Thursday, October 15, 2009

Calvin on Church Government: Part Two

This is the second in our series from Calvin's Institutes (Book Four; Chapter Three) on church government.

2. The significance of the ministry for the church:

By these words [see the previous reference to Ephesians 4:8, 10-16 in part one] he shows that the ministry of men, which God employs in governing the Church, is a principal bond by which believers are kept together in one body. He also intimates, that the Church cannot be kept safe, unless supported by those guards to which the Lord has been pleased to commit its safety. Christ “ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things” (Eph. 4:10). The mode of filling is this: By the ministers to whom he has committed this office, and given grace to discharge it, he dispenses and distributes his gifts to the Church, and thus exhibits himself as in a manner actually present by exerting the energy of his Spirit in this his institution, so as to prevent it from being vain or fruitless. In this way, the renewal of the saints is accomplished, and the body of Christ is edified; in this way we grow up in all things unto Him who is the Head, and unite with one another; in this way we are all brought into the unity of Christ, provided prophecy flourishes among us, provided we receive his apostles, and despise not the doctrine which is administered to us. Whoever, therefore, studies to abolish this order and kind of government of which we speak, or disparages it as of minor importance, plots the devastation, or rather the ruin and destruction, of the Church. For neither are the light and heat of the sun, nor meat and drink, so necessary to sustain and cherish the present life, as is the apostolical and pastoral office to preserve a Church in the earth.

Analysis: Calvin rejects any "Anabaptist" notion that scriptural offices be done away with. He argues for a distinct role for "ministers" committed with the office of teaching and edifying the body (see Eph 4:10-12). He warns against those who attempt to "abolish this order."


Calvin on Church Government: Part One

Note: This begins a new series from John Calvin on the question of church government and officers. In our day many evangelicals are embracing Calvinistic soteriology, but fewer are asking what the Reformation meant for church government. Calvin addresses this issue in Book Four ["The Holy Catholic Church" or "The External Means or Aids By Which God Invites Us Into The Society of Christ And Holds Us Therein"] of the Institutes and chapter 3 ["The Doctors and Ministers of the Church, Their Election and Office"].

Here is section one, which the McNeill ed. heads, "Why does God need men’s service?"

We are now to speak of the order in which the Lord has been pleased that his Church should be governed. For though it is right that he alone should rule and reign in the Church, that he should preside and be conspicuous in it, and that its government should be exercised and administered solely by his word; yet as he does not dwell among us in visible presence, so as to declare his will to us by his own lips, he in this (as we have said) uses the ministry of men, by making them, as it were, his substitutes [ Latin, "quasi vicariam operam."—French, "les faisans comme ses lieutenans;"]—not by transferring his right and honour to them, but only doing his own work by their lips, just as an artificer uses a tool for any purpose.

What I have previously expounded (chap. 1 sec. 5) I am again forced to repeat. God might have acted, in this respect, by himself, without any aid or instrument, or might even have done it by angels; but there are several reasons why he rather chooses to employ men [ See on this subject August. de Doctrina Christiana, Lib. 1].

First, in this way he declares his condescension towards us, employing men to perform the function of his ambassadors in the world, to be the interpreters of his secret will; in short, to represent his own person. Thus he shows by experience that it is not to no purpose he calls us his temples, since by man’s mouth he gives responses to men as from a sanctuary.

Secondly, it forms a most excellent and useful training to humility, when he accustoms us to obey his word though preached by men like ourselves, or, it may be, our inferiors in worth. Did he himself speak from heaven, it were no wonder if his sacred oracles were received by all ears and minds reverently and without delay. For who would not dread his present power? who would not fall prostrate at the first view of his great majesty? who would not be overpowered by that immeasurable splendour? But when a feeble man, sprung from the dust, speaks in the name of God, we give the best proof of our piety and obedience, by listening with docility to his servant, though not in any respect our superior. Accordingly, he hides the treasure of his heavenly wisdom in frail earthen vessels (2 Cor 4:7), that he may have a more certain proof of the estimation in which it is held by us.

