From the Archives: Keeping Children in the Worship Service

Our church has experienced a wonderful revitalization over the past few years. By God’s grace, we have endeavored to become a more Word-centered, gospel-driven, and Christ-exalting church, seeking to always be reformed according to Scripture. One of the more recent subjects we addressed was concerning our Lord’s Day worship and children’s ministry programming. Formerly, children were dismissed part way through the service for Kids Church. Now, rather than being dismissed along with the toddlers (ages 2-3) and preschoolers (ages 4-5), our elementary students (grades 1-5) continue to participate in the worship service with the rest of the congregation.

There is obviously a tremendous benefit in age-specific education. In fact, our toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary students currently use The Gospel Project curriculum either during the Sunday Classes hour or during the Kids Church portion of our Sunday morning service. We want them to be working through the Scriptures, seeing Jesus on every page, and becoming fluent in the gospel. However, there are several reasons that compelled us to keep our elementary students in the worship gathering for its entirety.

The Pattern and Power of Scripture

First, the pattern of Scripture supports keeping kids in the service. In the Old Testament, it appears that children were included in the corporate worship of the covenant community to hear the word of the Lord (Ex. 12:24-27; Deut. 31:9-13; Josh. 8:30-35; Neh. 8:1-8ff.; 12:43). The reason? Deuteronomy 31:12: “…that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law.”

Second, in the letters written to the Ephesian and Colossian churches, Paul directly addresses wives and husbands, parents and children, bondservants and masters (Eph. 6:1-9; Col. 3:18-4:2). This suggests that children were present in the congregations where these letters were being read (cf. Col. 4:16)!

Third, if we truly believe that God’s Word is living and active, that the gospel is the power of God for salvation, that the Holy Spirit works through the Word to bring illumination, conviction, and repentance, then we must pray that the Word of God will reach the hearts of our children in ways that they may not even recognize. In Acts 2:39 Peter proclaims that the promise of forgiveness of sins through repentance and faith, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. Yes, they may be thinking, reasoning, speaking, and acting like children; but as Albert Mohler reminds us, “the Word of God can reach where we cannot go.”

The Formative Power of the Worship Service

Parents are to be the primary disciple-makers of their children (Deut. 6:4-9; Ps. 78:5-7; Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4). The corporate worship service—where God’s word is publicly read, sung, prayed, preached, and seen in the sacraments—is a powerful and formative tool for discipling our children. Part of how kids learn is through observation and imitation. Sitting through a worship service teaches them how to worship by listening to God’s Word read and preached. The content of the prayers, songs, sermon also gives parents an opportunity to teach their children; they can help them follow along, and afterwards ask questions and explain things to them.

 Parents have the great responsibility (and opportunity!) to teach to their children, by their own example, the meaning and value of worship—not just personal but corporate. If we don’t value and prioritize the local church, we shouldn’t be surprised if our kids don’t either.

John Piper explains: “The greatest stumbling block for children in worship is parents who don’t cherish doing that worship, [who] don’t love it. Children can feel the difference between duty and delight. They know if dad [or mom or grandma] loves being here. The aim is that the children catch the passion for worshiping God by watching mom and dad enjoy God week after week.”

Our kids should want to be in church in part because they see that their parents want to be there. Imagine the cumulative effect on a child who sees his parents praying fervently, confessing their sins, singing joyfully, reading the Word reverently, listening to the sermon intently, and partaking of the Lord’s Supper week after week, year after year!

Raising Generations Today

Children also benefit from being in the presence of Christians of various ages because they are able to see that the faith of their parents is not a faith that they own alone; they see a faith that is important to all of these people who are gathered around them on Sunday morning. Keeping kids in the worship service helps cultivate inter-generational discipleship. When our children see this incredible gathering of people reading the Word, praying, confessing, and singing together it reinforces what mom and dad are modeling and teaching at home. It gives them a taste of the eternal—God’s saints celebrating him together.

One pastor writes: “[They] must see, know, and learn that the singing of the great hymns of the faith, the preaching of the Word, reading of confessions, corporate prayers, etc. is anything but boring. It is the gathered life of the community of faith. It is our weekly rhythm—appointed by God, designed by Him, established for the ages—this is what we want them to know, because we want them to know and worship Him.”

If our children grow up totally separated from the church of their parents and grandparents, in their own “church” which constantly caters to their age, desires, and interests, it shouldn’t surprise us to see these children grow up feeling disconnected from church, bored with church, and ill-equipped to become active members of a church when they are on their own. We want our kids to know that church is for them as well.

Parents, Prepare Your Children for Worship

Much of the success of this change depends on the parents. Despite common objections, there are several things a parent can do to help prepare their children for corporate worship on Sunday Morning. Noël Piper and Jeremy Walker have both written excellent practical suggestions for helping your kids sit through “big church.” These include:

  1. Worship with your family throughout the week. Set aside time during the week to sing, pray, read the Scriptures. Family worship not only helps you disciple your children, but it also helps Sunday morning corporate worship to not be such a shock to their systems.
  2. Start preparing Saturday night. Ensure that your family gets plenty of rest the night before in order to have enough time Sunday morning to prepare and arrive on time for church.
  3. Arrive early enough to get drinks, use the bathroom, and accomplish other tasks before the service. This can help to limit the amount of trips in and out of the sanctuary.
  4. Worship with your children. Encourage them to read along, sing along, take notes, listen carefully. Helping them learn at a young age to listen well, sit still, and pay attention will serve them far beyond two hours on a Sunday morning.
  5. If necessary, provide them with “quiet” activities, such as crayons or pencils for drawing or coloring. Our church makes these items available for parents to borrow, along with a kid-friendly paper designed for taking notes throughout the service.

Let the Children Come

The most common objection, of course, is: “They won’t understand the sermon! It’ll be over their heads!” But listen to how Piper excellently responds to this sentiment: “Of course, it is over their head. It is supposed to be over their head! They are beginners. The English language is over their head as soon as they come out of the womb. But we don’t say: Well, let’s put them with other children in their own situations and limitations so they can understand a word or two. No. We immerse them in the English language every day—that they don’t understand 90% of—in the hope and expectation that they grow up into joyful use of the English language. Long before children understand fully what is going on in worship and what is sung and what is said, they are absorbing tremendous amounts of what is valuable.”

This transition hasn’t been an easy one for our families. It has taken much work and patience. But we strongly believe that the long-term benefits outweigh the additional noise and fidgeting. Children are a blessing from God and a gift to the church. Yes, it’s a noisy gift; it’s a squirming and fidgeting gift; it’s a messy gift; but it is a beautiful gift. Children are serve as a visual reminder of those to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs. Our Lord welcomed them with open arms, and we should do likewise.

