When Preaching is Not Your Thing… (Nick Kennicott)

Pastoral ministry is exceedingly difficult; and, anyone would be hard pressed to find a pastor who hasn’t entertained the thought of what life would be like if he were to do something else. Loving God, His church, and His people is a vital prerequisite for ever pastor, but if he doesn’t love the work of the ministry, he will very quickly lose the hope and motivation necessary to persevere. Pastors without the requisite calling, qualifications and gifting are prime candidates for tragic failures. There are numerous books and articles available to help convince men to enter into or stay in the ministry. But, there is not much out there to help a man discern whether or not it’s time to pack it up. Here are a few things to consider when seeking to discern whether or not it’s time to move on:

Preaching Matters

As the principle, ordinary means of grace, preaching is supremely important. Honest preachers will admit that we all have good and bad sermons; but, if our spiritual gifts truly are what we assume them to be, we ought to most frequently be providing helpful insight from the Word of God that inspires further study and deeper devotion for our hearers. Everything we do won’t be a home run; but, if we don’t at least have consistent base hits, perhaps we need to consider whether or not a pulpit ministry is the best fit. In a day when many churches are without a pastor it’s easy to overlook serious indicators that a man may not be fit for regular preaching. This is not to say anything of the man’s godliness, his pursuit of holiness, his understanding of or love for the Scriptures. It is not even to question a man’s zeal for preaching and teaching. However, just as I have a great zeal for being a PGA tour professional golfer, my gifting in that particular area is significantly lacking–to say the least.

Many church leaders are unwilling to tell young men who aspire for ministry that they are simply not gifted. Churches must be more discerning when sending a man to seminary, and seminary professors should also be honest with men as to whether they should consider other areas of service. The assumption is often that saying such things is harsh or overly critical–or, that a man may be a poor preacher or teacher now, but given enough time, he will improve. Perhaps he will make strides, but the best environment to do so is in a homiletics class or filling pulpits as a seminarian, not after he has received a call to stand in the pulpit of his own congregation every Sunday. Sometimes churches assume that because a man is a gifted Sunday school teacher or small group leader that he is qualified to be a preacher. Weekly pulpit ministry is a far different undertaking than teaching a Sunday School class. To suggest otherwise is unfair to both the man and to the congregation he is called to serve. 1 Timothy 3:1 says, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task,” and so long as the man is godly, there’s often an unwillingness to consider whether or not his aspirations for ministry are commensurate with being “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). Sometimes it is difficult to tell someone they are not what they assume themselves to be. However, the all-too-common wreckage of a failed ministry is far worse than hurt feelings and a call to serious self-assessment.

Caring for the Body

A man may be a gifted orator in a pulpit, but doesn’t possess the necessary gifts to care for God’s people in the broader range of pastoral work like counseling and visitation. Very few pastorates are “preaching only” positions, and those that aren’t require a man to spend significant amounts of time caring for the body of Christ. Pastors who aren’t willing and able to meet with people in the church to provide biblical counsel, to visit them in the hospital, to sit with them as they die, or to rejoice with them when a child is born or a major life milestone is hit likely aren’t cut out for pastoral ministry. Again, this is not to say anything negative about the man’s godliness or desire, but how God has (and has not) gifted him.

Associate Pastors

Some men may not be gifted preachers, but are skillful Bible study teachers, biblical counselors, and possess excellent organizational skills. Unfortunately, these important gifts are often downplayed–making the role of an associate pastor far less desirable to a man than being in the pulpit each week. Jason Helopoulus has explained that “good assistant pastors are hard to find.” Most seminary graduates aren’t applying to churches with the express intent of taking on and remaining in an associate role. Many associate pastor positions are thought of as proving grounds and launching pads to eventually replace the senior pastor or be sent off to another ministry in time. But for some men, being an associate pastor is the best way they can serve the church. In reality, many churches would fail miserably without the careful attention to detail and organizational skills that a good associate pastor often provides.

Refusing to Step Away

Every pastor has bad days, weeks, months, and years of ministry and may be tempted to quit The answer is not always that he shouldn’t. Some men may have a strong sense that they are, in fact, not qualified for pastoral ministry. Nevertheless, they refuse to quit. One reason why many who should leave the pastorate stay is that a lot of time and money has been invested in helping him get into the pastorate. Besides, many will ask themselves what else they are qualified to do? Churches have entrusted the souls of the people to this man and are depending on him to persevere. Doesn’t the church need him? And who hasn’t heard that pastoral ministry is unlike any other career because it’s a “calling.” Once a man has a “calling,” how can he walk away from it? Others lock themselves into the pastorate out of fear of others or because they have an unbiblical understanding of the call to ministry.

Do You Think It’s Time?

During a particularly difficult season of ministry, a mentor wisely counseled me to never make big decisions when things are at their worst. Sometimes a pastor just needs to press through the fire because the fire is intended by God to make us more like Christ. So before you decide to call it quits, take a few other steps first:

1. Pray, asking God for the wisdom you need. Every pastor should have some sense that God has called him into the ministry; but, we can easily misconstrue a desire or interest for ministry with being appropriately gifted and called by God. More than anything, we need God to make clear to us what we can do to be of best use to His church, even if that means serving in another capacity.

2. Talk to your wife and elders–they should be the most honest with you. These are the people God has called to help you navigate the difficult waters of ministry and life. And, if your elders are the kind of men that God wants them to be, they will lovingly, graciously, and honestly assess your gifts with you to help you determine whether or not you’re doing the right thing. Perhaps you’re better suited to being an associate pastor or serving in another ministry within the church.

