“…but I have a couch”

Rosaria Butterfield’s The Gospel Comes With A House Key came highly recommended, and after reading it I understand why. Rosaria is honest and insightful. She shares examples of hospitality gleaned from her own experiences, from feeding popsicles to the neighborhood children, to squeezing as many people as possible into their home on a snowy Sabbath when church was canceled. It seems that there are extra people in the Butterfield home so often that they expect to see non-family members at their dinner table and regularly make too-large meals to accommodate the guests.

Upon finishing the book I felt inspired to be more hospitable, to invite all my neighbors over for chili and Bible reading. So I put down the book and looked up – up at the small kitchen/living room of my one-bedroom apartment, and my heart sank because there’s no way I could fit fifty people into my home, and this truth became incredibly clear: I cannot do hospitality like the Butterfields.

So what do you do, when you feel convicted and inspired to obey God but you just don’t know how to do it? You pray. Well, I prayed, and as I sat on my couch, asking God how to do hospitality for Him, a new concept came to me.

There is a reason I cannot do hospitality like the Butterfields. God has not put me in a house with a husband and given me the occupation of a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom. He has put me by myself in a one-bedroom apartment with a schedule that requires me to work at least two evenings a week. In short, I can’t do hospitality like the Butterfields because I’m not a Butterfield. But God’s command to be hospitable does not say “be hospitable like the Butterfields” (nor does Rosaria say that in her book) but simply “show hospitality” (1 Peter 4:9). The question we all have to answer is how?

Perhaps the most helpful and practical thing to do is to look around and recognize what you have, and then be intentional about using what you do have to obey God. For example, I don’t have a large space, but I do have a couch. So, I now invite women to come share a pot of tea and sit on my couch and talk. That couch is just an ordinary, everyday thing, but it has become a tool to enhance the Kingdom of God. If it could talk it would tell you stories that would make you weep and laugh and weep again.

When we take the daily things God has given us and deliberately use them to serve Him, they cease being plain objects and start being tools consecrated to generate heavenly treasures.

We get intimidated by hospitality thinking that it has to be big and fancy. It doesn’t. It can be as simple as Oreo cookies and water, along with ears that listen. It can involve folding laundry and making soup, along with ears that listen. It can be shown around a campfire in your backyard or on your front patio or around your kitchen table or sitting on the floor…with ears that listen. People don’t care much where you are or what you serve them, as long as you prove yourself to be a safe person that they can share their lives with.

Sharing life usually doesn’t happen over the first cup of coffee, but it’s a beginning, and we’ll never get anywhere if we don’t start. Hospitality requires you to be intentional and loving and available, and it needs to be shown to fellow saints and neighbors and the least. Jesus showed hospitality by making people sit on the grass and by divvying up five loaves and two fish among them (Luke 9:10-17). His first concern wasn’t physical comfort or meeting social expectations, but to show people the Father. By His Spirit, may we follow His example and bring the living Savior to our dying world.

Advertisements

HONORING GOD

Honor, that lost virtue that only true spirituality can engender, is vital. It affects our treatment of both God and man. Whether one honors God is a litmus test that, amazingly, also predicts how one treats his neighbor.

Few individuals esteem anyone higher than themselves. Fewer institutions today inculcate honor. A courtroom may hear the black-robed judge addressed as “Your Honor,” but no egalitarian truly thinks another human holds a rank of higher honor. Indeed, it is rare—in word, more so in deed—for someone even to honor the One who is infinitely deserving of esteem. Moreover, occasions of honoring others are uncommon—likely because virtue wanes as unbelief waxes—but most refreshing when observed.

It is also rare to meet believers who seem relentlessly compelled to pursue the honor of God. That very wording may sound hopelessly feudal. And if, perchance, such believers are found, rarer still are believers who practice honoring one another (Rom. 12:10), for it seems more fashionable to trash, clap back against, and burn even our friends, often from the comfort of bunkered social media. We should not be surprised that dishonoring God and dishonoring other people go hand in hand.

Fundamentally, when we honor someone, three things occur:

  1. The one receiving the honor receives external recognition—honor does not remain invisible.
  2. Those who do the honoring view themselves as less worthy than the honoree.
  3. The honoring evidences motives that are selfless and informed by humility or admiration of one esteemed to be better.

Does that not fit with honoring God, too? Surely, we should connect those dots. When we honor someone, we treat that person as better than ourselves—something Philippians 2enjoins. Might this review convict us that seldom do we treat God as better than ourselves?

Indeed, that Pauline passage bases our honoring of others on Jesus’ sacrifice, calling us to think of others before ourselves. Expressing one’s unworthiness sincerely is giving honor. As such, it is a recognition that humans should be recognized and respected for their status or accomplishments. In one sense, all are not equal. Take note: if all are equal in every area, honor makes no sense—either Godward or manward.

The gospel is the power of God that changes us from self-absorbed egotists into those who want instead to exalt and honor our Sovereign.

Honor is so vital that many Scriptures accentuate it. We are to honor God with our income (Prov. 3:9), with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20), and with humility (Prov. 15:33). Learning to honor our parents is so unnatural that the first command with a promise is reiterated often (Eph. 6:1–3).

