Unsung Heroes of the Church

By Nick Batzig

Every week, important church related matters come streaming into the inbox of my email account. Many of those matters also make their way into the inboxes of our elders. On many occasions, one of our ruling elders (i.e. a lay elder who was elected by the congregation to volunteer his time in the service of the church) offers thoughtful analysis, objective input or a willingness to take the lead in a response to whatever need has surfaced. My heart frequently wells with gratitude for the service of such individuals, while recognizing that faithful and diligent ruling elders are among the greatest unsung heroes of the Kingdom of God. 

The Scriptures are clear that God gifts the church with pastors, teachers and evangelists (Eph. 4:11). However, Scripture is equally clear that God has so ordered the government of His church as to appoint men to shepherd the flock in a variety of other ways as elders chosen from among the people. In the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)–the denomination in which I am blessed to minister as a teaching elder–we draw a distinction between the teaching elder and the ruling elder based on our understanding of the teaching of 1 Timothy 5:17: ” Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” 

Our Book of Church Order seeks to explain this distinction, when it says:

“Within the class of elder are the two orders of teaching elders and ruling elders. The elders jointly have the government and spiritual oversight of the Church, including teaching. Only those elders who are specially gifted, called and trained by God to preach may serve as teaching elders” (BCO 7-2). 

Whether or not one is convinced of this precise articulation of a division of giftings within the one office of elder, we must surely recognize the fact that more than one elder is needed to care for all of the spiritual needs of the congregation. The Apostolic references to those who rule over the congregation (1 Tim. 5:17; Hebrews 3:7, 17. 24), can only be understood in light of an eldership that properly cares for the flock in a variety of ways in addition to those elders who preach and teach in a formal setting. All elders are to be “apt to teach,” however, the work of shepherding the flock certainly involves quite a lot more than simply teaching and preaching.

Both teaching and ruling elders are called by God to “watch diligently over the flock committed to his charge, that no corruption of doctrine or of morals enter therein…exercise government and discipline, and take oversight…of the spiritual interests of the particular church…visit the people at their homes, especially the sick…instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourner, nourish and guard the children of the Church…set a worthy example to the flock entrusted to their care by their zeal to evangelize the unconverted and make disciples…pray with and for the people, being careful and diligent in seeking the fruit of the preached Word among the flock” (BCO 8-3).

It is a great blessing for a church to have men who can give themselves fully to the work of pastoral ministry–being paid well for their labors (as our Lord and the Apostles taught us to do). However, there is something even more admirable about the work of the ruling elders who labor diligently and faithfully for the well-being of the flock without pay. These men give their spare time to volunteer their labors for the spiritual care of the congregation. This is all the more admirable in a society in which we have almost entirely lost a sense of secondary and voluntary vocations. There was a time when men and women volunteered their time–after their ordinary work was complete–in social services. Our Congressional leaders, for many years in this country, were bi-vocational volunteers. However, as more and more has been outsourced to paid staffing–even within the local church–the sacrifices of those men who serve as volunteer ruling elders ought to be recognized and praised accordingly. 

Sinclair Ferguson once said that his elders would often tell him, “Sinclair, we’re 100% behind you;” to which he would quickly responded by saying, “Oh, but I often wish that you were just 3% in front of me!” The teaching elder needs the ruling elders as a support team and as a buffer from many of the attacks that will be levelled at him from among the congregants. There is almost nothing so wonderful as a ruling elder who will–figuratively speaking–take a bullet for the pastor. When ruling elders rise up to protect the pastor, the pastor(s), elders and congregation will almost certainly live to see another day in ministry. This too is a vital part of the work of the ruling elder. 

There is, however, another–and far more difficult–aspect of the work of the ruling elder. It is one that is has not often been given enough focus in our day. We live at time in which we have seen myriads of “successful” pastors and ministry figureheads fall into a variety of disqualifying sins. How essential it is then that we regain the importance of having ruling elders to help shepherd the teaching elders in a local church. It is not enough to have an outside board of pastors from other church. Carl Trueman explains this vital aspect of the work of ruling elders when he writes:

“The task of the elder is to pastor the pastor. If they do not do it, nobody else will. That means there will be times when the elder has to confront his pastor because he sees that his teaching, or his life, or maybe both, are starting to wander from the path of truth and godliness. Whenever a pastor falls, one has to ask: Where were the elders? Sometimes, of course, the pastor can be good at hiding his faults; At other times, elders just turn a blind eye to peccadilloes, assuming that the pastor is a good chap and could not possibly be heading in a spiritually lethal direction…If you are a pastor, cultivate a culture where your elders are comfortable speaking frankly to you, where they feel part of a team of equals and not a subordinate part of a rigid hierarchy.”

While there are many other reasons why we should view the ruling elders as among the greatest unsung heroes of the church, based on what we have considered we can conclude that those who sacrifice their time to serve as ruling (lay) elders in a local church are deserving of our sincere gratitude and praise. These men are often passed over on pastoral appreciation day, are often not as highly esteemed as the teaching elders in the church and are sometimes viewed with an envious eye by others in the congregation who wish to have a place of prominence. However, a local church will almost never rise higher in spiritual maturity and diligence than the level set by its ruling elders. May God give us such men to pour their lives out for the well-being of the members of His churches. 


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Our Cross

By Gabriel Williams

As Christians who have fixed our hope on the appearing of our Lord Jesus, we have been called to follow in the footsteps of our Lord. Thus, the call of discipleship is a central theme of the Christian life and this calling is intimately connected to our sanctification. Jesus Himself gives an important prerequisite for anyone who claims to be His disciple.

“If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Luke 9:23

and again:

“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14:27

These passages do not mean that we have to suffer as Jesus did, nor does it mean that our cross-bearing is meritorious. However, it does mean that the pattern of Christian sanctification is connected to the experience of the cross – namely, our spiritual life is connected to suffering and weakness. As the Baptist Catechism states, “Sanctification is a work of God’s free grace whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of Christ. However, the manner in which God ordinarily renews and sanctifies believers is through the way of the cross.”

There are many who view sanctification as primarily a matter of human exertion. It is very natural for us to want to sanctify ourselves – to cultivate a sense of spiritual independence and self-sufficiency so that we can be in control of our spiritual lives. We are tempted to glorify the life of the victorious, virtuous person because it appears that he has mastered sanctification. However, this is not the picture of sanctification given by the Apostles or the experience of Christians throughout the ages. The reality is that our lives are marred with various weaknesses, sins, and frailty. When we realize our true spiritual condition (even on our best days), then we cling to the cross, trusting Christ to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. As the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed, on the cross, Christ carried not only our transgressions and our iniquities, but also our infirmities and our sorrows (cf. Isaiah 53:4). This is not an argument for a form of quietism, but it is an argument against any form of self-made religion that seeks to achieve spiritual self-sufficiency (cf. Colossians 2:23). This attitude must be broken so that we awaken to our need and put our trust in Christ to save us rather than in ourselves. In the Gospel and at the cross, our natural sense of independence is replaced by deep sense of dependence on the Lord for His grace.