Moreover, nothing was fitter to cherish mutual charity than to bind men together by this tie, appointing one of them as a pastor to teach the others who are enjoined to be disciples, and receive the common doctrine from a single mouth. For did every man suffice for himself, and stand in no need of another’s aid (such is the pride of the human intellect), each would despise all others, and be in his turn despised. The Lord, therefore, has astricted his Church to what he foresaw would be the strongest bond of unity when he deposited the doctrine of eternal life and salvation with men, that by their hands he might communicate it to others. To this Paul had respect when he wrote to the Ephesians, "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Eph 4:14-16).

Analysis: Calvin marvels at God’s good design to employ mere men as his ambassadors. How better to train us in humility? Nothing better binds men together in "mutual charity" than to appoint "one of them as a pastor to teach the others who are enjoined to be disciples, and receive the common doctrine from a single mouth."


Monday, October 12, 2009

Sola Scriptura versus "Solo" Scriptura

Last Sunday evening I did a message on "The Dangers of Private Interpretation" in which I shared some reflections from Keith Mathison's book The Shape of Sola Scriptura (Canon Press, 2001) in which he distinguishes the Reformation concept of sola scriptura from the modern evangelical view of "solo" scriptura.
A friend sent me a link to this article by Mathison in the March/April 2007 issue of Modern Reformation in which he summarizes the content of his book. Those interested in the topic will profit from reading the article.

Scougal on The Obedience of Christ

"For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous" (Romans 5:19).

The Puritan Henry Scougal reflects on the obedience of Christ in The Life of God in the Soul of Man:

He endured the sharpest of all afflictions and extremest miseries that ever were inflicted on any mortal, without repining thought or discontented word; for though he was far from a stupid insensibility, or a fantastic or stoical obstinacy, and had as quick a sense of pain as other men, and the deepest apprehension of what he was to suffer in his soul, as his "bloody sweat and sore amazement" which he professed do abundantly declare, yet did he entirely submit himself to that severe dispensation of Providence, and willingly acquiesce in it (p. 51).

May the Lord help us as we learn in the school of Christ to be obedient during times of suffering.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Note: Evangel article 10.13.09

Sermon of the Week: Interview with Conrad Mbewe

I sat down last Monday and recorded an interview with Conrad Mbewe that I have now posted on JPBC's sermonaudio site. I hope to do some similar interviews in the future when we have other guest ministers at JPBC. I am tentatively calling this interview series "Word Magazine." In the interview with Pastor Mbewe we covered topics like views of the American church, preparation for the ministry, and Pastoral leadership in conflict.

Exposition of Jude: Part 18 of 25

Note: This is a series of occasional verse by verse expositions of Jude. An archive of this and past commentaries may be found under the label "Jude Exposition" below.

Jude 1:18 how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts.

In v. 17 Jude urged his readers to listen to "the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ." It was this select group of men who had warned the believers to beware of "mockers" who would appear in the "last time" (v. 18). The apostles likely warned believers about such things in their preaching and teaching ministry. They also shared such things in their inspired writing ministry. Matthew recorded the warning from Jesus himself in the first Gospel: "for false Christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect" (Matt 24:24). Paul warned against the deceit of "the man of sin" and "the son of perdition" (2 Thess 2:3). John, likewise, notes that "many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour" (1 John 2:18).

In v. 18 Jude refers to such men as "mockers." Mockery involves the expression of insult or contempt through impertinent imitation. These false teachers would deride or make fun of the Christian proclamation. The clearest example of this apostolic warning is found in 2 Peter 3:3-4. Peter warned of "scoffers" who would come "in the last days, walking according to their own lusts" (v. 3) and who would make sport of the Christian teaching of Christ’s second coming. These men would ask, "‘Where is the promise of His coming?’ For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation." The delay, Peter says, is not the result of God’s "slackness," but because God is "longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

Jude acknowledges that this is the "last time." By this he means this present gospel age, the intermediate time between Christ’s first coming and his second. The false teachers mock God by walking "according to their own ungodly lusts." They do not believe that the Lord will one day come to judge the living and the dead. Thus, at the time of his coming they will be like the foolish virgins who were shut out of the wedding feat and who heard the Master say to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you" (Matthew 25:12).

