Countless volumes have been written on this subject, of course. Here I shall restrict myself to five observations.
First, preaching is more than the oral communication of information, no matter how biblical and divine that information may be. Rather, we should think in terms of what might be called "re-revelation." Across the centuries, God disclosed himself--he revealed himself--in great events (e.g., the burning bush, the exodus, the resurrection of Jesus); he disclosed himself supremely in the person of his Son. But very commonly he revealed himself by his words. Perennially we read, "The word of the Lord came to such-and-such a prophet." So when that Word is re-announced, there is a sense in which God, who revealed himself by that Word in the past, is re-revealing himself by that same Word once again. Preachers must bear this in mind. Their aim is more than to explain the Bible, however important that aim is. They want the proclamation of God's Word to be a revelatory event, a moment when God discloses himself afresh, a time when the people of God know that they have met with the living God. They know full well that for the Scriptures to have this revelatory impact the Spirit of God must apply that Word deeply to the human heart, so that preaching must never be seen as a mere subset of public oratory. Both the content (the Bible is God's Word) and the transformative empowering (the Spirit himself) transcend any merely mechanical view of preaching.
Second, to remain true to this basic understanding of what preaching is, the preacher must be committed to the primacy of expository preaching. We must take pains to debunk what many people think "exposition" and "expository" mean. They associate exposition with a style that takes not more than half a verse per sermon and casts around widely for every conceivable association, biblical and pastoral. Certainly that is one form of exposition, but that form is not the essence of the matter. Exposition is simply the unpacking of what is there. In a narrative text (e.g., 2 Samuel) or major epic (e.g., Job), fine exposition may focus on several chapters at once. If a sermon takes two or three short passages from disparate parts of the Bible and explains each of them carefully and faithfully within its own context, it remains an expository sermon, for it is unpacking what the biblical text or texts actually say. If we expect God to re-reveal himself by his own words, then our expositions must reflect as faithfully as possible what God actually said then the words were given to us in Scripture.
Third, there is an heraldic element in preaching. The Bible sometimes envisages other forms of oral communication, of course: we may be invited to reason together with the Lord (Is. 1:18), for instance, or enter into a dialogical confrontation with him (e.g., Mal. 1:2-8; Rom. 6:1-2). Yet in the oft-repeated "Thus says the Lord" of the Old Testament is an unavoidable heraldic element--an announcement, a sovereign disclosure, a nonnegotiable declaration. As ambassadors, we are tasked with making known the stance and intentions of our Sovereign; we do not have the authority to tamper with his position.
Fourth, preaching is never an end in itself. It is not an art form to be admired, still less mere high-flown rhetoric that so captures the audience's imagination that the content is of little importance. This is not to deny that artistry and rhetoric may be traced in sermons; rather, it is to keep ultimate ends in constant view. The faithful preacher will care little what folk think of his oratorical skills; he will care a great deal about whether he has faithfully represented the Master and his message. This includes a passionate commitment to make the Word wound and heal, sing and sting.
And that means, fifth, that we must study our own people, the culture of the people to whom we minister. Inevitably there are commonalities from culture to culture, but there are countless distinctives as well. To communicate effectively we must address the people of the time and place where God has placed us. This is a perennially urgent need in the thoughtful and faithful preacher....
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Monday, December 29, 2008
Here are nine things we never saw prior to the year 2008:
1. The obvious first first: the United States saw the election of its first African-American presidential nominee for a major party and its first African-American president-elect.
2. The numbers behind the obvious first: The first presidential campaign topping $1 billion dollars ($1.7 billion to be more precise). And there were a lot of first time voters in this year's election.
3. March 25, 2008, the first democratic elections were held in Bhutan, the world's only Buddhist kingdom, Gospel for Asia reports.
4. Also in March 2008, for the first time the number of adherents to Islam outnumbered the number of adherents to Roman Catholicism.
4. 30,000 people turned out for fifth day of the first test cricket match between India and England. (Okay, it's official. I'm giving cricket "firsts" and I don't even know who is in the playoffs for the NFL! I've been in the Caribbean too long!)
5. Have we seen the first historical evidence of the Druids?
6. Bruno Julie, "the Mauritian Magician," earns Mauritius its first Olympic medal. The sport? Men's boxing.
7. In May 2008, the Archbishop of Perth announced the first female bishop of the Australian Anglican church, Kay Goldsworthy. A few days later, the first woman bishop was appointed in Victoria as well. Meanwhile, openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson began his second term
8. Their campuses are only a couple miles apart, but this year marked the first time that historically black N.C. Central University squared off against Duke University in a baseball game.
9. UNESCO completes first ever study of historical and contemporary slavery.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
So, I want to plug the audio and video from the Shepherding a Child's Heart conference with Dr. Tedd Tripp held out at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Here's a listing of the sessions:
Session 1: The Call to Formative Instruction
Session 2: Giving Kids a Vision for God's Glory
Session 3: Helping Kids Understand Authority
Session 4: Helping Kids Understand the Heart
Session 5: Overview of Corrective Discipline
We use the video of Shepherding a Child's Heart in our parenting Sunday school class to good spiritual effect in the lives of folks who participate. We can't parent in as God-honoring, Christ-loving, and eternally-focused a way as we might otherwise if we don't think about parenting and apply biblical wisdom. That's an obvious point, but it's so often lost on me. Here's praying all of those tasked with raising a godly offspring for the Lord (Mal. 2:15) would think biblically, prayerfully, carefully, and joyfully about aiming the arrows in our quivers.
