Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top Ten Books of 2009

Here are the top ten books I read in 2009 (in no particular order; you can compare my 2008 list here):

1. Michael Bushell, The Songs of Zion (Crown and Covenant, 1980).

Bushell makes a cogent and thoughtful argument for exclusive psalmody (the singing of only canonical psalms in Scripturally regulated worship). Though he did not convince me that only canonical psalms should be sung in worship, he did convict me that the singing of canonical psalms should be included in worship (inclusive psalmody).

2. D. G. Hart, Deconstructing Evangelicalism: Conservative Protestants in the Age of Billy Graham (Baker, 2004).

Hart’s radical thesis: “Instead of trying to fix evangelicalism, born-again Protestants would be better off if they abandoned the category altogether… Evangelicalism needs to be relinquished as a religious identity because it does not exist. In fact, it is the wax nose of twentieth century American Protestantism” (p. 16).

3. D. A. Black, Ed., Perspectives on the Ending of Mark (B & H, 2008).

This collection of essays came from a conference held at SEBTS on the disputed ending of Mark (16:9-20). Chapters come from Dan Wallace (“reasoned eclecticism”), Maurice Robinson (Byzantine text), Keith Elliot (“thoroughgoing eclecticism”), and D. A. Black (multiple authorship theory), with a concluding essay from Darrell Bock. Wallace, Elliot, and Bock reject Mark 16:9-20 as authentic while Robinson and Black defend it. Reading this book reinforced my sense that modern textual criticism has been toxic for Biblical authority and further convinced me that Mark 16:9-20 is canonical.

4. Jacob Van Bruggen, The Ancient Text of the New Testament (Premier, 1976).

This respected Dutch scholar offers a convincing defense of the traditional text of the New Testament. I also read Van Bruggen’s The Future of the Bible (Nelson, 1978) which critiques the proliferation of contemporary Bible translations in the evangelical marketplace.

5. John Price, Old Light on New Worship (Simpson, 2005, 2007).

Price, a Reformed Baptist Pastor, makes a strong argument against the use of instrumental accompaniment in the singing of praise in corporate worship based on the Regulative Principle of worship.

6. Gregory A. Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 1859-2009 (Oxford, 2009).

Wills offers an insightful, well-written history of Southern Baptists’ flagship seminary (and my alma mater) on its 150th anniversary. His thesis is that SBTS under Mohler has returned to the Calvinistic roots of its founders.

7. Francis Wayland, Notes on the Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches (Sheldon, Blakeman, & Co., 1857).

Wayland offers interesting insights on the practices of Baptists in 19th century including areas of declension in preaching, worship, and ministry.

8. Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry: with An Inquiry into the Causes of its Inefficiency (Banner of Truth, 1967 [original 1830]).

I finally finished reading through this classic work on the nature and practice of ministry. Its chapters must be slowly digested. Very dense with much to feed upon in every chapter.

9. R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confessions: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice (P & R, 2008).

Clark makes a strong plea for robustly confessional churches that avoid the pitfalls of QUIRC (the quest for illegitimate religious certainty) and QUIRE (the quest for illegitimate religious experience). He has the audacity, among other things, to critique the influence of Jonathan Edwards among evangelicals, including how Edwardsian revival spirituality feeds the hunger for growth through experiences rather than through the ordinary means of grace.

10. Iain H. Murray, The Life of John Murray (Banner of Truth, 2007 [1982]).

Murray offers a warm, devotional biography of the famed Scottish theologian who labored at Westminster Seminary.

Other selected noteworthy reads in 2009:

Biographies: John Marshall, Life and Writings (Banner of Truth, 2005); Everett Gill, A. T. Robertson: A Biography (MacMillan, 1943); Bernard J. Honeycutt, The Sound of His Name (Banner of Truth, 1995); C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, Volume I: The Early Years (Banner of Truth, 1962 [original 1897-1900]); Philip G. Ryken, The Life of Dr. James Montgomery Boice, 1938-2000 (Gerald Stevens, 2001); Gertrude Hoeksema, Therefore Have I Spoken: A Biography of Herman Hoeksema (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1969).

Textual and translation studies: Paul D. Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible (IVP, 2006); Theodore P. Letis, The Majority Text: Essays and Reviews in the Continuing Debate (Institute for Biblical Studies, 1987); A. T. Robertson, Studies in the Text of the New Testament (Doran, 1926); A. T. Robertson, The Minister and His Greek New Testament (Doran, 1923); Alexander McClure, The Translators Revised (Maranatha reprint, 1858); Rolf Shafer, et al, Textual Research on the Bible: An Introduction to the Scholarly Editions of the German Bible Society (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2008); Alister McGrath, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture (Anchor, 2001).

Bible Commentaries: Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John (IVP, 1983); William Hendricksen, Mark (Baker, 1975); D. Edmund Hiebert, The Gospel According to Mark: An Expositional Commentary (BJU Press, 1994); James Montgomery Boice, Romans, Volume I: Justification by Faith [Romans 1-4] (Baker, 1991).

Theology and Ministry: Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Revised and Expanded (Moody [1996, 1995] 2007); Li Cheng, trans. Pak Shem, Song of a Wanderer: Beckoned by Eternity (Ambassadors for Christ, 2002); Joel R. Beeke, Heirs with Christ: The Puritans on Adoption (Reformation Heritage, 2008); A. W. Pink, Profiting from the Word (Banner of Truth, 1970); Iain Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage (Banner of Truth, 2006).

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Calvin on Church Government: Part Sixteen

Note:  This is the sixteenth and final entry in our series from Calvin's Institutes of church government and offices.

It remains to consider the form of ordination, to which we have assigned the last place in the call (see chap. 4, sec. 14, 15). It is certain, that when the apostles appointed any one to the ministry, they used no other ceremony than the laying on of hands. This form was derived, I think, from the custom of the Jews, who, by the laying on of hands, in a manner presented to God whatever they wished to be blessed and consecrated. Thus Jacob, when about to bless Ephraim and Manasseh, placed his hands upon their heads (Gen. 48:14). The same thing was done by our Lord, when he prayed over the little children (Mt. 19:15). With the same intent (as I imagine), the Jews, according to the injunction of the law, laid hands upon their sacrifices. Wherefore, the apostles, by the laying on of hands, intimated that they made an offering to God of him whom they admitted to the ministry; though they also did the same thing over those on whom they conferred the visible gifts of the Spirit (Acts 8:17; 19:6). However this be, it was the regular form, whenever they called any one to the sacred ministry. In this way they consecrated pastors and teachers; in this way they consecrated deacons. But though there is no fixed precept concerning the laying on of hands, yet as we see that it was uniformly observed by the apostles, this careful observance ought to be regarded by us in the light of a precept (see chap. 14, sec. 20; chap. 19, sec. 31). And it is certainly useful, that by such a symbol the dignity of the ministry should be commended to the people, and he who is ordained, reminded that he is no longer his own, but is bound in service to God and the Church. Besides, it will not prove an empty sign, if it be restored to its genuine origin. For if the Spirit of God has not instituted anything in the Church in vain, this ceremony of his appointment we shall feel not to be useless, provided it be not superstitiously abused. Lastly, it is to observed, that it was not the whole people, but only pastors, who laid hands on ministers, though it is uncertain whether or not several always laid their hands: it is certain, that in the case of the deacons, it was done by Paul and Barnabas, and some few others (Acts 6:6; 13:3). But in another place, Paul mentions that he himself, without any others, laid hands on Timothy. “Wherefore, I put thee in remembrance, that thou stir up the gift of God which is in thee, by the putting on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1:6). For what is said in the First Epistle, of the laying on of the hands of the presbytery, I do not understand as if Paul were speaking of the college of Elders. By the expression, I understand the ordination itself; as if he had said, Act so, that the gift which you received by the laying on of hands, when I made you a presbyter, may not be in vain.

