Friday, August 31, 2007

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Reading for Holiness: An Interactive Summary (Introduction)

by Doug Smith I am reading along with Tim Challies and company as they go through a chapter each week in J. C. Ryle's classic, Holiness (click here for more details, and click here for his post on the introduction). He has recommended the use of the 2002 Crossway edition, but the one I have was published by Charles Nolan Publishers in 2001 (the preceding link is to a hardcover, but there is also a paperback edition) and is a reprint of the revised and enlarged edition of 1879 (whereas he is recommending the original seven chapters, which are the first seven of the revised and enlarged edition). I mention all that to indicate that I don't know if the "Introduction" is the same in content between the original and revised editions or not. Due to the fact that I am quoting only from one chapter each week, I will not bother to cite page numbers in this series. The British spelling (particularly the “-our” ending of words we normally end with “-or”) was in the edition from which I quote. My desire and intention is to summarize my reading each week and interact with it a bit, particularly in an attempt to apply it to contemporary issues and my own life as I am able. So, here goes what is hopefully the first of a series of rather long weekly blog articles. INTRODUCING THE INTRODUCTION John Charles Ryle (1816-1900) was a solid evangelical leader committed to the faith and practice of the Bible who unashamedly acknowledged his sympathy and contentment with the theology of the Puritans. He served in the Church of England in the 19th century. He wrote the papers that comprise Holiness because he was grieved "that practical holiness and entire self-consecration to God are not sufficiently attended to by modern Christians in this country." He was speaking of England in the late 1800s. His opinion, were he living in England today, would likely be much more forceful and negative. Were he in contemporary America, he would also be quite disappointed. J. C. Ryle draws a conclusion that is overlooked all too often: "Sound Protestant and evangelical doctrine is useless if it is not accompanied by a holy life." He quotes from Titus 2:10, which speaks of Christians "adorning the doctrine of God our Savior." This is particularly relevant for those of us engaged in theological studies, as well as all Christians who are learning the teachings of the Bible. This was John L. Dagg's point in his 1857 Manual of Theology when he observed that the purpose of the knowledge of God is not to build our intellect but to make us holy. We must not make an idol of the knowledge of God, but must seek to understand doctrine so that we can live more godly lives. I've heard it said that we are often "educated beyond our obedience." Those of us who profess to believe the Bible should live like we believe the Bible. Those of us who claim to be Christians should have lives that make it evident that we are truly following Jesus. Holiness and sanctification are synonymous. Ryle is talking about the believer's growth in godliness and conformity to the image of Christ. The author sees the doctrine of sanctification as having suffered the same satanic opposition given to the doctrine of justification, "confusing men's minds." Therefore, Ryle's book is an effort to set forth the truth of God in its clarity on this important doctrine. In his introduction, he gives seven cautions, which he phrased in the negative. I will paraphrase them as the points that he seeks to make with them and enumerate them below. CAUTION 1: Remember that while justification is by faith alone, sanctification is by the believer's faith and active obedience. Ryle writes that "in following holiness the true Christian needs personal exertion and work as well as faith." While we are justified before God only by faith alone apart from works, the Scriptures nowhere teach that we are sanctified by faith alone, but by a faith that works. He points to James, who writes "that the faith whereby we are visibly and demonstratively justified before man is a faith which 'if it hath not works is dead, being alone' (Jas. 2:17)." CAUTION 2: Remember the seriousness of God's call to live holy lives. We must not ignore the commands of God's Word to practice godliness even in the little things of daily living. "Everyone who professes to be a believer" should seek "a life of daily self-consecration and daily communion with God" but for this to be meaningful, one must get beyond "generalities about holy living" and flesh out the "details and particular ingredients of which holiness is composed in daily life." Holiness is to result in changed lives, which evidence themselves in particular ways: "Our tongues, our tempers, our natural passions and inclinations; our conduct as parents and children, masters and servants, husbands and wives, rulers and subjects, our dress, our employment of time, our behaviour in business, and demeanour in sickness and health, in riches and in poverty" must be demonstrate godliness. He warns against locating true holiness in "inward sensations and impressions" and reminds us that "it is something of 'the image of Christ' which can be seen and observed by others in our private life, our habits, and character, and doings (Rom. 8:29)." In other words, holiness affects whether we keep our promises, cheat on our taxes, fritter away our time with trivialities, or work hard. We will reflect Christ in the mundane details of our daily lives, in our relationships with others, and in our reactions to prosperity and trials in direct proportion to the degree that we are sanctified. CAUTION 3: Remember to avoid language that implies that believers can attain sinless perfection in this life. God calls us to maturity. He calls us to perfection. But can we completely shed our sin while in this body of death? While God does call us to "'perfect holiness in the fear of God,' to 'go on to perfection,'" and "to 'be perfect,'" in such places as 2 Corinthians 7:1, Hebrews 6:1, and 2 Corinthians 13:11, we are nowhere given the warrant to expect to accomplish "literal perfection" or "a complete and entire freedom from sin, in thought, or word" in this world. Those who have lived the most godly lives are those who have been most humbly and keenly aware of their sin and "countless defects and shortcomings." Ryle gives this rebuke: "When a man can talk coolly of the possibility of 'living without sin' while in the body, and can actually say that he has 'never had an evil thought for three months,' I can only say that in my opinion he is a very ignorant Christian!" Ryle objects to the doctrine of sinless perfection in this life, pointing out that it "does no good, but does immense harm." It is repulsive to non-Christians who know it is false. It causes some Christians to despair, as they are devastated by an impossible goal. It is the basis of others' thinking themselves more holy than they are and so becoming proud. "In short, it is a dangerous delusion." CAUTION 4: Remember that the struggle with sin described in Romans chapter 7 is the experience of a mature believer. Contrary to the Wesleys and others, Ryle maintains that "the best commentators in every era of the Church have almost invariably applied the seventh chapter of Romans to advanced believers." He is convinced, along with those commentators, that Paul was speaking of his own experience with remaining sin that indwelt him. And if Paul still struggled with sin, you and I must not despair. Although “the good that [we] would do [we] do not: but the evil which [we] would not, that [we] do” (Rom. 7:19), we have hope that Christ will one day deliver us “from the body of this death” (Rom. 7:24-25). CAUTION 5: Remember to be careful in using Biblical terminology that you do not divest it of its true meaning. Ryle specifically addresses the use of the phrase "Christ in us." While Scripture does speak of a sense in which Christ is in us, Scripture makes clear that He is only in us by His Spirit. Ryle cautions people against a use of this Biblical phrase that divests its words of its Biblical meaning: "I do not say that the expression 'Christ in us' is unscriptural. But I do say that I see great danger of giving an extravagant and unscriptural importance to the idea contained in the expression; and I do fear that many use it nowadays without exactly knowing what they mean, and unwittingly, perhaps, dishonour the mighty work of the Holy Ghost." He warns of fanatics who used the "Christ in us" phrase to justify ungodly living and the abdication of personal responsibility. We must beware mantras and trite mottos and make sure that we know what we mean (and clarify it to others, when necessary or prudent), especially when we use phrases and words from the Bible. Theological liberals have often affirmed Biblical terminology in order to hide their true beliefs. Some dissent from man-made creeds and confessions on the ground that the Bible is their creed, only to disguise their rejection of its truth while using its words to gain a hearing with others. Many people are comfortable with ambiguities in religion, so that varying groups can affirm the same words while meaning different things. Such a case is a façade of unity, and masks fundamental disagreements. It is far better to have an honest display of contrary ideas than to use terms to designate things they were never meant to convey. CAUTION 6: Remember that the Word of God speaks of only two - not three - classes of people: converted and unconverted. Obviously, Ryle would disavow the "carnal Christian" theory. This idea is that some saved persons may continue to live unholy lives and be indistinguishable from non-believers all their days. He argues in opposition to those who say that consecration may come at some point after conversion that "if [a professing Christian] was not consecrated to God in the very day that he was converted and born again, I do not know what conversion means." Ryle concedes that, among converted and unconverted people, "there are, doubtless, various measures of sin and of grace,” but that there are still only two "great divisions of mankind" into which one necessarily falls. He affirms the continual need for growth in grace but denies that there is a "sudden, mysterious transition of a believer into a state