Friday, December 26, 2008
All that Christ did and suffered, from the manger to the tomb, forms one glorious whole, no part of which shall ever become needless or obsolete; no part of which one can ever leave without forsaking the whole.
I am always at the manger, and yet I know that mere incarnation cannot save; always at Gethsemane, and yet I believe that its agony was not the finished work; always at the cross, with my face toward it, and my eye on the crucified One, and yet I am persuaded that the sacrifice there was completed once for all; always looking into the grave, though I rejoice that it is empty, and that ‘He is not here, but is risen’; always resting (with the angel) on the stone that was rolled away, and handling the grave-clothes, and realizing a risen Christ, nay, an ascended and interceding Lord, yet on no pretext whatever leaving any part of my Lord’s life or death behind me, but unceasingly keeping up my connection with Him, as born, living, dying, buried, and rising again, and drawing out from each part some new blessing every day and hour.
—Horatius Bonar, “Not Faith, But Christ”
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Here's the excerpt:
Many people who otherwise ignore God and the church have some religious feeling, or feel they ought to, at this time of the year. So they make their way to a church service or Christmas program. And when they go, they come away feeling vaguely warmed or at least better for having gone, but not disturbed.
Why aren’t people disturbed by Christmas? One reason is our tendency to sanitize the birth narratives. We romanticize the story of Mary and Joseph rather than deal with the painful dilemma they faced when the Lord chose Mary to be the virgin who would conceive her child by the power of the Holy Spirit. We beautify the birth scene, not coming to terms with the stench of the stable, the poverty of the parents, the hostility of Herod. Don’t miss my point. There is something truly comforting and warming about the Christmas story, but it comes from understanding the reality, not from denying it.
Most of us also have not come to terms with the baby in the manger. We sing, “Glory to the newborn King.” But do we truly recognize that the baby lying in the manger is appointed by God to be the King, to be either the Savior or Judge of all people? He is a most threatening person.
Malachi foresaw his coming and said, “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” As long as we can keep him in the manger, and feel the sentimental feelings we have for babies, Jesus doesn’t disturb us. But once we understand that his coming means for every one of us either salvation or condemnation, he disturbs us deeply.
What should be just as disturbing is the awful work Christ had to do to accomplish the salvation of his people. Yet his very name, Jesus, testifies to us of that work.
That baby was born so that “he who had no sin” would become “sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The baby’s destiny from the moment of his conception was hell—hell in the place of sinners. When I look into the manger, I come away shaken as I realize again that he was born to pay the unbearable penalty for my sins.
That’s the message of Christmas: God reconciled the world to himself through Christ, man’s sin has alienated him from God, and man’s reconciliation with God is possible only through faith in Christ…Christmas is disturbing.
And the conclusion:
Only those who have been profoundly disturbed to the point of deep repentance are able to receive the tidings of comfort, peace, and joy that Christmas proclaims.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Ministries of mercy...
Evangelistic fruit and loving intentionality in mercy ministries, and looking for prophet, priest, and king gospel character in pastors...
Prophet, priest and king gospel character in pastors (cont'd), mentoring upcoming pastors, and being "gospel-centered" with libertines...
Being "gospel-centered" with libertines (cont'd), Bonhoeffer on cheap grace, and how does the cross help us conquer sin...
Seeing the ugliness of sin in conversion and sanctification, and why God is "stuck with being beautiful"...
True confessions from Piper and Keller...
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Jonathan, and I live in Washington, DC. Prior to founding Access Partners, I had a background in business development and used to negotiate partnerships for a telecommunications company.
What is the mission of Access Partners?
Access Partners is a business incubator that facilitates church planting among the least reached people groups in the world.
Our passion is to see the gospel proclaimed to the nations through the planting of biblical indigenous churches in the Central Asia. We come alongside church planters to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth through business.
One of the greatest needs in the cause of world missions is access to the gospel. As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?”
For centuries people have been traveling as missionaries to share the gospel with those who have never heard it. But in places where worldviews, cultures and governments are hostile to Christianity, access to this message is increasingly limited. In other words, millions of people in the world have little chance to hear the gospel preached. In the past, Christians have been able to enter restricted access countries as students and humanitarian workers. However, as governments continue to crack down on mission work, it has become more difficult to obtain or even retain these visas.
One solution to this obstacle is the creation of viable, for-profit businesses that both contribute to a country’s economy and provide sustainability and credibility for those wishing to advance the gospel in that country. Why? Credible business has proven to be an avenue on which even “closed countries” are willing to let foreigners through.
To those ends, Access Partners (AP) seeks to create businesses that facilitate healthy church planting among the least reached. To be sure, we’re not talking about creating fake businesses or business that only serve the purpose of making money. We’re talking about real businesses that directly allow church planters to form relationships with people who have never heard the gospel. To facilitate this work, AP works together with missions organizations to start up and optimize businesses, enabling church planters to reach otherwise inaccessible locations and communities.
How did Access Partners begin?
In 2002, I explored “business as missions” through a project in Central Asia. I partnered with a team needing a legitimate means of residing in a city with few Christians. They wanted to share the gospel in this highly restricted and it seemed like business might be the avenue for doing so.
Our solution was to try to assist the locals in that community through selling fair trade handicrafts. Artisans in that city have a well-developed history of crafts that readily find local markets, so it was a great opportunity. I found it thrilling to wake up every day being able to use my skills and experience to do something I loved - and also know that I was helping establish a foundation for bringing the gospel to those who had never heard.
To get this business off the ground rightly, I found I needed help from someone with technology experience. So I started working with a technology consultant based in the US named Daniel - who would later become the other founder of Access Partners with me. Together we launched the business and saw encouraging initial sales.
