Who is Sufficient For These Things?

In 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, Paul speaks about how gospel ministry spreads the fragrance of Christ. This fragrance is either an aroma of life or it is an aroma of death. This is quite a visual that the apostle presents before us. He then asks a question, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Recently, this passage and that question have pierced my heart. This is a season of pastoral ministry where I am acutely aware of my insufficiencies as a pastor. In the life of our church, we have seen a dear sister diagnosed with cancer, relationships in need of biblical counsel, and various physical/spiritual needs in the body. Who is sufficient for these things? I am not. Thankfully, this is the posture a pastor needs to be in. For when we confess our insufficiency, we are brought to remember what is sufficient for such trials in the life of a church. The Lord graciously brings back to my remembrance what I am to lean upon daily in the face of my insufficiency. I want to call your attention to see the sufficiency of the Shepherd, the Spirit, and the Scriptures.

The Sufficiency of the Shepherd   

In shepherding, pastors feel often overwhelmed with the responsibilities and burdens they feel in caring for the flock of Christ. This needs to drive us to see our dependency upon the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. Psalm 23 must be a text that comes to our hearts over and over! He is our Shepherd! He purchased us with His own blood! He brings us to His table and calls for pastors to come and dine. Pastor, you must not be one who only thinks about the gospel when he is in the pulpit. For your own soul, you need to return over and over to the precious truths of gospel of grace in Christ. Meditate over Ephesians 1 and see how by union with Christ, you know election, adoption, redemption, holiness, and an eternal inheritance. The work of the Shepherd is not only sufficient for your conversion but for every part of your life and ministry. Brother pastor, your labor is not in vain! After giving instructions on how to shepherd, Peter writes these words, “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4) Rest in that promise that while you are not the perfect shepherd, you are trusting in the One who is and pointing your people to Him! The Good Shepherd is sufficient not only for justification but for every need in the life of your congregation! He is sufficient for your own heart and soul! Behold again the beauty of the Shepherd!

The Sufficiency of the Spirit

In shepherding, there are many problems and we want to fix all of them. It is our tendency to see an issue, a conflict, or a tense situation before us and immediately begin to think about how we can resolve it and overcome every obstacle. Yet, so much is before us that is way beyond us and our abilities. When someone is diagnosed with a terminal condition, we do not have the capacity to heal. When someone continues in unrepentant sin and rejecting the gospel, we cannot change their hearts and make them new. This drives us to depend upon the work of the Spirit of God. Do you rest in the sufficiency of the Spirit? The Spirit brings real change and brings real comfort. As Jesus describes the work and ministry of the Spirit in John 14-16, our hearts need to bow and submit to His power and authority. This is not a passive path that the pastor takes in depending upon the sufficiency of the Spirit. It is a great comfort because you will be driven into the ground and despondent if you think that you are capable and sufficient to change all of the people and circumstances that exist in your local church. The Chief Shepherd put you there as His man. He gave you the Spirit who will bring forth fruit in due season. Yes, you are insufficient to change that man or woman. Yes, the Spirit is fully sufficient and able to raise the dead in sin to life in Christ! He is the source of our strength to persevere!

The Sufficiency of the Scriptures

“Preach the Word.” The mandate is clear and plain. Do you believe that the Scriptures are sufficient and meet the needs of your people? No, I am not talking about a mere biblicism that just goes looking for a proof text and treats the Bible as a collection of sayings and clichés. I am talking about the commitment to the beauty and flow of redemptive promise and accomplishment found from Genesis to Revelation. What will you give yourself to as the pastor serving your flock? The Scriptures point to the Shepherd and were written by the Spirit. What will you bring to your people week in and week out? You might confess that you believe in the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Bible. However, if you are not committed to sequential exposition that is rooted in the centrality of Christ, your view of the Bible might not be more than lip service. Give your people the Word.

Conclusion

I say none of these things as one that perfectly relies upon the sufficiency of the Shepherd, the Spirit, and the Scriptures. I confess that there have been moments lately where I felt real fear in seeking to process how I would navigate through the waters of trials and tests in the life of our church. The question “Is it worth it?” can creep around in the deep recesses of the heart. I can tell you that it does. A lady in our church recently diagnosed with stage four lung cancer thanked me and my fellow elder this past Sunday. What was she thanking us for? She thanked us for preparing her for this trial due to our commitment to the ordinary means of grace. By biblical exposition, seeing the gospel as connected to every part of life, and rejoicing in the Spirit connecting us as a church family, she felt an inner peace and joy in the face of this trial. Those words brought me back to the question Paul asked, “Who is sufficient for these things?”

Certainly, Jake Stone is not. I rejoice to know that there is One who is!

Five for Fuller

“I have long considered your father to be the greatest theologian of the century” is the testimony C.H. Spurgeon bore concerning Andrew Fuller. In a letter Spurgeon wrote to Fuller’s son, one giant among the Particular Baptists bore witness of the impact another great Particular Baptist had made on his own life.[1] What lessons are there for us to learn from Andrew Fuller in the 21st century? Since Spurgeon so commended Fuller, it would do us well to learn more from this great man. In his book, Ardent Love for Jesus, Dr. Michael Haykin provides three reasons why he appreciates Fuller and why we need to read and study him. I would like to incorporate those along with an additional two reasons on why Andrew Fuller is a figure from church history we need to become better acquainted with.

1) Theological Balance

Fuller battled against the extremes of hyper-Calvinism, strains of Arminianism, and a growing acceptance of heretical views such as Socinianism and Unitarianism. In the midst of all of this, Fuller never swerved away from a core commitment to the doctrines of grace. Fuller would also serve as the theologian behind the missionary movement that sent forth William Carey and others to India. Balance is such a key for pastoral ministry. Often, pastors are being pulled in one direction or another that can lead to extreme positions. In one of his final letters, Fuller wrote, “I have preached and written much against the abuse of the doctrine of grace, but that doctrine is all my salvation and all my desire. I have no other hope than from salvation by mere sovereign, efficacious grace through the atonement of my Lord and Saviour.”[2]

2) Gospel Friendships

The tendency to see one person as the key figure of a movement (think Luther, Calvin) fails to grasp how it is always a band of individuals working together. The apostle Paul lists men and women in most of his epistles testifying that the work of the kingdom is carried out by more than one person. The revival that God brought to the Particular Baptists at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century did not come in isolation. Fuller, along with men like William Carey, John Sutcliff, Samuel Pearce, John Ryland, Jr., and others, worked together and prayed together to see God save souls and revive the churches. Pastors need other pastors. The work of ministry cannot be done in the strength of one man.

3) Christian Piety

Living for the glory of the Triune God fueled Andrew Fuller. He was not interested in theology merely to have ammunition in order to argue with others. He wanted his thinking and living to be rooted in a deep commitment to the Word of God. Fuller longed for God to mold and conform his heart to the truths of Holy Scripture. He would write that to “glorify God, and recommend by our example the religion of the meek and lowly Jesus, are the chief ends for which it is worthwhile to live.”[3] Let us not be known only as defenders and proclaimers of orthodoxy but also as those who seek to practice the implications that come forth from biblical orthodoxy! Let us live grace-saturated, Christ-centered lives for the glory of God!

4) Faithful Churchman

Like the Particular Baptists before him, Andrew Fuller knew a deep love for the church of Jesus Christ. Fuller never apologized for the biblical convictions he held to when it came to Baptist polity and ecclesiology. However, Fuller did know that Baptist views on the church had caused some to grow too introspective and neglect evangelism. Fuller proclaimed, “The true churches of Jesus Christ travail for the salvation of men. They are the armies of the Lamb, the grand object of whose existence is to extend the Redeemer’s kingdom.”[4] In preaching ordination sermons for pastors, writing polemically in dealing with theological error, and serving as the first secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society, Fuller’s heart burned with a love for the church. A holy zeal for the local church, not for a platform, needs to burn within pastors!

