Category Archives: Church practice

Has Doug Phillips Repented?

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Getting right to the point, there are two things to say: No one knows, and don’t count on it. Now, why do I even think it appropriate to go on record with my view of this? Because Christians have proven to be slow to think rightly about leaders who are exposed for scandalous sin, and that makes us quick to take them back as leaders. We have a soft spot for those who have taught us valuable things, and that can make us hopelessly naive, mistakenly ready for their return. SINFULLY ready for their return.

Let’s take a closer look at my two propositions:

Has Doug Phillips repented? No one knows.

Even if all the signs were positive – granting that purely for the sake of argument – no one would really know for quite some time. Though Proverbs 28:13 doesn’t explicitly use the word “repentance,” it contains the best definition of true repentance that I know: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” Did you catch that? Confession ≠ Repentance. Confession is a subset of repentance. The other active ingredient is the forsaking of the sin, and knowing whether or not that has really happened takes significant time. Part 1, confession, is super-easy for a skilled communicator – and Doug is a very skilled communicator. Part 2, forsaking, is where the rubber meets the road. As John the Baptist warned the Pharisees who came to receive his baptism (or at least to gawk), there must be “fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8), and that takes time. Significant time.

Has Doug Phillips repented? Don’t count on it.

If we have learned anything from these revelations, it is that Doug is a very skillful deceiver and manipulator. He is good at it, and he has had a lot of practice. Knowing that, it would be foolish for any of us to put ourselves in a position to be deceived or manipulated by him now.

Doug was a shepherd. He was entrusted with sheep. Now, the Bible tells us the full range of what we need to know about shepherds and shepherding. It tells us how God shepherds in Psalm 23. God the Shepherd makes His sheep lie down in green pastures and leads them beside the still waters. The Bible tells us how Jesus shepherds in John 10. Jesus the Shepherd gives His life for the sheep. These things are what Paul calls under-shepherds to in Acts 20, as does Peter in 1 Peter 5. These must be the objectives of every local church elder. The Bible also warns of false shepherds in Ezekiel 34. These shepherds exploit the flock. These shepherds devour the flock. And God removes them in His time. Let us fear Him together.

Which kind of shepherd has Doug been? For years now, Doug has been an Ezekiel 34 shepherd, exploiting and devouring for self-satisfaction. He was entrusted with sheep to be a blessing to them, and instead he has been a curse. Is this not beyond dispute? And has not the Chief Shepherd removed him? Let us fear Him together.

Has Doug really repented? Time will tell, as the saying goes. And as it relates to Christian leadership, that can’t mean a week, a month, a year, or a decade. When it becomes known that a shepherd has cultivated a life of deception and manipulation for many years, such a man may not have enough years to reestablish himself as qualified for leadership.

Should Doug be forgiven? Absolutely. Anyone who has been forgiven much by the King must stand ready to forgive his fellow servants (Matthew 18:21-35).

Should he be trusted? Not on your life. At least not now. At least not soon.

So pray for him, but don’t mistakenly hope for his return to Christian leadership. And pray for his family. And more than that, pray for the woman who was exploited by a shepherd who was meant to be a blessing to her. Nothing short of the grace of God will bring her back from that, but He is gracious.

Nuggets from Puritan Preaching

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

One of the outstanding messages from the NCFIC “Worship of God” conference included some observations by Joel Beeke about Puritan preaching. I found two to be especially inspiring and helpful:

1. They detested “exposing their learning.”

Most of the Puritan preachers were very learned men. Reading them and gaining a sense of what they themselves had read is very humbling. It isn’t a stretch to say that modern preachers pale by comparison as a whole. But well-studied as they were, and hard as they worked in preparation for preaching, Puritan preachers labored to speak plainly and directly. They worked to pierce the heart, as well as to enlighten the mind. They wanted power in their preaching, not polish or flourish. They wanted to be faithful to the text and to be thoroughly understood, not to be thought smart. Every preacher should aspire to this.

2. They preached that the natural man was sinning with every tick of the clock.

Puritan preachers pressed on their hearers that every person was created by God for His glory, and so every second living for self and unreconciled with God was an utterly sinful second. This allowed them to lift up the remedy – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – in a beautiful and unparalleled way. It helped them to batter down the walls of self-satisfaction erected by those outside of Christ who needed to be convinced of their desperate need to fly to the cross for mercy.

Preachers of the gospel, join with me in aspiring to follow our Puritan forefathers by preaching to the heart as well as the mind, and by pressing the sinfulness of the unrepentant state on our hearers. These hearers will be better served as we do.