Throughout the development of this fair trade business, one theme resonated continually: the importance of business in church planting strategy. It became evident that business was increasingly an optimal way of bringing the gospel to these locations where obtaining a visa had become more and more difficult.
Confronted with this reality, we decided to think in larger terms than even our initial handicrafts business. We traveled across the 10/40 window and interviewed over 20 church planters in 5 countries to see if they could use business consultation help in order to stay in-country and continue their church planting efforts. Almost unanimously, they responded positively to the notion.
With all of this in mind, Daniel and I returned to the States and decided to start what is now a growing organization: Access Partners.
Access Partners began as a consulting partner for a partnering organization working in the Central Asia region. We were called upon to formally assist several of their church planting teams set up kingdom businesses in the field.
During our first year, Access Partners helped establish two businesses, each supporting 6 church planters. Since then, we have expanded so that the organization is now supporting over 50 church planters on 12 teams.
AP has launched 4 businesses and is working on 12 new business start-ups in 2009-2010, 3 of which are in cities that currently have no gospel witness. These businesses will support an additional 40 church planters.
You are doing what you and others refer to as "business as missions." Can you explain what "BAM" is and how your approach is unique among other BAM models?
Business as missions (BAM) is a strategy that has been implemented in many ways by various proponents of it. For the particular problem we are trying to solve- that is, facilitating church planting among the most unreached people groups in the world- we have fine tuned our approach using five particular values:
1) Prioritize the 10/40 window
Our passion is to support those who are working among people groups who are least reached by the gospel message. They happen to live in places that are quite hostile to Christianity, where believers face persecution from their community and the government. As a result, their locations are where BAM is most relevant.
2) Implement sustainable models
We are not out to reinvent the business wheel. Rather, we aim to use best practices in international business development and apply it towards solving the problem of access in these closed countries. While there are circumstances beyond our control in these areas where war and corruption are daily realities, we seek to find business models that will allow our missionary friends to stay in the country for a long time. Because of this, we need to use business models that are legitimate and at the same time supportive of church planting activities and timeframes. A sustainable model will also take into consideration the community’s benefit - we want these businesses to be a blessing to the cities they serve.
3) Build legitimate businesses
Any BAM business needs to be run with integrity, to properly reflect the Savior whom we serve. We don’t want to risk damaging a church planter’s gospel witness, so we do not encourage fake businesses, or businesses that only exist on paper. This is why we take time to carefully design the business operations, make sure they have the right personnel on the ground leading it, and build a plan to be profitable. The business needs to be legitimate and needs to makes sense to the community it serves.
4) Partner with experts
We are blessed to work within a network of like-minded organizations, and we hope to keep expanding this network to help us solve this problem of access faster. We partner with missions organizations, for instance, who send people into the field who have done church planting for years and have spent much time learning the cultures and the environments of the people they serve. We work with organizations who have also used BAM in other contexts to learn from their projects.
5) Work through the local church
Matthew 28 is not just a command for individuals; it is a charge given by the Lord to His church. We have seen much success following this biblical pattern in the way we operate. Through our partner churches, we have found a treasure trove of skilled business men and women who are passionate about the Great Commission, and desire to use their gifting to get the gospel message out to those who have not heard it. We also find pastors and church staff who are willing to mobilize their congregation, give us their advice, and connect us with the right people.
Finally, the church planters we support work in teams and prioritize local church planting as an important aspect of their ministry: a setup that is invaluable especially when you are in a country where often you are the only Christians there.
Where exactly is your work taking place?
We focus on Central Asia region for our work — the most unreached region in the world (0.016% Christian).
Could you describe some specific projects you're working on?
Our most strategic initiative in 2008 was the Business Directors Program. We want to ensure that the right businesspeople are working on these teams overseas. Church planters who need to focus on leadership development and evangelism are often not equipped to manage a business. Instead of asking them to bear the full weight of entrepreneurship and business management, we recruit people from the US to manage the businesses and provide an umbrella under which the church planters can work part-time.
By God’s grace, we’ve hit our target of 3 business directors for 2008 and are almost halfway through the target of 7 for 2009! An example of the candidates is an owner of a construction company. He and his wife were planning on retiring before but now are joining one of our teams and helping run their operations. They are selling their company and preparing to move overseas in 2009.
Other candidates are former divisional managers of Fortune 100 companies and small business owners of companies with $10M revenue – in other words, there are solid businesspeople. We believe that this new approach establishes a good foundation from where we can then scale in the future.
What church planting impact have you seen as a result of this model?
The church planting impact in the field as a result of this business as missions model has been enormous. We traveled to Central Asia to meet with some of our church planting partners during their annual meeting a few months ago, and were thrilled to hear about the Lord’s work among the nations where they serve.
Take, for example, a young lady who heard the gospel for the first time last year. We helped provide her with a Bible during a trip that we took in 2007 and, over the past year, church planters have continued to share the gospel with her. Earlier this year, she became a Christian and was baptized.
Another team we support praised God for His work among locals. This team has been training local Muslim background believers to bring the gospel to other people groups. This past year, these believers started sharing with those around them and saw over 100 people make professions of faith. One of those people was a lady who met these believers as she waited by her gate outside her home. When she saw these believers, she was overjoyed since she had had a dream the previous night in which she felt led to stand outside gate the next day!
We also praised God when we heard of another team disseminating copies of the Bible to remote villages during a short-term trip, seeing the Word of God spread to new places. We are now helping this team consider ways they can live permanently close to these villages in order to be more involved in bringing the gospel to some very responsive, yet remote people.
