Bringing Our Children to the Table

In doctrinally serious churches, welcoming the children of believers to the Lord’s Supper is one of the most important elements of the life of the church; it is also one of the most difficult and widely debated matters. On one side of the debate are those who believe that our children should be well into their teenage years prior to bringing them to the table. On the another side of the debate are those who want to bring their children to the table at infancy or an extremely young age. In between these two extremes are those many churches that have a confirmation class to prepare the children of believers doctrinally and then bring them to the table when they are in their latter adolescence or early teenage years. There are also those churches that encourage the parents to work closely with their children and then to bring them to the elders of the church when they believe that they might be ready to be examined for communing membership in the church. We might call that view the “parent-elder conference approach.” It is this latter category into which the local church that I pastor falls. We believe that every child is different and that the parents should work closely with the pastor/elders of the church to determine when a particular child should be welcomed to the table. 

Part of the difficulty of this subject is that the Scriptures do not give us an age with we may resolve the tension. Rather, the Scriptures give us general principles to which we must adhere–principles that require a great deal of wisdom. For instance, the Apostle Paul–in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32–gives warnings to the members of the church. Each member must be able to examine himself or herself prior to partaking of the bread and the wine. At what point is a child mature enough to examine his or her own heart to see whether or not he or she is discerning the body or not? Certainly, there is absolutely no reason why we would ever assume that an infant could examine his or her own heart with any sort of conscious maturity. This is not to say that an infant cannot be regenerate by the sovereign working of the Holy Spirit. David , Jeremiah and John the Baptist are all examples of those regenerate from the womb (Ps. 22:9; Jer. 1:5; Luke 1:15, 41). We may all agree that a 3 or 4 year old may have a sincere profession of faith in Christ (and may be saving united to the Redeemer); but, we may disagree about whether or not he or she is mature enough to discern the body in the Supper. We are to be looking for both sincerity and maturity

In recent years, some have suggested that the Covenant Lord wants us to bring our infants to the table, since they are members of the covenant family of God. The problem with paedocommunion is that, de facto, it changes the nature of the sacrament and lays aside the clear teaching of 1 Corinthians 11:27-32. It seems to be a simple solution to the problem of knowing when to admit the children of believers to the table, but it lacks biblical support, any substantial place in church history and functionally suggests that the sacrament works ex opere operato (i.e. that the sacrament works out of itself irrespective of whether or not the infant is examining himself or herself and so exercising faith when they come to partake of the bread and wine). In addition, paedocommunion demands changing the symbolism of the elements (the separation of the bread and the wine symbolizing the separation of the blood of Jesus from the body of Jesus) since an infant cannot chew or swallow bread. Paedocommunion demands the unbiblical practice of intinction. 

Many churches seek to solve the difficulty of children and the Supper by carrying out a confirmation class. The downside of a confirmation class is that it tends to treat all of the children of the congregation as if they are at the same spiritual stage of development. A confirmation class runs the risk of giving assurance of salvation to unregenerate youth who have “made it through” a class in which they have merely grown in assent to theological truths. Another reason we opt for the “parent-elder conference approach” at New Covenant is that we are situated in a military town with an unprecedented amount of turnover. This makes it impossible to work with the children of the congregation in order to prepare them for coming to the table. We are intentional about incorporating biblical teaching–together with memorization of the Westminster Shorter Catechism–into our children’s Sunday School classes in order to help prepare them for coming to the table. However, we do not have most of the children long enough to do any kind of systematic theological approach leading up to a confirmation period. 

I have, on quite a number of occasions, met with the parents of a very young child about whether or not to bring their child before the elders for examination. I generally ask the child a number of questions about the nature of Christianity: “Who is God? What is God like? How many persons are there in the Godhead?” Who is Jesus? Is Jesus God or man? How did God make you? What happened to our first parents? What do your sins deserve? What did Jesus do at the cross?” etc. I frequently find that when I examine a child with his or her parents, a fairly serious lack of knowledge about basic Christian truth tends to surface. At that point, I usually meet with the parents without the child being present in order to encourage them to continue fanning the flame of faith in the heart and life of their child. Then, I tell them to consider meeting with me again in the near future to see whether there is a development of maturity in the mind of the child. My reservation about bringing them before the elders of our church at a very young age is that if the elders do not believe that they are adequately mature enough to examine themselves in light of the truth of Scripture, we may inadvertantly do harm to their assurance of salvation. If they are sincerely regenerate–and just not mature enough to examine themselves–they may think that we are telling them that they are not regenerate.

One of the ways in which a church may adopt the “parents-elder conference approach” is by having the pastor directly address the children at the administration of the Supper. After reading the words of institution from 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, and then giving the warnings in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, I will sometimes address the children, saying something like, “Children, maybe you haven’t yet made a profession of faith and cannot yet partake of the elements. Still, you can feed on Christ by faith as he has been presented to you in the preaching of the Gospel that you have heard this morning.” A pastor can also use this time to encourage the parents to be talking with their children about the precious truths of the Christian faith in order to help bring them to a place where they will be ready to be admitted to the table. This in turn encourages the parents to be thinking about this matter and coming to the pastor or elders about the right time for the examination of their children. 

Nevertheless, when all of the biblical teaching is examined and when all of the practices of church history are considered, we are still left with quite a number of difficulties in pressing forward with an approach that is faithful to Scripture, wisely instituted by the elders and that fits the context of the local church in which we worship and serve. Thankfully, several helpful volumes exist to help pastors and churches make their way through the mire of not knowing how to proceed in respect to this subject. Ligon Duncan and Guy Waters edited a volume titled Chidren and the Lord’s Supper and Cornelius Venema wrote one titled Children and the Lord’s Table in order to tackle some of the difficult questions from a biblical, theological and historical perspective. J.W. Alexander wrote a small volume in order to encourage newly admitted communicants titled Remember Him. I encourage all pastors and parents to work through this important subject as they seek to shepherd the hearts of their children. 