Romans 1:21 vividly depicts what happens when honor disappears. This clear verse is a mirror that shows what honor is and what it is not and how honoring God is tied to our essential moral fabric. Yes, morality begins with theology. Though the dishonorable retain some spiritual sense, Paul, in fleshing out the doctrine of total depravity, lists some of the consequences of dishonoring God, including not giving thanks, becoming “futile in their thinking,” and having “their foolish hearts . . . darkened.”

Note that verse’s three degenerative components. First, not honoring God is compared to not giving thanks. Thanks is the expressed gratitude for another. Honor, thus, is a more comprehensive concept than gratitude. Nonetheless, they are united here. Failing to give God thanks often, sincerely, and regularly reveals that one does not, practically speaking, view God as one’s superior.

A second consequence is that when one fails the “Honor-God-by-Thanking Test,” things neither remain neutral nor improve. Indeed, failing to honor God negatively affects one’s cognition; one’s very thinking becomes futile or dysfunctional. Disobeying God by dishonoring Him leads to systemic deterioration.

Third, not only one’s mind but one’s heart and emotions become blurred, confused, and darkened. Once again, something as basic as honor, if absent, harms our rationality and emotions.

The only cure is found in Romans 1:16. The gospel is the power of God that changes us from self-absorbed egotists into those who want instead to exalt and honor our Sovereign.

Should there be a recovery of honor, we might find increasing order, flowering humility, and revived civility. Maybe, rather than exalting ourselves to be like the Most High (Isa. 14), we can excel in giving honor to those whom we are called to honor—and, above all, to God.

=====================================================================================

WITCHCRAFT,SPIRITUAL POWERS AND NEW LIFE IN CHRIST JESUS

Some say witchcraft is an African magic, an African spirit, or demonic powers dominant on the African continent but the Apostle Paul speaks of it as satanic powers that are dominant in the present world.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

In the light of the transforming power of the Gospel we must consider and the revelation of God both about himself, the world we live and the powers of darkness at work in the world a better understanding of this cosmic struggle of satanic influence known as “witchcraft” is an important consideration for all who call themselves Christian and live throughout Africa.

What is witchcraft?

Witchcraft is a common practice in many cultures across the world, but especially common in Africa.

It is a broad term of beliefs and has hierarchical levels. It includes satanic or demonic powers and the practice of magic. It is a belief that some people have spiritual powers and are able to control and influence others – positively or negatively.

It involves a service provider who provides medicine namely a traditional healer (witch-doctor, also called Sangoma), or a diviner (someone with the ability to do divination); a person assisting the witch doctor (the agent or helper); and then a person in need of assistance (the patient).

Senior witches with high supernatural powers are called “kings” or “queens” and they give the agents tasks to perform like assisting the needy (if they are meant to do good) or to negatively manipulate (causing damage and disaster). The latter may be considered as evil spirits or demons.

Further definitions on this subject describe witchcraft as a feminine noun, ‘employment of the witches’, while the substance obtained from or through a witch is a masculine noun, which is something done by an art of magic or witchcraft.

However, there is often a differentiation between witches and sorcerers due to the fact that their spiritual powers come from inside and not through instruments or objects. It implies that witches can curse someone without using a stick, while a sorcerer must use an instrument or object.

However, there is no witch doctor who is not a witch – all witch doctors have an altar or a source from where they receive their spiritual powers.

Furthermore Witchcraft can be understood as a demonic power – similar to spirit-possession, a “condition in which one or more evil spirits or demons inhabit the body of a human being and can take control of their victim at will.”

In some cases, those who are possessed by spirits are considered as helping their communities by giving spiritual direction (divination), or by providing medicine. But there are those who use witchcraft with evil intention: destruction, subjection, and death.

The fact remains that instead of promoting harmony and peace, witchcraft spreads terror, superstition, division, envy, and confusion.

Does witchcraft really exist?

When we look at the social impact of witchcraft, we see that it is not a belief system working in isolation, but rather a working system affecting a wider, integrated and shared belief system.

For some, witchcraft is a source of misfortune, disease and death while for others it is a source of life and protection. This is because there are also “good” witch doctors who are able, through magic, to manipulate a situation for someone’s benefit. Consequently, it can cause others to envy that person’s success. They may try to block this good fortune through witchcraft, which would cause the prospering person to seek protection from a “good” witch doctor.

Most witch doctors have an animist mentality, meaning they believe everything in life happens a a result of invisible forces – be that success or failure, an accident or disease. Sometimes it goes to the extent of physical and psychological diseases and even death, thereby forcing victims to seek help from a witch doctor. While a handful of witch doctors might refer someone to the church, the majority will, instead of providing a vital solution, lead a person into ‘bondage’ by taking total control of their life.

So many Africans, when in need of protection or resources, will trust a witch doctor instead of living an honest and rational life or working hard to achieve success.

Witchcraft in Mozambique

Witchcraft is a common practice in Mozambique, although many people do not speak of their involvement openly because they fear how they will be perceived by others.

Although the definition of witchcraft has a wide range of interpretations, in Mozambique, there two important words used.

Firstly, “curanderismo” refers to the process of receiving healing through a spiritual intervention provided by a witch doctor. Whenever a medical doctor cannot cure a sickness people will run to a witch doctor, implying that someone is witching the person and that’s why the doctor can’t heal them.

Secondly, “fetiçaria” is the spiritual action perpetuated by bad spirits. A person with a bad spirit is called “feticeiro”. It implies therefore that “witchcraft” has both a physical and a spiritual side.

