This traditional wedding adage for the bride is good advice for serving the bride of Christ musically each Sunday. While everyone has their favorite music, the bride of Christ represents a diversity of age, perspective, and preference. Every service has the potential of serving everyone while inevitably frustrating someone. If done well, each service will likely accomplish both.
1. Something old
The bride wears an heirloom from the past to represent continuity with her heritage. This is done to show that she has a past with which she wants to remain connected. Musical choices in worship should reflect the rich heritage of the church’s musical worship past. Singing songs from the past demonstrates dependence upon the doctrine and practice of previous generations of worshipers.
2. Something new
The bride wears something new to show hope for the future. This demonstrates the newness of the marriage and anticipation for what is to come. Musical choices in worship should reflect this evidence of what is happening now in the church. Singing a “new song” demonstrates the relevance of Christ and his gospel to today’s generation of worshipers and hope for the future of the gospel’s work.
3. Something borrowed
The bride wears something borrowed typically from a happily married couple. This demonstrates the desire to honor the other couple by affirming the health of their marriage and seeking and hoping for a similar result in the new marriage. Music in worship should reflect this recognition of other groups who exemplify healthy, Christ-honoring music. Learning from others who worship well is a way the universal church can be edified by the example and practice of local churches.
4. Something blue
The bride wears something blue because the color “blue” represents love, purity, and fidelity. The implications here for both the bride and the church should be obvious. Whatever we sing should exemplify love for Christ, purity according to his word, and fidelity of the bride to Christ alone. Whether old, new, or borrowed, the ultimate test is the “blue” test. We cannot sing old songs just because they are “old.” Nor can we sing new songs just because they are “new.” And borrowing something that does not pass the “blue” test reveals a desire to emulate the wrong models. Whatever else they are, all of our songs should be blue.
This Sunday sing something old, new, borrowed, and blue. Someone will inevitably not be satisfied because it was not all “old” or all “new,” but if it is blue everyone will be served well and the bride of Christ will be encouraged to live like the true and faithful bride of Christ.
“Grace, Grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin.” Such is the line from the old hymn by famed 19th-century hymnist Julia Johnson. The hymn goes on to speak of how God’s grace covers and forgives our sin, most evident in the atoning work of Christ on the cross. “Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, Freely bestowed on all who believe!”
What a beautiful and timeless biblical truth, but there is much more to grace than our forgiveness of sin (though that’s a pretty big deal). God’s grace extends past forgiving our sins and provides the means for sustaining our entire lives. David in Psalm 41 provides readers with a beautiful picture of sustaining, transforming, and forever grace in the life of the believer.
1. Sustaining grace in the day of trouble (vv. 1-3)
What does your day of trouble look like? For some of us, today has been a day of trouble. For others, the day of trouble has been going on for months. And for others, the day of trouble has been a much longer season. Perhaps you feel like your life is one long day of trouble. We all know that we will have trouble in this life. And yet we have a promise of deliverance. We have a promise of protection. We have a promise of life. We have a promise of the Lord’s sustaining grace.
How have you seen the work of God’s sustaining grace in your life this week? It doesn’t take long to see how the Lord is sustaining us, even if we find ourselves in trials and hardship. We need to remember that this is not a promise towards perfect health and prosperity, nor is it a form of karma where one good work is met with equal blessing. The Psalmist is describing the life of the “blessed” one or the one who lives in the happiness of knowing and obeying the Lord. These characteristics and promises belong to the one who has placed their faith and trust in the Lord.
2. Transforming grace in the day of our offense (vv. 4-7)
The Psalmist, though speaking from the place of blessing (see v. 2), realizes that such a life will still include sin (both personal and the sin of others). Living a happy life before the Lord includes the realization that His forgiveness is necessary, both for us and for others. What area of your life are you longing for transformation? In what areas of your life do you want to see freedom? Maybe it’s personal sin, or perhaps it’s a cycle or pattern of sin. Maybe it’s suffering caused by the decisions of someone else, and they are continuing to weigh you down.
There is room in these verses to include both our personal sin and the sin of others. Either way, each is in need of transformation. We long to see the Lord transform our hearts and the situations which are causing us suffering and distress. This is the hope and the Psalmist. And this leads to the third important facet of grace in the life of a believer.
3. Forever grace in our day of triumph (vv. 8-13)
In this section of Psalm 41, we can connect the dots directly to the experience of Christ in His betrayal by Judas. Christ knows what it means to be betrayed and to suffer injustice at the hand of another. When you feel betrayed, did you know that you can turn to Christ who knows your story and situation? This is the promise that believers have, a sympathetic high priest and Savior (see Hebrews 4:15).