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Dying Well (Part 1)

It would be easy to write Deuteronomy 34 off as a throwaway chapter that had to be included to bring the story of Moses to a conclusion. Moses dies. That’s it. Perhaps we approach the chapter with questions that we can’t really answered with certainty. For instance, “Did Moses write these words before he died or did someone else write them after he died? How did a 120-year-old hike up a mountain? How was Moses able to see the entire country from the top of Mount Pisgah? Where did God bury Moses?”
Both of these approaches–the throwaway and the trivializing–fail to do justice to God’s explanation of the Old Testament in the New Testament, that all Scripture is written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come (Romans 15:4; I Corinthians 10:11). The death of Moses was written for us not only because it happened, but to teach us. One of the most important things it teaches us is how to die by faith.

Christians speak often about living and walking by faith. We’re familiar with Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:7, “We walk by faith, not by sight,” and in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of god, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” But we don’t think much about dying by faith, although the author to the Hebrews speaks of it with regard to all the believing people of God who died before entering the Promised Land: “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).

Moses shows us how to die in faith in at least two ways. First, Moses dies believing the promise of God spoken to him again on Mount Nebo: 

“This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’” (Deuteronomy 34:4)

Moses came as close as anyone did to receiving what was promised without actually receiving it. To be sure, by allowing him to see it, there is a sense in which God, according to Ancient Near Eastern custom, was giving it to Moses in title – it was legally his. But he never stepped foot in it, he never built a house or planted a garden in it. He died in faith, believing God’s promise that the offspring of Abraham whom he had shepherded from Egypt would receive the land as their own possession. He had to trust the Lord to fulfill His word to His people.

Moses not only died in faith with regard to God’s grand promise to all of His people, he also died in faith with regard to his own personal situation. Deuteronomy 34:7 tells us that Moses was 120 years old when he died, and that his eye was not dim and his vigor was not abated. Moses did not die of old age. He did not wear out, nor was he sick. He could have led the people into Canaan if God had wanted him to do so. Moses died because the Lord took him home, it was his time to go. Thus he had to trust the Lord and His ways with him individually. He had to trust that God was all-wise in the timing of his death.

Of course, the story is a bit more complicated than that. There’s a reason why it was Moses’ time to die, and why he was not allowed into the Promised Land. The rationale is found in Deuteronomy 1:37; 3:23ff.; 4:21; and 32:48ff. God forbade Moses from entering into the land because of his sin, his outright disobedience when the people were complaining about their lack of water. God had commanded Moses to speak to the rock, but instead he struck it twice. He had irreverently failed to treat God’s name as holy, and had arrogantly and angrily implied that he would bring water out of the rock. For these sins, God’s kept His servant out of the land. Moses had to trust God, submitting to Him in the timing and wisdom and righteousness of His discipline.

In these ways, we too are called to die in faith. We are called to trust that the time God takes us home to be with Jesus is His appointed time, and that the time He appoints is best. We are not in the same situation as Moses in terms of being kept out of a physical (and typological) Promised Land because of our sin, although certainly throughout our lives (and perhaps even in our deaths, cf. I Corinthians 11:30-32), God’s fatherly hand of discipline is upon us for His glory and our ultimate good. But we are in the same situation as Moses in relation to God’s promise: we die, not having received everything that is promised us. Hebrews 11 tells us that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and all the pre-Promised Land saints desired a better country than the land of Canaan – that is, a heavenly one, the city that has foundations, whose author and builder is God. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them, and for us with them. We live and we die in confident possession of what is already ours, and confident hope of what is not yet ours. We face our deaths, knowing that we are not as holy as we ought to be, knowing that there is still sin and misery flowing from sin, not only in ourselves individually, but in our churches, and in our cities. We die in faith, believing that one day Jesus will come again, and give us new bodies that will never sin or suffer. The holy city, Jerusalem, will come down out of heaven from God, as a city of justice, righteousness, and love. We die acknowledging with the patriarchs that we are strangers and exiles here, that this age, under God’s curse, is not our ultimate destiny. We die in faith, believing the Lord’s promises, trusting His wisdom, goodness, plan and purposes.

Pastors are called to equip the saints to walk in those good works that God has prepared beforehand for them to walk in. Every saint (except those alive when Jesus returns) will have to walk through the good work of dying well. May the Lord enable us to prepare Jesus’ sheep to live by faith and to die by faith.

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

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 Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

Singing in Parts

I love plainsong chant and the power of unison singing. This type of singing fulfills particular roles in worship that part-singing cannot. However, I would suggest that the current status of congregational singing is not lacking in unison options but is in fact neglecting the benefits of singing in parts.

One reason that people do not sing in church is the lack of opportunities to do so with a voice part or a melody that fits into their vocal range. Altos and basses were not physically made to sing in the same range as sopranos and tenors. When faced with a high melody line and no opportunity (or training) to sing anything else, basses and altos either stop singing or strain their voices. If they are able to hit the higher notes, they do so in a different part of their voice that makes them stick out of the blend.

Singing in parts allows for different voice ranges to have vocal parts that fit their voice. This allows them the opportunity to participate more fully in congregational singing—which is, of course, a significant reason for singing together in the first place.

In addition, when people sing in harmony the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Literally. Notes sung together cause sound frequencies to resonate together in such a way that “sounds” other notes that are not physically being sung. The combination of voices creates the opportunity for additional notes and harmonies to fill out the music with greater richness.

Singing in parts is a reflection of the Body of Christ that serves one another with different functions. The melody is supported by the harmony, the inner voices contribute tension and release, color, and enriched harmonic textures. The sopranos need the basses who need the altos and tenors.