of blessedness and entire consecration, at one mighty bound." He admits to "have almost suspected" that some believers who consider themselves to have been consecrated at some point after conversion had at that point actually been "in reality converted for the first time!" In addition to rejecting the "carnal Christian theory," Ryle would also deny the notion of "the Second Blessing" and some teachings of those holding to a higher life/deeper life theology of sanctification. But in his rejection of a two-tier Christianity, he does not forget to point us to the Scripture's teaching that we must be "going forward," growing in godliness and "dedicating and consecrating [ourselves] more, in spirit, soul, and body, to Christ" and that, in this life, we can always be more holy. CAUTION 7: Remember that the yielding of ourselves to God is not a passive activity, but a means to actively fighting and resisting sin. Speaking of the usage of the words "yield yourselves" in Romans 6:13-19, he observes of the word yield that it "will not bear the sense of 'placing ourselves passively in the hands of another'" but that its "sense is rather that of actively 'presenting' ourselves for use, employment, and service. (See Rom. 12:1)" He writes, "The account of 'the armour of God' in the sixth chapter of Ephesians, one might think, settles the question." He also mentions that Christian's experience in Pilgrim's Progress is nonsensical apart from the understanding that the Christian life is an active battle. What would Ryle think of the popular cliché, "Let go and let God?" If understood as a call to passivity, he would see it as poor advice. While we certainly should trust God, that is no excuse to remain passive in our struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil. He brings us back to the distinction between justification and sanctification: "In justification the word to be addressed to man is 'believe' - only believe; in sanctification the word must be 'watch, pray, and fight.'" CONCLUDING THE INTRODUCTION Ryle closes his introduction by detailing some additional concerns. He is bothered by the "amazing ignorance of Scripture among many, and a consequent want of established, solid religion." Their instability is evidenced by their being "carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Eph. 4:14), "love of novelty," and "morbid distaste for anything old and regular, and in the beaten path of our forefathers." He laments the "incessant craving after any teaching which is sensational, and exciting, and rousing to the feelings." For the most part, the seductions of his age do not sound much different from those of today: "Crowds, and crying, and hot rooms, and high-flown singing, and an incessant rousing of the emotions are the only things which many care for. Inability to distinguish differences in doctrine is spreading far and wide, and so long as the preacher is 'clever' and 'earnest,' hundreds seem to think it must be all right, and call you dreadfully 'narrow and uncharitable' if you hint that he is unsound!” Ryle’s words come terribly close to home in today’s situation. Many believers have multiple Bibles but little Bible knowledge. People are often more concerned with popularity, novelty, and entertainment than faithfulness to the Scriptures. Excitement and emotion is often confused with true spirituality to the neglect of the renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2) and the study of Biblical doctrine. Being judgmental is the chief sin of the age. Supposedly, sincerity trumps truth in matters of faith. Because of these things, we also have much reason to be concerned, much to pray for and much to fight for against in the prevailing state of professing Christians. Yet, in his concerns, Ryle saw some hope in a renewed interest in holiness. But he wanted to admonish carefulness in disseminating and defining ideas in these matters. He wrote, "I must express a hope that my younger brethren who have taken up new views of holiness will beware of multiplying causeless divisions" and pleaded that those who wanted to go further than he had in teaching on sanctification "to take care where they tread" and "explain very clearly and distinctly what they mean." The final warning of the introduction especially caught my eye: "Finally, I must deprecate, and I do it in love, the use of uncouth and newfangled terms and phrases in teaching sanctification. I plead that a movement in favour of holiness cannot be advanced by new-coined phraseology, or by disproportioned and one-sided statements, or by overstraining and isolating particular texts, or by exalting one truth at the expense of another, or by allegorizing and accommodating texts, and squeezing out of them meanings which the Holy Ghost never put in them, or by speaking contemptuously and bitterly of those who do not entirely see things with our eyes, and do not work exactly in our ways. These things do not make for peace; they rather repel many and keep them at a distance. The cause of true sanctification is not helped, but hindered, by such weapons as these. A movement in aid of holiness which produces strife and dispute among God's children is somewhat suspicious. For Christ's sake, and in the name of truth and charity, let us endeavour to follow after peace as well as holiness." I immediately thought of John Piper's term "Christian Hedonism" after reading the words above. Hedonism is often associated in the modern mind with those who live for pleasure in a godless sense. Piper's terminology has been viewed as unhelpful or even heretical by some. He is not ignorant of Ryle's warning. In his fourth appendix ("Why Call It Christian Hedonism?") on pages 287-290 of Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1996), Piper opens with these words: "I am aware that calling this philosophy of life 'Christian Hedonism' runs the risk of ignoring Bishop Ryle's counsel against 'the use of uncouth and new-fangled terms and phrases in teaching sanctification.'" Now, I am not ready to say that Ryle's words above definitely indict Piper, although I can hardly see how Ryle would be thrilled with speaking of "Christian Hedonism." In the appendix mentioned above, Piper defends the term "Christian Hedonism" on the ground that hedonism means "living for pleasure," that his employment of the word is within the parameters of its general usage, that others have used it in similar ways, that it has a shock value, that Jesus used shocking word when he compared himself to a thief coming in the night and commended the shrewdness of the dishonest steward, and that the adjective Christian sufficiently clarifies the point that this is no ordinary hedonism he writes about. I am not enough of an expert on the original languages and not yet studied enough in my knowledge of the Scriptures to know for sure whether Piper is misusing texts to make his point. I don't think he is, but I do wonder if his focus on joy in God (a legitimate Biblical theme) and everything else that makes up "Christian Hedonism" might not cause him to read into the text at times. (Although, if Piper is guilty of this, it is not as blatant, in my opinion, as Rick Warren's use of Today's English Version or the Good News Bible in quoting Isaiah 26:3 to substantiate his "Purpose-Driven®” terminology: "You, LORD, give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm and put their trust in you." The TEV is a paraphrase, not a reliable or reputable translation of Scripture. In the comparison I did, I found no other version of Scripture that used the word purpose in this verse except the 1587 Geneva, which used it not as man's purpose but as God's purpose: "By an assured purpose wilt thou preserve perfect peace, because they trusted in thee."). And I don't see Piper trying to speak "contemptuously and bitterly" of those who disagree with him, although he can be forceful and fiery. Let me make it clear that Piper's writings and sermons have been a blessing to me. They have helped me greater appreciate the glory of God and rejoice more in God. I have been encouraged to see his defense of justification by faith alone on the basis of the imputation of Christ's righteousness, not on the basis of our works (Counted Righteous in Christ). I have been encouraged to see him make clear that sanctification is something we must actively pursue, trusting God for "future grace" but actively fighting sin. But I do wonder if his "Christian Hedonism" terminology has caused more people to unnecessarily stumble over his basic point that "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him," a point that he has convinced me is the teaching of Scripture. If it creates division and is unhelpful, it should be discarded. If it is only employed for shock value, it should be jettisoned. But I believe Piper's motives are right; he wants people to treasure God above all else. While the term has not been a stumbling block to me, I can see how it could possibly be so to others. However, I honestly do not know if it is a helpful term or not. So, what have I gained from this introduction to J. C. Ryle's Holiness? Holiness is serious business. We must pursue it if we are truly followers of Christ. While faith alone justifies us, sanctification requires us to work out that trust in God. We must be active in obeying, fighting and struggling against our sin. We will not achieve sinless perfection, but we need to be moving forward and becoming stronger and more mature and increasingly reflecting the image of Christ with greater clarity. While all converted people are consecrated, we must seek to be more consecrated and more holy. We must be careful in the use and definition of our terminology and strive to help others as we share the truth about holiness and seek to be holy ourselves. Ryle motivates me to desire the increase of sanctification in my life. As we undertake this study, may God use Ryle's work in those of us reading it to make us not merely more knowledgeable about holiness but more sanctified in the particulars of our lives, that we may have changed lives that reflect the glory of God in Christ. --- Ryle quotes are from J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Moscow, ID: Charles Nolan Publishers, 2001). Holiness was first published in 1877 with a revised and enlarged edition appearing in 1879.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Reading for Holiness