The psalmist expresses another fundamental truth of God’s grace: it continues forever. The Lord’s grace sustains, transforms, and carries us into eternity. This is what it means for the Lord to uphold us and set us in His presence. We can be confident that the Lord will uphold us and keep His promises to us. We can trust that we will be in the presence of God forever based on the righteousness of Christ applied to us in which the Father sees us as His adopted sons and daughters (see Ephesians 1:3–14). Thus, we trust in Christ’s integrity living in us by faith. We have the promise of His forever grace because we have been united with Christ forever. We have the promise that God delights in us because the Father delights in the Son and as believers united to him, we share in that delight.
So when we consider the purpose and work of God’s grace, the psalmist gives us a rich tapestry of grace to consider. Being the basis of our forgiveness, it is also the sustaining force in the believer’s life. Sustaining us, it also is the means of perpetual transformation.
Lastly, it is power that carries believers through and into eternity. The concluding line to the old hymn states: “You that are longing to see his face, Will you this moment his grace receive?” May we at every moment long to receive God’s grace, because we yearn to see his face both now and forever.
I have a love/hate relationship with home renovation shows. You know the ones I’m talking about. This couple picks an outdated and dilapidated old home and then with the help of some fancy computer program they’re able to see what the house could look like (with the right amount of money, of course). In less than an hour, you get to watch as the old and ugly house is replaced by the new and beautiful one. The new house is revealed to the overjoyed family and they live happily ever after – The End. The process is quick, clean, and easy. Church revitalization works nothing like this.
While I love the transformation from the “before” to the “after” in these shows, as a pastor in the thick of church revitalization, it can also be a frustrating reminder of how painfully slow the process of change really is. There are no quick fixes in ministry. And so revitalization demands that we learn how to live in the monstrous and messy gap between the “before” and “after” — that we learn to live with the tension between the way things are and the way God wants them to be, all the while seeking to slowly and faithfully take us one step closer.
The trouble is, there’s no one-size-fits-all plan. There’s no step-by-step process we can follow. Why? Because every church is different. Yes, every church needs faithful preaching, prayer, and godly, humble leadership – but at some point changes will have to be made. And the timing, order, and manner in which those necessary changes take place can make or break a revitalization effort. To use a home renovation analogy, if you start knocking down load-bearing walls without the proper supports in place, you’ll quickly find the whole structure collapsing around you. The same is true with revitalization. The right move at the wrong time can derail your efforts and undermine your best intentions. So, it’s with this in mind that I offer these five questions to ask before making a change:
- Is the intended outcome spiritual or superficial?
Whenever we step into a church in need of revitalization, the primary need and issue is almost always spiritual. However, what’s going to grab our attention is the cringe-worthy décor, building issues, and outdated media items everywhere we look. And while there is certainly a time and a place for addressing these issues – beware the impression that updating the look of your church building or website makes you a healthier church. Outdated or run-down buildings, websites, media, etc. are merely one superficial symptom of a deeper spiritual issue. Yes, they need attention, but not if it distracts from the more significant changes that need to be made first. For many pastors in their first few years, this just means you need to leave the paneling and the picture of Jesus alone for now and focus your attention on being with your people, prayer, and preaching.FREE BOOK ON CHURCH REVITALIZATION
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- What and who else is going to be affected?
When you reach the place where you’ve identified a specific structural or procedural change that needs to be made, just make sure you know who else it’s going to impact you. Just like every piece of a house is connected to some other piece, so every change you make is going to impact someone or something beyond that immediate situation. In other words, before you go pulling out a two-by-four, just make sure you know what it was holding up. This is the only way you can wisely evaluate whether or not the change is worth it.
- How long has it been there?
Some traditions become harder and harder to dig out the longer they’ve been around. Before you make a change, it’s a good idea to know how long it’s been in place. Something seemingly minor can be a big deal if you’re messing with a tradition that’s been around longer than you’ve been alive. Some of what seemed to be the easiest changes turned out to be some of the most difficult simply because they had been in place for so long. At our church, we had always sung the doxology after the offering and before the message. I wasn’t prepared (foolishly, it seems) for the backlash I experienced when we sang something else one Sunday. When I asked people why they loved it so much, their only response was, “Well, we’ve always sang it.” So, be aware that often minor changes can create major reactions if they involve long-running traditions.
- Do you have the support necessary to do it?
There’s nothing worse than getting halfway through a home project and realizing you really need another set of hands in order to get the job done. And just like having enough “hands” is critical to some home projects, your ability to make substantial changes in a revitalization process will also often need help. One of the most substantial shifts we made in the first few years of my pastorate was to move towards meaningful membership and to clean up our inflated church rolls. This was a long and involved process, but one of the most important steps I took was to spend months specifically investing in our deacons to make sure they both understood WHAT we were doing and WHY it was necessary. When the process was presented to the church, several people were upset, but because our deacons fully understood and supported the action, the opposition quickly faded. As one of my bosses used to say, “If I’m going out on a limb, I’m taking someone with me.” Since change is always risky, it’s a good idea to take as many people with you as you can.
