The post At Least Thirty-One Reasons to Preach from the Old Testament appeared first on Southern Equip.
When I was a child, my two sisters shared a bedroom. It was larger than mine, and I wanted it. On one occasion, while my parents were gone, I convinced my sisters to switch rooms with me. “If you really love me,” I said, “you will switch rooms with me.” So they did. We moved my furniture into their room and their furniture into my room. It lasted for a couple of hours until my parents got home.
Giving me whatever I want is a common juvenile definition of love. “If you love me, you will buy me that game. If you don’t buy me that game, you don’t love me.”
Thankfully, I no longer operate from this defective, juvenile, manipulative definition of love. Yet what I abandoned as juvenile, society is in the process of affirming. Society tells us to follow your heart, trust your feelings, and embrace whatever comes naturally. For society, with ever-increasing scope, love means doing whatever it is that you want and supporting others in whatever they want. Affirming such decisions is love, while having the gall to do otherwise is hate.
This definition of love is probably most pervasive in discussions regarding sexuality. Supporting someone who chooses to live a homosexual or transgender lifestyle is portrayed as a sign of love, whereas disagreeing with such a decision is perceived as hate. Or perhaps it’s someone who wants to leave a spouse because he “loves” someone else. How could you possibly encourage him not to follow his heart? Or maybe it’s the 19-year-old who wants to sleep with her boyfriend because she “loves” him.
Following your heart sounds sensible unless you know that “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). Over and over again, Scripture affirms the sentiment of Genesis 6:5, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Jesus Himself declares, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:20-23).
Rather than following your heart, embracing what comes naturally, or supporting people in whatever they want, Jesus defines love as obedience. “If you love Me,” Jesus said, “you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Jesus affirms this definition of love twice more in John 14. John must have thought the definition quite important, as he repeated the connection between love and obedience in 1 John 2:3-5 and 2 John 6. Additionally, while it is common to think of 1 Corinthians 13 as offering a romantic definition of love, I think we often miss Paul’s declaration that love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness” (1 Corinthians 13:6). This declaration affirms that there is, in fact, such a thing as unrighteousness. And what’s more, if we rejoice in any such activity, it’s not love!
If love involves keeping God’s commandments, then it is not possible to love God by means of breaking one of His commandments. Likewise, it is not possible to love fellow human beings by breaking one of God’s commandments with them. Furthermore, it is not possible to love people by supporting them in breaking one of God’s commandments.
Jesus’ discussion of causing others to sin should give us serious pause—“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). Those are sobering words. When we affirm any sort of behavior that violates God’s commandments, we are helping the next generation to sin. That’s not love.
Imagine your relief, if you were concerned about cancer, to hear the doctor say that there was nothing wrong with you. Now imagine that he told you this despite the scans that showed cancer throughout your body. On your death bed, as you finally have an opportunity to ask him why he told you what he did, he tells you quite plainly, “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”
As ridiculous as that sounds, we are tempted to tell people what they want to hear because we don’t want to hurt their feelings. We have traded a flawed definition of “nice” for the truth. And thus we commit spiritual malpractice.
If we want to do God’s will, we must live by and tell people the truth. Hard truth. Cancer-doctor truth. The truth as God defines it.
The question then, for any behavior we endorse, is not if it comes naturally or if it makes us feel good, but if it meets God’s righteous standards. We must give thorough attention to the teachings of Scripture in order to determine if a certain behavior meets God’s standards. And when it doesn’t, we must not help others to walk down that road.
I have been following these long-tenured pastors for years. They have been at their present church at least ten years, often much longer. They have served multiple generations of the same families and have known the highs and lows of ministry. And they have not succumbed to the siren call of greener grass churches.
I have seen seven patterns that have consistently marked their lives and ministries. To be sure, these habits are not unique to long-tenured pastors. But they do seem to be most consistent among those pastors who have been at one church for at least ten years.
- They don’t skip a day in prayer and the ministry of the Word. They are truly Acts 6:4 pastors. They refuse to succumb to the tyranny of the urgent. They put prayer and Bible reading as a priority on their calendars, usually early in the morning. They are able to carry on because they are refueled every day.
- They realize gnats are gnats. So they are able to look beyond the momentary critics and nuisances. For more on this, see my earlier blog post on gnats and ministry.
- They pray for wisdom. I have been both amazed and encouraged to discover how many longer-tenured pastors include the prayer of James 1:5 in their prayer lives.
- They dream big. These pastors are not satisfied with the status quo. They truly believe they serve a God who has bigger plans than we can possibly imagine in our own strength.
- They intentionally seek to see the green grass in their own churches. That helps them not to fall for the trap that the green grass is always at the next church.