Tim Challies has invited folks to read along with him for an
introduction and 7 chapters of Holiness by J. C. Ryle (1 chapter per week). I
started this book some time ago and needed a good reason to get back
in, so this is it. If you're interested in reading along, you can
find more information here:

http://www.challies.com/archives/reading-classics-together/reading-classics-together-holiness.php

A Challenge to Memorize Scripture

I was contemplating Scripture memory sometime last year when it dawned
on me (probably not for the first time, but enough to leave more of a
lasting impression) that the elementary students I was teaching were
memorizing Scripture regularly and I was memorizing . . . none. But I
need it just as much as anyone else!

The suggestion in Andy Davis' chapter of Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry to
memorize not simply verses, but entire books of the Bible led to some
men in our church attempting 1 Timothy. My class in Biblical
Hermeneutics with Dr. Rob Plummer has an assignment on Psalm 119 (in
which we are to categorize each verse into one or more of the
following categories to help us better interpret the Bible: prayer,
meditation, trials). Our professor noted that another professor had
required incoming seminary students to memorize Psalm 119, so I
thought . . . hmmm . . . should I? I decided yes, and am into the
second section.

Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem divided into 22 sections of eight verses
each, corresponding to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This Psalm
about God's Word was designed for memorization. It has already been a
great blessing to go to sleep or wake with these words on my mind and
heart and to have them shape my prayers: "Help me seek You with my
whole heart" (verse 2); "Help me to treasure Your Word so that I may
be kept from sin" (verse 11). If you are interested in memorizing
this Psalm with me and receiving and providing accountability in this
discipline, please email me at glorygazer@gmail.com.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Thankful for My Local Church

 
I have just finished a heavy preaching schedule this summer.  I have preached for the last 12 Sunday mornings in a row, along with some other services here and there (Sunday evenings, Wednesdays, Bible camp).  I am grateful for these opportunities to share God's Word that I have had, but I am quite ready and eager to be back in the assembly of my local church.  My family has continued to attend our only other service of the week and other occasional functions as able, but what a highlight - rather, what a blessing it is to be with the local body of which we are members and worship together!
 
I wanted to write a few things (this is by no means a complete list!) about what a blessing it is to be a part of Cornerstone Chapel.  I am thankful for my local church for several reasons.
 
1. The Word of God is central.  Our morning services usually have 4 Scripture readings:  a Psalm, an Old Testament passage, a New Testament passage (often a parallel Gospel account, as our pastor, Randy McReynolds, is presently preaching through Luke), and the sermon text.  We are given these readings in advance so we can use them in our family worship (and/or our personal quiet times).
 
The sermon is based squarely on the text, with the pastor exposing what God's Word teaches and requires of us. In addition, the service is intentionally shaped around this scripture, hymns being deliberately chosen to complement the message.  Our Wednesday evening gatherings, after a shared meal, culminate in the reading and discussion of the Word and then a time of prayer (presently we read 1 chapter as we are going through Paul's epistles, now in 1 Timothy). 
 
Sunday school classes have alternated between verse-by-verse exposition from a Biblical book and books that approach certain topics in light of Scripture; the Word of God is always the final authority. 
 