The question may arise: why does Jesus command us to take up our cross and to deny ourselves if God is the one who sanctifies? At the heart of many faulty views of sanctification is the belief that we choose the cross that we bear. For some individuals, this may involve elaborate displays of ascetism (such as scourges and self-torment) and other acts of self-control and self-denial. What we must realize is that the crosses that we must bear are not self-chosen or self-imposed. Rather, bearing our cross has to do with the suffering that we do not choose for ourselves, the trials and difficulties that are imposed on us from our heavenly Father. In other words, the Apostles never command us to make our lives artificially more difficult; rather, they tell us to humble ourselves under God’s hand (cf. 1 Peter 5:6), to not despise the Lord’s discipline (cf. Hebrews 12:4-12), to rejoice in our suffering (cf. Romans 5:3-5), to consider our suffering as a momentary affliction (cf. Romans 8:18), and to patiently endure hardship (cf. 1 Peter 2:18-25; Revelation 13:10; Revelation 14:12).

For some, cross-bearing may involve physical suffering through persecution or through some lifelong or terminal illness. For others, cross-bearing may involve the emotional suffering of becoming a bereft parent or a widow. However, for many of us, cross-bearing often is connected to the obstacles and frustrations of everyday life, such as marriage, parent, and job frustrations. For those of us who live in the Western world, our cross-bearing may involve social ostracization or becoming unemployed because of our Christian profession. Whether the problems are dramatic or ordinary, they are all trials given to us from God’s providential hand. In each of these cases, our temptation is to try to avoid these trials as much as possible (or to develop a complaining and bitter heart); however, to bear the cross means to submit and humble ourselves under the trials God has prepared for us. Just as our Lord learned obedience through what He suffered (cf. Hebrews 5:7-8), God uses the same means to train His children. In other words, our crosses are connected and patterned according to His cross.

Ultimately, all trials are occasions for the exercise of faith, especially in times when we struggle to understand God’s providence. It is during those dark days that we are called to believe in God’s Word, whether preached, read, or given at the Lord’s Table. It is typically in the midst of our trials that we are driven to prayer. Those moments of need bring out our utter dependence upon God in a way that self-made crosses cannot. Our Father does not give us more than we can bear, but the cross that our Father gives us is sufficient to train us and to conform us to the image of His Son. Therefore, as the author of Hebrews exhorts us, let us bear His reproach as we eagerly await and seek our heavenly city (cf. Hebrews 13:13).

 

Gabriel Williams (Ph.D., Colorado State University) is assistant professor of atmospheric physics at the College of Charleston and a member of Christ Church Presbyterian in Charleston, SC. He also writes at The Road of Grace. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the College of Charleston.


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The Story and the Suffering

By Christina Fox

The Bible has a lot to say about human suffering. Most believers can reference or quote a few passages that speak to the pains and sorrows we face in life. We all know the story of Job. Most of us have probably memorized Romans 8:28. We might have a list of go-to passages that give us hope and encouragement during a trial such as that in Isaiah 43:1, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” We may turn to passages like James 1:2-4 to remind ourselves that God is doing something important through our trials—necessary and eternal work.

Certainly, there is much hope found in such passages and for good reason. Many of them give us theological truths to anchor our hearts during seasons of suffering. Such verses remind us that we are not alone and that God is with us. Even more, they remind us God has a plan and an eternal purpose for our trials.

In addition to turning to specific verses to give us hope in our suffering, it’s also important that we turn to The Story of Scripture. The Bible’s great meta-story is one we need to review and rehearse for it helps us understand the place of suffering in our lives. It answers those big questions we often ask when faced with hardship and trials such as “Why?” “How long?” and “Will I survive this?”

What is that meta-story? The story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.

Rehearse the Story

The story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration is the Story of which we need to remind ourselves when we want to understand our suffering. It’s the story of the Bible. This grand story starts with the Story of Creation. It tells us that God created the world and what it was like in the beginning: a place of perfect harmony and peace. Everything worked as it should. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, lived in right relationship with their Maker and with one another. They found joy in their work together. They communicated without conflict. They were united with each other and had no barriers between them. This story tells us that the ache and longing we feel for wholeness and healing is because things are not as they were created to be. We all have that feeling that something isn’t right in this world, something is missing. Deep in our bones, we know that this world is not as it should be. The Story of Creation explains those longings.

That perfect place God created was ruined when Adam and Eve listened to and believed Satan’s lies. They desired to be like God and ate the fruit he instructed them not to eat. Their eyes were opened, and sin entered the world. They felt shame and covered themselves—and we’ve done the same ever since. We’ve inherited our first parent’s sin nature and spend our lives hiding and covering from God. When our heart cries out, “Why is life so hard? Why am I suffering so much?” we recall the Story of the Fall and remember that sin is the cause for all the brokenness and sorrow we feel in this life—our own sin, the sin of others against us, the effects of sin on the created world which produces disease and the breakdown of all things.

After their sin, God gave Adam and Eve the consequences due for their sin and they were expelled from the Garden. But before they left, God gave them this promise: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). The rest of the Old Testament tells the story of sin. It shows the depths of our depravity and our need for salvation. It also reveals how God pushed forward his plan to fulfill that promise to redeem mankind.

When we want to know what God is doing about our suffering, we turn our hurting heart to the Story of Redemption. At just the perfect time in history, God stepped into the Story. He covered himself with human flesh and lived the life we could not live. Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, faced temptation, sorrow, rejection, pain, and suffering but never sinned. He showed the world who God was through his life. He taught and healed and loved and opened people’s eyes to see what they needed most. He then bore the curse for sin and conquered evil at the cross. Through faith in his blood shed for us, we are forgiven of our sins and brought into the family of God.