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Contrary to what some around me might think, I love people. I love to sit and watch people interact. I love to listen to people tell stories and share burdens.
I’m also an introvert.
I know, it seems strange that an introvert would be in a profession that requires public speaking every week. However, not all introverts struggle with public speaking. For me, introversion means that relational activities, like the ones that are necessary and crucial for pastoral ministry, can be taxing and difficult. Some people conclude long conversations and feel like their batteries have been re-charged. I come out of long conversations and can feel spent.
As I’ve served in various leadership roles, I’ve tried to examine the relationship between my personality, my leadership style, my faithfulness, and my effectiveness. Below are some strategies that I have tried to implement as I have been blessed to be an introvert in leadership.
- Know yourself.
Know what your natural inclinations and gifts are, but also know where you are weak. Personally, I am more comfortable in my study than I am in the fellowship hall. As an introvert, I could sit in my study all day and read, pray, and work on my computer, and I would be pretty content. I need to remember often that seclusion is not healthy for pastoral ministry, and that there are aspects of my ministry that cannot be fulfilled from my study. I must be among my flock.
- Work alongside extroverts when you can.
Pastoral ministry (and leadership in general) requires small talk and mingling, which can be difficult for introverts. However, one way that I try to mitigate some of those relational weaknesses in my personality is to work alongside extroverts when I can. For example, I’ll take an extroverted pastoral intern or deacon along with me to make hospital visits; or, I’ll try to have my extroverted wife by my side at functions that will require lots of small talk. She has a gift for conversation, so I let her bless me (and others!) by taking the lead in mingling whenever I can.
- Plan your time wisely.
This is related to my first point; part of knowing yourself well is knowing how to best schedule your time. Make sure your schedule includes time for recovery and rest. Because I preach most Sunday nights, I am usually physically and emotionally drained on Mondays. Therefore, I try to plan mostly administrative work on Mondays, and save the more emotionally and spiritually taxing ministry elements for later in the week (e.g., counseling meetings).
- Be intentional about accountability.
One strategy that has been good (though sometimes challenging) for me is to be accountable to extroverts. I meet weekly with another pastor that is extroverted, and I’ve asked him to keep me accountable. I want him to make sure that I am working on being hospitable, both at church and at home. He lets me know how my actions may be perceived by others. My wife is also helpful in this area. She encourages me to get outside of my comfort zone and better love others by engaging them in conversation.
- Remind yourself that people, not task lists, are the focus of ministry.
Most people tend to gravitate toward what is easiest. My temptation, as an administratively-inclined introvert, is to focus on what comes naturally to me, like emails, schedules, writing, and reading. I can easily see my to-do list as an indicator of my ministry effectiveness and productivity. Rather, I have to constantly remind myself that the goal of ministry is to love people. When an unexpected visitor drops in and needs to talk, that visitor is an opportunity for me to love and serve, not a scheduling problem to be resolved. When I go on a hospital visit, I remind myself that the goal is not to get in, read a few verses, pray, and get out, even if that’s what my to-do-list-oriented personality wants to do. The goal is to love the sheep by encouraging them with the word and prayer, and to seek to make them feel loved by genuinely listening and communicating with them.
- Remember the gospel.
Remember that you are a sinner, whose natural inclination is bent in toward yourself. But also remember that Christ has redeemed you from bondage to sinful self-centeredness. Christ was willing to give up his heavenly station to come down and take on flesh for me. He was willing to be beaten and killed for my sin. He was consumed with love for his bride, even at the cost of great personal sacrifice. And I’ve been given His very own Spirit. It is through prayerful dependence upon the Holy Spirit that I can serve in Christ’s strength, motivated by the love that he’s shown to me.
When I’ve really reflected on the grace and hospitality shown to me, then I can find the strength to be hospitable to others on Sunday morning. When I see that Christ has taken the initiative to reach out to me in love, then I can find the strength to initiate conversations with strangers. When I see that Christ has borne a huge load for me, then I find the strength to bear with others and their heavy burdens.
In sum, introversion is not necessarily sinful. However, introverted personalities can be tempted to sin in particular ways. The wise introverted leader will recognize those temptations, take steps to prevent succumbing to them, and will look to Christ for the strength to love others well, especially our relationally-oriented, extroverted brothers and sisters.
Jon English Lee serves as minister of education and administration at Morningview Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Auburn University in Montgomery, a master of divinity from Southern Seminary, and is currently a PhD candidate in systematic and historical theology at Southern. He has served several churches in Kentucky. Jon enjoys reading, scuba diving, and most any other outdoor activity. He and his wife, Rebekah, have three sons: Jonny, Jack, and Graham.
