Monday, April 30, 2007
In Living the Cross Centered Life, C.J. reminds us that this is of first importance: "Christ died for our sins." Indeed, and that is better than we deserve. And it points out the fact we are undeserving of so much more.
I'm undeserving. Of:
1. The love of God
2. The grace of Christ
3. The fellowship of the Holy Spirit
4. Forgiveness for my wickedness and sin
5. Adoption into the family of God
6. Justification before a just and holy God
7. Union with Christ the blameless and pure
8. Escape from the wrath of God that is coming
9. The grace of preaching the gospel of Christ
10. Having a people, Christ's people, to care for in the Christian ministry
11. The privilege of looking each day into God's Word, of either having this as a "job" or the sight and the mental ability to do it
12. Association with Christ by wearing the name "Christian" or participating in baptism and membership in His body, the church
13. Eternal life
14. Seeing Jesus by faith now and by sight when time gives way to eternity
15. The favor of the Lord in the form of my wife
16. The fruit of the womb, three children on loan to us for the glory of God
17. Friends who have loved me enough to teach me, correct me, bear with me, rejoice with me and pray for me
And so much more! So, I am grateful today for all that I have in Christ--more than I can imagine and list on a blog. And I'm thankful, that above all, Christ himself is mine and I am His. Though I'm undeserving.
Friday, April 27, 2007
This creates a number of interesting benefits and challenges to living in such places. On the one hand, there is great diversity and exchange of peoples. But on the other hand, seeing your friends leave with such frequency can be hard. Such places make great export stations for the gospel. But, you have to work hard against the mentality of "short-timers" for whom spiritual growth is a low priority "because they won't be here long." So, it's a mixed bag.
But this is constant. As a pastor, you'll always be in the business of recommending churches and pastors in the next city or town your people are heading off to. "Do you know a good church there?" "Are there any good pastors there?" That's one of the constants in a transient location.
This morning I was helped to understand that part of what a pastor should be doing is helping his people discern between a good pastor and a "pastor" in name only. I can always answer those questions for them, but it's far superior that they should be able to answer it with discernment and skill themselves. It was a brief reading in A Consuming Fire that did this for me. Lest I put the entire book on-line and weaken sales, this will be my last quote of it. But, it's a good one and one we should pass on to our people in some form. Enjoy.
Knowing a Good Minister
Now, my brethren, two dangers, two simply terrible dangers, arise to every one of you out of all this matter of your ministers and their knowledge.
1. The first danger is, to be frank with you on this subject, that you are yourselves so ignorant on all the matters that a minister has to do with, that you do not know one minister from another, a good minister from one who really is no minister at all. Now, I will put it to you, on what principle and for what reason did you choose your present minister, if, indeed, you did choose him? Was it because you wee assured by people you could trus that he was a minister of knowledge and knew his own business? Or was it that when you went to worship with him for yourself you have not been able ever since to tear yourself away from him, nor has any one else been able to tear you away, though some have tried? When you first came to the city, did you give, can you remember, some real anxiety, rising sometimes in prayer, as to who your minister among so many ministers was to be? Or did you choose him and your present seat in his church because of some real or supposed worldly interest of yours you thought you could further by taking your letter of introduction to him? Had you heard while yet at home, had your father and mother talked of such things to you, that rich men, and men of place and power, political men and men high in society, sat in that church and took notice of who attended it and who did not? Do you, down to this day, know one church from another so far as spiritual and soul-saving knowledge is concerned? Do you know that two big buildings called churches may stand in the same street and have men called ministers carrying on certain services in them from week to week, and yet, for all the purposes for which Christ came and died and rose again and gave ministers to his church, these two churches and their ministers are farther asunder than the two poles?
Do you understand what I am saying? Do you understand what I have been saying all night, or are you one of those of whom the prophet speaks in blame and in pity as being destroyed for lack of knowledge? Well, that is your first danger, that you are so ignorant, and as a consequence, so careless, as not to know one minister from another.
2. And your second danger in conection with your minister is that you have, and may have long had, a good minister, but that you still remain yourself a bad man. My brethren, be you all sure of it, there is a special and a fearful danger in havnig a specially good minister. Think twice and make up your mind well before you call a specially good minister, or become a communicant or even an adherent, under a specially good minister. If two bad men go down together to the pit, and the one has had a good minster as sometimes happens, and the other has only had one who had thename of a minister, the evangelized reprobate will lie in a deeper bed in hell and will spend a more remorseful eternity on it than will the other. No man among you, minister or no minister, good minister or bad, will be able to sin with impunity. But he who sins on and on after good preaching will be beaten with many stripes.
"Thou that hast knowledge," says a powerful old preacher, "canst not sin so cheap as another that is ignorant. Places of much knowledge"--he was preching in the university pulpit of Oxford--"and plentiful in the means of grace are dear places for a man to sin in. To be drunken or unclean after a powerful sermon, and after the Holy Ghost has enlightened thee, is more than to have so sinned twenty times before. Thou mightest have sinned ten times more and been damned less. For does not Jesus Christ the Judge say to thee, 'This is thy condemnation, that so much light has come to thee'?" And, taking the then way of execution as a sufficiently awful illustration, the old Oxford Puritan goes on to say that to sin against light is the highest step of the ladder before turning off. And, again, tht if there ae worms in hell that die not, it is surely gospel light that breeds them.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
For Book Lovers!
New! Best of WTS Sale!
As our local customers know, our retail store on the campus of Westminster Theological Seminary has been closed for several weeks now due to some major reconstruction needs. While our web and phone customers have been keeping us busy, there is no doubt that loss of the retail store has impacted our sales.
Frankly, we need your help. So from now until the store reopens, Westminster Bookstore will hold the first major price-slashing sales in the history of our webstore. Each week Check the "Best of WTS" link on our webstore after each newsletter for the latest sale. Each sale will be built around a theme, with specially selected books at reductions of up to 45% off list price!
Colin continues his helpful work for preachers. See this encouraging interview with Liam Goligher on expositional preaching.
Just go watch this. It speaks for itself.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Meditating on Titus in my quiet time recently, I was struck afresh by Paul's words in Titus 2:11-14:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorioius appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
For my first several years as a Christian, the only time I heard this text mentioned or expounded was during sermons on the rapture or in some debate over eschatology. Usually the preacher or friend would focus in on "the blessed hope--the glorious appearing" and ride off on clouds of rapture ecstasy.
Looking at the text the other morning, however, the centrality and sufficiency of the grace of God gripped my heart. In particular, the teaching activity of grace in the lives of believers left me all kinds of encouraged.
1. The grace of God teaches us to say "no" to ungodliness and worldly passions.
That's good news. How often the tumult of Romans 7 has ravaged the Christian. How often has doubt and despair overtaken the believer with tender conscience and hopes of progress in holiness. Then comes grace... teaching... telling us to say, simply enough, "No." No treatise or complicated system of works and self-flogging. Like a parent with a two year old, the grace of God grabs our attention, locks onto our little eyes, and teaches us to say "No." How often my life would be improved by saying "No." And how often my life would be purified with the mastery of this first lesson of grace: just say 'no.' Seems Nancy Reagan was on to something. But it applies to more than just drugs. Grace enables a simple but powerfully resolute "no" to all manner of ungodliness and worldly passions. Praise God!
2. The grace of God teaches us to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.
Second lesson: say "yes" to godliness. It's the nature of grace to produce self-control, uprightness, and godliness. It's a Christ-denying, cheap imitation grace that leads to lewdness and license (Jude 4). The grace of God leading to salvation is powerful enough that in this present age--this present evil age (Gal. 1:4)--we may live the life of Christ. Our instruction at the hands of grace leads us to Christlikeness. Our old schoolmaster (the Law) lead us to condemnation. But since graduating from that classroom, have we not been taught of a new life where there is no condemnation (Rom. 8:1) but the beauty of holiness in Christ our All.