5) Evangelical Unity

While not hesitant to confess and defend Baptist distinctives, Fuller and his fellow Particular Baptists desired unity with like-minded evangelical defenders of the faith. John Sutcliff, Particular Baptist pastor in Olney, forged a friendship with John Newton. John Ryland’s friendship with John Erskine, Scottish Presbyterian minister, would provide the means for the great Particular Baptist prayer call for revival in 1784. Erskine sent Ryland a treatise written by Jonathan Edwards concerning prayer and revival. The Northamptonshire Association issued a call to the pastors and churches of the association to meet together to pray for revival. In this prayer call, the Baptists would pray not only for their churches to be revived but for other evangelical churches and denominations. As Michael Haykin notes, these men understood the kingdom was greater and larger than just the Particular Baptists![5] Let us be faithful to our convictions but let us also grow in charity towards those we would share so much with doctrinally and practically!

Conclusion

When William Carey was informed that Andrew Fuller had died, he spoke these three simple words: “I loved him”[6] Andrew Fuller was only a clay pot carrying forth the treasure of the gospel! What a faithful vessel of the gospel he was! A new generation needs to learn from the pastor of Kettering! The pastor-theologian faithfully plodding in the work of the kingdom is of far greater worth than all the jewels of this earth! He is a jewel in the crown of Christ! Press on!

[1] https://pastorhistorian.com/2014/05/12/letter-from-c-h-spurgeon-to-a-g-fuller-commending-andrew-fuller/

[2] Haykin, 90.

[3] Ibid., 91.

[4] Ibid., 89.

[5] Ibid., 66.

[6] Ibid., 89.

Prone to Wander

Even though I have been in church my entire life, there still is no sweeter sound to me than hearing the voices of many blend into unison as a biblical hymn is sung on the Lord’s Day. Individually, many might not possess musical talent or a grand singing voice. Yet, collectively together, the voices become one in praising the Triune God. One hymn that is special to me is “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” In this hymn, the writer makes this observation about the tendency of believers, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” In those few words, every Christian acknowledges what we wrestle with. We are prone to wander, forget, and turn away from the riches of God given to us in Christ.

With our tendency to wander and forget, it is no mystery to why the Bible emphasizes the importance of remembering. The twelve stone memorial erected by Israel after crossing the Jordan River in Joshua 4, the commemorating of Israel’s history in Psalm 78, and Peter’s statement that his two letters were written to stir up the minds of his audience by way of remembrance; the Bible declares that we need to go back and remember truths. In coming to the Lord’s Table to partake of communion, our Lord’s words are repeated during the service: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

In the Lord’s kindness, He provides us with a meal in which our celebration centers upon remembrance. Each time a church celebrates communion, Paul states that we are proclaiming the gospel. Can we ever hear the gospel too many times? Is it possible for us to preach the gospel too many times? So, it is not a bad thing for us to repeat ourselves in preaching and teaching the Bible. True, we do not need to say the same thing the same way over and over! However, the truths of the gospel are to be repeated because we are prone to wander and forget. How often do we practically live and view justification as dependent upon what I do for the Lord today?

Whether Christians are living in the first century or the twenty-first century, we have a propensity to still function as if we are under a covenant of works when it comes to sanctification rather than see that we are justified and sanctified by the covenant of grace. The centrality of Christ must never be seen as too simple by us. The 2LBCF beautifully expresses our utter dependence upon Christ for every part of salvation this way: “The principle acts of saving faith have immediate relation to Christ, accepting, receiving, and resting upon Him alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.”[1] There is no part of our lives as believers that is to be seen detached from the person and work of Christ. Both justification and sanctification flow from union with Christ.

As we make our way through this pilgrimage, we are reminded of our sin and our susceptibility to the snares of the devil. We continue fighting and resisting the overtures of Satan, the world, and carnal impulses from within. When the battle gets hard, those are the moment that we are most vulnerable to wander and forget. Remember that supremacy of Christ and all that He has done! In Christ, you have been made perfect in Him forever. Nothing can undo the divine declaration that you are righteous in the sight of God due to being in Christ! Go back to Calvary and the covenant: the believer’s posture is one of resting in Christ! When the battle against sin seems to overwhelm us, remember this stanza from “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and rest in the hope of Christ!

 

O that day when freed from sinning, I shall see Thy lovely face;

Clothed then in the blood-washed linen How I’ll sing Thy sov’reign grace.

Come, my Lord, no longer tarry, Take my ransomed soul away;

Send thine angels now to carry Me to realms of endless day.

 

[1] 2LBCF 14.2

Solus Christus: William Carey’s Missional Foundation

If you perform a YouTube search of Joel Osteen on Larry King Live, you can see how uncomfortable a person feels claiming to be a “Christian” and being asked if this means that Jesus is the only way of salvation. While we might not find ourselves on a TV news program, there is still a sense of hesitancy and awkwardness at times in proclaiming the exclusivity of Christ. We might feel like we are not trained in a sophisticated manner to handle the detractors of Christianity. Can ordinary pastors speak with boldness concerning the exclusivity of Christ?

The man labeled “The Father of the Modern Missions Movement” voyaged to India possessing a steadfast belief concerning Christ’s exclusivity. William Carey, the cobbler-pastor- missionary, might not be the model of a polished speaker but his heart burned with a passion to see the gospel of Christ carried to the ends of the world. Instead of seeing a belief in Solus Christus, Christ alone, as a barrier to ministry, we can learn from Mr. Carey on how such a belief is a fuel for ministry in the face of many challenges. Consider three lessons we can learn from William Carey’s commitment to Solus Christus in India:

Anchor Your Preaching in Christ

The Serampore Form of Agreement of 1805 provides us with the theological and missiological beliefs that structured the ministry of the Particular Baptists in India. In this document, Carey lays out what will be the heartbeat of their cause: preaching Christ alone. The agreement states that the missionaries would seek to emulate Paul, “and make the great subject of our preaching Christ the crucified.” The preaching of Christ is described as “the grand means of conversion.” Preaching Christ and Him crucified serves as the instrument by which sinners were converted and the church grows in sanctification. Can we be tempted to see doctrine as dry and dusty? Carey sees “these glorious truths” as “the joy and strength” of his soul. The Baptist missionaries see themselves as part of the heritage of Luther and the Reformation as well as the ministries of men like Edwards and Whitefield in the Great Awakening.[1]

These men saw themselves as ministers and ambassadors of the cross of Christ. They were foreigners coming into a spiritual desert containing an abundance of spiritual mirages promising much in the way of satisfaction but leaving men spiritually famished. Challenges were abundant for Carey, but his confidence rested in the power of the gospel transforming India. Modern historians and scholars label Carey’s missionary work as more humanitarian than gospel-centered. Dr. Michael Haykin counters that such individuals confuse the root of Carey’s ministry with its fruit. He writes:

Sending forth the gospel with its message of the crucified Christ whose death alone delivers from sin and its consequences was the main thing these men and women were about. The social and educational impact of that proclamation was a happy byproduct of their gospel preaching. To view these men primarily as social reformers is to do them a grave injustice.[2]

From his own hand, Carey provides us with how he declares “that all men were sinners against God” followed up with declarations concerning the justice and purity of God. He explains “that except our Sins were pardoned we must go to Hell…” Carey preaches the Law to point out the nature of sin in the lives of the pagans. He then comes to Christ and His sufficient sacrifice. Carey proclaims “that God was under no obligation to save any Man, and that it was of no use to make Offerings to God to obtain pardon of Sin…” in the form of animals or humans. Carey brings the message home by declaring God’s gracious salvation for the sake of Christ.[3]

Do you know individuals with hardened hearts in your community or family? Does it seem like you are spinning your wheels by preaching Christ alone? Brother pastor, your message must be Christ and Him alone! Let us stand with Paul and William Carey confessing the only ground of hope is found in Christ! How did Carey endure and how can we endure in difficult seasons?

Rely Upon the Grace of God

The preaching of Christ alone marks a dependence upon the grace of God. Carey and his associates held strongly to the doctrines of grace. Notice that their understanding of the doctrines of grace and the connection to missions is found in the opening paragraph of The Serampore Agreement:

We are sure, that only those who are ordained to eternal life will believe, and that God alone can add to the church such as shall be saved. Nevertheless we cannot but observe with admiration, that Paul, the great champion for the glorious doctrines of free and sovereign grace, was the most conspicuous for his personal zeal in the work of persuading men to be reconciled to God.[4]

These first missionaries to India confess that God chose a people unto Himself, those were the people who would be saved, and that God added to His church. These doctrines, as they rightly noted, were championed by the Apostle Paul, and instead of being a detriment to evangelism, they rather served as the motivation for it.