Profile of the Evangelistic Church

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

This was my topic for the NCFICWhite Unto Harvest” conference (October 2012), and it was a great honor and pleasure to speak about some of the things God has been doing in our midst. Happy reading!

In the category of evangelism, most local churches acknowledge the need for God to make us what we have not been. We look at our history, and it is painfully obvious that we need for God to give us progress. A lot of progress.

For churches like that, 1 Thessalonians 1:5-8 is an encouraging text. Paul writes, “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.” This precious local church received the pure gospel, they were firmly established in that gospel, and then it sounded forth in every place. The evangelistic church is not a mirage! Paul founded one and watched it come to maturity and fruitfulness.

May God give our local churches this testimony, as godly people in years to come see what God has accomplished among us. May they see that we have received a pure gospel, that we have been firmly established in it, and that this gospel has sounded forth in every place.

I was assigned the task of profiling the evangelistic church. Why? Is it that I lead a church which has arrived in this category, so that I can simply exhort other local churches to be like us? Certainly not! If you speak with the members of our congregation, the consistent self-analysis will be that when we were planted a year and a half ago, we were pitiful, and now we are mediocre. So we are not boasting in our mediocrity, but we can point with gratitude to progress that the Lord has given us, and it gives us hope to aspire to so much more, based on the pattern of God’s faithfulness that we have already seen.

There are a few important topics that this article simply presupposes, and doesn’t address. First, it is the pure gospel in view. That is certainly not a given, in this day when so many false gospels are welcome in the evangelical world. Second, a local church which is a mighty voice for the gospel is dominated by people who are actually born again. This too is no safe bet for the modern local church. Finally, evangelism is simply the starting point of the Great Commission, a subset that is only a sliver of what it means to disciple the nations.

Where to Start: Repentance

As I begin to paint the picture of the evangelistic church, there is an absolutely essential starting point, and if we miss this then we miss all. It stems from what Jesus says in Matthew 22:36-40, when asked this question: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

How should this be applied to the Great Commission, and evangelism in particular? In this way: Evangelism is a natural, inevitable outflow, not a separate category. If our churches are genuinely evangelistic, it will be because the love of God and neighbor pulses in warm hearts. Can it be said that we love God with heart, soul and mind, and yet His praise is never on our lips when we are engaged in conversations with the lost? Inconceivable! Can it be said that we love our neighbor when we are so governed by the fear of man that our “comfort zone” is more precious to us than an eternal soul? Unbelievable!

If we intend to become evangelistic, we have to understand why we have not been evangelistic. It will not do to simply say, “We need to make progress,” or “Evangelism is a shortcoming.” The truth of the matter is that our history is displaying the great sin of lovelessness, and we must repent. Our greatest need isn’t a great strategy or a training program, it is repentance. If we start anywhere else, we end up with a lot of short-term activity with no long-term change. To take our place in the Great Commission, we desperately need the long-term change.

Face the facts, brothers and sisters. Our love for God isn’t what we thought it was. Our love for our neighbor isn’t what we thought it was. The outside of the cup looks fine, but the inside needs attention. We should be broken by the implications of our coldness towards evangelism and repent. Then and only then are we ready for progress.

One thing I have learned in life is that, in any category, there are a very few levers that determine success or failure. True in business, true at home, true in relationships, true in evangelism. Pull those few levers with all your might, and you’ll be successful. Ignore them but pull the hundred smaller levers instead, and you’ll fail. Obviously, given that Jesus said all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two great laws of love, love is one of those very few levers that must be pulled with all our might.

Step Two: Fear God

Consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Evangelistic churches have corporately gotten a grasp of this! If you look across the broad landscape of those churches, you find that God looms large and man is a small thing. Why don’t we share our faith? We’re petrified, and most of the time we don’t even really know why. Speaking to people about their soul is just scary, that’s all.

But when we fear God as we ought, we don’t fear man, because the fear of God is a controlling fear, a master fear that subjugates all of those other fears of circumstance and people that would otherwise rule us. And here is what we find: You don’t die. In fact, rather than being killed by proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, we are exhilarated and wonder what we were afraid of anyway!

Are you willing to live in slavery to the fear of man for another decade? Another year, month, week, minute, second? By the grace of God, not me! May God cause us to fear Him in a way that makes our comfort zone nothing in our own eyes.

Why haven’t our churches been evangelistic? Because we haven’t loved God or neighbor as we ought, and we haven’t feared God as we ought. It seems to me that these are the two big levers that will determine our success or failure. Are you surprised? Did you think I was going to spend the space on technique? Undoubtedly there are many tools that can help us be effective in how we share the gospel, but our big problem is that we share the gospel (or that we don’t, to be precise).