- They keep an outward focus. Pastors in a maintenance mode are either miserable pastors or pastors on their way out. Long-tenured pastors really take Paul’s admonition to Timothy seriously. They do the work of the evangelist (2 Tim 4:5).
- They take care of their families. They know their families are their first lines of ministry. In fact, they grasp clearly that they cannot lead their churches for the long haul unless they take care of their families (1 Tim 3:5).
The longer-term pastor is a step in the right direction for greater health and more fruitful ministry.
Spiritual Gifts: What they Are and Why they Matter by Thomas Schreiner, B&H, $16.99
Review by Sarah Haywood
“The true test of spiritual maturity is whether we live in love,” Tom Schreiner writes in his new book, Spiritual Gifts: What They Are and Why They Matter. Christians should be concerned with loving God and loving others, and spiritual gifts are God-given, specifically to make that happen.
Schreiner’s book is short and non-technical on the subject of spiritual gifts, from their definition to the understanding of the arguments for the cessation and continuation of the gifts. Each chapter includes chapter conclusions and a set of discussion questions, making the book a ready resource for individual or group study.
Schreiner describes spiritual gifts as manifestation of the Holy Spirit and gifts given by God. But these gifts are given for a purpose, he explains. There is a range of gifts represented in Scripture, and Schreiner details a few of them, including those that he, as a cessationist, believes to have ceased. The gifts listed include that of being an apostle, prophecy, teaching, miracles, healing, service, helping, administrating, leading, tongues, faith, giving.
Several chapters address gifts like prophecy and tongues more in-depth — the gifts that are more highly debated regarding whether they continue to today or not. He then provides his argument in favor of cessationism.
Aside from the controversy around sign gifts, Schreiner has one important lesson all Christians should learn about spiritual gifts: “Gifts are worthless without love,” he writes.
How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age by Jonathan Leeman, Thomas Nelson Publishing, $22.99
Review by Caleb Shaw
American politics is perhaps more fractured now than ever before, and it seems the church is often caught in the middle of the widening divide. In this difficult position, editorial director and SBTS alumnus Jonathan Leeman provides the church with a helpful book that rethinks the relationship of faith and politics. By exploring the role of politics theologically, Leeman explains that the role of the believer in politics is to represent the kingdom of Christ. How the Nations Rage will encourage and challenge you as you navigate this unprecedented political moment.
Kiss the Wave: embracing god in your trials by Dave Furman, Crossway, $14.99
Review by Sarah Haywood
In his new book, Dave Furman reflects on what it means to embrace God in times of trial. Furman, senior pastor of Redeemer Church of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, has a debilitating nerve disease, bringing pain every day. And with his chronic pain comes depression. But Furman says that there is a purpose to his pain. Kiss the Wave is an encouraging read, especially for those who have experienced the wave of pain of all kinds.
ESV Archeology Study Bible: by John Currid and David Chapman, $49
Review by Ben Aho
The ESV Archeology Study Bible, edited by John Currid and David Chapman, invites readers into the world of the Bible. It comes with more than 2,000 study notes, 400 full-color photos, and 200 maps and diagrams. Throughout the helps and articles, readers can also see a variety of artifacts and historical locations. The book is ideal for readers of all educational levels and will fortify their trust in the historicity of the Scriptures.
Acts 1-12 For You by R. Albert Mohler Jr., The Good Book Company 2018, $22.99
Review by Aaron Cline Hanbury
In a new popular-level book about the first half of the book of Acts, R. Albert Mohler Jr. suggests four primary emphases in the book. He proposes that the author, Luke, focuses on how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament, on the person of Jesus, on the church, and, finally, on the sovereignty of God.
These are not independent threads, writes Mohler, who is president of Southern Seminary. Instead, they’re interconnected, and even build on each other. Mohler argues that Jesus’ fulfilling the Old Testament provides the basis for believing Scripture in the first place.
“By focusing on the fact that Jesus has fulfilled the Old Testament, Luke is helping us to see that God’s Word never returns empty (see Isaiah 55:11), and that the basis of our Christian belief is found in the Scriptures.”
In Acts 1-12 For You, Mohler dedicates a chapter to each of the first 12 chapters of Acts. The writing style and format of the book make it not only accessible but equally useful for study or devotion.
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Bible Politics After the Restoration: Scriptural Submission and Resistance in Non-Conformist Commentary
The following is condensed from a conversation between writer Sarah Haywood and Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Seminary.
SH: How do we best use and cultivate our spiritual gifts?
TS: Fundamentally, spiritual gifts are about love. What does it mean to be a Christian? It means to love our triune God and our brothers and sisters in the church. When we exercise our spiritual gift rightly, we are expressing love, sacrificing, and giving of ourselves to others. So it’s not so much about what our gift is and feeling fulfilled in our gifts; it’s a way of giving ourselves to one another and showing concrete love to the body of Christ. I think that’s why Paul puts 1 Corinthians 13 in the middle of the whole discussion — spiritual gifts are about ministering to others, caring about others, and investing in others.