3. Make sure you’re not walking away just because it’s tough. So you’ll never be Charles Spurgeon in the pulpit–there was only one. But, just because preaching each week is a difficult task, and just because counseling sessions don’t always go how you hope, and just because people leave the church and say nasty things to you on the way out doesn’t mean your gifts are lacking. The ministries into which God has called his men to serve will be fraught with difficulties. After all, the people we pastor are a lot like us–sinful, broken, and in need of a lot of forgiveness and grace. Additionally, there will be many challenges without because of the world and the devil. When Paul wanted to give Timothy an illustration for ministry, he drew one from the arena of warfare (1 Tim. 6:12) because of the harship that he would have to endure. 

4. Try to discern whether or not you are merely depressed and need a break. Find a biblical counselor you can trust and let them help you walk through what you’re thinking. In the end, you may find that your problem isn’t ministry, but something else that you haven’t taken the time to think about. You make simply need time off or a vacation to help you get realligned. Even Charles Spurgeon would have to go to the seaside for extended periods on account of health and energy deficiencies (for more on Spurgeon’s afflcitions, read Zack Eswine’s book, Spurgeon’s Sorrows). 

If you’ve done these things and still have a sense that it’s time to step away, do so in a gentle, patient and wise manner before God and His people. No matter how obvious it may be to others that it may be time for you to move on, inevitably there will be some who are surprised and some who are hurt by the decision. Though you cannot live to please everyone, you can labor to help them understand why stepping aside is not only good for you but for the entire church. Whenever possible, seek to be a blessing to the man who steps into the pulpit after you. In doing so, perhaps you’ll find that God uses your humility to bring about a great harvest in the season ahead.

Continual Prayer for Revival (Michael Haykin )

In the last post on the revitalization of the eighteenth-century Baptists, we considered the way in which prayer was a central cause. The passing years did not diminish John Sutcliff’s (1752-1814) and Andrew Fuller’s (1754-1815) zeal in praying for revival and stirring up such prayer. For instance, their friend John Ryland, Jr. (1753-1825) wrote in his diary for January 21, 1788:

Brethren Fuller, Sutcliff, Carey, and I kept this day as a private fast, in my study… and each prayed twice1–Carey with singular enlargement and pungency. Our chief design was to implore a revival of godliness in our own souls, in our churches, and in the church at large.2

The influence of Jonathan Edwards

And in 1789, the number of prayer meetings for revival having grown considerably, Sutcliff decided to bring out an edition of Edwards’s Humble Attempt to further encourage those meeting for prayer. Measuring only six and one quarter inches long, and three and three-quarter inches wide, and containing 168 pages, this edition was clearly designed to be a handy pocket-size edition. In his “Preface” to this edition, Sutcliff reemphasized that the Prayer Call issued by the Northamptonshire Association five years earlier was not intended for simply Calvinistic Baptists. Rather, they ardently wished it might become general among the real friends of truth and holiness.

The advocates of error are indefatigable in their endeavours to overthrow the distinguishing and interesting doctrines of Christianity; those doctrines which are the grounds of our hope, and sources of our joy. Surely it becomes the followers of Christ, to use every effort, in order to strengthen the things, which remain. …In the present imperfect state, we may reasonably expect a diversity of sentiments upon religious matters. Each ought to think for himself; and every one has a right, on proper occasions, to shew [sic] his opinion. Yet all should remember, that there are but two parties in the world, each engaged in opposite causes; the cause of God and Satan; of holiness and sin; of heaven and hell. The advancement of the one, and the downfall of the other, must appear exceedingly desirable to every real friend of God and man. If such in some respects entertain different sentiments, and practice distinguishing modes of worship, surely they may unite in the above business. O for thousands upon thousands, divided into small bands in their respective cities, towns, villages, and neighbourhood, all met at the same time, and in pursuit of one end, offering up their united prayers, like so many ascending clouds of incense before the Most High!–May he shower down blessings on all the scattered tribes of Zion! Grace, great grace be with all them that love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity!3

In this text Sutcliff positions the Prayer Call of 1784 on the broad canvas of history, in which God and Satan are waging war for the souls of men women. Prayer, because it is a weapon common to all who are “friends of truth and holiness,” is one sphere in which Christians can present a fully united front against Satan. Sutcliff is well aware that evangelicals in his day held differing theological positions and worshiped in different ways. He himself was a convinced Baptist–convinced, for instance, that the Scriptures fully supported congregational polity and believer’s baptism–yet, as he rightly emphasizes in the above “Preface,” such convictions should not prevent believers, committed to the foundational truths of Christianity, uniting together to pray for revival.

Continuing in prayer

There is little doubt from the record of history that God heard the prayers of Sutcliff, Fuller, and their fellow Baptists. As they prayed, the Calvinistic Baptists in England began to experience the blessing of revival, though, it should be noted, great change was not immediately evident. For instance, in 1785, Sutcliff’s close friend Andrew Fuller reported about their meetings for prayer:

It affords us no little satisfaction to hear in what manner the monthly prayer meetings which were proposed in our letter of last year have been carried on, and how God has been evidently present in those meetings, stirring up the hearts of his people to wrestle hard with him for the revival of his blessed cause. Though as to the number of members there is no increase this year, but something of the contrary; yet a spirit of prayer in some measure being poured out more than balances in our account for this defect. We cannot but hope, wherever we see a spirit of earnest prayer generally and perseveringly prevail, that God has some good in reserve, which in his own time he will graciously bestow.4

The stirring up of many to wrestle in prayer for revival was considered by Fuller as more than balancing the failure to increase the membership of the churches. And so it was resolved “without any hesitation, to continue the meetings of prayer on the first Monday evening in every calendar month.”5

To be continued…

1. These would probably have been lengthy prayers of twenty minutes or so.

2. Cited Jonathan Edwards Ryland, “Memoir of Dr. Ryland” in Pastoral Memorials: Selected from the Manuscripts of the Late Revd. John Ryland, D.D. of Bristol (London: B.J. Holdsworth, 1826), I, 17.