As we rehearse the Story of Redemption, we remember that Jesus is the Man of Sorrows who is familiar with grief. He knows what it is to face loss, abandonment, poverty, sickness, and temptation. We remember that his grace is sufficient to bear all our burdens, cares, sorrows, and sin. We remember we have not only eternal hope but also present hope because of what Jesus did for us in his perfect life and sacrificial death. We remember that our personal suffering unites us to our suffering Savior, making us more like him. Yet we are united to him not only in our suffering, but in our comfort as well (2 Corinthians 1). We find rest in the truth that because God went to great lengths to rescue and redeem us from sin, he will certainly keep and preserve us during our current trial. We cling to the promise that Jesus is making all things new, including our own hearts (Revelation 21:5).

When the pain and sorrow is heavy and we cry out, “How long?” we turn to the Story of Restoration and know that what we experience in this life is not forever. Eternity is coming. Christ will return once and for all and sin, sorrow, and pain will be no more. We will be transformed and reign with Christ forever. The Apostle Paul encourages us in our suffering to look to the glory to come: “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” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Scripture has quite a lot to say about suffering. Many verses give us great hope and comfort during our trials. But the Story, the grand Story of what God has done and is doing, is one we need to turn to time and time again. It’s one we need to rehearse. As a child of God, it’s your Story. It’s my Story. Let’s tell it to one another. Until that day when we can turn the page to the next chapter, the one titled: Eternity.


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The Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting The Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

The Anxiety of Idolatry

By Matthew Holst

Lately, I’ve been wondering if we’ve given adequate consideration to the relationship that exists between idolatry and anxiety. Many rightly cite reasons to separate the one from the other (i.e. physiological problems, mental problems etc.); but in our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 6, he clearly links certain forms anxiety to idolatry. Consider the following:

First, our Lord had been teaching about people who desired reputation and glory from men (Matt 6:1-19). He implicated the Jewish leaders for giving alms, praying and fasting so that they could receive glory from men. They were worldly-minded hypocrites whose chief desire was to be acknowledged as something or someone. Then our Lord proceeded to teach about earthly and heavenly priorities: earthly or heavenly treasures (6:19-21), what our sight is set upon (i.e. light or darkness) (6:22-23) and what or who we love (6:24)? Our Lord concludes by insisting that what we treasure and set our sights on is actually what we truly love. He said “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (6:24).

Here is the connection between idolatry and anxiety. In the next verse (v. 25), Christ says “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life.” The importance of this principle is highlighted by the fact that Jesus repeats it in vs 31 and 34, as well as by the fact that each time he teaches it he prefaces it with the word therefore (e.g. “Therefore, do not be anxious…”). The word therefore is all important, as is the position of Christ’s teaching on anxiety in the Sermon on the Mount–following as it does, the teaching on those who pursue earthly treasures.

Having taught that earthly treasures are susceptible to moth, rust and thief (Luther calls these three “miserable watchmen to put in charge of treasures”).1 Christ implies that pursuit of them ultimately leaves the pursuer empty. Moreover, he teaches that as we strive for earthly pleasures they end up darkening our hearts and ultimately captivating them – we end up loving them and not God. However, chasing idols, is an empty business. Not only are they “here today and gone tomorrow” but they do not satisfy, they do not pacify, they do not fulfill. Only Christ does that. It is in this context that Christ then says “Therefore I tell you do no be anxious about your life…” (v25).

What is the connection? Consider these few points:

  • Pursuit of earthly priorities / idols cannot satisfy human desires. Being made for greater things, the pursuit of money, leisure, status, power, reputation, sex etc., cannot satisfy a human soul.
  • Pursuit of them momentarily satisfies, but always leaves the idolater seeking for more. Idolatry is like chasing the wind.
  • That idolatrous pursuit Jesus connects with anxiety: the more you seek, the less you have, the more anxious you become and before long, anxiety, stress and depression are a way of life.
  • Anxiety then (in this context) is a direct result of an idolatrous heart.

Our Lord also provides several arguments by which we ought to re-examine our priorities, and settle our hearts during times of anxiety:

  • We ought not to worry about food, drink or clothing because life is “more than food and the body more than clothing”. He is calling us to see the deeper, spiritual realities of life in Christ.
  • Consider the birds of the air are provided for by our heavenly Father. Are we of not more value than they?
  • Can you, by anxiety, add a day to your life? The implication ism don’t be anxious about life.
  • Consider the lilies, which do not labor, but are resplendent in their glory and which God clothes: will He not also clothe his children?
  • Unbelievers are anxious, would you be like them?
  • Your Father in Heaven knows your needs, why then be anxious about it?
  • If your priorities are true and you seek first the Kingdom, God will add all that you need to you.
  • Finally, sufficient are the matters for the day ahead, so why worry about tomorrow?

The Lord Jesus Christ provides us with the great tonic to anxiety and idolatry: ensuring that our priorities are heavenly, that our treasure is in heaven (6:19), that our eyes are full of light (6:22) and that we love our Lord. He instructs us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Setting our minds on things above (as Paul says in Colossians 3) is the sure way to a life of peace and blessedness and a certain tonic to anxiety.

1. Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 21: The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 21 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 168.


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The Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting The Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

Guidelines of Worship

By Greg Wilbur

The concept the confessional worship creates an unfamiliar category that challenges the better known ideas of contemporary or traditional. Practically speaking, what is called contemporary or traditional can be very subjective depending on time and place. As such, confessional worship offers a corrective which transcends both categories. The following thoughts may begin to help point us towards what that really means:

  • Worship is the work of the Church—all other ministry flows out of right worship.
  • Worship is coming before the throne of God and joining in worship with the Church visible and invisible.
  • Worship instills joy, rest, and peace. It is restorative and preparation for Godly living.
  • Worship is an efficacious tool in the process of sanctification.
  • Worship is an antidote to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
  • There is no substitute for corporate worship in the Christian life.
  • Worship is about what God requires, not what we like or prefer.

Because worship consists of the above elements, our attitude and posture in leading worship should consist of the following:

  • Worship is not performance.
  • The role of leading and facilitating worship is for the purpose of encouraging the congregation in worship, not to worship “at” them.
  • Arrangements and songs should be chosen that are ecclesiastically appropriate—what is appropriate in other venues may not be appropriate for corporate. worship.
  • The criteria for what is ecclesiastically appropriate refers to text, music, the combination text and music, arrangements, and execution.
  • As leaders, we should be growing and stretching in worship even as the congregation is called to grow and stretch in the knowledge of God.
  • Worship should be accessible yet excellent.
  • As musicians, we should be growing in skill and depth—musically and theologically.
  • Craftsmanship is a biblical concept; originality is a humanist concept.
  • How we play and lead should be different than how we play and sing at a recital, coffeehouse, or concert.
  • God is the standard of beauty and excellence—our worship should seek after biblical excellence and objective beauty, goodness, and truth.