We don’t need to feel bad when we look at someone else’s gifts that we don’t have. Instead, we can rejoice about how helpful it is in our church to have someone who has gifts we don’t. We don’t need to feel inferior or superior to others. God has given us these gifts so we’ll love one another, build up the body of Christ, and strengthen the church. That way, we will be more mature and we will be a more loving and powerful witness to the world.
SH: You say Christians are to concentrate on their own gifts. How does a person discern what their spiritual gift is?
TS: The first and most important thing is to be vitally involved as a member in your local church. Get involved in the lives of others, and your gift, almost inevitably, will manifest itself. We do not see ourselves well; we need other people to help confirm to us what our gifts are. The church is the ideal place for that.
SH: What would you say to someone who feels they don’t have one?
TS: I would say that Scripture is very clear — and there are many texts that preach this — that every person has a spiritual gift. There is no doubt that everyone has a gift. If you don’t know your gift, I do think that you will discover it as you get involved in the lives of others. But if someone were to say to me, “But I have done that! And I still don’t know my gift,” then I would say that, at one level, it doesn’t matter. Gifts aren’t fundamentally for yourself; they’re for others. You are probably exercising your gift — you are doubtless helping others if you are involved in their lives. The most important thing is that you’re edifying and encouraging and strengthening other people. I think eventually God’s going to make it clear what your primary gifts are, but don’t sweat it. If you don’t know it by now, stay involved in the lives of other believers, love them, invest in their lives, and be part of their community.
SH: What are your views on the “sign gifts” like speaking in tongues and prophecy?
TS: As a new Christian, I was taught cessationism, but later became a continuationist. Two major influences on me in the late 80s were Wayne Grudem and John Piper — both continuationists. I was in John’s church then. But slowly, even though I had high regard for them, in the mid-90s, I began to doubt whether continuationism was true. By the late-90s, after I came here in 1997, I was again a nuanced cessationist. And I say nuanced because I do believe that in cutting-edge missionary situations, since God is sovereign, he may be pleased to do signs, wonders, and miracles like he did in the apostolic age.
SH: If the gift of tongues has ceased, what do we make of believers who speak in tongues?
TS: I want to emphasize first that we’re brothers and sisters in the Lord. I want to say to them, “You could be right and I could be wrong.” I don’t think the use of tongues is demonic in most instances — I think for brothers and sisters it’s a sincere attempt to do God’s will. And I agree with J.I. Packer: It’s somewhat akin to singing in the shower or scat singing in jazz — a form of psychological relaxation. Sometimes charismatics take that as insulting, but Packer didn’t mean it as insulting and I don’t either. It’s not necessarily evil; I just don’t think it’s the spiritual gift of tongues. In any case, it ought not to be estimated as a sign of spiritual maturity.
SH: What prompted you to write this book?
TS: I think that most Reformed millenials are continuationists by default. I wanted to write a book that defended cessationism but was still very friendly to continuationists. I didn’t want a book that attacked the other side. I dedicated the book to John Piper, Sam Storms, and Wayne Grudem — all good friends of mine and all continuationists. I dedicate it to them, not sarcastically, but to show my love for them even though we disagree.
The following is condensed from a conversation between Towers editor Andrew J.W. Smith and authors Jarvis Williams and Curtis Woods, who are also respectively associate professor of New Testament interpretation and assistant professor of applied theology at Southern Seminary.
AJWS: How would you articulate the overall purpose of the book? What are you hoping it accomplishes?
JW: This conversation is a matter of discipleship, and one of the things parents need to do is pre-empt potential racial challenges their kids will experience. This book is a way for parents to understand how the gospel informs why we have racism. We need to explain to our kids the combination of how race was invented in the American context alongside the larger biblical narrative of race: God created one human race, then sin entered creation and devastated the cosmos in a way where human beings began to fight against God’s good creation. We need to tell parents: “Here’s how you can disciple your kids in a context where sin permeates everything, including how we perceive each other.”
AJWS: Why do kids especially need to hear about racial issues like this?
CW: We often say here at Southern that “theology matters.” When people really understand theology, they are able to take those complex categories and make them simple. A child should see themselves in light of the imago Dei. When you are doing theology rightly, a child would be able to understand and appreciate it. If we say we’re doing theology, it has to get outside of the classroom. It should also be at home as parents are discipling their children to bear the image of Christ.