3. John Sutcliff, “Preface” to Jonathan Edwards, An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer, For the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, pursuant to Scripture-Promises and Prophecies concerning the Last Time (1748 ed.; repr. Northampton: T. Dicey and Co., 1789), iv-vi.

4. Fuller, Causes of Declension in Religion, and Means of Revival in Complete Works, III, 318.

5. Cited Arthur Fawcett, The Cambuslang Revival (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1971), 230.

*This is the fifith post in Dr. Haykin’s series, “Revitalizing an Eighteenth-Century Christian Community.” You can find the previous posts herehere, here and here.

The Rock Badgers Would Like a Word With Us (Robert Brady)

Starting with a crazy question, Danielle Spencer taught her children about God’s sovereign provision. Here is a brief part of their discussion: 


“Do you know what would happen if the world suddenly stopped spinning?” I asked my kids during our morning Bible time. My 12-year-old consulted one of her favorite books What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions.1 If the earth and all terrestrial objects stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity, almost everyone would die immediately. If you weren’t swept away by the thousand-mile-per-hour winds, you’d certainly be pulverized by the thousand-mile-per-hour impact of all the debris flying about. You would be safe for a time if you were deep underground or in a polar research station (since the strongest winds would be nearest the equator), but not for long. The wind would eventually stop by way of friction with the earth’s surface, but that would heat the air and atomize the surface of the ocean, resulting, among many other phenomena, in massive global thunderstorms. After that, for 6 months one side of the earth would bake in the heat of the sun and the other would freeze since the sun would no longer rise and set once per day, but only once a year. Eventually, the moon would get us spinning again, but “us” would be long gone.

Now that I had their attention, we read Psalm 104–in which we have 35 verses praising the Lord for his power, control, and care over his creation…


Read more over at The Christward Collective

Are Some Sins Worse Than Others? (Nick Batzig)

One of my close friends was telling me about a recent interaction he had at a Reformed seminary with a student who was preparing to go into college ministry. In the course of their conversation, my friend and this seminarian entered in on the subject of sexual sin. This young man insisted that there is no sexual sin that is more heinous than another. My friend pushed back on that idea, explaining to him that the Scriptures and our Reformed Confessions teach otherwise. The young man then gave my friend the common rebuttal, “Jesus talked more about self-righteousness than sexual sin; and, he said that self-righteousness was worse sexual sin.” Ironically, this response only lends support to the idea that some sins are more heinous than others. However, it has sadly become the most common way in which many pastors have recently sought to downplay the severity of sexual sin. Contrary to the current narrative, the Scriptures, the Reformed Confessions and principles of nature teach us that some sins are more reprehensible than others.

Twice in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus references Sodom and Gomorrah in order to teach varying degrees of condemnation for the unrepentant. When he first commissioned his disciples to preach the Gospel to the cities in Israel, Jesus told them, 

“Whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!” 

Then, after the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum rejected His words and works, Jesus said to his disciples, 

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes…And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”

Commenting on Jesus’ appeal to Sodom, John Calvin wrote: 

“Christ mentioned Sodom rather than other cities, not only because it went beyond them all in villainous crimes, but because God destroyed it in an extraordinary manner, that it might serve as an example to all ages, and that its very name might be held in abomination. And we need not wonder if Christ declares that they will be treated less severely than those who refuse to hear the gospel. When men deny the authority of Him who made and formed them, when they refuse to listen to his voice, nay, reject disdainfully his gentle invitations, and withhold the confidence which is due to his gracious promises, such impiety is the utmost accumulation, as it were, of all crimes. But if the rejection of that obscure preaching was followed by such dreadful vengeance, how awful must be the punishment that awaits those who reject Christ when he speaks openly!”1

The purpose of Jesus’ appeal to Sodom and Gomorrah was not to lighten the sin of those cities. It was to heighten the sin of the cities in which he did his might works and wonders. When he wanted to find the most egregious example with which to compare, he appealed to those cities that were engaging in homosexual gang rape and violence. In Israel in Jesus’ day, no civilization was considered to be as far gone as that of Sodom and Gomorrah. When God spoke through the Old Testament prophets about the sin and judgment of Israel and the nations, he often did by comparing them with Sodom (Isaiah 1:9, 10; 3:9; 13:19; Jer. 23:14; 49:18; 50:40; Ez. 16:46, 48, 53, 55, 56; Amos 4:11; Zeph. 2:9). 

Q. 83. Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous? 

A. Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others. 

The Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 151 explains that the aggravations of offense are based a number of different factors. The first of which has respect to the persons offending. When explaining what they meant when they spoke of “persons offerning,” the members of the Westminster Assembly wrote:

“If they be of riper (i.e. older) age, greater experience or grace, eminent for profession, gifts, place, office, guides to others, and whose example is likely to be followed by others.” 

