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.