JW: My son is 10 now, but when the book was being considered, he was 7. As a 7-year-old kid, he had encounters with racism and asked some difficult questions. I didn’t have the option to say to my little boy, “Don’t worry about that. This is just an aberration.” I had a responsibility to help him understand, as a 7-year-old who believes who loves Jesus, how sin created the context for that problem and how the gospel provides the solution. I also needed to help him understand that this is something he will have to experience for the rest of his life — but there are gospel ways to respond to this. He cannot let it defeat him.
I felt responsible to create something that would help my son and other children like my son understand that there is nothing wrong with their brown, black, yellow, or white skin. All shades of skin are beautifully created by God and reflect God’s diverse power to create people who reflect his beauty in ways mono-ethnicity would not.
AJWS: In a lot of people’s minds, racial reconciliation is exclusively political. It seems like in this book, you are helping families and kids understand that matters of race are deeply theological too.
JW: We live in a political economy, and in taking an Augustinian worldview, we try not to divide the City of Man from the City of God. We understand that there are two cities in constant conflict. If we take a biblical and theological framing, we observe that the seed of the woman is in constant conflict with the seed of the serpent. Within the chaos that comes from the fall, we see that creation has an ongoing struggle. The serpent’s desire has always been to create division within humanity.
The ultimate solution to the race problem is the gospel, fundamentally. The gospel says that the City of God will conquer the City of Man. A new kingdom has invaded this present evil age — which is the Kingdom of God in Christ. We can’t fully see the Kingdom of God on earth because it’s like a mustard seed that grows, but we do get glimpses of Spirit-empowered Christians, from tongues and tribes and peoples and nations, walking in the Spirit and loving their neighbor. We see that the Kingdom of God has already begun and that it will ultimately triumph over the kingdom of man. That is a political and theological and social statement! Since the Kingdom of God stands, the kingdoms of man and the devil cannot.
CW: I knew the preacher would come out eventually!
JW: The new heavens and earth is a society governed by God and ruled by Christ. It has been inaugurated now, so you can’t nicely and neatly separate the holy from the secular. That is not a way you want to live your life. Therefore, as Christians, we have a responsibility to help our kids to think through what it means for me as a brown, yellow, black, or white boy or girl to grow into a man or woman to live for Jesus in the real world. We’ve tried to help folks prepare to do that.
For many, the academic rigor of master’s-level seminary work is daunting. S. Craig Sanders, former editor of Towers and an SBTS M.Div. graduate, offers a few tips and words of advice below.
I often hesitate to offer academic advice because I recognize we’re all wired differently. What worked for me may not be the best approach for everyone. The type of advice I needed in seminary was to focus on my marriage and build friendships both inside and outside the seminary. I’m glad I heeded that advice. But other students need advice on academic preparation, either to make it a higher priority and pause on other commitments or to adjust their academic priorities in light of career or ministry goals.
Nevertheless, there are tips that apply almost universally to seminary students. We all live an age of distraction and most students will have to balance family and work alongside school. Here are four things to keep you tethered to seminary and to leave much wiser than when you arrived:Find your study place
Whether it’s somewhere in your home, a hidden nook in the seminary, or a coffee shop, figure out as soon as possible the best place for you to read and write undisturbed. Depending on how crammed your home or schedule is, you may only have one spot. Wherever it is, make sure it’s a place where you have absolute confidence it’s there when you need it. Don’t settle for an especially busy coffee shop or study space where you might not get an open table when you most need it. If it’s a space in your home, let your spouse or roommate know that you’ve set apart this place for studying. I’ve found this to be the most essential aspect of my study routine, and it helps the rest flow naturally.Make a plan and stick to it
First, create a schedule with your class times and meetings, and designate blocks for reading and writing. Place that schedule in multiple places so you don’t forget about appointments. Once, I was working 40 hours per week on second shift (2:30-11:30 p.m.) all while taking nine credit hours. The only way for me to survive academically was to know what assignment I would be working on and when during the precious windows of time I had available on my schedule.
Second, start your paper research at the beginning of the semester. Begin by gathering resources and pick a topic as soon as you are able. Keep a line open in your mind to think about questions you want to ask and claims you want to make in your argument — when an idea grabs hold of that line, make sure you have a way to write it down. Often the best things I’ve written started as ideas that grabbed my attention while I was in the shower or trying to fall asleep.
Finally, be flexible. Circumstances may arise that set you behind on a major project. As long as you’re able to chip away at regular assignments and get ahead in other areas, you can adjust your schedule to make up for lost time on that final research paper.Never avoid a challenge
One of my favorite pieces of bad advice I heard in college and seminary was, “Don’t take that professor. That class is way too hard.” Whenever I encountered that, I accepted the challenge and immediately signed up. You can’t pass up on difficult situations in ministry, so why should you take the easy path to prepare?