Effective leadership starts in the home. As professor Howard Hendricks used to say when I was in seminary, “Christianity that doesn’t work at home doesn’t work.” And leadership that doesn’t work at home certainly won’t work in the church.
Home Management Basics: Fidelity and Control
The Pastoral Epistles make it clear that a pastor must be above reproach in family management. He must be “the husband of one wife” who “manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity” and “having children who believe*, not accused of dissipation or rebellion” (I Tim 3:2, 4; Titus 1:6). This is no easy management assignment!
Marital fidelity requires God’s grace and constant vigilance, especially in a pastorate that involves regular marriage counseling. A leader must stay well connected to his wife. The romance must not die. And all related sin must be killed: pornography, any sinful use of media, all forms of heart lust, and all emotional flirting must be ruthlessly mortified. Your wife must be your intimate ally. Even when you’re both listing and riding a bit low in the water, she must remain your forever dreamboat.
Control of your kids is a window into your management expertise. Children under control are marked by a timely heeding of your spoken word and a general attitude of respect toward others (including siblings and, especially, mom). You shouldn’t have to cajole or bribe, and your wife should not be the go-to disciplinarian in your home. When my wife, Sue, was home alone with five young children, she knew that simply reminding them of my eventual return would help bring them back in line. Managing kids is about exerting patient, loving, and yet firm control.
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Church Revitalization Basics: Fidelity and Control
Yes, you say, but how is this relevant to revitalization? Surely the rudiments of qualified biblical leadership are relevant to any pastoral context. And fidelity and control, critical to effective church leadership, are especially germane to replanting.
First, a pastor must show fidelity toward the existing congregation. Those who are languishing are often a bit hard to love and hard to shepherd. They want the church to grow, but without any real change. Thus, it’s easy to wish they’d just leave – or, at the very least, tithe quietly. But that’s not fidelity. Christ loved His church and He calls us to do likewise, indiscriminately, passionately, for better, for worse. Loving Christ’s bride, even when she’s riding a bit low in the water, is basic to effective church revitalization. And how we love our bride is how we will love His bride.
But control is vital as well. This failing congregation must be recruited to a new vision. Some will resist, some will undermine, some might even lead the charge for your removal. But you must patiently, lovingly exert a firm leadership hand as an agent of change. You must help them adopt new measures that will attract new members, without letting the church spin out of control due to competing visions pushed by unruly members. Managing your own kids is vital because the way you manage your kids is the way you’ll manage God’s children.
Perhaps you’re untested as a revitalization pastor. Maybe it’s all you can do to show up Sunday morning with a decent sermon. In any case, you’re unsure if you can “bring it,” managerially speaking. Fidelity and control are tall orders. So what can you do?
- Address personal weaknesses.
First, as one leadership guru put it, look in the mirror instead of the parking lot. Whatever the particulars of your congregation, the only person you can change is you. Be willing to confront your weaknesses. I’ve been a senior pastor for over 25 years and recently faced my weakness regarding church structure. I’m now leading our church toward a structure with clearer accountability and better systems. Addressing your weaknesses as a leader and manager is essential to the health and growth of your church.
- Evaluate marital goals.
Second, get away for a marriage retreat. Go for at least three nights, and evaluate your family life from all angles: communication, intimacy, parenting, finances, spiritual lives, passion for Christ. Ask your wife to be brutally honest with you, and then play the man – don’t lawyer up when she complies. Before you return, set some modest home management goals together. Sue and I have made it a habit to get away regularly, and, though we’re both listing a bit these days, the retreats have kept our relationship fresh, vibrant and fun.
- Set biblical goals.
Finally, take a half-day personal retreat to evaluate and improve the management of your church. Every year, I set goals which I review with my elders and staff to help me stay on course. Start by asking God for his grace and strength. Christ said he would build his church and his grace is sufficient to enable you to do just that. Then set at least ten goals: five to help you be faithful, and five to help you manage your congregation into a new day.
God’s word is clear: Effective church leadership starts at home. “If a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?” May God bless your efforts to lead your family and your church alike.
* Note that control is the emphasis in Titus 1:6, even though modern translations render the adjective pista as “believing.” A far better translation, following the KJV and Geneva Bible, is “faithful” (see Mounce and Knight on the Pastoral Epistles).
I was on vacation on the coast of Maine having a very pleasant conversation with a friend of my in-laws after dinner. She asks me, “So, Chad, how is the ministry going? I always wonder, is it a lot of pressure to always have to come up with a message for the people every week?”
I knew exactly what she was getting at. I responded, “Actually, I preach through books of the Bible, so whatever the next passage is, that’s the message for the week.” With an intrigued look she smiled, “Well, that’s very interesting. I’ve never heard of that before!” She was not a particularly religious woman, but chances are the only sermons she’d ever heard were vague monologues filled with moral platitudes and inspiring (or at least pleasant) personal stories.