Meet the Publicans: Matt Noble

Here at The Publicans we have many contributors. They labor each week to bring you posts and thoughts and rich Scriptural content to encourage us. We’re thankful for each of them. Today we chat with one of our long running contributors Matthew Noble.

Andrew: Who are you and where are you from?

Matt: My name is Matt Noble. I was born in Peterborough, New Hampshire, but grew up in Wesley Chapel, FL. Currently I live in Land O’ Lakes, FL with my amazing wife, Rachel, and our awesome son, Levi. I am a huge sports enthusiast, and I enjoy spending time with family and friends. By God’s grace I was born into a Christian family, raised in the church and saved at a young age. In my early 20’s I was called into ministry and I have been serving Christ and His church since.

Andrew: What church do you serve?

Matt:I am an elder at Cornerstone Community Church of Pasco, a Southern Baptist Church in the Reformed tradition. I serve as Pastor of Student Ministry. I have been on staff since 2017 and I am very grateful that God has called me to this community of believers. 

Andrew: What do you desire to see most in your ministry?

Matt:I desire that there would be genuine growth both spiritual and numerical in the church for God’s glory. I want to see believers equipped and strengthened and I want to see unbelievers come to a saving faith in Christ. 

Andrew: What is your biggest joy in ministry?

Matt:When you can see the fruit of God’s Word blossoming in someone’s life. Seeing them eager to be at church, eager to read God’s Word, eager to share Jesus with others. That brings joy to my heart. 

Andrew: What is your biggest obstacle in ministry?

Matt: Time restraints. Being able to properly prioritize family, ministry, and a full-time job.  

Andrew: How do you define success in ministry?

Matt: Being faithful where God has called you. In the little things or in the big things being faithful to serve Christ and His church. 

Andrew: Tell us something your church might not know about you.

Matt:I have dislocated both pinkies on separate occasions while playing football. 

Andrew: Random concluding question: if you were sneaking into Mordor to destroy the ring of power who would you rather have at your side: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, R.C. Sproul, or John Piper?

Matt: I am not sure I understand the question? Is that Star Wars? But the answer is always John Piper. 

“Turning from Idols”

A few weeks ago, I began a series preaching through 1 Thessalonians. This epistle is so rich and reveals much of the heart of the apostle Paul. This letter also instructs the reader as to what it means for genuine conversion to take place. In 1 Thess. 1:9-10, Paul speaks of how the Thessalonians turned away from idols to serve the true and living God. Consider how profound this statement is from Paul in describing what happened there in Thessalonica.

The turning away from idols brought many sociological implications. Christians were cut off from and by their families because they stopped participating in social events tied to the pagan gods. This was a big deal. Thessalonica was only fifty miles from Mount Olympus, the supposed home of the Greek gods. These idols made up a huge part of the local and family traditions of those in Thessalonica. For those in Thessalonica, not only would they have ceased worship of the Greek deities but they would have stopped participating in the imperial cult which worshiped the Roman emperor as a god. All of these things contributed to Christians being labeled as atheists

Do not miss that being a follower of Christ will invite scorn and anger from society. Do we think that we are exempt from such reproaches even from those who are close to us? In many parts of the world, even in the 21st century, various cultures are wedded to tribal deities and family gods. The gospel calls forth me and women everywhere to turn away from such idols to serve the living God. Why is that the call? As Paul notes in verse 10, Christ delivers us from the wrath to come. God’s wrath is connected numerous times in the OT to idolatry. Man is still addicted to idolatry and God does not change. Apart from Christ, the end for idolaters is the eternal wrath of God in hell.

Some might object saying that they do not bow down to tangible idols that are made of materials that can be handled. While it might be true that there is not physical homage given to a statue in “civilized” parts of the world, we are all naturally addicted to idolatry. Let there be no mistake: we might not have gods carved out of gold and silver, wood or iron, but idols abound more than ever. Timothy Keller provides a needed word that assesses the current situation well:

Each culture is dominated by its own set of idols. Each one has its shrines – whether office towers, spas and gyms, studios or stadiums—where sacrifices must be made in order to procure the blessings of the good life and ward off disaster. What are the gods of beauty, power, money, and achievement but these same things that have assumed mythic proportions in our individual lives and in our society? We may not physically kneel before the statue of Aphrodite, but many young women are driven into depression and eating disorders by an obsessive concern over their body image. We may not actually burn incense to Artemis, but when money and career are raised to cosmic proportions, we perform a kind of child sacrifice, neglecting family and community to achieve a higher place in business and gain more wealth and prestige.[1]

Anything that we cannot do without and that we think is a must or we cannot live has become our idol. Right now, we can easily point to all of the idols that others have but do we recognize the ones that are in our lives. As Christians, we are not immune to idolatry. We can have good desires but they can easily become idolatrous when they reveal that we are not content in Christ. This is why our faith needs to be renewed each day by coming to the truths of the gospel and realizing that there is nothing greater than our communion and covenant relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. What areas in your life are you enslaved to idolatrous tendencies and find yourself easily ungrateful in that area? The gospel still possesses freeing power and the Spirit brings us liberation from bondage that can creep in our hearts.

May the words of this hymn by William Cowper be a prayer from our hearts each day:

“The dearest idol I have known, Whate’er that idol be,

Help me to tear it from Thy throne and worship only Thee.”

[1] Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters (New York: Dutton, 2009), xi-xii.

Meet the Publicans: Matthew Mahan

Here at The Publicans we have many contributors. They labor each week to bring you posts and thoughts and rich Scriptural content to encourage us. We’re thankful for each of them. Today we get to know our newest contribute Matthew Mahen.

Andrew: Who are you and where are you from?

Matthew: My name is Matthew Mahan and I hail from the Great Lakes region of NE OH and NW PA. I have been married to my beautiful bride, Liz, for the last eleven years, during which time God has blessed us with three young children (6- and 1-year old boys and a 3-year old girl). We have bounced around the USA throughout our marriage, having lived in PA, TX, AZ, CT, and FL.

As far as where I am from spiritually, I grew up as a denominational mutt – my parents’ litmus test for choosing a church to attend was less denominational-centric, more focused upon which churches had pastors who would preach and teach the Scriptures faithfully. I have inherited that legacy from them; these days I find myself worshipping our triune God as a member of the Anglican Church in North America.

Andrew: What church do you serve?