Now, it may be unwise to take the three most rigorous seminary classes in the same semester. But find out what courses will be most challenging for you and start planning how to register for them the next time they are offered. If you’re especially nervous about a particular class, ask around for a student who thrived in the course and develop a strategy for success. The satisfaction and reward for conquering a challenging course will far surpass the leisure and fading knowledge you earned from taking it easy.Listen more than you talk
This is a precious skill to develop as a student, and one that will pay off in life, marriage, and ministry. There are Christians around the world who long to walk the halls of Southern Seminary and sit under the teaching of our faculty, and some of them move thousands of miles away, unsure when they’ll see their families again for that very reason. Cherish the time you have to learn from Southern’s world-renowned faculty.
Put away your laptop and take out a notebook so you retain more of the information you hear. Attend the lectures and luncheons: some of the most inspiring things I learned — wisdom that inspired my research today — I heard outside the classroom in the lecture halls. Don’t watch it online if you’re on campus; be there, take it in, and get to know the visiting scholars. These are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Set aside time for conversations with professors and fellow students. More times than not, you’ll find the next step or a new source for a research project unexpectedly just by learning from those around you.
Recent years have seen a healthy re-examination and reinvigoration of Baptist ecclesiology. Pastors and theologians regularly discuss issues related to a regenerate church membership, discipline, and matters related to governance and polity. On the other hand, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the ordinances themselves, seem to have received less attention than they merit in a robust biblical Baptist ecclesiology.
As far back as the First London Confession (1644), Baptists rejected the word “sacrament” because of its implication that the rites are an actual means of grace by which the participant gains something more than he had already through Christ, in favor of the more accurate “ordinance” because both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are commands of Jesus to those who have already received saving grace. Additionally, Baptists have always named them specifically as church ordinances, to be observed in the context and under the authority of a local church. This may seem unimportant or inconsequential, but a nebulous ecclesiology ultimately clouds soteriology as well.
The question of who may partake of the Lord’s Supper is important precisely because it reflects on both doctrines. When a church observes communion, who is eligible to sit at the Lord’s table? Is everyone eligible? All believers? All baptized believers? Only Baptists? Only church members?
Baptists have historically debated this question with three possible answers. Open communion is the position that all believers present when a local church observes the Lord’s Supper may partake. Alternatively, the close communion view maintains that only those who are saved, properly baptized, and in fellowship with a church of like faith and order — meaning holding to the same basic doctrine as the observing church — may sit at the Lord’s Table. Finally, closed communion is the most restrictive position, asserting that since communion is connected to discipline, only members of the local church can partake.
In all candor, neither the Abstract of Principles nor any iteration of the Baptist Faith and Message (1925, 1963, 2000) allows for open communion. While an autonomous church can certainly remove all restrictions for communion, it cannot do so and claim to be within any Southern Baptist confession of faith. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 defines baptism as immersion, as symbolic, as a “church ordinance” and as “prerequisite” to the Lord’s Supper which is observed by the “members of the church.”
In contrast, open communion recognizes any baptism or no baptism, any church membership or no church membership, and makes membership and participation in its responsibilities optional and immaterial. Meaningful discipline is impossible in a church that practices open communion because the church cannot withdraw fellowship when it extends the privilege of communion to anyone who happens to be present. How can a church excommunicate when it has no requirements for communicants?
Often, a pastor serving the Lord’s Supper will say something generic like, “This is the Lord’s table, not our table. We don’t have any right to deny anyone from partaking so long as your heart is right with God.” That may sound kind, but it contradicts the Baptist Faith and Message, not to mention the New Testament, on several points.
If baptism is indeed prerequisite to the Lord’s Supper (as most Baptist confessions of faith straightforwardly state), then those who were sprinkled, baptized before conversion, or baptized with a sacramental purpose are not properly baptized and do not meet the qualifications for partaking. They do not have Scriptural baptism — which is always the immersion of a believer and is symbolic upon one’s profession of faith. The observance of open communion suggests that the timing, means, purpose, and administrator of baptism are irrelevant to obedience to Christ or participation in the life of the church. While churches who claim the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as their doctrinal statement may practice either close or closed communion, open communion is impossible to reconcile with its definitions and doctrines.
Those who argue for closed communion do so on the basis of the close connection between discipline and the Lord’s Supper. In 1 Corinthians 5:11, Paul instructs the church at Corinth “not even to eat” with the offending member that they are putting out of the church. Those who believe that the Lord’s Supper is limited to members of a particular church understand this to mean that the former member who is being disciplined is ineligible to partake of the ordinance. Jesus says something similar in Matthew 18:17: “Let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector.” That does not mean to have no contact with that person, but rather not to “eat” at the Lord’s table.
Proponents of close communion, on the other hand, argue that just as churches of “like faith and order” recognize each other’s authority in baptism and discipline, they can similarly offer communion to a properly baptized member in good standing of a sister church. In either case, the pastor needs to be clear when he presides so that those present can genuinely examine themselves and know if they may partake.