Certainly, no one would take issue with this explaination–at least, not in part. Our society unequivocally acknowledges that it is a heightened offense for men who hold positions of power to absue that power in order to prey on women for sexual gratification. When God places men or women in positions of power or infuence, such individuals have an increased responsibility to use that power for the glory of God and the well-being of others. When, instead, men or women chose to abuse that power for self-pleasing ends, God considers it to be a more heinous sin. This is just one small example of what the members of the Assembly mean when they refer “aggragations from…place” and “aggravations from…office.” 

Q. 152. What does every sin deserve at the hands of God? 

A. Every sin, even the least, being against the sovereignty, goodness, and holiness of God, and against his righteous law, deserves his wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come; and cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ.

Though some sins are most certainly more abhorent than others–and deserve greater judgment than others–“every sin, even the least…deserves the wrath and curse” of God and “cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ.” There are no grounds for anyone to think that he or she is in a better spiritual position than others by nature. We are all, by nature, under the wrath and curse of God (Eph. 2:1-4). Just because we may not have fallen into some particular sin doesn’t mean that we are, by nature, more righteous than others. The Scriptures level the playing field, so to speak, at this point. All of us are condemned by the Law of God, by nature, because of our natural depravity (Rom. 3:19; Gal. 3:22). Neither does this, in any way whatsoever, give us a license to make light of what we may deem to be “less heinous sin.” We cannot, because of Jesus’ teaching on varying degrees of judgment, downplay even the least sin in our lives. The same Jesus that teaches us that there are varying degrees of judgment teaches us that if we so much as look at someone to lust after them we have already committed adultry with them in our hearts; and are, therefore, liable to judgment–unless we repent (Matt. 5:28-30). Additionally, we must acknowledge that the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover the sins of any, no matter what sins they have committed or what sinful lifestyles they have embraced. If men and women will repent and turn to Christ, trusting only in His blood and righteousness, they will be forgiven and redeemed. The blood of Jesus is of such infinite and eternal value that it covers every sin of those for whom it was shed, no matter how atrocious that sin. 

Before You Go… (Chris J. Marley)

I have served the same small congregation for over seven years now. I am not one of those who would consider myself to have had phenomenal success in the ministry–by most metrics. We did not grow exponentially and send out a dozen missionaries and pastors. We have grown. We have shrunk. We have grown again.

I have had discontent individuals complain over the fact that our church did not have enough elderly members, not enough programs, an unpaved parking lot, that I did not dress nicely enough, that my wife looks too young, there are too many kids, that there are not enough kids, that we sing too many old hymns, that we do not sing enough old hymns, and so on. There seems to be no shortage of illegitimate reasons why people leave a local church in which they are truly loved, pastored, and held up in prayer.

When members leave for unbiblical reasons, the faithful pastor has to fight the unsanctified tendency to envy the churches around me that appear to be more successful on account of their attendance. The faithful pastor is tempted to sometimes too quickly label other pastors as “wolves,” “sellouts,” or “ear-itchers.” The faithful pastor has to listen to all kinds of suggestions from people in the church about what they think would make the church grow with discernment and the consensus of the eldership without attempting everything or rejecting everything. The faithful pastor has to preach the gospel to himself regularly and remember that it is ultimately God who grows the church. As a dear friend and pastor once told me after a church split, “Chris, God did not call you to be successful; He called you to be faithful.”

No matter the size of the church you attend, your pastor is always aware that there are bigger churches. He is assaulted and accused by the evil one, and he struggles with the balance between viewing himself as both the sinner and the child of God. He often wonders whether the church would be better off with another pastor, but loves the congregation too much to leave.

Your pastor probably will never tell you many of the things that he struggles with internally because he doesn’t want to discourage you. You need to know he has thought about quitting everything and taking up a secular job. You need to know that he feels the sting of betrayal when someone leaves the church. You need to know that he weeps when the sheep bite and run away.

You need to know these things in order to know how to encourage your pastor. You cannot force people to stay, but you can keep yourself from contributing to the pastor’s sorrow. These things will also make you a better servant of the Kingdom of God.

If you are a member of a church, take a good look around at the churches in your area. Talk to pastors, visit services, and focus on the major elements. Is the theology sound? Is the preaching consistent? Are they organized by scriptural principles regarding leadership, church membership, and discipline? Be critical in your search, but be expedient, and set your roots. Here are six things to keep in mind before you decide to leave a local congregation:

1. Be in the church. First, this means to actually attend services. When the doors are open, and it is possible for you to be there, be there. Secondly, it means being in the church, dedicated and emotionally attached. Are there difficult people in the church? That’s a wonderful opportunity for you to treat them with the love of Christ! Are there old hymns you do not know? Wonderful! You can examine the theology of those hymns and learn while you try to sing. Are there little children that get bored and distracted during the sermon? Great! You now have tiny souls that you are reminded to pray for and you have opportunity to encourage parents as they raise their children in the faith. Examine yourself with a flood lamp and your pastor with a candle.

2. Do not be concerned with other local churches. This goes two ways. Do not be consumed with how awful some churches in your area appear, and do not be consumed with how great other churches seem to be. While not absolutely the same, there is roughly a parallel between the relationship of the church and that of marriage. Looking around and comparing your spouse to other people you know is fatal. One of the best lessons we can learn from Song of Solomon is the way in which the spouses are instant with songs of praise for the other. God put you in a particular church at this time and it will only be destructive to be “browsing.” When other gospel-preaching churches are growing in your area, praise God for working in them, and return to serving the local congregation to which you have committed. Resist the urge to nurture the thought, “Would I be happier if I were there?” The grass only looks greener over there. You almost certainly cannot see the thorns.

