Tuesday, September 30, 2008

2008 Evangelical Forum

The 7th annual Evangelical Forum was held last weekend (September 26-27) at JPBC. Here's a scene from Friday evening's service.

Here's Dr. Pipa carrying on a theological discussion over lunch.

Rovall and Stiddle: Rob Stovall and Jeff Riddle having lunch.

The Evangelical Forum was held last weekend (September 26-27). Our speakers did an excellent job on the theme "Of and of the Holy Trinity." The audio of the plenary sessions are online:

Dr. Joseph Pipa, Jr.: The Window on God
Dr. Joseph Pipa, Jr.: The Impetus of Worship


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Conversation Continues: Social Justice?

This is a series of responses to questions that we did not get to discuss in our summer church family fellowship.

Question: What role should the church have (if any) in advocating for social justice (fighting racism, helping the poor, etc.)?


The church’s primary task is making disciples (see the Great Commission of Matt 28:19-20). We do this by giving verbal witness to the gospel. As Paul said, "So then, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God" (Rom 10:17). When the gospel changes hearts, it also changes lives. Those who have been influenced by the gospel are more likely to live upright lives, be committed to the institution of marriage, be better parents, avoid destructive addictions, shun racism and elitism, be kind neighbors, extend mercy to the poor, and be responsible citizens.

The best thing that believers can do to improve society, then, is simply to preach the gospel and be the visible church in their communities. In so doing we become salt and light, "a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden" (see Matt 5:13-14). We become an influence for good beyond all proportion to our numbers.

We have a special obligation to care for the needs of those within our local church body and for fellow believers beyond our local body. Whatever we do for the least of our Christian brothers, we do for Christ (see Matt 25:40). Jesus gave his disciples the "new commandment" that we "love one another" (see John 14:34-35). This does not mean that believers only take of each other. Their love and good deeds also spill out beyond the circle of the church. As Paul put it in Galatians 6:10: "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal 6:10).

Sadly, many churches, particularly those in the traditional mainline Protestant denominations, often place more emphasis on doing good deeds (the "social gospel") than on the ministry of evangelism (verbal witness to the Biblical gospel). In recent years, this attitude has also crept into many evangelical churches. Some want to be socially relevant. Others naively think that simply by doing laudable good deeds they will win unbelievers to Christ. This view does not take into account the reality of sin and the hardness of men's hearts. We also do not find this pattern for evangelism in the New Testament. When Paul and the apostles went into a new city they did not build a platform of good works, but they simply preached Jesus and watched as the Lord won converts to himself. Again, we will do the most social good by addressing the long-term spiritual needs, not merely the immediate physical needs, of men.

Indian evangelist K. P. Yohannan makes this point as only a third world evangelist can, when he writes: "There is nothing wrong with charitable acts—but they are not to be confused with preaching the Gospel. Feeding programs can save a man from dying from hunger. Medical aid can prolong life and fight disease. Housing projects can make this temporary life more comfortable—but only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can save a soul from a life of sin and an eternity in hell!" (Revolution in World Missions, p. 113).


Monday, September 22, 2008

2008 Evangelical Forum this Weekend (September 26-27)

JPBC will host the seventh annual Evangelical Forum meeting the weekend of September 26-27. The Evangelical Forum is a network of Pastors and laymen who desire to see renewal and reformation within Baptist churches in Virginia. In addition to publishing a quarterly newsletter, the Evangelical Forum has as one of its main focus to sponsor this annual leadership and theology conference.

This year the theme will be "Of God and of the Holy Trinity." We will have two well known theologians as our guests: Dr. Bruce Ware, Professor of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and Dr. Joseph Pipa, Jr. President and Professor of Theology at the Greenville Presbyterian Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina.

The schedule:

Friday (September 26):

7:00 pm Session I
Dr. Pipa: The Window on God
Dr. Ware: The Transcendent Excellence and Perfection of God

Saturday (September 27):

9:30 am Session II:
Dr. Ware: Relationships in the Trinity
Dr. Pipa: The Impetus of Worship

11:30 am Lunch break on site, served by members of Providence Baptist Church of Suffolk, Virginia

1:00 pm Open Dialogue with speakers

This conference is primarily aimed at those serving as Pastor, Elders, and Teachers. We will have Pastors and laymen visiting from sister congregation in the area and around the state. The conference is open, however, to anyone who wishes to attend. There is no cost to attend.
For more info, look here.

Grace and peace, Jeff Riddle

Thursday, September 18, 2008

His Books

An old copy of the 1920 edition of The Oxford Book of English Verse came into my hands. One of the poems that struck my fancy is this one by Robert Southey:
His Books
By Robert Southey (1774-1843)

MY days among the Dead are past;
Around me I behold,
Where'er these casual eyes are cast,
The mighty minds of old:
My never-failing friends are they,
With whom I converse day by day.

With them I take delight in weal
And seek relief in woe;
And while I understand and feel
How much to them I owe,
My cheeks have often been bedew'd
With tears of thoughtful gratitude.

My thoughts are with the Dead; with them
I live in long-past years,
Their virtues love, their faults condemn,
Partake their hopes and fears;
And from their lessons seek and find
Instruction with an humble mind.