However, I’ve also seen a particular type of snobbery that exists in churches that do sing four-part harmony. I once shared an antiphonal congregational setting of the “Sanctus” that I had composed with a friend at another church. His comment was to show it to him once I had written four parts—as if the addition of two additional parts were absolutely necessary for consideration. I’m never quite sure what these churches do with music in three parts or even five. Much of Renaissance music is five to six parts. One gets the impression that four parts is more holy. I appreciate the commitment to providing parts for the congregation to sing, but even alto and tenor lines can seemingly turn into idols.

With contemporary music, having a harmony part or two is not unusual but it is not usually something that a congregational alto or tenor can do—especially without written music in front of them. Sung bass parts are a rarity and has disenfranchised countless basses and baritones who are left without notes to sing.

As we reconsider the effects of the Reformation in this 500th anniversary year, I would encourage us to also recapture the beauty of congregational singing in a way that incorporates all of the body. Luther wanted people to be literate so that they could read the Bible for themselves; he also wanted people to be instructed in music so that they could sing God’s praises and not be dependent on the experts to do it for them. We have moved away from having professional choirs providing all of the music while congregants sit and listen; but having worship teams or music programs that take over the leading of worship in a manner that discourages congregational participation is no advancement. Congregational singing should be corporate—with thought and sensitivity given to participatory songs and vocal parts so that the congregation can actually sing.

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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 Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

What Are You Waiting For?

One of the downsides of living in the technological age is that we are constantly overwhelmed with what we allow to stream into our minds and hearts from our newsfeeds, social media debates, conversations about world affairs, social agendas, personal opinions and every sort of religious and political ideology. All of this, in turn, has the propensity to animate anxiety, depression, fear, anger, hatred and misplaced zeal in our hearts. People are crying out for change without recognizing that there is only one remedy for all of the social ills–and for the burdens of our own lives. 

J.C. Ryle, the great 19th Century Anglican Calvinistic pastor/theologian, would walk to the window of his study every morning, and–looking up–would say, “Maybe today, Lord, maybe today!” Ryle was longing for the coming of Christ. This is one of the definitive marks of every true believer. The Apostle Paul declared that his greatest inner desire was “to depart and be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23). The better part of the New Testament focus on the return of Christ; and, in doing so, links our sanctification in the present to the hope we have of His coming in the future. In short, this teaches us that our actions are directly correlated to the hope that we have in our hearts to see Christ and to be with Him.

When the Apostles wrote to the members of the fledgling churches of the New Testament, they held out the hope of Christ’s second coming in order to stir up in them hope and holiness. Here are a few examples:

  • “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20-21). 
  • “Waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Peter. 3:12-14).
  • “We are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
  • “Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:13-14).
  • “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him” (Heb. 9:28).
  • “We wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23).
  • “Through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness” (Gal. 5:5). 
  • “There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).
  • “Now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming” (1 John 2:28).
  • “Keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Tim. 6:14).
  • “I give thanks to my God always for you because…you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Tim. 1:4-7).
  • “They themselves report…how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:9-10). 

The passages above suffice to show that the believer’s heart is to be wholly set on the hope of the coming of Christ and the consummation. When we do so, we will discover that we want to conform our affections and actions to that hope. The Apostles did not speak about the eschaton in order to stir up intellectual speculations or preoccupation with current events. Instead, they appealed to the reality of the second coming of Christ in order to help the believer settle his or her heart in the distresses and anxieties of the present evil age and to stir up holiness in his or her life.

Ryle, in his sermon, “Are You Looking?” wrote:

“What will you get by looking forward to Jesus coming again? You will get that which is the best remedy against disquiet and depression,–hope shed abroad in your heart about things to come. When the minds of others are cast down with perplexity, you will feel able to lift up your head and rejoice; when all around seems dark and gloomy, you will see light, and be able to wait patiently for better days.

Few things are so remarkable in the present time as the universal anxiety and suspense about the future. On all sides, and among all classes, you hear of want of confidence and gloomy forebodings of coming evil; Church and State alike seem shaken to their foundations: no one seems to know what to expect next. On one thing alone men seem agreed: they look forward with more fear than hope to the future. Governments seem afraid of their subjects, and subjects seem to have no confidence in their Governments; the rich seem unable to satisfy the poor, and the poor seem unable to trust the rich. On all sides you hear of restlessness, anarchy, lawlessness, disquiet, envy, jealousy, distrust, suspicion, and discontent. The cement seems to have fallen out of the walls of society: the bands which kept nations together seem to be decaying, snapping, and giving way. One might think that the devil was putting forth special efforts, and allowed to have special power…

The Christian’s expectation is wholly fixed on Christ’s second coming and reign. This is the great event to which he is continually looking forward; this is “the blessed hope” that sustains him, and makes him calm amidst confusion. His eye is steadily fixed on his Savior’s return. In the darkest hour he does not despair: “Yet a little while,” he says, “and He who is coming will come, and will not delay” (Heb. 10:37).

From the bottom of my soul I pity those who look for the perfecting of the Church or the world by any existing agencies. I pity politicians who dream that any reforms will ever pacify and content mankind; I pity Christians who dream that missionary societies will gradually regenerate the nations, and fill the earth with true religion, till it silently and gently blooms into a state of perfection. Both parties are sowing for themselves bitter disappointment: they might as well expect grapes from thorns or figs from thistles. The only comfortable stand-point in looking into the future, is that which is occupied by the Christian who fixes his hope on the second advent of Jesus Christ.”

As we consider our own lives and actions–in light of this world and the current cultural climate in which we live–we must constantly ask ourselves the question, “Where am I placing my hope?” I am certain that if we answer this question honestly, we will uncover something of a recurrent deficiency in our souls. We must then turn back to Scripture in order to again discover the promise of the coming of Christ. As we do so, we will undergo the spiritual realignment that we so desperately need in order to again live in light of that hope. The coming of Christ is the great hope that God wants His people to set their hearts upon as we make our way through the wilderness of this world. 