3. Bloom where you are planted. God put you there to serve him, to grow, glorify His name, and be an ambassador for His kingdom. Ask not what your church can do for you, but what you can do for your church.

4. Do not idolize the “internet pastor.” By all means, listen to the sermons of great men. Read books by gifted theologians and pastors. Find ministries that are doctrinally sound and glean from them. But remember, those men do not know you, they do not pray for you, they will not visit you when you are sick or on the brink of a divorce. Your pastor may not be as brilliant or eloquent, but a big part of it is that he is spending his time tending the flock while the theologian is reading and writing. Your pastor is aware that he is not Charles Spurgeon.

5. Do not leave lightly. After someone leaves a congregation on account of discontentment, there is a stall in the growth of the saints–especially for the pastor. Your pastor has been praying for you, preparing spiritual meals for you, and striving to serve you. Even if you leave and another person comes, he will feel the pain of your departure. Keep in mind that when a congregant leaves because of unbiblical discontentment, your pastor will be tempted to start believing that he is unfit for ministry. There is not a scriptural precedence for leaving a true church, and I am convinced that it is sin to leave for reasons other than moving, church-planting, or significant and clear biblical reasons.

6. If you do move on from a particular congregation, leave in peace. It is always a temptation for a departing person or family to try to take the best with them. This is divisiveness and sinful. Unless the church you left is a full-blown cult teaching heresy, do not poach sheep. You sin against Christ’s bride by luring others away. If you are leaving for legitimate reasons, be honest with your elders about those reasons, but be tactful and brief if you must explain to others so that you do not sow seeds of discord.

I understand the appeal of reliving that church honeymoon period where everyone is nice to you and whatever work you do is thoroughly applauded. I believe Satan’s most effective tactic is often to keep Christians impotent by moving them from church to church. When he does, there is perpetual delay to the work to which they once belonged. Your pastor does his best work when he is encouraged by the spiritual growth and commitment of the saints.

I pray that God presses these things upon your heart in such a way that you can best serve Him in His church. To God be the glory.

Chris Marley is the pastor of Miller Valley Baptist Church in Prescott, AZ. Chris has a M.Div. from Westminster Seminary California (from the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies).

Faith at Work: Sola Scriptura (Robert Brady)

Tradition is helpful, but even Protestants can be guilty of treating Augustine and Calvin as a magisterium. This week, Dan Doriani encourages readers to have a proper understanding of Sola Scriptura.


The difference between Catholic and Protestant teaching is more subtle than people realize, for Catholics confess that Scripture is inspired, infallible, and authoritative. It is wise to remember, too, that the first Reformers were encouraged to study Scripture by scholarly Catholics: Staupitz told Luther to get his doctorate in biblical studies, Erasmus encouraged Zwingli’s studies, and Faber Staupulensis and Lorenzo Valla inspired others. The difference lies in our views of the sufficiency of Scripture.    

The Catholic position is that Scripture is part of God’s revelation. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) said Scripture “is the true rule and a foundation of faith for Christians.” Notice “a foundation,” not the foundation. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) explained: “The controversy between the heretics [Protestants] and ourselves focuses here on two points: first, when we affirm that the Scripture do not contain the totality of necessary doctrine, for faith as for morals… Apart from the Word of God written, it is necessary to have his non-written Word, that is to say, divine and apostolic traditions.”

So the RCC affirms prima scripture, the primacy of Scripture. Scripture is the primary source for theology, but not the final source. Tradition and church teaching effectively limit Scripture’s authority. If a matter is uncertain in Scripture, and tradition has an authoritative interpretation, then it has the final word…


Head over to Place for Truth to read the rest of the article! 

How to Discourage Your Minister in the New Year (Paul Levy)

I recently had someone come to see me who was struggling in their church. In all honesty it would have been hard to be more depressed by what they had to say. I had very little sympathy with their complaints and told them if they wanted affirmation I was the wrong man to whom they should come. However, on account of their coming to me, I want to give you 6 ways to discourage your minister in the New Year:

1. Attend Worship Services irregularly and be unreliable – Maybe attend 2 out of 4 services, sometimes 3 out of 4, but make sure it’s irregular. Nothing depresses ministers like people not being in church. The other thing to do is, when you’re asked about it, be defensive, clearly show to the person who’s asking that you’re ok and it’s no big deal; the church should be grateful you are there at all. If you’re asked to do something, or are on a rota, try to pull out as late as possible or even just not show up.

2. Grumble, moan and complain. – This is an obvious one but when you speak to people about church make them aware how unhappy you are, how unfriendly folk are, how the church isn’t focussed on you and people like you, that you don’t get much out of the preaching, songs are not good, nobody cares and throw in ‘It’s not just me that feels like this’. Compare and contrast with other churches who do things better, preferably bigger churches that have more resources.

3. Focus on minutiae of church life. – Chairs, coffee, timings of meeting, musicians, service schedules, publicity.

4. Speak to others in the congregation but not the leadership – This way word gets back to the leadership through others, ‘Some people are saying…’ ordinarily this is normally one person but nobody likes to name names so they will instead couch it in the plural.

5. When you come to worship, try to arrive late and leave as soon as possible. – It’s really difficult to catch folk who come late and leave immediately after the service. By doing this you’re not giving people the opportunity to speak into your life but it does allow you to use the ‘No one really speaks to me’ line.

6. Take things personally. – If there’s an invitation that you didn’t get, a notice that was given that was poorly worded, an email that didn’t mention you, a thanks that was given by someone in church leadership that overlooked you, a joke that you didn’t appreciate, someone who didn’t get to speak to you on a particular Sunday – make sure you take these as a personal slight and hold on to it.