After trying for years to find discipline, self-control, uprightness and godliness through the empty legalisms and rituals of Islam, I'm so thankful for the grace of God that leads to salvation and teaches me to live in union with Christ!
3. The grace of God teaches us to wait for Jesus.
Here, then, is the glorious end of it all--life with Jesus when He comes! Grace teaches us to say "no," then to live godly lives, and all the while to "wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ." The grace that produces eager waiting, triumphant hope, anchored in the promised return of Jesus our great God and Savior seems to be a rare commodity among us Christians.
How seldom do we wait upon the Lord. We're the disciples who could not tarry for one hour. How seldom do we appropriate that grace of God which cultivates patient anticipation of our God's return. How seldom do we clutch on to the grace of God and the end of that grace--Christ Jesus who redeemed us from all wickedness and purifies us for himself. How different is this grace of God which teaches us to wait from all of that endless jangling about precise endtimes schedules and schemes! I'm thankful for this grace that creates a longing for the Redeemer and purity of soul! Come Lord Jesus. And grant me grace to wait!
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Each volume includes a short biographical introduction along with a selection of excerpts from sermons and correspondence that illustrate the spirituality of the person. The reader receives bite-sized morsels of devotional sustenance.
Well, aside from plugging the books in general, I wanted to share one selection from Andrew Fuller. It's a letter to a young minister at his ordination (pp. 237-240). I was challenged and encouraged and thought many of you would be as well. For those interested in learning more about Fuller, you might check out The Elephant of Kettering blog.
To A Young Minister About to Be Ordained
My dear friend,
As it is very doubtful whether I shall be able to attend your ordination, you will allow me to fill up the sheet with brotherly counsel.
You are about to enter, my brother, on the solemn work of a pastor, and I heartily wish you God speed. I have seldom engaged in an ordination of late in which I have had to address a younger brother, without thinking of the apostle's words in 2 Timothy 4:5, 6, in reference to myself and others who are going off the stage: "Make full proof of thy ministry: for I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand!" Your charge at present is small; but if God bless you, it may be expected to increase, and of course your labours and cares will increase with it. If you would preserve spirituality, purity, peace, and good order in the church, you must live near to God yourself, and be diligent to feed the flock of God with evangelical truth. Without these, nothing good will be done. Love your brethren, and be familiar with them; not, however, with that kind of familiarity which breeds disrespect, by which some have degraded themselves in the eyes of the people, and invited the opposition of the contentious part of them; but that which will endear your fellowship, and render all your meetings a delight. Never avail yourself of your independence of the people in respect of support, to carry matters with a high hand against them. Teach them so to conduct themselves as a church, that if you were to die, they might continue a wise, holy, and understanding people. The great secret of ruling a church is to convince them that you love them, and say and do every thing for their good. Love, however, requires to be mingled with faithfulness, as well as faithfulness with love. Expect to find defects and faults in your members, and give them to expect free and faithful dealing while connected with you; allow them, also, to be free and faithful towards you in return. There will be many faults which they should be taught and encouraged to correct in one antoher; others will be proper objects of pastoral admonition; and some must be brought before the church. But do not degrade the dignity of a church by employing it to sit in judgment on the shape of a cap, or a bonnet; or on squabbles between individuals, which had better be healed by the interposition of a common friend. The church should be taught, like a regiment of soldiers, to attend to discipline, when called to it, in a proper spirit; not with ebulitions of anger against an offender, but with fear and trembling, considering themselves, lest they also be tempted. Let no one say to another, "overlook my fault today, and I will overlook yours tomorrow;" but, rather, "deal faithfully with me today, and I will deal faithfully with you tomorrow."
I have always found it good to have an understanding with the deacons upon every case before it is brought before the church. Neither they nor the members have always been of my opinion; and where this has been the case I have not attempted to carry a measure against them, but have yielded, and this not merely from prudence, but as knowing that others have understanding as well as I, and may therefore be in the right. In this way I have been pastor of the church, which I now serve, for nearly thirty years without a single difference.
A young man in your circumstances will have an advantage in beginning a church on a small scale. It will be like cultivating a garden before you undertake a field. You may also form them, in many respects, to your own mind; but if your mind be not the mind of Christ, it will, after all, be of no use. Labour to form them after Christ's mind, and you will find your own peace and happiness in it.
Mercy and truth attend you and the partner of your cares! I am, etc.,
Monday, April 23, 2007
1. Where are you from originally?
In West Philadelphia born and raised on the playground where I spent most of my days:)
2. Were you raised in a Christian home? If so, what was your early church experience like? Tell us how you became a Christian?
No I wasn't. While my family wasn't actively hostile toward the Lord we certainly weren't a Christian home and never went to church together. My grandmother took me to one of the local Pentecostal churches (COGIC) when I was four or five and later on when I was around 12 I went to another Pentecostal church with an older cousin. I don't remember much about these experiences. I became a Christian through the witness of a very good friend. He grew up in a Christian home but did not claim to be or live like a believer for the first four years we hung out. Following his conversion he constantly told me and another good friend (Rev. Kevin Smith of Pinelands PCA) about the Lord and invited us to church. We went during one summer revival and after a message on salvation we went to the altar and committed our lives to the Lord. Following that we became members of that local Pentecostal church.
3. When and how did you decide to enter pastoral ministry? How long have you been in pastoral ministry?
I believed I got the call to pastoral ministry during my third year of college. Early in my walk with the Lord I had a strong desire to know and talk about the Scriptures. I was often asked to lead small bible studies in church and in college. During the time of my call I was seeking the Lord for further direction in life. While I was drawn to the prospect of teaching the Scriptures as a full time vocation I didn't know if that was me or the Lord. I enjoyed studying psychology (my college major) and was looking into possibly becoming a counseling psychologist but felt or sensed (hard to explain) a growing desire to preach and teach the Scriptures to God's people. One time while in prayer I felt (I cannot tell if it was me or the Lord) a particularly strong call to preach the word. I spoke to my pastor about this and he counseled me to continue seeking the Lord and set me up to preach a trial sermon. (In my tradition those who believed God has called them to the ministry are given the opportunity to preach what's called a 'trial sermon' usually on a Sunday afternoon or weeknight service which gives the pastor and congregation the chance to confirm the call).
In October 1984 I preached my trial sermon from Joshua 1 on the importance of following God's word and the pastor, my church and of course my mother and aunt agreed that I was called to preach.
I've been in full-time vocational ministry for 12 years and served as a full time lead pastor for 5 years.
4. How long have you been at your current church?
I've served at Christ Liberation Fellowship since it's inception in Nov. 2001.
5. Tell us about the church? How did the decision to plant a church out of Tenth come about? And how has the labor gone so far?
CLF actually grew out of my call to preach. I believed that my call was accompanied with a desire to start a church that would feature strong, biblical teaching, sustained community outreach and a warm, informal fellowship. I believe the social/religious context I was in affected these aspects of my call.
By the time God called me I had moved on from the church where I got saved to a larger Pentecostal church in another part of Philadelphia. I grew under the love and care of this church yet believed there were some crucial things missing from its ministry. At the top of the list was sound, systematic biblical teaching from the pulpit. Another was the lack of coordinated and concentrated good works which I believed served to demonstrate the compassion of our Lord and pave the way for beginning relationships in which God's people could share the gospel. During the late 80's I studied and embraced Reformed theology. Upon doing so we moved our membership to Tenth Presbyterian Church under the pastorate of Dr. James M. Boice. Though the venue changed my call didn't. However I now wanted to spread the truths of Reformed theology to those in my community.