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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 Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

The God-Centered Gospel

The Bible from beginning to end is the story of God. There is but one living and true God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Is. 45:5-7; 1 Cor. 8:4), an infinite, all-knowing Spirit (John 4:24), perfect in all His attributes, one in essence, eternally existing in three Persons–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14)–each equally deserving worship and obedience. To be God-centered is to know and experience the God of the Bible in the daily practice of our lives.

You and I live a world that is saturated with idols. From hobbies to entertainment, to workaholism to pornography and materialism, we are inundated with “gods” all around us. To be God-centered is to have a biblical view of God. Sound doctrine must match sound living in our lives. When we have right doctrine, but don’t live in accord with that doctrine, we may answer people’s questions, but we will never do so in a loving Christ-honoring way. Doctrine does not only transform–it must also adorn our lives. To this end, I want to consider four God-centered means and how they change our lives (Titus 2:10).

The Gospel

God is the Gospel, as John Piper has explained. Our view of God has consequences (for both good and ill). For example, people who grow up in broken and dysfunctional homes often view God the Father as a harsh god. Some place their experience of their earthly father on the God who reveals Himself as Father. Instead of viewing God as the Creator of everything and as good, loving, and just—they instead consider Him to be a harsh taskmaster.

The Gospel flips this perspective upside down and inside out. As Creator, God is the Father of all men (Ephesians 4:6), but He is the spiritual Father only to Christians (Romans 8:14; 2 Corinthians 6:18). He has decreed for His own glory all things that shall come to pass (Ephesians 1:11). He continually upholds, directs, and governs all creatures and events (1 Chronicles 29:11). In His sovereignty, He is neither the author nor approver of sin (Habakkuk 1:13) nor does He abridge the accountability of moral, intelligent creatures (1 Peter 1:17). He has graciously chosen from eternity past those whom He would have as His own (Ephesians 1:4-6). He saves from sin all those who come to Him, and He becomes, upon adoption, Father to His own (John 1:12; Romans 8:15; Gal. 4:5; Heb. 12:5-9).

Prayer

Understanding who God is enables believers to have a healthy God-honoring prayer life. Since Jesus has died in our place, for our sin, and has risen again—He now serves as High Priest and Intercessor over His people. Hebrews 4:16 invites God’s people, through Christ, to come boldly before His throne. Sometimes Christians think they have to clean themselves up before they can come to God. Yes, we must confess and repent of our sin (1 John 1:9), but we do so only because we have a right understanding and fear of Him (Proverbs 1:9; 9:10). Without a biblical fear of God, we would never desire God, grow in Christ, or long to call on Him in truth. When we understand that God’s ways are just, holy, and good, we will earnestly desire to come before the throne of God’s grace, knowing that He receives us warmly because of Christ, not because of our works.

Bible Reading

Every true Christian should spend time in God’s Word. In all of human history, the Bible has never been more available than it is today (whether in audio or printed format). Since Scripture is God’s story, His love letter to His people, and the inspired, inerrant, sufficient, and authoritative for faith and practice, we should long to be in the Word. After all, our story finds its end in His redemptive story.

When we read the Bible, we do so not so we can say, “I read my Bible today.” Instead, Christians read the Bible because it is God’s story to help them know who God is, and how, through Christ, He gave of Himself completely for His people by His death and resurrection.

As God’s people, we read the Bible, not merely out of duty, but also out of delight. It is a delight to read the story of God from the beginning of the Bible in Genesis 1:1 to the last words in Revelation 22:21. We need to read or listen to our Bible’s each day to grow in our understanding of our God.

Community

God has called people, who were once not His people, to be His people in and through Christ (1 Peter 2:9-10). God has always had people whom He has called His own. Through Christ, He no longer calls them His enemies, but His friends (John 15:15). All who place their faith in Jesus Christ are immediately placed by the Holy Spirit into one united spiritual body, the Church (1 Corinthians 12:12, 13), the Bride of Christ (2 Cor. 11:2; Ephesians 5:23-32; Revelation 19:7, 8), of which Christ is the Head (Eph. 1:22; 4:15; Colosians 1:18). The Church is thus a unique spiritual organism designed by Christ, made up of all born-again believers (Ephesians 2:11 – 3:6).

There is so much more that has and can be said about the God-centered nature of the Christian life. To be God-centered is to be focused on Him, to be all for Him, not just in word, but in deed. To be God-centered is to have our lives revolve around not only the question, “Who is God?” but also, “Why does having God in my daily life matter?”

Our God is an infinite treasure to be enjoyed, worshiped, and obeyed. He does not leave us dead in sins and abandoned. Instead, our God is active and has intervened in history through Christ to redeem men from the death penalty they justly deserve by dying in place of man and for their sin and rising again on the third day.

Whether it’s from the angle of the gospel, prayer, Bible-reading, community, or any other perspective that we might consider—our God is good, just, loving, merciful, kind, and holy. God is the Gospel. As we come to understand this critical truth by faith, we are enabled to hope in and have access to the Fountain of Life in Christ Jesus, our Savior, our Lord, and our Commander. To be God-centered is to increasingly have our theology line up with our daily experience as we walk day by day, week by week, and year by year with God in Christ.

Dave Jenkins is the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and a Co-Host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast. He received his MAR and M.Div. through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter, find him on Facebook or read more of his writing at Servants of Grace.

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

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 Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

Biblical Encouragement

“How are you doing? Really doing? How are you handling your hard week?” she asked. Then she followed those questions up with, “Can I pray for you right now?”