God has placed us here in this time and place for a purpose, and our corporate worship should reflect that reality within the context of redemptive history. We are reformational, not revolutionary. We are confessional, not traditional or modern. In order to be truly contemporary, “with the time,” we must understand our place in the lineage of the Church—which necessitates an understanding of what has gone on before. We should appreciate and utilize the wisdom and artistic excellence of the past without worshipping the forms; we should seek to create new work, without divorcing ourselves from our history.

As we relate and communicate to the culture around us, we must use great wisdom to discern that which are “the patterns and customs of this world,” as opposed to those things that are biblically permissible. Instead of falling to the least common denominator, we should be accessible to our culture, yet excellent. Without creating artificial barriers to the Gospel, we should, however, move from the milk of the Gospel to solid food.

As we seek to follow the guidelines above, the distinctive aesthetic of worship calls us to pursue the beauty of Christ and to make Him known. Consider beauty in worship in the following ways:

  • Beauty is an attribute of God and is therefore a theological issue. God is the standard of beauty as well as its source; therefore, there is an objective standard for what is beautiful. Aesthetics is the study of beauty and the ability to apprehend it. From a theological perspective, the Word of God is the rule by which we make aesthetic judgments. God speaks to the role of artists in the description He gives of the artists for the tabernacle: filled with the Spirit, ability, intelligence, knowledge, craftsmanship, and able to teach others. Good art and music should be the product of these types of characteristics.
  • Beauty is best understood in its relationship and balance to goodness and truth—otherwise it can be trite, transient, trendy, temporary, deceptive, insubstantial, or gimmicky. There is a significance and weight to true beauty.

The very fact that something is beautiful is an apologetic of the Gospel and of the realities of truth and goodness. All beauty is God’s beauty. In addition, beauty can be a winsome adornment, and it can be a challenging stumbling block. Beauty can also open the heart to that inexpressible sense of the transcendence of God that causes great desire for the Truth.


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The Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting The Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

The Household Baptist

By Nick Batzig

I was baptized in the Reformed Episcopalian church. I grew up in Reformed and Presbyterian churches. My father diligently taught my sister and I the distinctives of a Reformed covenant theology from our earliest days. He repeatedly reminded us that God had promised to be a covenant God to us and to our descendants after us. I believe those promised now for my own children. However, I have something of an aversion to the term paedobaptist (i.e. infant baptist). I don’t prefer the terminology because I believe it to be too restictive in nature. I much prefer the term oikobaptist (i.e. household baptist) for a number of biblical and theological reasons. In this post, I want to share a few of those reasons why I call myself a household baptist

When God promised Abraham that He would be a God to him and to his descendants after him, he gave Abraham the covenant sign of circumcision. He then commanded Abraham to give the covenant sign to all the males in his house when they were just eight days old. There are a number of redemptive historical details about this arrangement.

First, the sign of circumcision went on the reproductive organ of the male child because it signified that the corruption of the sin nature that was passed on generationally by federal representation from our first father–Adam–could only be dealt with by an act of bloody judgment. This pointed to the bloody judgment of the cross which the Apostle Paul called the circumcision of Christ

Second, the covenant sign of circumcision was that it was given to the offspring on the eighth day. Contrary to the naturalistic explanations that many have sough to advance concerning a high rate  of blood clotting, the eight day represented the new creation. On a seven day week, the first and the eighth day are one and the same. Just as the first day represented creation, the eighth day–in the law–represented the new creation that would be secured by Christ crucified. When Jesus cleansed the hearts of his people by virtue of his bloody circumcision on the cross (an act also termed circumcision of the heart in Scripture) he brings about the new creation through their regeneration. 

Third, the covenant sign of circumcision denoted the promise of blessing and cursing. Either the one who was circumcised would have the filth of his heart cut away (i.e. regeneration) or he would be cut off in judgment as a covenant breaker. The judgment that fell on Christ would fall on all who were not trusting in the coming Redeemer. This is the same thing represented by the waters of baptism. Just as Noah and those with him were typically saved as through water, and all those who did not believe were destroyed by the same water, so circumcision and baptism represent the promise of blessings and curses. 

There is a redemptive historical shift that occured when Christ came into the world. When the Apostle Paul draws a correlation between circumcision and baptism in Colossians 2:11-12, he explained the close connection between these two signs. Baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign of the covenant. This is further seen from the fact that the Apostle Paul taught explicitly that circumcision means nothing in the New Covenant; baptism is now the sign of the covenant. However, the New Covenant people of God are grafted into the church…of which the members of Old Covenant Israel belonged. Though we were once far off from the covenant promises, the Apostle explains, we have been brought near by the blood of Christ. There is one overarching plan of redemption that the Covenant Lord works in two dispensations in history. 

In Romans 4:11, Paul explained the nature of the covenant sign of circumcision when he called it “a sign” and “a seal of the righteousness of faith.” Circumcision represented the promise of God to justify those who believe. Abraham believed and then obeyed God by giving the sign to all of his male descendants. Abraham had believer’s circumcision, so to speak, and then gave the sign of the righteousness of faith to his descendants. 

However, Abraham did not only give the sign to all of his descendants when they were eight days old. He gave the sign to all the males in his house. Abraham practiced household circumcision in accord with God’s commands. Whenever the subject of baptism is debated, my Baptist friends like to insist that we have no example of an infant being baptized in the New Testament. I quickly agree and then assert that we do have many instances of households being baptized, however. It is not incidental that Luke takes note of the fact that–as the Gospel spreads to the nations–the same principle remains in the New Covenant. The professing believer who leads his or her household is to give the sign to those in his or her household. The New Covenant is more expansive, in fact, than the Old in so much as the sign is now not limited to the males in the household only. The sign is not bloody because the blood has been shed. The sign is therefore less visible in so much as it denotes the fulfillment of all things in Christ and the heightened spiritual nature of the New Covenant in fulfillment. This is one of the chief reasons why I consider myself to be a household baptist–rather than an infant baptist. 

The other reason why I prefer the term Household Baptist to Infant Baptist is that it keeps the evangelistic focus of the church in view. I sometimes fear that the most ardent supporters of infant baptism become too inward focused. They have a hyper-commitment to the members of their family as over against reaching the lost. The first adult baptisms that I administered in the early days of our church plant included a father and mother in their 50s, together with their two teenaged children. The children were not resistant to receiving the covenant sign–albeit, most of my Baptist friends would have pressed for a more mature profession of faith from them. The reason that I baptized the entire family on the profession of the parents is that I was convinced of a Household Baptist position. The Apostle Paul made clear in 1 Cor. 7:14 that the children of even one professing believer are covenantally set apart to God as members of the visible church. If we limit the covenant sign to the infants of believers, then we inadvertently limit the scope of the New Covenant and the inclusion of the family members of the household of new professing believers. 

