Results tagged “ecclesiology” from Reformation21 Blog

Something is terribly wrong when professing Christians do not identify with the church and love being a part of her. Something is wrong when professing Christians fail to be passionate about every aspect of the church and long to invest themselves in her, taking all that the church represents and does to heart. Listen, for example, to the way Paul instructs the Ephesians: "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27).

I fell in love with the church the moment I was converted as a freshman in college in 1971. Having never attended any church until then, I discovered a community that was, to me, like a family: caring, loving, and nourishing. The church I found was able to tell me that I was wrong about some things without driving me away. I knew that I was loved. The church showed me acts of kindness and fellowship that I recall with affection to this day. I was introduced to expository preaching from the start - a style of preaching that puts the Bible above the personality and idiosyncrasies of the preacher. I discovered communal prayer times, and joyful singing, all of which have been the mainstay of my Christian life ever since. True, I have had my share of worship wars, when Christians disagree over important things and sometimes trivial things; but for all that, I have taken delight in her rituals of song and sacrament, prayer and proclamation, more times than I can relate. I love the church. I fully endorse Calvin's way of putting it (and the shadow of Cyprian that lies behind it): "For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels" (Inst. 4.1.4). In the church, I have discovered saints and angels (though not, as far as I know, real angels). I have witnessed deeds of extraordinary kindness done to myself and to others, and I have been the beneficiary of kindnesses done to me by those who remained anonymous.

Yes, there is a dark side to the church as there is to all things in this fallen world. The church is not perfect. It has her share of malcontents and killjoys, her energy-sapping attention-getters and despondent hearts. Adullam's cave has nothing on some churches I have seen, but none of this robs me of my love for the church. Even at her most eccentric - the King James Version's rendition of 1 Peter 2:9 as "ye are ... a peculiar people" is painfully accurate, if quaint -- she is still Christ's body. "Love me, love my church" is what Jesus seems to say in the Bible. I would not have it any other way. Would you?

*This post is a modification of a post originally published at Ref21 in September of 2009. 

Last week the Barna Group informed us that a whopping ten percent of America's population "love Jesus but not the church." Lack of "love" for the church, for Barna's purposes, is essentially measured by lack of attendance at religious services. Few of those self-identifying with this group would profess contempt for the church. Some, to be sure, do have an admitted bone to pick with the church, but most, it seems, simply can't be bothered with her. But on the principle that neglect is really a rather potent form of contempt, I think we might define these individuals collectively as professed Jesus-lovers but church-despisers.

The really remarkable thing about this segment of our population is that, at least according to Barna's editor-in-chief Roxanne Stone, they "still believe in Scripture." To be sure, the numbers reveal they rarely read Scripture. I'm not sure how convincing or compelling one's "belief" in Scripture can actually be labeled if the one in question never reads the Bible. Presumably the conviction that Scripture is, say, God-breathed and profitable for doctrine and praxis would inspire one (no pun intended) to pick it up occasionally. Still, we're told that these individuals "believe in Scripture," and yet feel no apparent compulsion to follow the rather obvious biblical injunctions to assemble and participate in those rituals that Jesus ordered his assembled followers to perform.

Forgive my bluntness, but claiming to love Jesus while wanting nothing to do with the church is just stupid. If the "Jesus" we're talking about is the God-man whose life, death, resurrection, and ascension is described and defined for us by the inspired writings of those he commissioned to disciple the nations, then the "church" we're talking about must be the entity described and defined for us by those same writings. The "church," according to those writings, is Christ's bride, whom he loves, whom he nourishes, whom he died for (see Eph. 5:25-32). As the hymnist puts it: "From Heaven he came and sought her, to be his holy bride. With his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died." Professing love for Christ but little for the church makes about as much sense as saying you like me and want to spend time with me, but really can't stand my wife and would prefer not to have her around. You can imagine the response you'd get if you invited me around for dinner, and then added, "but please leave Louise at home. We really want nothing to do with her. It's only you we want to get to know. It's only you we want to spend time with."