Again, Jude is urging the faithful to resist the inroads of false teachers and to cling to the teaching of the legitimate apostles. We should especially beware those who mock cardinal Christian doctrines like the second coming of Christ. This little book of Jude is part of the very means God has provided for our perseverance in the faith!

  • What warnings did the apostles give about false teachers?
  • Do you see the fulfillment of the apostles’ prophecy in men who mock the Christian faith today?
  • How would you answer a skeptic who asks why Christians still believe that Christ will return one day even when so many years have now passed by?


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Scougal on Christ's Constant Devotion

Christ's Constant Devotion

"And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray" (Mark 6:46).

Last Sunday I mentioned that I have been reading Henry Scougal’s little devotional classic, The Life of God in the Soul of Man. Scougal was one of those men who lived his life well, even though he did not his live life long. He died June 13, 1678 when he was not yet twenty-eight years old.

In the first part of The Life of God in the Soul of Man, Scougal reflects on the life and example of Christ. Here is one his reflections on Christ’s prayer life:

Another instance of his love to God was, his delight in conversing with him by prayer, which made him frequently retire himself from the world, and with great devotion and pleasure spend whole nights in that heavenly exercise, though he had no sins to confess, and but few secular interests to pray for; which alas!, are almost the only things that are wont to drive us to our devotions; nay, we may say his whole life was a kind of prayer; a constant course of communion with God: if the sacrifice was not always offering, yet was the fire alive: nor was ever the blessed Jesus surprised with that dullness, or tepidity of spirit, which we must many times wrestle with, before we can be fit for the exercise of devotion.

May we also learn from Christ how to make our lives one of constant prayer.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Note: I am writing this morning (Wednesday) from Blacksburg, Virginia where I am traveling with Pastor Conrad Mbewe. Last night, he spoke to a group of students at the Graduate Life Center at Virginia Tech at an event sponsored by Ekklesia Church, a sister SBCV congregation. Pray for God to use that message to speak to the hearts of those who received it.

Note: Evangel article 10.7.09.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Was Saul Converted?

Notes from last night's teaching at JPBC:

Was Saul Converted?
JPBC October 4, 2009
Jeff Riddle

King Saul is one of the most tragic figures in the Scriptures. Today we are asking, "Was Saul converted?" This question assumes that there were Old Testament saints.

Three possible answers:

1. He was never converted. He was out.
2. He was converted, but he lived a weak and ineffective life. He was in.
3. He apostatized. He was in and out.

I. A brief overview of Saul’s life:

The account of King Saul is told primarily in 1 Samuel (his story is summarized in 1 Chronicles in only a few chapters, 8-10). In 1 Samuel 8 the people ask Samuel for a king. The Lord explains to Samuel that they are not rejecting the prophet but the Lord himself (8:7).

Saul seems to come out of central casting to play the role of king. He comes from a good family, is handsome, and tall (9:1-2).

There are signs of trouble, however, when Saul is proclaimed king at Mizpah. Saul is found hiding in the luggage (see 10:20-24).

Things start well, as he rescues the city of Jabesh Gilead from the Ammonites and he is made king at Gilgal (11:15). In Samuel’s speech at his coronation a stirring challenge is given (12:20-25).

The real trouble begins for Saul in chapter 13 with an unlawful sacrifice (13:8-14). This is a common theme in the time of the kings (cf. Jeroboam’s actions in 1 Kings 13:33).

This also begins with rivalry with David who will take Saul’s place. Saul makes a rash oath but breaks it (14:24-27; 45). He disobeys God’s direct command to utterly destroy the Amalekites (15:3, 9, 13-14, 22, 33).

Saul is troubled by a distressing spirit (16:14). He is jealous of David and casts a spear at him in anger (18:8-12). David marries Saul’s daughter Michal, but is still persecuted and narrowly escapes capture (19:9-12).