We have regular meetings for the men to discuss areas of theology so that we can better learn and practice what God's Word teaches.
 
God's Word is central because we want to make sure we see God as central.
 
2. The Gospel is clear.  The good news of God's grace in Christ is not watered down.  The Gospel is presented in the context of God's supreme authority and the heinousness of our sin.  Christ's person and work in His perfect life, substitutionary death, and resurrection is presented as the only ground for the hope of sinners, who must repent of their sin and trust in Christ.  The urgency of this matter is pressed upon hearers as well.
 
3. Men lead their families.  The men of the church, including our two elders, demonstrate godly examples of leadership in the home.
 
4. Brothers and sisters in the Lord show the love of Christ.  This has been demonstrated to us personally in a number of ways and we see it in the kindness shown to others in the body as well.  We enjoy getting to know one another, praying for one another, and being involved in the lives of one another to help us glorify God and enjoy Him.  We have wept together and rejoiced together, particularly in this past year.
 
I am looking forward with eagerness to being present with my brothers and sisters in Christ in my local church and being fed from the Word this coming Lord's Day.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington - a Report on the Weekender at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, D. C.

"We want your churches to display the character of God." – Matt Schmucker, Director of 9Marks Ministries
Having the last name of Smith occasionally invites the question, "Have you ever seen the film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?" Until recently, my answer was no, but my wife and I recently viewed that classic movie about the naïve youth leader-become-congressman. The story is about Smith, who gets appointed to replace a senator who dies while still holding office. The politicians assume that the new congressman will be a yes-man and will not discover and expose some illegal plans they have. Smith becomes disillusioned by the corruption he finds in politics, including the duplicity of one of his political heroes, who he once greatly respected. Smith discovers the deceit and manipulation, and refuses to participate in it. After a good bit of wrestling with a pitiable situation in which he is falsely accused of a ploy to profit from a piece of legislation, Smith stages an impressive filibuster which exhausts him and leads to public confession of the secret plot, as one of the perpetrators comes clean.
This Mr. Smith has never had an experience quite like that, but I did get to go to Washington, D. C. to get a better understanding of God’s plan for the local church, including learning how men appointed and called by God as pastors are supposed to serve faithfully as shepherds of God’s sheep. Faithful shepherding includes dealing with error in the local church and avoiding the pressures to compromise that are prevalent in the ministry just as they are in politics.
My friend John Beeler and I attended the Weekender at Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC) during September 14-18, 2006, sponsored by 9Marks Ministries. The Weekender is an intensive pastoral ministry conference. One could describe it as an immersion in the theory and practice of eccelesiology (the study of the church). It was a combination of getting to be a fly on the wall to see what a healthy church looks like and does, and of being a slow-draining sink into which the knowledge and experience of the conference is still sinking. Over 50 pastors and aspiring pastors profited from the many sessions, which included substantive interaction, encouraging fellowship, helpful instruction, and late nights. CHBC is intentionally Biblical, avoiding the popular market-driven, consumer-oriented philosophies of church growth. They clearly define success as faithfulness to God, and reminded us that, in the words of B. B. Warfield, "Looseness of belief is the inevitable parent of looseness of practice." . We were given the opportunity to attend an elders’ meeting, seminars on various aspects of the church, workshops on service planning and sermon preparation, membership courses, Sunday services, evaluations of sermons and the service, a members meeting (which included a church discipline case), and a final evaluation. There was much time for questions and answers, and interaction with the church staff and fellow attendees. What follows is an overview of what we experienced. I have written it to encourage those who are pastors or aspiring pastors to attend this "particularly helpful" event (as they would say at CHBC!).
Preaching
According to Mark Dever, the first mark of a healthy church, from which the rest of the church’s health flows, is expositional preaching. Before being asked to change, people need to see the basis for change in the Word. Dever, senior pastor of CHBC, spoke about sermon preparation and service planning. His desire is that church members be more familiar with Bible books than popular Christian books. For example, should they read a book on How I Can Be Sure I’m a Christian…or 1 John? Dever is a strong advocate of preaching expositional sermons, which he defines as sermons in which "the point of the passage is the point of the message."
Dever said, "I think you can preach any size of text in any length of time." One can take a variety of views of the Bible, zooming in and out and looking at different levels. Dever believes beginning pastors should do the hard but rewarding work of preaching many overview sermons, taking larger sections of text – particularly, whole books (and even whole testaments!). This fills the mouth with Scripture and enables one to present the message of the book, the purpose for which it was written. Helpful tools for this task include William Dumbrell’s book, The Faith of Israel, one volume Bible commentaries, and commentators such as John Calvin, John Gill (often underrated, but an expert expositor, exegete, and master of Biblical languages), and Matthew Henry.
After preaching overview sermons, Dever recommends preaching through books, outlining the whole book in advance (much of the work for this will be done if an overview sermon on the book has already been preached). His goal is to preach through the Bible, not over his whole lifetime, but in a shorter time period, to benefit his congregation and give them an understanding of the whole of Scripture.
For preparation, one should read the text again and again and again; meditate; and pray throughout the process. The text must be exegeted and an exegetical outline produced. Dever emphasized that one does not need to know the original languages to do faithful exegesis, and that a good translation of the Bible will suffice. He said that many guys who don’t know the languages are unnecessarily insecure. He reminded us of preachers who were not masters of Hebrew and Greek, such as Whitefield, Bunyan, and Mahaney. Dever said that some guys who know the language falsely assume that the more language they know, the better their preaching will be – but this is not necessarily so. After the exegetical outline, the application grid can be filled in (all of these will not always be used in the sermon, but it is a helpful exercise). Then a homiletical outline can be crafted, in which one should try to let the text speak. At this point, the sermon may be written out in its entirety. Mark preaches from a full manuscript to be more direct, more clear, and less repetitious, but says that each preacher must know himself in this matter.
As for the elements of the sermon, introductions should start with what interests hearers. The sermon should begin with a demonstration of relevance, urgency, and importance, starting with the listener. The preacher must assume deep disinterest on the part of people sitting there, and seek to gain their attention. The introduction must also engage the nonChristian and the Christian.
The body of a sermon should make a few points and make them well. Application must be included. (Dever stated that much evangelical preaching is actually weak in this area.) Mark front-loads his introductions with application, applies throughout (putting application with each point), and applies to a variety of people (using application grid – available online at http://www.9marks.org/, under expositional preaching, or by clicking here). Mark spends about 24-30 hours on each sermon, and preaches between forty-five and sixty-five minutes. He consults others in his preparation to be sure he is communicating clearly.
Dever plans extensively, printing a sermon card announcing texts and titles months in advance. This helps the preacher avoid "Saturday night fever" (the weekly anxiety of many preachers as they prepare their sermon the night before), and enables the congregation to prepare by reading the upcoming Scripture text in their daily quiet times. It also has evangelistic use, helping the congregation to invite others. Mark rotates through the various genres of Scripture, so that in a few months time, one will have been exposed to all the literary genres in Scripture (OT: Law, Prophecy, History, Wisdom; NT: Gospel, Pauline Epistle, General Epistle). He has another preacher speak in the evening on the same theme but from a passage in the opposite testament (a fifteen-minute sermon he compared to an after-dinner mint). Mark anticipated the question some might raise, "Where is there room for the Holy Spirit’s leading in this type of planning?" He proceeded to distribute a past sermon card that included the September 11 time period (it can be viewed or downloaded here). The messages were planned well in advance, but were remarkably appropriate for the unpredictable terrorist attacks, covering passages that dealt with security, justice, mercy, questions for God (series on Habakkuk titled "When Bad Things Happen"), and our need to trust in Him. It does appear that God can use advance planning!