Pastors and churches often lower the bar either because they simply do not think about the issues involved and do not realize what is at stake or, more frequently, they feel uncomfortable excluding anyone and risking hurt feelings. Both my theology and my experience encourage me on this point, however; biblical barriers exist for a reason. God put them there to keep some things in and some things out. Nowhere is that more important than in church membership and unity.
Several years ago, a lady attended our church with her sister and was present for a communion service. As I carefully described who may and may not partake, she looked at her sister and said, “Is he saying I can’t take communion?” Her sister, who had heard my explanation many times before said boldly, “That is precisely what he is saying.”
She attended for many more weeks, hearing the same restrictions every time we observed communion. Eventually she came to see me because the exclusion she felt each time weighed heavily on her. She explained that she had been in an intimate relationship with another woman and that they had been partners for more than twenty years. She wanted to know if the reason she couldn’t take communion because she was a lesbian.
As gently and kindly as I knew how, I said, “Absolutely not. You have a far bigger issue than that keeping you from sitting at the Lord’s table. You are separated from Christ and lost. If you took communion, you would be telling a lie and picturing something that is not yet true — but it can be.” I proceeded to tell her the good news of the love of Jesus as expressed by his atoning death and victorious resurrection. I explained that he is worthy of our love and obedience, that he is Savior and Lord of those who repent and believe in him.
Not only did she trust Christ that day, but her life radically changed. To this day she remains a faithful follower of Jesus and a member of the church. Sometimes when I am serving communion I see her partaking and thank God that she was offended.
Communion is about fellowship. The things we have in common — our salvation and our participation in the body of Christ — are the basis of that fellowship. When we connect communion to the local church, not only do we elevate the meaning of membership, we exalt Christ.
Hershael W. York is the dean of the School of Theology. If you have any burning questions for a professor, email [email protected] and we will try to get it answered in a future issue.
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The latte and scone are delivered to the table, and on cue, the phone is lifted and the photo is taken. It’s possible the espresso is over roasted, the milk soured, and the scone rocklike and impenetrable by even the sharpest fangs. But for all intents and purposes, it looks delicious for social media appetites to consume. It’s picturesque, it’s perfect, and of course, it’s possible that all is well with the coffee shop delicacies.
But if the latte art was messy, the cup dirty, and the scone visibly moldy, surely no photo would be taken. No filter can fix messy and disheveled. All that matters for the cafe camera shot is that it simply looks put together.The “put together” life
We often view our lives in the exact same manner. As the saying often goes, life imitates art (or in this case, filtered social media photos). By presenting the false images of our otherwise messy lives we run the risk of hiding the “unfruitful works of darkness” when we should be exposing the true image for the sake of our growth in Christlikeness (Eph 5:11).
I first discovered this problem as a student minister. I was ministering to middle school and high school students at the dawn of the social media age. MySpace was trending, Facebook wasn’t selling fake news, and Twitter was just beginning to dip its beak in. The possibilities for connectedness were positive and as a young man ministering to youth, it was vital that I stay up on the trends. Or so I thought.
A couple years into ministry, I began to notice something. Youth events, camps, mission trips, and weekly gatherings were beginning to feel staged. Just like the latte and scone on the cafe table, I and numerous teenagers were staging our lives for a myriad of online onlookers. I was doing it, so I thought, for ministry purposes to encourage youth and their families to find value in our ministry. Students were doing it to show they were at the right place at the right time with the right friends. All these seemed innocent enough. Until I noticed the inconsistencies within both my life and the lives of my students. We were photographing the latte art, but the milk was sour.A desire to be made much of
While I can’t ultimately know all the reasons for my students’ staged social media life, I knew mine. Recognition. Desire to be known, liked, seen as valuable/worthy/”with it”/etc. And it was something I was trying to hide from others, ultimately hampering my growth in Christlikeness. I was finding identity in successful ministry (or the appearance of it) rather in the finished work of Christ on my behalf. I fretted over the placement of various ministry accoutrements so the well-polished ministry would appear attractive to outsiders, and to continue enticing those who were coming.