As we support these church planting teams, we are continually amazed at what God is doing among the nations. He is accomplishing His purposes and displaying His wisdom. Although fruit may be slow sometimes, we know that God is working all things to bring Himself glory – and thus work with confidence as we support our teams on the field.
How can others get involved in your mission?
Here at the end of the year, the most influential way people can impact our work is by supporting us financially. We would be grateful for the readers of this blog to consider partnering with us by giving a gift to Access Partners online (http://www.access1040.com/).
But additionally, I encourage readers to educate themselves about the gospel needs and solutions to those needs in the 10/40 window by visiting our website and reading our white papers about business as missions, as well as recent updates from the field about church planting efforts. Sign up for our monthly E-newsletter and Quarterly mailings on our website as well, so that we can keep in touch with you about the work.
Finally, and most importantly, please pray for us. Pray for the church planters we support on the ground. And pray for the lost that we seek to reach with the good news of Christ. Let’s labor together is seeking God’s powerful hand among those who do not yet know Him.
Monday, December 22, 2008
According to the study, dating is passe. Apparently young people now lack the skills to simply ask someone out on a date. If the hook ups go well, then maybe a relationship develops. But not usually. Surprise, surprise; the guys aren't interested in a relationship.
This is the kind of thinking that creates opportunity for the church to give counter-cultural witness and display the wholeness of the good life in Christ. Jan. 4th we're starting up our Friendship, Courtship and Marriage class at FBC, patterned after some of the material from CHBC. What a joy it is to teach this class and to see light bulbs go off among the young and the old. If your church doesn't offer a Sunday school, small group, or Bible study focused on this topic, perhaps suggesting it to the leaders would be a good idea. Our people need it.
Apparently, Mark Dever is leaving CHBC to work full-time as a model with Hanna Barbera. Details here.
This video has been making the rounds (HT: Pyromaniacs). I appreciated it for these questions: "How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?"
How many churches do you suppose have by-laws that explicitly state that it will not recognize the resignation of people attempting to leave the membership of the church while under discipline? DJP has a survey running.
CT asks, "What does Obama's election mean for the segregated church?" An interview with Michael O. Emerson, one of the authors of Divided by Faith. (HT: Reconciliation Blog)
The careful interpreters at Reformation Theology give the biblical case for God's love for cats and disdain for dogs.
Derek Thomas (okay... just spelling his first name the way he does makes him an honorary brutha and among the coolest--don't tell Piper--PCA cats around; keepin' company with Lig' doesn't hurt either)... yeah, Derek Thomas on his appreciation for John Calvin:
What is it about Calvin that so inspires me? This: his disciplined style, his determination never to speculate, his utter submission to Bible words as God's words, his submission to Christ's Lordship, his sense of the holy, his concern to be as practical as possible; the fact that godly living was his aim and not theology for the sake of it. In a forest of theologians, Calvin stands like a Californian Redwood, towering over everyone else.What a joy it will be to read the Institutes with my wife in 2009, and then blog with the Ref21 gang: Ian D. Campbell, Ligon Duncan, Sinclair Ferguson, Sean Lucas, Steve Nichols, Rick Phillips, Phil Ryken, Justin Taylor, Derek Thomas, and Carl Trueman. Needless to say, I plan on doing a lot more learning than teaching with this group of brothers! Join us at Blogging the Institutes.
I know that the word 'Calvinist' is a theological swear-word in some circles. I am convinced that folk who use the word that way have never read Calvin at all! They may have read about him; but they have not read the careful, reverential way in which he wrote. It is, of course, what Calvin said about predestination that goads certain people. But Calvin was extremely careful not to speculate here. He talked about predestination--in the same way that Paul does in Romans 8 and 9. Rather than introduce election at the very beginning of his treatment on theology (the logical place to put it), he placed it after spelling out what the gospel is and does. Calvin talked about the free offer of the gospel first: that the gospel is for 'whosoever-will'. Only after he has established this does he introduce predestination, and then in the context of re-assuring believers of their eventual glorification (in exactly the same way as Paul does at the end of Romans 8).
Finally, some ways religion impacted the news in 2008. Not reported: all those who were being added to the number of the faithful each day. The biggest news is how the Good News makes old things new.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
I don't believe these stats! I think there is a vast left wing conspiracy to destroy the culinary joy experienced by pork-loving Americans. They can't stand the fact that pork is the "other white meat." Puritans! They're afraid that somebody, somewhere, at some time might actually be enjoying their breakfast!
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Take this video from the Worship God conference for example.
In Two Keys at the Same Time from Sovereign Grace Ministries on Vimeo.
About 1,200 witnessed it live. But my dear fried Bob Kauflin, a prince among men, one who would never embarrass you for no good reason, thought this was good enough reason to put Joe out there for the entire blogosphere to laugh at--I mean learn from. These guys are sweet people. With friends like these... :-) LOL
By the way, Worship God, beginning in 2009, is becoming an annual event! In my opinion, it's the best conference of its kind. I don't know where there is more laughter, joy, solid singing and music, and useful spiritual and practical instruction. Excellent stuff.
As 2008 draws to a close, I want to keep you informed about our Shepherds’ Conference registration. Registrations for the 2009 conference continue to come in at a steady pace and we praise God for that!
As an added incentive to register for the conference, Christian Audio has partnered with us to offer 2 free audio book downloads to anyone who registers for the Shepherds’ Conference between now and January 15th. If you register in time, you will be able to download Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur and He Is Not Silent by Al Mohler. These books are outstanding ministry resources authored by two of our own keynote speakers for 2009.