The “curandeiro/witch doctor” is seen as a person who does good, providing medicine or curing the sick even though they use witchcraft, causing spiritual and emotional manipulation which leads to depression, misfortune, poverty and sickness.

Where do Sangomas come from?

Someone may recognise qualities in a certain witch doctor and ask them to train them to also become a witch doctor. A person could also be instructed through a dream to go for a training. There are even cases where a person is called by certain spirits to take over the work of a predecessor.

The time of training differs from person to person and could range from a couple of days to a couple of months. The person will usually come home healthy (from physical point of view), but from a spiritual point of view, they’ll be filled with evil spirits. When their training is done, the person comes back with the skills and materials to perform the work of a witch doctor.

Some people are born with a witching spirit, others are consecrated at an early age, but most of the time it is passed on from a family member who had a witching spirit and then trains a child or a close relative to replace them.

Passing on a witching spirit is sometimes done in a deceiving way. The person looking for help will approach a sangoma or witch doctor for help. The witch doctor will lie to the person, passing on the witching spirit to the patient by which he will then control and manipulate them for personal gain or spiritual interest. So the patient becomes the witch doctor’s victim.

It is important to mention that a witching spirit is often motivated by jealousy. Witchcraft, sorcery or superstition are all satanic influences and therefore outside of God’s will for humankind.

What is the impact of witchcraft?

The impact of witchcraft is immense in our society today, both in the cities and smaller villages. Even though technological advancements and globalisation have reached many rural areas, it does not stop people from committing their lives to witchcraft.

As mentioned, witchcraft works through various satanic or demonic activities. Firstly, there is  demon oppression which can cause someone to experience negative physical or emotional symptoms, like feeling ill or sad and troubled.  Although not all oppressions are results of demonic influence, there are certain sicknesses which seem to manifest as a result of witchcraft.

Secondly, there is demon obsession which is a situation where mind binding spirits, mind bleeding spirits and mind confusion spirits fill the mind of the victim with fear or false ideas, scenes and mental pictures so that they become continually depressed. Self-accusation and self-condemnation are some characteristics of the obsessed person.

Thirdly, demon subjection is a form of control that a malevolent spirit brings to an individual through the power of darkness. It is so severe that the victim loses all control and the evil spirit assumes total control. This subjection manifests itself as a form of slavery to anything can destroy a life and could include things like drugs, sexual impurity, violent temper, uncontrolled thoughts, resistance to divine things, religious disillusion, self-pity and many others..

Lastly, there is demon possession which is a condition by which one or more evil spirits or demons inhabit the body of a human being and can take control of the victim at will.

Witchcraft is not limited to specific cultures or religions. It does not only affect poor, indigenous or uneducated people but also the rich, owners of big companies, politicians or even churchgoers and pastors. It can affect all those who have not fully put their faith in Jesus Christ who, when their circumstances are out of their control, will turn to witchcraft.

The truth is, when there is no true trust in the living God, people will turn to witchcraft or other demonic spirits that deny the lordship of Christ.

How does the Gospel inform a response to these forces of darkness?

The issue of witchcraft must be tackled with the understanding that the great commission directs us to disciple people so that they grasp the new life we have in Christ Jesus.

Often, our poor understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit hinders us to grasp how evil spirits work. So as Christians, we should ask for discernment from the Holy Spirit to clearly understand the manifestation of evil spirits (Acts 16:16-18).

Our first step in dealing with witchcraft is to lead people to acknowledge Jesus Christ in their lives. Everyone who receives Jesus in their heart becomes a son of God (John 1:12) and Jesus alone has the power to set people free (John 8:32).

No matter how deeply someone might be involved in witchcraft, confessing Jesus as Lord and Saviour is the key to true salvation (Romans 10:9).

2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old is gone and the new has come.” This implies that to be in Christ is a turning point.

In conclusion, the Apostle Paul sets up an approach to Christian ministry when he says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

 

J. ALEC MOTYER…AND THE BIBLE

May 9, 2000; BANNER OF TRUTH ONLINE

Renowned scholar learned to love the Bible at his grandmother’s knee.

“I’m not really a scholar,” says J. Alec Motyer softly, “I’m just a man who loves the Word of God.”

Now retired as principal of Trinity College in Bristol, England, Motyer has spent his professional career studying the Bible. However, he learned to love the Scriptures at his grandmother’s knee in Ireland. “Grandma was, in worldly terms, a comparatively uneducated lady,” Motyer says, “but she was a great Bible woman. Biblical studies have simply confirmed that which I learned from Grandma – that the Bible is the Word of God – and made it a coherently held position.”

He adds, “I had a conversion experience when I was 15, but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love the Word of God.”

That love is quickly evident. Motyer’s speech is filled with Biblical references and allusions. It takes only a little longer to realize that he has understated his scholarly abilities, so lightly does he wear his considerable learning. Having served the Church as both pastor and professor, much of Motyer’s academic life has been devoted to the study of the Old Testament, particularly Isaiah. A widely respected scholar who now spends his time lecturing and writing, Motyer is the Old Testament editor of The Bible Speaks Today, a commentary series from InterVarsity Press. He gave this interview to The Presbyterian Layman (www.layman.org.)

What has liberal scholarship done to the Old Testament?