On the positive side of this have a watch of Ligon Duncan – How to encourage your Pastor.

Posted January 7, 2018 @ 5:17 AM by Paul Levy

The Church Jesus Attends (Nick Batzig)

A friend of mine was recently speaking to a pastor of a large congregation about how things were going in ministry. This particular pastor proceeded to tell my friend that a prominent public figure was coming to speak at the church he pastored. He then went on to boast about the large turnout that they expected at this event. To this, my friend said, “Oh yeah. Jesus comes to our church every Sunday.” Though some might consider this to be a flippant, cynical or juvenile response, it is, in fact, one of the most under-acknowledged and under-appreciated truths to cherish. In every church where the word of God is faithfully proclaimed, the sacraments are rightly observed and discipline is administered, God has promised to attend His people with His presence. 

The true and living God has promised to manifest His presence when His people gather together to worship Him according to His appointed means of grace on the Lord’s Day. If we really believed that God manifests His presence in a special way in the gathered assembly, we would prepare ourselves accordingly to come into His presence. We would prayerfully desire to come every Lord’s Day in brokenness, humility, thankfulness and joy. We would, in the words of the writer of Hebrews, “draw near with boldness” (Heb. 4:16) as we come to worship Him in “reverence and godly fear” (Heb. 12:28).

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul explained that Christ “came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near” (Eph. 2:17). The question is, “When did Jesus go to the church in Ephesus and preach to those who would come to believe the Gospel?” There is only one possible answer. Christ was present in the preaching of the Gospel through the ministers He appointed. When the word is faithfully preached, Christ is preaching. The Apostle Peter explained this when he referred to Gospel ministers as “those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven” (1 Peter 1:12). The Holy Spirit is none other than “the Spirit of Christ” who spoke in the Old Testament prophets about the sufferings of Christ and the glories that follow (1 Peter 1:10-11). It was “by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18) that Jesus went and preached to those who were on the earth “in the days of Noah” (1 Peter 3:20). Noah was a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5) through whom Christ was preaching by the Holy Spirit. So it is with those men whom Christ has commissioned to preach today. Whenever Gospel ministers are preaching the word of God to the people of God through the Spirit of God, Christ is preaching through them. In a very real sense, in every true church where the word is faithfully proclaimed, the risen and reigning Christ is the minister who is preaching salvation and judgment.

The people of God should love Lord’s Day worship more than anything because of the confident anticipation that they are going to hear from God. The late Professor John Murray gave the following observation about God’s word:

“The Scripture is God speaking–as if we heard the word of God directly from heaven…I suppose that if we were told that at a certain location, on a certain day, at a certain hour a voice was to be heard from heaven–I suppose that if that were plainly certified…I am sure that all that community would be filled with people from hundreds of miles away. They would come from countries. I don’t suppose that the fields would hold them. They would be there out of curiosity, if for no other reason. And yet, in the Scripture we have the voice of God just as surely as if God the Father spoke directly from heaven in an audible voice. And it is more sure (2 Peter 1:19) because it is more permanent…with the Scripture there is a permanent deposit and it is the voice of God with continuousness. And, it is the voice of God just as if we heard God speaking to us directly from heaven.”1

We should also acknowledge that Jesus is present at the table when believers are gathered together in worship to feed on him by faith. The Westminster Confession of Faith explains the corporate nature of the Lord’s Supper in chapter 29.3:

“The Lord Jesus has, in this ordinance, appointed His ministers to declare His word of institution to the people, to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to an holy use; and to take and break the bread, to take the cup, and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants; but to none who are not then present in the congregation.”

The corporate nature of the Supper is taught in 1 Corinthians when the Apostle came to address matters of the Supper. Paul repeatedly uses the phrase “when you come together,” after explicitly tying the observation of the Super to the weekly assembly on the Lord’s Day. In 1 Corinthians 11:18, he writes, “When you come together as a church…” After that, he repeats the phrase, “when you come together” three times (1 Cor. 11:20, 33 and 34). If there is any question about the meaning of this phrase, Paul again uses it when addressing how we are to conduct ourselves in the worship service (1 Cor. 14:26).

Then in WCF 29.7, we find the doctrine of the real, spiritual presence of Christ at the table when the divines assert the following:

“Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.”

There is the promise of the covenant blessing of God attached to the worthy partaking of the sacrament. Paul writes, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). There is also the promise of covenant curses attached to the unworthy partaking of the sacrament in the warnings of 1 Cor. 11:27-32.

Finally, there is the promise of Jesus being present when the church gathers to carry out discipline, according to his word. Murray again explained:

“Many have more respect for the presence of people than the presence of the Savior. And, if numbers are the criteria for our esteem for the presence of God then we miss entirely the comfort of our Lord where he says, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in the midst of them.'”2

Jesus is highlighting the collective nature of the judicial pronouncement of the elders of his church when he promises to make his presence known in this context. It is with a view of the church collectively conceived (Matt. 18:17)–making a judgment about the spiritual condition of a professing believer who refuses to repent. Jesus is promising his presence to the gathered assembly who are seeking to obediently carry out his ordained process of discipline (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:3-5).

Jesus Christ is the King and the only head of the church. He mediates the presence of God to his people when he stands in the midst of the people of God who are gathered together to worship the living God. Jesus acts as the worship leader of the people of God (Heb. 2:12). He stands as the great High Priest of the Church, making the worship, prayers and praises of his people acceptable before the throne of God (Rev. 1:12-20). Whenever the people of God are gathered together to worship God in Spirit and in truth, according to the means that He has appointed for His church, God is present. Why wouldn’t we long to be gathered together with the people of God every Lord’s Day to listen to our great God and Savior speak, to receive his sacrificial service and to acknowledge his rule over us?