Not once did I Instagram a conversation which led to a family leaving the church over secondary or tertiary issues. Never did I tweet about the student dealing with anorexia, self-harm, sex addiction, or any host of issues that were perpetuated by the very media outlet we were using to promote ourselves. Rarely, if ever, did I share a photo on Facebook highlighting the various doldrums I felt in my ministry endeavors. Simply put, messy and uncontained lives are not photographed. Thankfully, for myself, there was a community of people who walked with me in the midst of these issues. They were the ones I could tell about the dry and tasteless scone of life when others saw the image of something sweet and tasty. These were the people who knew the real story behind the well-manicured Instagram snapshot.The light exposes it
Messy lives are rarely photographed, but they are the reality for all of us. The question is: Who is privy to the view behind the camera? Who is able to observe your disheveled life? Though sometimes our lives do match the photo, who is present behind the scenes to point out when the picture doesn’t line up with the truth? The trouble with social media is it rarely captures the hidden depths of the soul. Twitter can search out the latest on celeb breakups, but it cannot search or know our hearts, nor can it try us and know our thoughts (cf. Ps 139:23). Only a life fully exposed to God’s Word and soaking in the community of Christ can bring to light the mess our social media feeds seek to avoid, and properly develop our growth in Christlikeness.
The church is the backdrop and God’s Word is the filter by which our real lives are exposed on the filmstrip of life. Though no photo journalist, Paul speaks with the knowledge any photographer can understand: “But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.” (Eph 5.13-14). This is true for any believer, whether serving in vocational ministry or not.
So what part of your life are you continuing to present as a filtered and carefully constructed image? Are you presenting a picture perfect print when behind the scenes of your soul is nothing but chaos? Is the latte art of your life just a cover for sour milk? Messy lives are rarely photographed, but they are more often the true raw image we need to embrace if we are to expose the “unfruitful works of darkness” present in our lives for the sake of God’s kingdom and our growth in Christlikeness.
September 9 marked the completion of 15 years as Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, KY (2003–2018). Many of you know my story. So then you can imagine I have spent a great deal of time reflecting in recent days on all God has done in me and our church for the last decade and a half.
My reflections are best summarized by breaking up my time at our church into three time periods: Surviving, Thriving, and Fixing.Surviving (First five years)
The first five years were brutal. There were three different movements to get me fired. In the midst of all the hostility and adversity, God was still building his church. He was teaching me some of the most valuable lessons I would later learn about ministry. I preached waiting for the seeds of the word to find good soil. I pastored this flock with the intent to win their love and trust. I struggled. I tried to hold on to my family. I made mistakes. I almost left. But we survived.
For more info on the first five years at the church, watch this video.Thriving (Next five years)
After surviving the third firing attempt that almost split the church and harm my health, the ship just seemed to turn after that. Some of the most significant leaders of our church who are still serving now came to the church that next year. My enemies in those early years began to soften towards me and we began to make peace with one another.
We moved to a plurality of pastors. We finally achieved an accurate membership role. We saw some conversions and refugees joining the church. We found our budget in the black for the first time in many years. And we raised up and sent missionaries and pastors around the world. In these years, we thrived.Fixing (Last five years)
These last five years have brought new challenges. One of the reasons pastors often don’t stay 10 years in one church is that you can no longer blame the previous pastor for the problems. This season pressed me to take a long, honest, and painful look at how not just my strengths as a leader helped the church, but how my weaknesses harmed the church. This has been a humbling, but important season of self-reflection and evaluation of our church to then try to begin to fix what I broke. This was true for the church as well as for my family.
With God’s grace and strength, I feel I have been able to make some important progress in addressing issues in both my church and family, but it has been hard and painful. I have been reminded of the gift of close friendships and skilled counselors necessary to do hard, but essential personal soul work as a pastor to grow in grace and sanctification. As a result, I feel we sit at a better place of maturity and health now than ever before.
Thankfully, there are many unique and powerful evidences of grace in our church from the last five years. I intend to built on these encouragements as we move into the fourth round of what has become blocks of five-year seasons of ministry for me. And I am also encouraged and very thankful by God’s work in my marriage and family throughout it.
Next five years
Pastoring this church has been one of the greatest joys of my life. God has been so kind to me to allow me these years with a very special group of God’s sheep whom I believe I continue to grow in love for every day. Therefore, I move forward confident that our sovereign and good God will be at work these next five years in the same way he has undeniably been at work these past 15 years.
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At the 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas, many Southern Baptists received a copy of the new IMB document, Foundations, at the IMB exhibit area. The document’s stated purpose is “to answer foundational questions of who we are and what we do with implications for how we live and work around the world” (4). Thus, all IMB missionaries in all contexts will be unified around these principles, which are biblical and align with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. We wish to affirm some important statements in this document.
The core missionary task is “entry, evangelism, disciple-making, healthy church formation, leadership development, and strategically planned exit” (75). The Great Commission calls for both evangelism and discipleship, and we are delighted to see the emphasis on both components. All IMB missionaries must engage in both activities (20), which are described as being tied together (83). Notice the emphasis on Scripture in discipleship: “The Word of God is essential to discipleship. . . . Carefully-crafted and community-tested Bible stories are useful resources and can be developed far more quickly than a Bible translation. They often lay a foundation for Bible translation. While Bible story sets are useful tools, they do not replace the Bible” (84). We like the emphasis on translation: “If an appropriate translation of the Bible is not available, which is often the case among unreached people groups, Scripture translation becomes an urgent priority” (84).