Matthew: I am just finishing my second year as the Rector (Head Pastor) of All Saints Anglican Church in Pensacola, FL. We are a member church of the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word.

Andrew: What do you desire to see most in your ministry?

Matthew: Above all else I hope and pray that through my ministry people are better equipped for discipleship to Jesus Christ.

Andrew: What is your biggest joy in ministry?

Matthew: The biggest joy I have in this calling is seeing how God works through the ministry of the church to grow the faith of parishioners in Christ and the development of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.

Andrew: What is your biggest obstacle in ministry?

Matthew: I have found the biggest obstacle for ministry, outside of my own sinful flesh and weaknesses, has been the stranglehold that local traditions can have in liturgical churches. So quickly can meaningful traditions become ossified and gain near-idol status, all while losing their initial vitality and vibrancy.

Andrew: How do you define success in ministry?

Matthew: I define success in ministry as faithfully handling God’s Word through preaching, teaching, and exhortation, and rightly administering the Sacraments. I think the Biblical picture of success is faithfulness – especially in the midst of a darkling generation – and cannot be defined by numbers.

Andrew: Tell us something your church might not know about you.

Matthew: I love reading good science fiction novels, from Arthur C. Clarke to Michael Crichton, to C.S. Lewis, to Andy Weir.

Andrew: Random concluding question: if you were sneaking into Mordor to destroy the ring of power who would rather have at your side: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, R.C. Sproul, or John Piper?

Matthew: I would prefer Luther for the first half of the journey – there’s a man who would appreciate second breakfasts and a good pint at the end of a long day’s journey – provided that when we got closer to the goal our paths diverged so that he could serve as a diversion on a separate route! If I had to choose a companion who would stick by my side the whole way through (what a terrific joke! Better put, with whom would I choose to tag along and offer whatever meager service I could), out of the given choices I would go with John Calvin. If I am allowed to choose from other theologians or pastors of the past 500 years, give me C.S. Lewis for the journey any day.

God’s Love for Us

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

– Romans 5:6-8

In 2012, Jaime Rohrs took his girlfriend, Patrcicia Legarreta, and their two children to see the midnight showing of the Dark Knight Rises in theaters. As they were sitting down enjoying the movie a man came storming into the theater and started shooting. Chaos ensued and shortly afterward the couple became separated.  Legarreta, with both children, was left inside the theater, while Rohrs managed to escape, hop into his car, and began driving, leaving his girlfriend and children behind. Legarreta was able to reach her boyfriend by cell phone and he returned to the theater and was eventually reunited with his family.  

The man in this story left his girlfriend and children alone, not knowing if they would live or die, while he drove off to safety. Crazy, isn’t it? A man won’t even risk his own life to save his family. As you can see Paul’s words here, in Romans 5:7, are very true, “one will scarcely die for a righteous person”. That is, hardly ever do people voluntarily give their life for someone else’s life, even if that person is a good person and certainly they are not dying for a bad person. 

But God is so merciful and so loving that He sent His Son Jesus into the world to die for us. And Jesus did not die for good people, but He died for bad people like you and me.  

Ungodly, Weak, Sinner

And you might think, “now wait a minute I am not a bad person.” But notice how you and I are described in these verses. We are described in three ways: weak (5:6), ungodly(5:6), and sinners(5:8). 

The word “ungodly” means a lack of interest in the things of God and behavior that reflects that. So, to be ungodly is to not care about God or care about how He commands us to live. Then in verse 8 we are called “sinners” and the word “sinner” means “to miss the mark”. Think of someone shooting an arrow at a target and missing the bull-eye completely. That is missing the mark. And we have missed the mark that God has called us to. The target is perfect obedience to Christ and all of us have woefully missed that mark. We are sinners. Finally, in verse 6 notice that we are described as “weak”, some Bible translations  might say “without strength”. This weakness or lack of strength, that is described here, is not physical strength, but spiritual strength. What Paul is saying is that we are completely unable to save ourselves. We are weak spiritually. We don’t have the strength. It is impossible for us to save ourselves. 

The picture that Paul paints here for us is a bleak one. We are a people who do not care about the things of God nor are we a people who obey God. The result of our apathy and rebellion toward God is condemnation. All of us, apart from Christ, deserve and will receive the wrath of God. And Romans makes it clear here that on our own there is nothing we can do to fix this. We are weak, unable to make things right with God on our own. This is a troubling situation. 

Good News

Thankfully, in God’s grace, we are not left to ourselves. Look at what Christ does for us: We are told that “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Out of His great love for you and me God sent His Son Jesus to die in our place. He took our punishment in our place, so that all of those who, by grace, trust in Jesus as Savior will have eternal life.

 Jesus is our only hope of salvation. Trust Him today. If you have trusted in Christ alone for your salvation what joy and gratitude should fill your heart. Thank Him today for all He has done for you. 

Meet the Publicans: Austin Wynn

Here at The Publicans we have many contributors. They labor each week to bring you posts and thoughts and rich Scriptural content to encourage us. We’re thankful for each of them. Throughout the next few weeks, we’d like to introduce them to you. Today we get to know Austin Wynn.

Andrew: Who are you and where are you from?

Austin: In God’s kindness, I’ve been blessed with a very full and abundant life. I grew up in Metro Atlanta (Suwanee to be exact) to a church-going family. God graciously opened my eyes to the Gospel in my junior year of high school. It was in my college years at Valdosta State University that He then graciously opened my eyes to a girl, Emily Ruth Phillips. Emily and I have been married for eleven years and have been blessed with four uniquely gifted kids (Annie Ruth- 8, Everett- 7, Elias- 4, and Lydia- 1).

Andrew: What church do you serve?

Austin: I’m so blessed to be able to serve the great people at Westside Baptist Church in Valdosta, GA (Winnersville, USA). We began serving at Westside in 2017.

Andrew: What do you desire to see most in your ministry?

Austin: I couldn’t put it any better than Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13). I long to see people grow deeper in their faith in Christ and their love for Him, His church, and their lost friends and family.

Andrew: What is your biggest joy in ministry?

Austin: I absolutely love seeing glimpses of a growing Gospel awareness in His people. I often see such growth through evangelistic encounters outside the body and discipling relationships inside the body. Seeing the spark of a Spirit-given hunger for God’s Word in new believers is one major reason I do what I do.

Andrew: What is your biggest obstacle in ministry?