Motyer – It has removed the Old Testament from popular understanding. The majority of people who have gone through liberal schools in their Old Testament studies have come out totally uncertain of what the Old Testament is about. When people are taught the documentary theory they cease to understand the Pentateuch. They’ve lost the whole flow, the doctrinal as well as the historical. They’ve ceased to be able to grasp the centrality, for example, of covenantal theology.

Has it been your experience that many Christians spend little time reading the Old Testament?

Motyer – Very much so. Of course, nowadays we don’t live in a literary generation. We live in a generation of lookers, not readers. That is one of our great problems as Christians. We are book people in a non-book world.

What are Christians missing by not reading the Old Testament?

Motyer – The death of the Lord Jesus as understood in Old Testament categories. We don’t understand the cross unless we understand the Old Testament category of sacrifice and the shedding of blood. Likewise, the New Testament doesn’t have as strong a stated doctrine of creation. It leans on the Old Testament to reveal the nature of man and the nature of God as creator.

We have a two way traffic. I’m very drawn to the model I first read in John Bright of the two-act play. If you have a two-act play and only have act one you ask, Where is it going? If you only have act two, you ask, Where has it come from? That is a very penetrating view of the Scriptures.

Are the Old and New Testaments compatible?

Motyer – The whole Bible is bound together around the single theme “I will be your God and you will be my people.” The same way of salvation is found right throughout the Bible. We trust the promises of God and are saved. I would lay most stress on the singleness and unity of the people of God running right through the Bible. We are the people of God. [Early believers] should never have allowed the people of Antioch to get away with nicknaming them Christians. Our proper name is Israel.

How would you answer the modern Marcionites who effectively teach that there is a God of law and a God of love and that Christians must follow the God of love?

Motyer – Well it’s just not true. That’s the beginning and end of that one. It’s just ignoring so much evidence in each testament. It’s trading in prejudice and lack of knowledge. The Old Testament is the place where we learn about the good shepherd looking after his sheep. God is in love with us. His heart goes pitter-patter when he sees us. That’s so plain in the Old Testament. Likewise the wrath and holiness of God are equally plain in the New Testament.

How do you convince ministers and lay people that the Old Testament is an important part of God’s self-revelation?

Motyer – Apart from taking every opportunity to speak to people about the Old Testament, to show them what a lovely and fascinating book it is, the slow drip method, I don’t know of any other. We need to get the people to read the Bible for themselves and become acquainted with the fact that the same mix of material occurs in the Old as well as the New. We need to ask, If you think the Old Testament is the book of a wrathful God, have you read Revelation lately? Try to get people to fall in love with the whole thing and not come with prejudgments about what love is and what love would do.

How important are questions such as who wrote the first five books of the Bible?

Motyer – The veracity of Scripture is well into this discussion because of the authorship claim. If a book makes an authorship claim, that is part of the revealed scripture. We must start with that and see how it works. We must not divert unless there is good reason for doing so.

When New Testament scholars dispute the Petrine authorship of II Peter or the Pauline authorship of Ephesians, they are touching on the veracity of Scripture.

There is no authorship claim in Genesis, therefore we must leave that aside and see if any of the rest of the Bible instructs us on that. For the rest of the Pentateuch, the Mosaic claim is very strong indeed. Nothing in Exodus is free of Mosaic mediation. And when we come to Deuteronomy, the words “Moses said” and “God said” are used as equivalents.

I don’t think serious Bible study can skate round the claim and testimony of the document itself. I think there has been a methodological error. In every branch of study the student starts from what the subject claims. Whereas in Biblical studies the starting point of study has so often been what seems to be a problem. Starting from that problem the whole construction of the documents is read out. You can’t start any study from a problem, you must start from testimony. But that would leave egg on many faces and require the rewriting of many books.

What can contemporary Christians learn from the various divisions of the Old Testament, the Law, the Prophets, the Writings?

Motyer – What is laid down in the Law is basic, the basic revelation of the holy God and how sinners can be made acceptable to that holy God. That is very definitely the message of the Law, the Pentateuch.

The Pentateuch prepares for the Prophets. Deuteronomy is emphatic that those who have come to God through his saving grace now have a pattern of life to live out. The prophets elaborate on that. I don’t think it’s true to say the prophets are innovators. They are expositors. They expound on and apply Mosaic theology.

The Writings either tell us what to do with it, as in the Psalms, how to rejoice in the truth of God, or wrestle with it, as in Job and Ecclesiastes. The intended implication of a wisdom and power higher than ours and wider than ours is clearly there. God says, “Can you sit on the throne? I can. There are powers in the universe that you can’t oppose but I can.”

If you have a God of wisdom, justice and power, you have no escape hatch. Take any of those out and deny it and life is totally logical. Put all three together and the only way to face life is faith.

How are the Psalms useful to our Christian faith and life?

Motyer – In many ways. First in a formal way they are our window into the Old Testament, therefore they are a corrective. I think many Christians assume that the Pharisees are typical Old Testament men. They forget that Jesus said the Pharisees were a plant his heavenly Father never planted. The real window for us, what was it like to live as a believer in Old Testament times, is the Psalms.

Second, they are a great challenge. Here are people who knew far less about God than we do and yet loved him a great deal more. Third, they are instructive. They are lovely poems in their own right. If you sat down and analyzed them as poetry you would come out with a rich theology.