Sadly, her response is one I hear all too often. In fact, I’ve had repeat visitors at our church over the past few years who came back only because the preaching was so strange–like I was some kind of freak show. I even had visitors invite other visitors to come because “I’ve never heard anyone preach like that before!”
Here in Newberry, South Carolina, expository preaching is a unicorn. It’s bizarre. I sometimes have a hard time figuring out whether that wrinkle between their brows is from disgust, conviction, or shock. Of course, our regular members have grown to love going through book after book. Honestly, it feels like home for us. And expository preaching is therapeutic for me.
Book by book
I attended Southern Seminary where expository preaching was drilled into our brains from day one. I assumed, like me, that all of the other graduates who walked across that stage and received a diploma intended to go into ministry and plunge right into preaching through book after book. My first Sunday at College Street Baptist Church I preached Matthew’s genealogy from Matthew 1 (How about that for a real crowd pleaser?). Over the next two years, we proceeded through the entire Gospel of Matthew.
I remember attending a conference last year, and Mark Dever–who loves doing audience polls–was asking us about our preaching ministries. At the time, I had begun preaching through the book of Judges. To my shock and amazement, in a room of over 200 pastors convictionally committed to expository preaching, I had by far the longest mapped out series at 9 months–and it’s not like Judges is super long (21 chapters). It only confirmed what I had begun to notice, which was that guys who seemed all about expository preaching didn’t seem to consider preaching through whole books part of the definition of expository preaching.
To be honest, as a guy, there is something satisfying about being able to check books off the list–not that the Bible is just a checklist to accomplish, of course. However, there’s a sense of accomplishment in knowing we’ve been through all of Matthew, all of Judges, all of Colossians, Ruth, and by Thanksgiving 2016 all of Acts. I’ve found that much of my ministry is difficult to measure. Book by book preaching gives me an attainable and measurable goal. I can chink away at it week after week. It’s at least one solid accomplishment to celebrate year by year as I finish each book.
Not my problem
Perhaps even more importantly, however, is the way that expository preaching takes the pressure off of Chad. Remember that family friend’s question from the intro? I have nightmares about trying to preach the way many mainline pastors do. My life is just not that interesting or inspiring! And I would fritter away half the week just wrestling with what topic to pick and what pieces of my experience illustrate some admirable trait. No. I would go crazy if the onus was on me to generate a message from within to feed the sheep every week.
Expository preaching takes the whole burden off the preacher and places it where it belongs: on the Word of God. It is the Word’s job to feed the sheep. As the preacher, I just set the table. Man does not live by bread alone or by the stories and anecdotes of Chad, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. It is not my responsibility to have just the right message for God’s people week after week. It’s God’s.
And this means every Monday morning when I open my BHS or NA27 I can breathe a big sigh of relief. This frees me up to relish the Word. It unfetters me from the urgent. I can preach each passage with full conviction without fear of accusation of hobby-horsing or cherry-picking the text to support my agenda.
Brother pastors, there is comfort and even confidence in recognizing our proper role as under-shepherds. Week after week, we fill our mouths with the words of Jesus, calling the sheep to return to the Shepherd and Overseer of their souls. The Holy Spirit knows the hearts of the people–and he knows our heart. As pastors, we must learn to cast our burdens upon Him for he cares for us. Our words were not meant to bear the heavy load of exhorting, encouraging, and edifying the people. Only the Word of God can do that.
The quicker we as pastors and congregations come to realize this, the quicker we will all be able to rest easy in the contentment of the Holy Spirit come Sunday night.
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‘No one can believe less’
A conversation with R. Albert Mohler Jr. about his new book, ‘The Apostles’ Creed’
Throughout Christendom, the Apostles’ Creed stands in an unparalleled position. No document, aside from the actual Scriptures, holds the level of doctrinal authority as the Creed. Yet for 21st century Christians, the value of the creed — and perhaps creeds and confessions in general — isn’t always apparent beyond historical and doctrinal status. That’s at least partly why R. Albert Mohler Jr. has written a new book: To demonstrate freshly the importance and usefulness of the fourth-century Apostles’ Creed for this century and for the generations to come.
The book, The Apostles’ Creed: Discovering Authentic Christianity in an Age of Counterfeits (Nelson Books), is out today, available from major booksellers throughout the country. Mohler, who is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary sat down with Towers editor Andrew J.W. Smith to discuss his new book and the place of Apostles’ Creed in contemporary church life.
You set out to write a trilogy about Christian instruction. You wanted to write about the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and now the Apostles’ Creed. Why was it important to you to cover each of these three things?