My hopes are with the Dead; anon
My place with them will be,
And I with them shall travel on
Through all Futurity;
Yet leaving here a name, I trust,
That will not perish in the dust.

The Conversation Continues: Involvement With The World

Note: This is a series of responses to questions offered by JPBCers that we did not get to discuss at our summer theological discussions.
Question: How involved with the world and unbelievers should we be?


On one hand, the Bible calls on believers to be separate and distinct from the surrounding culture. In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was set apart and distinct from the other nations. The three Hebrew young men in Daniel 1 would not eat the rich food of the king’s table while in exile in Babylon. In the New Testament, believers in Christ are, in like manner, called upon to be distinct from the world. In Romans 1:1 Paul says he was "separated to the gospel of God." In this second letter to the church at Corinth he urged: "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?" (2 Cor 6:14). Paul then echoes Isaiah 52:11: "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you" (2 Cor 6:17). Some take this stream in Scripture to an extreme. The Amish would be an example of this. They completely withdraw from the world around them. Some of our fundamentalist brethren do the same.

On the other hand, the Bible calls on believers to be an influence for good in society and the culture at large. In the Old Testament, we have a dominion mandate to "fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen 1:28). The Lord would speak to the exiles of Israel through Jeremiah to urge them to "seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive" (Jer 29:7). Jesus himself said that believers are to be salt and light in the world "a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden" (see Matt 5:13-15). We are not to hide our light under a basket but, "Let your light so shine before men" (see Matt 5:15-16). Paul could say that he became all things to all men so that he might win some (see 1 Cor 9:19-23). Some also take this stream in Scripture to an extreme. They are so much in the world that there is little difference between them and the surrounding culture. Many modern evangelicals would be examples of this.

What are we to do? We are to seek a balance. We are to be in the world but clearly distinct from the world. In John 17 Jesus prayed for his disciples noting that "these are in the world" (v. 11). Thus, we are to be in the world but not of it. The apostle John wrote: "Do not love the world or the things in the world" (1 John 2:15). Peter wrote: "but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct" (1 Peter 1:15).

A key text for understanding this balance is 1 Corinthians 5. In this chapter Paul writes to urge the church to exercise church discipline and expel an immoral brother. Some had taken his advice to mean that they were to have no contact at all with immoral people in the world. Paul clarifies: "Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world" (1 Cor 5:11). We are to have high standards for the conduct of believers. We are to live in the world always seeking to evangelize it.

What about specific issues? What is the standard for modest clothing? What kind of entertainment (music, videos, etc.) and recreation is appropriate for a Christian? How should I educate my children? What professions are appropriate for a Christian to pursue? Can I play or watch competitive sports?

We are not to ignore these issues. We must prayerfully consider each one of them. We are to ask the Holy Spirit to guide our conduct in the light of the truth of God’s Word. A good passage to read as you reflect on the role of the Christian conscience in making decisions in such areas is Romans 14:1-15:13.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Requiescat in Pace: Lee Stocks (1933-2008)

We got word this week that Lee Stocks died last Sunday, September 14, 2008 in High Point, NC. Lee served a stint as intentional interim pastor at JPBC in 1996-1997 between John Herndon's tenure and my own. The funeral service for Lee will be held at 11 am on Saturday, September 20 at FBC Kernersville, NC.
Lee was a native of Lauringburg, NC and a graduate of Wake Forest University and Southeastern Baptist Seminary. He and his wife Doris served for 10 years as IMB missionaries in Zambia. He then served for 20 years as a hospital chaplain in Lynchburg, VA. In his retirement years he served several churches in Virginia and North Carolina as an intentional interim pastor. He served in that role at JPBC during an important time of transition for this congregation. In addition to his wife of 53 years, Lee leaves behind three sons and five grandchildren.
For man also knoweth not his time (Ecclesiastes 9:12).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Church: Hospital or Hospice?

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly (John 10:10 AV).

Have you ever heard someone say that the church is not a health resort for the saints but a hospital for the sick? This illustration is usually presented to emphasize the fact that Christians are not fully sanctified on this side of the kingdom. We are sinners who continue to struggle with the vestiges of our sin nature, even after we are converted and begin the journey of progressive sanctification.

A Pastor friend of mine, however, recently offered an interesting critique of this old adage. He noted that some have a tendency to use this kind of sentiment to justify the habitual continuation of sinful patterns of behavior in their lives. Such are also quite likely to proclaim things like, "I’m not perfect, just forgiven." At worst, some can use this notion to say, in effect, "Leave my sin alone!"

My Pastor friend noted that sometimes such folk are not really thinking of the church as a hospital but as a hospice. Hospice is the care given to those with a terminal illness when no more treatment is suggested or warranted. In a hospice the patient stops seeking active treatment and just seeks to be made comfortable till the end arrives. Some want to be left alone to die with their besetting sin.