Austin: Satan, the flesh, and this world offer so many myriads of obstacles to the advancement of God’s kingdom. In my current ministry assignment, I’d say one of the biggest obstacles I face is being a solo pastor. I need brothers who can come alongside me and help me in prayer, the ministry of the Word, and leading His people. I know the responsibility falls on me to invest in men and train them up for such a task, but this takes time and patience (2 Timothy 2:2). 

Andrew: How do you define success in ministry?

Austin: As my pastor, Bill Cook, said at my ordination service, success is faithfulness. As much as the world tells me success is nickles and noses or budgets and backsides, I’ve sadly seen that isn’t the case. Therefore, my prayers and efforts are aimed at being faithful to God and His Word, faithful to my wife and children, and faithful to the sheep with which He has entrusted to my care. If I’ve carried out the charges given in 1 Peter 5:1-4 and 2 Timothy 4:1-5, then I will have succeeded as a minister of the Gospel (no matter what people say or don’t say about me once I’m gone).

Andrew: Tell us something your church might not know about you.

Austin: On the light side: I like listening to Bluegrass with my daughter (long story) and eating Moose Tracks ice cream.

On the serious side: That I’m smack dab right in the middle of my own sanctification and need their prayers like crazy. Not that its much of a surprise, but my feet are made of clay and I’m wrestling with principalities and powers as they are (so prayer and encouragement is huge).

Andrew: if you were sneaking into Mordor to destroy the ring of power who would rather have at your side: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, R.C. Sproul, or John Piper?

Austin: All of the above! Luther would help me punch the devil in the face everyday. Calvin would help me press on for God’s glory. Spurgeon would help me not give into discouragement. R.C. Sproul would help me tremble before God instead of Mordor. John Piper would help me desire God more than the ring of power. If forced to choose only one, I’d say Spurgeon because he has finished his race, is a fellow Baptist, and God gave that man a way with words!

Private Sin Is Never A Private Matter

“What I do in private is between me and the Lord.”

This a thought I’ve heard from several believers. Others, when confronted about ongoing sin in the body retort Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” not realizing that Jesus also said in that same chapter, “You will recognize them by their fruits” and, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (vv. 20, 21).

Scripture clearly teaches us that we are members one of another (Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:25) and therefore our private sins are not really a private matter. Such thinking reveals we’ve adopted a little more of the culture’s mindset than we may like to admit. But the Bible says our personal identity is always connected to our corporate identity as members of our local church body and the two cannot be divorced from one another. We may assume that since we’re positionally right with God through faith in Christ, then what we do in the dark affects no one but ourselves. Wrong. If there is one thing we learn from the story of Ananias and Sapphira, it is that unrepentant, secret sin in our lives affects the health and witness of the whole body. Our gossipy whispers and the silent glow of our phones in the dark must not deceive us. Our Lord told His disciples, “…nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops” (Matthew 10:26b-27). Paul likewise told Timothy, “The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later” (1 Timothy 5:24). In Acts 5, God teaches His young church several important lessons, but one such lesson is that private sins in the life of a church member are a public matter for the church.

Luke provides us with several amazing snapshots of the early church in the first chapters of the book of Acts (1:12-26; 2:42-47; 4:23-31; 4:32-37; 6:1-7). In one such scene, we read this, “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (4:34-37). All was well. This was a church marked by unity, prayer, love, Scripture, holiness, and Gospel witness. Then we notice what happens when some believers give way to personal sin: “But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him” (5:1-6). The story continues as Sapphira is also struck dead by the Lord a few hours later.

What they did was wrong (the privacy of the sin doesn’t make it any less sinful)

I remember being confused upon my first reading of the account of Ananias and Sapphira. I thought to myself, “What did they do wrong? Don’t we all keep back a portion for ourselves when we give to the Lord?” But the problem for Ananias and Sapphira isn’t that they kept back some for themselves. Peter tells Ananias in verse 3, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” The problem was that they lied about what they were giving (v. 3). This is why Peter questioned Sapphira about how much the land was sold for compared to what they’d given the apostles (v. 8). We may say something was a “white lie” or that we “stretched the truth,” but God calls a spade a spade: “You have not lied to man but to God…you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord” (vv. 4b, 9b). In the same way, private sins are not somehow less sinful. The sin of Achan was a private sin and yet God called His people to purge the evil from among them (Joshua 7). And many times in Israel’s history, private sins which were otherwise unknown the the whole assembly had to be made known in order to experience the blessing of God upon them.

What God did was right (the public nature of the judgment upholds God’s holiness)

Many in our culture aren’t even aware that they approach the Bible with a lens of superiority and judging. They stand in judgment of it instead of letting it stand in judgment of them. I remember teaching through this scene years ago and a man sharing how he thought God’s judgment here was too severe. He said the punishment didn’t fit the crime. We need to be reminded, however, that God is the only truly just Judge there is. If a judgment seems too severe, the problem isn’t with Him…it is with us. The problem here is that we are looking through the wrong end of the binoculars. There is no such thing as a little sin because there is no such thing as a God who is a little holy. I’ve heard the illustration that if you punched a stranger on the street, you’d get punched in return. If you punched a police officer, you’d get a jail sentence. If you punched the President, you’d get a life sentence or the death penalty. It was the same crime, but the penalty is heightened with the authority of the one we offended. It is the same with God. Every sin is major to God and especially sin in the church. What good could come from such severe discipline on sin? We see it in verses 5 and 11: “Great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” Luke had said that the apostles had great power and great grace was upon them (4:33), and now he says that great fear came upon all. God was upholding the purity of His holiness along with the purity of His people.  And He was doing this before the eyes of a watching world.

What we do in private matters (the church must be a repentant, distinct people)

The church is to be a purified people, but not because we are better than others. Our purity is derived from repentant faith that clings to the Gospel day after day. We must regularly come for cleansing, even though we’ve already been washed from sin’s penalty (John 13:5-10). How do we regularly remain clean and pure as a church? We confess our sins to God and one another and pray for each other (James 5:16), and we discipline the unrepentant among us (1 Corinthians 5; Matthew 18:15-20). As we do these things, we are lovingly preparing each other for the great Judgment to come on each of us. A church that doesn’t discipline sin in its midst will not have this penetrating impact on the culture around them as did the early church. We read, “None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (5:13-14). If we wish to be a purified people that pierces the darkness of this world, we must be truly repentant of sins and distinct.

May we never view our private sins as private matters before the Lord.

Meet the Publicans: Don Carpenter

Here at The Publicans we have many contributors. They labor each week to bring you posts and thoughts and rich Scriptural content to encourage us. We’re thankful for each of them. Throughout the next few weeks, we’d like to introduce them to you. Today we begin with Don Carpenter.

