Reflections on ‘Knowing God’

This week brings our men’s study of “Knowing God” to a conclusion at New Testament Baptist Church. One year ago, we set out to explore a book heralded as one of the modern Christian classics. Some books are acclaimed in such a way as being a “must-read” only to prove boring, inconsequential, and lifeless. “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer rightfully belongs among the books that one should reread every year along with “Pilgrim’s Progress”, “Lectures to My Students”, and a few other classics. Our study of “Knowing God’ produced a deeper bond among us as brothers in Christ exploring great truths concerning theology proper examining the attributes and words of God. Why should you read this book either for the first time or tenth time? Consider the following reasons why “Knowing God” is such a treasure:

  1. Deep Theology Simplified: Packer does not shy away from handling complex truths and deep theology. For example, Packer spends time unpacking the immutability of God, the wrath of God, predestination, incarnation of Christ, and so forth. He handles these subjects in a reverent manner but also writes for the layman who has no seminary education. Packer rightfully makes an argument up front about why all of us should desire to know more theology. “Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.”[1] Not only does Packer bring the cookie jar off the shelf but he explains to you why it matters that he does so.
  2. Theology is Practical: All theology is practical. There is no way to get around it. Evangelicalism suffers tremendously today because many believers have no well-informed worldview flowing out of a biblically-based, historically-informed theology. When one is lacking in his or her understanding of who God is and what He is like, they set themselves on a path of sin. “To follow the imagination of one’s heart in the realm of theology is the way to remain ignorant of God, and to become an idol-worshiper – the idol in this case being a false mental image of God, made by one’s own speculation and imagination.”[2] Therefore, in order to live a life of joy and that is well-pleasing to God one must know God and this is only done by studying the theology of God found in Scripture.
  3. Reformed Theology for the Beginner: Only a couple of times does J.I. Packer use the terms Calvinist or Reformed to describe the position that he is taking. It is certainly not because he is ashamed of the labels. I commend Packers’ introductory essay in the reprint of John Owen’s Death of Death for a great summary of what Calvinism is. This is a book that introduces a person to classic Reformed theology without the buzzwords or phrases that cause many to stumble over the doctrines of grace. If someone can read chapter after chapter and say they agree with the truths contained in this book, then they are a Calvinist. Packer wonderfully brings forth the Bible over and over to show where he is finding the truths he does concerning grace, law, the gospel, and salvation. If you want to introduce someone to the riches of Calvinism, this is a book that does a wonderful job in many ways of setting forth those theological truths.
  4. Utilizing Other Resources: This might sound like an odd reason to read a book but, hear me out. One of the facets of “Knowing God” that we have enjoyed much in our men’s study is the various hymns that Packer incorporates in the chapter. Many times, Packer will end a chapter with a hymn that explains in a poetic way the theological truths he just unpacked. Some of the sweetest memories of our men’s study for me is hearing all of us read the stanzas in unison or taking turns reading. Packer also does not shy away from pointing you to other great men of the faith. Chapter 1 immediately opens with a paragraph from a sermon preached by C.H. Spurgeon. If a book opens with Spurgeon, then you know it will be a good one! I jest (somewhat) but Packer shows that he comes to these views not in isolation but with a great cloud of witnesses.

There are many more reasons why you should read J.I. Packer’s “Knowing God.” This is a brief article but one that I hope will cause you to make this a book you will pick up soon. What does it mean to know God? How would you answer that? Consider Packer’s words:

We must say that knowing God involves, first, listening to God’s Word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it, in application to oneself; second, noting God’s nature and character, as his Word and works reveal it; third, accepting his invitations and doing what he commands; fourth, recognizing and rejoicing in the love that he has shown in thus approaching you and drawing you into this divine fellowship.[3]

[1] J.I. Packer, Knowing God. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 19.

[2] Ibid., 48.

[3] Ibid., 37.

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Joy in the Ordinary

One of the greatest discoveries for me in learning about Reformed Theology came in discovering the concept of the ordinary means of grace. What exactly is that all about? The ordinary means of grace are a part of the warmth and joy that is found in Reformed Theology. Wrestling with the attributes of God, sovereign election, particular redemption, and covenant theology can be quite hard. Those deep theological matters cannot be reduced to a bumper-sticker with a catchy phrase or hashtag. The ordinary means of grace present another aspect of Reformed Theology: finding joy in that which is simple.

In the 2nd London Baptist Confession, Particular Baptists defined the ordinary means of grace this way: “The grace of faith, by which the elect are enabled to believe so that their souls are saved, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts. Faith is ordinarily produced by the ministry of the Word. By this same ministry and by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper, prayer, and other means appointed by God, faith is increased and strengthened.”[1] Notice that they identify the ministry of the Word, the sacraments or ordinances, and prayer as the ordinary means by which our faith is strengthened and assurance deepens. Other ordinary means of grace that can be identified, especially in a corporate worship gathering, are singing and fellowship. Reformed Baptist pastor Richard Barcellos offers this definition on the ordinary means of grace: “The delivery systems God has instituted to bring grace – that is, spiritual power, spiritual change, spiritual help, spiritual fortitude, spiritual blessings – to needy souls on earth.”[2]