What are some of the consequences when the church fails to protect its members from poor or even false teaching?

Motyer -The main consequence of the moment is that we are ethically illiterate. Great moral questions are being aired without professing Christian people having any guidelines on the matter. The big question is homosexuality. The vast majority of people intuitively feel that this is not something they want to go along with, but they don’t have any basis of scriptural teaching on which to rest or from which to draw conclusions.

All sorts of things have happened in my lifetime and found the Church totally unprepared. The breakdown of marriage, for example; the sexual revolution, which is not really a revolution at all but just uncontrolled sexuality. That has not been faced by the Church as a whole with any firm, reasoned response.

What can people do who are not receiving sound Biblical teaching in their churches?

Motyer – The vast majority don’t know what they’re missing. They’re not aware of the loss. If people come alive in God and have been brought into a new dimension of faith through the ministry of the Word of God, then they want such teaching and they are faced with jolly difficult decisions. Do they stay where they are and soldier on?

Philip didn’t seem to worry when he was snatched away and the eunuch was left on his own. He didn’t scratch his head and say, “What about counseling?” He said, “He is a man with the Word of God. He’s safe. Let him get on with it.” I think many, many people would seek out a church where the Word of God is preached and transfer their allegiance, and that’s a difficult thing to do.

=====================================================================================

This interview was conducted by Robert P. Mills of The Presbyterian Layman Tuesday, May 9, 2000

MARK DEVER’S LETTER TO A LOCAL CHURCH LOOKING FOR A PASTOR

30 October 1991

Dear brothers and sisters,

I have for some time been thinking and praying about writing a letter to you. I will address this letter to the elders, since Biblically you are the ones who are responsible for the spiritual well-being of the flock; but I have no qualms about it being shared more generally.

I am delighted at the stability and growth God has graciously given you as a church over the last five years. That has in no small part, I feel, been given through a faithful and committed eldership, and particularly through Zane’s commitment to sound, Biblical preaching. As you approach this difficult time of transition, I have a few thoughts about what you should look for in a pastor. Note, adherence to the nine items I intend to outline here below will not insure that the person is a good pastor, but I feel that the lack of any of them would be an inadequacy which would slowly, but cumulatively, affect the church in a negative way. So, I would take all of these to be essential, but not in and of themselves sufficient. For instance, you could have someone who held to all of these inter-related points below, and yet was simply not gifted or called to be a pastor. Indeed, I trust such is the case with the vast majority of members at New Meadows currently. On the other hand, let a man be never so gifted in personal relationships and communications, even a strong adherent to the authority of Scripture and to the practice of personal prayer, and yet miss any one or two of the matters below, and, given time, I’m convinced that New Meadows would become the leaking bucket that too many churches are today—holding no more living water than the world around them. I point these out after much thought and prayer, because, unfortunately, they are rarely prized among those who profess themselves called to be pastors and shepherds today. So, to summarize, I am not here giving you an exhaustive check list of what I think you should look for in a pastor. There are many more issues which will play into that choice. I am, however, giving you a list of qualifications which are both needed and, sadly rare, which I pray God you will trust Him to have for you in the pastor He intends.

[1. A Commitment to Expositional Preaching]

The first quality I would tell you to make sure is present in anyone you would ever consider calling to the eldership, but particularly to the pastorate, is a commitment to expositional preaching. This presumes a belief in the authority of Scripture, but it says something more. I’m convinced that a commitment to expositional preaching is a commitment to hear God’s Word. If you have someone who happily accepts the authority of God’s Word, yet who in practice (whether intending to or not) does not preach expositionally, he will never preach more than he already knows. When one takes a piece of Scripture, and simply exhorts the congregation on a topic which is important, but doesn’t really preach the point of that passage, one is limited to only hearing in Scripture what one already knew upon coming to the text. It is in being committed to preach Scripture in context, expositionally, having as the point of the message the point of the passage, that we hear from God those things which we do not already intend to hear when we set out. And, from the initial call to repentance to the latest thing the Spirit has convicted you about, our whole salvation consists in hearing God in ways which we, before we heard Him, would never have guessed. To charge someone with the responsibility of the spiritual oversight of the flock who does not in practice show a commitment to hear and to teach God’s Word, is to at least put a drag on, and at most put a cap on the growth of the church at the level of the pastor. The church will slowly be conformed to his mind, rather than God’s mind.

[2. A Sound Theological System]

The second quality I would hope you to require in anyone whom you would call to the eldership would be that he be sound in his full theological system—and that means being what has come to be called “reformed.” To misunderstand doctrines as fundamental as election (does our salvation issue ultimately from God or us?), human nature (are people basically bad or good? do they merely need encouragement and enhanced self-esteem, or do they need forgiveness and new life?), the nature of Christ’s work on the cross (did he make possible an option for us? or was He our substitute?), the nature of conversion (more on that particularly below) and the certainly we can have of God’s continuing care based fundamentally on His character rather than ours, is no simple matter of lunch-room humor at the seminary, but rather is of real importance for faithfulness to Scripture and for real pastoral issues which constantly arise. For any Christian, but particularly for an elder, to resist the fundamental idea of God’s sovereignty over all of life while practicing Christianity is really to play with pious paganism. It is to baptize a heart which is in some ways still unbelieving, and to set up as an example a person who may well be deeply unwilling to trust God. In a day when our culture demands us to turn evangelism into advertising and explains the Spirit’s work as marketing, in which God in churches is so often made over in the image of man, I would be especially careful to find a man who had a biblical and experiential grasp of the sovereignty of God.