Andrew: Who are you and where are you from?

Don: First, I am a sinner saved by God’s grace. Through the years, I have learned that my identity begins with Christ and everything flows from there. As a result of God’s grace, I am a husband to Angie, a father to Faith & Cole, a son to parents, a shepherd to His people in EBC, and a friend to far more than I deserve. We are from the St. Louis Metropolitan Area (Illinois side); a small rural community in the heart of corn-country.

Andrew: What church do you serve?

Don: I serve the Lord in Eldred, Illinois at Eldred Baptist Church. We are a New Hampshire Confession church that focuses on living inside the covenant-community of faith while seeking to make disciples through evangelism and relational discipleship.

Andrew: What do you desire to see most in your ministry?

Don: I long to see a genuine movement of the Holy Spirit that manifests in (1) a profound love of God that leads to personal holiness in the lives of our covenant members, (2) our covenant members living an Acts 2:42-47 life devoted to Christ & His Church, and (3) the salvation of the lost in our community through the evangelistic efforts and Christ-like lives of our covenant members.

Andrew: What is your biggest joy in ministry?

Don: My biggest joys are always connected to witnessing the salvation and sanctification of those entrusted to me by God. As John wrote, “There is no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4). The Lord has proven this true time and time again in my life.

Andrew: What is your biggest obstacle in ministry?

Don: Without question, my biggest obstacle in ministry is me. Sometimes, my obstacle is pride and self-sufficiency that keeps me from coming to the Throne of Grace where I may find the help I so desperately need. Other times, it is my tendency to be slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry (even if I hide it on the outside). Thank God my Great Shepherd is still guiding & correcting me with His rod & staff; His discipline is a comfort.

Andrew: How do you define success in ministry?

Don: Success in ministry cannot be measured by growth and decline alone, although they can be helpful tools. Jesus is Lord of both and has given both to EBC at various times. Success in ministry is my learning to trust God with the results of the faithful proclamation of His Word. God’s Word always accomplishes His purposes; I need, simply, to trust Him.

Andrew: Tell us something your church might not know about you.

Don: I am far less certain about how to do what I know God’s Word commands me/us to do. The Lord has given me a strong personality and I think that it helps me hide my insecurities. Since coming into a Sr. Pastor’s role, I have learned the significant difference between knowledge & wisdom. God’s Word provides me/us with the knowledge of what to do but it is God’s Spirit that gives me/us the wisdom to apply that knowledge in my/our context. This has humbled me greatly and continues to do so. And for that, I am grateful.

Andrew: Random concluding question, if you were sneaking into Mordor to destroy the ring of power who would rather have at your side: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, R.C. Sproul, or John Piper?

Don: Luther. He was willing to stand alone, face-to-face, against the most powerful force of evil for the Truth of the Gospel. Not to mention, Luther would certainly have some incredibly hilarious insults to throw at his opponents along the way.

Don, we’re sure thankful to God for you and His work in us through your writing. May God continue to do that more and more, amen!

Taste & See

“Taste and see that YHWH is good” (Psalm 34:8).

The presupposition is clear; YHWH is good. And, indeed, He is.

The psalmist, as well as all those in Christ, experienced the goodness of the One True Living God through deliverance (vs. 1-7) and he invites his reader to test his presupposition. Today, we call this ordinary mean of grace “Meditation.”

Meditate, taste and see, on the goodness of God and you will not leave empty or dissatisfied. Indeed, this is what the saints are doing in Glory today (and everyday) and this is what all those who die, or are alive at His coming, in the Lord will be doing for eternity. Those in Christ will, by sight, fixate upon the Lamb who was slain and glory in His presence in complete satisfaction for all eternity. O, how I long for that Day.

This, I believe, is what makes Lord’s Day worship so sweet for those who are in Christ. We get a small glimpse, even an small taste, of what the Eternal State will be like as we lift our voices to the King, lay our burdens down at His feet, and hear from His lips the words of everlasting life.

John Owen writes in The Glory of Christ, “For if our future blessedness shall consist in being where He is and beholding His glory, what better preparation can there be for it than a constant previous contemplation of that glory as revealed in the gospel, that by a view of it we may be gradually transformed into the same glory?”

But we need not wait until the Lord’s Day nor are we constrained to one particular time of day. Rather, the invitation of the psalmist to “taste and see that YHWH is good” is an open invitation, ongoingly. He is good at 6am and 2:17pm. He is good in sickness and in health. He is good in seasons of plenty and in seasons of want. He is good times of distress and serenity. He is good; taste and see.

I, with the Holy Spirit inspired psalmist, invite you Christian to taste the goodness of the Lord. Meditate on His glory. Remember His deliverance(s). Think upon not only what He has saved you from but what and who He has saved you to. He was good even before He saved you. Taste and see.

Owen encourages his reader to think deeply upon the glory of the Savior now, for that will be our sole occupation in eternity future, when he writes “No man shall ever behold the glory of Christ by sight hereafter who does not in some measure behold it here by faith.”

Set aside your temporal affairs, if only for a moment, today and fixate upon the Glorious One; taste and see that He is good!

“Do You do Well to be Angry?”

No matter how often I read the account of Jonah, I always chuckle to myself when I read Jonah 4. The imagery of the prophet steaming, both physically and emotionally, on a hill overlooking Nineveh and waiting to see it destroyed. A prophet of the Lord broods looking down at this city that had just experienced revival and he is angry about it all. Twice in the final chapter of the book of Jonah, the Lord asks Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry?” The first time, Jonah is silent to God’s question. The second time, Jonah defiantly states that he has a right to be angry. While the picture might be humorous, it is more real than we might care to admit.

COVID-19 Anger

Let’s face it: a lot of people are angry these days. With social media, most people think they are an expert on everything now. We will form an opinion, find someone who agrees with us (YouTube, podcast, article), and then we see their affirmation as validation for our view. If anyone dares question or push back, we will lash out in anger. The COVID-19 pandemic serves as gasoline on the fire of “self-expertise.” Unfortunately, this serves as a breeding ground for anger. People are angry at the President, their state and local officials, the news media, the health care officials, the school boards, and I could continue to go on. Solutions are not sought. A scapegoat must be found. Someone must pay how our lives have been disrupted.