Carey’s understanding of human depravity is connected then to an utter acknowledgement that God is the One who alone can save men and women from their sins. While sailing to India in 1793, Carey observes:

Have most awful proof of the Awful effects of human depravity when heightened by bad principles – the Old Deist is one of the most daring presumptuous wretches that ever I heard…never found a man so hardened and determined to turn Scripture into Ridicule as him – Oh how dreadfully depraved is human Nature.[5]

Where is Carey’s hope in the face of such darkness? Would the description of this Deist sound like someone in your context? I know men and women who seem to only harden their hearts more against the gospel. Where is our hope in the midst of such spiritual darkness and obstinacy? Carey’s confidence in the power of God’s grace must be our confidence. He explains:

All my hope is in, and all my comfort arises from God; without his power no European could possibly be converted, and his power can convert any Indian, and when I reflect that he has stirred me up to the Work, and wrought wonders to prepare the Way I can hope in his promises, and am encouraged & strengthened.[6]

William Carey beckons us in the 21st century to not despair as we survey the sinful depravity all around us. Preach Christ! Rely on sovereign grace! This is our foundation and our hope! This is why, as unpopular as it might be, he preached Christ alone and so must we.

Defend the Sufficiency of Christ

It is easy to think our situation unique in the history of the church as to the barriers, obstacles, and hindrances to gospel ministry. In a pluralistic society, Carey faced the scorn of an “enlightened” society. Carey recorded an interaction with an English Deist who hosted him:

Spent the Evening in a long Dispute with my friendly Host, was enabled, through Mercy to be faithful and speak of the necessity of Faith in Christ in order to salvation – This was called illiberal (narrow-minded) and uncharitable; as it excluded Unbelievers, and eventually adjudged the Heaths to Eternal Misery. I argued that I was no more uncharitable than the Bible, and that if that was the Case, God would appear Gloriously Just…I feel a pleasure in being Valiant for the truth, and much wish that God would convert his Soul.[7]

Do you feel a kinship with Mr. Carey? Did you preach that our assurance of salvation is found in Christ alone rather than in a human decision only to receive a comment on how divisive you were? Did you turn red with embarrassment someone mocked your faith on the job? Remember that men and women like the English deist are to be pitied by us. Let us not despise them but love them enough to declare to them the truth.  We preach Christ and Him alone with no exceptions made. The Bible, not emotions or experiences, fashion how we preach the gospel of Christ. The results are in the hands of God. His calling to us is to go forth and proclaim that Christ is the only way, the only truth, and the only life.

Conclusion

In one of his final letters, Carey pens these words to his sisters, “The atoning sacrifice made by our Lord on the cross is the ground of my hope of acceptance, pardon, justification, sanctification, and endless glory.”[8] A commitment to Solus Christus shapes not only our view of gospel ministry and salvation but how we live and die. Whether you are facing the moralism of “Cultural” Christianity that emphasizes citizenship over Christ, the paganism of a primitive people group in the Amazon, the darkness of Islam or Hinduism in Asia, or the secularistic idolatry of America, remember that the work of Christ is your only hope and assurance. We do not apologize for preaching Christ alone. We glory in our Savior and rest in His victory!

[1] Michael A.G. Haykin, The Missionary Fellowship of William Carey. (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2018), 141-142.

[2] Ibid., 106-107.

[3] Terry G. Carter, The Journal and Selected Letters of William Carey. (Macon, GA: Smyth and Helwys Publishing, 2000), 55.

[4] Haykin, 137.

[5] Carter, 4-5.

[6] Ibid., 23.

[7] Ibid., 22-23.

 

[8] Michael A.G. Haykin, Ardent Love for Jesus: Learning from the Eighteenth-Century Baptist Revival. (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2013), 133.

Reflections on The Banner of Truth Conference

Sometimes, it can seem like there is an overload of pastoral and theological conferences being held. It is true that a person can become to engrossed with conferences using them as a means of replacing being a part of a healthy local church. Conferences though can be immensely helpful and refreshing. Last week, I had the privilege of attending The Banner of Truth’s East Coast Conference in Elizabethtown, PA. I believe that this is the conference you need to attend every year. Here are a few reflections on the conference:

1) An emphasis on the dependence of the pastor upon the Spirit. The theme of the Banner of Truth conference was “I Believe in the Holy Spirit.” The person and work of the Holy Spirit is often overlooked or misunderstood. There can be an overreaction to the excesses of the Charismatic movement which can cause Reformed believers to shy away from understanding the glorious work of the Spirit. Each session of the conference did a marvelous job of exploring different themes related to the Holy Spirit. Even as Reformed pastors, we must guard against and fight the tendency to believe and trust in our flesh. Ordinary means of grace ministry calls our focus to the gradual work of the Holy Spirit. These means are not flashy, but they force us to see how central the work of the Spirit is. The pastor is not a performer but a clay jar bearing the beautiful treasure of the gospel. The preaching, praying, and singing at this conference exhibit all these marks for they were driven by the work of the Holy Spirit.

2) A band of brothers, not a celebrity circuit marks this conference. This was not a conference promoting selfies with the speakers or book signings. It was refreshing to attend a conference and feel like I was at home. The brothers at Banner intentionally design and organize this conference as a place where you can connect with like-minded brothers. There were Presbyterians, Baptists, a few Anglicans, and even a United Methodist brother who attended the conference. Most of the men who spoke were unfamiliar names to myself, but they were all a blessing to my heart. This was not a place about a theological fad, a hip center for the young, restless, and reformed. A place of deep theology, spiritual maturity as well as informality and a familial spirit permeated the conference. How much the heartbeat of the Banner of Truth needs to go forth in many places! The speakers and trustees sit among those who are in attendance. There is no hierarchy, no roped off sections in the auditorium but a testimony to our unity in Jesus Christ and our need for one another.

3) Books, books, and more books! While this should not be the main reason you attend a Banner of Truth conference, it certainly should rank high on the list! The discounts for everyone and the bigger discounts for first-time attendees are amazing! The Banner of Truth Trust truly seeks to provide believers with rich books that are both tested by time and that are being written by faithful brothers. I am glad I drove to the conference so that I could fill my truck up with the books that I purchased! It blessed my heart to see these men so joyful in recommending books to attendees and doing all they could to get good resources into the hands of those there.

4) New Testament Baptist Church loves me tremendously. This reflection is obviously very personal, but I must make it. My church family encouraged me to attend this conference and granted me a two-week sabbatical to enjoy the time at the conference. I am so blessed to pastor a church that is not hesitant to give me a time to recharge my batteries. While the Banner conference filled my heart with great joy, it still does not compare to the sweet joy I know each Lord’s Day when I gather with my family of faith at NTBC. Thank you, my brothers and sisters, for granting me the privilege to journey northward to PA!

If I had to pick one conference I would attend next year (outside of our own Carey-Fuller Conference at NTBC or the annual Publicans Conference), it would be the Banner of Truth Conference. Financially, your registration fee covers lodging and meals. It is economical. However, the spiritual benefits cannot be placed with a price tag. Do yourself a favor and mark May 26-28 on your calendar for PA! Next year’s theme will be on “Communion with God.” Lord willing, I hope to see y’all there!

 

A Far Nobler Aim: Newton on Grace in Debate

John Newton’s fame to most evangelicals’ centers around his testimony of transformation from participating in the slave trade to becoming a believer who would write the most popular Christian hymn of all time “Amazing Grace.”

While that hymn captures the essence of Newton’s biography and theology, there is much more to learn from the man. The Banner of Truth publishes a four-volume set of his works that I highly commend (https://banneroftruth.org/us/store/christian-living/works-john-newton/). Volume 1 contains many letters that Newton wrote with one entitled “On Controversy.” In this letter, one might think that John Newton lived in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and blogs when it comes to discussing theology. Especially with the issue of social justice, social media does not resemble a place where grace is shown by brothers and sisters seeking to work through these issues. Newton’s letter is worth the read and can be viewed in its entirety here: https://founders.org/2017/07/08/on-controversy/.