The beauty and richness of the ordinary means of grace comes shining forth when we consider how God uses the ordinary to bless us in an extraordinary way. Are we comprehending just how nourishing the proclamation of the Word is when the Bible is read, explained, and applied to our hearts? This is why Jesus told Simon Peter in John 21 to feed and nourish the flock of Christ. The ministry of the Word is not just the means of the Spirit’s effectual call and regenerating work among the unconverted; it is also the means by which the saints are nourished and strengthened. Growing up in a more fundamentalist Baptist background, the memorial view of the Lord’s Supper was so ingrained that understanding of Christ’s spiritual presence at the Table seemed almost Romish to me. However, as I have learned more, I have come to realize not just the historic Baptist view of the Supper as both a memorial and spiritual nourishment but that the Scriptures teach this as well. [3]

As one might deduce, the ordinary means of grace are connected to the fellowship and assembly of the local church. How magnificent is our Lord to remind us through these means of how we are a covenant people together in need of encouragement, strength, and reminders of who we are in Christ. I often tell people that if you believe Reformed Theology is found only in T-U-L-I-P then you are missing out on what the real meaning of doctrines of grace is. Reformed theology changes your outlook on everything. It changed my outlook on preaching as I come to more and more find rest and solace in the sovereignty of the Spirit in the Word. Reformed Theology’s teaching on the ordinary means of grace deepens my appreciation for the Christian Sabbath and gathering on the Lord’s Day. Every Scripture reading, prayer, hymn, ordinance, reading of creeds/confessions/catechisms, and time together fellowshipping over the Word are the channels by which the Spirit refreshes, matures, corrects, and settles my weary heart as a pilgrim. So, when you gather this coming Lord’s Day, do not think that simple worship means ineffective or backwards. Rather, meditate upon the extraordinary power of God unleashed in the ordinary means of grace!

 

[1] See: https://founders.org/library/1689-confession/chapter-14-saving-faith/

[2] See: https://founders.org/reviews/the-lords-supper-as-a-means-of-grace/

[3] See: https://vimeo.com/287451369 for a recent sermon I preached on this topic.

Finding Contentment in His Calling

The notion of climbing a ladder, seeking the maximum achievement in your profession, and doing what you can to promote yourself expresses the common belief, practice, and mindset in American culture when it comes to your career. Certainly, one should not settle for mediocrity but the drive to succeed and be known among your peers becomes one of the dominate themes in many lives. None of us in ministry should ever think we are immune to such overtures. As soon as you think that you are not susceptible to the bright lights and fame of ministry, you best be aware that you are in the prime spot to fall into the trap.

As Paul finishes his first letter to Timothy, the apostle makes a profound statement. “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). In this section of 1 Timothy, Paul provides a connection between false teachers and motivations of greed consuming their lives. Naturally, our mind goes to those who promote the so-called “prosperity gospel” where the message given is that Jesus stands ready to give you all the carnal desires of your heart. Yet, if the only application or implication we draw from this text deal with Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, and that sordid band of false prophets, then we are neglecting a needful truth.

Every minister of the gospel faces the onslaught of the “celebrity pastor” image especially as more technological advances are made. The temptation to view each church or ministry opportunity as a stepping stone to the next place (which is usually larger and/or more prestigious) is nothing new. Today, with social media, blogging, podcasts, etc., ministers confront an even greater enticement to be read, seen, heard, or watched. The writer of Hebrews gives a similar exhortation when he writes, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).

What is the Spirit of God saying to those of us in ministry? By the Spirit’s power and divine grace, we must be content in His calling. What does it matter if we are called to minister in obscurity? I do not write these things from an ivory tower as someone who keeps this truth perfectly. I can confess that over the last few months, the Lord has taught me and shown me that pride had gripped my heart more than I realized. The temptation is real to not be content with what the Lord has called me to. As some dear brothers came around me, I began to see more and more how ego-driven I had become. This had led to lapses and shortcomings in private devotion and holiness as time in the Word and prayer diminished at times. When the feelings of insecurity would grow in my life, I had nothing to fall back on except my own whims and wisdom. All the while I might hear more compliments from people on my sermons and writings, I was hearing applause for me.

Brother pastors, fellow preachers, and co-laborers, our drive should be to live out our ministry in private integrity and public faithfulness even if that is in a modern “Nazareth” that is off the beaten path. My mind has gone back over and over the last two months to a statement I heard Dr. Steven J. Lawson make at an Expositors’ Conference in Mobile in 2013. He made the statement that the Last Day will reveal many faithful pastors who were off the main highways and plodding along in a Nazareth. I want that to be my testimony. The Lord called me to pastor the dear saints at New Testament Baptist Church in Biloxi, MS. We are off the beaten path. Despite my failures and shortcomings, the Lord continues to grow us in love for Christ and one another, as well as to bring new people and families into our midst. There is nothing spectacular from the vantage point of the “celebrity pastor” in what we do. The work we are doing is spectacular because it is driven by the Word of God seeking the Glory of God. The King calls me to be the pastor-theologian in this context, to care for the souls of this flock, and to be ready to give an account for them. This is more than enough to send me to my knees and keep my head in the book ploughing forward.