Analysis:  Calvin commends the practice of laying on of hands to ordain elders and deacons.  This should not be done by all the people but by the ministers only.  The ordination by laying on of hands is useful to represent "the dignity of the ministry" as long as it is "not superstitiously abused."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sermon of the Week: Henry Scougal "On the Nativity of our Savior"

Should believers celebrate Christmas? This question has long divided Reformed Christians. The continental reformers were more willing to observe “Christian year” elements (including Christmas) as long as they did not contradict the gospel, while the English reformers were generally less tolerant of keeping unbiblical “holy days.”

Henry Scougal (1650-78) was a Scottish Puritan who defended the proper celebration of Christ’s birth. In his Christmas Day sermon “On the Nativity of our Savior” (text: Psalm 2:11), Scougal begins by noting that “the observation of festivals” has been “one of the balls of contention which have been tossed so hotly in the religious debates of this unhappy age.”

Though acknowledging “the abuses of this solemnity,” he makes it his work in this sermon “to persuade you to such a deportment on this festival, as may best suit with the holy life of that Person, whose nativity we commemorate.”

Scougal’s exposition of his text falls under two heads:

First, there is an exhortation to cheerfulness and joy. Scripture does not teach “that men ought always to be sad, under the notion of being serious; for cheerfulness enlightens the mind, and encourages the heart, and raiseth the soul (as it were) to breathe in a purer air….”

Christian joy, however, is not just “a levity of spirit.” Scougal notes, “we would not have a man’s whole life become a sport.” Real joy “springs from the sense of divine goodness” and “our sincerity in his service.”

Second, Scougal defines the right boundaries for cheerfulness and joy: “Rejoice we may, but it must be with trembling.”

“Hell is certainly in our creed, as well as heaven; and as the fear of it is ordinarily the first step of converion, so it may be of use to quicken us and push us forward all along, through our journey towards heaven.”

He then moves on to application under three heads:

1.  The excellency of the person who was born:

First, then, He was no common person whose birth occasions our joy. If we but fix our eyes on his human nature, and consider those excellencies that were obvious to the eyes of the world, we shall yet acknowledge, that never such a person appeared on the face of the earth….

He was God as well as man; and by communication of properties it may be said, that he whom we now behold in a cradle, has his throne in the heaven, and filleth all things by his immensity; that he who is wrapped in swaddling clothes, is now clothed in infinite glory; and he whom we find in a stable among beasts, is the same with him encircled with millions of angels; in a word, that great Person, whose nativity we celebrate, is divinely embodied, God made flesh. This union of the divine and human nature is a mystery great enough to confound our understanding, but not to trouble or shake our faith, who know many things to be, which we cannot know how they are, and are not able to give any account of the union betwixt the soul and the body, or of the parts of nature among themselves, which yet we never call in question….

2.  The design of his birth:

In a Word, CHRIST came into the world to advance the glory of GOD, and the happiness of the earth, by restoring us to the favor of our Maker, and a conformity to him. And certainly if we-have any sense of the evil of sin, or the misery of hell,-of the beauty of holiness, or the glory of heaven; it must needs be a matter of great joy to celebrate the birth of Him who loth deliver us from the one, and give us assurance of the other.

3.  The circumstances of it:

It remaineth that we yet speak of the nativity which we celebrate; and many things present themselves full of comfort and instruction. We shall only observe our SAVIOUR's coming into the world after that manner which did best suit with his design. Indeed, when a man should hear of the SON of GOD's coming down from heaven into the lower world, he would be apt to think that his ap­pearance would be with the greatest splendor and mag­nificence, and that the glory of heaven should continually attend his -person; at least, that all the Princes in the world should be summoned to attend his reception, and that the heaven should bow at his presence, and the earth tremble at the approach of his Majesty, and that all the clouds should clap together in an universal thunder, to welcome his appearance; but instead of all this pomp and grandeur, he slips into the world, is born in a village, discovered by some poor shepherds, and found by them in a stable, and such a homely cradle as that afforded, only attended by his poor mother, who, though of royal blood, had nothing but goodness to make her eminent; and his education was answerable to his obscure birth, and his whole life, a course of humility and self-denial. Now certainly this far best agrees with the design of his appearance, who came not on so mean an errand as to dazzle the eyes of mankind with the appearance of his glory, nor to amaze them with the terribleness of his majesty, much less to make a show of the riches and gal­lantry of the world among them, but to "bring life and immortality," and lead men to eternal happiness. In order to which it was necessary, that by his example as well as doctrine, he should disparage the vanities of the world, and bring them out of that credit and esteem they had gotten among foolish men.

Finally, Scougal ends with exhortation to proper observance of Christmas. Some take “the solemn anniversary, as if it were indeed a drunken Bacchus, and not a holy Jesus, whom they worshipped. What! because GOD became man, must we become beasts? Or think we to honor that Child with dissoluteness, who came to the world on designs of holiness."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Watson's Expanded View of the Fifth Commandment

My wife and I like to tell our children when we review the ten commandments in family devotions that our favorite commandment is the fifth: “Honor thy father and thy mother….” (Exod 20:12).

The old divines, however, saw the fifth commandment as having to do with much more than the parent/child relationship but with proper respect for and submission to authority, station, and office. The catechism asks, “What is required in the fifth commandment?” and answers, “The fifth commandment requires the preserving the honour and performing the duties belonging to every one in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, and equals.”

In Thomas Watson’s study on the Ten Commandments, he applies the fifth commandment’s charge “Honor thy father” to five different kinds of fathers: the political (the civil magistrate), the ancient (the elderly), the spiritual (pastors and ministers), the domestic (the master or employer), and the natural (the biological parent).

With regard to spiritual fathers (pastors and ministers), Watson says that they should be honored “in respect of their office.” This honor should be given to ministers in three ways:

1. By giving them respect.

Watson states, “Many can be content to know their ministers in their infirmities, and are glad when they have anything against them, but do not know them in the apostles’ sense, so as to give them ‘double honor.’ Surely were it not for the ministry, you would not be a vineyard, but a desert.” Ministers are to be respected because God has chosen them to bring to God’s people the Word and Sacraments (Ordinances).