Consider a few thoughts from Newton that captured my attention and caused me to examine my own heart.

In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now.

As Newton counsels this fellow minister who prepares to engage in theological debate, he tells him to remember to treat him as a brother in Christ. It should startle us as believers to consider how we speak to one another online when it comes to debating important issues. Would we speak to each other in such a manner if we were face-to-face? Do we show more grace to the pagan we work with or are related to by blood than one who is washed by the blood of the Lamb that we happen to disagree with? This is not encouragement to pursue a squishy love that never calls out errors. Rather, this is brotherly affection that should mark our engagements with those who are a part of the household of faith. The next time that you decide to discuss a point raised by a brother or sister you disagree with, remind yourself that this individual is one you will spend eternity with. Will that shape how you respond to them?

But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger.

Suppose you believe the person you are engaging with is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, should you not pity and mourn over the eternal doom of that person? Newton’s advice should be kept close to our hearts. Yes, we should call out false teachers, those who preach another gospel, and declare that their eternal fate is hell lest they repent. However, if we do this with a grin or glee in our hearts, there is repentance and examination that needs to take place in our lives. Anathematizing people on Facebook and Twitter happens frequently. Do we grasp the eternal weightiness that comes along with that view and are we praying for such ones to truly behold Christ if we think they know Him not?

Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation.

Social media helped me connect with fellow Calvinists, Particular (Reformed Baptists), and like-minded brothers. This has been a great blessing and joy to me in my life and ministry. However, it grieves me to see that the hashtag #1689Twitter became synonymous with men on Twitter who were ungracious, uncaring, and overtly harsh in their interactions with others, specifically regarding issues surrounding social justice. While I think the hashtag was used in an unfair way to avoid critical discussions, it saddened me to see a noble confession expressing the doctrines of grace become connected with ungraciousness. Newton’s words are needed for everyone who claims to believe in the doctrines of grace. If I might be so bold, may the doctrines explained in TULIP not be lodged in our minds intellectually but be imprinted on our hearts experientially. No two words should be further apart: cantankerous and Calvinist. Those of us who hold strongly to the doctrines of grace should heed the instructions given to us by a champion of amazing grace.

If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may think we are doing service of the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit.

Believers are called to have a passion and zeal for truth. There are times when a godly anger should be demonstrated by us when we see the gospel distorted and twisted. Yet, this cannot be a 24/7 phenomenon. In fact, though, it is easy for us to tell ourselves we are warriors for the truth when in fact our angry theological tirades are a pious cloak for selfishness and egotism. If we appoint ourselves as commentators on every single issue that arises in the world or evangelicalism, people begin to label us, sigh when they see our posts, and will remark, “There he/she goes again.” Content does matter when it comes to theology. Tone does as well.

What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?

Out of all that Newton says in this letter, perhaps this is the one that cuts the sharpest. Newton asks a pointed question: what advantage is there if you win the debate but dishonor God? In our theological discussions, do we ask ourselves if we are seeking to honor God or display our intellect? Are we seeking to prompt others to glorify God or to stand in awe of our debating skills? What kind of heart does the Lord delight in and accept? There dwells not room for a broken, contrite heart and an exalted, selfish heart. 

John Newton understood the need for addressing theological controversies. Yet, in his wisdom, he accurately noted that controversy should not be something we are always looking to get into. Sadly, the social justice debates are the latest example where a controversy is bemoaned while platforms are being built at the same time. Let the world watch how we engage one another amidst real differences and let them be amazed. How will they be amazed? By seeing that we do not handle our differences like cable TV. Instead, we come together around the Word of God, loving one another as members of Christ’s household, and seeking to honor the God who showed us amazing grace.

How can we, who have been shown such grace, not show it to each other?

Book Review: “Still Protesting: Why the Reformation Matters” by D.G. Hart

Is there still a reason why Roman Catholicism and Protestantism cannot just get along and unite together to create one, unified communion setting aside all previous differences? After all, can an event taking place 500 years ago really continue to bear any type of relevance in the lives of ordinary people in the 21st century? D.G. Hart’s “Still Protesting: Why the Reformation Matters” sounds a clarion call that evangelicals need to hear today. While the church might be removed from the days of Luther and Calvin by a few centuries, the doctrinal chasm between Rome and Protestants still stretches wide. Hart critiques the shallow theological views of Protestants that allows them to conclude that the differences today are not that sharp. Hence, the Reformation of the 16th century no longer matters to the church in the 21st century. Hart’s book walks through key soteriological and ecclesiological differences between Protestants and Rome. In “Still Protesting,” Hart masterfully exhibits the core tenets adopted by Rome in the Counter-Reformation are still binding to this day. The Reformation is not over.

“Still Protesting” begins by dealing with statements made by Protestants who have converted to Roman Catholicism over the last few decades. These individuals’ common refrain upon their leaving Protestantism centers upon a mixture of Rome providing stability, history, and unity. Hart’s book takes on these statements by proving that the historical objections raised by Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others are, for the most part, still valid and legitimate. Further, Rome can claim neither stability and unity in the face of their own history as well as the changes that have happened and continue to happen to this day. Hart equips modern evangelicals to see what are the differences as well as give pause to Protestants contemplating union with Rome.

The first chapter of “Still Protesting” provides an overview of the historical context in which the Reformation arose. Hart briefly walks through the situations that arose prompting men like Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin to become the chief Reformers who laid down the foundational stones of Protestantism. Hart notes that Rome eventually responded with the Council of Trent rejecting all that the Protestants put forward but giving no real adequate response to the issues raised by the Reformers. “The result is that Roman Catholicism, even to the day, has not responded to the Protestant Reformers other than to reject the original tenets of Luther and Calvin” (28). Hart notes that movements in the late 1990s did not really testify to unity theologically between Rome and Protestants. These movements sadly bore witness that many Protestants were so shallow doctrinally that the issues of the 16th century no longer mattered to them regardless of Rome’s failure to change biblically at all.

Hart walks through issues related to “Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)” as well as the gospel. Hart does an excellent job of utilizing the primary sources of men like Luther and Calvin when it came to the role of the Bible in the church, how worship should be oriented, and justification by faith alone due to the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. This book serves as a wonderful, precise exposition of why Protestants opposed the sale of indulgences and how that factored into Rome’s distorted view of the gospel. Hart summarizes the heart of Protestant gospel theology this way: “The only way that believers can stand innocent before God on judgment day is by wearing the garments of Christ’s perfect righteousness. That was the insight and achievement of the Protestant Reformation” (61). Hart presses forward with how the corruption of the gospel with the sale of indulgences tied into the unbiblical hierarchy of Rome centered upon the doctrines of papal succession and papal infallibility. Hart walks the reader through how these views were ironed out over time primarily due to the political scene in Europe. The reader can easily detect how the papacy had little to do with Peter and more to do with political power and luxurious prestige.

The chapter that most intrigued me as well as that I found very beneficial was Hart’s chapter entitled “Vocation: Spirituality for Ordinary Life.” Hart unpacks the Protestant understanding of the priesthood of all believers as well as how our vocational calling is a means to worship God. Drawing from the writings of Luther and Calvin, Hart shows how Protestantism’s advocating of justification by faith alone in Christ alone refers not just to a moment in our conversion and then is to be forgotten. This precious doctrine impacts how ordinary life is carried out. Whether it be the baker, the carpenter, or the mother at home raising her children, for one who is clothed in righteousness of Christ, the ordinary is quite extraordinary in how their vocational calling provides opportunity to honor God. Hart ties in some of these themes in a later chapter dealing with how Rome and Protestants view architecture different when it comes to the corporate worship of God.

Hart finishes the book by examining the false and misleading attacks on Protestantism as being the source of division and modernity as well as being the new kid on the block. Each of these criticisms of Protestantism falls flat when the real history of the church is laid out showing that Rome’s attacks might be neat clichés but fall woefully short of being accurate. Hart gives an overview of the 2nd Vatical Council revealing how this event contradicts much of what Protestants state is their reasoning for converting to Catholicism as well as contradicting what are the supposed pillars of Roman Catholicism: stability and unity. The conclusion is a masterful exposition of how Protestants and Rome view sainthood differently. This is a fitting conclusion that reinforces earlier statements regarding Protestant views on the Bible, the gospel, and the church.

