clear that my commitments to pastoring a church have cost my wife and children far too much. Don't panic. We are not falling apart. My children do not hate me and my wife, by God's grace, is long suffering. But if I keep doing things the way I have been doing things, then a day will come when I will be looking for a biographer to tell my story so my children will know who I was.

It is sad, but my experience is not unique. Even worse, the experience of my wife and children is not unique. Pastoral ministry is a beautiful calling and I am grateful beyond words to be among those whom God has called into such a noble task. But being a pastor is often about as pleasant as having a molar with an exposed nerve. It can even land one in an emergency room.

I hope I don't sound like I'm whining. Self-pity is one of the ugly side effects of trying to be a martyr for the ministry. But there is something desperately wrong with American church culture. There is something desperately wrong with the way pastors are pastoring. And it is our fault; all of us. Parishoners have expectations that cannot possibly be met. Pastors have made promises they cannot possibly keep. Any man in that position will end up in divorce court, the loony bin, the emergency room, or all three.

Therefore, I repent of ministry. I repent of trying to be the pastor I cannot be. I repent of bringing sadness and stress into my home. I repent of laughing too little and worrying too much. I repent of saying "yes" too often to ministry commitments and "no" too often to family responsibilities. I repent of allowing the way I pastor to rob me of the joy of being a pastor.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


The first issue of Credo, an excellent new ejournal, is now available. It focuses on the doctrine of Scripture with an emphasis on inerrancy. It is well worth reading.

PDF available HERE.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Free book for your Kindle...

Right now you can get Dan Phillips new book, World-Tilting Gospel free for Kindle HERE.

Dan Phillips is both easy and edifying to read, and I have been doing so for many years, so I am delighted to commend this book to you. The World-Tilting Gospel is a sound introduction to what it means and what we need to understand to be followers of Jesus Christ. Dan knows that for the Christian life to be lived, personally and congregationally, the way Jesus intends us to live it, we need to know: 'who we really are, what kind of world we are really living in, how the world really operates and where it is really going, who God really is, what His eternal plan really was, why we really needed Him and His plan so desperately, what His terms—the Gospel—really were, and what difference the Gospel will really make on every day of our lives.' Furthermore, I agree with his diagnosis of our present need (see the introduction!), and the meaty biblical prescription of truth and grace that he offers as remedy. This book hits on all cylinders. I will use it in discipleship in my own congregation and recommend it widely.
Ligon Duncan, President of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and Senior Minister at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

No greater privilege...

I always need to hear some things. But there are other things I really, really need to hear.

Helping People Change...

Excellent DVD from Paul Tripp and Tim Lane: Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands.

This is ideal for a small group or even private study.

Also, add Paul's outstanding book Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands to your "must read" list.

"Trifling with divine truth..."

There are some truths which must be believed; they are essential to salvation, and if not heartily accepted, the soul will be ruined.

Now, in [the early church], the saints did not say, as the sham saints do now, "We must be largely charitable, and leave this brother to his own opinion; he sees truth from a different standpoint, and has a rather different way of putting it, but his opinions are as good as our own, and we must not say that he is in error."

That is at present the fashionable way of trifling with divine truth, and making things pleasant all round. Thus the gospel is debased, and "another gospel" propagated.

I should like to ask modern broad churchmen whether there is any doctrine of any sort for which it would be worth a man's while to burn or to lie in prison. I do not believe they could give me an answer, for if their latitudinarianism be correct, the martyrs were fools of the first magnitude.

From what I see of their writings and their teachings, it appears to me that the modern thinkers treat the whole compass of revealed truth with entire indifference; and, though perhaps they may feel sorry that wilder spirits should go too far in free thinking, and though they had rather they would be more moderate, yet, upon the whole, so large is their liberality that they are not sure enough of anything to be able to condemn the reverse of it as a deadly error.

To them black and white are terms which may be applied to the same colour, as you view it from different standpoints. Yea and nay are equally true in their esteem. Their theology shifts like the Goodwin Sands, and they regard all firmness as so much bigotry. Errors and truths are equally comprehensible within the circle of their charity.

It was not in this way that the apostles regarded error. They did not prescribe large-hearted charity towards falsehood, or hold up the errorist as a man of deep thought, whose views were "refreshingly original"; far less did they utter some wicked nonsense about the probability of there living more faith in honest doubt than in half the creeds. They did not believe in justification by doubting, as our neologians do; they set about the conversion of the erring brother; they treated him as a person who needed conversion; and viewed him as a man who, if he were not converted, would suffer the death of his soul, and be covered with a multitude of sins.