 

1. An excerpt from John Murray’s sermon, “Holy Scripture.”

2. An excerpt from Murray’s sermon, “Christ Among His People.”

2017: 10 Posts that You Loved Last Year (Robert Brady)

We looked at the most popular posts from across Alliance websites in 2017. Did you miss one of these last year? Do you want to read one your favorites again? Just click the article title! 


10Calvin’s Life: The Servetus Affair by Jeffrey Stivason

Opponents of John Calvin are quick to blame him for the trial and execution of Michael Servetus. But is that fair? Jeffrey Stivason offers a brief history of the event and Calvin’s involvement. 

9. Marital Love Must Be Sexual by Joel Beeke

This is the last in a series of posts about the Puritan view of marriage. The Puritans emphasized the romantic side of marriage, and considered monogamous sexual union in marriage as holy, necessary, and good. 

8. No Little Women: Know What We’ve Got Before She’s Gone by Grant Van Leuven

Grant wrote this beautiful piece in February, reflecting on femininity and the value of womanhood after the passing of his wife only five months earlier.

7. Game of Dethroning Sexual Sin by Nick Batzig

Should Christians watch a show like Game of Thrones, which is widely-acclaimed yet filled with explicit and debauched sexuality? Nick Batzig offers some insight into this divisive issue. 

6. Words Matter: Recovering Godly Speech in a Culture of Profanity by Jon Payne

“So what does the Bible teach about our words?” Jon Payne asks this question in an age of obscenity. His answer: “God created our mouths to be fountains of blessing, not gutters of cursing.”

5. Mike Pence, “Truth’s Table” and Fencing the Law by Richard Phillips

2017 was a year of conversations (and battles) over sexuality and gender. In this article, Richard Phillips navigates some difficult issues, pointing out both problems in the culture and pitfalls we face in the Church. 

4. A Few Questions About the New CBMW Statement by Aimee Byrd

The Nashville Statement, published in late August, offers what many consider to be an orthodox and biblical understanding of human sexuality. Yet Aimee Byrd has a few reservations, particularly related to the CBMW’s stance on gender roles and the Trinity. 

3. The Slippery Slope and the Jesus Box by Richard Phillips

Some think it possible to flirt with liberal doctrines and still maintain orthodox faith in Christ. As the example of Fred Harrell shows, the slope towards heresy may be more slippery than they think. 

2. Sundays are for Babies by Megan Hill

Small children may disrupt your Sunday morning, but this day of rest is for them too! As Megan Hill remarks, “Sundays may mean disrupted naps and delayed meals, but our children are trading earthly provision for something far better for their undying souls.” 

1. Pray for Your Church Leaders by Christina Fox

Church Leaders and their families carry heavy loads, beset on all sides with stress and temptation. Christiana Fox calls us to remember them in our prayers, knowing that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). 


That’s all for now. We look forward to 2018, and to another year of proclaiming biblical truth!

Cultural Myths About Truth and Love (Harry Reeder)

A witness for Christ in any age–and certainly in this present age–requires a prayer-saturated, Christ-centered, Gospel-motivated, Bible-shaped, Spirit-filled and God-glorifying commitment to “speak the truth in love.” But this essential command for effective Gospel ministry to both those not yet saved and those already saved is easier said than done. The prevailing tendency is to sacrifice “speaking the truth” in the name of love, or to thoughtlessly speak the truth without love. We cannot truly love without speaking truth truthfully; and we can’t speak truth truthfully without loving intentionally and thoughtfully. You can “speak the truth” without loving but you can’t “love” without “speaking the truth.” To paraphrase a much more able Gospel minister from another age who confronted this issue with a clear, insightful and captivating observation: “Truth without love is barbarity, but love without truth is cruelty” (Bishop J. C. Ryle).

Because speaking the truth is central to an effective Gospel ministry, there is little doubt that Satan will devise as many reasons possible to discourage Christians from either speaking to those living in the death spiral of sin and idolatry; or to distract them from intentionally, thoughtfully and relentlessly loving sinners drowning in the brokenness of a sin-deceived life.

Furthermore, it is equally obvious that if Satan cannot silence the truth, he will attempt to trap us into speaking the truth without love. If he can’t stop us from loving, he will entice us to quit speaking the truth. He does this in two ways. First, Satan tempts us to minimize truth with meaningless euphemisms that disguise the horrific consequences and the irrationality and blasphemy of sin. Second, and often even more effectively, he will culturally intimidate us into outright silence in the name of love. Our diminished truth speaking or silence actually reveals that we are more interested in people loving us than we are in them knowing truthfully the love of Christ and being brought into the life-changing blessing of loving the Christ who first loved them.