Encouragement–we would recognize it anywhere. It’s like a gentle push forward when we’ve run out of energy. It’s like seeing the familiar shape of home when we’ve been gone far too long. It’s like sitting down to a nourishing meal after a hard day’s work. It’s like seeing the sun after hours of pouring rain.

When someone encourages us, we stand straighter. We feel reinvigorated. We move with purpose and meaning. We are strengthened and ready for what lies ahead.

In our world, encouragement often looks like fans in the stands watching a sports game. They cheer and shout. They might say, “You’ve got this!” “You can do it!” “Go, go, go!” And while such statements are invigorating, they are different than the encouragement we see in the Bible. Biblical encouragement is more than just saying nice things to someone. Its purpose is deeper than boosting someone’s self-esteem by telling them, “You can do it!” And it’s not like an inspiring message from the coach to rally the team before the big game.

The Greek word for encourage is parakaleo. It is used in the New Testament to describe not only giving comfort to someone, but it also involves exhortation, urging, strengthening, and even appealing. It is used in passages like 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing,” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” and Ephesians 4:1, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

As believers, we are called to encourage one another. But what does such encouragement look like?

Four truths about biblical encouragement:

  1. It is spiritual: Biblical encouragement is not focused on what a person is capable of within themselves, but rather in what the Spirit is doing in them. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (3:16-19). Such encouragement reminds the weak and weary that their source of strength and hope lies not in what they can do but what God has done for them in Christ. It is also mutual as believers encourage each other out of the overflow of the Spirit’s work in them. “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:11-12).
  2. It is Christ centered: Encouragement reminds the sorrowful of the Man of Sorrows who knows and hears their pain. Christ knows what it is to face temptation, loss, abandonment, rejection, and fear. He came as the answer to the deepest cries of our heart. He came to live the life we could not live, die the death we deserve, and conquer sin, sorrow, suffering, and death through his resurrection from the grave. Biblical encouragement points to Christ, who he is and what he has done. He is the conquering King who even now intercedes for us to the Father. His Spirit lives within us, comforting, instructing, guiding, and transforming us. And one day, our Savior will return to wipe our tears away for good.
  3. It builds: Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to, “enourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Biblical encouragement builds. A structure needs solid building materials in order to stand. It also needs a solid foundation to stand upon. When we encourage others, we need to use words that don’t dissipate in the wind, that aren’t meaningless or trite. Encouragement isn’t about making someone feel better in the moment. It’s about reminding them of solid truth. Building words treat the listener like the child of God that they are, remembering that they are image bearers and precious to God. Rather than cutting, criticizing, shaming, judging, or mocking, Biblical encouragement has, “unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8).
  4. It is often silent: Biblical encouragement doesn’t have all the answers. It doesn’t attempt to solve the mystery of someone’s trial or answer the question, “Why?” It’s not about advice giving. It is comfortable with grieving and lamenting, with tears and cries. It often encourages just by being present. It comforts through hugs, a hot cooked meal, or a handwritten note. It sits in the dust and ashes with the sad at heart for as long as it takes, remaining with them through the dark winter of grief.

As believers, we need biblical encouragement and we need to give it to others. May our encouragement go deeper than the cheers of a crowd and to the very heart and soul of our brothers and sisters, comforting, exhorting, and urging them forward in the truth of the gospel.

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

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 Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

Rise Up

Whenever our congregation ordains new officers (i.e. elders and deacons), I love to sing the hymn, “Rise up, O Men of God“…well, except for the words. It’s a high energy hymn and one with a stirring tune (we sing it to Festal Song), but if you really study the words and where they place emphasis? Read the words of this classic hymn, and see if you can detect my concern:

Rise up, O Church of God!
Have done with lesser things;
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
To serve the King of kings.

Rise up, O Church of God!
His kingdom tarries long;
Bring in the day of brotherhood
And end the night of wrong.

Rise up, O sons of God!
The Church for you doth wait,
Her strength unequal to her task,
Rise up, and make her great!

Lift high the cross of Christ!
Tread where His feet have trod;
As foll’wers of the Son of Man,
Rise up, O Church of God!

Who in this hymn is said to be doing the work of redemption in the world? Who is making the church great? Where is Christ’s divinity and sovereignty shown forth? Think, when we sing this at an officer ordination, what are we asking of our ordinands? Would you want this burden placed upon your shoulders?

The problem is that this hymn, penned by a Presbyterian minister named William Merrill in 1911, captures only one side of Christian leadership. It rightly emphasizes the good that God can do through us. But if you consider the historical context, you’d have to conclude that it is entirely too optimistic about human ability and the Church’s ability to bring peace and order to this world. In a few short years, an assassin’s bullet in Serbia would unleash a deadly cycle of events that would unravel the dreams of this very man-centered Gospel. And yet, this is the way many in our day still treat Christian leadership: rise up, o men of God, and make the Church great; end this night of wrong.

We are not to have that sort of self-confidence and self-dependence. We preach Christ and not ourselves. God’s power is perfected in weakness. When we are weak is when we are strong. So I bring this hymn up as a practical way we can let humility inform the way conduct business in the church, that we not just go with the flow and mindlessly conform to church tradition when it has been influenced by a worldly pride, even in small, subtle ways, such as singing a hymn like this.

Pay attention to the words you use and the songs you sing, and when legally feasible, change them as needed. In this particular case, since “Rise Up, O Men of God,” is in the public domain, I suggest we change the words to reflect a more accurate, Biblical humility. I suggest we take its thoughts captive for Christ – a Christ crucified. Here is what I suggest we sing instead:

Rise up, O men of God
Have done with lesser things;
Give heart and soul and mind and strength,
To serve the King of kings.

 Rise up, O men of God!
His kingdom tarries long;
But soon shall Christ bring in the Day,
And end this night of wrong

Rise up, O men of God
The church for you doth wait,
Your strength unequal to the task;
But Christ in you is great!

