Results tagged “discipleship” from Reformation21 Blog

The Need for a Ministerial Break Down

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"We keep our preaching basic because we have so many new believers. If we give them too much doctrine, they won't be able to understand it." I can't remember how many times I've heard church planters and pastors say such things. Sadly, as their ministries begin to grow numerically, mature believers in the congregation are left to languish in spiritual malnourishment and discouragement. On the other hand, there are those churches (though significantly fewer in number) in which ministers seem to wear their academic interests on their sleeve in the pulpit. They burden the congregation with highly nuanced theological subjects or phraseology in the name of faithfulness. Whether it is compromising ministers diluting God's word to the spiritual malnourishment of the congregation or ivory tower pastors caring little about bringing along new believers, one of the great needs of our day is for preachers to learn how to break down, rather than water down, the truth of God's word.

We find this important principle at work in the ministry of John Calvin. On the whole, Calvin tended to reserve his more academic prowess for the institutes and his commentaries--rather than for his sermons. In his essay, "Calvin's Sermons on Ephesians: Expounding and Applying Scripture," Randall C. Zachman helpfully observes,

"[Calvin's] sermons differed from the commentaries both in terms of their audience and their objective. The commentaries have, as their audience, the future pastors...with the goal of revealing the mind of the author with lucid brevity. The sermons have, as their audience, ordinary Christians within a specific congregation with the goal of expounding the intention or meaning of the author, and of applying that meaning to their use, so that they might retain that meaning in their minds and hearts, and put it into practice in their lives."

Calvin sought to adjust himself in different ways to his readers and hearers--distinguishing between what he wrote for the academy and what he proclaimed from the pulpit. A brief comparison of his commentary on Genesis and his sermons on Genesis serve to demonstrate this difference of approach. To be sure, it is a task of no small difficulty.

In our day, when ministers water down God's word they almost always do so from behind a missiological smokescreen. Insisting that a robustly theological ministry is a detriment to reaching the unchurched, they introduce a number of serious problems. First, they--perhaps inadvertantly--give the impression that the ability to impart spiritual understanding lies within the power of the messenger rather than in the working of the Spirit and word of God. In essence, they suggest that the outcome of their teaching is commensurate with the supposed intellectual ability of the hearers. This not only denies the sovereign working of the Spirit of God through the word of God--it levels an intellectual insult at the people to whom they minister. Second, such reasoning carries with it the faulty presupposition that everyone grows at the same slow spiritual pace. Such ministers forget that most of the weighty Apostolic letters were written to new Gentile converts who lacked much, if any, familiarity with the Old Testament. Yet, the Apostle Paul wrote some of the deepest and most profound truths to new converts in Rome, Corinth, Philippi, Ephesus, etc. These letters included appeals to oftentimes less familiar verses of the Old Testament as well as to some of the most difficult and nuanced theological argumentation in all of the Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16).

Those ministers who fail to break down God's word for His people usually do so from behind an ecclesiastical smokescreen. They treat each member of the congregation as if he or she should be at the same spiritual place in understanding by virtue of the fact that they are members of the church. This is often driven by unrealistic and undistinguished spiritual and intellectual expectations of every believer. They too have faulty presuppositions that everyone will grow at the same spiritual pace---failing to factor in the spiritual infancy of new believers.

Those who water down the truth will often appeal to 1 Corinthians 3:2--where the Apostle Paul wrote, "I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able;" and, ministers who fail to break down the truth will almost always point to Hebrews 5:12-14, where the writer rebukes the congregants for their spiritual immaturity when he says, "For though, by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." So, how can we reconcile these two truths of Scripture that seem to lay in stark contrast with one another?

Calvin's comments on 1 Corinthians 3:2 are exceedingly helpful. First, Calvin explained that the minister must learn to "accommodate...to the capacity of those he has undertake to instruct." He wrote:

"Christ is at once milk to babes, and strong meat to those that are of full age, (Hebrews 5:13, 14,) the same truth of the gospel is administered to both, but so as to suit their capacity. Hence it is the part of a wise teacher to accommodate himself to the capacity of those whom he has undertaken to instruct, so that in dealing with the weak and ignorant, he begins with first principles, and does not go higher than they are able to follow, (Mark 4:33,).

He then went on to warn ministers against watering down the truth in preaching:

"[We must] refute the specious pretext of some, who...present Christ at such a distance, and covered over, besides, with so many disguises, that they constantly keep their followers in destructive ignorance...their presenting Christ not simply in half, but torn to fragments...How unlike they are to Paul is sufficiently manifest; for milk is nourishment and not poison, and nourishment that is suitable and useful for bringing up children until they are farther advanced."

How important it is for ministers of the Gospel to, at one and the same time, avoid that theological dilution by which we fail to bring up children "until they are farther advanced" while rejecting that ecclesiastical elitism that refuses to "accommodate to the capacity" of those we are instructing. Rather, it must be the goal and aim of our ministries to be faithful to the call to break down God's word "until we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ" (Eph. 4:13-15).