The things about couples is that, well, they come as couples. That's just as true of the archetypal husband and wife (Christ and the church) as it of ectypal husbands and wives (me and my wife, for instance). That doesn't mean that husbands and wives lose their own unique identities. Christ is not the church. The church is not Christ. But, simply put, "you can't have one with the other" (as someone once sang of love and marriage). The futility of trying to sever Christ from the church becomes, perhaps, even more apparent when one factors in other biblical descriptions of the relationship between these entities. The church is Christ's body (Eph. 5:23). How does one love a head but despise the body attached to that head? Trying floating that claim with regard to any other organism!

It's difficult to know how seriously to take the claim that one might love Jesus but despise his bride and body. Part of me wants to merely role my eyes rather than seriously engage such a sentiment, much as I prefer to counter liberal efforts to strip Christianity of its supernatural elements with a pronounced yawn rather than serious argument. But the prevalence of those who believe they can have Jesus without his bride/body suggests, perhaps, the need for some more intelligent response. Maybe a first step in such might be recognizing the part that evangelical Protestantism itself has played in cultivating the naïve assumption that Christ can be had without his bride/body. Are we, dare I say it, largely to blame for such stupidity, by virtue (for instance) of the dismally weak ecclesiology and sacramentology we have championed in the history of American evangelicalism? Or perhaps by virtue of the tolerance we have shown to parachurch organizations that too often subvert rather than support the church by presuming to play the part the church is divinely appointed to play in the lives of believers? Who needs Christ's bride around when you can have his less obnoxious distant cousin?

Borrowed Conviction

It has happened a few times before. It happened again recently. Someone without a good church gets in touch, referred by a mutual friend. Or someone drops an email asking for advice. Or there is a conversation at a conference with someone who has come looking for help, counsel, refuge. Somewhere along the way, I ask about their convictions. I ask about their home church, if they have one. It helps me. It helps them. If I am to walk carefully, act wisely, tread on no toes, be of any assistance, it is useful to know what they actually believe and where they belong. And so I ask.

The answer, too often, involves a list of names. Top dogs. Big cheeses. In many instances, men who have earned their spurs. I understand that sometimes a name or names attach to systems or principles. I would understand if someone identified themselves in terms of an Augustinian soteriology, or a Calvinistic view of God, or a Puritan approach to holiness. I accept that it sometimes helps us and others to situate ourselves by locating ourselves in relation to others whose doctrinal or practical position is fairly firmly fixed, at least in some regard: "I love Spurgeon, or Owen, or Bunyan, or M'Cheyne."

I appreciate that we sometimes use shorthand. "I am a Calvinist." "I believe in the doctrines of grace." "I hold to the Reformation solas." "I am a Westminster/Savoy/1689 man." That helps. Even then, to be honest, I would usually say, "That's great. Let's talk about what that actually means." But it is not what I often hear.

What I hear is a list of names. "I like Beeke, Washer, MacArthur." Or, "I would love to sit under the preaching of Piper, Keller, Carson." Or, "I really appreciate Dever, Sproul, Grudem." Or, "I listen to guys like DeYoung, Mohler, Chandler."

And this from someone who is often saying that they are looking for a church home, somewhere to put down roots. What's the problem? The problem is that these men do not believe the same things. To be sure, most of them would share some or many fundamental convictions. They would all set out to preach the Gospel. But their understanding of the intricacies of the gospel, their hermeneutics and exegesis, their sense of how soteriology feeds into and shapes ecclesiology, their view of ordinances and sacraments, their notions of duty and discipleship, their expectations in terms of authority and structure, their priorities and pursuits--all of those things--will have often significant variation.