[3. A Biblical Understanding of the Gospel]

The third quality which any elder should have who is to be active in leading the church is a biblical understanding of the gospel. J. I. Packer lays out beautifully the relation of the last point to this one in his introduction to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. If you haven’t read that recently, re-read it now while you’re in the process of praying and looking for a new pastor. A heart for the gospel means having a heart for the truth—God’s presentation of Himself, of our need, of Christ’s provision, and of our responsibility. To present the gospel as simply an additive to give the non-Christian something they naturally want anyway (joy, peace, happiness, fulfillment, self-esteem, love) is partially true, but only partially true. And, as Packer says, “a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth makes it a complete untruth.” Fundamentally we need forgiveness, we need spiritual life. To present the gospel less radically than this is to ask for false conversions and increasingly meaningless church membership, both of which will make the evangelization of the world around us all the more difficult.

[4. A Biblical Understanding of Conversion]

The fourth quality which any elder should be required to have is a biblical understanding of conversion. If conversion is basically presented as something we do, rather than something God does, then we misunderstand it. Although conversion certainly includes our making a sincere commitment, a self-conscious decision, it is more than that. Scripture is clear in teaching that we are not all journeying to God, some having found the way, others still looking. Instead, it presents us as in needing to having our hearts replaced, our minds transformed, our spirits given life. None of this we can do. We can make a commitment, but we must be saved. The change each human needs, regardless of how we appear externally, is so radical, so near the root of us, that only God can do it. We need God to convert us. I’m reminded of Spurgeon’s story of how as he was walking in London a drunk came up to him, leaned on the lamp-post near him and said, “Hey, Mr. Spurgeon, I’m one of your converts.” Spurgeon’s response was, “Well, you must be one of mine – you’re certainly not one of the Lord’s!” American churches, Southern Baptist churches, are full of people who have made sincere commitments at one point in their lives, but who evidently have not experienced the radical change which the Bible presents as conversion. The result, according to one recent study, is a divorce rate which is 50% above the national average. The cause, at least in part, must be the unbiblical preaching about conversion of thousands of Southern Baptists pastors. Again, if you’ve not held to the first three things mentioned above, it’s hardly surprising that this one would go wrong as well. [Note, here please don’t mis-understand me as insisting on an emotionally heated conversion experience at a particular point. I’m insisting on the theological truth underlying conversion, not a particular experience of it. You know the tree by its fruit.]

[5. A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism]

The fifth quality which anyone you ever entrust with the spiritual responsibility of teaching (of which all elders are to be capable, II Tim. 2.2) is the closely related idea of a Biblical understanding of evangelism. If your mind has been shaped by the Bible on God and the gospel, on human need and conversion, then a right understanding of evangelism will naturally follow. Biblically, evangelism is presenting the good news freely, and trusting God to bring conversions. Any way in which we try to force births will be as effective as Ezekiel trying to stitch the dry bones together. And the result will be similar. Again, if conversion is understood as merely a sincere commitment at any given point, then we simply need to get everyone to that point any way possible. Biblically though, while we’re to care, to plead, to persuade, our first duty is to be faithful to the obligation we have from God, which is to present the Good News He’s given us. He will bring conversion from that. If there is a sizable discrepancy between the membership of a pastor’s church, and the attendance, I would naturally wonder about what they understood conversion to be, and what kind of evangelism they had practised in order to create such a large number of people, uninvolved in the life of the church, yet certain of their own salvation, with the blessing of the church. I could give you bibliographies on each of these points, but I won’t, assuming you would already know the books I would suggest. In a series of evangelistic addresses I did this past February in the university here, I concluded that the three things which I must convey to people about the decision they must make about the Gospel (God, Man, Christ, Response), is that they decision is costly (and therefore must be carefully considered), AND urgent (and therefore must be made), AND worth it (and therefore should be made). That’s the balance I should strive for in my evangelism.

[6. A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership]

Sixth, and following on from what I just said, I would require a biblical understanding of church membership. Sadly, if it were the case, my guess is that most Southern Baptist pastors would be more proud of the 6,000 members their church had, than they would be ashamed that only 800 attend. Written numbers can be idols as easily—perhaps more easily—than carved figures. But it is God who will assess our work, and He will weigh it, I think, rather than count. If the church is a building, then we must be bricks in it; if the church is a body, then we are its members, if we are the household of faith, it presumes we are part of that household. Sheep are in a flock, and branches on a vine. Forget the particular cultural ephemera for a moment—white cards with names on them, lists on a computer—Biblically, if we are Christians we must be members of a church. We must not forsake the assembling together of ourselves (Heb. 10:25). It is not simply a record of a statement we must made; it is a reflection of a living, vital commitment.