CHBC staff meets weekly to review the sermon, encouraging and critiquing the preacher, and giving suggestions. It was a wonderful experience to hear Mark’s excellent and profitable sermon on Ruth 4. Then we witnessed the sermon review a few hours later. The sermon review was a great display of giving and receiving godly criticism, traits CHBC desires to be central to their ministry. Mark Dever sat and listened as 20-something interns (as well as other staff) evaluated his sermon. It was a great example of humility and a willingness to be taught by others.
Dever recommends these books on preaching: John R. W. Stott, Between Two Worlds (best single book) and D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones, Preaching and Preachers (his favorite book on preaching). He highly recommends two workshops/conferences devoted specifically to preaching: the Simeon Trust Conference (Kent Hughes and others) in America and the Proclamation Trust (Dick Lucas) in England.
Other helpful resources are Dever’s books: overview sermons in Promises Made: the Message of the Old Testament and Promises Kept: the Message of the New Testament; Nine Marks of a Healthy Church; and The Deliberate Church. There is much helpful audio available online for free, including sermons, lectures, and interviews at http://www.capitolhillbaptist.org/, http://www.chbcaudio.org/, and http://www.9marks.org/. Leadership
The first major event of the conference was the elders’ meeting. Prior to the meeting, we were oriented to what would happen. We were warned that we were about to go into "the deep end" and that the goal would be to "swim to the edges" by the end of the Weekender, a very fitting metaphor.
At the meeting, we sang "It is Well with My Soul," the men read Scripture (from Ruth 4, which Mark Dever, the senior pastor, would soon be preaching from) and praised God for His merciful kindness. The meeting was a powerful display of accountability, transparency, humility, and love, as the elders prayed for the congregation and one another. They discussed future plans of the church, including considerations for evangelistic outreach. We were dismissed before the final portion of the meeting, in which they discussed men who could potentially be future elders in the church.
CHBC is congregational in its church government, but elder-led. They have a plurality of elders because of the frequent New Testament references to elders in the local church using the word in the plural. They are congregational because of the authority of the local church stated in Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 (mentioned specifically in the context of church discipline). Elders must be men who are apt to teach, not just anyone who is available. They must evidence elder-type behavior in congregation before formal recognition, undergo rigorous examination by other elders and receive their unanimous approval, and then they must be chosen by a 75% vote of the congregation.
The local church holds the responsibility to recognize and train elders. As Michael Lawrence, associate pastor at CHBC, said, "Seminaries do not make pastors; churches make pastors."
One way CHBC trains elders is through its internship program. This is a semester-long, intensive time of discipleship and observation for the interns. They have numerous reading and writing assignments (including Iain Murray’s The Reformation of the Church, and Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry, as well as Mark Dever’s books), must be present at all church activities, are held accountable for their time, and undergo evaluation. Men have done the internship before, during, and after going to seminary. (One of the men who attended the same Weekender has just begun his internship at CHBC and has a more extensive list on his blog.)
Membership & Discipline
"If you’re not a member of the church you regularly attend, you may well be on your way to hell." These intentionally arresting words were spoken by Mark Dever in the "Membership Matters" classes, prerequisite to joining CHBC. He was not arguing that church membership is necessary for salvation, but that it naturally should follow it. CHBC takes membership seriously, believing that God has saved us to be a part of a community, and that He has saved us not to have ourselves served but to serve others. They emphasize that the Christian life is not merely one’s own private business, but that we are to serve one another (even with seemingly mundane things like showing up early) and build up one another in the faith.
Dever gave five reasons to join a Christian church: for the sake of 1) nonChristians; 2) weaker Christians; 3) stronger Christians; 4) church leaders; and 5) God.
Three documents were mentioned as an important part of a church’s identity: the Statement of Faith (what we believe - guards unity, protects from error, makes known the church’s doctrinal distinctives), the Church Covenant (what we promise to do – an agreement before God, the church, and ourselves of how we promise to live together as a church), and the Church Constitution.
Attendance, particularly at the Sunday morning worship service, is especially important. Absence from attending is seen as a portal to sin (a dangerous separation of one from God’s people that makes one more vulnerable to sin) or a reflection of sin (not attending because one knows he is doing wrong). Those who persist in nonattendance get excommunicated – removed from the church membership rolls. Discipline also occurs for members living in open sin. The goal of discipline is to restore the believer, but to also warn others that the church cannot give testimony to their salvation (one purpose of membership) when they are walking contrary to God.
Implementing Change
CHBC began because of a woman’s burden for a prayer meeting on Capitol Hill. The church had a good history and remained committed to the Scriptures over the years. When Dever was contacted to consider the pastorate, the church had been through the trauma of a necessary departure of its previous pastor. The church had far more names on the membership rolls than in attendance (a sad but common situation in many American churches), and was in need of reform (see Matt Schmucker's testimony here). Among the changes needed were a plurality of elders, a more meaningful understanding of membership, and the practice of Biblical church discipline. God brought wonderful changes, but he did not do so overnight. Some changes took years, work, and the unpleasant task of facing opposition to occur, and CHBC warned us that one could not expect to take the instruction received at the Weekender and immediately expect all the same results in another local church. Each church is different and has its own culture, background, and circumstances.
At the Weekender, we were instructed about the need for care and patience in making changes in a church. Appreciating and learning the history of a local church is a helpful factor for the pastor hoping to move the church in a healthy direction. Dever did not try to do anything without "teaching on it and teaching on it and teaching on it" first (such as going to a plurality of elders and relegating deacons to a servant role instead of having them oversee matters). He said, "Matt [Schmucker, director of 9Marks Ministries, who also serves as an elder at CHBC] and I have never criticized a pastor for moving too slowly." Dever admits that he had optimal conditions for change, implying that one cannot expect a direct correlation in another local church; for others change may happen on a much different timetable. He strongly urged pastors to consider their conditions before trying to implement changes. He also told us that healthy churches and long pastorates tend to go together.
Contact Information
This Mr. Smith had a great trip to Washington. Instead of political corruption, I saw Biblical faithfulness on Capitol Hill. I benefited greatly from the Weekender, am very grateful for it, and highly recommend it to those who want to know more about the philosophy and practice of a healthy church. Scholarships are available for those with whom affordability is a concern. The Weekender is usually offered three times per year. Learn more or sign up for a Weekender by clicking here or visit http://www.9marks.org/ or http://www.capitolhillbaptist.org/. There is often a waiting list, so register early. Also, visit the CHBC and 9Marks websites for plenty of free materials, including recordings of sermons, outlines and notes from Sunday School classes (CORE seminars), downloadable books, and leadership interviews. This article was adapted and updated from a two-part article originally posted at www.sharperiron.org: Part 1 and Part 2