Hart provides an excellent resource for pastors and laymen alike to combat the charge that the Reformation is over. One critique that I would raise is that Hart did not provide a further resources section in this book so that readers could explore these topics in more depth. Hart quotes contemporary Roman Catholic sources but did not cite any Protestant theologians who would be in agreement with him concerning the need to still see the Reformation as ongoing. This would have bolstered his case in some areas. However, those critiques aside, this book is definitely a book you should purchase and read. “Still Protesting” will remind you of why you are a Protestant and why you should remain a Protestant!

 

Simple Church

For decades, even centuries, there is always the temptation, which usually turns into a reality, that the church must be reinvented to accommodate whatever is the present norm of a culture, society, and community. The local church on the corner becomes a market place whereby an assortment of programs and goodies are handed out to seek to persuade prospective customers to settle here. Other churches are family chapels whereby a collection of families gather together to keep up the tradition of attending. Church can be entertaining whether it is the dazzling musical talent of a soloist, the lights and smoke of the production on the stage, or the fire-breathing preacher who jumps on pews to drive home his point. Such “churches” are relegated to being outposts of a moralistic traditionalism that has more to do with the 1950s and less to do with the Bible or they are constantly reinventing themselves based on what is perceived to work. While many of these places call themselves a church, they have little if no resemblance upon what a New Testament local church is to look like.

In fact, the Bible presents to us what I would call the simple church model. Simple does not mean unintelligent or requires no thinking. Simple church is understanding that God uses the basic, ordinary means that He has sovereignly chosen and uses them in a profound way. Recently, someone posed this question: “Could you do what you do on Sunday without electricity?” If the answer is no, then you need to examine what your grasp of the church and worship on the Lord’s Day is. Consider with me 7 traits of the simple church:

A Simple Church is a Regenerate Church

A biblical church is a regenerate church. Notice Acts 2:41: those who received his word are those who were converted and then they were baptized. Consider Acts 2:47: The Lord added to their number those who were being saved. It is the Lord who sovereignly builds His church. Jesus declared in Matthew 16:18 that He would build His church. This belongs to Christ. Every biblical, simple church ministers and disciples from a foundation that this community of believers belongs to Jesus Christ. It is by His sovereign purpose that the church grows and He is the One you want to grow the church.

A local church is a visible community of brothers and sisters made alive in Christ and bonded together in love for Him and love for one another. A church represents the new creation of God both individually and corporately.  How many generations of churches have been built on decisional regeneration based on walking an aisle and repeating a prayer rather than divine regeneration which is the work of the Holy Spirit and Him alone! Simple church is a regenerate church. The regenerate church displays the glorious change of God’s grace. Still sinners but now saints: a life that has been transformed by the work of God. The simple church leaves the results to God. We understand that the growth of the church hinges on the new birth which is what the Spirit of God performs.

A Simple Church is a Gospel Church

In Acts 2:29-36, Peter proclaims the excellencies of Christ in the gospel with the OT promises as the foundation of his sermon. A simple church is a gospel church meaning that they never move away from the core message of the gospel. The doctrines of the gospel such as election, regeneration, justification, redemption, adoption, sanctification, and glorification are a part of the DNA of the simple church. The gospel is not a cliché or a tag on the end of some presentation or skit. The gospel is not merely a part of the Sunday morning sermon. The gospel is to inform all that we say and do. Mark Dever wrote a book entitled, “The Church: The Gospel made Visible.” In the local church, we testify to what the gospel has done, is doing, and will do in our lives. The gospel is the message we proclaim to see those in darkness brought into the light. The gospel is the message that nourishes believers, strengthens them for the battle, and reminds them of who they are in Christ to deepen their assurance.

A Simple Church is an Ordinary Church

When we speak of the ordinary means of grace, we are saying that these are the means or methods that God employs to grow His people in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. You see them in Acts 2: preaching of the Word, corporate worship, fellowship, the sacraments, prayers, and praise. These are all the ways in which God works in our lives to deepen our assurance and to behold the beauty of Jesus Christ. Further, these are the means by which He draws lost sinners to Christ. To the world, the ordinary means of grace look rather simple and uninspiring. Yet, these are the means by which God works in an extraordinary way!

Do you want to be counter-cultural? As a church there is nothing more counter-cultural than for us to see that God works in the ordinary, the simple. This is what was the heart of the Reformation. We are not looking for the gimmicks, the latest phenomenon to hit Lifeway or any other Christian bookstore. We are not going to take our cues from a Wall Street CEO, a President, or King. Nor are we going to take the advice of a moralism that pines for a specific decade in the past. The counter-cultural church will always be relevant because it is built on the simple and ordinary means of God rather than chasing after the latest fad. In my own life, coming to understand the ordinary means of grace totally transformed how I viewed corporate worship, pastoral ministry, and life. They caused me to delight in the ordinary and rejoice in the King who works through the ordinary to work in extraordinary ways.

A Simple Church is a Doctrinal Church

After their conversion, Acts 2 reveals that new converts were committed to the teaching or the doctrine of the apostles. Whether a person is a recent convert or a well-traveled pilgrim, they are in need of being equipped in the faith. We cannot live our lives individually nor corporately apart from being men and women of sound doctrine. We must know the theology of the Bible. We must know how to read the Scriptures for all they are worth. We must know systematic theology. We are to see how the covenants relate to our justification and redemption, how the grace of God is displayed both in predestination and preservation, how the people of God are always a called-out community whether in the OT or NT, and on we could go. This is one reason we employ creeds and confessions. These are good tools to teach doctrine because they are based upon the Bible and are historically tested.

A Simple Church is a Word-Driven Church

If the preaching of the Word of God is not central to a local church then it does not matter what else they have going for them. It does not matter what else they do if the preaching and teaching of the Word of God is relegated to some secondary status. It is the proclamation of the Word that God uses in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost. It is the preaching of the Word of God by Ezekiel that God uses to bring life to the valley of bones in chapter 37 of that prophetic book. The word-driven church is the church that submits itself to the authority of God found in the Bible. It is not found in clergy, it is not found in a board, but it is found in the Word of God being proclaimed by the men raised up and gifted within the church to teach.

This calls our attention to what we call the regulative principle of worship. This term states that worship on the Lord’s Day is to be regulated by the Word of God and what we find in Scripture, is what we are to do during corporate worship. The word-driven church humbly submits to the King of kings as the ruler of His church.

A Simple Church is an Accountable Church

Part of the terminology we use as a church is that we are covenanted group of believers. We have made a covenant towards the Lord and one another. We do not see ourselves as a collection of islands with our own agenda. We are one people who have been sovereignly joined together. In Acts 2:44, the church had unity in doctrine and unity in fellowship. It was not a one hour a week deal and then you move on your merry way. This was understanding that we are doing life and sojourning together. Accountability is a scary word because we are so programmed in our culture of the glories of individualism and self-autonomy.

The Bible states that we are blood-bought people and no longer belong to ourselves. As a church family, meaningful membership means accountability and church discipline. We have responsibility for one another. As elders, we will give an account for this flock entrusted to us. This does not mean that we are constantly looking for flaws for all of us have flaws and weaknesses. What it does mean is that we are not going to leave anyone behind. We are in this together. As a pastor or an elder, never forget that you are a member of the local church and you need this accountability. In my own life, I have experienced both the early pain of being held accountable and the wondrous joy that flows afterwards.

A Simple Church is a Hopeful Church

Regardless of what is happening, the church is hopeful because our Lord told us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. We are going forth knowing that victory is already secure in Christ. There is not a reason for us to be anxious or fretful. The king of the church is king over all. Acts is filled with many testimonies to the greatness of God in the midst of persecution. The words of one of my favorite hymns says it well:

“Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace for evermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.”

Conclusion

            C.H. Spurgeon put it well: “If I had never joined a church till I had found one that was perfect, I should never have joined one at all; and the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us.” We have not been called to reinvent the local church. Our task is to delight in the simplicity of what Scripture has given to us. The calling is for us to be good stewards. Let us desire to be simple church churches pointing people to the Great Savior and be amazed at how He works through an army of ordinary people!