While this post may open more questions than it answers, it is my sincere desire to see believers wrestle through these issues for the good of their own family, church and outreach efforts. To that end, I would encourage everyone reading this to listen to Edward Donnelly’s exceptionally helpful six part series on baptism


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The Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting The Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

Dangers of Non-Christocentric Preaching: Moralistic Sermons

By David Prince

Russell D. Moore writes, “Whenever we approach the Bible without focusing on what the Bible is about—Christ Jesus and His Gospel—we are going to wind up with a kind of golden-rule Christianity that doesn’t last a generation, indeed rarely lasts an hour after it is delivered.”1 What Moore describes as “golden-rule Christianity” differs very little functionally from Protestant liberalism that J. Gresham Machen prophetically critiqued,

The liberal preacher is really rejecting the whole basis of Christianity, which is a religion founded not on aspirations, but on facts. Here is found the most fundamental difference between liberalism and Christianity—liberalism is altogether in the imperative mood, while Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative; liberalism appeals to a man’s will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God.” Machen critiqued the theological liberals of his day for defining faith by subjective feelings and liberal preachers for moralistic preaching which abandoned a focus on the gospel. These same critiques can be pointed today at many who will gladly sign theologically conservative doctrinal statements and intellectually affirm the inerrancy of the Bible.2

Thomas Schreiner notes the dangerous “trickle down” in theologically conservative churches of preaching ministries that focus on bare moral and ethical truths:

“Moreover, too often our congregations are poorly trained by those of us who preach. We have fed them a steady diet of moralistic preaching, so that they are taught to be kind, forgiving, loving, good husbands and wives (all good things of course!), but the theological foundation for such is completely neglected. We have ample illustrations and stories to support the lifestyle we advocate, and people’s hearts are warmed and even edified. Meanwhile, the wolf is lurking at the door. How could such preaching open the door for heresy? Not because the pastor himself is heretical. He may be fully orthodox and faithful in his own theology, while neglecting to preach to his people that storyline and theology of the Bible. He has assumed theology in all his preaching. So, in the next generation or in two or three generations the congregation may inadvertently and unknowingly call a more liberal pastor. He too preaches that people should be good, kind, and loving. He too emphasizes that we should have good marriages and dynamic relationships. The people in the pew may not even discern the difference. The theology seems to be just like the theology of the conservative pastor who preceded him. And is a sense it is, for the conservative pastor never proclaimed or preached his theology. The conservative pastor believed in the inerrancy of Scripture but not its sufficiency, for he did not proclaim all that the Scriptures teach to his congregation.”3

The difference between preaching the moral truths of the Bible and preaching moralism is whether or not the meaning (not simply the significance) of the truth is contextualized by the gospel of the kingdom. Edmund Clowney writes,

The Scriptures are full of moral instruction and ethical exhortation, but the ground and motivation of all is found in the mercy of Jesus Christ. We are to preach all the riches of Scripture, but unless the center hold all the bits and pieces of our pulpit counseling, of our thundering at social sins, of our positive or negative thinking—all fly off into the Sunday morning air….Let others develop the pulpit fads of the passing seasons. Specialize in preaching Jesus!4

The biblical text must not be ignored or abused in preaching. Michael Horton perceptively writes, “The goal of so much preaching in both liberal and conservative churches is to make good people a bit better, instead of proclaiming from the biblical text the saving acts of God.”5 We are to preach Christ from the entire Bible because proper exegesis demands it. The Scripture is not an inspired book of moralisms or a book of virtues; it is, from cover to cover, a book about the glory of God in Jesus Christ through the redemption of his people who will dwell in the kingdom of Christ forever. D. A. Carson summarizes: “At its best, expository preaching is preaching which, however dependent it may be for its content on the text or texts at hand, draws attention to the inner-canonical connections that inexorably move to Jesus Christ.”6

Since everything in heaven and on earth will be summed up in Jesus Christ, the preaching ministry of the local church should constantly model this eventuality to the subjects of the kingdom (Eph 1:10). Regarding Ephesians 1:10, Peter O’Brien notes, “Christ is the one in whom God chooses to sum up the cosmos, the one in whom he restores harmony to the universe. He is the focal point, not simply the means, the instrument, or the functionary through whom all this occurs.”7 The implications for preaching in the present age of inaugurated eschatology are readily apparent. Since God’s plan is that all things be eschatologically summed up in Christ, then the role of those upon whom the ends of the ages has already come is to do so right now (1 Cor 10:11, Heb 9:26). The expository pulpit must call the church to comprehensively reorient its vision of reality in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ and the eschatological triumph of his kingdom.

The alternative modeled by many committed to verse-by-verse expository preaching is to sum up all things in the biblical text in light of self. The preacher analyzes a pericope grammatically, syntactically, and literarily; he develops the context of the historical author; and he exhorts his hearers to apply certain principles educed from the text. Walter C. Kaiser calls this “principalization”: restating “the author’s propositions, arguments, narrations, and illustrations in timeless truths with special focus on the application of those truths to the current needs of the Church and individual.”8 Kaiser maintains that principalization excludes the use of chronologically subsequent biblical data, which he derides as reading the Bible backward and as eisegesis.9

Kaiser affirms the Bible as possessing a coherent and unified testimony. Thus, when Kaiser argues for principalization he is rejecting those scholars who argue against the Scripture as propositional revelation and possessing any canonical theological unity. While affirming Kaiser, as far as he goes, he does not go far enough because his analogy of antecedent theology fails to take the fact of the divine organic unity of the Bible to its logical conclusion in interpretation and application. This approach often results in atomistic preaching, which isolates a particular truth from the fabric of redemptive history and leads to moralistic sermons, though it almost always passes under the expository banner.