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Does Exclusion from Membership Amount to Excommunication?

Thoughts from John L. Dagg On page 73 (at the bottom of this link in the free electronic version - chapter 1, section 5) of John L. Dagg's Treatise of Church Order, he states that "none but baptized persons can be admitted to membership." One of Piper's points in his disagreement with Wayne Grudem is that those who are excluded from church membership because they have not been scripturally baptized are treated as though they have been excommunicated from the church. Dagg addresses this concern as it relates to communion, in his chapter on that topic. Although he is speaking about the inclusion or exclusion from the Lord's Table of one who believes in infant baptism, application can be made beyond that to speak to the issue of church membership for anyone not scripturally baptized (including those not claiming to be baptized at all). The bottom line is whether we are treating these ordinances according to the will of the Lord revealed in His Word. Dagg's interaction with this argument is below.

Argument 7.--To exclude a Pedobaptist brother from communion, is substantially to inflict on him the punishment of excommunication, the punishment inflicted on atrocious offenders. Such is not the proper treatment of a fellow disciple, whose error of judgment the Lord graciously pardons.

When an advocate of open communion excludes from the Lord's table an amiable neighbor, who does not give evidence of conversion, the exclusion is not regarded as a punishment. Neither ought our exclusion of the unbaptized; much less is it right to speak of it as the punishment inflicted on atrocious offenders. The churches have no scale of penalties adjusted to different grades of crime. When they excommunicate, they withdraw their fellowship, and this may be done for wrongs of very different magnitude. There is no necessity to class the error of pedobaptism with the most atrocious of these wrongs. The church which excludes a Pedobaptist from the Lord's table, does not design to inflict a punishment on him, but merely to do its own duty, as a body to which the Lord has intrusted one of his ordinances. The simple aim is, to regulate the observance according to the will of the Lord.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Grudem and Piper Discuss Necessity of Baptism for Church Membership

Is baptism by immersion (upon profession of faith in Christ) necessary for church membership? Does excluding someone from church membership amount to a de facto excommunication in terms of how the person is treated? A revision in Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology has generated some serious discussion between John Piper and Grudem. Justin Taylor drew attention to this matter at at his blog. Piper's thoughts are here and Grudem's response is here.

Concerning this issue, Southern Seminary has some relevant audio:

Also, I was listening to Dever today on John L. Dagg (from a conference in which he also spoke on Bunyan), and he referenced Dagg's Manual of Church Order as a good resource for dealing with this issue.

UPDATE: This really generated a good bit of discussion! I'm glad Justin Taylor kept track of it. You can follow the discussion here, and you might also be interested in this recent book on believer's baptism, edited by Tom Schreiner and Shawn Wright.

Thoughts on Blogging and Blog Reading

I want to offer a consideration of two things about blogging and blog reading: 1) how blogs relate to the issue of using our time well and 2) what kind of tone a blog should have. This takes the form of two applications.

1. Save time by subscribing to the blogs you read, instead of visiting each website to check for updates.

A person can spend a lot of time writing on his or her blog, and a person can spend a lot of time reading the blogs of others. I don't spend a ton of time reading blogs, but there are some I read regularly. I have found the google homepage at www.google.com/ig to be very helpful. All the blogs I have subscribed to (to do this in a google homepage or with a feed reader, which automatically downloads posts from the blogs you subscribe to, click on the "subscribe to posts" or "rss feed") have their names displayed with the three most recent post titles. In one glance I can quickly survey the blogs I profit from and see if there's anything new. If I were to visit 15 different websites, it would take much longer. I also subscribe to some blogs via email. Each post is sent to me, and I never have to check to see if they have been updated, since each update is sent to me.

If you have a blog and these options are not on there, please take the time to modify it so that they are available. There are blogs I would subscribe to but do not have the necessary apparatus on the page to do so (or it is well hidden if there), and I rarely check them as a result since I don't want to spend too much time doing so.

Abraham Piper recently wrote an article about the use of our time and blog reading (http://www.desiringgod.org/Blog/722_better_blog_reading/). He reminds us to "read what God is saying in the morning before reading what bloggers or news reporters have to say." He also writes: "Every blogger worth taking seriously would tell you that if you had to choose between the internet and books, you should choose books. We will miss out on too much of what is true and beautiful if our reading time is monopolized by the computer. Most of us don't have to choose between the two. Since we use both, we should make sure that we maintain a balance, so that reading blogs does not cause us to marginalize books."

Piper also recommends using RSS. In addition, he suggests scanning an article first to make sure it's worth your time to read the whole thing, and advises refraining from commenting without adequate thinking and listening. In fact, if we take time to think, I believe that will save us from commenting many times! Who has time to read all the comments on popular blog articles where the 100 or so comments take up more space than the original article?