Give Me the Old Paths

If you grew up in Baptist churches in the South, chances are you heard either a preacher, a church, or a ministry through a sermon or church sign declare a need to get back to “old paths.” I can remember many times hearing preachers talk about all that was wrong in churches today and then cry out, “Give me the old paths!” This phrase “old paths” is taken from Jeremiah 6:16. Yet, as I think back on these “old paths,” the problem with meaning behind this jargon for many is that their paths are not really old. The “old paths” they were referring to were beliefs, methods, and practices that can only be dated back to originating between 1900 and 1950. The “old paths” of altar calls for salvation, KJV-onlyism, dispensational eschatology of the Scofield/Hagee variety, join the church but attend rarely if at all, and Heavenly Highway hymnals are not the real “old paths” in evangelicalism. All of those items are a blend of Finneyism and Pelagianism that makes man the center of salvation. They feature revivalism techniques popularized by men like Billy Sunday, Frank Norris, and Jack Hyles such as making decisions, walking an aisle, and repeating a prayer, and a populistic theology that equated the United States with Israel as God’s choice people. Are these the real “old paths” that marked evangelicals, specifically Baptists? Give me the old paths, the real old paths! Consider the following “old paths” that need to be recovered in Baptist churches:

Christ-Centered Exposition

The history of Baptist preaching contains some great expositors who preached sermons rich in doctrine, pastoral application, and pointed chiefly to Christ! Consider the great sermons by Benjamin Keach on the parables as he unfolds the gospel witness in the discourses our Lord gave. The eminent John Gill faithfully preached line-upon-line and precept-upon-precept in the many volumes of his sequential exposition of the Bible. Andrew Fuller’s sermons through Genesis contain beautiful jewels of how the gospel is to be seen in the Old Testament. The great Southern Baptist preacher, John A. Broadus, taught preachers that, “We cannot understand the Old Testament, except we read it in its bearing upon Christ, as fulfilled in him.”[1] How can one not read the sermons of C.H. Spurgeon and be stirred in their hearts by the beauty of the gospel! Many today think that shallow sermons must be preached else our hearers be bored, lost, or unable to comprehend! Listen to Mr. Spurgeon’s counsel:

Some preachers seem to be afraid lest their sermons should be too rich in doctrine, and so injure the spiritual digestions of their hearers. The fear is superfluous. . . . This is not a theological age, and therefore it rails at sound doctrinal teaching, on the principle that ignorance despises wisdom. The glorious giants of the Puritan age fed on something better than the whipped creams and pastries which are now so much in vogue.[2]

Baptist pulpits need to be marked more than ever by faithful expository preaching that goes through books of the Bible with Christ as chief! The manner in which you preach is going to be the model your flock imitate when it comes to Bible study: what are you showing them?

Sovereign Grace Theology

It is quite a strange phenomenon that those who claim to hold to the “old paths” in Baptist life reject Calvinism/Doctrines of Grace/Reformed theology as heresy! Would they anathematize all of these men: John Bunyan, Andrew Fuller, William Carey, Samuel Pearce, Obadiah Holmes, James P. Boyce, John A. Broadus, and C.H. Spurgeon? All of these men were well grounded in the doctrines of grace. Reformed theology laid the foundation and served as the grid for how Baptists understood the world. The great institutions and movements that many Baptists proudly point to were built upon a theology of sovereign grace as found in Reformed theology. The doctrines of grace fuel and guide in how to think biblically about evangelism, missions, and discipleship. For material on how the doctrines of grace and Baptist heritage are interwoven, check out: https://founders.org/. We need a recovery of these precious doctrines! Mark Dever describes the preaching that historically marked Baptist pulpits: “The dominant preaching and teaching of the earlier part of the [19th] century was clear and unapologetic on the points of human depravity and divine election, of irresistible grace and perseverance – doctrines which tell little of what I must do, and much of what God has done.”[3] Reformed theology will not bring only the doctrines of what we call the TULIP but they will bring the proper understand of the law and the gospel, the providence of God in every part of our lives, and covenant theology.

Distinctively Baptist Federalism

While there are many dispensationalist brothers that I have learned from and respect, there is much I find wrong with that system and hermeneutic. Furthermore, one either speaks from pure ignorance or blatant error if they claim that “the old paths” in Baptist life are anything but a well-grounded federal or covenant theology. If you read 17th century Baptists like Spilsbury, Keach, Bunyan, and Coxe, then you will find a distinct Baptist covenant theology. if you read 18th century Baptists like Abraham Boothe, John Gill, and John Ryland, then you will find a distinct Baptist covenant theology. If you read 19th century Baptists like James P. Boyce, John Dagg, Robert Howell and C.H. Spurgeon, then you will find a distinct Baptist covenant theology. Why do Baptists need to recover a Baptist covenantal understanding? Consider this summary from Spurgeon:

THE doctrine of the divine covenant lies at the root of all true theology. It has been said that he who well understands the distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace is a master of divinity. I am persuaded that most of the mistakes which men make concerning the doctrines of Scripture are based upon fundamental errors with regard to the covenants of law and of grace.[4]

For more information about Baptist covenant theology see: www.1689federalism.com

Robust Confessionalism

Many Baptists today parrot the Campbellite movement that said away with creeds and confessions. This is not the Baptist position. Baptists have historically used creeds and confessions as a doctrinal basis for pastors and preachers, for church membership, for teaching members the core tenets of the faith, and for associational membership. Baptists wrote confessions of faith from the beginning as found in the 1st London Confession in the 1640s and the 2nd London Confession in the 1670s/80s. Baptists in America adopted confessions from the north in New Hampshire, the mid-Atlantic in Philadelphia, and the south in Charleston. When the first Baptists came to my home state of MS, the first church organized did so around a confession. That confession would later become the confession of the first association of Baptist churches in Mississippi.[5] Baptists did not use these documents as something to cast a quick glance at but as real documents with theological teeth in them. They were tools to explain the Bible. Only those who rejected orthodoxy rejected the usage of confessions and creeds. Dr. Greg Wills writes:

Baptist churches and associations in America had adopted confessions of faith with few exceptions…It was against this uniform practice that Alexander Campbell aimed his efforts to reform Baptist churches. He attacked the Baptists for their use of creeds and for the Calvinistic doctrine contained in them. He drew many Baptists to his views until Baptist churches and associations expelled Campbell and his followers in the 1830s. Campbell’s followers became known as the Disciples of Christ and the Churches of Christ. Baptists reasserted the scriptural grounds for their adoption of confessions of faith.[6]

Churches need today to declare what they believe, why they believe, and how they will use what they believe to further the kingdom of Christ in this world! The Baptist way is a way of putting on paper, supported by the Bible, and testified to by church history what we believe!

Biblical Polity

I cannot recommend highly enough two books: 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever and Democratic Religion by Greg Wills. These two books show the biblical and historical pattern of Baptist churches. Local church membership was covenant membership. A church covenant was more than an ornament hanging on the wall. Members publicly affirmed and wrote their signature to covenant with one another in a local church. A healthy congregationalism led by faithful elders was the polity. The ordinary means of grace, the regulative principle, and a healthy understanding of the Lord’s Day all drove Baptists in their polity and celebration of the ordinances. The “old paths” knows nothing of a drove of “carnal Christians” who comprise membership roll books in so many churches. The “old paths” are found in the covenant understanding of what it means to be a local church.

Conclusion

So, what are the “old paths” that we should be longing for in Baptist life and in evangelical life? These are the paths, in many ways, of not only Baptists but the Puritans, the Reformers, and even Augustine. It goes back though to the apostle Paul and to our Lord Himself. Let me give Spurgeon the last word as to what we should be preaching and teaching:

The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox’s gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again.[7]

These “old paths” were not only thundered in Scotland and England but were championed throughout the United States, especially among Baptists in the South. Let us resolve to once again commit ourselves to these biblical marks that form the faithful heritage passed down to us!

 

[1] Sermons and Addresses, 160-161.

[2] https://www.crossway.org/articles/10-things-you-should-know-about-charles-spurgeon/

[3] Polity, 13.

[4] https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2015/07/17/did-spurgeon-hold-to-1689-federalism/

[5] http://www.reformedreader.org/ccc/1806msbc.htm

[6] History of SBTS, 1859-2009, 20-21.