So Satan–with an insatiable desire to reduce love into deeds that are void of truth or to communicate truth through self-righteous arrogance–today employs five deceptive myths:

Five Deceptive Myths

  1. To love someone, we must initially avoid speaking the truth about sin, the idolatry that produces the sin and its consequences for time and eternity. To love simply requires you to manifest Gospel deeds of love. Do not tell them the truth about sin, even though the love of Christ revealed in the Gospel is directly related to the reality of sin, the sinfulness of sin, and the wages of sin– which is death.
  2. To love someone you must accept them; and, to accept them you must accept their behavior. At the very least you must be silent about their sin, the rationale for its idolatry, and the lifestyle arrangements created to embrace that sin and affirm it as culturally acceptable–unless and until they give you permission to speak about it.
  3. To love others acceptably we must not simply speak in terms and vocabulary they understand, but only in the terms and vocabulary they approve and dictate (i.e. deceitful world view euphemisms)–e.g. adultery becomes an “extra-marital affair” or “recreational sex” or “hooking up”; homosexuality becomes “gay” or “an alternative lifestyle” etc.
  4. You have not loved someone acceptably unless they approve and affirm the truth you have spoken and the love you have given.
  5. You have not spoken the truth in love unless those to whom you have spoken are drawn to love you in return.

What is the Result?

In the present age the influence of these myths (when they are individually and/or collectively embraced) are almost always initially revealed by “selective truth speaking”–all of which is done in the name of “sensitivity.” The result is that many contemporary Christians following their leaders will sacrifice truth speaking in the name of love; yet, amazingly, they will boldly address the sins and prevailing issues that the culture agrees are undesirable. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with speaking to cultural sins (cultural sin and justice concerns must both be addressed, after all). However, though many boldly speak the truth on issues found on the list of “Culturally Approved Topics for Denunciation,” there is an astonishing silence about other prevalent issues the Bible clearly identifies as heinous sins. Why the silence? First of all, those who the masses confront are confronted with permission by today’s culture shapers. Many suppose that by speaking to these issues the cultural capital of the church will be enhanced. But in contrast, those sins–corporate, cultural, and individual–which are avoided, are the ones that have been declared off limits because they are on the “Cultural Approved Lifestyle List.” Even more, those issues on the Culturally Approved Lifestyle List are not only declassified as sins but now are to be celebrated, perpetuated and propagated. This brings us to the crux of the question: is “selective truth speaking” an evidence of sensitivity or is it a lack of courage; is it compassion or is it cowardice?

Multitudes of ministers and leaders are imploring Christians to embrace this “selective truth speaking” as an exalted virtue. For example, the present culture expresses concern about refugees, sex trafficking, racism, and other heinous sins and injustices–and rightly so! Churches and pulpits join the culture’s efforts by truth speaking affirming these practices as sins and lovingly instituting ministry initiatives to eradicate these acts of iniquity and minister to the victims. And so we should and must! But by doing so an unassailable fact emerges – leadership is speaking publicly with compassion, courage and conviction. In fact, when pastors speak publicly on these issues, in their sermons and on their podcasts or blogs, people praise them for the very fact that they are being leaders. They should be praised for this.

However, at the same time, many of the voices that speak boldly on these issues are silent in the same public square concerning the agenda of culturally normalizing unfettered sexual eroticism, marital anarchy, and the sanctity of life (among others). In addition to their deafening on these issues – which the culture is now promoting and celebrating – it is now considered unspiritual or unbecoming for the Christian and/or the church to participate in the messiness of bringing the blessings of common grace to the culture by promoting and debating public policies rooted in a Biblically informed public theology for human flourishing.

A Crucial Theological Fact

Often, in all of this, one important theological fact is forgotten. We live in a world that, emphatically, does not desire the love of Christ or the truth of the Gospel. It never has and, apart from the moving of the Holy Spirit; and, it never will. Neither did I, until the grace of God changed my heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, who brought me from death unto life. What did He use? He used believers who spoke the truth in love to me. They did so with varying degrees of sophistication, but praise the Lord they were willing to speak the truth and love me. Now I, as a beneficiary of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through their courageous compassion, must also speak the truth–lovingly–to those who need me to do so (even if they do not approve me doing so – even if they do not want me to do so)–we still must do so as others did so for me and you.

Final Thoughts

We must seek to speak the truth thoughtfully, timely and with words carefully chosen–even while we create an environment of love for effective communication. If a doctor knows you have a terminal condition and loves you he will not be silent. He will thoughtfully tell you the truth. He will likely take you aside in a private room providing an appropriate environment. Then he will tell you the truth in love and he will love you with the truth. Ministers are physicians for the soul. We know sin brings death and we know God’s grace has provided the solution to sin’s guilt and power. We also know that God has commissioned us to speak the truth in an environment of love. We cannot be silent about the truth they need to hear in the name of love any more than the doctor could. Nor would we tell them the truth about sin and God’s grace in Christ without creating a thoughtful environment of love.

Those who have not yet come to Christ need to hear the truth of His Word spoken from those who will love them sacrificially and intentionally. And those who know Christ but have faltered in their walk for Him need us to love them enough to speak the truth. Those around us need us to deliver truth with a love that demonstrates the astonishing and unstoppable love of Christ and Him crucified.

In a world that has grown increasingly hostile to the truth of the Gospel, it would be easy to fall prey to perhaps right-hearted but wrong-headed statements like the one famously attributed to the renowned St. Francis of Assisi: “preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” Instead, we must preach the Gospel and we must use words because they are necessary. Why? Because God’s word tells us that “faith comes by hearing.” In a word, we must speak the truth.

Love is essential because it opens the door for truth, affirms the truth and authenticates the truth; but, it is the truth that will “set you free.” We are all born with a desire to be approved. But for believers our approval rating does not come from the world. “Do your best to present yourself unto God…handling accurately the Word of Truth.”

Dr. Harry L. Reeder, III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, ALHarry completed his doctoral dissertation on “The Biblical Paradigm of Church Revitalization” and received a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina (where he serves as adjunct faculty member). He is the author of From Embers to a Flame: How God Can Revitalize Your Churchas well as a number of other published works.