Christ's Call to Discipleship

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CCtD.jpgA Newly Released Audio Series 
from James Boice

Has it ever occurred to you that something is lacking in the lives of many of us who call ourselves Christians? We live in an age where the lack of true discipleship is a fatal defect. But to be a Christian is no light matter. It is a call to a transformed life and to perseverance through whatever troubles may arise. It may be the hardest thing anyone can do, yet with Christ supplying the strength anyone can do it. 

In Christ's Call to Discipleship, Dr. Boice does not mince words. He outlines the meaning, path, cost, and rewards of being a true disciple of Christ. 
 
Christ's Call to Discipleship is now available for purchase as:

Discipleship is lifelong, it is total. And the rewards are priceless.

Text Links:
http://www.reformedresources.org/james-boice/christs-call-to-discipleship-mp3-anthology/
http://www.reformedresources.org/friends-august/christs-call-to-discipleship-cd-set/
http://www.reformedresources.org/boice-christs-call-to-discipleship-downloads/
http://www.reformedresources.org/james-boice-books/christs-call-to-discipleship/

Just Add Water (1 of 4)

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Well, I was going to go on a bit more about the necessity of the local church in the posts headed to this space, but our dear brother in Christ Dr. Mark Jones has done what Presbyterians are prone to do when they interact with Baptists about Baptism, and as the new resident Baptist here I guess it's my job (by vocation if not by assignment) to disambiguate his confusion over why I would personally see his being sprinkled as an infant as no baptism at all, and why therefore I would say he's not to take the other ordinance (the Lord's Supper) in church.  Let me preface these remarks by saying I envy anyone whose name is "Dr. Jones," and even more any in this fine class who has the self-control not to change his first name to "Indiana."

Two items as caveats before you read this and start hurling fruit at my kind hosts here at Ref21:

  1. The opinions and arguments here are mine and not the arguments of the Alliance.  Hate the player and not the game in this case.
  2. The arguments I will make here are also not the position of the local church I attend.  In spite of that church being baptistic in confession, they practice a more open form of communion than I would advocate for.  I'm not an elder there, so as I make my case for what I think is a robust response to Mark Jones, I speak for myself and not my church at BCLR.org.

So the main thrust of Dr. Jones article is that somehow the closed-table Baptist is declining to allow that Presbyterians are Christians at all if he doesn't allow one paedobatized to take the Lord's Table when it is presented during worship.  There are probably a dozen things that bother me about this innuendo, but the one which undoubtedly seems the worst to me is to consider all the baptized people a Presbyterian would refuse to serve at the table - that is, all the children which are Christians by the covenantal formula "in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, just add water." I'm looking forward to Dr. Jones' defense of paedocommunion under the pains of being accused of turning out babies from the family of God in his next installment, but I think it probably isn't coming.

Seriously now: if the charge that Dr. Jones has put forward here has any weight at all, it rests on the idea that refusing participation to the table demands a metaphysical statement about those refused - namely, that they do not belong to Christ at all, in any sense.  That's always the charge of Presbyterians against us poor and uncatechized Baptists - think of all the people we make into no Christians at all.  It's a middle-class, civilized version of the Reformation argument that we are schismatic - and I appreciate the good will it takes to get us this far (I have my copy of the Augsburg Treaty in hand if necessary), but the difference is only in whether or not there are torches and pitchforks involved.  I think there's a better way to discuss this, and a better solution.  And for those of you worried about it, I have put all my best jokes right here in the introduction.  The rest will be appropriately dour and solemn.

Let me provide you an outline of the posts in this (brief) series.

My Outline:

A. The meaning of being a "Christian"
B. The meaning of Baptism (especially for the local church)
C. The meaning of the Lord's Table
D. Conclusions/Parting Shots

The Meaning of being a Christian

I think, with very serious and deep respect, that the worst way to pose the problem here is as Dr. Jones did - which is to somehow intimate that either side here has a problem which wrongly frames the doorposts of the Kingdom of God - that is, that either side has either included or excluded the wrong people inside the group Jesus is on about in Mat 16.  Because let's face it: the actual ultimate state of any human person is a slippery fish.  I'm not comfortable hanging any argument on whether or not "I think" anyone is "a Christian" because I can barely tell you which kids in the gym belong to me - and I see them every day and know them better than I know any of you (esp. - you Presbyterians).  What "I think" sounds too much to me like doing what seems right in my own eyes, and we all know where that gets us (given that you are as well-read in the OT as Presbyterians ought to be).

All that to say this: I don't get to define who is and is not a Christian, and neither does Dr. Jones.  Jesus is the only one who has the authority to do this.  And fortunately for us, he was pretty liberal to tell us what he means by it - at least, as the label came into popular use in Antioch.  In Jesus' terms, anyone who is a "disciple" is a "Christian."  I could just toss that out here and expect the reader to fill in the blanks from his Greek NT, but briefly here are 3 references  that I would use to show that this is Jesus' meaning.