Jonah Anger

While it was not a health pandemic that “disrupted” Jonah’s life, everything that he would consider “normal” changed in an instant when the Lord summoned him to Nineveh. The call that came to him did not sit well with him. How could he, a Hebrew and an Israelite, go preach and extend a call to Gentile dogs like those in Nineveh? The story of Jonah is one of a continual descent; both physically and spiritually. We all know the story of how Jonah goes in the opposite direction, is swallowed by a large fish, prays and thanks God for deliverance, obeys the call the second time it comes, carries out his duty, and then simmers in the desert heat because God had the audacity to show mercy to Nineveh. The last words we hear from Jonah are him defiantly telling God that he, a mere creature, had a right to be angry with the Creator. Have you ever met someone like Jonah?

Personal Anger

I have. Jonah is the book that I began preaching through on May 24th. This was our first Sunday at NTBC to gather together corporately in over two months. By preaching through this book, I began to see how much of Jonah I found in me. This year has been the hardest for me in ministry. I imagine most, if not all, pastors would acknowledge that. Not only did the time of separation due to health recommendations greatly weigh on me, our church family wrestled with difficult counseling situations. I could hear in the voice of the flock how much the lack of being able to gather together affected them. I knew it was real because it had affected me too. As I arrived in chapter 4 and worked through the text, I began to see that Jonah was not the only one who had been angry with God. In my heart, I had been angry too.

Sure, I felt anger towards the incompetence of federal officials, mixed signals from health officials, and longing for a return to “normalcy” in pastoral ministry. In reality, my anger was really towards the Lord of heaven and earth. As one childhood pastor used to put it, I had allowed my heart to enter a state of the “mulligrubs.” Why was this happening to me? I pastored a confessional Baptist church that sought to honor the Lord’s Day by meeting morning and evening, strove for an ordinary means of grace ministry, enjoyed weekly fellowship around the lunch table as a church, moved to monthly communion, and on and on I could go. I realized that I had allowed myself to succumb to a covenant of works mentality. “God, we are doing these things right especially in comparison to those around us. Why is this happening to us?” In the moments of sermon prep that week, I had to confess my sin and seek forgiveness. How foolish I had been!

Misguided Anger

Sinclair Ferguson’s book “Man Overboard” is a dynamite resource on Jonah, and it will punch you in the spiritual gut a few times too. Several times throughout the book, Ferguson notes the difference between theology we get write on paper and theology we actually believe. Jonah had theology proper and a doctrine of grace in his head but it was not in his heart. The same had happened to me. None of us deserves anything good from the hand of the Lord. In this time of frustration, we must be on guard not to allow ourselves to be trapped by misguided anger.

Before we begin to think that we have gotten a raw deal, let us remember that none of us have been burned at the stake like Hus. When we think of the difficulties we might experience in trying to gather together for worship, consider the Puritans ejected in 1662 and the laws passed subsequently that forced them to hold covert services in England. If we would begin to complain about our lot, reflect on men like John Bunyan, Thomas Grantham, James Marham, and Hercules Collins who were jailed because they were Nonconformists and Baptists in 17th century England. In the present, consider the thousands of believers in places like China, Nigeria, and elsewhere who are being incarcerated and slaughtered for the faith.


In no way am I minimizing the effects this past year have had on the church with respect to the COVID pandemic. However, since we confess the sovereignty of God over all things, should we not be asking what is the Lord teaching us through this? If the answer is simply for us to be angry and view ourselves as some type of Christian revolutionaries fighting against a tyrannical government, I fear we are missing the point. Instead of calls for revolution, we should be hearing the call of Jonah: repent. Instead of mimicking the anger of the prophet, we should be emulating the people of Nineveh who bowed before the Lord. A greater than Jonah stands before us and He is our Savior, Redeemer, and Friend. May COVID-19 produce a greater affection in our hearts for Christ and let us not think it well if we are angry.

Standing Firm In Overwhelming Times

As we walk through 2020, it can feel at times as though things could not get worse in our society or our world. You may be experiencing this on an external level, depressed by the direction of our culture, the political battles, the pandemic, living in the midst of a partial societal shutdown. You may also be experiencing this internally – affected by grief, by the loss or restriction of interaction with friends and families, the removal of familiar routines and hobbies, the constant temptation and burden of your own sins, etc. It can be quite tempting to curl up into a ball and rock back and forth until such a time as the sun comes out from the clouds, the riots and election are past, and COVID is defanged.

Consider a snapshot from Middle Earth (if Lord of the Rings is not your pint of ale, as it were, feel free to skip this paragraph). One of the things I have most enjoyed about 2020 is reading through Lord of the Rings with my wife once our three little ones are asleep. We have finally made it to The Return of the King, which is one of my favorite books of all time. Early in the book there is a beautiful scene where Pippin, one of the pint-sized hobbits, has just arrived in the stronghold of Minas Tirith. He is gazing across the plains at the mountains of Mordor, wherein dwells the full strength of the evil Sauron. Pippin, overcome by the enormity of the battle before them and their long, long odds of success, cowers in fear. He remains so for some time before eventually regaining composure and encouraging himself with these words: “No, my heart will not yet despair. Gandalf fell and has returned and is with us. We may stand, if only on one leg, or at least be left still upon our knees.” Pippin’s hope rests not upon the strength of their armies, or the courage of their hearts – for he knew such things to not be sufficient – rather he finds hope in a transformed Gandalf, who has come back from the dead.

This scene struck me with regards to our Christian call to respond to the overwhelming circumstances of this life by looking beyond them to the crucified and risen Christ. Tolkien may not have been trying to write a Christian allegory, but in moments like this the Christian reader can no doubt draw important parallels to their own life circumstances. So long as we focus upon the circumstances and struggles of this life, despair is the best outlook, and we will sink like Peter as he noticed the waves (Matthew 14:30). We must draw our gaze away from these things and focus our attention to something even more powerful than the decay of society, the grip of sin, and the schemes of the devil. Pippin finds solace and strength to stand even in the face of evil because of a powerful being come back from the pit; we find solace and strength to stand because of a Savior who has died and rose again.

Here is where the illustration breaks down. We should not simply say “Christ died and is with us therefore let us have hope.” Rather, we rest upon the sure and certain truth that by His death He has defeated our enemies – sin, death, and the Devil. While we may not feel the reality of it yet, the destruction of all these foes is certain. Yet unlike Gandalf, our Lord Jesus is not “with us” in His physical presence, rather He has ascended into Heaven. He left us, in order that He could send us His Spirit, which He declared as being an even better situation than if He were to still be with us physically (John 16:7)! Although absent physically, He is doing greater work on our behalf; He is our Great High Priest representing us to God while preparing for us that new and eternal City and glorious New Creation promised in His Word (John 14:2-3, Revelation 21-22).  