We also affirm healthy church formation: “Rapid multiplication is biblically possible, but is not biblically promised. The gospel will spread at different rates in our work around the world” (90-91). This statement will remove unnecessary guilt from missionaries who serve well but do not see rapid multiplication. The document continues, “As mentioned earlier, our primary aim in church planting is healthy churches that multiply, and we do not sacrifice or delay introducing any characteristics of a healthy church for the sake of rapid reproduction” (91). One implication of this foundational statement is that missionaries should not advocate the use of unqualified people as leaders for the sake of rapid reproduction.
One of the 12 characteristics of a healthy church listed in Foundations is biblical leadership (62). The pastors/elders/overseers “must be examples of faithful discipleship, and they must hold firmly to sound doctrine. They must be gifted by God to teach” (62). The teaching “consists of the exposition and application of Scripture” (62). The document explains, “The pastor/elder/overseer must know the Bible and he must know doctrine. He must know both well enough to teach them accurately and to discern and refute false teaching” (95). Thus, spiritual children, who are “carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14), should not serve as pastors/elders/overseers.
Theological education for these leaders, however, does not require formal seminary training: “The Bible never mentions academic credentials as necessary for service in church leadership” (97). Rather, the type of theological education necessary in a particular context may be different from the typical seminary experience in America (97). In many cases, however, overseas seminaries are valuable: “Seminaries exert significant influence in existing churches and denominations. Where seminaries exist, we need to invest in their theological and spiritual health” (98).
We affirm the de-emphasis on the 2 percent standard for unreached groups: “In contemporary missiology, a people group is considered unreached if the number of evangelical Christians is fewer than 2 percent. Though this definition is helpful in some ways, it is problematic in others” (69). The definition is problematic practically: “Missiologists have examined sociological data to determine the threshold at which a movement within a people group can continue to grow without outside assistance. However, sociologists (and consequently missiologists) have disagreed on what percentage of people constitutes that threshold” (69). The definition is also problematic biblically: “In Luke’s account of Paul’s missionary journeys, he primarily records the spread of the gospel from city to city and region to region, not people group to people group. . . . It is both biblical and helpful, then, to recognize the unreached in terms of both peoples and places, for both realities bear uniquely upon mission strategy” (70). We affirm the wisdom of this dual emphasis, which flies against prevailing missiological winds.
Also flying against prevailing missiological winds is the document’s emphasis on biblical contextualization: “We commend what is popularly known as C3 contextualization, in which the church worships and teaches in the local language and adapts to the local culture in matters generally regarded as not having religious significance. . . . We reject C5 contextualization, or what is commonly called Insider Movement approaches, as profoundly unbiblical” (92). Unfortunately, many missiologists in America advocate Insider Movement methodology in overseas mission endeavors. Foundations completely forbids such methodology: “We will not ever seek to establish the church inside any other religious system, nor teach that any other religion, its founders or prophets, or its books, are in any way from God. . . . We will never teach or encourage any believer in Jesus to remain inside any other religion or continue its practices after conversion to Christ” (92). The document further describes the limits of contextualization: “We contextualize the gospel message to make it clear, not to make it comfortable or acceptable in a non-Christian context” (81).
Finally, we affirm the emphasis on sola Scriptura: “The Bible is sufficient. . . . In particular, in the great work of global evangelization, we do not need any source other than the Bible to shape and determine our strategies. Information from other sources may assist our labors, and God often calls on us to use wisdom in making decisions, but the Bible alone is sufficient to direct our work” (31). Rather than misusing Scripture to justify plans made without it, Foundations demands the opposite course of action: “We do not devise our own plans and then seek support for them in Scripture. Rather, we go to the Bible to learn what it teaches us to do, and we do that” (31). Amen!
Carl Bradford, Instructor in Evangelism
Keith Eitel, Dean of the Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions, Professor of Missions and Director of the World Missions Center
Tony Maalouf, Distinguished Professor of World Christian and Middle Eastern Studies
John Massey, Associate Professor of Missions and Associate Dean for Master’s Programs
Mike Morris, Associate Professor of Missions, Associate Dean of Applied Ministry and Mentorship, and Ida M. Bottoms Chair of Missions
Matt Queen, Associate Professor of Evangelism, L.R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism (“Chair of Fire”), and Associate Director for Doctoral Programs, Roy Fish School
Daniel Sanchez, Distinguished professor of Missions
Dean Sieberhagen, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies, Director of the Masters in Islamic Studies Program, and Vernon D. Jeannete Davidson Chair of Missions