Mat 28:18-20 (ESV)
Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

That's fair enough, right?  It even includes the ordinance of baptism in it so that it plugs into the discussion.  But in Jesus view of it, those who are His disciples are His because of His authority, and in that authority they observe what he has commanded.  That is: the role of the disciple (the Christian) is one of being under the authority of Christ (rather than, as I mentioned above, the authority of "me").  Without writing a book here, this is a perfectly covenantal view of it as the disciple is something because of what Christ has done, but the disciple is therefore also running on new rules in Christ.

I'm sure plenty of you are breaking out the sheet music now to the "distinct imperative/indicative" overture, but it's not a violation of the Gospel to say that those who receive it, who believe in the name of Jesus, become children of God in more ways than just the final way in glorification.  The path of sanctification is necessarily part of the Gospel as Jesus didn;t just do something, but did something for us.

Mat 10:34-39 (ESV)
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

Personally, I like this one because it's inflammatory by Jesus - set up so that you really can't misunderstand what Jesus means here.  In Jesus' view, it's not merely intellectual assent which is the hallmark of a disciple: it's being set against the world and its value system.  When he says this, Jesus is saying that his disciples will not just know something about him: they will go and do things which express their confidence in Him over all other relationships, and all other comforts.  But it underscores that the disciple is not merely a learner or hearer of the word of God (and the Word of God), but a doer of those things He has made clear.

Mat 16:21-28
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done."

This bit I love because poor Simon just got it right not 3 sentences earlier, but then Jesus starts saying that being the Christ means suffering and dying in Jerusalem.  That's too much for Peter who rebukes the Son of God (as he said), but Jesus says plainly that not only must he do this, but that there's no one who can follow him unless he follows him to the cross.  Look: that's not just a new way to think about how religion works: that's a way which leads a man to his own death for the sake of others.  It's a kind of doing which is not merely duty but doing for the sake of one's own soul.  We might here ask whether there are actually enough categories in the "imperative/indicative" paradigm because in this case it seems like Jesus is saying that there are some things one does because he must want to do it.

All of that to say that the meaning of being a Christian is not merely external (that is: what has been done for you) or merely internal (that is: what you think or affirm) but is somehow wrapped up in a new trajectory, a new path one is walking on.  That's probably why, in the book of Acts, it turns out that the movement these people manifested in the world was called "the Way."

This leads us to some interesting issues, such as how we can apply this paradigm to guys like the Thief on the Cross who was never baptized.  He was in paradise that very day with Christ - and no decent Baptist would reject the idea that the Thief was a Christian.  But it at least gets us to a place where we can know what we are talking about if we have to ask the question, "Is 'X' a Christian?"  If we are asking that question, I hope we are answering it like Jesus did, which is to say, "if a person is following Jesus, and dying to world daily, and seeking to do what Jesus commanded, that person is a Christian."  The WCF would say it this way:

The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts; and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word: by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened.

By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatesoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein; and acteth differently, upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principle acts of saving faith are, accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.

This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; may be often and many ways assailed and weakened, but gets the victory; growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.

So the problem that we face in this discussion is not about whether or not I (or any other closed-table Baptist) would not allow R.C. Sproul or Dr. Jones to be Christians.  The problem is about something else which, it seems obvious to me, Dr. Jones has swept under the covenantal rug.

I'll elaborate next time.  And good thing the comments are closed!

The Day after Easter

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Easter is over.  The new clothes are hung up, the candy has been eaten, and choir directors and pastors everywhere--not to mention ushers--are enjoying the quiet routines of a Monday.  For the diehard Reformed, you know who you are, this Monday is like every other Monday because Easter Sunday is like every other Sunday:  Resurrection Sunday comes every seven days for you, not once a year.

 

For the rest of us, I have some thoughts.  It was after Christ rose from the dead that the work of the church, of beginning and building the church, began in earnest.  The euphoria of the Resurrection moment would abate and the grind of routine would set in.  The hard work, the daily commitment to love and care for people, the challenge of a hostile world crushing in, all this and more was what the early church, the New Testament church, had to look forward to. 

 

Weeks, months, years after the resurrection how did they do it?

 

Being faithful in the routines, on the Mondays after the Sundays, is important.  It is as inversely important as it seems unglamorous. 

 

We can all be thankful for the Resurrection, even and especially for Resurrection Sunday.  It is a reminder that Christ conquered all our enemies, the enemies of sin and death and guilt.  He even conquered the enemy of our unfaithfulness, the enemy of our running in fits and spurts, the enemy of our languid efforts at a patient and long obedience, and the enemy of letting Mondays, weeks and months and years of Mondays, simply roll on by, becoming a mass of missed days of worship, service, love, and obedience.