How then can we stand firm in the face of despair and amidst the difficult circumstances of this life? I do not write this from an ivory tower. My wife and I are little more than a week removed from a miscarriage, one which left us awash in a greater grief than either of us had ever known. For comfort, I have taken my cues from Scripture. Whatever your struggles may be, I invite you to look with me to Christ, remembering that since we are His disciples, we should expect nothing less than to walk the path that He walked (Matthew 10:24-25). His way was the way of suffering in this life, only then followed by eternal glory (Philippians 2:1-11). 

In closing, I take great encouragement from how Paul constantly points to this identification with Christ as he considers the suffering of this life, saying in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Perhaps this perspective is best summed up in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, which after Paul considered the trials he had endured concludes thus: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

So, when you are tempted to despair, when your situation looks bleak and it feels like sin and death have won out, gaze upon the crucified, risen, and triumphant Jesus, in view of whom all the difficulties of our lives are re-cast as transient “light and momentary troubles.” Remember that He is with you by His Spirit as you walk His path of suffering, a path whose end is to be with Christ in glory. This is the only way I know to stand firm in the midst of overwhelming times.

Recommended Reading from the Late J. I. Packer (1926-2020)

On July 17, 2020, one of the most influential theologians of the last century, J. I. Packer, finished his course. He went to be with Jesus at the age of 93.

Among many other notable achievements and publications, Packer served as executive editor of Christianity Today, general editor for the English Standard Version of the Bible, theological editor for the ESV Study Bible, and associate editor of the Reformation Study Bible. Yet despite his intellectual brilliance and theological mastery, he was a theologian, as Elisabeth Elliot remarked, “who puts the hay where the sheep can reach it.”

The following are two of books of his that I highly recommend, along with a suggested list for further reading.

Knowing God

For over 40 years, J. I. Packer’s classic has been an important resource for helping Christians around the world discover the wonder, the glory, and the joy of knowing God. In this book, Packer brings together two important facets of the Christian faith―knowing about God and knowing him personally through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

His chapter entitled “Sons of God” is one of the most beautiful presentations of the doctrine of adoption that I have ever read. Here are a couple examples from this chapter of his ability to capture profound biblical truth in clear, vivid, and compelling terms:

Justification is a forensic idea, conceived in terms of law, and viewing God as judge. . . . Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater (207).

Many have struggled to understand the place of the law in the life of the Christian. But Packer finds a remarkable way of expressing this tension using the doctrines of justification and adoption:

While it is certainly true that justification frees one forever from the need to keep the law, or try to, as the means of earning life, it is equally true that adoption lays on one the abiding obligation to keep the law, as the means of pleasing one’s newfound Father. Law-keeping is the family likeness of God’s children; Jesus fulfilled all righteousness, and God calls us to do likewise. Adoption puts law-keeping on a new footing: as children of God, we acknowledge the law’s authority as a rule for our lives, because we know that this is what our Father wants (223).

Knowing God is a wonderful and refreshing study on the attributes of God, and a great starting point for those interested in reading Packer.

Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs

This study of what Packer calls “the permanent essentials of Christianity” distills theological truths in such a way that both scholar and layperson alike can grow to treasure the unchanging pillars of the Christian faith. Each of the ninety-four chapters (which are only a couple of pages long) explores a different doctrine in a way that is easy to understand and rooted in historic Reformed teaching. I really can’t improve upon Kevin Vanhoozer’s recommendation of this book: “Concise Theology is poetry to Christian ears: the best words in the best order about the best news there is―the gospel of grace poured out in Jesus Christ. Packer here sets forth with lucid brevity everything Christians need to know to become biblically literate and to grow in wisdom and understanding. Doctrine and doxology here walk hand in hand.”

In his preface, Packer explains the purpose of such a book on theology:

Theology is for doxology and devotion—that is, the praise of God and the practice of godliness. It should therefore be presented in a way that brings awareness of the divine presence. Theology is at its healthiest when it is consciously under the eye of the God of whom it speaks, and when it is singing to his glory (xii).

Here’s an excerpt from his chapter on “Worship.” Notice how robust and exhaustive his sentences are, yet how comprehensible and simple they are at the same time:

Worship in the Bible is the due response of rational creatures to the self-revelation of their Creator. It is an honoring and glorifying of God by gratefully offering back to him all the good gifts, and all the knowledge of his greatness and graciousness, that he has given. It involves praising him for what he is, thanking him for what he has done, desiring him to get himself more glory by further acts of mercy, judgment, and power, and trusting him with our concern for our own and others’ future well-being. . . .

The basis of worship is the covenant relationship whereby God has bound himself to those whom he has saved and claimed. This was true of Old Testament worship as it is now of Christian worship. The spirit of covenant worship, as the Old Testament models it, is a blend of awe and joy at the privilege of drawing near to the mighty Creator with radical self-humbling and honest confession of sin, folly, and need. Since God is holy and we humans are faulty, it must ever be so in this world. (98-99)

There are many good systematic theologies out there, but in Concise Theology, Packer has provided a perfect summary of them all.

For further reading:

The Preacher’s Motives

Mondays are the one day of the week many in the secular world lament, because it means an end to the weekend and the beginning of another long work week. Ironically, I’ve talked to several pastors over the years who have shared that Mondays are their least favorite too, but for different reasons. I think these pastors dislike Mondays because of how Sunday turned out. In fact, I’ve heard older pastors advise me never to quit the ministry on a Monday because of this, and yet that is the one day pastors often feel the most discouraged.

So there I was feeling discouraged going into the next Monday morning and wanting to leave the ministry. I’d prayed, prepared, and preached my heart out only to feel like all my efforts were wasted. Then I read this by D.A. Carson and it pinned me to the wall:

“That is the ultimate test: it is the test of our motives. Some of us pursue what is excellent, even in the spiritual arena, simply because we find it hard to do anything else. Our perfectionist natures are upset when there is inferior discipline, inferior preaching, inferior witness, inferior praying, inferior teaching. If we are concerned over these things because we sense in them a church that has sunk into contentment with lukewarmness and spiritual mediocrity, if we try to change these things because in our heart of hearts we are zealous for the glory of Christ and the good of his people, that is one thing; if, however, our concern over these matters is driven primarily by our own high, perfectionist standards, we will be less inclined to help, and more inclined to belittle. Our own service will become a source of secret pride, precisely because it is more competent than much of what we see around us. And sadly, much of this ostensible concern for quality may be nothing more than self-worship, the ugliest idolatry of them all.”