So here’s how it works. Just go to www.shepherdsfellowhship.org to register for the conference. Upon registration you will receive a confirmation email that will include Christian Audio’s website and the download code to download your 2 free books. Additionally, Christian Audio will be a vendor in our conference bookstore featuring many of their audio book products.
Finally, the Shepherds’ Fellowship will be launching a new website at the beginning of the year and I will email you pertinent information about that at the beginning of January. I am excited to extend you this limited time registration offer, and I hope to see many of you at the conference this coming year. On behalf of the Shepherds’ Conference staff, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas!
Shepherds’ Conference Director
Monday, December 15, 2008
First comes the stunning silence, then the screeching wheels of cognitive dissonance. See here:
and here. The last two minutes, meditating on 2 Cor. 5:21 are worth the entire video (which is excellent in its entirety).
MacArthur's line at T4G this year has stuck with me: "Hard truth makes soft people." I think these videos are exhibit a in support of that statement. Who loves the truth and yet can remain hard at such clear, Christ-exalting teaching?!
HT: A Daughter's Thoughts...
No altar call. No manipulation. No mood lighting. Just Jesus crucified, resurrected, reigning. Just the call to repent and believe. Could it be that simple?
HT: A Daughter's Thoughts...
I like tip #10: Build your church with a sloping floor to make it easy to come up front!
All humor aside, what could be more disastrous, when hell and eternity are in the balance, than to fill our churches with false converts, folks who have "made a decision" but who have not experienced the new birth?
HT: A Daughter's Thoughts...
Friday, December 12, 2008
Ten Differences Between the Reformation and Rome
This article by Guy Davies appeared in the September/October issue of Protestant Truth. Guy is Joint-Pastor of Penknap Providence Church and Ebenezer Baptist Church in Wiltshire, England.
1. The Roman Catholic Church believes that its traditions and teaching are as authoritative as Scripture. The Reformed value tradition, but accept the Bible alone as their authority, and sole rule of faith and practice.
2. The Roman Catholic Church believes that the Pope, as successor of Peter and Bishop of Rome, is head of the visible Church. The Reformed believe that Christ alone is head of the Church and that no man may claim universal primacy over the people of God.
3. The Roman Catholic Church believes that the Bible cannot be properly understood apart from the official interpretation of Rome (the Magisterium). The Reformed believe that Christians have a responsibility to judge the truth of all teaching by the extent of its conformity to the teaching of the Bible as it has been commonly accepted with the help of responsible exegesis and the witness of the Spirit.
4. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that we are justified by baptism and that justification must be supplemented and improved by works. The Reformed hold that the Bible teaches that justification is God's declaration that a sinner is righteous in his sight, on the basis of faith in the finished work of Christ, apart from works. We are justified by faith alone. Baptism does not effect justification; it is the sign of it, as well as of the believer’s cleansing from sin and reception of new life in Christ.
5. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Lord's Supper is a re-offering of the sacrifice of Christ and that the bread and wine are actually changed into the body and blood of the Saviour. The Reformed hold that that in Scripture the Lord's Supper is a fellowship meal that is to be kept by believers in remembrance of the finished work of Christ. The bread and wine are significant symbols to believers of Christ's body and blood. At the Lord's Supper, they enjoy communion with the risen Christ, who is present at the Table by his Spirit.
6. The Roman Catholic Church regards its ministers as priests. They re-offer the sacrifice of Christ at the Mass and act as mediators between God and the faithful, taking Christ’s role. The Reformed teach that all Christians are priests, who offer a sacrifice of praise and worship to the Lord. Some, called to be teachers and pastors, are ministers of the Word. Their task is to give themselves to prayer, the preaching of the gospel, and to care for the flock.
7. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that after death the souls of departed believers who have not made sufficient satisfaction for their sins in their lifetime go to purgatory in order to do that prior to going to heaven. The living can affect how long the departed have to spend in purgatory by observing Mass, obtaining indulgences, and praying for them. The Reformed hold that purgatory is not taught in Scripture. They believe, in accord with Scripture, that at death the souls of believers will depart from the body to be with Christ in heaven, awaiting the resurrection to life, glory and immortality.
8. The Roman Catholic Church believes that Mary can be invoked as mediatrix with Christ and that the faithful should pray to her and show devotion to her. Rome also teaches that believers should pray for themselves and for the dead to the faithful departed whom the Pope has designated as saints. The Reformed honour Mary as the mother of our Lord and see her as an example of obedience and love to God. They maintain that there is only one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, and that, despite the protestations of Rome, its teaching takes away from the sole mediatorship of Christ. Prayer and worship is to be offered to God through him alone.
9. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that there are seven sacraments and that these sacraments work ex opere operato, effectively conveying grace to those who receive them. For example, baptism regenerates and justifies, and participants in the Mass actually feed on the body and drink the blood of Christ. The Reformed find only two sacraments or ordinances in Scripture, baptism and the Lord's Supper. These are means of grace that are only effective when received by faith.
10. The Roman Catholic Church regards herself as the one true Church through the apostolic succession of her bishops. Non-Roman Catholic Christians are regarded as 'separated brethren' who have schismatically divided the body of Christ. Reformed ministers are not truly ordained to the apostolic ministry. The Reformed define the Church not institutionally, but as a company of believing, godly people where the gospel is truly preached, baptism and the Lord's Supper rightly administered and Church discipline graciously applied. The true apostolic succession consists not in the physical laying on of hands as understood by Rome, but in believing and preaching the gospel proclaimed by the apostles and recorded in Scripture.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Put your confidence in God and bring your failures, bring your sins, to the cross. For friends, what is the cross if it's not the proof that not even your sins can fustrate God's plans. If He has begun a good work in you, He will complete it.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
The video is here.