In the history of the Christian church, going back to the earliest centuries, there has been a tripod of sorts of Christian teaching. What you find commonly wherever the Christian church is found, and those three have been the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed. If you are looking at the instruction of the early church, going all the way through the present day, you will find a dependence upon those three very important documents or text.
There has been a pattern also throughout church history of theologians grappling with those three crucial texts.
Where did the Apostles’ Creed come from?
The Apostles’ Creed is the oldest of the creeds known to Christendom. It emerges out of Scripture. It is the church’s earliest attempt, that has survived to this day, to summarize the Christian faith as revealed in the Bible, and whether we recognize it or not, every single Christian requires this kind of biblical summary. If for nothing else, just consider what it means to sit next to someone on an airplane and tell them about Christ, and to explain what Christians believe. You’re going to have to use sentences very much like this: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost.”
One of the most amazing things about the Apostles’ Creed is the economy of words. It’s very much like the Lord’s Prayer. There aren’t that many words in it. It can be read aloud quickly. But the entire superstructure of the Christian faith revealed in Scripture is there.
What does a centuries-old document have to offer the 21st-century church?
We all need a summary of the Christian faith, and the fact that this summary has been used throughout two millennia of Christian history is really humbling. It makes me very grateful. You’ll notice that the reformers pick right up on the use of the Apostles’ Creed. The same thing is true throughout historic Protestant churches, wherever they are found.
And where there is an aversion to creeds, it’s almost always rooted in the fear that some creed is going to replace the authority of Scripture. But even those who would, on that basis, reject a creed have to turn around and create one of their own simply to summarize what the gospel is, who Christ is, what the Bible teaches. I think there is a lot of danger in devising one of our own, and there’s a great deal of security in using the word the Christian church has used throughout the centuries, wherever it has been found.
What might that look like?
Every generation of the Christian faith has to be absolutely certain that we are not saying something new. That we are not inventing, developing, evolving, negotiating a new gospel, a new theological structure. Paul told Timothy that one of his main responsibilities was to maintain the pattern of sound words. Now, the most important way we do that is by latching ourselves to the Word of God. In so doing, we have to summarize what the Bible teaches.
In the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, when Southern Baptists were recovering their institutions, it was the liberals who said, “No creed but the Bible.” I was in one meeting where a very liberal professor said, “I won’t sign any confession of faith. I’ll just sign at the end of the bible my name.” To some people in the room, that sounded very noble, until I simply turned to him and I asked, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ was bodily raised from the dead?” And he began to backtrack. It’s not enough just to sign the last page of the Bible.
Perhaps the most talk-about parts of the Apostles’ Creed is the line that talks about Jesus descending into Hell. What are we to make of that?
What I make of it is that it is true and it is an expression of biblical truth. It means that Jesus genuinely died: The Creed is not talking about Hell as a place of everlasting punishment; it is talking about the state of the dead. The Bible is as clear about the reality of his death as it is about the reality of his crucifixion and the reality of his bodily resurrection from the dead.
In medieval Christianity, there accrued all kinds of speculative doctrines about what it meant for Christ to descend into Hell and no shortage of less-than-helpful scriptural engagements. But that shouldn’t give us any reticence from including it in the creed. And I know there are some churches today that pull it out of the creed. I think that is very dangerous.
I think it is very difficult to say, “We want to say exactly what the Christian church has said for centuries except for those words, which have been taken out of context and used wrongly elsewhere.” If we’re going to maintain the pattern of sound words, then we need to say all the words. We need to say them carefully and explain what we mean.
I do not back off of that affirmation of the creed. I did make a statement by the fact that this section makes up by far the shortest chapter in the book. And I acknowledge that saying that is because our task is to affirm what the scripture says on that question and go no further. And in that sense, I think the Apostles’ Creed is a good example of what we might call doctrinal economy: We say everything the Scripture tells us to say, and then we refrain from making up more.
A lot of people are talking about ecumenism, the differences in denominations, and being Christians together. One of the things you write about in the book is how the Apostles’ Creed can build true Christian unity on the foundations and the fundamentals of the faith. How can it drive unity among Christians?
The true unity of the church is in Christ. I stand opposed to all efforts at an artificial ecumenical unity. The efforts to try to create a structural unity of the church and the ecumenical movement led to theological disaster because it leads to a theological and doctrinal minimalism that pretty quickly evaporates into nothing. I’m not at all about trying to create an ecumenical moment or some kind of institutional unity of the church. I believe Christ will do that when he comes.
Not only that, but I’m a capital B Baptist. I believe much more than is affirmed in the Apostles’ Creed. So do Presbyterians, so do Anglicans, so do Lutherans.
Here is perhaps the most important function of the Apostles’ Creed: All Christians believe more than the Apostles’ Creed, no one can believe less than the Apostles’ Creed and be a Christian.