[7] http://www.romans45.org/spurgeon/calvinis.htm

Pick Up and Read

As 2019 begins, many resolutions will be made and many goals will be set. Resolutions and goals come to pass only if discipline characterizes an individual’s life. When it comes to the spiritual disciplines of the believer, there is a fine line one must walk between mechanical, robotic actions and half-hearted devotion. Christians are to be a disciplined people with an acknowledgement of dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, all of the spiritual disciplines are to be seen as means by which worship of the Triune God takes place. One of the most important disciplines in the Christian life is reading. So, as the new year begins, let me offer you some encouragement as to what you should pick up and read.

The Bible

Above all other books, the Bible should be at the center of our daily reading habits. This is the special revelation of God that reveals to us the nature of God and the redemptive storyline. Every doctrine found within the pages of Scripture relates to one another and is marrow for life. The reason that the Bible is not read is that we do not understand what we hold in our hand. This year, take your Bible, read it, write about what you read, ask questions of the text, and discern how the gospel relates to this passage. Since we believe the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, and inspired Word of God, should we not seek to know it more and more? Is there anything else in our lives that should impact how we live apart from the Holy Scriptures? When I have grown cold and dulled to the Word, there is a great emptiness and misery that accommodates each day. When considering the Bible, you hold in your hands, remember the sacrifice of men like William Tyndale. Tyndale is a Christian martyr who was executed due to the fact that he desired that the common man be able to read the Scriptures for himself in the English language.

A Bible-reading plan is a solid means of structure and discipline in searching the Scriptures during the year. Reading with an accountability partner is an excellent means to keep you on track. If you miss a day, do not stop and wait for the next January 1st to roll around. Take up the next day and begin again to search the Scriptures. In 2018, I utilized the Robert Murray M’Cheyne reading plan (https://www.mcheyne.info/calendar.pdf). This year, I will follow a chronological Bible reading plan (http://static.esvmedia.org/assets/pdfs/rp.chronological.pdf). Here are some other Bible reading plans that you can benefit from: https://www.ligonier.org/blog/bible-reading-plans/. May 2019 be a year of the Bible in your life by which you are left in more awe of the God who creates, redeems, sustains, and keeps!

Reading the Classics

My fellow Publican, Zack Ford, and I are planning to begin a 4 year journey through these Christian classics (http://www.longing4truth.com/mark-devers-christian-classics-reading-challenge/). Mark Dever organized this listing that covers the early church, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Sibbes, Spurgeon, and others! As Zack shows, this is a very intense and ambitious reading plan. I would not recommend someone do this on their own (I have tried!!) but read this with others. Not only is this another means of accountability but this will provide excellent opportunities to engage and learn with others regarding what you are reading. Furthermore, you might be prone to read only one person or era in church history. This is an excellent way to become more familiar with figures from each epoch of church history.

Puritan Paperbacks

I was overwhelmed when my church family at NTBC presented me with The Banner of Truth’s “Puritan Paperback” series for Christmas! What a goldmine! The Puritans can be difficult to read at times but it is profitable to the soul. “The Bruised Reed” by Richard Sibbes is an excellent place to start! Why not form a group in your church that is dedicated to reading one of these books a month and discussing it? You will find your life enriched and solid wisdom given to pass on to others! https://banneroftruth.org/us/store/series/puritan-paperbacks-1/

Biographies

While I am a history nerd, I realize that not everyone else cares for history like me. Still, I would argue that we suffer greatly when we fail to know history and live as if time began with us. One of the best means to acquaint yourself with history is by reading biographies. This is true whether we are dealing with figures like George Washing and Winston Churchill or John Owen and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Steve Lawson’s series “A Long Line of Godly Men” is an excellent introduction to biographical reading of some of the great men in the history of the church. These volumes are manageable to read. While these are not exhaustive or even typical biographies, this collection of books will introduce you to some of the heroes of the faith showing how their lives still speak to us today. If any one person strikes up your interest more, there are many resources cited in the book that will guide you in further reading. I highly recommend these books! https://www.ligonier.org/store/collection/long-line-godly-men/

Conclusion

Above all, read in 2019! You will be amazed at how much you can cover and learn if you set 20 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour each day to read. In you reading, heed the words of C.H. Spurgeon, “Visit many good books, but live in the Bible.”

Preaching is Strange

When it comes to the event called preaching, there might not be anything more exhilarating, more puzzling, more exhaustive, more challenging, and more rewarding then the man standing behind the sacred desk expounding the Word of God. Truly, preaching is strange because it an event that requires human discipline and preparation, while at the same time can only accomplish good by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit.

Why is preaching strange?

Discipline in the Study

As those who are commissioned to preach the Word of God, there can be no substitute for diligent study and preparation. Our time must be well-spent in working through the text, understanding the passage in the context of the redemptive narrative of the Bible, as well as gleaning the doctrines from the text through the lens of systematic, biblical, and historical theology. Meditating upon the text and chewing on the text are essential for us as we think about the congregation, we will be feeding the Word to. None of this can be neglected. Yet, discipline in the study is not only a process of reading, thinking, and writing. The preacher’s time in the study must be one of cultivating spiritual disciplines in his own life. I will confess, more times than I care to admit, that my time in the study was an exercise in writing a sermon rather than seeking to be personally fed and changed. In our time in the study, we must come desiring first to be changed and to be conformed into the image of Christ. It is not enough for me to know what my people need to hear from the text. I need to hear from the text. I need the conviction of the Word to pierce my own heart.

Preaching is a public act of worship. How dangerous it can be for us to substitute that public act for private adoration, worship, and sanctification. Let us commit to pray for ourselves and for other ministers of the Word that we not neglect personal holiness for the public platform that comes with preaching. As one writer puts it, “The biographies of the finest Christians illustrate for us, the bedrock of the truly devoted life is a daily discipline of private prayer and meditation on the Word of God. No matter how far along the Christian way we travel, our need of these things will never diminish. As has often been said, there are no shortcuts to holiness.”[1]

The Power of the Spirit

            Paul was a model theologian-preacher. The apostle faithfully expounded the Word, connecting Christ to the themes of the OT, and rightly setting forth the word of truth. Yet, as the apostle argues in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, the power lies not in the preacher but the Holy Spirit. For all of our preparation and study, there can be no substitute for our reliance upon the Spirit of God. Ezekiel 37 summons us to join with Ezekiel in understanding that the breath of God is what brings life to the valley of dry bones. There is no more humbling truth for the preacher to know and live by then that his role as a herald means that he is not the main attraction. When the preacher begins to think he is the star of a production, then he has forgotten all he claims to be. The preacher is the messenger sent forth to declare the glories of God and the mighty power of the kingdom. If we do not rely upon the Spirit of God, if our confidence be in our own abilities, then we will resort to tricks, emotional manipulation, and seeking to always be “fresh” and “relevant” by the standards of contemporary culture.

As we step into the pulpit, realizing how we are totally dependent upon the Spirit of God brings a peace and rest to our souls. This does not give space for laziness in the time of preparation. However, it will cause us to be aware that the people need not hear from me but from the God of heaven. Spurgeon said it well, “It is better to speak six words in the power of the Holy Spirit, than preach seventy sermons without the spirt.”[2] When Martyn Lloyd-Jones described preaching as “theology coming through man who is on fire,” the great pastor pointed to the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why we need Him during our time in private study and prayer. May God help us all to realize how desperately we need the Spirit as we preach!

What About Feelings?

            What about those Sundays when I step out of the pulpit and feel like a failure? I imagine that all preachers feel this way at some time. Personally, the Lord has blessed me where I preached and everything seemed to go almost perfectly. When I stepped out of the pulpit, I felt like Whitefield or Spurgeon, like I just hit a grand-slam, and any other image you can think of from sports. That type of “buzz” can become an idol. Not every Sunday feels that way. What do we do then? Some Sundays we can feel like hypocrites because we know that we are sinners and fall short in so many areas. Brother preachers, you are not supermen. You are sinners who have been transformed into saints, clothed in robes of Christ’s righteousness, heralds of divine grace, and stewards of the Word of God. Each time we preach, we are involved in a spiritual battle. As I was recently reminded, preaching is about us being faithful and not about attaining a feeling.