Critiquing Kaiser’s principalizing hermeneutic Daniel M. Doriani writes, “First, principalizing treats the particularity and cultural embeddedness of Scripture more as a problem to be overcome than as something essential to the givenness of the Bible. Kaiser says cultural issues ‘intrude’ in the text; the problem is ‘handled’ by principalizing’ the text. Again, Kaiser says, ‘principles…must be given priority over accompanying cultural elements, especially…the times and setting in which’ a text was written….Second, and more seriously, principalizing’s insistence on timeless, propositional truth privileges on form of divine communication above others…Third, Kaiser appears to claim a privileged position with regard to the text, as if he might be able to transcend both the original culture of the Bible and his own. How else can he gain his stated goal: ‘to restate the author’s propositions, arguments, narrations, and illustrations in timeless abiding truths.’”10

Edmund Clowney makes a helpful distinction between what he described as “truth to the first power” and that truth realized in Christ: “truth to the nth power.” When the preacher goes straight from a particular truth to immediate application without mediating the text through fulfillment in Christ, moralistic preaching is the result. The implicit message of such preaching is that the Bible is all about the individual. As Clowney notes, “It unconsciously assumes that we can go back to the Father apart from the Son.”11

It is possible to preach only true assertions from the Scripture and yet mislead hearers regarding the truth of the faith because none of the truths of Scripture are meant to be understood in isolation. When ethical and moral imperatives are proclaimed as sufficient, even abstracted from Jesus, the result is a crossless Christianity in which the central message becomes an exhortation to live according to God’s rules. Christless, moralistic preaching is not restricted to the Old Testament. Frequently, gospel-free sermons emerge from the gospel narratives themselves, their significance reduced to mere moralisms.

When preaching is moralistic rather than Christ-centered hearers who possess a seared conscience may develop an attitude of self-righteousness: according to their judgment they are adequately living by God’s rules. Faithful believers with tender consciences may despair because they know that they constantly fall short of God’s standard. In other words, preaching bare moral truths (moralisms) often drives people away from fellowship with Christ. Bryan Chapell does not overstate the case when he argues that a “message that merely advocates morality and compassion remains sub-Christian even if the preacher can prove that the Bible demands such behaviors.”12 Perhaps we must go even further and say that such sermons, though well intentioned, are anti-Christian and a tool of satanic deception.

 

1. Russell D. Moore, “Beyond a Veggie Tales Gospel: Preaching Christ from Every Text,” Southern Seminary Magazine, vol. 76, no.1, Spring 2008, 14.

2. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 47. For a similar observation regarding the applicability of Machen’s critique of the liberalism of his day to contemporary conservative evangelicals, see Stephen J. Nichols, Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008), 119-21.

3. Thomas R. Schreiner, “Preaching and Biblical Theology,” SBJT 10 (2006): 21.

4. Edmund P. Clowney, “Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures,” in The Preacher and Preaching, ed. Samuel T. Logan (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1986), 191.

5. Michael Horton, A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 88.

6. D. A. Carson, “The Primacy of Expository Preaching,” audiocassette, n.d. Quoted in Fabarez, Preaching that Changes Lives, 116.

7. Peter O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 111-15.

8. Walter C. Kaiser, Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 152. See also Walter C. Kaiser, Recovering the Unity of the Bible: One Continuous Story, Plan, and Purpose (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 163-68.

9. Walter C. Kaiser, “A Principalizing Model,” in Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology, ed. Stanley N. Gundry and Gary T. Meadors (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 23.

10. Daniel M. Doriani, “A Response to Walter C. Kaiser Jr.,” in Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology, ed. Stanley N. Gundry and Gary T. Meadors (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 53-55.

11. Edmund P. Clowney, Preaching Christ in All of Scripture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), 32-33.

12. Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 268.

*This is the second post in a series of posts on the Dangers of Non-Christocentric Preaching.


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The Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting The Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

Gifts of Grace for Jesus

By Nick Batzig

Did Jesus perform miracles, cast out demons and prophesy by the working of his divine nature or by the power of the Holy Spirit? The answer to this question might surprise many in modern Evangelical and Reformed circles. For years, responded to that question by saying something like, “Of course, Jesus worked all his extraordinary works of power and prophecy by the working of his divine nature! After all, he is God manifest in the flesh.” While the latter assertion is undeniably the clear teaching of Scripture, God’s word teaches that Jesus did his miraculous works and prophesied heavenly truths by the working of the Holy Spirit rather than by his divine nature. Consider the following: 

John Owen, in his volume on The Holy Spirit, wrote:

“It was in an especial manner by the power of the Holy Spirit [Jesus] wrought those great and miraculous works whereby his ministry was attested unto and confirmed. Hence it is said that God wrought miracles by him: Acts 2:22, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him;” for they are all immediate effects of divine power. So when he cast out devils with a word of command, he affirms that he did it by the “finger of God,” Luke 11:20,—that is, by the infinite divine power of God. But the power of God acted in an especial manner by the Holy Spirit, as is expressly declared in the other evangelist, Matt. 12:28; and, therefore, on the ascription of his mighty works unto Beelzebub, the prince of devils, he lets the Jews know that therein they blasphemed the Holy Spirit, whose works indeed they were, verses 31, 32. Hence these mighty works are called δυνάμεις, “powers,” because of the power of the Spirit of God put forth for their working and effecting: see Mark 6:5, 9:39; Luke 4:36, 5:17, 6:19, 8:46, 9:1. And in the exercise of this power consisted the testimony given unto him by the Spirit that he was the Son of God; for this was necessary unto the conviction of the Jews, to whom he was sent, John 10:37, 38.”

Again Owen noted: 

“[Jesus was] fitted by this unction of the Spirit. And here, also, is a distinction between the ‘Spirit that was upon him,’ and his being ‘anointed to preach,’ which contains the communication of the gifts of that Spirit unto him; as it is said, Isa. 11:2, 3, ‘The Spirit rested upon him as a Spirit of wisdom,’ to make him ‘of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD.’ Now, this was in a singular manner and in a measure inexpressible, whence he is said to be ‘anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows,’ or those who were partakers of the same Spirit with him, Ps. 45:7; Heb. 1:8, 9.”

In vol. 3 of his Reformed Dogmatics, Geehardus Vos explained why it was necessary that the communication of the extraordinary gifts of power and prophesy be given to Christ incarnate by the Holy Spirit, rather than by his divine nature, when he wrote:

“The extraordinary gifts of knowledge, will, and power were communicated to the human nature [of Jesus], which it did not possess in itself. In and by that human nature, too, the Mediator has to carry out His offices. At the same time, however, it is established that the very same human nature had to be beset with all natural weaknesses (except sin), in which it shares with others. The latter is inseparable from the state of humiliation in which Christ had to suffer….He did not possess a human nature that included in itself these capacities as its own natural possession, but these were communicated to it as gifts of office by the Holy Spirit. Also, this communication did not occur directly from the side of the person but by mediation of the Holy Spirit. If the former had been the case, then the humiliation of human nature would have ceased, for then the gifts would have become its own personally because it has its personal existence in the person of the Logos. What someone has of his own person is not lent but one’s own possession, and this possession cannot be viewed as a humiliation; indeed, it is incompatible with humiliation.”

