Monthly Archives: October 2012

From Pastor to Pastors: Our Church’s Transition to Plurality of Elders

Two days ago our church membership voted to install our first board of elders in who knows how long. (I’m told that 200+ year-old Middletown Church had elder governance once upon a time, but it has not in recent history.) Establishing leadership from a plurality of elders has been one of my ministry goals since arriving here in August 2009, and as I’ve shared with some over the last 3 years about the process, I continue to receive questions on the nuts and bolts. The reality is not all that sophisticated, honestly.

I wish I had a carefully formulated strategy behind our transition, but I do not. The most important ingredient in this process is a church community already determined to do what the Bible says to do, and this spirit of submission to the Scriptures was not something I gave them, but something they had already developed before I came, something trained in them by the Spirit through the three evangelical pastors before me. I simply capitalized on it. But given the ingredient of a biblically receptive congregation, here are the steps that I took, emphasizing up front that the key pastoral ingredient is patience:

1. I began by teaching the existing leadership team (in our case, the board of deacons and deaconesses) about biblical governance. I suggested books to read (see resource list below), passed around copies of articles and essays, emailed them links to peruse, showed them in the Scriptures the basis for plurality of elders in leadership, and …

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“I’m Not Much of a Reader”

In pastoring, in discipling, I’ve heard it more than I care to count. When exhorting a fellow spiritual journeyman to “Take up and read” the Bible as part of a regular discipline of growth in the Spirit, I will sometimes get this excuse: “I’m not much of a reader.”

“I don’t read,” these folks are saying. “I don’t really read anything. Nothing personal against the Bible itself; I just don’t learn that way.”

This book, they tend to agree, is the place where God is speaking. The one true living God of the Universe reveals what he wants us to know to be complete for every good work in this book called the Bible. In this day and age, when the Scriptures are available in the West at the click of a link or the touch of an iPod, excuses to remain biblically illiterate aren’t just silly — they are sinful.

Imagine I showed you a tent across the yard. You can see a glow emanating from its zippered door. “Inside that tent,” I said, “is God himself. He has something to say to you. You just have to go inside the tent, and the God of the Universe will reveal the mystery of the ages to you.” And then imagine you were to say, “I’m not much of a walker. I prefer sitting to walking.”

Makes about as much sense.

“What great toil and effort it cost the church fathers to gather up a few crumbs, while we with half the labor – with …

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Why She’s a Complementarian

While you’re pulling up a seat for what will likely ensue after Kathy Keller’s important review of Rachel Held Evans’s exegetical fumble posted this morning, take some time to read Lore Ferguson’s explanation for why she is a complementarian. An excerpt:

It seems to me that on a very base level the problem of the feminist movement and the patriarchy movement, and indeed sin itself, is principally a lack of trust. We have, from the very beginning, been attempting to wrench what was not given in the search of what was labeled off limits.

The whole garden, every tree and plant, the dominion over the whole earth was ours—everything but this one tree, and yet this one tree is the one Eve took the fruit from and gave it to Adam to share.

From the start we are in search of what is not within our grasp. And if we feel powerless holding onto what does not belong to us, we grasp, we cajole, we plead, and finally in an act of spirited defiance, we take it. We reach high into the branches and we twist that fruit until what looked so good is now so bad, and we eat of it—we dominate in the name of righteousness.

And what happens is not satisfaction. It is not completion. It is not godlike presence or perfection. What happens is that we are immediately found wanting for more and nothing covers us fully enough. We need something more to satisfy.

This, to me, is the …

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“Much More”: The Gospel as Middle and Better Way

And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
— Matthew 5:41

These are polar opposites: legalism and license, Pharisaism and hedonism, religion and anarchy, self-righteousness and unrighteousness. They are each more alike in essence than they appear, but between these polarities lies the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the middle and better way.

The gospel is the middle way because it provides the centering of God’s powerful grace, freeing us from the condemnation of works righteousness on the one hand and the condemnation of disobedience on the other.

But the gospel is the better way because it takes the excesses of the hedonistic polarity and applies them in Spiritual power to the aims of the religious polarity. Here’s what I mean:

Jesus posits that disciples may be required to go with someone for a mile. License would have us disobey the command altogether — running in the other direction. Legalism would have us obey what is required — going one mile. The grace in the gospel, however, trains us (Titus 2:11-12) to do the minimum and more. A second mile. They want your coat? Give ‘em your shirt too.