And so I find myself explaining to the person in question that they now have a problem. The convictions that would bring you into membership in some of the congregations to which those men belong, or in which they find their home, would necessarily exclude you from membership in the congregation in which another serves. You could ask them questions, and in some cases you would get contradictory answers. Some of those contradictory answers would be of lesser importance, but most would have a significant impact in terms of principles and practices in regular church life. You are in danger of living on borrowed conviction, and therefore remaining a spiritual and ecclesiastical roamer.

The men they mention are, to them, not so much reference points in an organized system, or recognizable markers along a clearly-discerned path, so much as they are random notes heard without arrangement. However clear and convinced the particular figureheads might be themselves, to the person who is hearing them they might be no more than a voice on the wind. That person might think of those men as pastors and disciplers (and in their own context they might be), but they are - to this roving and unrooted listener - merely floating heads, disembodied preachers, often nothing more than voices from the internet or passing personalities at a conference.

A list of gurus is not the same as a developed set of theological convictions. Neither is it the same as having a spiritual home with true shepherds caring for your soul. And yet to find a church and to find pastors is no easy task, for the person in question typically does not know what they are looking for. There may be an expectation of profile and gift in the man under whose ministry they will sit, the man who effortlessly hits a home run in every sermon and whose sermonic hit counter regularly goes stratospheric. They are looking for a big personality or a 'proper ministry'--you know, one with a logo, and a strapline, and a reputation, and a staff. Often, the notion of finding a faithful man faithfully feeding faithful members, investing in each one so as to bring each to their potential as a servant of the Lord, is alien. Not only do they have no experience of it, they have no expectation of it. And so I urge the person in question to find a church and pastors. Generally, I explain, the two go together! Find a community of believers among whom you can live and serve with a clear and biblically instructed conscience. Read the Scriptures and pray and study and pray and ask and listen and pray until you know what that means. If you are coming to me, I can tell you and show you what I believe and why I believe it. I will try to persuade you, because these things are important. If you want to check out these things with someone else, that is your call. But don't come to the conclusion that these things are not important, or you will end up living in a spiritual landscape without definition, in a house without the roof and walls that provide order and security. You will need to think about your soteriology, your ecclesiology, your eschatology, your missiology - you will need to figure out a few 'ologies' in order to know where you can put down roots. You will need to be ready and willing to listen and to learn. You need to find a man or men of God whom you can trust and love and receive and, in some ready measure, follow, not from an adoring distance, but up close and personal. You need to find a place to call your spiritual home. You need a faithful company of saints who have covenanted together to love the Lord and one another, among whom you can stand and with whom you can serve. You need to get convinced and get committed.

If you are already in such a situation, thank God for what may seem like mundane realities. They are no small blessings. Keep learning, but be careful not to keep shifting. Settle the basics of comprehensive Christian believing and living and then get on with the substance of that convinced life. Listen more - much more - to the undershepherds God has given you that to the ones he has given someone else (and steer clear of the men who claim to be shepherds but have given up on or been legitimately rejected by sheep).

If you need to be in such a situation, determine not to live on borrowed conviction. Do not be one of those who, in these respects, are "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2Tim 3.7). Learn and embrace the fundamentals of Christian faith and living before God, among the saints, and under authority, and you will find--under God--that this is the place and this is the sphere to know and enjoy developing spiritual health and advancing biblical holiness and increasing Christian happiness.

The Patriarchy Movement: Five Areas of Grave Concern

The church is an environment of extremes. The trouble with extremes is that they always contain a seed of truth, making them look and sound plausible to the careless bystander. By virtue of this fact, the church is also often full of susceptible bystanders ready to lap-up the latest and greatest fad. One example of this is seen in the Christian Patriarchy movement. Popular now, for some thirty years, Christian Patriarchy, and its twin the "Quiver-full" movement, contain truths about headship, gender roles, and attitudes towards authority in the home. God has ordained such matters, but the question arises, what has God ordained concerning them?