You dedicated the book to your new grandson. Is that indicative of your desire, for not only your grandson, but the next generation to rediscover the vitality of the Apostles’ Creed?
Absolutely. Everything I do in life and in ministry, as president of a seminary and college, and preaching the Word is to do everything possible to equip coming generations to be firm in the faith, steadfast, joyous in Christ, and doctrinally and theologically faithful.
Being a grandfather has only made that more urgent and tangible and infinitely more sweet. I dedicated my book on the Lord’s Prayer to our first grandson, Benjamin, and now this book on the Apostles’ Creed to Henry. I spoke first in the dedication of our joy in him, but then I concluded, “May you know even a taste of the joy you have brought to us, and above all, may you come to know Christ so that one glorious day, you will say in the faith of the apostles and the communion of Christ’s saints throughout the ages, ‘I believe’.”
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
The post Author Interview: R. Albert Mohler Jr. on “The Apostles’ Creed” appeared first on Southern Equip.
More than a decade ago, my wife and I (both of us white) moved into a neighborhood where we were an ethnic minority. We wanted to plant a church. Over the years, our idealism has been crushed, we’ve hit rock bottom, experienced a rebirth of vision, and have slowly made progress. God has been incredibly kind as he has formed a diverse church in our neighborhood. The immediate context is mostly African-American, yet we’re three blocks from a historically white neighborhood. Our church is about half black, half white, and maybe two percent Asian.Why it’s biblical
First and foremost: it’s biblical and right to do cross-cultural ministry. God does burden individuals from one culture to share the gospel and invest in another cultural setting. God burdened my Korean-American friend, Dan, to plant a church in a historically poor white neighborhood. God burdened my African-American friend, Marty, who grew up in the inner-city, to plant a church in the suburbs. God called a man named Paul, who wanted to work among his own people, to leave and take the gospel to the Gentiles. When God burdens a preacher for a people group, a neighborhood, or a block, it’s right for that preacher to go and become all things to all people so that he might save some.
Reflecting on his own gospel work, the Apostle Paul wrote:
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Cor. 9:19–23)
But you ask: won’t someone from the context have a better witness?
Not necessarily. Don’t misunderstand: God calls indigenous people to reach their fellows, but the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).
Additionally, the Apostle writes, “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1–2).
What if God called Dan to the historically white neighborhood, and Marty to the suburban neighborhood, and myself to an African-American neighborhood so that “faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God”? God may place the most unlikely vessel into a neighborhood so the only explanation for fruit might be God’s supernatural work. Man cannot do this; only God can.Check your motives
However, fueled by biblical support, it’s possible to rush into cross-cultural work without examining our extra-biblical motives. During my first few years, I was often questioned: “Why do you think you should plant a church here?” This initially took me by surprise as I had a lot to learn. But over time I realized that the question was a good one because it came from a place that was intimately familiar with the history of white superiority.
If you’re eager to do cross-cultural ministry, here are a few questions you should be willing to ask yourself:
1. Why am I here? Are you here because of guilt, because you think you can save the day, or because you implicitly think you’re way of doing life and church is superior?”
2. Am I willing to submit to someone of a different ethnicity? Do you have a mentor who’s familiar with this context? If not, why not? Are you willing to find one? What might they say about your decision to plant a church here?
3. Is there a need for a new church? Are there other indigenous gospel works that you might consider joining? Should you submit to another pastor in this context? Are the other churches here actually unhealthy or are they merely operating from a different set of cultural values?
Essentially, you must ask yourself, “Have I moved to this context unaware of the racial history and dynamics of the country and the community?”Don’t get blown up
With those words of encouragement and examination, please allow me also offer a few potential land mines:
Land mine 1: Trying to be someone you’re not
There’s absolutely nothing worse than a white man who changes his dialect when talking to an African American. Marty tells me of his friend of 20 years who still tries to “talk jive” to him. “Becoming all things” doesn’t mean you forget you’re white and attempt to become another ethnicity. That’s just annoying; it’s also condescending. Remember your background and recognize any tensions your presence may arouse.
Land mine 2: Imposing your own culture on other ethnicities
You do have a culture. Your preaching style, liturgy, and hymns—including the way you sing them—are culturally influenced. Your cultural background has shaped your discipleship and ministry preferences. Your values, politics, and the way you talk about these things, are peppered with certain cultural standards.
Don’t be like Peter in Galatians 2:11–14. Due to his fear and respect of leaders from his own culture, Peter breaks table fellowship with the Gentiles over cultural issues. Peter requires those who are ethnically different than him to assimilate in order to enjoy fellowship with him. Paul says “they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel.” The gospel doesn’t allow anyone to set their cultural norms as the standard for discipleship.