Similarly, think of the marriage relationship. If we simply followed the law, we would treat our spouses fairly, kindly, well. But captured by Christ in his gracious gospel, husbands don’t just avoid being mean to their wives, they cherish them, loving them sacrificially, selflessly. Wives don’t just respect their husbands, they submit to them. The affectionate excess of licentiousness is …

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The Gospel’s Antidote for Envy

The antidote for the self-justification and the self-sovereignty driving envy is rootedness in justification by faith and the supremacy of Christ. Like all other sins, envy is fundamentally a sin of pride, and the only way to kill pride is to confess our sin, repent of it, and believe in the forgiveness given to us by God’s free grace in Jesus.

Flashing back to Genesis 4, why do you think Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and Cain’s was not. Did God just like Abel better? Did Abel know the right religious words or jump through the right religious hoops?

No, Abel’s sacrifice was accepted first because it was the sort of offering God had commanded, but also because his offering of sacrificed livestock best reflected the stakes of making us right with God. After the fall, one of the first things Adam and Eve did to cover their shame was clothe themselves with plants. But they had brought death into the world and bloodshed; only bloodshed could cover their shame. So God replaced their leafy garments with animal skins. This is how serious sin is; this is how serious envy is. Something has to die. “[W]ithout the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).

God required an offering and Abel brought real sacrifices. Cain brought the fruit of his hard work. We cannot and will not satisfy the debt of envy through the fruit of our hard work any more than Cain could. If we want to kill envy, it …

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Heretics Are Usually Nice Guys

Romans 16:18: “For such persons [that is, the persons who depart from the doctrine] do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”

Let’s take the second one first. Verse 18b: “By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” The word for flattery is simply blessing. And smooth talk doesn’t necessarily mean manifestly slippery. It just means pleasant and plausible. So the reason we must be so vigilant over biblical doctrine is that those who depart from it take simple people with them by pleasant, plausible speech that presents itself as a blessing. False teachers don’t get a following by being rough and harsh. They get a following by being nice.

Just take two examples from history: Arius (d. 336) and Socinus (d. 1604)—both of whom denied the deity of Christ. Parker Williamson describes Arius like this:

Here was a bright, energetic, attractive fellow, the kind of citizen whom any Rotary Club would welcome. Singing sea chanties in dockside pubs and teaching Bible stories to the Wednesday night faithful, this was an immensely popular man. His story reminds us that heresy does not bludgeon us into belief. We are seduced. (Parker T. Williamson, Standing Firm: Reclaiming the Chastain Faith in Times of Controversy [Lenoir, North Carolina: PLC Publications, 1996], p. 31.)

And another writer describes Socinus like this:

He was a gentleman. His morals were above reproach and he distinguished himself by his unfailing courtesy. Unfailing courtesy …

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The Church in a Politicized World

Are these our options? Political idolatry on the one hand and political silence on the other? Shall we presume to protect the gospel’s relevance by cordoning it off from certain areas of our life? The Church all over the world — not just in the West — has real problems figuring out how to press the gospel into every corner of the cultural room, as it were, without it getting walked all over. I do think the Word of God helps us navigate these things.

Peter offers help:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

— 1 Peter 2:11-17

What basic outline does this passage offer us for seeing the Church’s place in the politicized world? I see three …

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Why I Cannot Vote to Reelect President Obama

These are not the only reasons I cannot place a vote for President Barack Obama in the upcoming election, but they are the primary ones.

In ascending order of importance (to me):

5. The Affordable Care Act, which only compounds the systemic dysfunctions and increasing demands in America’s health care system.

4. His associations and appointments reflect a poverty of character and values.

3. He cannot be trusted to defend our nation’s citizens and interests.

2. He is regularly ordering the murder of innocent civilians overseas.

1. He is decidedly and unashamedly against protecting the health and lives of the most vulnerable in our society.

For these reasons and more, I do not believe a vote cast for the President is in obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Too Earthly Minded to Be Any Heavenly Good?

“A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither.”

— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

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Keep Your Heart

One of my favorite chapters in Joe Thorn‘s invaluable little book Note to Self is this one on “keeping your heart”:

Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.

— Proverbs 4:23

Dear Self,

You work at keeping your conduct in line, and you work at maintaining a good reputation, but you don’t work enough on keeping your heart. The problem with this is unless you learn to keep your heart, your conduct and reputation will be of little value and may come crashing down in times of weakness.

The call to keep your heart is a call to work on your life internally, not merely externally. The latter is easy; the former is much harder and more complicated. The religious or moral person will focus on the external and maintain good appearances, but it may have little to nothing to do with the heart. God is first and foremost concerned with your heart, for when you are keeping your heart, the rest of life follows.

To keep your heart means that your focus and work is on maintaining communion with God and pursuing the transformation that only God can accomplish in you. It is not performance-based religion, nor the moral improvement of your life, but the ongoing work of cultivating love for God and hatred for sin. It is the unending effort of guarding ourselves against idols while resting in the promises of the gospel.

To keep your heart is your primary business as a Christian, …

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