Lift high the cross of Christ!
Tread where his feet hath trod;
As servants of the King of kings,
Rise up, O men of God!

So here we sing boldly of what we can do, but in a way that reflects the humility that the Gospel brings. We place the emphasis where it belongs – Christ’s work through us. Yes, we are here to bless the world, and yes, God uses us mightily, more than we often know, I think. But it is God’s work within us. We have this great power in jars of clay, to show that it is from God, and not from us. And so as we sing this, we are still calling one another to rise up and serve Christ and His Church. But rather than emphasizing our strength and our duty, we sing of Christ’s power and His sovereignty. We are but stewards, graced to participate in the great victory Jesus has already won. That is true Christian leadership, humbled by grace, but then empowered to boldly serve that cause of grace for the sake of others. May all who lead, lead only in this way, for the cause and sake of Christ.

Chris Hutchinson is Senior Pastor of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Blacksburg, VA. This article is adapted with permission from his forthcoming book, “Mere Humility: rediscovering the heart of the Gospel” (New Growth Press, 2018).

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

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 Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

You Know You’re Preaching When…

Preaching is an important gift from God. How important is preaching? Jesus is a preacher.1 The truth that Jesus is a preacher should point you to the weight of preaching. You can see the value Jesus placed on preaching when in His earthly ministry He said to His disciples, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mk. 1:38). Christ is the example for preachers in all things. Christ went out to preach. Have you come into the pulpit to preach like Christ? Additionally, you should see the significance of preaching in the fact that God commands ministers to do it. Paul charged his son in the faith, Timothy, with the following admonition: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 2:4). Why does God command the preaching of His word? God uses preaching in the conversion of sinners and the sanctifying and strengthening of the saints. So, how do you know when you’re preaching? Of course, you should ask this question not from motives of pride, but to know if your preaching glorifies God and edifies the church.

Preaching is a combination of certain elements. Preaching contains teaching or truth, but it is more than information dissemination. Preaching is a combination of spirit and truth, light and heat. Preaching informs the mind and stirs the heart. So, how do you know when you’re preaching? Here are a few tangible metrics you can use for guidance in the self-evaluation process:

  • You know you’re preaching when…the name or attributes of God are foundational and pervasive throughout your sermon. David writes, “those who know your name put their trust in you” (Ps. 9:10). We must know the name of God. The knowledge of God’s attributes is essential for faith. We will not trust someone we do not know, but those who know God’s name will trust Him. Trusting God is necessary in justification, sanctification and satisfaction. The object of our faith is the name or character of God. God communicates His name or character to us through preaching. Paul writes, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching” (Rom. 10:14).
  • You know you’re preaching when…Christ is all in your Biblically based sermon. Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (Jn. 5:39). Sermons must come from Scripture, and Jesus tells us that Scripture bears witness about Him. You know you’re preaching when you proclaim Jesus from Scripture. Preaching does not suggest Jesus. Preaching demands what God demands–the exaltation of Christ. “Christ is all” (Col. 3:11). Therefore, you know you’re preaching when Christ is all in your proclamation. Paul wrote, “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ” (Rom. 16:25). Charles Spurgeon proclaimed, “The motto of all true servants of God must be, ‘We preach Christ; and him crucified.’ A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.” You know you’re preaching when you’re proclaiming Christ as all from Scripture!
  • You know you’re preaching when…you’re filled with the Holy Spirit. If you’ve really preached then you’ve been filed with the Holy Spirit. Preaching must be alive. Life is by the Holy Spirit. Living preaching is Spirit filled preaching. You know you’re preaching when the Spirit touches your tongue with a live coal from the altar. You know you’re preaching when you have the freedom and unction of the Spirit. When the Spirit was poured out on Pentecost, Peter preached the glory God in the Person of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. You know you’re preaching when you’re carried along by the river of life–the Holy Spirit.
  • You know you’re preaching when…you’re heralding the gospel of Jesus Christ. Preaching must be good news. Real preaching is good news–the good news of Jesus Christ. You know you’re preaching when you proclaim the good news of predesting love. You’re preaching when sovereign grace is your theme. You’re preaching when you proclaim Christ crucified for sinners. Preaching is happening when you proclaim Christ as the elect sinners righteousness. You know you’re preaching when you proclaim that the tomb is empty, but the throne is not.
  • You know you’re preaching when…your wife or congregants look nervous. You’re about to preach when the car ride home flashes in your mind’s eye before saying what must be said. (I am not talking about foolish speech). I’m talking about the heavy lifting of diagnosing people who do not want the diagnosis. I’m talking about the man’s work of preaching free grace to the self righteous for the salvation of their souls from hell. The world, the flesh and the Devil hate true preaching. The fear of man is a snare. Even Peter feared man at Galatia. You know you’re preaching when you wipe the sweat of the fear of man off your brow with the good news of God’s of approval.
  • You know you’re preaching when…affections run over–when the tears flow in relation to the cross of Christ. On this matter, Spurgeon proclaimed, “I have found, my brethren, by long experience, that nothing touches the heart like the cross of Christ.” You know you’re preaching when the lifting up of Christ on the cross causes the tears to run down. You know you’re preaching when someone who has not been happy with you is crying under the preaching of Christ bearing God’s wrath for them on the cross.
  • You know you’re preaching when you forget yourself–when the awareness of self is swallowed up in the truth of dying with Christ. You’re preaching when you are no longer aware of yourself, but Christ becomes your one thing (Ps. 27:4) You know you’re preaching when you can say, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
  • You know you’re preaching when the bread of God’s presence is served to those before you. Men love to eat, but there is a certain bread that only the new creation desires. This bread is is not like others. Its origin is heavenly; heaven is the domain of God’s manifest presence, and in God’s presence is fullness of joy; at His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11). Therefore, the bread of the presence is essential for fullness of joy and the exquisite pleasures of God’s presence. Physical bread can strengthen the heart of man, but the bread of the presence strengthens our whole being. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). You know you’re preaching when, by the presence of the Holy Spirit, God is glorified through men being satisfied by feasting on God’s living word–the Christ of the Scriptures!
  •  

1. Jesus is a preacher because He is alive. Christ is the very word of God–Himself (Jn 1:1). Christ is God (Jn 1:1). In biblical preaching, Christ is preaching. Christ’s preaching ministry did not cease with His ascension. Jesus is, right now, the chief prophet. As such, He continues to preach. Paul teaches us that Christ lives in believers (Col. 1:27). Christ preaches through those ministers who He indwells by his Spirit (1 Pet 1:10-12).