History is one of my passions and I have been working through the three-volume set entitled “The British Particular Baptists: 1638-1910” which is published by Particular Baptist Press out of Missouri. I highly recommend this publishing house for they offer a treasure trove of wealth when it comes to Particular Baptist theology and history. In the chapter on Benjamin Francis, Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin provides a quote from British Baptist historian Raymond Brown concerning some of the British Particular Baptist pastors of the time. These words gripped my heart as to what really matters:

[These pastors] were content to serve their respective churches for forty and fifty years, pouring their entire working ministry into the pastoral care of rural congregations, faithful biblical preaching, the development of association life, the establishment of new causes and, in each case, the composition or publication of hymns.[1]

There is nothing here that gives room to concern for prestige, platform, or publicity. May to God we learn from and take such a heritage as our own! I am still learning, still growing, and still fighting. I do not write these words as if to say I have arrived. The allurement is still real. Pray for me that I would keep my head down and be busy for the Master regardless of who knows about it. Let us be content in His calling for us satisfied in the One who has called us.

 

[1]“Benjamin Francis” in Michael A.G. Haykin, ed.,  The British Particular Baptists 1638-1910 (Springfield, Missouri: Particular Baptist Press, 2000), II, 19.

Grace and Peace to You

As I recently began preaching Philemon, Paul’s words in verse 3 struck me with a great gospel blow! “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Certainly Philemon 3 is not the only verse in the Pauline epistles that contain a variation of that statement. Most all of the letters written by Paul open up with “grace and peace to you” in the greeting. Since this is a familiar greeting, one can easily over look the profound significance of what Paul is saying. Whether a person has been a believer for one year or for 25 years, the blessing of divine grace and peace should never get old to them. Far too often in my own life, I must confess that I can read a verse like Philemon 3 and move on to what I might think is more exciting, challenging, or profound. This truth is deep enough, profound enough, and exciting enough to meditate upon!

Later in this epistle, Paul asks Philemon to show grace to Onesimus; to forgive this runaway slave who stole from his master. Onesimus, by God’s providential hand, connects with Paul and is converted to the faith. Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon with this letter urging Philemon to receive Onesimus back as a brother in Christ. Paul reminds Philemon of the grace and peace that Philemon knows because of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Why is Paul stressing this? In the fast-paced life that most of us are engaged in, we must intentionally stop and consider what God has shown us in salvation. The thrice holy God shows us grace by forgiving our sins, making peace with sinful rebels (which is what we are), and all of this is due to the Son of God bearing the wrath of God on behalf of His people.

Ephesians 2:1-3 paints a bleak picture of our natural condition. Spiritually dead in our sins and trespasses, in bondage to the corrupt world system of evil run by Satan, walking spiritual zombies with a passion to only satisfy our wicked desires: this is the condition of all of humanity before God. Eph. 2:4 says “But God who is rich in mercy” and 2:8 says “By grace you have been saved”. This holy God shows grace and mercy to wretched sinners. This wonderful grace manifests itself at the cross. The only way in which any sinner knows forgiveness is by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. 2 Cor. 5:21 declares that the perfect One (Christ) became sin (took on His shoulders our sin curse, sin debt, and sin judgment) so that the sinner’s status changes from condemned to justified due to the righteousness of Christ. Do you see why Paul stresses on the grace that God shows to sinners? How can we say there is something more profound than that my sins have been forgiven, judged on Christ, and the perfect righteousness of Christ clothes me? Just as Philemon needed to remember to show grace to another due to the grace shown to him, we stand in need of such exhortations. How often are we tempted to not show grace to another because of the way we feel slighted or mistreated? Beloved, if you and I know grace from Almighty God, there is no room for us to ever withhold grace. If we confess the doctrines of grace expounded upon in documents such as the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faithand the Westminster Confession of Faith, then let us not be intellectual Calvinists but practical Calvinists as well.

Paul speaks to the peace that Philemon knows along with grace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This peace is the peace that Philemon now enjoys with God. Romans 5:1-11 describes justification by faith alone in Christ alone producing peace with God. Jesus Christ died for enemies of God. Fallen sinners are at enmity with God. The unconverted hate God for His holiness and sovereignty, hate Christ since He perfectly kept the Law of God as the God-man being the standard of righteousness by which all are judged, and hate the Spirit for convicting the world of sin. Christ dies for the ungodly! Those who were standing under the wrath of God are completely transformed! Peace with God comes from God seeing not my sin and wretchedness but the righteousness of Christ. I have been radically changed going from a warring sinner in a futile, vain quest against the King to now being adopted by the King, clothed by the King, and seated at the table of the King! Grace to you and peace! What marvelous tidings of great joy these are! Is it any wonder Paul puts this in the greetings of his letters?

Finally, notice that Paul says this grace and peace come from both the Father and the Son. Paul declares the divine equality and unity within the Trinity. Our salvation is rooted in the covenant of redemption whereby the Father, Son, and Spirit in complete harmony accomplish the salvation of a people for the glory of God. If you are struggling in a dark night of the soul, brother or sister, remember that the Trinity showed you and continues to show you grace and peace. There is a covenant surety attached to your salvation that nothing of hell can null and void. If you are reading this and do not know this grace and peace, do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. You cannot earn or merit this grace and peace. It is wrought by the Spirit, accomplished by the Son, and given by the Father! Renounce yourself and rest in Christ who beckons to you to come and know Him!