This posts does not seek to trash the patriarchy movement or those found in it. Neither does it disagree with the biblical truths concerning headship, gender roles and attitudes towards authority. Rather it seeks to identify a number of issues that do great harm to those within the movement specifically and Christ's Church as a whole. To be fair, not all in the Patriarchy movement hold to an identical set of beliefs and so I will, in this post, necessarily paint with a broad brush.

  1. Christian patriarchy tends to supplant ecclesiastical authority. This is manifested when the local church's rightful role and authority is taught (either in word and deed or in function and practice) to be inferior of that of the patriarch of the family. Christian fathers may not usurp the rightful authority and function of the church. For instance, Christ has not entrusted to non-ordained men the public ministry of the word, the administration of the sacraments, church discipline etc. I have known of families, with patriarchal leanings, who determined that they had the right to trump ecclesiastical authority by refusing to allow the church to discipline their rebellious teenager. What the Patriarchy movement often fails to emphasize is that even the patriarch in the home is a man under authority in the church. It stands to reason that so is his family. Moreover, men in general are not the head of women in general. Biblical headship pertains only to the marriage relationship and the parent-child relationship. There are few things more dangerous than a failure to recognize and willingness to submit to the authority of the church. A failure to recognize the authority of the officers of a biblically faithful local church is a failure to recognize the authority of Christ, the Head of the Church.
  2. Christian Patriarchy tends to supplant ecclesiastical community. The Patriarchy movement has far too frequently produced a family that is separate from the local church, rather than a family that is a microcosm of the local church. This is, of course, a natural product of a misunderstanding the authority of the church. When this happens, family is elevated to a place of greater importance than the church. Yet, in Scripture the church is held in the highest esteem. After all, our Lord did not shed his blood for the family, but for the Church (Acts 20:28). Such a misunderstanding frequently produces socially stunted children, as well as carbon copies of "the patriarch" himself--that is, someone in a continuous power struggle with the church. In turn, this becomes the death-knell of evangelism in the church.
  3. Christian Patriarchy tends to pervert the father's God-given role in the home as prophet, priest and king. Anyone familiar with Scripture must agree that the spiritual head of the home certainly holds, in some way, these functions. They are not, however, ecclesiastical offices. Rather, they are parental functions. Acting as prophet, in the home, the father is to teach his family the Word of God. Acting as priest, he is to intercede in prayer on their behalf. Acting a king, he applies the law of God to his family and provides such direction as is rightful. The problem with the patriarchy movement is that it interprets these functional roles as offices. Moreover, it often emphasizes the office of King over the other roles. In reaction, many have turned from these biblical functions and denied that heads of households should function these ways. In short, Patriarchy has damaged, rather than enhanced, true biblical headship.
  4. Christian Patriarchy tends to pervert the mother's God-given roles in the home. Can anyone who has read Scripture--or examined the workings of an average Christian home--deny the reality that the mother is also frequently acting as a prophet, priest and king of the home? The Proverbs frequently call the son to listen to the counsel of his father and his mother. Additionally, the law of God commands children to "Honor your father and you mother." It is the mother who teaches, intercedes for and rules and guides in the home for substantial portions of the day. Is the mother tied to the sink or oven or bed? No! She is a teacher, a counselor, a prayer-warrior, a master in the home, for and on behalf of her children. Does Christian Patriarchy pervert this model? It seems to do so in many cases.
  5. Christian Patriarchy tends to be a man-made, law-based system. There is a great danger for sinful men in a singularity of authority! Nowhere else do we accept it! In American government we have (in theory) a separation of powers, a system of checks and balances. In the legal world we have a series of appeals courts. In the ecclesiastical sphere, God has ordained a plurality of elders for the purpose of keeping authority out of the hands of one man. Patriarchy, ultimately, centers all authority in one man. In order for authority to function, there is need for rules and laws. My fear is that the singularity of authority found in patriarchy, not only creates a system of self-preserving laws (which tend to be man-made), but it also squeezes out the Gospel from daily life. Being most concerned about behavior modification proponents of the Patriarchy movement have often forgotten the real need for heart-modification, not by law, but by the grace of God in the Gospel.