Here's my question: When you listen to Pres. Bush on the whole, how different are his faith claims from Pres.-Elect Obama? What do you think?
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
The first article points to the difficulty of traditional African-American churches attracting and reaching young people. The dynamic is an old one, the proposed solutions well-worn. But it's useful to think through these things again and to discern biblical from unbiblical or merely pragmatic.
A couple of stats from the article:
There is reason to hope young people can be drawn back. In the 2008 Pew Forum Religious Landscape Survey, 71 percent of black adults under 30 said religion is very important in their lives, compared with 45 percent of all respondents under 30.
Pew Research Center surveys of 3,600 black adults in 2008 found only 14 percent of respondents ages 18 to 29 attended church more than once a week, half the percentage of those 50 and older. In contrast, 43 percent of younger respondents went a few times a year or fewer, compared with a quarter of the respondents 50 and older.
3. Is the concept of "senior pastor" biblical? If so, where do we find it? I agree that there are leaders singled out among the elders, but is this one leader?
In your first question, it depends on what you mean by 'biblical.' Do we find the title itself in scripture? No, not that I'm aware. Do we find some patterns in Scripture or is the function a necessary entailment of some teaching in Scripture? I would say "yes."
First, as you point out, the Scripture itself makes the distinction between all elders and those elders whose job is preaching and teaching (1 Tim. 5:18). "Double honor" is "especially" owed to those whose job is preaching and teaching. So, it would seem that there is to be at least one elder who plays that role in a local church. There could be more, but there must be at least one. That person would be the "primary preaching elder" or what we popularly call the "senior pastor." But if there is more than one who serves well in the word as this text presumes, then is there any grounds for establishing one "senior pastor"?
Second, there are the historical patterns in the NT itself. The most frequently cited (and abused) example of this is Jesus' closer relationship with Peter, James and John, with Peter serving as the most frequent leader and spokesperson of the twelve). Alexander Strauch sees at least two other examples in the situation with the deacons in Acts 6 and in the relationship between Paul and Barnabas (whom Strauch regards as an apostle equal to Paul). So, there does seem to be some historical patter of "first among equals" in the NT itself.
Third, there are cases where a local church only has one qualified teaching elder for a given period of time. That's the case with both Timothy and Titus as the ministries are being developed in Ephesus and Crete. Until the eldership is really established and trained, and in God's kindness other teaching elders are raised up, Titus stands as the sole elder who must "straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town" (Titus 1:5). That could take years; in which case, you would have one senior pastor or teaching elder doing all of the teaching. And even after elders are appointed, there would be grounds for that man to continue as the main teaching elder since he'll be training the others.
Fourth, with the churches in Revelation, the Lord addressed the "angel" or "messenger" of those churches (Rev. 2-3). We know that Ephesus had a plurality of elders in place since the time of the apostle Paul. But the address goes to a single messenger rather than to the elders as a group. Apparently one main shepherd is to communicate the message of God to the people of God.
Fifth, Paul addresses his strongest charge to "preach the word" to a single elder, Timothy (2 Tim. 4:1-2). Anticipating a context where false teachers will abound and the people will want teachers to tell them what they want to hear, Paul calls on this one man to be faithful in the midst of all of that. This is a pragmatic inference, but I think there is much to commend a primary preaching elder when it comes to warding off error and focusing the people on sound teaching.
It's interesting--and I don't know what to finally make of it--but it seems to me that most often when the NT addresses elders as a whole (Acts 20:25-31; 1 Pet. 5:1-4, for example) the main instruction is not a call for all of them to teach (again, 1 Pet. 5:17 assumes that won't be the case) but for them all to shepherd or oversee or care for the flock. This is an inference, but when I compare the direct addresses to a single elder to teach (Rev. 2-3; 2 Tim. 4) with the addresses to the elders as a group to shepherd or oversee (Acts 20; 1 Pet. 5), there does seem to be a working assumption that there is one elder with primary teaching responsibility in the congregation.
4. What do you think of Alexander Strauch's (Biblical Eldership) position on this?
Well, I'm no Alexander Strauch. He's a better scholar and writer than I would ever be. While I'm mentioning him, let me plug his book Leading with Love. An excellent meditation on 1 Cor. 13 and Christian leadership.
In brief, as I understand it, Strauch considers Jesus' relationship with the three (and Peter's leadership among them), Acts 6 and the prominence of Phillip and Stephen among the seven, and Paul's relationship to Barnabas as arguments for primus inter pares (for a free on-line booklet see here). He calls for a primus inter pares based not on official office but based upon a kind of prominence that comes from superior giftedness and dynamism when compared to the others. There are two weaknesses to this view in my opinion.
First, none of the texts in view actually say that "first among equals" status is established according to superior giftedness. It's an inference that Strauch draws in consideration of the unusual giftedness and events involving these individuals. The text is silent on this matter.
Second, if we take this functional basis for primus inter pares we're inevitably left with a debatable subjective criteria for establishing this role. We have no consistent way of determining leadership of the leaders, or "first among equals." For example, in the case of Peter, Peter arguably is not the best leader given his quick tongue and nature. John, perhaps, would be more loving and therefore a "better" subjective choice.