From Death to Life: How Salvation Works

Allen S. Nelson IV recently wrote and published “From Death to Life: How Salvation Works” through Free Grace Press. This book is written by a Baptist pastor form Arkansas as a primer to guide a reader into understanding biblically how salvation actually works. Nelson does not seek to present a technical soteriological work for the academic scholar. “From Death to Life” is written with the average church-goer or resident of the Bible Belt. As a Baptist pastor in Mississippi, I found myself either highlighting or nodding in agreement as I read each page.

I strongly endorse and recommend this book for several reasons:

Written from a Shepherds’ Heart

As you read this book, the shepherd’s heart within Allen comes across page after page. The Bible Belt contains many people who say they are saved, believe the gospel, yet they do not really have a biblical understanding of the gospel and salvation. This has been transferred into how the gospel is presented in many churches in the South. Allen rightly hits on the theme of how a misguided view of the gospel causes pastors, ministers, churches, and individuals to believe they must either water down the gospel or make the gospel more attractive. In one of the best statements in the book, Nelson writes: “The beautiful diamond of the gospel has been wrapped in toilet paper in the ridiculous attempt to make it more enticing” (10). As you read this book, it reads like a doctrinal exposition as Nelson moves from why we need to be saved, why we cannot save ourselves, why God must be the one who saves, what I must to do (repent and believe) to be saved, and how I live now that I am saved. Nelson writes in a way you can feel the emotion that would come forth from the preacher addressing the congregation.

Word-Centered in Content

This book contains in the body or the footnotes many Scripture references. Allen Nelson focuses in on the texts with precision explaining them in context. He does not isolate one verse out of context but rather makes the case with many passages to explain the great doctrines of the faith that are a part of the gospel message. The Bible is not a prop but provides the framework and substance for Allen’s arguments.

Demolishing Sacred Cows

As a pastor in the Deep South, I am all too familiar with the rotten fruit that comes forth from the altar call/sinner’s prayer methods of evangelism and conversion. Both at the beginning where Nelson presents a hypothetical man in the church (which is a real person in many places including my own extended family) to an appendix at the end, Nelson tackles forcefully, charitably, and admirably the sacred cows of the altar call and sinner’s prayer found in so many churches in the South. I urge anyone reading to consider the arguments presented by Nelson of how antithetical to the sovereign grace and sufficiency of the gospel these recent devices are. While Nelson deals with these issues straight-forward, he does so lovingly and with a heart for true conversions to take place.

Doctrinal Truth for the Layman

Nelson deals with systematic theology, historic theology, the doctrines of grace, and even some covenant theology all the while breaking it down for laymen and laywomen as well as the unconverted in a digestible fashion. This book does a fantastic job of presenting theology without using objectionable “buzzwords” that the reader can immediately dismiss. Nelson unpacks the rich truths concerning regeneration, effectual grace, and sovereign choice with references to the Scriptures and historic Baptist confessions of faith. This book is a must for pastors to use in teaching the people Soteriology 101 in a manner in which they will be able to comprehend systematic theology when it comes to how a dead sinner is made into a living saint.

There were only two negatives to me with this publication. First, there is no Scripture index in the back. Allen provides many Scripture references in the footnotes of each chapter. However, I think it would have been helpful to have a full index in the back. Second, along with the Scripture index, a resource page of books Allen would recommend in regards to different subjects like conversion, regeneration, church membership, etc. would be beneficial. Allen did recommend some resources within the book like Greg Gilbert’s “What is the Gospel?” but a resource page in the index could help both a pastor and layman.

Bottom line: you need to buy this book for yourself, church family, discipleship training, small group, and unconverted friends and family. I cannot strongly endorse this book enough especially if you are living and laboring in the context of cultural Christianity.

           

 

Reflections on Matthew

On June 8, 2014, I preached an overview sermon on the book of Matthew to launch our series of preaching through this book. After 166 sermons, this past Sunday, April 29, 2018, marked the completion of that journey. There are many wonderful lessons I learned over the course of preaching this first Gospel in the New Testament. Consider these reflections with me:

Length of a sermon series does not equate faithful preaching

I want to be clear that just because it took me nearly 4 years to preach through Matthew does not mean that I would say that a book series must be multiple years. Some churches will not be accustomed to a lengthy series and some pastors might not feel comfortable going that slow through a book. In Matthew, I slowed down in chapters 5-7 as I explored “The Sermon on the Mount” while sometimes preaching two miracle narratives together. The pastor must learn his congregation. Yet, he should hope that the congregation’s appetite for expository preaching will increase.

The people at New Testament Baptist Church are awesome!

There is no way that I could have preached Matthew the way I have were it not for the support, patience, and endurance of the flock I pastor. Their hunger for expositional preaching deepened the further we journeyed into this book. I am so thankful for the way in which I saw their appetite for the Word developed.