2. By becoming advocates for them.

Understanding well the inherent nature of pastoral ministry, Watson charges that this will include, “wiping off those slanders and calumnies which are unjustly cast upon them (1 Tim 5: 19). Constantine was a great honourer of the ministry; he vindicated them; he would not read the envious accusations brought against them, but burnt them. Do the ministers open their mouths to God for you in prayer, and will not you open your mouths in their behalf? Surely, if they labour to preserve you from hell, you should preserve them from slander; if they labour to save your souls, you ought to save their credit.”

3. By conforming to their doctrine.

Watson concludes, “The greatest honour you can put upon your spiritual fathers, is to believe and obey their doctrine. He is an honourer of the ministry who is not only a hearer, but a follower of the word. As disobedience reproaches the ministry, so obedience honours it… You cannot honour your spiritual fathers more, than by thriving under their ministry, and living upon the sermons which they preach.”


Calvin on Church Government: Part Fifteen

Note: This is the fifteenth in our series from Calvin’s Institutes (Book IV; Chapter III):

The next question is, Whether a minister should be chosen by the whole Church, or only by colleagues and elders, who have the charge of discipline; or whether they may be appointed by the authority of one individual? Those who attribute this right to one individual quote the words of Paul to Titus “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city” (Titus 1:5); and also to Timothy, “Lay hands suddenly on no man” (l Tim. 5:22). But they are mistaken if they suppose that Timothy so reigned at Ephesus, and Titus in Crete, as to dispose of all things at their own pleasure. They only presided by previously giving good and salutary counsels to the people, not by doing alone whatever pleased them, while all others were excluded. Lest this should seem to be a fiction of mine, I will make it plain by a similar example. Luke relates that Barnabas and Paul ordained elders throughout the churches, but he at the same time marks the plan or mode when he says that it was done by suffrage. The words are, Χειροτονήσαντες πρεσβυτέρους κατ᾽ ἐκκλησίαν (Acts 14:23). They therefore selected (creabant) two; but the whole body, as was the custom of the Greeks in elections, declared by a show of hands which of the two they wished to have. Thus it is not uncommon for Roman historians to say, that the consul who held the comitia elected the new magistrates, for no other reason but because he received the suffrages, and presided over the people at the election. Certainly it is not credible that Paul conceded more to Timothy and Titus than he assumed to himself. Now we see that his custom was to appoint bishops by the suffrages of the people. We must therefore interpret the above passages, so as not to infringe on the common right and liberty of the Church. Rightly, therefore, does Cyprian contend for it as of divine authority, that the priest be chosen in presence of the people, before the eyes of all, and be approved as worthy and fit by public judgment and testimony, (Cyprian, Lib. 1 Ep. 3). Indeed, we see that by the command of the Lord, the practice in electing the Levitical priests was to bring them forward in view of the people before consecration. Nor is Matthias enrolled among the number of the apostles, nor are the seven deacons elected in any other way, than at the sight and approval of the people (Acts 6:2). “Those examples,” says Cyprian, “show that the ordination of a priest behoved not to take place, unless under the consciousness of the people assisting, so that ordination was just and legitimate which was vouched by the testimony of all.” We see, then, that ministers are legitimately called according to the word of God, when those who may have seemed fit are elected on the consent and approbation of the people. Other pastors, however, ought to preside over the election, lest any error should be committed by the general body either through levity, or bad passion, or tumult.

Analysis: Beyond the divine call, Calvin now asks about the human call (means) of men to ministry. According to Calvin, ministers should not be appointed by one minister, or by a group of elders, but by the body at large. In this sense, Calvin seems to argue for a kind of congregational church government in election of officers.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sermon of the Week: Heidelcast

I have become a regular listener of R. Scott Clark's weekly podcasts (Heidelcasts).  Clark always has a fresh perspective on Reformed theology, evangelicalism, worship, etc.  Though I don't always find myself in agreement with him, I commend his blog and podcast, if you haven't already discovered it.  You can find the archive of past and present Heidelcasts here.

For starters, you might listen to Clark's critique of John Piper's invitation of Federal Vision proponent Doug Wilson as a speaker in his most recent Desiring God conference (part one and part two).


Calvin on Church Government: Part Fourteen

Note:  Part fourteen in our series from Calvin's Institutes on government and office.

But no sober person will deny that the regular mode of lawful calling is, that bishops should be designated by men, since there are numerous passages of Scripture to this effect. Nor, as has been said, is there anything contrary to this in Paul’s protestation, that he was not sent either of man, or by man, seeing he is not there speaking of the ordinary election of ministers, but claiming for himself what was peculiar to the apostles: although the Lord in thus selecting Paul by special privilege, subjected him in the meantime to the discipline of an ecclesiastical call: for Luke relates, “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2). Why this separation and laying on of hands after the Holy Spirit had attested their election, unless that ecclesiastical discipline might be preserved in appointing ministers by men? God could not give a more illustrious proof of his approbation of this order, than by causing Paul to be set apart by the Church after he had previously declared that he had appointed him to be the Apostle of the Gentiles. The same thing we may see in the election of Matthias. As the apostolic office was of such importance that they did not venture to appoint any one to it of their own judgment, they 2325bring forward two, on one of whom the lot might fall, that thus the election might have a sure testimony from heaven, and, at the same time, the policy of the Church might not be disregarded.

Analysis:  Though staunchly defending the necessity of divine call, Calvin also aknowledges God's use of human means to set apart bishops.  The setting apart of Paul and others by prayer and the laying on of hands in Acts 13 provides the model for this.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Calvin on Church Government: Part Thirteen

Note:  This is part thirteen in this ongoing series from Calvin on church government and office.

The third division which we have adopted is, by whom ministers are to be chosen. A certain rule on this head cannot be obtained from the appointment of the apostles, which was somewhat different from the common call of others. As theirs was an extraordinary ministry, in order to render it conspicuous by some more distinguished mark, those who were to discharge it behoved to be called and appointed by the mouth of the Lord himself. It was not, therefore, by any human election, but at the sole command of God and Christ, that they prepared themselves for the work. Hence, when the apostles were desirous to substitute another in the place of Judas, they did not venture to nominate any one certainly, but brought forward two, that the Lord might declare by lot which of them he wished to succeed (Acts 1:23). In this way we ought to understand Paul’s declaration, that he was made an apostle, “not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father” (Gal. 1:1). The former—viz. not of men—he had in common with all the pious ministers of the word, for no one could duly perform the office unless called by God. The other was proper and peculiar to him. And while he glories in it, he boasts that he had not only what pertains to a true and lawful pastor, but he also brings forward the insignia of his apostleship. For when there were some among the Galatians who, seeking to disparage his authority, represented him as some ordinary disciple, substituted in place of the primary apostles, he, in order to maintain unimpaired the dignity of his ministry, against which he knew that these attempts were made, felt it necessary to show that he was in no respect inferior to the other apostles. Accordingly, he affirms that he was not chosen by the judgment of men, like some ordinary bishop, but by the mouth and manifest oracle of the Lord himself.

Analysis:  Calvin continues to insist that ministers are called first and foremost by the Lord himself and not by men.  Pastors must have a divine calling.