One of the worst acts of Saul is the murder of the priests of Nob who gave David bread (21).

Another spiritual lowpoint is Saul’s consultation with the "witch of Endor" (28:7, 15-18).
Finally, Saul’s life ends at Mount Gilboa. This is the Old Testament Hamlet. Saul falls on his own sword and dies along with his three sons (31:4, 6). His body is then desecrated (v. 9-10).

II. The positive evidence:

1. Saul is a member of the OT people of God. He is from the tribe of Benjamin. Doesn’t this make him part of the OT church?

2. Saul is chosen to be Israel’s first king. Would God allow a non-believer to be the first king?

3. Saul is promised by Samuel that he will be "turned into another man" (see a1 Sam 10:6). And we are told in 10:9 "that God gave him another heart." Does this refer to conversion?

4. Saul is among the prophets of God. God’s Spirit comes upon him and he prophesies (see 10:10-12; 19:23-24).

5. David defends Saul as "the Lord’s anointed" (2 Sam 1:14) and praises his life in "the Song of the Bow" (vv. 19, 23).

6. Can we not see Saul as a deeply flawed man? A brand plucked from the burning (Zech 3:2). Cf. Jude 1:23: "but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh." Calvin wrote, "there remains in a regenerate man a smoldering cinder of evil" (Institutes, vol. I, p. 602).

III. The negative side:

1. Just because Saul was part of the Old Testament people of God, this does not mean that he was converted. The Old Testament people of God are a mixed multitude. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram rebel against Moses in Numbers 16 and are swallowed up by the earth. Romans 9:6: "For they are not all Israel who are of Israel." See also Romans 2:28-29. You can be a Hebrew ethnically and not be among the elect.

2. God is willing to let unregenerate Israelites rule over his people. An example would be Ahab (see 1 Kgs 17:30-33). Also, we have no promises given to Saul as are given to David and Solomon (cf. 1 Sam 6: 12-16).

3. We need not read the references to Saul’s heart being changed or him being turned into a new man in evangelical terms. It might merely mean that God is shaping him for particular purposes. He uses unregenerate as well as regenerate men to accomplish his purposes. Cf.: Isaiah 10:15: "Shall the ax boast itself against him who chops with it? Or shall the saw exalt itself against him who saws with it? As if a rod could wield itself against those who lift it up, Or as if a staff could lift up, as if it were not wood!"

4. God uses unregenerate prophets. The clearest example is Balaam in Numbers 22-24. Balaam is condemned in the NT for prophesying out fo greed (2 Pet 2:15; Jude 1:11).

5. Similarly, David might have been anointed as king and was therefore deserving of respect, but this does not mean he is saved. Paul respects the authority of the corrupt high priest in Acts 23:2-5.

6. Do we have any sure evidence of Saul’s conversion? Any real fruit. Consider the evaluation of the Chronicler:

1 Chronicles 10:13 So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the LORD, because he did not keep the word of the LORD, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance. 14 But he did not inquire of the LORD; therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.

Consider also Saul’s complete absence from the NT, especially in Hebrews 11 where even men like Samson are rehabilitated in light of God’s grace (see 11:32-33).

IV. Conclusions:

Review our three possibilities above. We can narrow our options to 1 or 2. We must reject option 3, because it does not agree with the analogy of Scripture (cf. John 10:28-29).

How do we know if anyone is converted?

We do not know. God alone is the Judge of our hearts. In the end, all we know is that everyone will praise God for his justice. We will know that he has done right.

The story of Saul should make us tremble and make us want to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10).

Finally, note that in God’s providence the greatest human evangelist in the human church would begin life with the name of Saul. In Philippians 3:5 Paul proudly declares himself to be "of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews." The name of Saul is vindicated in Paul.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Patrick Hamilton on "Law and Gospel"

Another quote from Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry on "the Law and Gospel" (p. 231, n. 1). This one is from the Scots Worthy Patrick Hamilton:
The law showeth us our sin—the gospel showeth us a remedy for it.