If our two primary levers are love of God and neighbor and the fear of the Lord, how do we stoke those fires? Attention to the ordinary means of grace: prayer and the word. Go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place. Open His word and become like a tree planted by rivers of waters, yielding its fruit in season. Nothing cultivates love for God and fear of God than being in His presence and considering His character and His ways. Love for neighbor, and specifically evangelism, will flow from that.

Next: Depend on God

Let’s agree: When you launch the Apostle Paul on his first missionary journey, you get to be called an evangelistic church. Now consider the account, recorded in Acts 13:1-3: “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”

They are waiting but ready. They are ministering to the Lord, fasting, and praying with all diligence, ready to act on whatever God would have them do. They listened. God spoke. They did. And the world was turned upside down. This is an instance where a mighty work of evangelism wasn’t initiated by “evangelistic activity,” at least not as we might define that term. It was initiated by waiting on the Lord through prayer and fasting. They were ready, but they were not thrashing around, executing whatever idea willy-nilly. Can it be said that we do more thrashing than praying? I think most of us would have to plead guilty. Evangelistic churches trust God, not themselves. They fast. They pray.

Of course, this is simply a subset of loving and fearing God, but it is worth a specific mention. May God fashion us into local churches who patiently labor in prayer, ready at any moment to obey. Does that mean that we do nothing until we sense the leading of the Lord? By no means! But it does mean that we allocate lavish amounts of time, individually and corporately, to seek the Lord and be before Him in humility. In our desire to be more faithful in proclaiming the gospel, we dare not simply launch a program and declare victory. There is so much more to Great Commission fruitfulness than generating activity. Wait on the Lord. Fast. Pray. Then go with the good news of Jesus Christ on your lips.

Something You Can’t Supply: Gifted Evangelists

In Ephesians 4:7-8,11-12, Paul describes something that we can’t do. We don’t even play a part. He says this: “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.’… And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ”.

A key element of local churches being equipped for evangelism is the placement by God of gifted evangelists. He Himself gives evangelists to churches in order to equip the saints to go and do likewise. So the text clearly isn’t saying that evangelism is the exclusive domain of a few gifted souls. The Great Commission is a commandment to every follower of Christ until He comes again. But God has supernaturally given some of His people the ability to do with relative ease and effectiveness what is relatively difficult and ineffective for the rest of us. We watch them in action and we are helped. They push us out of our comfort zone, stirring us up to love and good deeds. We should praise God that He has given these gifted evangelists to His church, helping us to be more obedient and more faithful. The body of Christ is indeed edified by their presence.

My experience over a couple of decades is that this coin has two sides. On one side is a gift given to the church for the equipping of the saints, an invaluable blessing. Sometimes the flip side is a youthful zeal that hasn’t been seasoned by much wisdom in the faith yet. Maybe this gifted evangelist has this formula embedded firmly in the brain: evangelism = street preaching, and if you aren’t doing it, you are the worst kind of compromiser. He has lost sight of the fact that he is operating in an area of supernatural gifting, and he hasn’t yet learned to appreciate progressive sanctification. He might be more impatient with his brethren than he ought to be.

What should the more mature do then? Be mature! Put your arm around that young zealot and give him the lenses through which to see his brothers and sisters in Christ, and the mercy and patience of Christ that he also enjoys. Believe me, to whatever extent he needs your wisdom, you need his zeal tenfold. Don’t despise the misdirected zeal, but gently redirect it.

Our Church: A Case Study

We needed progress, and we had been praying for progress, and it was the arrival of some gifted evangelists that God used to really move us forward. I praise God for sending them. I trust we will never be the same.

Here are some reflections on our experiences over the past year and a half:

–  It all started with “a bad idea.” One of our gifted evangelists wanted to buy a gas grill and a trailer, and set up in a parking lot on main street to serve hot dogs to the community on Monday nights. Being a know-it-all (as opposed to all-knowing), I knew that wouldn’t work. On the other hand, it was something, and we were doing nothing in the category of public outreach. As it turned out, week after week it totally exceeded all of my expectations. Anywhere from fifteen to thirty people from the community, people we would never have had contact with, would come, sit in a chair, and eat hot dogs with families from the church. The gospel was (and still is) regularly and boldly proclaimed.

My wife and I have an inside joke. I’ll be sitting with my feet up. She’ll be working away, busy as a beaver. She’ll ask if I would do this or that, always something minor that would help with her big list. Without exception, I will roll my eyes and say, “Do I have to do EVERYTHING?” Without exception, she will reply, “No, just SOMETHING…” Then we have a good laugh. It is that way with local churches and evangelism. It is an endless work, but we don’t have to do everything, just something. Sometimes it helps to just get moving. And yes, I perceive how this could be seen as a contradiction to the admonition to wait on the Lord, fast and pray. Trust me, it isn’t.

–  We have found evangelism to be self-feeding. Here is what I mean. A person feels paralyzed by the prospect of sharing the gospel, but from love of God and neighbor, and out of a healthy fear of the Lord, they do it. Now, is that person much more inclined to do it again, or much less inclined? Much more inclined by a factor of a hundred! It is exhilarating to hear the gospel on your own lips, and the accounts of all the ways God has been good and faithful to you. It reminds you of what it was like to be without Christ, and gives you a love for souls in that condition. Once you get started, you feel the momentum instantly. It makes you wonder what all the fuss was about, why all the worry, and it puts you on the lookout for the next opportunity. Are you tired of that nagging feeling that you have an area of major disobedience in your life? Then get rid of it!

–  Once you start, opportunities abound. Are you near a nursing home? That’s where the widows are! Go be a blessing to them. The nursing home that we approached was happy to have us come and conduct a brief weekly service. The gospel is preached, hymns are sung, the elderly are loved and honored. One of our families, headed by a gifted evangelist, wanted to serve a meal and preach the gospel in the common area of local government-subsidized housing. Several families rallied around that, and it continues today. What is the limit to the places with people who need the gospel? You don’t even need to leave your home. Bring your neighbors and co-workers to your dinner table, clear away the dishes and have family worship after the meal, show them a functioning Christian family that gathers daily to worship God together. You will be surprised at how many people have never once seen that.

–  This is not at odds with family discipleship. It is not “either/or,” it is “both/and.” In fact, it is a critical element of family discipleship. Don’t leave your family to go do evangelism (though that may be appropriate or even necessary from time to time). Find ways to engage in evangelism together. That does two things. First, it communicates to our children that we are deadly serious about obeying the Lord’s commandment to disciple the nations. The value of that cannot be underestimated, and the lack of it is a catastrophic gap in bringing up children in the training and admonition of the Lord. Second, it readies the next generation to engage in the Great Commission. If our children have been at our elbows a hundred times as we have proclaimed the gospel, they will be ready themselves. For a while, they will just be observers, but the day will come when they will be able to enter the fray as well.

–  Training is a lousy substitute for doing. Yes, there is a place for resources and studying and training, but some of the best training happens by doing. We can never let the lack of training be our reason for neglecting to share the gospel. Every Christian who has felt the crushing weight of the holiness of God and their own desperate need to be pardoned has the wherewithal for evangelism. Pray, then get to it.

Conclusion

So what is the profile of the evangelistic church? As in all things, the Bible defines it.

–  The evangelistic church is filled with people who have received a true gospel, have been firmly established in that gospel, and then sound it forth (1 Thessalonians 1:5-8).
–  The evangelistic church is growing in the great commandments of love (Matthew 22:36-40).
–  The evangelistic church is growing in the fear of God (Matthew 10:28).
–  The evangelistic church is seeking the Lord through prayer, fasting, waiting (Acts 13:1-3).
–  The evangelistic church has received gifted evangelists from God (Ephesians 4:7-12).

In Romans 1:16, Paul writes, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” May our churches cherish the good news of Jesus Christ as the great treasure that it is, and may God make us bolder and bolder in the proclamation of it. I know this will be to the glory of God, and that it will result in the joy of His people.

 

Jason Dohm
Sovereign Redeemer Community Church
Youngsville, NC

Making Our Children Ready for Kingdom Battles

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Last year Jeff Pollard of Mount Zion Bible Church invited me to address their annual family conference on the topic of making children ready for kingdom battles. Jeff is a dear friend and one of my favorite preachers, so I was delighted to be asked, especially since this gets right at the core of what we are praying would be accomplished in our local church life.

This message is about 50 minutes long, and it represents the “why we do what we do” with respect to Sovereign Redeemer’s weekly schedule, particularly the outreaches.

Listen to it here.

Living in Close Quarters

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

THIS JUST IN: Local church life isn’t for the faint of heart. There are people in those churches, and that means challenges for everyone who dares to engage in a meaningful way. That is as much a reality as gravity. What will we do with this reality? By the way we order our lives, we are choosing one of these options:

Option 1: Forget It

Simply exempt ourselves from it all. The bride has spots and wrinkles, so just steer clear. Sorry, not an option for Christians. Baby Christians might think like that, but people who have lived with that view for a long time need to be asking serious questions about why they are still so disconnected with the mind of Christ. Though she does have spots and wrinkles, Jesus Christ isn’t running away from His bride, He is running towards her: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

This text helps correct our inclinations to exempt ourselves from the local church in two ways. First, it forces us to consider that we, each of us individually, contribute to the spots and wrinkles. Not the nebulous “them”. The specific “me”. A heaping helping of humble pie is essential for life in close quarters. Second, if the goal is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ and to have His mind, we need to see the church, and that means our local church, through His lenses of the ongoing, progressive sanctification that He is accomplishing in His people.

Option 2: Find the Perfect Church

There was a perfect church – God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the day for two whole chapters, and then came chapter three. Sin entered the world, and churches have never been the same. Deal with it. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be careful about what church we join, and I’m not saying people can never leave one church for another. I am saying that too many people have wasted too many years chasing a fantasy. Find a sound church and literally spend your life there, by Paul’s definition: “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved” (2 Corinthians 12:15). As you can see, Paul did not suffer from naivety about church life. He simply pressed forward anyway.

Option 3: Keep It Unreal

Sinners in the church? No problem, we can just keep interaction at the surface level. Pre-damage control, as it were. Minimize the contact, minimize the risk. That way we can love doctrine without having to love people. But wait – isn’t the doctrine so we can love people? Matthew 22:36-40, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

If love for God and neighbor is the great frame for all of this law that we are so eager to parse and nuance, if love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10), then loving the law of God without loving each other – as the Bible defines love in 1 Corinthians 13 and elsewhere – is way worse than silly. And for anyone who thinks they can nurture love for God while staying above messy entanglements with fellow believers, check 1 John 4:20, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” It is clear that love for God and love for each other have an unbreakable connection, and that this isn’t cotton-candy emotion only love, it is meat-and-potatoes sacrifice for each other love.

A local church where everything operates at the surface level is a Frankenstein of our own creation, not the Bible’s. Search the New Testament for the phrase “one another” and feast your eyes on how God actually wants us to live together.

Option 4: Embrace, Cultivate, and Maintain the Close Quarters

Oh, that God would give us hearts so full of His forgiveness, grace and love that we could look at the inherent dangers of living in close quarters and say “BRING IT ON!” Let it be said that I feel the full fury of the proverbial three fingers pointing back at me. What rises in my heart during the inevitable dust-ups that occur when we live together in close quarters condemns me for my own lack of love. But I have hope, because I know that I need to be different, I want to be different, and little by little I am starting to be different.

What about you? God brings His people together into close quarters for His own purposes. Proverbs 14:4, “Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; But much increase comes by the strength of an ox.” Do we want clean, or do we want strength for the kingdom of God? We have a big commission, a Great Commission, and when we settle for clean, we must understand how much strength is lost.

Trust God. He is right about the way we should live together. He is teaching me how to live in close quarters in a local church for His glory, and He is teaching you the same. Don’t exempt yourself. Call off the search for the perfect church. Commit yourself to a sound one and get below the surface in close quarter relationships for a long time. When we do that, though life together won’t always be “clean”, we will have the strength for serving God that we need and want.

Decades of Faithful, Sustained Focus

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

A thirteen hour drive to Pensacola was one of the best investments in recent memory. The return on those invested hours? A front row seat at a ministry that squeezes a lot out of a little. If you have ever read any of the tremendous literature printed and distributed by Chapel Library, you know the treasures in which they traffic. But if you actually saw first hand how much they do with a very few hands in an unassuming building tucked away in a small corner of town, it would get you thinking about your own church in your own town.

The Ministry

Chapel Library distributes over 800 titles, all rock-solid works that form an invaluable body of help and encouragement for the people of God all around the world. Prime example: I was there with five brothers from Malawi, Africa, and when the tour made it around to the shipping dock, there sat a pallet of literature ready for the long trip to their little book shop in Malawi, literature that is helping advance the kingdom of God in that African country. And all this without selling anything, being totally funded by what God sends them through people who are moved to give.

The Secret

God is the secret, and a poorly kept secret He is, at least in our circles. He does whatever He pleases, and it often pleases Him to accomplish mighty things through very surprising vessels. Frequently the vessels themselves are the most surprised, not that God is doing something great, but that He would condescend to use them. In this case, it all started with one man’s simple, clear vision, a vision that is alive and well a generation later. The man is gone, but the work is more significant than ever. And how did one man with a mimeograph in the basement evolve into a ministry which is a significant producer of reformed Christian literature? A few people had it clear in their minds what they should do. And they did it. Then they did it some more. And some more. For a long time. And with this faithful, sustained focus, ten titles became fifty, a hundred, eight hundred, and all the while the number of shipping addresses kept doubling.

What About Us?

Having seen first hand what can be accomplished when God is pleased to mobilize a small group of His people for persistent focus in a particular area of need, I can’t help but daydream about the possibilities in our little corner of the world. We should pray that God would give us a clear vision of where He would have us chip away for the next few decades. And when He does, let’s get after it, prayerfully, circumspectly, but also vigorously, passionately, and tenaciously. As Paul says in Galatians 6:9, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”

In a sea of “flavor of the year” churches, where most of us have the attention span of a gnat, Mount Zion and their decades of faithful, sustained focus on building Chapel Library for the glory of God is inspiring.  May God continue to direct and bless their work, and may He be pleased to do something as significant with us.

 

Bible Translation and Some Implications

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Early this year, our elder team gave every family at Hope Baptist a copy of this great little book by William Einwechter, which has been made available online by our friends at Chapel Library.

Since that was prior to the planting of Sovereign Redeemer, I thought it would be useful to highlight this book again, and to offer a very brief summary. WARNING: The summary won’t deliver the full benefit, and shouldn’t be viewed as a substitute for the full read, especially since the entire book can literally be read in a couple of hours.

Einwechter structures the book around two essential pillars:

1. Verbal-Plenary Inspiration.

Simply put, this means that the unit of inspiration is the individual word. With perfect precision and intentionality, God chose every word of the Bible. IMPLICATION: Don’t mess with the words. KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV, and The Geneva Bible are prominent translations that embrace the verbal-plenary inspiration of Scripture. Alternatively, NIV and HCS are examples of translations that have departed from this principle in favor of “thought for thought” translation, so that the thought becomes the unit of inspiration, instead of the individual word. I won’t be addressing translations towards “The Message” end of the spectrum. Those are more commentary than translation, and frequently bad commentary at that.

Jesus understood the Bible to be infallibly reliable (inspired by God) not only down to the word, but even down to the verb tense. With a lot on the line, Jesus rests the entire weight of His argument against the Sadducees on a single verb tense. “But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32). If the “am” could be “was”, Jesus’ argument comes apart at the seams. No matter. Jesus stands with confidence on the present tense of that one verb.

Likewise, Paul understood the Bible to be infallibly reliable even down to singular vs. plural. In Galatians 3:16, Paul makes his argument based on whether God’s promise to Abraham was to one Seed or many seeds. “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ.”

SUMMARY: Sticking close to Jesus and Paul and their view of inspiration is always a good thing.

2.  Providential Preservation.

So far, most readers have probably been able to stand up and cheer. This is the part where you may encounter implications that you haven’t considered before, and where your translation of choice might get gored. Of the translations which hold to verbal-plenary inspiration, KJV, NKJV, and The Geneva Bible are founded on providential preservation, while NASB and ESV have taken a different course.

Providential preservation affirms that God has sovereignly provided His people with uninterrupted access to the inspired Hebrew and Greek texts. More plainly and to the point, never for a single day, let alone hundreds of years, have the people of God been kept from the inspired texts because those texts were hidden away in a cave. Providential preservation holds steadfastly to a view that God is not only able to do this, but also abundantly willing, and more than willing based on His regard for His own word.

Psalm 138:2b reads, “For You have magnified Your word above all Your name.” Think about that for a minute. God has magnified His word even above His name, a name not to be taken in vain, a name that is to be hallowed.

Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

Admittedly, neither verse explicitly says that God could not have a reason in His wisdom why He would keep the inspired Hebrew and Greek texts from His people through the centuries, but what basis do we have for that conclusion, especially given the alternative. The alternative is that men – yes, very learned men, and in some cases very godly men, but nonetheless men – have been able to determine that some texts are older and therefore better than the texts available to the church of God throughout the centuries. Says who? Says them.

I view this as bad theology, but it is also a concept with other practical problems which Einwechter underscores in the book. This process of textual criticism – preferring “better” texts based on presumed age or other evidence – has given us a patchwork of underlying texts (particularly for the New Testament) different from anything used by the church before now.

I’ll take my stand with who I understand the God of the Bible to be, and how I see Him relating to His people, thanks. Every day and all day long.

SUMMARY: Door #1 is God preserving His inspired word for His people in every age; Door#2 is men looking at all of the ancient texts and determining which ones are best in which spot. Uh…

Conclusion

The elders aren’t insisting that you throw away your stack of ESVs. I like my ESV and use it every week for comparison purposes. But we do want to raise awareness of the issues and implications, so that you understand why we defend, prefer, and use a translation in our corporate gatherings that affirms both verbal-plenary inspiration and providential preservation.

I had never thought about some of these things prior to reading the book. But I read the book, I read it critically, and although I haven’t adopted every one of the conclusions (Einwechter prefers the KJV), I found the arguments to be very, very solid and I strongly hold to the two key principles outlined. And while many of the actual translational differences seem to be very minor, we should never think that it doesn’t matter.

Every jot and tittle matters, at least to Jesus and Paul. If nothing else, that should make us think.

One in a Million?

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

About a year ago, I raised my hand to say I wanted to lead the planting of a church, to be set aside to labor in the word (1 Timothy 5:17), to be fully dedicated to a local church. You can image the checking of motives that happens when a person starts to have those rumblings in the soul. Is there anyone who doesn’t suffer from occasional moments of self-aggrandizement and delusions of grandeur?

At the end of the soul searching, our family pressed forward with eyes wide open. Though I have some gifts, they are not more in number or degree than those of most other men. I will never be the “draw” that brings together a large church. But that isn’t what the body of Christ needs anyway. So while I happily acknowledge that my limitations keep me from being “one in a million,” I can be “one of a million” as God raises up many, many men of normal ability who have been forgiven much and therefore love much. By and large, these are the sort of men that God is giving the church to help and care for His people. I see it happening. I frequently meet these men from all around the country. I am daily with some of them in our own church body. I thank God for His kindness to His people.

So while there is a trend towards “one in a million” mega-pastors (please read this incredibly insightful post), God is leading a mighty but less visible counter-trend, and I am so happy to be a millionth of it.

Kevin DeYoung, a pastor associated with The Gospel Coalition, commented on this in late 2010. The entire post is well worth reading, but I’ll give you my favorite line, where he defines an ordinary pastor as “the pastor who flies under the evangelical radar, the pastor who labors in an ordinary place with ordinary people who don’t give a rip about the evangelical radar or if their pastor is on it, so long as he is with them.”

I recently finished Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor, and Baxter noted a similar move of God in his own day, the mid sixteen hundreds, where he witnessed a dramatic shift within little more than a decade of time:

“Sure I am, the change is so great within these twelve years, that it is one of the greatest joys that ever I had in the world to behold it. O how many congregations are now plainly and frequently taught, that lived then in great obscurity! How many able, faithful men are there now in a county, in comparison of what were then!… And, in particular, how mercifully hath the Lord dealt with this poor county of Worcester, in raising up so many who do credit to the sacred office, and self-denyingly and freely, zealously and unweariedly, lay out themselves for the good of souls! I bless the Lord that hath placed me in such a neighbourhood, where I may have the brotherly fellowship of so many able, faithful, humble, unanimous, and peaceable men. O that the Lord would long continue this admirable mercy to this unworthy country!”

A hearty “Amen!” to that, and may God make this our truthful testimony as we look back on this decade and the next.

May God give His church a million faithful, hard working shepherds. Men who know their limitations and can cheerfully say, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:10a). Men who know it is God’s church and that He is mighty on behalf of His people. And for all such men, may there be an abundance of Christians who have an insatiable appetite for the kind of walk that is so wonderfully helped along by such shepherds.

Peter continues to exhort: “The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Peter 5:1-4).

To close by repeating the words of Richard Baxter, “O that the Lord would long continue this admirable mercy to this unworthy country!”

Blessing Awaits Those Who Cross Two Lines

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

This series of posts about church membership has focused primarily on Scripture, providing Biblical underpinnings for the practice.  Now a few personal observations, based on three decades of church life spanning a number of different churches.

Observation 1:  Two Critical Questions Form Two Critical Lines in the Sand

When I look at how casual local church life has become, with people drifting from church to church in far less time than it takes to be genuinely shepherded and involved in the lives of the brethren, I see two questions going continually unanswered:

  1. Can I submit myself and my family to the doctrine and authority of these leaders?  This is a BIG decision, and it shouldn’t be made overnight.  You have to know the doctrine.  You have to know the men.  And then you have to decide whether or not it would be a good thing for you and any in your charge to be under that teaching and authority over the long haul.
  2. Can I commit myself to these people?  Let’s face it – there are groups of people where you can see yourself making a thirty year investment, and groups of people where a pleasant afternoon together is both nice and enough.  And you know in your heart of hearts that the long term destination will be very different, depending on which you pick.

When we don’t stick around long enough to answer these questions, there are corresponding lines in the sand that we never cross, and it means that we never really commit.  We become the Christian equivalent of that forty-five year old guy who has dated so many women and will only ever do more of the same.  He has lots of great jokes, but everyone understands how pathetic his life really is.

As quickly as possible, we should find a home where we can answer “yes” to both questions and run-not-walk across those lines.

Observation 2:  It Matters

This is no intellectual exercise, the parsing of a fine point that has little impact on real life.  Whether you will or will not answer those two questions, cross those two lines, and send roots down deep into a good local church will determine so much about the welfare of your soul.

The person who carefully chooses a local church home where they can joyfully submit to godly leaders and invest in the lives of other sincere believers, and then stays on that track for decades, becomes a very different person than the counterpart who never really lands.  Being in serious, committed fellowship with both authorities and peers for a long period of time has a transforming effect.  There is no substitute.  The transformation requires the investment.

The “me and Jesus” mentality has not been good for the church.  We need more “God and His people” in both thought and life.

Observation 3:  Those Who Dare to Cross the Lines Are Blessed

Those who cross those lines find themselves really shepherded, really taught, sometimes rebuked, really encouraged, really known.  They find themselves really loved and cared for by God in the everyday means that He has ordained for His church.  And they have the privilege of responding in kind, both to God and to their brothers and sisters.

Am I saying that those who won’t cross those lines, in the form of church membership, aren’t blessed?  Yep.  Not blessed.  Not in the same way.  Not to the same extent.  Can they still be Christians?  Of course, but not the Christians that they should have been, would have been, could have been.

Brothers and sisters, go for the blessing!  Go see the beauty of God working in your life and the lives of your brothers and sisters, in a faithful community, for a period of decades.  With very few exceptions, this is what God has called His people to, for His glory and our good.  May we be faithful!

The Regulative Principle Requires Church Membership

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Does the Regulative Principle of Worship support or nullify local church membership? Because there is no express command for church membership, some argue that it is extra-Biblical, but that is a misunderstanding of the actual doctrine.  Simply stated, the Regulative Principle of Worship says that everything we do in the corporate worship of God must be clearly warranted by Scripture, either in the form of an explicit command, or by a good and necessary inference.  Church membership is actually a necessary inference of many things which are well established in Scripture.

In my last post, I made the case that local church life is serious, and that the nature and seriousness of these Scriptural obligations require order.  This is not a pragmatic argument based on efficiency, perceived benefits, or any other “because it works” reasoning.  It is an acknowledgment that we have been given clear commands where obedience requires an underlying mechanism.

Consider church discipline, which is in short supply today, but is nonetheless a vital New Testament teaching.  Matthew 18:15-17 outlines the process, where at the appropriate step the offense is told to “the church”, a distinct, defined entity, a body with boundaries.  Then, unless there is repentance, there is formal exclusion from the church, something which is made more explicit in the specific case of church discipline recorded in 1 Corinthians 5:1-7.  In that passage, the language of formal exclusion is inescapable – “taken away from among you” in verse 2, “deliver such a one to Satan” in verse 5, “purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump” in verse 7.  Have you ever thought of the absurdity of formal exclusion without formal inclusion? There can be no excommunication without some form of communication, which is exactly where the phrase “communicant membership” comes from.  Only those who have been brought in can be put out.

This becomes even more obvious when we examine the happy ending, where Paul exhorts the Corinthians to welcome the excommunicated man back into the church.  In describing the excommunication, Paul says, “This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man…” (2 Corinthians 2:6).  Did you catch that? The majority.  That is a word which only has meaning with a known, definite number, and it gives us helpful insight into how church discipline should be carried out.  So while there are legitimate debates to be had about who should be in vs. out and how that should happen, there is no getting around this being a process that requires knowing who is in the church and who isn’t.  You can’t be excluded without having been included, and only a majority of the included can exclude.  Make sense?

Church discipline isn’t the only instance of a command that presupposes some form of formal ordering for local churches, but it paints a picture with bright contrasts, so it serves as a useful example of why church membership is a “good and necessary inference” from Scripture.

May our local churches be ordered in such a way that we can honor God through obedience to His commandments for church life.

As a final installment in this series, in a few days I will discuss Argument 5:  Blessing Awaits Those Who Cross Two Lines.