Spurgeon: On Religious Grumblers

…It is a dreadful thing to see a happy family of Christians broken up by talkative fault-finders, and all about nothing, or less than nothing. Small is the edge of the wedge, but when the devil handles the beetle, churches are soon split to pieces, and men wonder why.

The fact is, the worst wheel of the cart creaks most, and one fool makes many, and thus many a congregation is set at ears with a good and faithful minister, who would have been a lasting blessing to them if they had not chased away their best friend. Those who are at the bottom of the mischief have generally no part or lot in the matter of true godliness, but, like sparrows, fight over corn which is not their own, and, like jackdaws, pull to pieces what they never helped to build….

From Charles Spurgeon in John Ploughman’s Talk.

Calvin on Church Government: Part Twelve

Note: Here continues our series from Calvin’s Institutes on church government and office.

What persons should be elected bishops is treated at length by Paul in two passages (Titus 1:7; 1 Tim 3:1). The substance is, that none are to be chosen save those who are of sound doctrine and holy lives, and not notorious for any defect which might destroy their authority and bring disgrace on the ministry. The description of deacons and elders is entirely similar. We must always take care that they are not unfit for or unequal to the burden imposed upon them; in other words, that they are provided with the means which will be necessary to fulfil their office. Thus our Savior, when about to send his apostles, provided them with the arms and instruments which were indispensably requisite (Luke 21:15; 24:49; Mark 6:15; Acts 1:8; 1 Tim 5:22). And Paul, after portraying the character of a good and genuine bishop, admonishes Timothy not to contaminate himself by choosing an improper person for the office. The expression, in what way, I use not in reference to the rite of choosing, but only to the religious fear which is to be observed in election. Hence the fastings and prayers which Luke narrates that the faithful employed when they elected presbyters (Acts 14:23). For, understanding that the business was the most serious in which they could engage, they did not venture to act without the greatest reverence and solicitude. But above all, they were earnest in prayer, imploring from God the spirit of wisdom and discernment.

Analysis: Calvin goes to the classic descriptions in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 to describe the role of the “bishop.” He is to hold sound doctrine and live a holy life. As with deacons care is to be taken that “they are not unfit for or unequal to the burden imposed upon them.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mounce, NIV 2011, and Modern Translation Musings

Zondervan announced in September that they would be offering a revision of the NIV in 2011 (the 400th anniversary of the KJV).   In October they also announced that Greek grammarian Bill Mounce was being added to the revised NIV translation team.  The irony here is that Mounce also served as NT chair for the translation of the ESV.  You can read Mounce's reflections on this here.  In his remarks he states that his decision to join the NIV team should not be interpreted as casting doubts on his support for the ESV.  He also refers to potential issues with the NIV with regard to gender-neutral language, concluding:  "But who knows where the NIV 2011 will go and how I will vote."

Here's the question:  Do we really need a revision of the NIV?  If Mounce applied a translation philosophy of which he approved in the creation of the ESV, what substantial changes would he offer in the revised NIV?  Are those significant enought to warrant another English translation in the already crowded modern Bible marketplace?


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Sermon of the Week: Jonathan Edwards' "Farewell Sermon"

One of the classic sermons of all time is Jonathan Edwards’ “Farewell Sermon” preached to his congregation at Northampton, Massachusetts on July 1, 1750 (read it here; listen to an abridged reading here). Edwards delivered the message after being forced out as pastor. He had served the church for 23 years. During his tenure, the congregation had experienced the Great Awakening of 1734-35 but also the controversy of the “young folk’s Bible” episode and Edwards’ rejection of the “half-way covenant.” Historian George Marsden provides an insightful analysis of this period of Edwards’ life in his respected biography of the great colonial pastor and theologian (see Jonathan Edwards: A Life [Yale University Press, 2003], chapters 21 and 22, pp. 341-74; quotes below are from this work).

According to Marsden, Edwards’ removal began with the pastor’s suggestion of revision of the church’s government that was perceived to be “antidemocratic” (see Marsden, pp. 345-46). Edwards presented his ideas in a series of controversial sermons in June 1748. This disagreement was accompanied by disputes over the standards of admission to membership. Marsden notes: “In the poisoned atmosphere…. Rather than engage the real issues, they [the church members] complained to each other about how Edwards had not been open and honest with them” (p. 348).

By December 1749 Edwards would write to a friend, “The tumult is vastly greater than when you were here and is rising higher and higher continually” (p. 357). Marsden adds, “During the next few months matters only got worse as the town and church majority pushed relentlessly for Edwards’ removal” (p. 357). By the Spring of 1750 the church had sought outside consultation from an ad hoc committee of neighboring churches. “Edwards was painfully exasperated that he could not get the townspeople even to listen to his views” (p. 359). Marsden adds that one of Edwards’ opponents, his cousin Israel Williams, “made several vehement speeches against [Edwards], calling him a ‘tyrant’ who was ‘unsufferable’ in ‘lording it over [his] people’” (p. 359).

A council met from June 19-22, 1750. Marsden observes, “The minority argued for slowing down the process so as to be able to seek reconciliation. The vocal townspeople would hear nothing of delay. Only immediate separation would do” (p. 360). Of great personal disappointment to Edwards was the fact that one of the leaders in opposition to him was a young lawyer named Joseph Hawley III, Edwards’ cousin and a young man he had once praised as “a worthy pious man” (p. 358). Marsden notes that Edwards had “probably acted as something of a guardian and mentor” to Hawley after the suicide of the young man’s father (p. 358). The volatile Hawley was now firmly set against Edwards, however, and “would countenance no delay or mediation” in seeking his removal. When the council asked the church to express its will on the continuation of Edwards’ pastoral ministry, only 23 male members voted for Edwards and 230 against him. The council then approved his dismissal while at the same time declaring Edwards “‘eminently qualified for the work of Gospel ministry’ in any church that shared his views” (p. 361).

Edwards preached the “Farewell Sermon” on July 1, 1750. In the message he paints a compelling scene of pastor and people meeting before the throne of God on Judgment Day. Marsden notes that “Much of the congregation must have sat in sullen indignation as Edwards implied that he would be exonerated while many of them would be found irredeemably guilty on the last day” (p. 362).

At the start of the sermon Edwards states:

Ministers, and the people that have been under their care, must meet one another before Christ’s tribunal at the day of judgment.

Ministers, and the people that have been under their care, must be parted in this world, how well soever they have been united. If they are not separated before, they must be parted by death, and they may be separated while life is continued. We live in a world of change, where nothing is certain or stable, and where a little time, a few revolutions of the sun, brings to pass strange things, surprising alterations, in particular persons in families, in towns and churches, in countries and nations. It often happens, that those who seem most united, in a little time are most disunited, and at the greatest distance. Thus ministers and people, between whom there has been the greatest mutual regard and strictest union, may not only differ in their judgments, and be alienated in affection, but one may rend from the other, and all relation between them be dissolved. The minister may be removed to a distant place, and they may never have any more to do one with another in this world. But if it be so, there is one meeting more that they must have, and that is in the last great day of accounts.

He later adds:

It often comes to pass in this evil world, that great differences and controversies arise between ministers and the people under their pastoral care. Though they are under the greatest obligations to live in peace, above persons in almost any relation whatever, and although contests and dissensions between persons so related are the most unhappy and terrible in their consequences on many accounts of any sort of contentions, yet how frequent have such contentions been! Sometimes a people contest with their ministers about their doctrine, sometimes about their administrations and conduct, and sometimes about their maintenance. Sometimes such contests continue a long time, and sometimes they are decided in this world, according to the prevailing interest of one party or the other, rather than by the Word of God, and the reason of things. And sometimes such controversies never have any proper determination in this world.

But at the day of judgment there will be a full, perfect, and everlasting decision of them. The infallible Judge, the infinite fountain of light, truth, and justice, will judge between the contending parties, and will declare what is the truth, who is in the right, and what is agreeable to his mind and will. And in order hereto, the parties must stand together before him at the last day, which will be the great day of finishing and determining all controversies, rectifying all mistakes, and abolishing all unrighteous judgments, errors, and confusions, which have before subsisted in the world of mankind.

Edwards and his large family “remained awkwardly in Northampton for a year” after the dismissal (p. 363). It is sometimes favorably noted that he did on a few occasions fill the pulpit at Northampton after his dismissal, but Marsden makes clear that the church “always did so as a last resort and with great reluctance” (p. 364). In fact, Edwards’ ardent opponents “unhappy to continue to endure their ousted pastor” eventually gained a vote in a public meeting that he not be invited again “even if it sometimes meant going without preaching” (p. 364). Edwards and his family eventually moved to Stockbridge in June 1751 where he took up ministry among the Mohican Indians. Marsden concludes his analysis of Edwards’ departure from Northampton: “Once the bonds of affection were broken, each side, as in any controversy, soon saw the other as unreasonable and even perverse. In the Northampton case, the intensity of the feelings were heightened by the fact that the two parties has once been great lovers, each of whom now viewed themselves as betrayed” (p. 374).


Saturday, December 05, 2009

Calvin on Church Government: Part Eleven

Note:  The discussion of calling continues in this eleventh part in our series from Calvin's Institutes on church government and offices.

Outer and inner call:

The subject is comprehended under four heads—viz. who are to be appointed ministers, in what way, by whom, and with what rite or initiatory ceremony. I am speaking of the external and formal call which relates to the public order of the Church, while I say nothing of that secret call of which every minister is conscious before God, but has not the Church as a witness of it; I mean, the good testimony of our heart, that we undertake the offered office neither from ambition nor avarice, nor any other selfish feeling, but a sincere fear of God and desire to edify the Church. This, as I have said, is indeed necessary for every one of us, if we would approve our ministry to God. Still, however, a man may have been duly called by the Church, though he may have accepted with a bad conscience, provided his wickedness is not manifest. It is usual also to say, that private men are called to the ministry when they seem fit and apt to discharge it; that is, because learning, conjoined with piety and the other endowments of a good pastor, is a kind of preparation for the office. For those whom the Lord has destined for this great office he previously provides with the armour which is requisite for the discharge of it, that they may not come empty and unprepared. Hence Paul, in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, when treating of the offices, first enumerates the gifts in which those who performed the offices ought to excel. But as this is the first of the four heads which I mentioned, let us now proceed to it.

Analysis:  Calvin distinguishes between the "external and formal call" (conferred by men) to public ministry and the "secret call" (given by God alone).

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Thomas Watson on "holy conferences"

I concluded my teaching series last night on "The Christian Understanding of the Sabbath" by addressing practical issues.  One of the questions addressed:  "Apart from various prohibitions, what should I positively do on the Lord's Day?"  Among the suggestions:

Attend public worship
Read the Bible and Christian books
For parents:  teach children
Fellowship with believers (stay focused on spiritual topics)
Family worship and singing
Take a nap!

As a follow up to public worship, I added the comments by Thomas Watson in his discussion of the Lord's Day in The Ten Commandments wherein he urges "holy conferences" to discuss the day's sermon:

Having heard the word in a holy and spiritual manner, for the further sanctification of the Sabbath, confer with the word. We are forbidden on this day to speak our own words, but we must speak of God’s word. Isa 58: 13. Speak of the sermons as you sit together; which is one part of sanctifying the Sabbath. Good discourse brings holy truths into our memories, and fastens them upon our hearts. ‘Then they that feared the Lord, spake often one to another.’ Mal 3: 16. There is great power and efficacy in good discourse. ‘How forcible are right words!’ Job 6: 25. By holy conference on a Sabbath, one Christian helps to warm another when he is frozen, and to strengthen another when he is weak. Latimer confessed he was much furthered in religion by having conference with Mr. Bilney the martyr. ‘My tongue shall speak of thy word.’ Psa 119: 172. One reason why preaching the word on a Sabbath does no more good is because there is so little good conference. Few speak of the word they have heard, as if sermons were such secrets that they must not be spoken of again, or as if it were a shame to speak of that which will save us.


Calvin on Church Government: Part Ten

Note: This is part ten in our series from Calvin's Institutes on church government and offices. Here Calvin begins to turn to the issues of calling and ordination.

Now seeing that in the sacred assembly all things ought to be done decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40), there is nothing in which this ought to be more carefully observed than in settling government, irregularity in any respect being nowhere more perilous. Wherefore, lest restless and turbulent men should presumptuously push themselves forward to teach or rule (an event which actually was to happen), it was expressly provided that no one should assume a public office in the Church without a call (Heb. 5:4; Jer. 17:16). Therefore, if any one would be deemed a true minister of the Church, he must first be duly called; and, secondly, he must answer to his calling; that is, undertake and execute the office assigned to him. This may often be observed in Paul, who, when he would approve his apostleship, almost always alleges a call, together with his fidelity in discharging the office. If so great a minister of Christ dares not arrogate to himself authority to be heard in the Church, unless as having been appointed to it by the command of his Lord, and faithfully performing what has been intrusted to him, how great the effrontery for any man, devoid of one or both of them, to demand for himself such honour. But as we have already touched on the necessity of executing the office, let us now treat only of the call.

Analysis: Calvin warns that irregularity in government is "perilous." Men should not presume to push themselves forward for the teaching office without a clear sense of call. In further entries Calvin will flesh out the meaning of a call to ministry.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Calvin on Church Government: Part Nine

Note: This is the ninth in this series from Calvin on church government. Here Calvin outlines his view of the office of deacon.

The deacons:

The care of the poor was committed to deacons, of whom two classes are mentioned by Paul in the Epistle to the Romans, “He that giveth, let him do it with simplicity;” “he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness” (Rom. 12:8). As it is certain that he is here speaking of public offices of the Church, there must have been two distinct classes. If I mistake not, he in the former clause designates deacons, who administered alms; in the latter, those who had devoted themselves to the care of the poor and the sick. Such were the widows of whom he makes mention in the Epistle to Timothy (1 Tim. 5:10). For there was no public office which women could discharge save that of devoting themselves to the service of the poor. If we admit this (and it certainly ought to be admitted), there will be two classes of deacons, the one serving the Church by administering the affairs of the poor; the other, by taking care of the poor themselves. For although the term διακονία has a more extensive meaning, Scripture specially gives the name of deacons to those whom the Church appoints to dispense alms, and take care of the poor, constituting them as it were stewards of the public treasury of the poor. Their origin, institution, and office, is described by Luke (Acts 6:3). When a murmuring arose among the Greeks, because in the administration of the poor their widows were neglected, the apostles, excusing themselves that they were unable to discharge both offices, to preach the word and serve tables, requested the multitude to elect seven men of good report, to whom the office might be committed. Such deacons as the Apostolic Church had, it becomes us to have after her example.

Analysis: Calvin sees two distinct "classes" among deacons, based on his interpretation of Romans 12:8. The first division would be those who administer the distribution of alms to the poor. The second would be those who care directly for the needs of the poor. Calvin's comments also indicate that he would see some women serving in this second division (cf. the widows of 1 Tim 5:9-10).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Calvin on Church Government: Part Eight

Note: This is the eighth in our series on Calvin’s views on church government (taken from the Institutes, Book IV, Chapter III).

The designation of ministers of the Word: presbyters

In giving the name of bishops, presbyters, and pastors, indiscriminately to those who govern churches, I have done it on the authority of Scripture, which uses the words as synonymous. To all who discharge the ministry of the word it gives the name of bishops. Thus Paul, after enjoining Titus to ordain elders in every city, immediately adds, "A bishop must be blameless," &c. (1 Tim 1:5, 7). So in another place he salutes several bishops in one church (Phil 1:1). And in the Acts, the elders of Ephesus, whom he is said to have called together, he, in the course of his address, designates as bishops (Acts 20:17, 28).

Here it is to be observed, that we have hitherto enumerated those offices only which consist in the ministry of the word; nor does Paul make mention of any others in the passage which we have quoted from the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians. But in the Epistle to the Romans, and the First Epistle to the Corinthians, he enumerates other offices, as powers, gifts of healing, interpretation, government, care of the poor (Rom 12:7; 1 Cor 12:28).

As to those which were temporary, I say nothing, for it is not worth while to dwell upon them. But there are two of perpetual duration—viz. government and care of the poor. By these governors I understand seniors selected from the people to unite with the bishops in pronouncing censures and exercising discipline. For this is the only meaning which can be given to the passage, "He that ruleth with diligence" (Rom 12:8). From the beginning, therefore, each church had its senate [ Latin, "senatum."—French, "conseil ou consistoire;"—council or consistory], composed of pious, grave, and venerable men, in whom was lodged the power of correcting faults. Of this power we shall afterwards speak. Moreover, experience shows that this arrangement was not confined to one age, and therefore we are to regard the office of government as necessary for all ages.

Analysis: Calvin here lays out a threefold view of office. Calvin says that the ministers of the Word are referred to in the NT synonymously as bishops, presbyters (elders), or pastors. Drawing on Romans 12:7 and 1 Corinthians 12:28, however, he also argues for two other offices: (1) governors (ruling elders) who join with the bishops to form a senate or consistory and (2) those who serve the poor (deacons).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pilgrim Loses His Burden

Note: In yesterday's sermon on Romans 6:5-14, I made reference to the scene in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress when Christian loses his burden as he gazes at the cross. Here is Bunyan's scene:

Now I saw in my dream, that the highway up which Christian was to go, was fenced on either side with a wall, and that wall was called Salvation. Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back.

He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.

Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said with a merry heart, "He hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death." Then he stood still a while, to look and wonder; for it was very surprising to him that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden. He looked, therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks. Now as he stood looking and weeping, behold, three Shining Ones came to him, and saluted him with, "Peace be to thee." So the first said to him, "Thy sins be forgiven thee,"; the second stripped him of his rags, and clothed him with change of raiment; the third also set a mark on his forehead, and gave him a roll with a seal upon it, which he bid him look on as he ran, and that he should give it in at the celestial gate: so they went their way. Then Christian gave three leaps for joy, and went on singing,

"Thus far did I come laden with my sin,
Nor could aught ease the grief that I was in,
Till I came hither. What a place is this!
Must here be the beginning of my bliss?
Must here the burden fall from off my back?
Must here the strings that bound it to me crack?
Blest cross! blest sepulchre! blest rather be
The Man that there was put to shame for me!"

Calvin on Church Government: Part Seven

Note: Part Seven in this series from Calvin's Institutes (Book IV; chapter III) on government and officers.

The pastor is bound to his church

While we assign a church to each pastor, we deny not that he who is fixed to one church may assist other churches, whether any disturbance has occurred which requires his presence, or his advice is asked on some doubtful matter. But because that policy is necessary to maintain the peace of the Church, each has his proper duty assigned, lest all should become disorderly, run up and down without any certain vocation, flock together promiscuously to one spot, and capriciously leave the churches vacant, being more solicitous for their own convenience than for the edification of the Church. This arrangement ought, as far as possible, to be commonly observed, that every one, content with his own limits, may not encroach on another’s province. Nor is this a human invention. It is an ordinance of God. For we read that Paul and Barnabas appointed presbyters over each of the churches of Lystra, Antioch, and Iconium (Acts 14:23); and Paul himself enjoins Titus to ordain presbyters in every town (Tit. 1:5). In like manner, he mentions the bishops of the Philippians, and Archippus, the bishop of the Colossians (Phil. 1:1; Col. 4:17). And in the Acts we have his celebrated address to the presbyters of the Church of Ephesus (Acts 20:28). Let every one, then, who undertakes the government and care of one church, know that he is bound by this law of divine vocation, not that he is astricted to the soil (as lawyers speak), that is, enslaved, and, as it were, fixed, as to be unable to move a foot if public utility so require, and the thing is done duly and in order; but he who has been called to one place ought not to think of removing, nor seek to be set free when he deems it for his own advantage. Again, if it is expedient for any one to be transferred to another place, he ought not to attempt it of his own private motive, but to wait for public authority.

Analysis: Calvin does not see the minister as a free-lancer but as one duly bound to serve a single congregation. He points to NT example of presbyters being assigned to each church. He challenges: "but he who has been called to one place ought not to think of removing, nor seek to be set free when he deems it for his own advantage."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Calvin on Church Government: Part Six

Note: Part 6 in this ongoing series from Calvin's Institutes on church government and officers:

When our Lord sent forth the apostles, he gave them a commission (as has been lately said) to preach the Gospel, and baptise those who believed for the remission of sins. He had previously commanded that they should distribute the sacred symbols of his body and blood after his example (Mt. 28:19; Luke 22:19). Such is the sacred, inviolable, and perpetual law, enjoined on those who succeed to the place of the apostles,—they receive a commission to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments. Whence we infer that those who neglect both of these falsely pretend to the office of apostles. But what shall we say of pastors? Paul speaks not of himself only but of all pastors, when he says, “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God” (I Cor. 4:1). Again, in another passage, he describes a bishop as one “holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers” (Tit. 1:9). From these and similar passages which everywhere occur, we may infer that the two principal parts of the office of pastors are to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments. But the method of teaching consists not merely in public addresses, it extends also to private admonitions. Thus Paul takes the Ephesians to witness, “I kept back nothing that was profitable to you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” A little after he says, “Remember, that, for the space of three years, I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:20, 31). Our present purpose, however, is not to enumerate the separate qualities of a good pastor, but only to indicate what those profess who call themselves pastors—viz. that in presiding over the Church they have not an indolent dignity, but must train the people to true piety by the doctrine of Christ, administer the sacred mysteries, preserve and exercise right discipline. To those who are set as watchmen in the Church the Lord declares, “When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand” (Ezek. 3:18). What Paul says of himself is applicable to all pastors: “For though I preach the Gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel” (1 Cor. 4:16).

Analysis: Calvin takes more time to draw the spiritual connection between the work of the apostles and that of pastors. The "two principle parts" of the office of pastor is "to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments." They are held accountable to God for the plain preaching of the Gospel lest they be found, in the end, to have "blood on their hands."

Monday, November 09, 2009

Mbewe blog on Evangelical Forum

I just noticed today that Conrad Mbewe has done a blog post on conferences in which he has recently spoken, including the Evangelical Forum. He writes:
On 23rd September I left for the USA where, apart from preaching in a number of churches, I preached at two conferences. The first was the Evangelical Forum in Virginia, which took place over the weekend of 26th September. It was hosted at the Jefferson Park Baptist Church (Pastor Jeff Riddle) in Charlottesville. I had the pleasure of preaching together with Dr Derek Thomas, whose writing ministry had already enriched my life. I handled the topics “The Sovereignty of God and the Love of God” and “Does Calvinism kill Evangelism?” Dr Thomas handled the more difficult subjects: “Is God the Author of Sin?” and “Double Predestination: Biblical or Heretical.” Apart from the warm friendship of Jeff Riddle and his family, and the most edifying experience of sitting under the ministry of Dr Thomas, I had the joy of spending quality time with Byron Glaspy, a young African American who is aspiring for the Christian ministry and is presently an intern at Jefferson Park Baptist Church.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Sermon of the Week: John Piper reflects on the time when 230 people left his church

A friend recently told me about this John Piper message preached on September 3, 2008 in which he relates an account of a time of conflict that occurred earlier in his ministry at Bethlehem Baptist Church (listen especially to minutes 2:00 to 5:00).

Piper explains how in 1993 (after he had been at the church for 13 years) he overheard an inappropriate phone message between a male and female staff member. He says,

For six weeks it was hellish in our church. I would not back down….

They denied it, and the church almost blew to pieces, because I was being accused of finding-fault with a staff member with whom I had worked for ten years. A very serious fault. I mean there was no way to restore this. Even if I’m wrong, there’s no way of restoring this. This was horrible.

He then shares how the staff member eventually confessed his sin but concludes:

The upshot was that 230 people left our church. Those were very dark days, days in which I could not preach, because the people were so angry with me. This is never clean. You’re never vindicated in a situation like this. This is always ugly no matter if you’re right or not. It doesn’t really matter. And so 230 people left our church. We didn’t grow for three years. It was flat. It was sorrowful, and surviving was all we could do. Just keep our noses above the water.

Even John Piper had people leave his church in discontent. This is a reminder that the ministry is often, if not always, filled with both peculiar joys and hardships (see 2 Tim 4:2).


Calvin on Church Government: Part Five

Note: Here is part 5 in this series from Calvin's Institutes, Book IV, Chapter III.

Temporary and permanent offices

We now understand what offices in the government of the Church were temporary, and what offices were instituted to be of perpetual duration. But if we class evangelists with apostles, we shall have two like offices in a manner corresponding to each other. For the same resemblance which our teachers have to the ancient prophets pastors have to the apostles. The prophetical office was more excellent in respect of the special gift of revelation which accompanied it, but the office of teachers was almost of the same nature, and had altogether the same end. In like manner, the twelve, whom the Lord chose to publish the new preaching of the Gospel to the world (Luke 6:13), excelled others in rank and dignity. For although, from the nature of the case, and etymology of the word, all ecclesiastical officers may be properly called apostles, because they are all sent by the Lord and are his messengers, yet as it was of great importance that a sure attestation should be given to the mission of those who delivered a new and extraordinary message, it was right that the twelve (to the number of whom Paul was afterwards added) should be distinguished from others by a peculiar title. The same name, indeed, is given by Paul to Andronicus and Junia, who, he says, were “of note among the apostles” (Rom. 16:7); but when he would speak properly, he confines the term to that primary order. And this is the common use of Scripture. Still pastors (except that each has the government of a particular church assigned to him) have the same function as apostles. The nature of this function let us now see still more clearly.

Analysis: Calvin draws a parallel between the temporary and permanent offices. The offices of Apostle and Evangelist are parallel to the role of the Pastor. The office of Prophet is parallel to that of Teacher.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Calvin on Church Government: Part Four

Note: This is part four in this series of excerpts from Calvin's Institutes (Book IV; Chapter III) in which the great Refomer lays out his views on Biblical church government and offices.

Those who preside over the government of the Church, according to the institution of Christ, are named by Paul, first, Apostles; secondly, Prophets; thirdly, Evangelists; fourthly, Pastors; and, lastly, Teachers (Eph 4:11). Of these, only the two last have an ordinary office in the Church. The Lord raised up the other three at the beginning of his kingdom, and still occasionally raises them up when the necessity of the times requires.

The nature of the apostolic function is clear from the command, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). No fixed limits are given them, but the whole world is assigned to be reduced under the obedience of Christ, that by spreading the Gospel as widely as they could, they might everywhere erect his kingdom. Accordingly, Paul, when he would approve his apostleship, does not say that he had acquired some one city for Christ, but had propagated the Gospel far and wide—had not built on another man’s foundation, but planted churches where the name of his Lord was unheard. The apostles, therefore, were sent forth to bring back the world from its revolt to the true obedience of God, and everywhere establish his kingdom by the preaching of the Gospel; or, if you choose, they were like the first architects of the Church, to lay its foundations throughout the world.

By Prophets, he means not all interpreters of the divine will, but those who excelled by special revelation; none such now exist, or they are less manifest.

By Evangelists, I mean those who, while inferior in rank to the apostles, were next them in office, and even acted as their substitutes. Such were Luke, Timothy, Titus, and the like; perhaps, also, the seventy disciples whom our Saviour appointed in the second place to the apostles (Luke 10:1).

According to this interpretation, which appears to me consonant both to the words and the meaning of Paul, those three functions were not instituted in the Church to be perpetual, but only to endure so long as churches were to be formed where none previously existed, or at least where churches were to be transferred from Moses to Christ; although I deny not, that afterward God occasionally raised up Apostles, or at least Evangelists, in their stead, as has been done in our time. For such were needed to bring back the Church from the revolt of Antichrist. The office I nevertheless call extraordinary, because it has no place in churches duly constituted.

Next come Pastors and Teachers, with whom the Church never can dispense, and between whom, I think, there is this difference, that teachers preside not over discipline, or the administration of the sacraments, or admonitions, or exhortations, but the interpretation of Scripture only, in order that pure and sound doctrine may be maintained among believers. But all these are embraced in the pastoral office.

Analysis: Here Calvin discusses five Biblical offices: Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers. Of these, the first three were foundational and extraordinary while only the last two are an "ordinary office in the Church."

Though he generally believes the first three offices have ceased, Calvin notes that the Lord "still occasionally raises them up when the necessity of the times requires." Later he adds, "God occasionally raised up Apostles, or at least Evangelists, in their stead, as has been done in our time. For such were needed to bring back the Church from the revolt of Antichrist. The office I nevertheless call extraordinary, because it has no place in churches duly constituted." He apparently, then, views those used to initiate the Protestant Reformation (McNeill adds here that Calvin is "referring chiefly to Luther whom he elsewhere often praises.") as modern day "Evangelists." Calvin does not fit neatly here into the non-cessationist mode.

The Apostles were "the first Architects of the Church" who laid its foundation.

The Prophets were those who received "special revelation."

The Evangelists were apostolic associates like Luke, Timothy, and Titus.

Teachers are those who hold the key of doctrine but not rule; whereas, Pastors hold both the keys of doctrine and rule. With these offices the church "can never dispense."


Life in Spiritually Cold New England

There was an AP article a few days ago titled, "Evangelists Target Spiritually Cold New England." It even got picked up in the Saturday edition of the Daily Progress.

The article notes the present difficult spiritual climate of New England:

In a Gallup poll this year, all six New England states were in the Top 10 least religious in the country, with Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts claiming the top four spots. New England's religious apathy has developed over decades, but it's striking where the Pilgrims landed seeking religious freedom and the great 18th-century preacher Jonathan Edwards helped spark the First Great Awakening. Stately churches near town centers all over the region are reminders of the central importance religion once held. Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut do host the nation's heaviest concentration of Catholics, but those numbers have dropped substantially.

In 1990, 50 percent of New England residents identified themselves as Catholic; by 2008, it dropped to 36 percent following the clergy sex abuse scandal in Boston, according to American Religious Identification Survey 2008. Several groups trying to re-ignite New England's faith are theologically conservative, such as the Southern Baptists, Presbyterian Church in America and the Conservative Baptists' Mission Northeast. They say a reason for the region's hollowed-out faith is a pervasive theology that departs from traditional Biblical interpretation on issues such as the divinity of Jesus, the exclusivity of Christianity as a path to salvation and homosexuality.

One of the churches highlighted in the article is a new church plant, Redeemer Fellowship outside Boston, which JPBC offers support through our Missions Direct giving.


Monday, November 02, 2009

Sermon of the Week: MacArthur on "Black Tuesday"

A friend recently sent me this link to a 9 Marks audio interview with John MacArthur on his four decade long ministry in his church. Along the way, MacArthur discusses various "mutinies" he experienced in the course of his tenure including one he calls "Black Tuesday." Here's the link (listen especially to minutes 6:00 to 12:00).
At one point, MacArthur tells Dever:
You’ve been a pastor long enough to know that there’s a lot of pain in the ministry.

When you stay in the same place for a long time, you see all your weaknesses reflected back to you.

But I’ve learned to embrace the suffering, to embrace the criticism, to embrace the failure, and to embrace the pain, as probably the most productive work of God in my life….

There is a sense in which the best things that have ever happened to me were the mutinies that have occurred in my church, the disappointments, the criticisms, the misrepresentations.

I go back to what is often called at Grace Church, "Black Tuesday." Probably 7-8 years into the ministry, the church is expanding and flourishing and everything is going great. Then the entire staff mutinies. There was somebody orchestrating the entire thing.

I walked into a staff meeting one day, and I said, "I want to tell you guys how much I love you and how much I appreciate you… I just want to thank you for your friendship." To which one replied, speaking for all, "If you think we’re your friends, you’ve got another thing coming buddy!"

A mutiny broke out in that moment. I was shocked… I was devastated…

It tore me up. I was in tears. I was in grief. I didn’t know what I was going to do.

There have been two or three other times when I would have left Grace Church, but I didn’t have an invitation…. The net effect has been to deepen and strengthen the ministry.

All the struggles…a father coming to me and saying, "My son’s been dead for nine months, and you came when he died and I haven’t heard a word from you since. Do you care?"

You go through things in life…

The hardest thing for me to go through is when I am accused of misrepresenting the Lord or truth…. I won’t defend myself, but…when someone says I teach something I don’t teach, I feel I need to correct that.
To know that someone like MacArthur went through discouraging times in his pastorate should give comfort to all of us with more ordinary abilities.

Calvin on Church Government: Part Three

Note: Here is the third in our series from the Institutes on Calvin's views on church government.

The prestige of the preaching office in Scripture.

Accordingly, I have observed above, that God has repeatedly commended its dignity by the titles which he has bestowed upon it, in order that we might hold it in the highest estimation, as among the most excellent of our blessings. He declares, that in raising up teachers, he confers a special benefit on men, when he bids his prophet exclaim, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace” (Isa. 52:7); when he calls the apostles the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Mt. 5:13, 14). Nor could the office be more highly eulogised than when he said, “He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me” (Luke 10:16). But the most striking passage of all is that in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, where Paul treats as it were professedly of this question. He contends, that there is nothing in the Church more noble and glorious than the ministry of the Gospel, seeing it is the administration of the Spirit of righteousness and eternal life (2 Cor 4:6; 3:9). These and similar passages should have the effect of preventing [i.e., preparing] that method of governing and maintaining the Church by ministers, a method which the Lord has ratified for ever, from seeming worthless in our eyes, and at length becoming obsolete by contempt. [McNeil offers this more contemporary translation of the previous sentence: "The purport of these and like passages is that the mode of governing and keeping the church through ministers (a mode established by the Lord forever) may not be ill esteemed among us and through contempt fall out of use"].

How very necessary it is, he has declared not only by words but also by examples. When he was pleased to shed the light of his truth in greater effulgence on Cornelius, he sent an angel from heaven to despatch Peter to him (Acts 10:3). When he was pleased to call Paul to the knowledge of himself, and ingraft him into the Church, he does not address him with his own voice, but sends him to a man from whom he may both obtain the doctrine of salvation and the sanctification of baptism (Acts 9:6-20). If it was not by mere accident that the angel, who is the interpreter of God, abstains from declaring the will of God, and orders a man to be called to declare it; that Christ, the only Master of believers, commits Paul to the teaching of a man, that Paul whom he had determined to carry into the third heaven, and honour with a wondrous revelation of things that could not be spoken (2 Cor. 12:2), who will presume to despise or disregard as superfluous that ministry, whose utility God has been pleased to attest by such evidence?

Analysis: For Calvin, teachers are given as "a special benefit on men." He emphasizes, in particular, their duty of preaching. The "governing and keeping" of the church is "through ministers." These are men especially called to declare the gospel.