[7. A Plurality of Elders]

Seventh, and perhaps most initially difficult in your situation, I would require that the person understand, and be convinced of the New Testament practice of having a plurality of elders(see Acts 14:23; the regular practice of Paul of referring to a number of elders in any one local church). I am completely convinced of this as the New Testament practice, and as particularly needful in churches then and now without an apostolic presence. That does not mean that the pastor has no distinct role (look up in a concordance references to preaching and preachers), but that he is also and fundamentally part of the eldership. This means that decisions involving the church, yet which do not come to the attention of the whole church, should not so much fall to the pastor alone, as to the elders as a whole. While this is cumbersome at points (as I’m sure you know only too well) it has immense benefits in rounding out the pastor’s gifts, and in giving him good support in the church, and in too many other ways to mention now. Anyway, this would have to be made quite clear when calling a pastor. If he is a typical Southern Baptist he will assume that the elders are either deacons, or there simply to help him do what he wants to do. He may well not have a good appreciation for the fact that you are inviting him fundamentally to be one of the elders, and, among you, the pastor, the primary teaching elder. I’m convinced that if most pastors understood this idea, they would leap at the idea, given the weight it removes from their shoulders. And, I’m also worried that many of those who wouldn’t, wouldn’t do so because of unbiblical understandings of their own role, or, worse, unsanctified self-centeredness.

[8. Biblical Church Discipline]

The eighth issue I would want to have clearly understood and affirmed by any new elder in the church is the issue of church discipline. This is one of the things which gives meaning to being a member of the church, which has been universally practiced by the church, and yet which has almost entirely faded out of Southern Baptist church life in the last three generations. Jesus’ words in Matthew 18, Paul’s in I Cor. 5:4-13 (along with other passages) clearly show that the church is to exercise judgment within itself, and that this is for redemptive, not revengeful purposes. If we cannot say what a Christian does not live like, we cannot very well say what she or he does live like. One of my concerns with church’s discipleship programs is that they are, again, like pouring water into a leaking bucket. While this issue is fraught with problems in pastoral application, the whole Christian life is, and that should never be used as an excuse to leave either unpracticed. It should mean something to be a member of the church, not for our pride’s sake, but for God’s name’s sake.

[9. Promotion of Christian Discipleship and Growth]

Finally, the ninth issue which I would require an elder to understand is the role of the church in promoting Christian discipleship and growth. As I mentioned above, when the church does not exercise discipline, I think one of the unintended consequences is the increased difficulty in that church growing disciples. Examples are unclear, models are confused. The church has an obligation to be a means of God’s growing people in grace. Yet if they are places which are taught only the pastor’s thoughts, in which God is more questioned than worshipped, in which the gospel is diluted and evangelism perverted, in which church membership is made meaningless, and a worldly cult of personality is allowed to grow up around the pastor, then one can hardly expect to find such a group being either cohesive or edifying to each other, let alone glorifying to God. When we can honestly assume that those within the church are regenerated, and that those who are regenerated are committed to the church, then the corporate New Testament images of the church can become not merely good sermons, but thrilling lives together. Relationships imply commitment in the world; surely we wouldn’t think it would be any less the case in the church?

Well, friends, I could go on for much longer. You’ve been patient to read this far. I don’t mean to suggest that you don’t already know all of the above, and are not committed to it yourself, but I do care deeply for New Meadows, feel some sense of obligation in my heart and in prayer. I thought it right to express that on paper. I do not have a vote in the eldership or in the church (nor should I!) but I wanted to write this with the hopes that it might be helpful in some of your discussions, prayers and evaluations. Know that more importantly than sending this letter, I’ll be daily joining with you in prayer for the church, especially during this crucial time.

as your brother in Christ,

Mark.

=====================================================================================

Mark Dever (Ph.D. from Cambridge University) is Senior Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. and leader of the 9MARKS renewal ministry.

THEOLOGICAL PRIMER–THE PACTUM SALUTIS

From time to time I make new entries into this continuing series called “Theological Primer.” The idea is to present big theological concepts in around 500 words. Today we will look at the pactum salutis.

In simple terms, the covenant of redemption—or in Latin, the pactum salutis—refers to the eternal agreement between the Father and the Son to save a people chosen in Christ before the ages began. In slightly more detail, Louis Berkhof describes the covenant of redemption as “the agreement between the Father, giving the Son as Head and Redeemer of the elect, and the Son, voluntarily taking the place of those whom the Father had given him” (Systematic Theology, 271).

In traditional Reformed theology, the pactum has been a critically important doctrine, helping to make sense of (and hold together) election in Christ, God’s activity in history, and the intra-trinitarian love of God. It has also been a pastoral doctrine meant to give the believer confidence that because our covenant relationship with God has its origin in the Father’s pre-temporal covenant relationship with the Son, we do not have to merit our salvation but can rest secure in Christ our Surety.

Despite its central place in many of the best Reformed dogmatics, the pactum has often been criticized—both from without and from within the Reformed tradition. Three criticisms are most common.

First, it is argued that the pactum is sub-trinitarian in that no role is given for the Holy Spirit in the covenant of redemption. While it’s true that the pactum has normally been construed as an agreement between the Father and the Son, this need not undermine the Trinity any more than Jesus’ semphasis on the Father-Son relationship in the High Priestly Prayer undermine the Trinity. J. V. Fesko, in his excellent book on The Trinity and the Covenant of Redemption, has rightly defended the doctrine in more explicitly trinitarian terms, but even older theologians like Wilhemus à Brackel taught that “the manifestation of every grace and influence of the Holy Spirit proceeds from this covenant [of redemption]” (The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 1:262).