Those who expect recovery, however, go to a hospital not a hospice. You go to a hospital in order to receive treatment, take high-powered medicine, have surgery, regain health, and recover from your illness. If the church is truly a hospital for the sick (and not a hospice), then it ought to be a place where we do not expect to rest easy with the disease of sin. Instead, it is a place where we seek all means available to eradicate the poison of sin from our flesh, so that we can have life and health in Christ to the fullest.

Yes, we are a hospital for the sick. But we are not a hospice.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Note: Evangel article for 9/10/08.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sermon of the Week: Beeke on "The Marrow of Reformed Theology"

If you want to hear an excellent summary of Reformed theology (everything from the Solas to TULIP to the relationship between law and gospel), listen to this presentation by Joel Beeke, "The Marrow of Reformed Theology."

Monday, September 08, 2008

Pessimism and Pride

I have enjoyed giving copies of Joel Beeke’s book Overcoming the World to some of my pastor friends. My two favorite chapters are "Your Fight Against Pride" (chapter 17) and "Your Coping with Criticism" (chapter 18). Any Pastor would profit from reading these chapters.

Beeke admonishes: "Take heed to your attitude toward ministry. Ministers can develop two paralyzing attitudes toward ministry: pride or pessimism. Both are worldly at heart, for both show that the world is not crucified in us" (p. 136).

Regarding pessimism, he notes, "A pessimistic attitude in a minister is no better than a proud one, for pride is the root of pessimism." He continues, "Resentment and criticism are the maidservants of pessimism. A complaining spirit produces negativism, depression, bitterness and disillusionment in ministry. It promotes smugness and blindness to one’s own condition" (p. 142).

Beeke is on the money. Pessimism is really the flip side of pride. When we are overly pessimistic what we are really saying is, "I lack trust in myself or those around me to get things done." When we do this, we are in reality demonstrating a lack of trust in God. Pessimism, like pride, is a false confidence in self that neglects the presence and power of God.

In Sunday’s message, reflecting on the bold promise Jesus gives to his disciples in Mark 11:23-24 about telling mountains to be removed and cast into the sea, I gave this summary of our typically pessimistic attitudes:
  • That kind of person will never listen to the gospel—he’s too intellectual, or too uneducated, too polished or too rough around the edges, too popular or too unpopular, too rich or too poor, too self-sufficient or too needy.
  • He’ll never overcome that addiction.
  • This town will never see a revival—it’s too Jeffersonian, too secular, and too gospel hardened.
  • Our church could never raise that kind of money or support that kind of ministry.
  • Our family could never have consistent daily devotions.
  • My children could never be that obedient.
  • My family will never have that kind of closeness.
  • We can’t give that much to missions.
  • That child will never be able to overcome those handicaps.
  • That marriage will never be restored.
  • That slacker husband will never be the spiritual head of his household.
  • She’ll never have her physical health restored.

Beeke concludes the chapter on criticism by saying:

"Put your hand again to the plow, despite your weaknesses and hurts. ‘Continue with double earnestness to serve your Lord when no visible result is before you,’ Surgeon said. Pray more and look at circumstances less" (p. 157).


Monday, September 01, 2008

The Excellent Privileges of the Ministerial Office

I recently re-read Richard Baxter's classic, The Reformed Pastor. It is the sort of book every pastor should read annually. In discussing the Pastor's motives for shepherding the flock, Baxter reflects on the privileges of the ministry. His thoughts are worth sharing on Labor Day. I feel sorry for those who have to do jobs that they do not enjoy. I concur with Baxter, what an "excellent privilege" it is "to live in studying and preaching Christ!"
Here are Baxter's thoughts on "the excellent privileges of the ministerial office":
Consider that you have many other excellent privileges of the ministerial office to encourage you to the work. If therefore you will not do the work, you have nothing to do with the privileges. It is something that you are maintained by other men’s labors. This is for your work, that you may not be taken off from it, but, as Paul requireth, may ‘give yourselves wholly to these things,’ and not be forced to neglect men’s souls, whilst you are providing for your own bodies. Either do the work, then, or take not the maintenance.
But you have far greater privileges than this. Is it nothing to be brought up to learning, when others are brought up to the cart and plough? and to be furnished with so much delightful knowledge, when the world lieth in ignorance? Is it nothing to converse with learned men, and to talk of high and glorious things, when others must converse with almost none but the most vulgar and illiterate But especially, what an excellent privilege is it, to live in studying and preaching Christ! to be continually searching into his mysteries, or feeding on them! to be daily employed in the consideration of he blessed nature, works, and ways of God! Others are glad of the leisure of the Lord’s day, and now and then of an hour besides, when they can lay hold upon it. But we may keep a continual Sabbath. We may do almost nothing else, but study and talk of God and glory, and engage in acts of prayer and praise, and drink in his sacred, saving truths. Our employment is all high and spiritual. Whether we be alone, or in company, our business is for another world. O that our hearts were but more tuned to this work! What a blessed, joyful life should we then live! How sweet would our study be to us! How pleasant the pulpit! And what delight would our conference about spiritual and eternal things afford us! To live among such excellent helps as our libraries afford, to have so many silent wise companions whenever we please – all these, and many other similar privileges of the ministry, bespeak our unwearied diligence in the work.