I like to describe CLF as a reformed, neighborhood, multi-ethnic church that is committed to making disciples who make a difference in our community, our city and our world. We are a small group of God's people striving to walk before Him in holiness, delight in His Person, spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and have a great time doing it. My hope and prayer is that CLF will be the start of a church planting/revitalization movement in the greater Philadelphia area that promotes biblically driven church planting.
I want us to focus on having a strong teaching ministry, sustained community outreach and a warm, welcoming fellowship.
6. Why plant a predominantly African-American congregation instead of remaining at Tenth and helping African Americans settle there? Was there a particular neighborhood and/or reform agenda driving the decision to plant?
Good question. There were a number of reasons, but I'll list just a few. I first approached Tenth with the idea of planting a predominantly African-American church in the early 90's. My desire wasn't to perpetuate racial separation but to seek to expand our reform witness into areas of the city where it was absent.
My first thought was that the witness of the gospel may be best spread in a city like Philly with dozens of small to medium sized neighborhood churches, as opposed to large regional center city churches. Philly is a city of neighborhoods and it is my conviction that people in those neighborhoods should have access to a church they don't have to drive or take public transportation to. This is especially important since I believe that the church should pursue ways to live out our mandate to do good works (Eph. 2:10) which build relationships with community residents who should then be able to attend the church that's in their neighborhood.
Secondly, having embraced reformed theology I was convinced that African-Americans should be discipled based on what the Scriptures taught about God, man, sin, salvation, Jesus Christ, the church etc. Along with that I thought that it was biblically prudent and correct to present reformed theology and practice in a context that required those I was called to reach to cross as few cultural barriers as possible. I was concerned that remaining at Tenth would have sent the signal to blacks who embraced reformed theology that they could do so only if they were willing to check their culture and heritage at the door.
Third, while I certainly hold to the genuine multi-ethnic reality of the kingdom I believe that in light of our present ethnic context it's actually better for our white brothers and sisters to join with black believers, submit to black leadership and function as the minority in multi-ethnic settings. It seems too often that we speak of becoming multi-ethnic with the view that blacks should still be the minority in the church. Of course I'd love to have even more ethnicities within CLF. We're currently around 75% African-American and 25% Anglo-American. Lord willing we'll gather more and more believers from other groups also.
7. How has the church been received in the community so far, especially given the Reformed and Presbyterian nature of the church? Are you an odd duckling or does it matter much?
In many ways we are the odd man out. My relatives are encouraged by the messages and appreciate the warmth of our folks but make it clear to me that we are not a 'black church'. For others we certainly aren't your typical Reformed Presbyterian church. The community has appreciated our attempts to connect with them by reaching out and working for the good of the community however. I've come to realize that we will not fit easily in many of the current ethnic church categories. This was especially evident this past Good Friday when I shared the pulpit with several traditional black preachers, as well as one from the prosperity theology culture. My hope is that we'll become known for being a faithful witness to the gospel of our Lord, delighting in His great salvation, loving each other, our neighbors and our city and impacting the greater black community with reformed theology and practice.
8. What fruit is the Lord bearing in the people of the church so far?
God has graced us to have a congregation that is growing in our love for God, His word and the truths that speak of His salvation in Jesus Christ. I'm beginning to see God change much of what we've mistakenly learned about Christianity and orient us to His word. I'm grateful for the attitude of service He's developing among us and the many 20 somethings that hunger for good teaching and want to pair it with godly living. We're learning the discipline of patient prayer, growing in hospitality and have become more sensitive to areas such as biblical social justice and foreign missions. God has also grown us to have a desire to apply our theology to the city we live in.
9. What issues occupy the bulk of your prayer life for the church?
SPIRITUAL GROWTH, DEVELOPMENT, MATURITY AND TRANSFORMATION. I've come to see that the Christianity myself and many of my folks learned was deficient in that it failed to address real issues related to biblical change and growth. WE NEED THE GOSPEL, not the quasi bargain many of us have been taught is the gospel. Many of us have struggled with the same issues for years honestly believing that our 'breakthrough' was just around the corner. My prayer is that we will begin the patient task of leaning on our Lord, studying His word and seeing Him transform our lives.
10. As you look out over the African-American church, the PCA, and the wider evangelical church world, what things encourage you?
mmm... looking at the black church I see more cause for concern than encouragement. Yet, I'm grateful to know that there are some good solid teaching churches in Philly and thank God for their consistent gospel witness. I'm encouraged at their impact on black men in our community and desire to address some of the difficult issues in our city.
I'm more and more encouraged by what God is doing among African-American reformed brothers. I'm about to begin a reformation society with not one but two reformed Pentecostal pastors. I've fellowshipped with both and can't wait for us to work together to bring reform to the churches and communities of Philadelphia. The Council of Reforming Churches is a group I've wanted to participate in for a long, long time. I'm so grateful that brothers like yourself, Tony Carter, Michael Leach, Eric Redmond, Louis Love Jr. and others have joined together to see biblical theology impact the black church and African-American community. I'm encouraged by reading blogs like Pure Church, Non Nobis Domine, A Debtor To Mercy and Black Creole Reformer. More and more I marvel at what God is doing in the northeast as we've been blessed with a growing number of reformed churches led by black pastors like Gaithersburg Community Church with Tony Arnold, Forest Park Community Church (Balt. MD) with Sam Murrell, New Song Community Church (Balt. MD) with Thurman Williams, City of Hope Church (Columbia MD) with Irwyn Ince, Calvary Bible Church (Philly) with Doug Logan and The Church of God in the Word (Philly) with our brother Eric Wright.
We should all be grateful for churches like Tenth Pres in Philly for how they've taken the lead to serve the city and actively participate in planting churches throughout the region. Under the pastorate of our friend Dr. Phil Ryken Tenth continues to be a model for faithful, relevant, biblical ministry to the world and the reformed community. They've faithfully supported me for several years and have shown that Anglo churches can indeed plant daughter churches that model them in the essentials of theology and ministry philosophy while allowing diversity in non-essentials.
Regarding the wider evangelical world it does seem we're experiencing a growing hunger for transforming biblical theology. The CT article on Young, Restless and Reformed, the high attendance at Reformed conferences and the popularity of brothers like John Piper testify to the Lord's faithful shepherding of His people.
By God’s grace and power we may yet see a true revival for the glory of God, the expansion of Christ’s kingdom and the discipline of the nations.
For Christ, the Church and the Truth
Pastor Lance Lewis
Friday, April 20, 2007
CAN THEOLOGICALLY DRIVEN PREACHING HELP RESCUE THE SBC?
By: Daniel L. Akin
The Conservative Resurgence gave Southern Baptist a second chance but it did not secure our future. Has there been a Resurgence? Yes. Has there been a Restoration? Doubtful. Have we experienced genuine Revival? Clearly the answer is no.
Eight Theological Essentials for Southern Baptists in the 21st Century
1) The non-negotiable of a regenerate Church (John 3; Rom. 3; 2 Cor. 5; Gal. 3)
- First, we need to make it clear that church membership is a privilege, not a right.
- Second, we must preach against easy believism and reject any form of a compromised gospel.
- Third, we must be careful with respect to our own theological integrity concerning infant or early adolescent baptism that lacks a clear understanding and confession of the gospel.
2) The essential nature of believers baptism by immersion with a biblical appreciation for its significance. (Matt. 28; Acts, Rom. 6)
That baptism involved a particular member (a believer), mode (immersion) and meaning (public identification with Christ and the believing community) is grounded in New Testament witness and has been a hallmark of Baptists throughout their history.
We must see evidence of regeneration for those we baptize. The baptism of young children must be administered with the greatest possible care.
Baptism should be viewed and emphasized as a first and necessary step of discipleship and obedience to Christ. We will reject as inconceivable the idea of admitting anyone into our membership without believerâ€™s baptism by immersion.
3) The recovery of the lost jewels of church discipline and genuine disciple-making as essential marks of the Church.
Church discipline is clearly and repeatedly taught in the New Testament, yet most do not preach on it or practice it. Jesus addresses it in Matt. 18:15-20 and Paul does so several times in 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Cor. 2:5-11; Gal. 6:1-2; and Titus 3:9-11.
Theologically it is to disobey the plain teachings of Scripture and ignore the necessity of church discipline in maintaining the purity of the church.
- First, we must preach and teach our people what the Bible says about church discipline.
- Second, we must begin to implement church discipline lovingly, wisely, gently, carefully and slowly.
- Third, we must apply discipline to areas like absentee membership as well as the specific list provided by Paul in 1 Cor. 5.
4) The emphasis and practice of a genuinely Word-based ministry (2 Tim. 4:1-5)
For those of us who profess to believe in both the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, there must be in our churches what I call "engaging exposition."
We must advocate an expositional method with a theological mindset under an evangelical mandate. It is preaching that models for our people how they should study, interpret and teach the Bible.
5) The vision for a faithful and authentic biblical ecclesiology (Acts. 2; Eph. 4; Pastorals)
- First, there must be the 4 marks of 1) a regenerate Church membership, 2) the Word, 3) the Ordinances and 4) Church Discipline.
- Second the local church should be elder/pastor led and congregationally governed. Here, in my judgment, there is room for flexibility in terms of patterns, structure and implementation.
As we move forward in this century, Pastors will need to give particular attention to a theology of stewardship and discipleship.
The members of our churches must move from being shoppers to buyers to investors.
6) The continued nurturing of a fervent missionary and evangelistic passion that is wedded to a healthy and robust theology (1 Thess. 1; Eph. 4:11-16; Jude 3-4; Rev. 5)
No church will be evangelistic by accident.
First, there are multiple ways churches can do missions and evangelism. That we do it is the key.
Marketplace evangelism which can reach into the workplace is an area needing attention, strategizing and training.
Youth and student evangelism needs renewed emphasis.
Theologically and biblically, we must challenge our people to evangelize without bias or prejudice, loving and going after the exploding ethnic and minority groups where we live.
7) The teaching and preaching of a 1st century biblical model for church planting (Acts 17)
The 21st century is more like the 1st century than has ever been the case in our Western culture.
We are losing America and the West because we are losing the great metropolitan areas where there is a concentration of people.
- First, explore creative methods, but make sure that they are faithfully filtered through the purifying waters of Holy Scripture.
- Second, be wise fishers of men.
- Third, we must ask God to raise a new generation of godly and gifted church planters and missionaries.
8) The wisdom to look back and remember who we were so that as we move forward we will not forget who we are
The Southern Baptist Convention today is not the Southern Baptist Convention of your parents, and certainly not your grandparents.
We now have several generations who know almost nothing of William Carey and Adoniram Judson, Bill Wallace, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong. They do know nothing of Boyce, Broadus, and Manly; Carroll, Robertson, Frost, Mullins and Truett.
They have never heard Criswell, Rogers or Vines preach, and they are not really sure who they are.
In creative and dynamic avenues fitting a 21st century context, we need to retell the Baptist History story in a way that will grab the attention and stir the hearts of our people. And we need to do it, at least in part, from the pulpit.
The North Carolina evangelist Vance Havner said, "What we live is what we really believe."
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Ashamed of the Gospel
There is an inwardness, and there is an absoluteness, and there is an abidingness, and there is an exclusiveness inn the cross of Christ, that is neither easily preached, nor easily believed, nor easily practised. To keep our own hearts shut up to the cross, and thatnot only at our first conversion, but to the end of our best sanctification, and to preach the cross always and to every one as the one and the alone ground of peace with God amid all the ups and downs of the spiritual life: that staggers many, and offends many, and it becomes, sometimes, a casue of shame and pain even to those who have succeeded Paul best in his revelation of Christ that God made to him, and who have also succeeded him best in his experience of all that....
Now, my brethren, you will go to so-called Christian churches, both in town and country, where you would never discover that Paul's Epistle to the Romans had ever been written, and where you will never be put to shame with such old-fashioned doctrines as the imputed righteousness of Christ of which Paul is full. Christ's suretyship, and his substitution, and his finished work are not known in those churches. The imputation of your sin to the Lamb of God, and the imputation of his righteousness to you; no such offensive things are ever uttered there. Speak for yourselves, my brethren: speak for yourselves and make your choice. As for me, the longer I live--the longer I really live--these things, and the things they represent, are becoming every day more and more necessary and more and more precious to me.
Last night's Bible study in Galatians 2:11-13 focused on Paul's correction of Peter for his hypocrisy. It was a good study with good reflections on the need to have in our lives and in the church people willing to lovingly confront us when we are wrong. We focused a little on Paul's statement that Peter "was clearly in the wrong," and emphasized our need to be certain of a person's wrong when confronting them the way Paul did and to have a standard against which to judge right and wrong, a standard more enduring, objective, and universal than our own opinions and perceptions, the Word of God.
It reminded me of the fact that the thing that most frees us in the local church and the Christian life is the Word of God. If our preferences and opinions and traditions and wisdom are our guide rather than the Word, then our preferences and opinions and traditions and wisdom will inevitably choke out someone's freedom in Christ and exalt reason above revelation. But if we would all be genuinely free, genuinely able to exercise our liberty in Christ and simultaneously able to restrain one another when in the wrong, we must chain ourselves to the Word of God as the authority for faith and conduct. Interestingly it's when we chain ourselves to the Word that we're set free--all of us.
Here's how Ligon Dunan expressed it in Give God Praise:
The biblical doctrine of Christian freedom is vital to our doctrine of worship and can be protected only by the regulative principle. The Westminster Confession makes the bold declaration that "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or beside it in matters of fairth or worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also" (20.2). This manifesto of Christian freedom is based on Pauline principles found in Romans 14:1-4, Galatians 4:8-11, and Colossians 2:16-23. The regulative principle is designed to secure the believer's freedom from the dominion of human opinion in worship. But some people view the regulative principle as legalistic and constraining. They rightly note that it forbids a variety of activities and restrains others; but this is simply to say that it helps enforce biblical norms that are, upon reflection, freeing! Freedom from human opinions can be found only in the rule of God's good and graceious and wise law. If humans can dictate how we may worship, apart from the word or in addition to the word, then we are captive to their command. The only way we can really experience one of the key blessings of Christian freedom in the context of corporate worship--freedom from human doctrines and commandments--is if corporate worship is directed only according to the word of God, and that means following the regulative principle. Furthermore "God requires us to worship Him only as He has revealed. Therefore, to require a person in corporate worship, to do something that God has not required, forces the person to sin against his/her conscience, by making them do what they do not believe God has called them to do." (pp. 57-58).
And speaking of Lig', here's an interview with Lig on preparing to preach from Preaching Today.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Thought much about the ascension of Jesus lately? Well if you haven't (or if you have), you would be encouraged and drawn to Christ to read Justin Buzzard's interview with Gerritt Scott Dawson, author of Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ's Continuing Incarnation. I'm looking forward to picking up this book and giving it a good read. Here's a sample from Justin's interview with Dawson (HT: Eucatastrophe):
"The gospel has always created the scandal of particularity. It offends our sense of autonomy and spiritual quest and even American egalitarianism to recognize that in this one particular man, Jesus, the eternal Son of God stood among us. Thus, God is like Jesus, and not another way. Jesus is Lord of all and I am not lord of my own life anymore.
"Now if you want to get away from the claiming, demanding pressure of that truth, you’ve got to get rid of the particularity of Jesus. You need to spiritualize the resurrection and the ascension. Let resurrection be about a principle of new life, the continuing influence of Jesus, but not something as scandalous as one dead man who got up.
"The ascension takes the scandal even further. Jesus held onto our humanity. He has taken it into heaven. The future of our humanity is bound up in what he has done with us. Where he goes is where we are meant to go. What he becomes is what we will become. All my soul quests, all my spirituality, all my wanting a god on my own terms gets blown away by the God-Man who is in heaven, still in my skin, still insisting that he is the one with whom we all have to deal.
"So, we sprititualize the ascension. We make it about how the idea of Jesus got made heavenly. But that is disastrous for us! Losing the ascension cuts us off from the present work of Christ as our priest and intercessor. It cuts us off from the power of our hope—that one day our feeble bodies will be like his glorious body. It cuts us off from the downward pressure of the imminent return of Jesus—the same Jesus who ascended will return as judge and king. When I forget that, I can lose hope in the future or I can think that my actions have no ultimate consequences, or that what we do in this world or to this earth is not really important."
In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, DG re-posts Piper's 21 Ways to Comfort Those Who Are Suffering.
Suzanne Hadley at Boundless The Line rethinks what it means to "guard your heart" in relationships. She says, "When we make the focus guarding our hearts against sin, not people, we risk being hurt. But when you consider the many ways God can be glorified in righteous vulnerability, it is a risk worth taking." (for more, see Lindy Keffer's "Guarding Your Heart... From What?")
The Unashamed Workman has a list of helpful questions for probing our hearts and removing the log from our own eyes.
Eric Simmons at New Attitude offers motivation: Here is something that should motivate you: Every time you pursue God, he is there with his presence, waiting for you.
A Steward of Secret Things asks if there might not be "An African Spurgeon?" in our midst. I don't know, but I'm going to check out some of Conrad Mbewe's preaching!
Monday, April 16, 2007
Actually, it's a request I get often in one form or another. And that's sorta ironic... because folks who know me well know that "race" is the last thing I want to talk about with people. Literally, it's the last thing... right after a number of topics I'll label as "women's issues." (Don't ask me to elaborate, these are my next-to-the-least-favorite topics to talk about in public or private).
But if you have to talk about race... here are some things to keep in mind that keep you from getting Imus-ed out of a job or a friendship.
1. Don't talk about race.
I know... I know. This is a post on how to talk about race and the #1 recommendation is not to talk about it. Yep. For several reasons. A) "Race" (if we mean some essential difference rooted in biology) does not exist. It's neither a biblical or a scientific category that's sustainable. And in my opinion, the category usually flattens what needs to be a nuanced discussion. B) Chances are the issue you're assigning to "race" is explainable with 12 other solutions other than race. Reach for one of those. C) Most of us don't talk about race well... we'll goof it up... so reach for another factor. Don't feel compelled to talk about race. Emphasize rather our common humanity and our shared identity in Christ (if talking with Christians).
2. When you do talk about race, don't tell people you're "color blind."
Okay... maybe you are. Perhaps you need help getting dressed in the morning because greens look like orange to you. But that's not a helpful thing to say to a person who in all likelihood has a lifetime of experiences (good, bad, happy, and painful) and identity bound up with the skin she/he is in. It's like saying, "You don't exist and all that's gone on with you didn't happen." Not a good start to a conversation.
3. When you do talk about race, be sure to empathize wherever you can.
Let's face it; we need some "good will" points between parties in this dispute. And I can't count the number of times a sincere white brother rushed past some obvious place for empathy to disagree with something else or to raise another race-related issue. Be sure to slow your emotional and intellectual reactions enough to warmly and genuinely hear the other person and communicate empathy for their perspective--whether or not you agree with their conclusion. I think the popular expression is "seek to hear before being heard."
4. When you do talk about race, be sure to call injustice injustice.
This is a cousin to the one above. Again, one mistake often made is to give the appearance that you're indifferent to injustice. Now, for a lot of black folks who see African-American history largely (exclusively?) in terms of a fight for justice, again, denying injustice is like saying you don't exist or you're off in la-la land. Denying that injustice exists and that the history of race relations in the United States is essentially a tale of either denying or fighting for justice will make you appear to be a defender of the injustice and an enemy to African-Americans. In my experience, when the conversation turns to some injustice or another, it's best that you acknowledge, don't excuse it, and simply listen for an opportunity to turn the conversation to a topic that really lends itself to discussion.
5. When you do talk about race, be honest.
Don't hide your opinions, flatter, or offer false agreement. Given the few things above, speak plainly and honestly. That sometimes means admitting "I don't have any idea what you're talking about or what that's like." It sometimes means saying, "Hmmm.... I understand why ___ is an unjust situation, but I don't think ___ is the way forward." It's okay to disagree when you think the facts or a conclusion are wrong. Speak the truth in love as best you can.
6. When you do talk about race, be patient.
You may have to wait a long time in any given conversation or in a relationship before you can get to the core of an issue. If you're impatient, perhaps just wanting to "give my side" or "speak my mind," you'll miss the opportunity to learn and to win your brother or sister.
7. When you do talk about race, please fight against the tendency to stereotype.
Asking, "Why do black people _______?" or "Why are black people _______?" is generally a clue that you may be acting on stereotype. Don't look for economical ways (stereotypes) to discuss race. Make it painfully slow and nuanced in order to avoid unnecessary offense and to treat the person you're talking to like a person.
8. When you do talk about race, accept legitimate responsibility but refuse illegitimate guilt.
So many conversations about race employ guilt as a weapon and leave many feeling guilty. That can happen a couple ways. One is to accept responsibility and guilt for things that you are not responsible for or guilty of. Don't do that. Even if your grandfather held slaves, you didn't. Don't accept guilt for the sins of the grandfather. Having said that, thought, do accept the responsibility of creating a different/better climate for relationship and healing. We all have that responsibility for promoting reconciliation. And we shouldn't leave it undone because of wrong guilt.
As explicitly and consistently as you can, place the entire conversation in the context of God's redemption through Christ. The injustices we mentioned above, name them sin. Call it what it is and point out the need for a Savior. In the face of injustice, find legitimate ways to point out that an alien righteousness is needed to solve these problems. Instead of allowing yourself to feel the burden of a false guilt, talk about the real guilt of sin that separates sinful man from God and places Him squarely before the wrath of a Holy God. Point out that the true guilt of racism, etc. comes not from having mistreated men but having defaced the glory of God by mistreating men made in His image. Affirm the ethnic identities of other--not as ultimate goods--but as penultimate goods that are used by God's design to heighten His glory and praise (ultimate good) in the redemption of men. When people are "stuck on race," offer a bigger, more glorious view of humanity--new creation in the image of Christ. Model the humility of Christ, who though he was unjustly accused and mocked never retaliated and returned insult for insult. But patiently endured the scourging and the agony of the cross for the joy that was set before Him. Every conversation about "race," can and should be a demonstration of the gospel and the sin-bearing, atonement-making grace of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Friday, April 13, 2007
Saturday, April 07, 2007
Roland Martin at CNN.com has written a provocative little commentary on the "holy war" inside of Christianity, a war he describes as a "silent war" between two-issue conservative Christians on the one hand and sin-overlooking liberal Christians on the other. He longs for the day when both sides address their weaknesses and join together for a more robust agenda.
What say ye? Has Martin got a point or are the difference between "conservative" and "liberal" Christianity irreconcilable?
Thursday, April 05, 2007
Tony Carter has listed a number of Reformed African-American preachers/pastors whose sermons are available on-line. The links are here. If you know of others, please drop Carter a line.
Michael Haykin shares with us "One of Jonathan Edwards' Pneumatological Convictions."
Cerulean Sanctum meditates on "Our Triumphant Holy Week". A clip:
Leonard Ravenhill once said that the sign of the Church wasn’t the cross, but the empty tomb. Though he readily acknowledged the difficulty of rendering an empty tomb in jewelry.
Maybe that’s for the better, for as much as the symbol of the cross has been co-opted by pot-smoking, women-abusing, hip-hop artists; bed-hopping, clueless, Hollywood celebrities; Christians in name only who never got to the real cross; and the the inane, shallow world-at-large, no one’s done a good job transforming an empty tomb into bling.
And that’s good for us, because an empty tomb that defies secularization can still say, “He’s not there.” In fact, about the only place we can say the Lord is not is in that chamber of death. He’s risen. He’s risen indeed.
GospelDrivenLife includes this blunt quote from Leon Morris:
To put it bluntly and plainly, if Christ is not my Substitute, I still occupy the place of a condemned sinner. If my sins and my guilt are not transferred to Him, if he did not take them upon Himself, then surely they remain with me. If He did not deal with my sins, I must face their consequences. If my penalty was not borne by Him, it still hangs over me. There is no other possibility.
--Leon Morris, The Cross on the NT
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
For instance, he writes in 2 Cor. 12:19--"we do all things, beloved, for your edification." He understands that whatever authority he has in the church it is for the edification of the saints. So he writes, "I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not destruction" (2 Cor. 13:10).
Chapters 12-14 of 1 Cor. make it clear that spiritual gifts (whether you think they continue or cease) are for the edification of the church (1 Cor. 12:7; 14:5, 12, 17). In Eph. 4:11-12, apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers are given to the church "the edifying of the body of Christ."
And the purpose of the public gathering of the church is edification. "Whenever you come together... let all things be done for edification" (1 Cor. 14:26).
Edification, of course, simply means to build up. It's to erect an edifice, a structure or building. The pastor's heart is to be dedicated to building up others in the church.
Paul seems to think of this "building up" largely in terms of learning, encouragement, mature understanding and love (1 Cor. 14:19, 20, 31). So he speaks of the whole body of Christ growing in "the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ... every part does its share, caus[ing] growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Eph. 4:13-16).
This provokes me because so many things can be done in a church that do not have edification in view. When my sinful tendency toward convenience, solitude, impatience, or fear of man enters in, then edification can and does take a back seat. But the apostle says he does "all things... for your edification " (2 Cor. 12:19). He interjects a tender word ("beloved") in the midst of that claim. And that's a clue as to why the apostle felt this way. Those we dearly love we desire to build up. And that's the pastor's heart at its best, isn't it.
Well, how do we keep a focus on edifying the body and doing all things for their edification? I'm only sketching this out and trying to further my thinking, so any comments and suggestions would be helpful. But here are a few thoughts.
1. I suppose we should make the question of edification explicit. Paul says he does everything for the church's edification. So, in everything from sermon applications, decisions in leadership meetings, counseling, music/song choices, and reading recommendations, we should ask "Will this edify the body of Christ?" And perhaps be more specific: "In what way will this be edifying to the saints?"
2. A second thing I suppose we should do is work out from situation to situation, decision to decision, what exactly edification looks like. The danger here, particularly where fear of man enters in, is to confuse edification with "pleasing" others. So, we may fall into the trap of thinking that the only thing that edifies is the thing that makes someone happy or comfortable. Well, that certainly wasn't Paul's outlook. Most of the references to edification above occur in the context of his correcting or rebuking the church. And we know Paul exhorts the church to some difficult decisions, like removing from membership the man taken in sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5) or those who are divisive (Titus 3:10-11). Both of those things contribute to the edification of the body, though they certainly weren't on the face of things recommended to make certain people happy or pleased. Edification is not always (rarely?) synonymous with the easy, coddling thing.
3. We should recognize that prophesying is the primary scriptural method for edifying the body (1 Cor. 14:1-5). As pastors and teachers, then, we're not to neglect the ministry of the Word as the primary method for building up the church. It's the proclamation of the Word that edifies, comforts, and exhorts (v. 3). And we need to remain committed to this ministry even when we don't see the immediate fruit of it. Building high and building steady requires building deep. Our preaching and teaching ministries, if owned by the Holy Spirit, may for a time be excavating, foundation and plumbing laying ministries with little visible architecture. But if we keep building deep, the Lord will build sturdy and high His church.
4. We should develop a tendency toward positive encouragement. That may sound like the opposite of what I said in 2 above. In #2 I'm concerned about a false view of edification that may tend toward flattery, cheap grace, or neglect really. Here, I'm not talking about flattery or empty commendations. I mean to say that most people are encouraged, built up, with a sincere and thoughtful "well done." Faithfulness should be rewarded and noticed and held up as a positive model for others. Paul could commend the Macedonians for their generous giving, Titus for his care for the Corinthians (2 Cor. 8:16-17), Epaphras for his fervent prayer for the Thessalonians and Laodiceans (1 Thes. 4:12-13), and Phoebe for her labors (Rom. 16:1-2). My tendency is to notice weaknesses and to address weaknesses fairly quickly. But that's tiresome and discouraging even for me! Two things I've learned from my time in the DC area. From C.J.--look for evidences of grace. From Mark--young preachers have a tendency to use negative examples in their sermons. So, I'm trying to learn from those men by looking for evidence of God's grace in the life of the body and then using that where appropriate in conversations, sermons, etc.
5. We should teach others to edify others. Eph. 4 makes it clear that each joint supplies to the other parts of the body. The project of edifying the body of Christ is a corporate project. It doesn't rest solely on the pastor's shoulders. So, we should model and teach such edification. We should encourage the body to consider itself the front line for mutual care and encouragement. We have to model hospitality, giving and receiving constructive feedback, gently but clear correction, exhortation and rebuke, and teaching with a view toward the well-being of the body. We must pray and labor for an entire body of people who are given to strengthening their brothers and sisters in Christ. And we have to help our people see that a ministry of edification is not only the design of God for the church but it is also the most efficient way of having their own needs for edification met (Eph. 4:16). As they serve others, others will be serving them, and together we'll all grow into the likeness of Christ.
6. Place emphasis on the whole over the parts. Here's where things get a bit tricky. Some of us will have hearts that are naturally drawn to the broken and bruised individuals in the body. Others will be particularly concerned with particular concerns or issues held by a small group or a minority. Still others will participate in certain ministries that enrich them personally or a small group of like-minded members. But I think Paul places emphasis on those gifts and activities that elevate the whole over the parts. In several places in his letters, he lays down his rights and calls others to do the same for the sake of the entire body. It's possible for us to "give thanks well, but the other is not edified" (1 Cor. 14:19). The priority is to be placed on the whole and not on individual edification.
I'm only beginning to think more carefully and explicitly about the goal of edification and how it should inform my pastoral ministry. Honestly, I find it slippery at points because the wisdom required to do it well is well beyond any wisdom I have. I trust the Lord's grace and cling to the fact that it's God the Holy Spirit who is performing this work and constructing His church. Yet, I want Him to do that with me rather than despite me. May our churches be built up in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Of course the question assumed a view of jealousy more fitting for fallen humans than God. My questioner understood that. What he wanted to know was in what way can jealousy be good.
The short answer is jealousy is good when it protects or cherishes virtue. When jealousy guards another's honor or purity or prosperity, it is jealous for the right reasons and with the right aims. Such is God's jealousy. Being infinite in all perfections, it's good and right that he should be jealous for his honor, glory, majesty, name, etc.
The Apostle Paul tells us that he, too, was jealous with godly jealousy. In 2 Cor. 11:2 Paul writes, "I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him."
Paul, as an apostle, is jealous for the church at Corinth. He describes it as a "godly" or God-like jealousy. It's a holy affection, care and protection for the church.
And then, to put this godly jealousy into a crisp word picture, the apostle likens his jealousy to that of a father who promises his virgin daughter in marriage to a groom. Verse 2 perhaps draws on the Old Testament law requiring women betrothed to a man to remain in their father's home during the time of engagement. The father was responsible for ensuring her virginity under the threat of divorce should she be found not to be a virgin on the wedding night, or the threat of death by stoning if she is taken in an adulterous situation (Deut. 22:13-29). Paul, like a vigilant father guarding the honor and purity of his daughter, is jealous for the church.
And more to the point, he understands that the groom to which he has pledged this bride is none other than Christ himself. As a "father," he could not possibly hope for a better suitor for his bride daughter. He is not indifferent regarding his promise. He's made it to "one husband." No other suitor is tolerated or entertained. No other bride price is welcomed. All would be calamity were this Suitor to find Paul's daughter defiled on the wedding night. So he is moved with godly jealousy to present the church "a pure virgin" to Christ.
This is an amazing thought. Paul's writing to Corinth, with all her stains and blemishes, faults and ungodly jealousies. And yet, he has in view the spotless, radiant presentation of the church as the bride of Christ. It's what he labored for. It's what he sought to protect with his ministry. The pastor's heart must be jealous for the bride of Christ, seeing and vigilantly protecting her honor and purity and glory, lest he allow her to date and sleep around with the Baals, Jezebels, Balaams, and Ashteroths. This is Paul's heart.
Is it the case that this kind of heart, a heart possessed of "godly jealousy" for the church, is not developed enough in many pastors? I don't know. But when I detect in my own heart, or in the comments and reactions of others, an indifference to the purity of the church, I suspect that the kind of godly jealousy that Paul speaks of is in too short a supply, or too inconsistently displayed. When we're not jealous for the pulpit and what's taught there, when we're not jealous for meaningful and regenerate church membership, when we're not jealous for the loving exercise of correction and discipline where necessary, or when we're more jealous for our personal reputations as preachers or leaders, more jealous for physical buildings and grounds, more jealous for large numbers... I suspect our jealousy is not "godly" or is altogether lacking.
This is a good thing to look for in prospective pastors and elders and leaders, and to encourage, support, applaud, and strengthen in existing pastors, elders and leaders. We require in our current situation a generation of men who are moved with godly jealousy to protect our Lord's bride until He comes and consummates the wedding. And such jealousy and concern should be for all the churches of our Lord (2 Cor. 11:28).
Monday, April 02, 2007
1. Where are you from originally?
I was born in Chicago, where my parents moved in order for my father to attend graduate school. Since age 2, I was raised in Prince George’s County, MD. I lived in Forestville, MD for all of my pre-college years. My parents still reside in the home in which I was raised.
2. Were you raised in a Christian home? If so, what was your early church experience like? Tell us how you became a Christian.
Until I was a teen, I was raised in a nominally Christian, very moral, love-filled home. My parents, raised in the South, were church-goers with a southern African-American, Judeo-Christian work, family, and community ethic. However, it was not until my parents experienced conversion by Christ that my home took on a distinctively Christian experience. By the mighty working of the Lord’s grace, his work of sanctification in my parents has never diminished from the time of their commitments to Christ. Today they are two of the most mature and sincere believers I know.
Prior to their conversions, they responsibly took my brother and me to church with them many Sundays. On the Sundays they did not attend church, they placed my brother and me on the local Sunday School van of an SBC church near our home. It was through the work of two missionaries appointed by the SBC Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board), who preached the Gospel to us on the van every Sunday, that I was introduced to Christ as a child in my late-elementary / pre-teen years. I can remember learning John 3:16 every Sunday.
4. When and how did you decide to enter pastoral ministry?
I am a Bible college and seminary graduate. However, in my last year of undergraduate studies, through the encouragement of three of my professors, I sensed the Lord directing me to pursue becoming a seminary professor – to pursue the highest level of training. (So as to distinguish this from the modern phenomena of every young seminarian pursuing a PhD, please note that for an African-American, pursuing the lectern over the pulpit was a very novel idea among my classmates, friends, and church members. Even the ministry staff at my church found my passions to be “interesting.” But the Lord had put into me a passion to teach the Scriptures to our people. Also, I began to reason that many of our churches, traditionally, were weak in preaching and teaching sound theology because our young men did not pursue studies at evangelical schools, and that because there were few mentors – i.e., professors – to draw them to such schools. In contrast, there were plenty of examples of pastors to continue to push young men toward the pulpit. However, that was usually without the pursuit of strong solid training in the word of God. I wanted to be a drawing card to thorough, formal, biblical and theological training in an evangelical setting. This is still my passion, so I keep my hand in evangelical academia as an adjunct teacher, chapel and seminar speaker, as a trustee of a large evangelical seminary, and as a member and presenter in the Evangelical Theological Society.)
Upon graduation from seminary – without the PhD, (for the finances for studies past the Master degree were not available then), by the great sovereignty of God – I taught for 6 years at a Bible college in Maryland. While in my fifth year of teaching, the church of one of my students became vacant due to the translation of their pastor to glory. In attempting to help the church fill the pulpit during the vacancy, I was called by the church to be the interim pastor, part-time. I signed a contract in which I agreed that I could not be considered for the pastor, nor could I approach the church about being considered for the pastorate, nor could I speak to the pulpit committee about any potential candidates. Being contented with my position at the college, and only hoping to help a church have solid teaching during their search period for a permanent pastor, I gladly worked within the contract. The Lord used this six-month “interim” period to warm the church to me, and to warm me to the church and to the thought of being a vocational pastor. The church approached me to stay as pastor, offering to rescind the previous contractual agreement. As I like to say, it was only then that I knew for certain that the Lord had called me to (vocational) pastoral ministry!
5. How long have you been in pastoral ministry? How long have you been at your current church?
Prior to my current position, I served on staff as a part-time youth minister at one church, as a part-time outreach and missions pastor at another church, and as a traditional “associate minister” at my home church—a traditional, mainline African-American church. Since the missions pastor position, I have been in some form of vocational pastoral ministry for twelve years. I have been at my current church as a (senior) pastor for six years since the time they called me to the interim position.
6. Tell us about the church? What was it like when you arrived? How has it changed over time?
Hillcrest was founded in 1955. In its early existence, it was a predominantly white congregation. As the demographics around the church changed, so did the membership. I have been told that around 1985 the membership was 50-50 between African-Americans and whites. By the time I arrived in 2001, the church was 90% African-American in membership. As the eighth pastor of Hillcrest, I was the first African-American pastor.
When I arrived, Hillcrest had a history of being a church that preached the Gospel, trusted the word of God as true, welcomed missionaries, and gave faithfully to the Southern Baptist Convention. The church was complementarian in thought, but not completely so in practice. However, I cannot say that we were intentionally Gospel-centered as a corporate body.
The average Sunday attendance was around 250. The church had a high-church version of a traditional, white, Southern-styled, 1970’s-Southern Baptist, corporate worship liturgy, in which hymns, doxologies, and anthems were sung, and some contemporary music was sung to tracks. Only the piano, organ, and hand bells were employed as instruments, and service was (exactly) 1-hour long. There was no freedom for expression of one’s love of God or praise of him; laughter was the only audible response welcomed. Membership was taken from the floor of the corporate worship service though an altar call.