Second, others object that the pactum entails heterodox theology in that it undermines the singularity of God’s will. If the Father truly covenants with the Son, it is said, then the Father must have one will and the Son another. Reformed theologians, in anticipating this objection, have argued that the one divine will can be viewed from a twofold perspective. The Father and the Son have the same aim and objective, but whereas the Father wills to redeem by the agency of the Son as Surety, the Son wills to redeem by his own agency as Surety (cf. 1:252).

Third, and most critically, the pactum has been derided as metaphysical speculation. Barth famously dismissed the covenant of redemption as “mythology,” while more recently, an article in the Tyndale Bulletin argued that the pactum “lacks clear biblical support” and is little more than “scholastic tinkering” (69.2 [2018] p.281).

On closer inspection, however, there is good evidence in Scripture for a salvation pact between the Father and the Son. We know that the elect were chosen, not out of thin air, but in Christ before the foundations of the world. We know that promises were made to Christ that he would be given a people by the Father (John 6:38-40; cf. 5:30, 43; 17:4-12). We know that Christ, as the second Adam, is the covenant head of his people (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:22). And we know from a text like Psalm 2 that there was a decree whereby the eternally begotten Son was given the nations as his heritage and the ends of the earth as his possession (v. 7; cf. Psalm 110). In other words, the Son was granted, by an eternal arrangement, a people to save and to redeem. This is why Zechariah 6:13 speaks of a covenant of peace between YHWH and the Branch, and why Jesus in Luke 22:29 speaks of the kingdom the Father has assigned to him. The covenant of grace in time is made possible by the covenant of redemption from all eternity.

IS CAPITALISM BASED ON GREED ?

February 11, 2019; MICHAEL KRUGER

Ever since Gordon Gekko’s character in the movie Wall Street uttered the phrase, “Greed is good,” there has been a wide-spread and oft-repeated myth that capitalism is based on greed. And, so the argument goes, if capitalism is driven by a sinful desire (greed), then it must be rejected as an immoral system.

Such issues have come up again in recent months as a number of new members of congress (and old members) are pushing the country away from capitalism and towards socialism, mostly on moral grounds. Even some well-meaning evangelicals, who have a genuine care for the poor, find themselves drawn to this new movement and its disdain for capitalism.

In light of this current climate, I appreciate Jay W. Richards’ book, Money, Greed, and God:Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem (HarperOne, 2009).  Richards sets out to dispel many myths about capitalism, and is particularly intent on showing that it is not at all contrary to the teachings of Jesus and Christianity, as so many suppose.

Chapter five is devoted to the myth that capitalism is driven by greed, and Richards makes a number of useful points:

1. The fact that individuals in a capitalistic society happen to be greedy, does not mean capitalism is actually based on greed.  Richards is quick to distinguish the greedy intentions of individuals (which, unfortunately, are prevalent), with the capitalistic system itself.

2. There is a difference between selfishness and self-interest.  Capitalism is based on people operating out of their own self-interest, says Richards, not operating out of selfishness.  Self-interest is not in itself immoral.  Indeed, many of our daily actions are based on self-interest, such as brushing our teeth, looking both ways before crossing the street, and eating healthy foods.  One might even say, our self-interest is an act of stewardship of the things God has given us.

3. Thus economic exchanges in a capitalistic system are mutually beneficial. Because capitalism is built on self-interest, then it means that people only engage in economic activity when it is mutually beneficial. When Joe buys meat from the butcher he does so out of the belief that the meat is more valuable to him than the money it costs.  Thus, he exchanges the money for the meat willingly.  He is not forced to beg for the meat, nor is he forced to buy the meat. He buys it because it gives him a benefit.

Likewise, the butcher also sells the meat willingly.  He sells the meat because he believes the money is more valuable than the meat he is selling.

Thus, argues Richards, in a capitalistic system both parties benefit.

4. Capitalism does the best job of channeling selfishness for good ends.  Although capitalism isn’t based on selfishness, it does do a very good job at channeling it towards a good outcome. Imagine an economic system that required everyone to act selflessly–it would be doomed to fail.  Instead, capitalism, argues Richards, accounts for the fact that some (most?) people will act selfishly and guides their actions into a good outcomes.  If the butcher is selfish and tries to sell a piece of spoiled meat, he cannot force people to buy it in a free economy.  Thus, it is in his best interest to offer meat that the consumer actually wants.  Richards comments, “The cruel, greedy butcher…has to look for ways to set up win-win scenarios.  Even to satisfy his greed he has to meet your desires” (123).

5. Capitalism actually encourages generosity Richards points out, contrary to popular opinion, that there is no evidence that America is more greedy just because its capitalistic.  In fact, America is the most generous country in the world when it comes to charitable giving–by a landslide.  Richards also observes that there is an inverse relationship between taxation and giving. “The more the government confiscates the less people give. Conversely, the freer the economy, the more people give” (124).

In sum, Richards’ book (particularly chapter five) reminds us that capitalism is not opposed to Christian thinking, but actually is consistent with the Christian understanding of human nature. It recognizes the proper role of self-interest. It encourages freedom, not coercion.  It recognizes people are fallen and sinful and channels bad behavior towards good ends. And it ends up providing more prosperity out of which people can give generously.

====================================================================================

Michael J. Kruger is President and Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC.