... Thanks for your question, Raef! I don’t think I’ve ever taken a question from Jordan before!
In determining what sort of being a morally perfect being would be, we must consult our moral intuitions. Is it better to be fair rather than prejudiced? Is it better to be a caring person rather than indifferent? Is it better to regard other persons as ends in themselves rather than as mere means to be used for one’s own ends? Usually, we can answer such questions by thinking about how people ought to treat one another or how we think others ought to treat us ...
It is well known that the Reformation entailed a recovery of core New Testament doctrines regarding salvation and worship. Did it also involve a recovery of the Great Commission? In one sense, no. The Roman church had been involved in a variety of missional enterprises throughout the Middle Ages.
But in another, much deeper sense, yes—the Great Commission did have to be recovered because medieval missions all too frequently involved forcible conversions like those of the Saxons by Charlemagne in the ninth century and the Albigensian Crusade in the early thirteenth century.
And yet, it has been maintained that the sixteenth-century Reformers had a poorly-developed missiology and that overseas missions to non-Christians was an area to which they gave little thought. Yes, this argument runs, the Reformers rediscovered the apostolic gospel, but they had no vision to spread it to the uttermost parts of the earth. What should we think of this?
Possibly the very first author to raise the question about early Protestantism’s failure to apply itself to missionary work was the Roman Catholic theologian and controversialist, Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621). Bellarmine argued that one of the marks of a true church was its continuity with the missionary passion of the Apostles. In his mind, Roman Catholicism’s missionary activity was indisputable and this supplied a strong support for its claim to stand in solidarity with the Apostles. As Bellarmine maintained:
In this one century the Catholics have converted many thousands of heathens in the new world. Every year a certain number of Jews are converted and baptized at Rome by Catholics who adhere in loyalty to the Bishop of Rome. . . . The Lutherans compare themselves to the apostles and the evangelists; yet though they have among them a very large number of Jews, and in Poland and Hungary have the Turks as their near neighbors, they have hardly converted so much as a handful.
But such a characterization fails to account for the complexity of this issue. First of all, in the earliest years of the Reformation none of the major Protestant bodies possessed significant naval and maritime resources to take the gospel outside the bounds of Europe. The Iberian Catholic kingdoms of Spain and Portugal, on the other hand, who were the acknowledged leaders among missions-sending regions at this time, had resources aplenty. Moreover, their missionary endeavors were often indistinguishable from imperialistic conquests.
It is noteworthy that other Roman Catholic nations of Europe like Poland also lacked sea-going capabilities and evidenced no more cross-cultural missionary concern at that time than Lutheran Saxony or Reformed Zurich. It is thus plainly wrong to make the simplistic assertion that Roman Catholic nations were committed to overseas missions whereas no Protestant power was so committed.
Second, it is vital to recognize that, as Scott Hendrix has shown, the Reformation was the attempt to “make European culture more Christian than it had been. It was, if you will, an attempt to reroot faith, to rechristianize Europe.” In the eyes of the Reformers, this program involved two accompanying convictions. First, they considered what passed for Christianity in late mediaeval Europe as sub-Christian at best, pagan at worst. As the French Reformer John Calvin (1509–1564) put it in his Reply to Sadoleto (1539):
The light of divine truth had been extinguished, the Word of God buried, the virtue of Christ left in profound oblivion, and the pastoral office subverted. Meanwhile, impiety so stalked abroad that almost no doctrine of religion was pure from admixture, no ceremony free from error, no part, however minute, of divine worship untarnished by superstition.
The Reformers viewed their task as a missionary one: they were planting true Christian churches.
In what follows, I offer an ever so brief examination of the missiology of John Calvin, which shows the error of the perspective that the Reformation was by and large a non-missionary movement.The victorious advance of Christ’s Kingdom
A frequent theme in Calvin’s writings and sermons is the victorious advance of Christ’s kingdom in the world. God the Father, Calvin says in his prefatory address to Francis I in his theological masterpiece, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, has appointed Christ to “rule from sea to sea, and from the rivers even to the ends of the earth.” The reason for the Spirit’s descent at Pentecost, Calvin notes further in a sermon on Acts 2, was in order for the gospel to “reach all the ends and extremities of the world.” In a sermon on 1 Timothy 2:5–6, one of a series of sermons on 1 Timothy 2, Calvin underlines again the universality of the Christian faith: Jesus came, not simply to save a few, but “to extend his grace over all the world.”
From that same sermon series, Calvin can thus declare that “God wants his grace to be known to all the world, and he has commanded that his gospel be preached to all creatures; we must (as much as we are able) seek the salvation of those who today are strangers to the faith, who seem to be completely deprived of God’s goodness.” It was this global perspective on the significance of the gospel that also gave Calvin’s theology a genuine dynamism and forward movement. It has been rightly said that if it had not been for the so-called Calvinist wing of the Reformation many of the great gains of that era would have died on the vine.Calvin’s prayers for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom
Calvin was convinced that God “bids us to pray for the salvation of unbelievers” and Scripture passages like 1 Timothy 2:4 encourage us not to “cease to pray for all people in general.” We see this conviction at work in Calvin’s own prayers, a good number of which have been recorded for us at the end of his sermons, thanks to the labours of the stenographer Denis Raguenier, who was appointed to record Calvin’s sermons by the Company of Elders who labored with the French Reformer.
Frequently, we hear Calvin praying for the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each of Calvin’s sermons on Deuteronomy, for instance, ends with a prayer that runs something like this: “may it please him [i.e. God] to grant this [saving] grace, not only to us, but also to all peoples and nations of the earth.” In fact, in the liturgy Calvin drew up for his church in Geneva, there is this prayer:
We pray to you now, O most gracious God and merciful Father, for all people everywhere. As it is your will to be acknowledged as the Saviour of the whole world, through the redemption wrought by Your Son Jesus Christ, grant that those who are still estranged from the knowledge of him, being in the darkness and captivity of error and ignorance, may be brought by the illumination of your Holy Spirit and the preaching of your gospel to the right way of salvation, which is to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
This article was originally published in the 9Marks Journal.
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I present these thoughts from the perspective of someone who grew up in and is familiar with the academic and spiritual situation on the European continent. My observation is that many of the trends that have eroded a robust Christian influence on European culture are very much active in the Evangelical world of the US in the current situation as well ...
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When my father died, I grieved. My father died on a Sunday morning, early. His hospital roommate told us that Dad had spent his last night—the whole night—praying softly for his family, person by person, before dying peacefully in the early morning. Even though we’d known that he would die soon from bone cancer, and knew that he was eager to be home with the Lord, it was still a shock. It was still too soon.
Death is like that: it always surprises us and it interrupts our lives. We stop, and we grieve.
You have heard the horror stories: The new pastor comes in and, within a few months, people are already clamoring for his removal. I will not try to tell you this never happens, because it does. While I do believe this happens much more rarely than most people think, I also believe it could and should happen far less than it does.
What causes conflict in the church? How could those pastors and churches who claim to love and follow Jesus engage in such ugly confrontations? Certainly, the fall has a lot to do with it, and as people, even believers, we tend to be very self-centered and stubborn when it comes to what we think is right. I certainly do not claim to have a cure-all for the problem of conflict in our churches, but below are simple reminders when dealing with conflict. They are written from the perspective of the pastor but can be applied to all believers.
- Always carry yourself with humility. We are not the great hero who has come to rescue God’s misguided people. We are to have the heart of Christ and serve always with great humility.
- Remember the qualifications. The language of 1 Timothy 3 describes the qualifications for a pastor as one who is able to walk with temperance, sober-mindedness, not violent, not quarrelsome, but gentle. Titus 1 adds that he is not self-willed or quick-tempered but sober-minded, just, and self-controlled. Much conflict in our churches could be avoided if pastors would just walk in a manner worthy of the qualifications of the office they hold. All Christians should aspire to walk consistently within the qualifications; pastors must be qualified for the office.
- Develop a genuine love for the sheep. Conflict will certainly arise for pastors when they see church members as tools for reaching a goal rather than as sheep whom Jesus genuinely loves and desires to see follow Him. The greatest foundation for handling conflict is that when people genuinely love each other, they will do what it takes to work out their problems. We must also remember that people in churches have REAL problems that they are working through. Some of them are in rebellion against God. Some of them are dealing with the consequences of past sin, even though they have been redeemed. There are some we deal with who act the way they do because they are lost, and they need us to love them enough to show them Jesus.
- Try diligently to see the other side’s perspective. When we are in the midst of a conflict, we often assume the other side is entirely wrong. I have usually found in the midst of conflict that people on both sides could learn from each other if they would just humble themselves and take the time to listen. I have heard it said this way, “Seek to understand, rather than to be understood.” James 1:19 states that “everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.”
- Don’t get overwhelmed by exaggeration of the situation. Do not fall into the hype of a situation. There will be times when you hear something like, “A lot of people are upset about….” Normally, the reality is that the person telling you the information is upset, and perhaps a few of his friends. It may even be that the person sharing the information is not upset, but a few in his circle are, so from his perspective, it truly sounds like a “lot” of people are upset.
- Remember, not everything is worth fighting over. There are some issues for which it is ALWAYS worthwhile to take a stand. The Gospel, the exclusivity of Christ, and the inerrancy of Scripture are examples. There are some issues that are SOMETIMES worth fighting over, and others that are NEVER worth fighting over. Make sure, if there are going to be arguments, that they are arguments worth having.
If we seek the Lord, walk in humility, remember the qualifications, and genuinely love the sheep, we can, many times, be used as an instrument to avoid conflict altogether or, at the very least, limit the scope and damage of conflict. How we, as believers, respond to potential conflict can play a considerable role in whether it amounts to anything.
Proverbs 15 is one of my favorite passages when it comes to how we can help in the area of conflict management. Verses 1 and 18 are good reminders of the role we play in leading the sheep in harmony:
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. … A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute.”
So you’ve walked down the aisle with hundreds of your colleagues after several years of blood, sweat and tears. You hold in your hand a sheet of paper that says you have “mastered” theology in such a way that qualifies you to lead, in some capacity, in church life.
In your mind, you have the ideal scenario for what local church ministry should look like. You’ve studied ecclesiology. You’ve debated theology. You’ve had multiple conversations with your classmates about leadership.
You even follow all of the right-thinking people on Twitter.Messier than you thought
But now you are in your first ministry assignment. You are a youth pastor in a medium-sized church in the suburbs. You quickly find out that the church on the ground is different, messier, and more complicated than the church you envisioned in your head.
The youth group you envisioned in your head was filled with kids studiously disciplined by their parents, who every night sang hymns and did family worship, who responsibly managed their kid’s screen time, and who were eager participants in the ministry you would be leading.
The youth group on the ground, however, has a mix of kids from various family situations. Some are from very sheltered homes with parents who don’t trust new youth pastors and think the teaching should be “deeper.” Others are dropped off by parents hoping you can fix their kid, or at least get them to put their phone down long enough to grunt a few responses in reply to your weekly teaching. Others really, really like the hot new YouTube pastor who hangs out with Hillsong.They don’t even read the reformers
Or maybe your first ministry assignment is as a senior pastor of a small, struggling church. You envisioned, in your first ministry, leading with the help of a robust elder board, made up of guys who read Calvin, together, on the weekends. You were going to launch a human trafficking ministry in your first year, an apprenticeship program in your second year, and, if all goes well, a church planting initiative in your third.
But the church on the ground seems vastly different than the church in your head. One of your elders wonders why you don’t let the congregation know who you think the antichrist is. The other thinks projecting music on the wall is a slippery slope toward Laodicea. And yet another wants to show Carman’s patriotic video from 1980 on the Sunday before the the Fourth of July. None of your ecclesiology books covered this.