What I do like about Strauch's approach is that it reminds us to not pigeon-hole any one elder as "the" leader on every issue. We should pay attention to gifting and unique suitedness for particular leadership roles and tasks as the elders jointly carry out the leadership of the church. Put your best man forward for the particular issue at hand. That's wise. And it keeps the church from relying too much on one man or imposing unreasonable demands on one man. We should keep this in mind, even if we would suggest a different basis for "first among equals."
Monday, December 08, 2008
What percentage of pulpit time should be occupied by one primary preaching elder? What if several elders are gifted preachers? Is the concept of "senior pastor" biblical? If so, where do we find it? I agree that there are leaders singled out among the elders, but is this one leader? What do you think of Alexander Strauch's (Biblical Eldership) position on this?Let's take the questions in turn over the next two posts.
1. What percentage of pulpit time should be occupied by one primary preaching elder?
The short answer is "it depends" on another of other questions. For example, how agreed are the elders on basic ministry and preaching philosophy? Does the sharing of the pulpit further splinter the eldership and/or the church? Is any one or more of the elders laid aside by the congregation primarily for the teaching ministry as full-time elders? Does the church have a vision for training up other preachers and pastors? How much respite does the main preaching elder need through the course of a year? Does the church support and encourage the main preaching elder in ministry commitments outside the local congregation (i.e., writing, speaking)?
All of these and more would be factors in determining how much the primary preaching elder might be in the pulpit. And, of course, the percentage could fluctuate from season to season. In principle, I would think it prudent that the main preaching elder be in the pulpit enough to: (a) establish the tone and direction of the teaching ministy; (b) shape the congregation theologically; (c) give clear direction to the church practically; and (d) meet his own sense of calling and responsibility for shepherding in the word.
Conversely, it seems prudent that the main preaching elder be out of the pulpit enough to: (a) rest and be refreshed spiritually and physically; (b) train and encourage other men for pulpit ministry; and, (c) allow other gifted elders opportunity to use their gifts and edify the saints.
The deeper and wider the teaching ministry in a church can be, while maintaining clear and consistent character and direction, the stronger the church will be. How that affects the percentage of time the primary preaching elder is in the pulpit will vary.
2. What if several elders are gifted preachers?
This is addressed in the comments above. Such elders should have opportunity to use their gifts and will strengthen the ministry when they do so.
But the question begs another question: Whose responsibility is it to manage the pulpit? An eldership needs to be clear about that responsibility. Some churches simply leave that to the primary preaching elder as part of his responsibility. Some churches "team teach" and so there is a level of group decision-making there. But even there, the 'senior pastor' generally leads or manages that process in some clear way. Whether managed by an individual or a team, the thing to watch out for is the development of an "entitlement" to preach or control the preaching ministry that undermines clear direction and sense of responsibility in the pulpit ministry.
Personally, it seems prudent that the management of the pulpit ministry be the responsibility of the primary preaching elder. There should always be input from other elders about the spiritual and teaching needs in the congregation, but practically someone needs to manage the direction of the teaching ministry. Also, if there is any significant level of planning for the pulpit ministry, you quickly find that you're managing 1,000 day-to-day details in order to complete the preaching schedule (who is available, what other observances are happening on a given Lord's Day, what is the main preacher's schedule, special days that "warrant" a certain speaker, outside speakers, and so on). If an entire eldership gets engrossed in those kinds of details it will grind to a halt for a period and probably significantly neglect other spiritual responsibilities. That's why there needs to be a practical distinction between the work of staff and the spiritual work of the eldership as a whole.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
"For those curious about the Christian faith to those deeply committed to Christ and his ways, come read and behold the glory of any and every sinner’s only hope—the miracle of the new birth that brings forth new life in Christ that will never end.”
- Bruce Ware, Professor of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
“Regeneration, or new birth, meaning simply the new you through, with, in, and under Christ, is a largely neglected theme today, but this fine set of sermons, criss-crossing the New Testament data with great precision, goes far to fill the gap. Highly recommended.”
- J .I. Packer, Professor of Theology, Regent College, Vancouver, Canada
"Theologically thorough and yet heart-warmingly pastoral and practical, this important book should help God’s people to value the remarkable status and responsibility of being ‘born again.’”
- Richard Cunningham, Director of Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF), United Kingdom
"Nothing could be more eternally important than Christian people knowing what the Bible teaches about the new birth and knowing that they have experienced it. One wonders why it’s taken so long for a book on the new birth to be written! But now it has and I pray every reader rejoices in God for the rich beauties of Christ Jesus so compellingly shared in its pages.”
- Thabiti Anyabwile, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
“Expository and practical, this rich survey of New Testament teaching explores the nature of the new birth and the life which flows from it. Full of refreshment and encouragement, it reveals more deeply the glory of Christ and the gospel and motivates a renewed commitment to live out this good news and share it with others.”
- David Jackman, President of The Proclamation Trust
“When I was a boy my grandmother asked me, ‘Have you been born again?’ Though I didn’t understand what she meant at the time, that question led to my conversion to Christ. In this wonderful book, Pastor John Piper rescues the term ‘born again’ from the abuse and overuse to which it is subject in our culture today. This is a fresh presentation of the evangelical doctrine of the new birth, a work filled with theological insight and pastoral wisdom.”
- Timothy George, Dean of Beeson Divinity School, Samford University
“Many will be thankful that John Piper is here addressing the key need of our times. Every awakening begins with the renewed discovery of Christ's teaching on the new birth. Here is that amazing teaching in lucid yet comprehensive form; with a relevance to readers worldwide.”