There was a traditional Sunday School model for education, and monthly (yes, monthly) business meetings. Prayer meeting and Bible study were held on Wednesdays.
The membership was significantly older than me in age, the median age now (2007) being 59 years of age, and the median age of the deacons now being about 64 years of ages (which has probably lowered, as four of the deacons have made their transitions to glory since 2001). Other than Sunday School, there was not a consistent ministry to teens and their families; there was a consistent ministry to younger children on Sundays. I was the only full-time pastoral staff member.
Since 2001, the ethnic complexion of the membership has remained the same, even though we now run 350 in corporate worship on Sundays. We are solidly partnering with the works of the SBC, now being part of a strong state-level association—Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV). They have joined us in our focus of reaching the 20,000 people who live within a 1-mile radius of our church with the Gospel. Primarily through the SBC, we continue to give in a very strong way toward the preaching of the Gospel around the world, and we continue to show hospitality to missionaries in a faithful manner.
We no longer take membership from the floor. (Hallelujah!) Following a modified catechumenate model, and using Nine Marks of a Healthy Church as our core curricula, we now take in members through a process of completing a New Members course, interviewing with the pastor, and applying for membership—that is, being received by the membership through recommendation by the leadership and voting. We have done this in order to have meaningful membership—a membership that closely reflects membership in the New Testament and can preserve the purity of the Gospel. This also has been helpful in casting a vision for a reformation in the church.
We have developed a “scope and sequence” for educating our children and teens in the faith. This includes bringing online the Children’s Desiring God curricula and model for training our children, which is in process. We are developing “Titus 2” models for passing on the faith from the older generation to the younger generation in our men’s and women’s ministries. Being intentional about developing future leaders in accordance with the qualification of Scripture, which is important to the work of the Gospel, we have developed arenas for training men and young men in the Scriptures and for servicing the people of God.
We have added a full-time youth pastor of our teen ministry, a part-time pastor of children’s discipleship, an intern to oversee college-aged ministries, and a part-time director over worship and music. Significantly, corporate worship times have a flavor of reverent celebration. Preaching expositionally has remained central to Sunday services. The idea of becoming corporately Gospel-centered/Christ-centered is taking root around the church. Also, we are now expressly complementarian. It is a work of patient faithfulness, depending upon the Holy Spirit to do what is impossible for man.
7. Were there any areas needing reform in your mind? Did the congregation and other leaders agree that those reforms were needed? How did you lead the other leaders and the congregation through these reform efforts?
The greatest areas in which we needed and still need reform are in our leadership structure, in corporate prayer, in our understanding of evangelism and our burden for the lost, and in biblical hospitality. We have a pastor-and-deacons model for leadership, as opposed to a pastor-elders-and-deacons model. I have said to our church and leadership that our deacons, in all of their faithfulness as servants, play a role of partial-elders and partial deacons, in which they have the authority of elders without the qualifications or roles of elders, and in which they do part of the work of deacons, but not all of what deacons should do. However, I have walked slowly in this reform because earlier attempts at reform were misunderstood by a few people as grasps for power rather than as sincere attempts to position us to live and preach the Gospel with greater joy and power. However, we must reform this area in order to please the Lord. We must reform this area in order for the Gospel-work of biblical shepherding to take place. We must reform this area in order for the Gospel-work of membership care to happen responsibly before the Lord. We agree that we first need a shared understanding of this model of leadership before we can attempt to practice it. We intend to study the concept of biblical eldership and biblical church government as a corporate body. I intend to take the leadership through a preliminary study prior to the corporate study.
Like many churches, we need more time to pray, and to make the focus of our corporate prayer times items in line with God’s will for the corporate body—the church. Our numbers for corporate prayer meeting are low in comparison to worship service attendance. The majority of the body agrees that this reform is needed and we are working toward it.
In the Lord’s grace, we have reformed the altar call. We first had to gain a shared understanding of the Good News, election, regeneration, and the work of the Holy Spirit in drawing people to faith. We studied these concepts, and the concept of meaningful membership, for more than three months, allowing for the “Billy Graham generation” to ask many questions. It took a period of six months from the time of the first discussion for the actual change to take place. In the end, I struck a compromise with the altar-call-traditionalists among the leadership in which I did not have to sacrifice my convictions about the Gospel, and in which those favoring the altar call did not have to feel completely displaced. There is no such thing as receiving membership from the floor of the corporate worship service, for which the majority is thankful.
In terms of hospitality, we are growing. However, developing biblical community, and receiving people unlike us who have ideas different from our preferences and traditions, are areas in which their significance to the Gospel needs to be grasped more fully. I am in need of grace to lead us to embrace the lepers, entertain strangers, and to receive every new member as a member with equal standing in Christ, and thus in the local assembly and household of God. We have not really explored this area for reform. There have been discussions, but not an all-out assault on this for the sake of the Gospel.
8. What fruit is the Lord bearing in the people of the church through these reforms?
At this time, the greatest fruit is the patience the Lord is working in me to wait on him to bring about reform. The language of reforming, in very primitive forms, is beginning to permeate the church and take root. The Lord is raising up men and young men who are grasping Biblical Theology and a Gospel-centered view of the kingdom. People are beginning to see how marriage and the family fit into the plan of God for the spread of the Gospel; we are beginning to fight for marriage, for marriage joy, and for raising our children in the fear of Christ, and we have hired a part-time associate pastor to help us in this endeavor. Also, people have an expectation of strong, expositional, Christ-centered preaching from the pulpit week to week. As one member said to me, “Pastor, now when I listen to the sermons of others, I notice when they do not tie their preaching to the Gospel. I have noticed that you present the Gospel in every sermon, tying every passage back to Christ’s work.” This is the sort of “ah-ha” in the members that makes me burst with joy!
9. What issues occupy the bulk of your prayer life for the church?
As we continue to grow in the area of corporate prayer, our prayers are changing from being related to sickness and financial provision primarily, to a balance of praying for the physical needs of the membership while also praying toward reaching people around us with the Gospel. As noted above, praying for missionaries has been a hallmark of Hillcrest for decades, for which I am most grateful. Praying for the Lord to send out missionaries from among our own ranks is something that is growing around the congregation.
Our prayer time also is given to the end of the war / peace in the Middle East, and for our staff pastors and their families. In almost every prayer time I hear people call out my name and ask for the Lord’s blessings on me. I am thankful.
10. As you look out over the African-American church and the wider evangelical church world, what things encourage you?
I am encouraged as I see the Lord creating a reformational movement among the African-American church. I am hopeful for a Spirit-wrought revival and reformation. I see younger men talking about the significance of theology and the Gospel to their ministries. I am excited as I see the humble, high-brow theological discussions taking place at Reformed Blacks of America, the Council of Reforming Churches, and at blogs like yours and Non Nobis Domine.
I also am encouraged by our Anglo-brothers’ no-strings-attached support of this reformation. In this I see a shared burden for our reformation, with a desire for ethnic minorities to have equal-in-Christ sitting at the table, without patronization or paternalism on the part of our Anglo brothers in the Lord. I see no suspicion of impure motives or taking advantage of post-60’s white guilt on the part of our African-American brothers; it seems that the Gospel, not guilt (or feelings of inferiority) are driving this cross-cultural reforming partnership. Together for the Gospel, the Alliance for Confessing Evangelicals, Desiring God Ministries, and The Gospel Coalition have been key players in this development. From where I stand, these ministries, themselves, are indicators of a reformation blowing across the land, which brings me great joy.