I’m exaggerating these situations . . . but only slightly. The Carman thing really happened to me. The truth is, there is the church in your head, the ideal congregation you envision and there is the church on the ground, the real, flesh-and-blood collection of brothers and sisters you are called to serve.Shepherd the ones God’s given you
There is no ideal church. I’m particularly challenged by the words of Peter in 1 Peter 5. He instructs to shepherd the flock of God, “who are among you.” In other words, don’t shepherd the people whom you wish you had in your church. Don’t shepherd the people you envisioned while studying in seminary. Don’t shepherd all the cool Christians on your Twitter feed.
We pastors are called to shepherd the people God brings us. This means we need to love and befriend the longtime, faithful church member who carries a Joyce Meyer study Bible to church every week. Or the sound guy whose family is a mess. Or the couple who folds the bulletins every week and also posts embarrassing political memes on Facebook.
God has called us to shepherd these people—the real, flesh-and-blood people we encounter in our ministries—not the perfectly formed, adequately resourced, competently discipled people we wish we had. And shepherd them we must, with care, with time, with gentle rebukes, with preaching that is used by God to move them along a path toward Christ-likeness.
This is the kind of ministry Jesus did while on this earth. Think of the rag-tag collection of men he chose as disciples. A political zealot. A political insider. An impetuous fisherman. An introspective thinker. He chose the doers and the pensive. He chose the weak and sometimes cowardly. He chose the faithless and the doubters.Ministry changes us
By the way, these are the same kinds of people Jesus is choosing today as his disciples. This is who I am. This is who you are. The kingdom of God is rarely made up of the fit, but the feeble.
When we commit to this kind of ministry, we will not only see God move in small, but powerful ways over a long period of time, but we will also see God use our people to change our own hearts. The discomfort of messy and imperfect ministry sanctifies us. It chips away at our pride, our elitism, and our egos.
It’s good to be an imperfect, gospel-preaching church, a church that is less than our ideal. It’s good for us to have our preferences to rub up against reality. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t lead with vision and purpose and intentionality, but our leadership should not be that of an impersonal CEO, a hard-charging, arrogant ranch hand, but that kind of ministry that gently, but firmly shepherds.
Because you will never pastor the church in your head, but you must pastor the church on the ground.
A few years ago, I had a discussion with an influential theologian who claimed that Jesus was not an apologist. He pointed out that, except for 1 Peter 3:15, the New Testament appearances of apologia (“defense”) all come from the writing or ministry of Paul. Does this mean Jesus was not an apologist? Was Jesus more interested in proclaiming and illustrating the faith than defending it? ...
... I can really sympathize with your plight, Daniel! I’m sure that everyone one of us has come away from a conversation with an unbeliever feeling defeated and discouraged and thinking, “Why didn’t I say this?” We admire people who have a mind like a steel trap, ready to spring instantly. I well remember as a young philosopher the awe I felt of George Mavrodes, a professor at the University of Michigan, who, sitting in some session at a philosophy conference and hearing a paper read for the first time, would ask the most penetrating questions from the floor. How I wished to have a mind like his!
Well, there is hope. Such a mind is the product of training and development. It need not come naturally, nor is God apt to heal your slow thinking with prayer apart from diligent study and exercise. But my experience has been that with practice one can improve one’s ability to think acutely and quickly ...
Whether it’s an intricately written document providing guiding principles and goals or it’s a “shotgun” approach of firing off new ideas and hoping you hit the target, every pastor has a ministry philosophy.
The same is true for worship ministry.
Too often, a culturally-shaped methodology informs our philosophy of worship. Over time, this chips away at theology, and we can find ourselves falling into pragmatism or even unorthodoxy. Instead, what we believe about God must always sculpt our philosophy which then informs our practice. Does doctrine determine what you do?