In short, if the power to perform miracles and prophesy were communicated directly from the divine nature of the Son of God to the human nature, then it would have essentially divinized the humanity of Jesus and done away with the humiliation that was necessary for him to be the mediator between God and sinful men and women. It was on account of the necessity of that humiliation that the communication of extraordinary power had to come from the Holy Spirit to the Person of Christ. 

 

1. Owen, J. (n.d.). The works of John Owen. (W. H. Goold, Ed.) (Vol. 3, p. 174). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

2. Ibid., pp. 171–172.

3. Vos, G. (2012–2016). Reformed Dogmatics. (R. B. Gaffin, Ed., A. Godbehere, R. van Ijken, D. van der Kraan, H. Boonstra, J. Pater, A. Janssen, … K. Batteau, Trans.) (Vol. 3, pp. 56–57). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

 


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The Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting The Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

Dangers of Non-Christocentric Preaching: A Displaced Gospel

By David Prince

Satan doesn’t mind expository preaching as long as it misses the main point of God’s word; in fact, Satan himself engages in a form of expository preaching and encourages that form of biblical exposition to be practiced as a means of his deception. Russell Moore writes,

“Throughout the Old Testament, he preaches peace—just like the angels of Bethlehem do—except he does so when there is no peace. He points people to the particulars of worship commanded by God—sacrifices and offerings and feast days—just without the preeminent mandates of love, justice, and mercy. Satan even preaches to God—about the proper motives needed for godly discipleship on the part of God’s servants. In the New Testament, the satanic deception leads the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees to pore endlessly over biblical texts, just missing the point of Jesus Christ therein. They come to conclusions that have partially biblical foundations—the devil’s messages are always expository; they just intentionally avoid Jesus.”1

Consider some of the dangers of non-Christocentric expository sermons:

A Displaced Gospel

Contemporary evangelical preachers who affirm expository preaching do not intentionally avoid Jesus in preaching, but some accepted approaches to expository preaching methodologically eclipse him in the name of honoring the text. For instance, Walter C. Kaiser rejects the possibility of a text’s possessing a canonical sensus plenior (fuller meaning) and argues that interpreting the meaning of every text in light of the fullness of New Testament revelation is “wrongheaded historically, logically, and biblically.”2 The implications of this position for preaching are monumental. Thomas R. Schreiner asserts, “If we only preach antecedent theology, we will not accurately divide the word of truth, nor will we bring the Lord’s message to the people of our day.”3

The consequences are compounded in light of the fact that, at least in some evangelical circles, “the Kaiser method” has taken on the status of gatekeeper of conservative orthodoxy in biblical interpretation.4

Many preachers cannot articulate the theoretical basis of Kaiser’s analogy of antecedent Scripture or his commitment to the single intention of the human author. Nevertheless, they enact this pattern each week. One may plausibly attribute this phenomenon to a mimesis of the theory and techniques presented during their academic training. Millard J. Erickson writes,

“Evangelical hermeneutics of the past quarter-century has placed a great deal of emphasis on the concept of authorial intent. This has been displayed in a number of ways, but one of the clearest and most direct has been the extensive utilization of the thought and writings of E.D. Hirsch, Jr. in evangelical hermeneutics courses. It is also evident in the writings of evangelical teachers of hermeneutics, who insist that a given passage of Scripture has only one meaning, and that this meaning is the meaning intended by the human author. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., has been the most consistent and insistent in advocating this idea, but others have also sought to make this case persuasively.”5

It is possible to preach only true assertions from the Scripture and yet mislead hearers regarding the truth of the faith because none of the truths of Scripture are meant to be understood in isolation. When ethical and moral imperatives are proclaimed as sufficient, even abstracted from Jesus, the result is a crossless Christianity in which the central message becomes an exhortation to live according to God’s rules. Hearers who possess a seared conscience may develop an attitude of self-righteousness: according to their judgment they are adequately living by God’s rules. Faithful believers with tender consciences may despair because they know that they constantly fall short of God’s standard.

In other words, preaching bare moral truths (moralisms) often drives people away from fellowship with Christ. Bryan Chapell does not overstate the case when he argues that a “message that merely advocates morality and compassion remains sub-Christian even if the preacher can prove that the Bible demands such behaviors.”6 Perhaps we must go even further and say that such sermons, though well intentioned, are anti-Christian and a tool of satanic deception.

Moore explains the cosmic danger of non-Christocentric preaching in light of the temptation narrative (Matt 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13), when he writes:

“Why is this so important? Why can’t I simply say true things from the Scripture without showing how it fits together in Christ? It is because, apart from Christ, there are no promises of God. In his temptation of Jesus, Satan quotes Scripture and he doesn’t misquote the promises: God wants His children to eat bread, not starve before stones; God will protect His anointed One with the angels of heaven; God will give His Messiah all the kingdoms of the earth. All this is true. What is satanic about all of this, though, is that Satan wanted our Lord to grasp these things apart from the cross and the empty tomb. These promises could not be abstracted from the Gospel.”7

D. A. Carson’s concern that conservative evangelicals may displace the gospel without disowning it is particularly applicable to expository preaching.8 If a preacher exposits, verse-by-verse, through books of the Bible, pressing moral, ethical, behavioral, and attitudinal change upon the hearers without mediating the meaning and application of the text through Jesus, he teaches a dangerous lesson, even if he slaps a gospel presentation on the end. The message is that, while the gospel is necessary as the entry point, it is not at the center of daily Christian living. Such preaching communicates that, after the believer walks through the gospel door, his or her focus should be keeping God’s rules, learning timeless principles, and noting which biblical characters to emulate and which to spurn. None of these concerns are the center of the biblical message. Graeme Goldsworthy correctly suggests that the reason this approach to preaching is prevalent and popular is because “we are all legalists at heart.” He explains:

“Moreover, We would love to be able to say that we have fulfilled all kinds of conditions, be they tarrying, surrendering fully, or getting rid of every known sin, so that God might truly bless us…The preacher can aid and abet this legalistic tendency that is at the heart of the sin within us all. All we have to do is emphasize our humanity: our obedience, our faithfulness, our surrender to God and so on. The trouble is that these things are all valid biblical truths, but if we get them out of perspective and ignore their relationship to the gospel of grace, they replace grace with law.”9

Pursuing the meaning of every part of the biblical story in light of Christ is not dehistoricizing the biblical text. Rather, it is a matter taking biblical history seriously: it is purposive; it is going somewhere. Preachers must avoid the two most common sermonic clichés, the predictable Jesus bit (every sermon is vague, generic Jesus talk) and the predictable morality bit (ethical imperatives abstracted from Jesus): the first is Christocentric but not expository; the second is expository but not Christocentric. Both flatten the Bible out and are in danger of displacing the biblical gospel message. Expository preachers must proclaim the Scripture with awareness of a given text’s historical place and genre, but keep in mind that the Bible considered, as a canonical whole possesses a Christocentric metagenre—Gospel story.