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

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 Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

More Than God

When I was a kid I would often go fishing with my dad. Our fishing trips usually started at the tackle shop. For a little boy, a tackle shop is a nearly magical place filled with colorful lures, live bait, and trophy fish mounted on the wall. Everything in the store had the ability to send me into daydreams of landing a monster bass or record catfish. As a child I thought the heights of fame included having one’s picture on the wall at Randy’s Bait & Tackle. When we went fishing, we usually used live bait, specifically minnows. We had this round Styrofoam bucket that would get filled at the tackle shop with bait. The way these little fish darted to and fro was captivating. I would scoop one out with the dip net, hook it to my line, and then cast it into the lake with all my hopes and dreams of impending Bait & Tackle shop fame.

One the earliest times that we went fishing together, I thought I’d be extra helpful. My dad was putting together a few things and told me to keep an eye on the bait. I got to thinking (a dangerous endeavor, I assure you), if one minnow was bait for a big fish, then a lot of minnows would be bait for a lot of big fish. So, while my dad was rigging up the other rods, I began scooping up the minnows and tossing them into the lake. I was nearly done with emptying the bucket when my dad realized what I had done. He was, well, less than enthusiastic and supportive toward my innovative strategy.

What was the problem? Primarily, I was trying to be more helpful than required. I was told to keep an eye on the bait. I thought I’d be more helpful than instructed and I ended up making our fishing trip very short. It was a well-intended error; but, it was an error nonetheless.

Sometimes we can try to be more than instructed. We can try to be more gracious than God. We can try to be more loving than God. We can try to be wiser than God. I believe this is an error that I, and many others in the church, continue to make. Our reasoning why may seem like common-sense. But is that common-sense more informed by our culture than by the Word of God? Is it prompted by social pressures and issues more than God’s Word? Even if it comes from a place of good intentions, trying to be more than God is a sign that we believe God is insufficient. In the church, we’d seldom ever admit to this because we know better than to actually say God is insufficient. But frequently, our actions betray our confession.

How do we attempt to be more gracious than God? We’ve all read those parts of Scripture that run very counter to today’s popularly received wisdom. “Wives submit to your husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph 5:22). Surely Paul didn’t really mean that. Surely God doesn’t actually instruct wives to literally submit to their husbands. Our modern conceptions of gender equality (which has less to do with “equality,” per se, and more to do with a sameness of identity, purpose, and roles) bristle at this thought. And in this conflict, we are tempted to re-interpret the passage or apply it in such a way as to make God seem more gracious than he appears to our modern eyes. We have taken the plain and received meaning of the text and made God more gracious than he is because we have determined that God’s grace is insufficient.

Sometimes we attempt to be more loving than God. Grasping the modern definition of “love” is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. It seems that love to the modern person is simply desiring and facilitating the doing of whatever is pleasing or pleasurable at the moment. Love means celebrating and applauding anyone’s method or pursuit of pleasure. It is not loving, therefore, to ever imply that someone’s pursuit of pleasure is wrong. Don’t be a buzzkill or a hater. But God’s Word instructs us that there are many ways that seem pleasurable to us but are, in fact, destructive. In this tension, we are tempted to minimize or ignore some passages. Surely God didn’t really mean that this lifestyle or desire is sinful. God is a God of love. And love is love. So he must have actually meant the opposite. We have tried to be more loving than God because God’s love is insufficient.

A perception of God’s insufficiency is most pronounced in the church today when we think that we are wiser than God. God has provided us with the ordinary means of grace. Prayer, the Word, and the Sacraments are the primary tools given to the church to do the work of ministry. And yet, we’ve continually minimized these tools in order to focus on “more effective” means. The church growth movement sought to leverage modern principles of business management. Churches that mesh entertainment with their worship frequently fall into CH Spurgeon’s critique that such churches are more likely to “amuse the goats than to feed the sheep.” Churches on both the left and right sides of the political spectrum have attempted to redeem the culture, fight for justice, or take back their country through primarily political means. Churches that get in line with cultural pressure to participate in their political endeavors are applauded. And churches that fail to get in line with their methods are criticized. But are we attempting to be wiser than God? Are we substituting God’s provision of the ordinary means of grace with some other worldly method? Is God’s way insufficient?

Rev. David Strain recently spoke to his congregation at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS on the events that unfolded in Charlottesville, VA. He mentioned the truths and the tools that are necessary for the church to respond to such events. I was struck and convicted by what he had to say about the tools of the church: “The tools which Jesus Christ has given to the church to respond to sin, human brokenness, and human needs look, at least by the world’s standards, to be pathetic and weak…. But the good news about Jesus is attended with supernatural power to change lives and renovate hearts and make us new.” I am often tempted to try and be wiser than God. Instead of latching onto the latest fad or the social cause of the day, I need to remember that God’s wisdom is sufficient. His means are sufficient.