Land mine 3: Despising those who do look like you
An unexpected temptation for many who are working in a cross-cultural context is a subtle disdain when members of their own ethnicity join their church. My friend, Dan, told me it took him a while to be okay with the fact that he still attracts other Korean-Americans to his church. You’ll find people of your own hue attracted to your church because of you, and you’ve got to be okay with that. Don’t make cross-cultural work an idol.
Land mine 4: Drifting toward familiar spaces
At the same time, there’s another unexpected temptation, and that’s the draw toward familiarity. It’s been said that the biggest missionary challenge is to remain a missionary once on the field. You will be drawn to socialize, mingle, and connect with those who look like you and are from the same background as you. This is natural. And yet, in order to remain a missionary, you must fight against these natural tendencies and intentionally develop cross-cultural friendships. Learn to appreciate the values, pleasures, rhythms, and routines of your new neighbors. Sacrifice comfort and learn a new culture. Become all things to all people so that, by God’s grace, you might win some.No More Walls
I’m glad you want to serve a context different than your home culture. This demonstrates that God has torn down walls of ethnic division in your own life. As you carefully move forward in humility and with wisdom, be encouraged that God often uses cross-cultural work for his own glory.
Editors’ note: This article originally appeared at 9Marks.
The post 4 dangers in planting churches across ethnic lines appeared first on Southern Equip.
I’m thankful that Jesus taught his disciples to pray, mostly because prayer is a struggle for me. Talking to an invisible God in an empty room is unlike anything else I do in my life. The Lord’s Prayer has long served as an essential guide to lead me into communing with God. However, one particular aspect of this prayer has been especially challenging for me. In Matt. 6:11, Jesus tells his disciples to pray not just for “bread,” but for “daily bread.” He expanded on this theme a few verses later in Matt. 6:34, exhorting, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” It seems to me that Jesus wants his followers to ask for prayer needs that are most pressing in each current day. Several aspects of this strike me as challenging.
Instead of worrying about what I want or may need for tomorrow, God wants me to ask him to provide what I need today. Jesus said that tomorrow will take care of itself, I need to focus on today. This isn’t profound, I know. Yet, this is an area with which I struggle to be obedient.
When I evaluate my own prayers, I realize that I don’t usually pray for “daily” bread. I usually pray for “yearly” bread or “decades” of bread. For example, I would pray, “Lord, make Noah, AvaGrace, and Keller (my children) men and women after your own heart. Grow Misty (my wife) into a godly woman. Prepare each of my children a godly mate to marry at the proper time.” These are good prayers, just not ‘daily bread’ prayers.
Learning to ask
This causes me to ask myself, “What would these prayers look like if they were ‘daily bread’ prayers?” My prayers begin to take on a different form. I begin praying, “Lord, give Noah, AvaGrace, and Keller grace to grow in you today. Give me eyes to recognize opportunities to teach each of them about you today. Give Misty precious time in your presence. Show her something new about you today that your Spirit would use to sanctify her. Do a work today in Noah, AvaGrace and Keller that would lead to developing them into the kind of person who would attract a godly spouse. In my own heart, show me some sin that I am overlooking right now that I may come to you in repentance that I may walk more closely to you today.”
Why is this so important? First, we don’t live in tomorrow. We live in today. Tomorrow never comes. Second, a lifetime of praying for daily bread will yield a lifetime of provision from God.
Why would God design prayer this way? Let’s look at two more strange verses, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:7-8). That sounds strange to many of us because we often approach God like he needs us to tell him what we need so that he can provide it. Not true. This is not why God created prayer. He already knows what we need. God created prayer so that we might experience the blessing of living in daily fellowship with him. He is glorified as we enjoy his daily presence in our lives.
This is what ‘daily bread’ prayers accomplish. If all we get from God is what we need today, then guess what we have to do tomorrow…go back and spend time with him again.
Daily bread prayers followed by God’s daily bread provision develops daily faith in God’s children. This is why God commanded his people during their wilderness journey to only gather enough manna for the day. Manna gathered for tomorrow would always spoil. Unless it was gathered for the Sabbath, of course (cf. Ex. 16).
Let me give an analogy to illustrate what Jesus is saying. Let’s say instead of bread, God is handing out water at a well. Let’s pretend that we go to the well, and he gives us all the water we will ever need for a lifetime. We would leave the well, likely never to return. We would have no need to. We would likely end up traveling far away from the well because we would have little reason to stay. However, what if when we went to the well, God only gave us the water we needed for that day. Tomorrow we would find ourselves back at the well getting water for that day. We would build our houses next to the well. We would live next to the well. This is what God desires from us, to live next to the well. Daily bread prayers keep us close to the open, outstretched hands of God. God uses his daily provision to develop in us daily faith which assures joy in his daily presence.
May we all plant our lives close to the well through daily bread prayers.