King Jesus

Matthew starts and finishes with a resounding theme blasting in our ears: “Jesus is the Son of David, Son of Abraham meaning He is the Christ, the Covenant Promise, the Son of God, the King!” Immanuel came to us and He still is with us! In days of unbelievable turmoil politically and culturally, the church must fasten itself closer to the reality of who our King is. Paraphrasing John Piper, kings and presidents will be dust and forgotten in eternity while King Jesus rules and reigns. Let us not be hopeless! He is ever with us! All authority is given to Him and He sends us with His authority to our neighborhoods and to the nations! He is building His kingdom and He will accomplish His purpose. “It is all about Jesus” dare not be a meaningless cliché but the marrow that gives us life!

The NT teaches us how to read the OT

By God’s providence, the first book in the New Testament provides Christians an excellent blueprint and grid for how we read the OT. As Christians, we do not read the OT as if we are Intertestamental Jews in the years of silence. We are New Covenant citizens! Matthew 2 teaches us how a passage like Hosea 11:1 finds fulfillment in Christ for Christ is the True Israel. Matthew 12 shows how Jesus is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s prophecy. Matthew cites or alludes to numerous OT passages teaching the early church and us that we read the OT with Christ always in mind and the gospel of redemption to be the tapestry with different threads making it up.

Hope for the Pagans

Matthew is considered to be the most “Jewish” of the 4 Gospels but the hope for the Gentiles is a constant theme. The genealogy of Jesus in chapter 1 contains Gentile women who were a part of Jesus’ ancestry demonstrating redemptive hope. Matthew 8 tells the story of the Roman centurion who comes to Jesus. What a blessed promise when Jesus says the Gentiles will come and sit with the Hebrew patriarchs in the Father’s kingdom! The Great Commission closes Matthew with the gospel to be carried out to every corner. In the most “Jewish” Gospel, the promise of grace to pagans is found over and over. The New Covenant Jesus inaugurates by His blood and sacrifice purchases and forms a kingdom not just of ethnic Israel but the True Israel: Jews and Gentiles in union with Jesus Christ.

Much more could be said but I encourage you to read Matthew! Read it in one setting and be prepared to be amazed by King Jesus! Fellow pastors, I exhort you to preach through this book soon! You will find yourself amazed by the precious jewels that you uncover week after week!

Sola Scriptura! Soli Deo Gloria!

Creeds, Confessions, Catechisms, and Covenants in Corporate Worship

In his instructions to Titus, Paul writes that ministers are to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). The pulpit ministry that upholds and follows biblical exposition heeds these words of Paul. The pastor preaching the Scriptures verse-by-verse by using the historical-grammatical-theological/redemptive hermeneutic feeds his congregation. Theologically-rich, biblically based hymns are also a means by which the congregation is taught sound doctrine.

I would like to recommend a further means why which the preaching of sound doctrine can be faithfully taught in the corporate gathering of the saints each Lord’s Day. The 4 “Cs” are a way in which the congregation celebrates biblical truths, theology, and ecclesiastical bonds with the past. These four “Cs” are: creeds, confessions, catechisms, and covenants. Each of these is rooted in the Scripture: 1. an expression of doctrinal beliefs, 2. a reminder of the importance of church membership, and 3. a guide believers in the instruction of the faith.

Creeds

Perhaps you have heard that Baptists have “No creed but Christ” or “No creed but the Bible.” Some have boldly asserted these phrases to celebrate what they perceive as a Baptist distinctive: anti-creedalism. But Baptists are not anti-creedalists. While it is true that Baptists rejected creeds as a litmus test for citizenship, since Baptists abhor a state church, Baptists never disowned creeds as though they had no importance in the life of the church. Baptists have always held to Christian orthodoxy as expressed in the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Both Particular and General Baptists affirmed the use of creeds. The Baptist Orthodox Catechism, edited by the Particular Baptist, Hercules Collins, says the Nicene Creed and Athanasian Creed ought to be taught. In The Orthodox Creed, the General Baptists affirm and encourage Baptists to learn and teach the aforementioned creeds. The early Southern Baptist theologian, B.H. Carrol, affirmed the importance of creeds, when he wrote: “The modern cry: ‘Less creed and more liberty,’ is a, degeneration from the vertebrate to the jellyfish, and means less unity and less morality, and it means more heresy.”

Why should Baptist churches use the historic, ecumenical, orthodox creeds in corporate worship? These creeds provide biblically faithful and understandable defenses and explanations of the Trinity, the hypostatic union of Christ, and other central tenets of the Christian faith.

How should Baptist churches use these creeds in corporate worship? I recommend that churches consider using the creeds at the after they celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Reciting the creeds together will remind the congregation of the essential doctrine that unites them, but it will also remind them of the link they have with those who have gone before us in the Christian pilgrimage. As all churches are commanded to celebrate the Lord’s Supper until Christ returns as an expression of union and communion with Christ, the creeds reinforce the universal communion of all churches of Jesus Christ by reinforcing the essentials of orthodoxy.

Confessions

Founders Ministries has many excellent resources on confessions of faith. The public reading of confessions of faith is of practical use in corporate worship. Either the leader behind the pulpit or the entire congregation may read an article or paragraph from one of the historic Baptist confessions during congregational worship to teach the church sound doctrine and to express praise and worship to God for such wonderful truths. The New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith and the Abstract of Principles are excellent confessions that can be read systematically by article. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith often explains its doctrines in longer form and thus might require the reading of multiple paragraphs and it could take a little longer. In any case, reading sound confessions in worship and explaining them teaches the church sound doctrine. Additionally, as a pastor preaches through a book of the Bible, he might come upon a theological truth that is particularly well-articulated in a confession of faith, and he could use a confessional definition in his sermon. Utilizing confessions of faith contributes to the sound doctrine being taught to the people. This will also equip them to explaining the faith to others.