When we attempt to be more than God, we inevitably fail. We must rest content in the fact that God appointed His means of grace and attends them with His power. When we trust in God as He reveals Himself in His word, then He will bless us. But when we try to be more than God, we are declaring with our lives that God is insufficient.

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

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 Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

Confessional Millennials?

Confessionalists value unity; Millennials celebrate individualism. Confessionalists cherish tradition; Millennials love innovation. Confessionalists are guardians; Millennials are liberators. The combination of these words seems like an oxymoron. But does it make sense to completely separate the categories “Confessional” and “Millennial?” To answer that question, we need to reach down through the porous layer of cultural stereotypes, and hit theological bedrock worth building upon.

A Confessional Millennial is no oxymoron. I believe that we will see more men and women, over the years ahead, who fit this description in our churches as my peers continue to come under the formative influence of biblical teaching. Subsequently, they will express themselves in confessional language. At least three issues – identity, community, and aspiration – are at play, and worth exploring.

Identity

Analysts typically identify as millennial anyone born between 1980 and 1997. Consider the stereotypical “millennial identity.” If one word comes to mind to describe the millennials that you know, it is probably “individualistic.”

Millennials generally start families later, go to college in greater numbers, and enter the workforce with a more earnest “change the world” attitude than prior generations. These shifts provide more time to consider identity, aspiration, and vocation. Higher education marketers have figured this out. University marketing campaigns almost always contain words like “self,” “mission,” “find,” “transform,” “change,” “champion,” and “called.”

If this individualism persists past the twenty-something years, we might expect resistance to comprehensive theological systems like what we find in our confessions. But the thoroughgoing individualist runs into a problem. “Whatever exists has already been named” (Ecclesiastes 6:10). The desire for the absolutely unique will be left unsatisfied. “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). In my own experience, the desire at the heart of the pursuit of the Unique or Authentic is actually a desire for the True.

Sin has corrupted this desire, but Millennials – like all human beings – were made in the image of the God of Truth. One nineteenth-century Presbyterian pastor wrote, “Stamped with the divine image as being made ‘a living soul,’ man’s high prerogative is to catch upon the mirror of his own nature the glory of the Creator, and to reflect it back upon him in intelligent and holy worship.” God is true, and we were made to reflect His truth.

The regenerate man cannot ultimately turn away from the truth. Insofar as our Reformed and Presbyterian confessional documents distill the truth of God’s Word, they will attract regenerate people from every generation. We discover truth in God’s Word, which was “given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life” (WCF 1.2). The quest for authenticity, expressed in individualism, is fulfilled only in the discovery of the truth.

Community

Next to individual authenticity is authentic community. From Harry Potter’s Sorting Hat experience to Pokemon-Go’s virtual gyms, personality tests to alumni associations, millennials desire to identify with groups and movements organized around shared affinities. This is not uniquely millennial, but it is something that has come to pervade every area of life.

How can the our churches compete with these micro-communities, perfectly formed around shared preferences and affinities, without totally fragmenting itself? What about congregations that are faithful to the Bible and its doctrine? Faithfulness may solve the authenticity problem, but generally such congregations do not cater to a targeted population. They cast their nets wide by proclaiming the whole counsel of God to people from every generation, tax bracket, and personality type! In the throne room of God, we will see “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).

Affinity networks and online groups cannot satisfy the desire for true community. True community is found only in communities of Truth. By definition, confessional churches are communities of Truth. They are comprised of people who are united by shared beliefs regarding what is true and good. Churches that are founded upon ever-changing trends and growth plans can never offer true community to anyone. Insofar as these congregations maintain attendance, it is by way of a revolving door.

Churches that will produce leaders (committed individuals dedicated to Christian service) from out of the Millennial generation will be those united in the Truth. In such congregations, we find Christ’s precious gifts to His bride: “the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world” (WCF 25.3). They not only maintain a confessional standard that is identifiable, clear, and published to the world, but also call men of integrity to serve as elders to maintain that standard.

Aspiration

Like the members of every generation before them, Millennials in the church take their marching orders from venerated leaders (probably youth directors and campus ministry workers) who proclaim liberty from contrived tradition. Phrased charitably, Millennials look for truth with eyes unclouded by the various debates and discussions of yesteryear.

By comparison, confessional aspirations are sometimes indistinguishable from traditionalist dreams. Both confessionalists and traditionalists in the church cherish a theological heritage, and labor to safeguard it for posterity. However, the two camps operate on different motivations. Whereas Traditionalists hold onto the status quo for fear of change, Confessionalists proclaim timeless truths for the love of biblical reformation.

When confessional churches herald the Truth, sin-enslaved men and women find liberty in Christ, and are blessed with “the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ” (WCF 13.3) as they become more and more like their Lord. Properly understood, confessional aspirations ought to resonate with Millennials who desire truth, even at the expense of tradition.

The starting point of confessional theology is greatly liberating. We recognize the great value of the theological progress that the church has made over the past nineteen centuries, bringing God’s people into greater conformity with God’s Son. There is no need to circle the wagons to figure out foundational biblical doctrines like the Trinity or Justification by grace through faith. These debates have been had, and we are free to proclaim and defend what we know from Scripture to be true.

Conclusion

If our churches are going to reach Millennials, we must “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,” (Hebrews 10:23). Only those churches founded upon God’s Word will promote spiritual maturity and strengthening. Churches built on the solid rock of biblical truth – confessional churches – will weather social and cultural changes in such a way so as to glorify God and to remain relevant. This is not an issue of reaching any one particular generation. This is a matter of the church’s divine mission to reach every generation through divine means. If we are for a continuing Christian witness, then we must be for a confessional witness.

Zack Groff is Director of Advancement and Admissions at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (GPTS). He is a graduate of Temple University (B.A., ’12) in Philadelphia, PA, and a M.Div. student at GPTS. 

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

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 Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.