Conclusion

Preaching is no easy task. Sometimes the reward comes a time after we are finished preaching that sermon. Regardless of where Christ has put you, remember that you are His herald. That’s a solemn, weighty task but also a joyful, glorious labor! Preaching is strange. Just as soon as you think you have figured it out, you receive a divine reminder that you really have not. That sermon you think you fell flat on your face in the pulpit is the one that God uses to change a life. Is it because of the preacher? No, it is because of the Spirit of God who happens to use clay pots like you and me. Let us rejoice in that as Sunday approaches! May our preaching be that which glorifies God!

[1] John Cheesemen, The Priority of Preaching. (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 24.

[2] Ibid., 27.

Convictional and Compassionate: Being an All-Around Calvinist

What comes to your mind when you hear the term “Calvinist” or “Calvinism” mentioned? For some people, the term represents a theology and a people who are cold, selfish, eggheads, academics, not practical, and isolated. The caricature of Calvinism oozes forth from many people as if being a Calvinist and being a leper were synonymous with one another. As someone who gladly embraces the term (with qualifiers as a Baptist), along with unashamedly declaring the doctrines of grace from the pulpit, it raises a concern that perhaps our zeal apart from love contributes to the scarecrow straw-man constructed by those who oppose Calvinism. A Calvinist must be a man or woman who is a Calvinist all-around. This is play on C.H. Spurgeon’s work An All-Around Ministry where the Prince of Preachers guides young pastors into seeing the many elements that must be a part of ministry. I would suggest a few elements that are needed for us to be all-around Calvinists.

Experiential Religion

Some might get the impression (fairly and unfairly) that to be a Calvinist requires an oath to reject any type of feelings and emotions in regards to the Christian faith. If one reads just a few Puritan works, the conclusion will be made that this is not true. As I read The Valley of Vision (which you should too) prayers, my heart stirs within me considering the greatness of our God and His grace manifest in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Calvinism fuels true experiential religion built upon the Word of God. In his work The Practical Implications of Calvinism, Pastor Albert N. Martin makes a striking observation: “I submit that a man has no right to speak of being a Calvinist because he can repeat like a parrot phrases brought to him in the great heritage of Reformed literature. He must ask himself, Has the Holy Spirit brought be me to this profound sense of God that has worked in me at least in some measure the grace of humility.”[1] It is not enough for us to systemize if we do not internalize. The doctrines of grace are the marrow for experiential religion for they are anchored to the text of the Bible, beholding the majesty of God, humbling our prideful spirits, and taking us upward to behold the Lamb of God. Is your Calvinism causing you to be a man or woman of biblical, experiential religion? May God help us if our Calvinism causes us to be cold and indifferent! Such an experience would indict us of not truly knowing the doctrines of grace.

An Informed Worldview

            Calvinism extends far beyond TULIP and the latest conferences. Biblical and historic Calvinism provides a guide for how to view all of life. A person’s theology better be more than what takes them to corporate worship for an hour on Sunday. In fact, this is one of the great problems of the day. A ritualistic morality is a poor and cheap substitute for biblical Christianity. The great Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield defined a Calvinist in the following way:

He who believes in God without reserve and is determined that God shall be God to him in all his thinking, feeling and willing – in the entire compass of his life activities, intellectual, moral, and spiritual – throughout all his individual social and religious relations, is, by force of that strictest of all logic which presides over the outworking of principles into thought and life, by the very necessity of the case, a Calvinist.[2]

Warfield expands the playing field when it comes to Calvinism as being more than a theological acrostic. Theology can never be impractical due to the fact that doctrine fuels our lives. Each day decisions are made based upon a worldview, a grid for life. Calvinism will influence how you parent, how you relate to your spouse, the way you view your job, politics, and so forth. If Calvinism only comes into play when TULIP is spoken of, then it is not Calvinism but a sort of pragmatism that reigns in the heart and mind of an individual. J.I. Packer beautifully summarizes this in his introductory essay to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ:

Calvinism is a whole world-view, stemming from a clear vision of God as the whole world’s Maker and King. Calvinism is the consistent endeavor to acknowledge the Creator as the Lord, working all things after the counsel of his will. Calvinism is a theocentric way of thinking about all life under the direction and control of God’s own word. Calvinism, in other words, is the theology of the Bible viewed from the perspective of the Bible – the God-centered outlook which sees the Creator as the source, and means, and end, of everything that is, both in nature and in grace. Calvinism is thus theism (belief in God as the ground of all things), religion (dependence on God as the giver of all things), and evangelicalism (trust in God through Christ for all things), all in their purest and most highly developed form. And Calvinism is a unified philosophy of history which sees the whole diversity of processes and events that take place in God’s world as no more, and no less, than the outworking of his great preordained plan for his creatures and his church. The five points assert no more than God is sovereign in saving the individual, but Calvinism, as such, is concerned with the much broader assertion that he is sovereign everywhere.[3]

A Gracious Outlook

            Confessing a theology known as the doctrines of grace must impact us in being gracious to others. Sometimes I cringe reading Twitter and seeing how men who I am persuaded are true believers, who call themselves Calvinists, and yet speak to each other in ways that lack any type of grace and charity. Keyboard Calvinism is as dangerous as pragmatism. Calvinism is not a badge to wear for admittance into the cool kids’ club nor is it a club to beat people over the head with. When one gets a true sense of the grace that God has shown, how can that not humble us and guide us in our dealings with others? One of the great concerns I have is that many Facebook and Twitter Calvinists are pragmatists when it comes to their ecclesiology. If you choose where you attend church and are a member at based on pragmatic values, then it does not matter how well you can articulate the doctrines of unconditional election and irresistible grace. One of the greatest changes in my life when I came to understand the doctrines of grace involved how I viewed the local church. If you want to destroy the caricature of cold Calvinism, band together with like-minded believers. The beauty of Calvinism should be seen in gracious cooperation: serve the community like ministering at a children’s home or a nursing home, show grace to one another knowing all of us are feeble human beings who need Christ, and remember that the pilgrimage to Zion is not a road of isolation.

Steadfast Convictions

The false dichotomy that states being gracious and compassionate means the absence of convictions and beliefs must be rejected. Our Lord is all-gracious and compassionate yet He is dogmatic and narrow as He declares that He alone is the way, the truth, and the life. Calvinism must be compassionate and convictional. Our theology does matter. Our beliefs do matter. For someone to say that it is not a big deal what one believes concerning God’s sovereignty, man’s depravity, and Christ’s sufficiency moves closer and closer to a false gospel. Further reformation is needed today when it comes to the regulative principle of worship, the perpetuity of the moral law of God, confessionalism, and covenant theology. However, a person can be fervently committed to the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith without being obnoxious about it. In my opinion, no one combined the doctrinal fidelity of Calvinism with experiential religion, powerful evangelism, compassionate ministry, and selfless service like C.H. Spurgeon. Yet, Spurgeon was no ecumenical in the sense of watering down doctrine and theological railing.[4]

Conclusion

Beliefs do matter. Practice does matter. They go hand-in-hand. Calvinism must be convictional and compassionate. I urge you to explore ministries like Ligonier Ministries, Reformation21 of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Founders Ministries, and Banner of Truth as examples of how Calvinism serves for all of life. I will close with a word from Mr. Spurgeon:

A knowledge of doctrine will tend very much to confirm your faith. Try to understand God’s Word, get a sensible, spiritual idea of it. Get, if you can, a system of divinity out of God’s Bible. Put the doctrines together. Get real, theological knowledge founded upon the infallible Word. Get a knowledge of that science which is most despised, but which is the most necessary of all, the science of Christ and of him crucified, and of the great doctrines of grace…The church needs the doctrines of grace to-day as much as when Paul, or Auguste, or Calvin preached them; the Church needs justification by faith, the substitutionary atonement, and regeneration, and divine sovereignty to be preached from her pulpits as much as in days of yore, and by God’s grace she shall have them, too.[5]

[1] Albert N. Martin, The Practical Implications of Calvinism. (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), 10.

[2] Ibid., 4.

[3] See https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/packer_intro.html for the full essay.

[4] See https://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/2001/are-you-sure-you-like-spurgeon/

[5] Tom Nettles, Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2013), 167.

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.

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.