In 1855, C.H. Spurgeon gave an explanation as to why the 1689 was reprinted and the importance of confessions:

This little volume is not issued as an authoritative rule, or code of faith, whereby ye are to be fettered, but as an assistance to you in controversy, a confirmation in faith, and a means of edification in righteousness. Here the younger members of our church will have a body of divinity in small compass, and by means of the scriptural proofs, will be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in them.

Consider the exhortation given by Spurgeon: employ confessions to train believers in the faith.

Catechisms

Some in Baptist life think that only Roman Catholics use catechisms. But that notion reveals a lack of knowledge about Protestantism in general and Baptist history in particular. Baptists employed catechisms from the very beginning. An Orthodox Catechism edited by Hercules Collins in 1680 and The Baptist Catechism of 1692, perhaps edited by William Collins and Benjamin Keach, reveal the emphasis Baptists put on training in the Scriptures. In Southern Baptist life of the 19th century, both James P. Boyce and John A. Broadus wrote catechisms to teach Baptists sound doctrine. C.H. Spurgeon modified The Baptist Catechism and also produced a catechism for his church.

Parents should use catechisms regularly in the home as a tool for training up their children in the Lord. Catechisms are also great tools to be used in corporate worship. For example, the leader could ask the congregation a catechism question, and the congregation could read the answer from the worship guide, which has the Scripture references printed there as well. Families could then use the worship guide during the week to review and learn the catechism’s question and answer. Catechisms are wonderful tools of memorization. A case might be made that Baptist young people are unable to defend their faith when it comes under assault, partly because Baptists have neglected catechisms over the past century. It is nothing short of heartbreaking that men and women sitting in Baptist churches for 50 years are unable to explain in a simple way the tenets of the biblical faith. Once again, consider the counsel of C.H. Spurgeon:

In matters of doctrine, you will find that orthodox congregations frequently change to heterodoxy in the course of thirty to forty years, and it is because too often there has been no catechizing of the children in the essential doctrines of the Gospel. For my part, I am more and more persuaded that the study of a good Scriptural catechism is of infinite value to our children.

Covenants

If you grew up in a rural Baptist church in the South, like I did, you attended a church that had a “Church Covenant” on the wall, but the document was never taught, enforced, or even acknowledged. That is a tragedy because the doctrine of the covenant is one of unifying themes of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Church membership is covenantal. In a time when membership has become meaningless and even non-existent in many Baptist churches, I submit that church covenants need to be restored and used. Does it mean anything to be a member of your church? Baptists historically have used covenants to teach and strengthen the covenantal bonds among members in a local church. Timothy George describes the early Baptist covenants this way:

Common themes which resound through the various church covenants . . . include a commitment to doctrinal fidelity, the maintenance of family worship, mutual prayer and watchfulness over one another, financial support for the church, the faithful administration of the ordinances and discipline of the congregation together with the public worship of God, and an openness to receive further light from God’s revealed Word.

Historically, Baptist churches would often recite their church covenant before taking the Lord’s Supper together. Communion has direct links to church membership and church disciple. A congregation that reads the covenant together beautifully reminds everyone of the sacred vows that they have taken to Christ and of the oaths they have made to each other. Churches may also find it useful to read the church covenant at the business meeting to help promote the blessed ties shared among members.

Conclusion

You might not be in a position where you can implement all of the “Cs” in your context immediately. Be patient. Incorporate their usage prudently. Explain to the church why they are important. You might begin with catechisms in a Sunday School class or teaching through the church confession on a Wednesday night. Expose your people to these rich documents that are built on the Bible, linked to church history, distinctively Baptist, and promote church unity. In his opening convocation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the fall of 1993, Dr. Albert Mohler made this remark about the Abstract of Principles: “The Abstract remains a powerful testimony to a Baptist theological heritage that is genuinely evangelical, Reformed, biblical, and orthodox.” Brother pastors and laymen, let this be the heritage taught and passed on in our day!

This article originally appeared on Founders.org.

A Band of Brothers

“Revival and reformation are rarely, if ever, wrought by God through one individual, contrary to the impression given by some popular church histories. Collegiality is central to times of spiritual blessing.”[1] Dr. Michael Haykin summarizes well a profound truth that too often becomes lost in the studies of church history. Martin Luther and John Calvin epitomize the Protestant Reformation as the two greater reformers of the church. While the spotlight falls upon them most often, neither of these two giants are to be thought of as isolated figures in their day. Fellow brothers, pastors, students, and theologians surround Luther and Calvin in their lives assisting them and helping them.