 

1. Russell D. Moore, “Preaching Like the Devil,” Touchstone no. 3, 2010, 9-10.

2. Walter C. Kaiser, Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament: A Guide for the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 26.

3. Thomas R. Schreiner, “Preaching and Biblical Theology,” SBJT 10 (2006): 26.

4. Richard Schultz, review of Toward an Exegetical Theology, by Walter C. Kaiser, WTJ 45 (Fall 1983): 414.

5. Millard J. Erickson, Evangelical Interpretation: Perspectives on Hermeneutical Issues (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 11.

6. Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 268.

7. Russell D. Moore, “Beyond a Veggie Tales Gospel: Preaching Christ from Every Text,” Southern Seminary Magazine, vol. 76, no.1, Spring 2008, 15.

8. D. A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 26.

9. Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 118.


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The Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting The Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

Re-creating Pastors

By Nick Kennicott

Pastors, play more golf…or tennis, or do more kayaking, fishing, or hunting. You need to get outside, you need to unplug, you need a hobby, and you need to spend time getting better at it. We often express high esteem for great pastors and missionaries who worked themselves to death because of their willingness to give up personal health and wellbeing for the work of the ministry, but rarely stop to consider how much more useful they could’ve been for the sake of the Kingdom if they had a recreational hobby. I’ve lost count of the number of pastors who have bragged to me that they haven’t taken a vacation or even a day off for many years. If I just described you, you might seriously need to repent.

Pride and an elevated sense of self-worth might drive us to assume we are a lot more important than we really are. Yes, our ministries are meaningful and we should be faithful, hard workers for Christ’s Kingdom. However, there are at least four important considerations before you call off another tee time:

1. Bodily exercise is valuable.

I think we’ve fundamentally misunderstood Paul when he wrote, “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things” (1 Timothy 4:8). The rightful emphasis is on godliness; however, Paul doesn’t say bodily exercise has no value at all! Pastoral ministry is a very sedentary work. We spend hours in a chair, working on sermons, reading, or counseling church members. If you add the various breakfast and lunch appointments we have to connect with God’s people throughout the week, and the mid-week or Sunday afternoon fellowship meals, our bodies cannot sustain pastoral life without exercise. We often have a sense that more hours spent working means we will be more effective, when the reality is that our bodies are finite and attempts to use our minds well are thwarted without physical exertion.

John Piper wrote concerning Jonathan Edwards, “He maintained the rigor of his study schedule only with strict attention to diet and exercise. Everything was calculated to optimize his efficiency and power in study…In addition to watching his diet so as to maximize his mental powers, he also took heed to his need for exercise. In the winter he would chop firewood a half-hour each day, and in the summer he would ride into the fields and walk alone in meditation.”1 Likewise, in his Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons John Broadus wrote, “As to volume, we gain mainly by such habitual carriage and such physical exercise as may expand and strengthen the lungs. Riding horseback, cutting wood, and in a remarkable degree certain gymnastical exercises, will have this effect, as soon appears from increased breadth of chest.”2 Edwards and Broadus were primarily focused on the improvement of their physical state for the sake of preaching, yet bodily exercise was not downplayed or disregarded. It was valued and pursued.

I often look at men like Edwards and Broadus and am in awe of how much they were able to produce in their lives, and it’s important to recognize they didn’t do all of it while fastened to a chair. It seems like they had a lot of chopped wood, and it was to everyone’s benefit.

2. The Kingdom doesn’t rest on your shoulders.

When I entered into pastoral ministry, my physical condition began a steady decline because in my youthful pride I assumed the Kingdom of God really did depend on me. If I used time for a run, a swim, or 18 holes of golf, I would rarely be able to complete the activity without a weight of guilt that often gave me reason to quit what I was doing to return to my study. It took repentance and counsel from others for me to finally embrace my recreational pursuits as helpful, sustaining additions to my ministry, not distractions to pull me away from it. We should feel free to have recreational hobbies that we are working to improve, knowing that even while we’re on the 16th green, Christ is still on his throne and his Kingdom is not crumbling because we’re having fun. Of course, this is no excuse to be negligent of our duties, abandoning what we are called to do so we can lower our handicap, but overworking is no more virtuous than being lazy. God is using you and will continue to use you, but he doesn’t need you.

3. God gives good gifts to enjoy.

In an attempt to appear less worldly, we can sometimes downplay the reality of God’s blessings of materials gifts for us to enjoy. While we must certainly take heed to not be worldly (James 1:27) or covetous (Exodus 20:17), God does indeed give us pleasurable things and places (1 Timothy 6:17-19). Hitting a straight drive with a brand-new driver while looking up to see the beautiful green grass of the fairway is yet another reminder that God does love and care about me. As much as I delight in seeing my children smile when I am able to provide them enjoyable opportunities, the Father’s delight in his children’s enjoyment of what He provides is infinitely greater (Matthew 7:11). A perfect serve on a tennis court, a long paddle down a quiet river, a multi-day backpacking trip in the mountains, a relaxing day at the beach—whatever your interest is, enjoy it guilt-free! It’s what God intends.

4. Ministry should never be a mistress.

Your days off and your vacations are not just for you, they’re also for your family. The quickest way to your children’s resentment of the church is to allow the work of the church to keep their dad from giving them his time and energy. Likewise, if you’re more concerned about the spiritual well-being of the people of the church while forgetting your primary responsibility to your wife, she will feel pushed aside for what she can only assume is your real love. Churches are better when their pastors are spending ample time with family (1 Timothy 3:4), and pastors set an example for other husbands and fathers to follow when they are able to balance their work, their hobbies, and their family without idolizing and being consumed by any of them. Pastoral burnout is a real and inherent danger for all of us, but while pastors are often considered victims, our families are forgotten in the mix.

Take your kids to the driving range, have a late dinner with your wife and stay at a hotel, bring the family to the beach, go fly a kite, play more golf—your sermons will be better, your mind will be clearer, and your ministry will improve.

 

1. John Piper and Jonathan Edwards, God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), 56.

2. John Albert Broadus, A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, ed. Edwin Charles Dargan, New (23d) ed. (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1898), 488.


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