2. Write with humility and read with caution.

If you have your own blog, Owen Strachan gives this counsel: if you're not an expert, don't write like you are (http://consumedblog.blogspot.com/search?q=humble+consideration). Argue, disseminate ideas, but do so with a spirit of humility. He writes, "Blogging can easily go to your head. You get some hits, some people tell you you have a nice blog, you get a link or two, and all of a sudden you're King of the World. This is a common problem among bloggers. Blogging tends to bring out the self-appointed expert in all of us. Upon reflection, I can see that it sometimes has brought out this sin in my own life. For that, I am sorry. I hope to do a better job of thinking humbly, and thus to do a better job of writing humbly. . . In my opinion, we should attempt to write with humility and deference, presenting our ideas not as the Perfect Solution but rather as a humble consideration."

There are too many "proud peacocks" (as D. A. Carson calls them) strutting their stuff, and we must guard against this mindset which is so easy to fall in to. Know who you are, and think about what you write: Is it helpful? Is it edifying to others? How does my tone come across? Do I write from love for God's truth, the spread of His Gospel and the upbuilding of His saints or simply because I want to make my voice heard?

I believe the flip side of this is to read others' blogs with caution. If you regularly frequent a blog, it doesn't hurt to know something about the author. The words of others can easily influence us, so we need to read with discernment. Rumors can spread easily. Many of us have been victims of spam emails that could have been avoided had the sender taken the same amount of time taken to choose all the recipients in the address book to check out the accuracy of their communiqué instead. Some bloggers have good things to say. Some have an axe to grind. Be careful who you choose to read and how you read.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

 

Thoughts on Pastoral Ministry from Psalm 23:

Being Satisfied with Our Shepherd and Pleased with Our Pastor (Part 4 of 4)

 

by Doug Smith

 

Note:  This article is adapted from a message delivered at the first graduation for the Cumberland Area Pulpit Supply (an extension of Bancroft Gospel Ministry in Kingsport, Tennessee), Phase 1 Training, on April 14, 2007.

 

Psalm 23 - A Psalm of David

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:

for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:

thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:

and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. (KJV)


     3. Finally, we must be satisfied with our Shepherd's PROMISES. 
Notice that this Psalm is future-oriented in the responses of the Psalmist:  verse 1: "I shall not want;" verse 4: "I will fear no evil;" verse 6: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever."

     The relationship we have with God and His provision for us are not just for now, but for the future.  What He has done in the past and present are previews of what He will do in the future.  As it has been observed, our "best life" is not now, but is yet to come.  We do not have to worry, but may trust in the faithful, covenant-keeping LORD to take us to dwell with Him forever as He promises.  Are you satisfied with His promises?  If so, your satisfaction will show up in your present life.

     John Owen wrote, "It is a vain thing for any to suppose that they place their chiefest happiness in being for ever in the presence of Christ, who care not at all to be with him here as they may."  What does your prayer life and time in the Word say about your satisfaction in the promises of God?  Is your hope in this life only?  Is your hope in a "big" or "successful" ministry?  Or do you hope in the promise of dwelling with God forever?

     Men, this world is full of things that will never satisfy us.  Material things won't satisfy, but neither will ministry.  Only God will ultimately satisfy, and our ministries will not be pleasing to Him until we are pleased with our Pastor, and satisfied with our Shepherd.  Are you satisfied with Him?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

 

Thoughts on Pastoral Ministry from Psalm 23:

Being Satisfied with Our Shepherd and Pleased with Our Pastor (Part 3 of 4)

 

by Doug Smith

 

Note:  This article is adapted from a message delivered at the first graduation for the Cumberland Area Pulpit Supply (an extension of Bancroft Gospel Ministry in Kingsport, Tennessee), Phase 1 Training, on April 14, 2007.

 

Psalm 23 - A Psalm of David

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:

for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:

thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:

and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. (KJV)

 

     2. We need to be satisfied with our Shepherd's PROVISION.  Notice the verbs in the six verses of Psalm 23.  Most of them refer to God.  God's activity is highlighted here, showing us why we shall not want, or lack, or need any thing.

     "I shall not want" food because God makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.  He gives us calmness and a pure resource of life-giving nourishment.  We can feast on His Word.  We should be satisfied with the riches of His Word.  God has not made us lie down in a wasteland, but in lush pastureland.  He has spread a banquet before us, and calls us to feast.  If we do not feed upon God's Word ourselves, how can we expect our people to come hungering for it, and, if they do, how can we expect to give them nourishment from God's Word when we are sickly and fainting because we have drunk from the contaminated potholes of cable TV or movies or the Internet or the news or magazines and neglected the pure springs of God's Word?  Let's be satisfied with God's provision so that we will have healthy, wholesome food to give to the sheep, and not spiritual junk food or poison that simply tickles their ears.

     "I shall not want" guidance, because God leads me.  He is the one who takes me by the still waters, and who calls me to follow in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.  He is a safe guide, who has been down the path we are to follow.  We don't know where we need to go, and we are prone to stray.  But Christ walked the path of perfect obedience to God that we failed to do.  But if we trust Him, God clothes us in that perfect righteousness of His and then we are to walk in obedience.  He binds up His reputation with us – "for His name's sake."  How then can we be indifferent to matters of obedience?  How can we say "follow me as I follow Christ," as Paul said, unless we are walking with our Lord, following Him.  How can we guide others unless we know the guidance of the Lord and are satisfied with it?

     In addition to guidance, God gives correction.  Sheep are pitiful creatures when they are on their backs.  So are Christians.  We are powerless to restore ourselves.  "He restoreth my soul" – putting me back up on my feet.  I must be satisfied enough with God to confess my sin and be thankful that He corrects me instead of leaving me to die in it.  I must be content with God's correction if I am to use His Word to correct others and help restore them, putting them back onto right paths.

     God also protects.  The Shepherd uses His staff and rod, to drive away wild beasts and to protect the sheep from its own foolishness in straying.  God is with us through the valley of the shadow of death, so we don't have to fear.  He spreads a banquet table before us in the presence of our enemies.  He protects us.  We must be satisfied with His protection if we are going to brave the dangers of the ministry free from the fear of man.  We can face death and trials unafraid if our trust is in God.  We can face opposition to the message of the Gospel, be it man's words, man's threats, or man's actions and we can rejoice in the midst of persecution if we are satisfied with God's protection.  If we are going to guard our families from spiritual danger and our flocks from false teaching, we must know God's presence as our Protector and be satisfied with Him.

     In all these things, God provides in abundance.  He anoints the head with oil, in a manner fit for an honored guest.  He causes our cups to overflow and pursuing us with goodness and mercy, as one preacher put it, like two sheepdogs, nipping at our heels every time we turn around.  We have every reason to be satisfied with our Shepherd's provision and no reason to grumble and complain about His goodness to us.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

 

Thoughts on Pastoral Ministry from Psalm 23:

Being Satisfied with Our Shepherd and Pleased with Our Pastor (Part 2 of 4)

 

by Doug Smith

 

Note:  This article is adapted from a message delivered at the first graduation for the Cumberland Area Pulpit Supply (an extension of Bancroft Gospel Ministry in Kingsport, Tennessee), Phase 1 Training, on April 14, 2007.

 

Psalm 23 - A Psalm of David

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:

for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:

thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:

and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. (KJV)

 

     1. We need to be satisfied our Shepherd's PERSON.  This refers to God's character. 

     Verse one reveals Him as "the LORD."  When we see "LORD" in all capital letters in the Old Testament, this means that the Hebrew text (from which our English is translated) contains the most sacred name of God:  Jehovah, or Yahweh.  This is related to God's self-disclosure as I AM THAT I AM to Moses in Exodus 3.  It is a reminder of God's self-existence; He needs nothing, because He has the power of life in Himself.  He depends on nothing outside Himself for His being.  God's sacred name is also a reminder of His faithfulness.  Jehovah, or Yahweh, is God's covenant name.  It is the name of the One who is faithful to remember and perform all His promises.  The God who made the world by His Word has authority, responsibility, and ownership.  He is the sovereign Lord.  This God is the Shepherd spoken of here, and we need to learn of His character.

     God's character is revealed throughout the Psalm as our Provider, Corrector, Leader, and Protector.  He is good and merciful.  He is eternal, for his children have the promise of dwelling with Him forever.  Men, we need to be students of God's character.

     Note the little word "my."  This makes a tremendous difference.  It does not say "The LORD is a shepherd" or "the shepherd," but my Shepherd.  The word "my" indicates a personal relationship.  The psalmist knew the shepherd personally.  This is a good reminder to us as pastors that the Lord is not everyone's shepherd – not even all pastors.  We would do well to heed Richard Baxter's warning about ministers who do not know Christ – and make sure that this does not describe us!  In his book, The Reformed (which means in his title, revived) Pastor, "Many a tailor goes in rags, that maketh costly clothes for others; and many a cook scarcely licks his fingers, when he hath dressed for others the most costly dishes." 

     Who is this Shepherd we must know?  Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd (Jn. 10:11), the Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20) and the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4).  He is the One who laid down His life for His sheep – disobedient, hell-deserving sheep who had gone astray but had their sin laid upon the Shepherd.  He was the Lamb of God slain as a substitute for sinners, who rose from the dead, and commands us to repent of our sin and trust in Him, bidding us to come and follow Him.

     Let us not be preachers who, as Baxter put it, "worship an unknown God," "preach an unknown Christ," "pray through an unknown Spirit," "recommend a state of holiness and communion with God, and a glory and a happiness which are all unknown, and like to be unknown to them for ever."  What a horrible condition – a condition that should make us tremble.  Let us make sure we know this God personally and can say in truth, "The LORD is my Shepherd."    

     We should also realize that God's Person, or Name is supremely important to Him in how He shepherds us.  Therefore, God's glory, not our recognition, should be the goal of our pastoral ministry.  His reputation is at stake in how He cares for us and how we care for His sheep.  As we begin to look at how we should be satisfied not only with His person but His provision, let us not forget the reason He does what He does:  He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.

Monday, August 06, 2007

 

Thoughts on Pastoral Ministry from Psalm 23:

Being Satisfied with Our Shepherd and Pleased with Our Pastor (Part 1 of 4)

 

by Doug Smith

 

Note:  This article is adapted from a message delivered at the first graduation for the Cumberland Area Pulpit Supply (an extension of Bancroft Gospel Ministry in Kingsport, Tennessee), Phase 1 Training, on April 14, 2007.

 

Psalm 23 - A Psalm of David

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:

for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:

thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:

and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. (KJV)

 

     Are you satisfied?  Satisfaction seems to be a rare commodity these days.  In fact, the marketing gurus capitalize on our dissatisfaction, by focusing our attention on things that make us discontent or by trying to make us think we need more of something, or something better or bigger.  How many times have you replaced or upgraded your computer or installed updates for its programs in the last 5 years?  2 years?  1 year?  Month?  Week?  Have you ever obtained a new vehicle because you were not satisfied with the one you had?  Perhaps it guzzled the gas.  Or there wasn't enough room.  Or you didn't have enough horsepower to pull that trailer.

     Related to this idea of satisfaction is the "law of diminishing returns."  This is the idea that the more you get of something, the more you need to satisfy you.  You may never have a car fast enough, or a house big enough.  You may never have a computer with enough memory, or a drill with enough bits.  Among other people, drug addicts and those enslaved to pornography experience this.  They constantly seek increasing quantities and increasingly extreme experiences to fill their cravings.

     The tendency toward dissatisfaction in our earthly lives is ever-present in the ministry as well.  If you are the pastor of a church ten years from now, will you be satisfied and content?  Will you be the target of books that promise to increase the apparent success of your ministry?  Will you be the type of individual that conference promoters seek to court because they want to give you that secret that will make your ministry explode with growth?  Will you constantly be depressed because you cannot gain the favor of everyone in your congregation?  Many churches close each year and many men quit the ministry each year, often because of such frustrations.

     Now, it is true that we should be discontent in some areas, even in our Christian lives.  We should never think we have arrived.  We always have room for improvement in our relationships with our wives, our children, and our friends.  We can do better in our witness to nonbelievers, and even in our preaching and leadership.  But more than any of these things, there is one area in which we should constantly be seeking satisfaction.  We should not be satisfied until we are satisfied in our relationship with God.  He is the only one who can truly satisfy us.

     Are you satisfied?  If God is going to be pleased with you as a pastor, you must be pleased with your Pastor – satisfied with your Shepherd, who is God.

     As we turn to Psalm 23, we are reminded of these familiar images of a Shepherd, a sheep, and pastureland.  We think of David, who probably penned these very words, who experienced firsthand the life of a shepherd as a young man.  He knew what it was like to feed, lead, and protect sheep.  He also knew the life of a king.  He knew popularity, power, and prosperity.  He also knew the emptiness of sin, and God's correction and restoration.  He knew his need to be happy in God.  David was not satisfied with his prestige, but with his Pastor, that is, his Shepherd – the LORD.

     Psalm 23 reminds us of some important aspects of pastoral ministry and demonstrates our need to be satisfied with the Person, Provision, and Promise of our Pastor.