The point is that for all of the names that have become familiar to the church in studying church history, it is often incomplete if one believes that a Luther or Calvin did it all alone. This brings us to the subject of William Carey, the father of the Modern Missions Movement. Carey’s name immediately comes to our mind in Baptist history and missional history. Yet, William Carey would be the first man to tell you that he was not alone. William Carey’s mission to India is the fruit of a commitment of “a little band of Baptist pastors” to pray together and commit to each other to see the gospel carried to the ends of the earth.[2]

Behind William Carey, a band of pastors stood with him. Andrew Fuller is the most well-known of the group. Fuller is the pastor-theologian who laid the foundations for revival among the Calvinistic Baptists of England and Wales. How important is it to read Andrew Fuller? C.H. Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, describes Fuller as “the great theologian of his century.”[3] Carey is the most famous, followed by Fuller, but they are not alone. Alongside these men were pastor-theologians like John Ryland, Jr., John Sutcliff, and Samuel Pearce. From the friendship of these men would come the means by which a denomination experiences revitalization and the gospel call goes to a pagan land. These men are not the wealthiest in their denomination. Often times, pastors believe that unless they serve at megachurches, they can have little to no affect. Brother pastors, consider these men as a model for what God can do with a few committed men.

As William Carey encourages the Particular Baptists to go to India, he faces scorn and ridicule from some in the denomination. However, this band of brothers comes together. What will they do? What strategy will they employ to reach the heathens? John Ryland, Jr. shares the strategy:

Brethren, Fuller, Sutcliff, Carey, and I, kept this day as a private fast in my study: read the Epistles to Timothy and Titus…and each prayed twice – Carey with singular enlargement and pungency. Our chief design was to implore a revival of the power of godliness in our own souls, in our churches, and in the church at large.[4]

Does this not seem too simple? Brethren, do you desire to see revival in your heart, in your local church, and in the global church? Do you know pastors that you can pray with, read with, and encourage? Beloved, this is what the Lord uses! He uses that which is weak, insignificant, and simple to expand His kingdom! These were ordinary men. Some of them had a formal education while others were the equivalent of bi-vocational pastors. That did not hinder their fellowship. Haykin describes what these men did this way:

These men took time to think and reflect together, as well as to encourage one another and pray together. An aversion to the same errors, a predilection for the same authors, with a concern for the cause of Christ at home and abroad bound these men together in a friendship that was a significant catalyst for both renewal and revival.[5]

From this band of brothers, hundreds of additional Particular Baptist churches arise at home and the gospel witness comes to India leading to the later ministry of Adoniram Judson and many more. Fuller, Carey, Ryland, Pearce, and Sutcliff model how warm, evangelical Calvinism contribute to revival, reformation, and missions.

Consider the testimony of the 18th Century Particular Baptists: The Lord uses ordinary pastors to further His kingdom! There is a reason Paul continually lists the men and women who help, journey, and support him. The great apostle-missionary did not carry the burdens alone. Neither should you and I. When I consider the band of brothers in my life, the dear men I pastor and company of pastor friends, I feel the sentiments of William Carey. Upon hearing the news eight months later that Andrew Fuller died, Carey wrote Ryland from India these words about Fuller: “I loved him. There was scarcely any other man in England to whom I could so completely lay open my heart.”[6] Brothers, let us remember we are partners, not competitors. Let us have such relationships in our lives. May God form many bands of brothers He uses to bring revival and reformation in this day!

Citations:

[1] Michael A.G. Haykin, Ardent Love for Jesus: Learning from the Eighteenth-Century Baptist Revival. (Bryntirion, Wales: Bryntirion Press, 2013), 47.

[2] John Piper, Andrew Fuller: Holy Faith, Worthy Gospel, World Mission. (Wheaton: Crossway, 21.

[3] Haykin, 23.

[4] Ibid., 126.

[5] Ibid., 49.

[6] S. Pearce Carey, William Carey. (London: Wakeman Trust, 1993), 314.

Just A Pastor?

Perhaps you are like me and you are the pastor of a smaller church.

The thoughts of feeling insignificant and with little influence compared to the conference speakers and prolific authors leaves you believing that it really does not matter at times. Should I really devote that much attention to the expository sermons I prepare? Do I need to really need to be reading these books on theology when I pastor such a small flock? I remember feeling down and out once about the ministry entrusted to me. When the question came as to what was my ministry calling, I replied, “I am just a pastor.” It then hit me that to be a pastor is not to be undervalued.

Far too often being a pastor is equated with being a CEO, gameshow host, stand up comic, charismatic orator, marketing guru, good ole boy, and the list could go on. I am a native Mississippian who grew up in church and I have seen many different men occupy the office of pastor but did not have the calling. Has God called you to be a pastor? As I survey Baptist life (since this is my denominational heritage) in the South, my heart is grieved for what seems to be a cycle on repeat for decades if not longer.

Too many churches are engulfed by conspiratorial dispensationalism believing every website talking about implanted chips and books on blood moons as the sign of the apocalypse drawing near. Charles Finney-inspired evangelism creates a view of worship being only successful if the altars are filled, decisions made, and doing everything between A and Z to set the mood right for conversion. Charismatic experientialism leads many in churches to say that they believe what God told them with no basis in the Bible but rather what feels right. They claim they have the Spirit and the Bible allowing them to create their own version of Christianity inside or outside the walls of a sanctuary. The Civil War still wages on with many succumbing to the “Noble Cause” historical revision giving cause for many to engage in racism whether subtly or overtly. Finally, superstition-driven family culturalism leads many in the church to say that blood is more important than holy living. This is what leads people to say things such as they feel dead relatives in the room and viewing this as their source of comfort. How did so many churches in the region I love and call home arrive here? What can we do to see a change?