- Iain H. Murray
“Have I been born again? is not a question to be answered hastily. In this book, Piper strips away our complacency, arguing that many people falsely believe they are Christians. By examining the Bible’s teaching on the new birth, he shows us how to be certain our faith is genuine. Because no issue could be more critical, I believe this is the most important book Piper has written.”
- Adrian Warnock, blogger
“Classic Piper—crystal clear exposition and a must read.”
- Alistair Begg, Parkside Church
“I cannot too strongly celebrate the publication of this book. Owing in part to several decades of dispute over justification and how a person is set right with God, we have tended to neglect another component of conversion no less important. Conversion under the terms of the new covenant is more than a matter of position and status in Christ, though never less: it includes miraculous Spirit-given transformation, something immeasurably beyond mere human resolution. It is new birth; it makes us new creatures; it demonstrates that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. All the creedal orthodoxy in the world cannot replace it. The reason why “You must be born again” is so important is that you must be born again."
- D. A. Carson, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Saturday, December 06, 2008
2. More women read his blog than just about any other blog on the planet.
3. You read his blog and you feel really warm inside.
4. People try to rip off his book covers (see here).
5. More people subscribe to his blog than any other (and maybe even more than O Magazine)
But then there are reasons that Tim is completely unlike Oprah.
1. His love for the Savior.
2. His commitment to the truth.
3. His love for the church.
4. The utter absence of New Age, therapeutic self-help gurus.
5. His picture doesn't appear on the cover of all his posts.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Thabiti, Hello, brother! A question for you-- I am currently in a dialogue with an elder in my church who does not believe that traditional, "monologue-style" preaching is the "preaching" that is modeled and recommended in the New Testament. He believes that a conversation in which the Gospel is shared is a form of preaching. He also believes that preaching could simply be reading a book of the Bible, even possibly on Sunday mornings, without any additional explanation or application. He is, at least in principle, open to the idea of "dialogical" preaching, in which more than one person is allowed to speak. He also thinks that preachers, in general, should be aiming for shorter messages, as in 15-25 minutes.
Our church is a "9 Marks-friendly" church, and as such, officially holds to expositional preaching as the first of those nine marks. This man says that he firmly believes in expositional preaching, as a way of "heralding the Biblical Gospel" (which is how he defines "preaching," rather than as a monologue-style sermon), but that he simply has different beliefs from other elders in the church, as to its "context, look, and length."
Do you have any recommendations as to how I could answer his points about expositional preaching? I am unsure of how to proceed in this conversation, because I have never faced a situation in which one leader has held such divergent views from the others on a subject that I believe is so vital to the healthiness of a church. I have encouraged him to share his views with the other leaders at our church, but he is reticent, not wanting to "offend" them. At the same time, he is speaking to me, and to others in the congregation, about some of his views, and I feel uneasy and don't know what to do. I respect this man, as an elder in the church, and I want to submit to his leadership, but I am not sure what that should look like in this situation. Could you help a brother out here, if possible? :-) Your counsel would be very much appreciated!
Concerned Church Member
4. For a short resource on expositional preaching and the biblical pattern for it, you might refer the elders to this 9Marks interview with Don Carson. The opening minutes include Carson responding to this exact issue of whether expositional preaching is modeled in the Scripture. For a short book-length treatment, try Al Mohler's recent book, He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World (a review here). Mohler makes a good, accessible case for exposition.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Colin has abstracted Jackman's pleas:
1. Get rid of the idea that we have to make the text relevant.
2. Go back and work hard on the text, to find out what it meant to its first hearers or readers.
3. Make sure the original context determines your contemporary application.
4. Set the passage also in its wider Biblical theological context.
5. Focus your understanding and purpose in key sentences.
6. Develop a clear programme.
7. Study your congregation.
8. Apply the truth to the whole person.
9. Make your language count.
10. Pray for the Holy Spirit to blow his life-giving breath through it all and to do the gracious and powerful work of which only he is capable.
Mohler applauds Mrs. Obama's decision, and I join him.
This election has brought with it so many assumption-overturning events that at some point we're going to have to seriously consider casting aside the old party lines and stereotypes. For instance, the conservative vice-presidential nominee, Gov. Sarah Palin, herself a mother of five children, holds the highest office in Alaska and was prepared to take the second-highest in the land. That's not what we expect of a "conservative" or "family values" kinda candidate. It's not what we expect at all.
And all the conventional wisdom on the "progressive" or "liberal" or "feminist" side of the aisle said that First Lady Obama would and should keep her hospital executive position, proving women can make the bacon and fry it up at home, too. But, to the chagrin of some, she has decided that marriage and motherhood trump salary and abstractly representing the cause of women everywhere (as though marriage and motherhood does not represent women).
Personally, I say "good riddance" to all the stereotypes and "hello" to another national model of marriage and motherhood. Perhaps we'll be able to actually reason rather than react with our economic though deficient assumptions.
Monday, December 01, 2008
The weekend began with a leadership banquet on Saturday night. There were three services on yesterday, with a delicious dinner between the morning and evening services.
The people here are well-taught, hungry for the truth and the word, and growing more and more evangelistic. Beginning with last evening's service, the fellowship of churches are committed to hosting four evangelistic services through Wednesday night. Last night we began with Eph. 2:1-10. Tonight, D.V., it's Romans 1:16-32. Tomorrow, Romans 3. And Wednesday, perhaps John 3:16 or Romans 5.
The people here have worked really hard to be sure family and friends are included in the services and their prayers. Between the circuit of three churches, average Sunday morning service is somewhere around 400. Yesterday attendance was 842 people, many needing to hear the Good News. Pray that the Lord grants lasting and abundant fruit!