Have you considered writing a philosophy of worship ministry to use as a guide and check for crafting Christ-centered worship services? Though the task might seem daunting, a written philosophy can prove vital to maintaining integrity in ministry and casting a vision for worship in the congregation. Here are seven tips for writing a philosophy of worship ministry for the local church.7 Tips For a Philosophy of Worship
1. Keep it Trinitarian. If worship is to be Trinitarian in nature, then our definitions of worship should be. Look to Paul’s doxology in Ephesians 1 as a model where he echoes over and over “to the praise of his glory” while describing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We worship the triune God, and worship that neglects any of the persons is simply unchristian.
2. Keep it biblical. Let the Word determine your belief and practice. A powerful philosophy of worship oozes Scripture from every pore. If we desire our people to be rooted in the Bible, then our ministries must be as well. Build your ministry upon the Rock of Ages (Matt 7:24-27).
3. Keep it focused. Avoid tangents or words that might open yourself up to speculation or question. Make every phrase crystal clear. Determine from the outset what the most important aspects of worship ministry are in your local church and stick to them. The old communication adage goes “Say what you’re going to say. Say it. Tell them what you said.” The same is true for writing a concise, focused philosophy of ministry.
4. Keep it timeless. Avoid common buzzwords that float around in the blogosphere. Write timelessly that your philosophy will endure and be as relevant in 50 years as it is today. Words like “energy” and “experience” will fade from vernacular, but biblical words like “truth” and “gospel” will stand forever (Isaiah 40:7-8).
5. Keep it simple. Though you might have a seminary education, most of your congregation will not. Use words that they know and can latch on to. Use these words in your conversations with your bands and choirs and from the platform. They might not know what “hypostatic union” means, but they do know Jesus was “fully God and fully man.” Ministry is about the people, so your philosophy should serve them.
6. Keep it practical. How does the philosophy you write actively spell out in your local church? Rooting ourselves in the Gospel truth of the Word is paramount, but with faith comes obedience (James 2:14-19). All theology is ultimately practical because it tells us not only who God is but also how to worship and love him. Does your worship philosophy do the same?
7. Keep it short. Limit yourself to a two-page document. This is plenty of space to provide short, to-the-point principles. Learn to condense your writing. Make every sentence count and maximize your impact by using specific, detailed wording. Never say in two sentences what you can say in one. Would your philosophy easily fit on your church’s webpage? Could someone interested in visiting your church learn your stance on worship without reading a novel or sending a clarifying e-mail?
So, what about you? Have you thought through your approach to ministry? Do you have a theology of worship guiding the songs you choose, the instrumentation you implement, or the services you craft?
Spend some time sitting down and crafting a philosophy for worship ministry informed by and rooted in the Word. Your ministry and people will no doubt benefit from it. You can find a couple of sample philosophies of worship on our website here and here which might help guide your thoughts. We’d also love to hear from you, so feel free to share your philosophy of ministry with us over on the Contact page.
May the Word shape and guide your worship ministry.
I just returned from visiting a hole. The last time I met this hole in the ground was twenty-two years ago. I was in my mid-20s and probably in the best shape of my life. I was just beginning my daily 5-mile run and, if I remember right, I was feeling great about myself. I was young, healthy, thriving. As I ran through La Mirada Regional Park in the prime of my life there was a little 6 inches long by 3 inches wide hole under some pine needles up ahead. My foot found the hole or perhaps the hole found my foot and in a fraction of a second I went from a vigorous young man to a pathetic young man, lying on the ground, writhing in pain. As I hobbled back to my house, barely able to walk on my freshly sprained ankle, I found myself keenly aware of how incredibly fragile and vulnerable I was. Of course, the truth was that I was that fragile and vulnerable seconds before the hole, but it took the hole to bring that ever-present reality into awareness. I was painfully right-sized ...
A brief look back over the history over the world or turning on the nightly news will reveal the pain of people caused by the actions of others. It can be simply stated: People have caused the impoverished lifestyle experienced by so many in the world through harmful acts. Some cyclical poverty is the result of well-meaning assistance that has perpetuated dependency, unintentionally making things worse. Other people are trapped in communities of poverty through corrupt policies and a lack of rule of law. Worse, history is full of the evil of some to oppress, steal from and enslave people resulting in deadly poverty ...