Brothers, to just be a pastor means that you have the calling and opportunity to stand in the gap and be used by Christ to make a difference. You are God’s man appointed to shepherd and feed the people (1 Peter 5:2). Preach the Word to them! Take them verse by verse sequentially through the Bible. Be patient, dependent upon the Spirit, and watch the Word change the people. Your goal should be that the people in your congregation eventually read the great theologians of the church. Yet, remember that you are going to be the primary theologian they read and listen to. Read and fill yourself up with solid truth to dispense to the people answering their questions. As painful as it is to write about the scene in many areas of the Bible Belt, we should also be patient, merciful, and gracious to so many who have never heard anything else but these unbiblical alternatives. You need to remind your people that you are just as reliant upon the gospel as they are. They need to know from you that you are not superman even if you think that you are. Do not be hesitant to open up to them about your battles with sin, continual repentance in life, and your thankfulness for grace (Rom. 7:24-25; 1 Tim. 1:15).

Just a pastor? You are given the task of leading the people to Christ every week! Brother pastors, hear the words of Paul to Timothy: teach, invest, disciple, and train up faithful men (2 Tim. 2:2). By doing so, you are raising up biblical husbands, fathers, and leaders. Read with these men the Bible and solid books. This is a fight, a spiritual battle. You are not sufficient in yourself for the task. Yet, you have not been left alone for He is with you!

Brothers, I pray that we would be mighty in the Scriptures. May we be used of God to be the public theologians who shepherd the people with biblical, systematic, and historical theology. This is our calling. We are in the trenches together. So, if you are just a pastor, you have spoken a mouthful that only begins to scratch the surface of the high, glorious, and gracious calling that Christ has put in your life!

The Word Did It All

I recently listened online to Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. preach a chapel sermon at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary concerning the orthodox beliefs Christians hold concerning the Bible. In that sermon, Dr. Mohler shared an observation from a secular historian regarding the Protestant Reformation. This historian noted that in a generation, Christians in Germany shifted from going to church to see the mass to now going to church to hear the Word of God. Dr. Mohler added that once you have heard the Word of God, nothing else will do.[1]

Martin Luther would wholeheartedly agree. Luther, commenting on what took place during the Reformation, summarizes what causes profound spiritual change: “I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. While I slept … the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a Prince or Emperor inflicted such damage upon it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.”[2] Such movements of Reformation and Revival are always marked by the pulpits of churches coming back once again to faithful, biblical exposition. In his great work, Preaching and Preachers, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes: “What is it that always heralds the dawn of a Reformation or of a Revival? It is renewed preaching. Not only a new interest in preaching but a new kind of preaching. A revival of true preaching has always heralded these great movements in the history of the church.”[3]

This seems rather straightforward but a famine exists in churches today. Why do so many pastors and preachers confess their beliefs concerning the inerrancy, inspiration, and infallibility of the Scripture but practically deny its sufficiency? Does one really believe in the supernatural power of the Scripture if one believes that it is not enough to convert sinners and strengthen the saints? The pull that so many pastors and churches feel is to adopt the standards of the world when it comes to whether they are achieving success, relevancy, and notoriety. So, if that becomes the measuring stick then it is not surprising when pastors and churches move away from the sufficiency of Scripture to believing that it must be supplemented with something else. Before long, the Bible becomes less and less central to the church while the methods of the world become more and more prominent within the church. Dr. Steven J. Lawson pens these poignant words: “God’s work must be done God’s way if it is to know God’s blessing. He provides the power and He alone should receive the glory, but this will happen only when His divinely prescribed plan for ministry is followed. When people-centered schemes are followed, often imitating the world’s shtick, the flesh provides the energy, and people – not God – receive the glory.”[4]

A new generation of pastors must hear the words of Paul written to Timothy. “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). In his final words recorded, Paul increases the emphasis on sound preaching: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1-2). These are only two of many passages with clear teaching concerning the manner and the content of what pastors and preachers are to be giving to the flock of Christ. This is what is called expositional or expository preaching. Why is biblical exposition so important? Mark Dever writes: “Expositional preaching is preaching in service to the Word. It presumes a belief in the authority of Scripture – that the Bible is actually God’s Word…A commitment to expositional preaching is a commitment to hear God’s Word – not just to affirm that it is God’s Word but to actually submit to it.”[5]

What would be said about your ministry or the church you are a part of? Would you join with Luther and say that the Word does everything? Pastors and churches must throw off the yoke of a worldly measure of success and be faithful to the Word. As the pastor of a church that has undergone a revitalization process transforming from a fundamentalist, legalistic Baptist tradition to now being a Reformed Baptist congregation, it was the Word that has and continues to do everything. It will require patience from you but if you give your people the Word week by week, doctrinal exposition centered on Christ, and out of a heart that loves the flock, you will see the effects and you will know that it was the Word that did it all.

 

Citations:

[1] http://equip.sbts.edu/chapel/bible-gods-word/

[2] http://www.ligonier.org/blog/expositor-magazine/

[3] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 31.

[4] Steven J. Lawson, Famine in the Land. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2003), 26.

[5] Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 44.