I had been assuming that my discouragement and disillusionment with ministry was well-reasoned and pure. However, it was owing more to my own love of self than it was the glory of Christ and the good of my flock. Hidden beneath the surface was this internal motive that was truly deceptive and dangerous. So the takeaway for us preachers and teachers is that we must consistently check our motives before, during, and after the preaching/teaching event and stop assuming they are altogether pure. Sure your sermon may have been one huge 45 minute dud, but are you more concerned with a polished delivery or strengthening your weary flock? So maybe your congregation seems unmoved and unmotivated, but are you more frustrated at the weeds present or more thankful at the small buds of life that are sprouting up? One pastor friend of mine gave me a helpful piece of advice I’ve never forgotten from his own painful experience: “We aren’t called to beat the goats. We’ve been called to feed the sheep.” If you aren’t a preacher or teacher, jot down some ways you have grown spiritually under your pastor or Sunday school teacher’s ministry and write them a thank you note detailing this or tell them about it this Sunday. This Sunday a member approached me and just mentioned one thing they learned from a sermon I’d considered a dud that really helped them. This was so encouraging. Another two mentioned that they were reading their Bibles more than they ever have lately…smalls signs of God’s hand at work, yet huge encouragements to the one delivering God’s Word each week. They may appear to be fueled by proper motives, but you’d be surprised to discover they may be wanting to quit because they see their efforts as wasted. Satan has a fine way of inserting lies between the one speaking for God and the ones they are addressing. Go to war with his subtle tricks for the good of your church and the ministry of God’s Word as it goes forth week by week.

May the Lord help us all to have pure motives as we expound the glories of Christ through the preaching of God’s Word this Sunday.

  1. D.A. Carson, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 119.

“Does the Church Still Matter?”

All of us will remember 2020. As I write this article, we are only halfway through the calendar year and yet it feels the past six months have contained enough events to fill up six years. At the top of the list of major events are the COVID-19 Pandemic and the social unrest that fills our nation. Questions involving racial justice, monuments, and civic responsibility swirl constantly demanding answers. How is the church to respond in this moment? One concern that fills my heart is that many no longer believe that the church really matters.

The Wrong Preoccupation

The lack of attention given to a healthy ecclesiology over time manifested itself in how many churches responded to the recommendations and guidelines from the civil authorities on not meeting corporately. Now, I respect the autonomy of local churches and am a firm believer in liberty of conscience. Space should be given for some differences and charity should dominate our heart. However, pandemics or wars give us no license to redefine what a church is, how a church worships, or how the sacraments are celebrated. For example, some of the ideas promoted for conducting “virtual communion” reveal a mindset that says pragmatism reigns when it comes to “how we do church.” In April, I listened to a prominent Baptist pastor encourage his flock to use sweet tea and crackers as a substitute for the fruit of the vine and the bread with a big smile on his face. This is just one example of some of the strange ideas that popped up during the pandemic. Ian Malcolm’s quotation on the scientists cloning dinosaurs in Jurassic Park aptly fits with some of the ecclesiological actions taken this year: “[You] were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

The mindset of pragmatism stands in direct opposition to the pattern exhibited by men like William Carey. Carey pastored two different churches in England before setting sail for India. Carey though would not celebrate the Lord’s Supper for two years before a church was organized in India. Based on the spirit of the day, some would have told Carey that he could do it with his family or that he could have done it “virtually” by celebrating in India when he knew the church back in England was celebrating. For Carey and others, such a mindset would violate the Word of God. The Scriptures are clear on the elements for the Supper and that the Supper is supposed to be celebrated by a local church. Perhaps, we would not have found ourselves in such a place of suggesting sweet tea in your home as a worthy substitute if we had rejected requests for couples to partake of communion during their marriage ceremonies. As long as churches are preoccupied with pragmatic ecclesiology, the ordinary means prescribed in the Bible will continue to fall by the wayside.

Will Someone Bring the Book?

The battle is always over the Bible. Is the Bible inspired, infallible, inerrant, and sufficient? I grew up in a context where a mere biblicism reigned that said, “No creed but Christ.” There is such a need for believers to know historical theology expressed through creeds, confessions, and catechisms. Two books that show this very well are The Creedal Imperative by Carl Trueman and Baptists and the Christian Tradition edited by Matthew Emerson, Christopher Emersion, and Lucas Stamps. Yet, we must never get away from the foundational truth that Christians believe: God reveals Himself redemptively through His Word. Who will bring the book? As our nation undergoes a lot of turmoil as a result of the pandemic and questions surround social injustice, where will the church stand? Do we still matter? If the church seeks to adopt strategies, programs, and actions that mimic the world, we dilute our witness. Christ calls us to be salt and light in this world (Matt. 5:13-16). Those two descriptions mean that the church stands out as unique in this world. If the church is not guarded, the pragmatism that says sweet tea for the Lord’s Supper is fine and that we must win the lost at any cost will springboard to a new legalism that calls for perpetual penance with no grace and no forgiveness.

Lord, Revive Your Work

These are confusing and challenging times. I would never want to minimize the seriousness of the pandemic or the social strife in our nation that is a result of real injustices. However, “preach the gospel” does not need to be mocked or belittled. True, there is a lot more involved in that than just a 40 minute sermon on a Sunday. Yet, I fear that we can easily forget that revival comes through the Spirit’s extraordinary usage of the ordinary means of grace (to paraphrase Iain Murray). Do we believe that the Lord still uses His church entrusted with the gospel to change lives? Will revival come in our land if we tear down enough statues or will it come if the people of God get serious about God again? The church is not in need of a political program but a spiritual reinvigoration from on high.

True revival and transformation will come by way of the church reading, praying, singing, preaching, and seeing the Word. The ordinary means of grace are enough for our lives and they are the channels by which life is brought where death reigned. The church needs to rediscover faithful preaching of the law and the gospel as well as understanding how we function as spiritual exiles who seek to be good citizens. Much of this sounds simple and that is where the problem often lies with us. We wonder how God can use the ordinary in an extraordinary way. Let us search the Scriptures anew and trace the stories of church history out: they testify to the amazing grace of God at work in an army of ordinary people!


The church still matters! Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His bride! As we continue to sojourn through this trying year, may our hearts remember that nations come and go but the church of Jesus Christ remains. Let us give ourselves to being faithful members in a local church feasting upon the ordinary means of grace. May pastors equip the flock to go out into their communities and serve as faithful ambassadors of the King. Our families, friends, and neighbors do not need more political commentary and COVID analysis: they need gospel truth. This is why the church still matters! May the Spirit give us spiritual clarity not to forget that!