They were not such easygoing people as our cultured friends of the school of "modern thought", who have learned at last that the Deity of Christ may be denied, the work of the Holy Spirit ignored, the inspiration of Scripture rejected, the atonement disbelieved, and regeneration dispensed with, and yet the man who does all this may be as good a Christian as the most devout believer!

O God, deliver us from this deceitful infidelity, which, while it does damage to the erring man, and often prevents his being reclaimed, does yet more mischief to our own hearts by teaching us that truth is unimportant, and falsehood a trifle, and so destroys our allegiance to the God of truth, and makes us traitors instead of loyal subjects to the King of kings!
- Charles Spurgeon

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I preached part 2 of our current series The Mission. It is entitled "Going Away and Filling Up." It is an examination of the continuing significance of Jesus' ascension and Pentecost for the mission of the church. You can listen to or download the sermon HERE.

Thinking like a church plant...

Brandon Levering has written a thoughtful post on how established churches can think like church plants. He offers five ways:

1. Church plants clearly define their mission and keep it before them in everything they do.

2. Church plants feel an acute sense of urgency to engage in evangelism.

3. Church plants tend to better understand the culture they’re engaging.

4. Church plants use a wider portion of the congregation in service.

5. Church plants are more likely to think strategically about planting more churches.
Read the whole post HERE.


Trevin Wax offers thoughts on the new movie Courageous.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Legitimizing False Teachers...

There has been quite a broo-ha-ha stiring over James MacDonald's invitation of T.D. Jakes to his "Elephant Room" event.

Thabiti Anyabwile sees the invitation as a significant setback to the African American church.

He writes:

In 2007, the Lord granted me the privilege of publishing The Decline of African-American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity (IVP). The book was a labor of sorrow and love–sorrow because of how sharp and deep theological decline has been since the first writing African Americans of the late 1700s and early 1800s, and love because I ache to see my kinsmen according to the flesh brought into the gracious realms of God’s salvation. For me, the book was an attempt to (a) accurately trace the history of African-American theology using available primary source material, and (b) fulfill a pastoral obligation to advance the gospel and refute error (Titus 1:9).

Because the book “breaks rank” and “the party line,” I expected to be alone against an avalanche of criticism and angry protest. But the Lord has a people who have not bowed the knee to the baals of theological heresy, a people who want to know the truth and who instinctively if not explicitly knew something had gone wrong in the African-American church. Jesus’ sheep hear and know His voice, and they follow Him. Instead of an avalanche of criticism, I’ve pretty much heard a chorus of “Finally” and “It’s about time!”

When theologically conservative, Evangelical or Reformed African Americans call for reform in the African-American church, they feel like midgets facing the titans and juggernauts of a word-faith, charismatic pantheon. The task can seem so daunting and isolating. Internally, there’s the constant fight with unbelief and resignation. There’s wrestling with questions like “Can the African-American church be reformed?” ”Is the church essentially apostate?” Sometimes these questions have more to do with us than they have to do with the church. But the questions illustrate how intense and serious a battle this is.

That’s why it’s difficult to see larger-than-life heretics given a platform in circles of pastors and leaders we respect and we regard as co-laborers in defense and confirmation of the truth. I’m breaking no stories here. The news of T.D. Jakes’ invitation to the Elephant Room is widespread and rightly lamented by many. I’m just adding a perspective that hasn’t yet been stated: This kind of invitation undermines that long, hard battle many of us have been waging in a community often neglected by many of our peers. And because we’ve often been attempting to introduce African-American Christians to the wider Evangelical and Reformed world as an alternative to the heresy and blasphemy so commonplace in some African-American churches and on popular television outlets, the invitation of Jakes to perform in “our circles” simply feels like a swift tug of the rug from beneath our feet and our efforts to bring health to a sick church.

MacDonald and Driscoll can moderate discussions with anyone they wish. But we kid ourselves if we think inviting someone so recalcitrant about fundamental biblical teaching as Jakes can result in anything positive. MacDonald, Driscoll and others will not be the first to privately and publicly exhort, admonish, instruct and challenge Jakes on this vital issue–to no avail thus far. And we kid ourselves if we think the Elephant Room invitation itself isn’t an endorsement of sorts. We can’t downplay the associations by calling for people to suspend judgment and responding ad hominem against “discernment bloggers.” We certainly can’t do that while simultaneously pointing to our association at The Gospel Coalition as a happy certification of orthodoxy and good practice, as Driscoll seems to do here with MacDonald.
Read on HERE.

Carl Trueman has written well about this troubling case HERE and HERE.

Read Phil Johnson's insights HERE and HERE.

Finally, Nathan Busenitz weighs in HERE with a helpful article on the doctrine of the Trinity and the heresy of modalism.

Friends, nowhere in the Bible are Christians, particularly pastors and elders called to be nice to or build bridges to false teachers.