The law showeth us our condemnation—the gospel showeth us our redemption.

The law is the word of ire—the gospel is the word of grace.

The law is the word of despair—the gospel is the word of comfort.

The law is the word of disquietude—the gospel is the word of peace.


Thursday, October 01, 2009

Dagg on Church Officers: Deacons

This is the 8th and final entry in our series of excerpts from John Dagg’s A Treatise on Church Order. Here, Dagg describes the office of Deacon:


Deacons should be chosen by the churches, from among their members, to minister in secular affairs.

By apostolic direction, the church at Jerusalem chose from among themselves seven men, honest, and of good report, who were appointed to serve tables. This measure originated in the expediency, that the apostles might give themselves to the word of God and prayer. The same expediency requires that pastors should be relieved from secular burdens, and be left to the spiritual service of the church. We know that deacons existed in the church at Philippi;(Phil 1:1) and directions were given to Timothy respecting the qualifications necessary for the deacon's office. These facts authorize the conclusion, that the deacon's office was designed to be perpetual in the churches. The mode of appointment should conform to the example of the first church. The persons should be chosen by popular vote, and invested with office by ministerial ordination.

Some have thought that deacons, as well as bishops, are called elders in the Scripture. We read of bishops and deacons in connection, but never of elders and deacons;--of the ordination of elders (Acts 14:23), without the mention of deacons, when deacons were needed as well as bishops; and of contributions sent to the elders at Jerusalem (Acts 11:30), after the deacons had been appointed, who were the proper officers to receive and disburse them. It is argued, moreover, that the distinction which appears to be made, in 1 Tim. v. 17, between preaching and ruling elders, naturally suggests that the ruling elders were the deacons of the primitive churches.

In the Presbyterian church, a distinct class of officers exists, called ruling elders. The only Scripture authority claimed for this office, is the text last referred to. This text, however, does not distinguish between different classes of officers, but between different modes of exercising the same office. The word rendered "labor," signifies to labor to exhaustion. Not the elder who merely rules, is accounted worthy of double honor, but the elder who rules well; and the special honor is not due to the elder, as merely invested with the office of ministering in word and doctrine, but as laboring therein--laboring to exhaustion. Thus interpreted, the text furnishes no authority for Presbyterian lay elders; and no argument for supposing that deacons are called elders.

The other arguments to prove that the deacons were included in the eldership of the primitive churches, are not without plausibility, but they are not conclusive; and they are opposed by the facts, that all the elders of the church at Ephesus are called bishops; that all the elders addressed by Peter are said to have the oversight or episcopal office; and that the elders whom Titus was to appoint appear to have been all bishops, inasmuch as the qualifications for the deacon's office are not subjoined to those which are described as necessary for the other office.

Among the qualifications of the deacons' office, it is not required that they should be apt to teach; and they are therefore not appointed to act as public teachers of the word: but other qualifications are mentioned, which indicate, that they are expected to be forward in promoting the spiritual interests of the church. An obligation to do this rests on every member; and deacons are not released from it by their appointment to minister in secular affairs. Instead of becoming immersed in secularity, they are expected, by the proper exercise of their office, to purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith (1 Tim 3:13). If deacons were everywhere active in holding up the hands of the pastors, as Aaron and Hur held up the hands of Moses, the prosperity of the churches would be greatly advanced, and the success of the gospel far more abundant.

Analysis: Again, Dagg argues for a two-fold office: bishops and deacons. Bishops are vocational elders who are called to the full time ministry of preaching. Deacons are those chosen so that pastors might be "relieved from secular burdens, and be left to the spiritual service of the church." Dagg rejects the notion that deacons be considered as elders. It is not required that they be "apt to teach" and "they are therefore not appointed to act as public teachers of the word." He also rejects the Presbyterian distinction between teaching and ruling elders, simplistically dismissing the "three-fold office view" (ministers, ruling elders, and deacons) as based solely on 1 Timothy 5:17. In practice, most Baptist churches with the pastor-deacons model end up with deacons assuming a "ruling elder" role in the local church.