It is simply a poor hermeneutic to find a detailed explanation of how we should live by examining the lives of Abraham and Job. Clearly there is much to learn from the Patriarchs; but they too were sinners (dare we say it, with, "multiple wives!") living in the shadows of the preparatory and anticipatory Old Testament era. Ecclesiology was not fully developed in the Patriarchal era. When seeking to develop a fully biblical ecclesiology, we have to ask what Peter, Paul and our Lord Jesus have to say about these things. After all, redemptive-history finds its fullness in the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles. As we read the New Testament, we find an absence of teaching on anything that remotely resembles most of the principles of the Patriarchy movement. If we want to be biblically faithful, we need to examine all the biblical data, regardless of whether it fits our presuppositions or not. We must be willing to have our presuppositions corrected by the Scriptures if we are to be the fathers and mothers God intends for us to be.

Matt Holst is the pastor of Shiloh Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC. He is a graduate of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Matt is a frequent contributor to the Christward Collective.

Do you attend a perfect Church?

You're in a faithful church, but someone complains about this, that, and the other, and so wants to leave. What do you say? 

#1 I agree this church isn't perfect...

#2 This is a perfect church, why would you leave a perfect church?

#1 and #2 are possibilities, but my sympathies are with #2. Why?

Based on what the Scriptures teach about the local churches in the New Testament, we need to be realistic that all churches have various problems (Rev. 2-3). The Westminster Confession of Faith rightly draws attention to more or less pure churches (WCF 25.4-5). Yet, even the Corinthian church, with all of its problems, and there were many, was still addressed as "the church of God that is in Corinth" (1 Cor. 1:2).

So, yes, we could focus on the fact that churches throughout the world are beset with problems. But we could also focus on the fact that faithful, biblical churches, where the three marks exist (see also Acts 2:42), are nonetheless perfect churches. 

How is this possible?

There are different ways to understand "perfect": the perfection of sincerity; the perfection of parts; comparative perfection; evangelical perfection; legal perfection; high-priestly perfection. What do I mean?

We are the Apple of God's eye (Zech. 2:8), his treasured possession (Ex. 19:5; Mal. 3;17; 1 Pet. 2:9). In Christ, fully justified and accepted before God, we are perfect (legally speaking). And even in our sanctification, there is a type of perfection that exists among God's people who have the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dwelling in their hearts (Matt. 5:48; cf. Greek of Phil. 3:15 [teleioi]; also see Francis Turretin, Institutes, 17.2.4 or this post on "perfection" in believers).

Christ gave himself up for the church in order to sanctify her, "having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27). This is a present reality.

When people are disgruntled with their local church, they likely could use a healthy dose of reality from the perspective of God and Christ. If he loves the church, despite her shortcomings, who are we to hate it? Doesn't he know the sins and shortcomings of the church better than we do? And yet he loves the church infinitely more than we can. You can't love Christ but hate his bride. And where the Spirit of Christ dwells among God's people, there Christ dwells as if he were physically present himself. Would you leave a church with Christ physically present?

Christ is the head over the church, but we, his bride, are described as the "fullness of him who fills all in all" (Eph. 1:22-23). Think about that! We are the fullness of the God-man. Without us, Christ is empty. Now if that much is true, and I believe it is, how can faithful, bible-believing churches not be perfect?

We should also keep in mind that sin in the church is necessary for us to deal with our own sins. We're to love all of God's people, warts and all, all the time. Try inviting the most obnoxious person in the church over for lunch. When someone does something stupid or annoying, are you not faced with having to show patience, love, and compassion (Gal. 5:22)?

We could also apply this to faithful pastors in churches. Indeed, they are sinners who make mistakes. But they are sinners whom God has given to your church. These pastors feed God's sheep by faithfully preaching a perfect Saviour. You might do well to remember that if God has given you a faithful pastor, he is the perfect pastor for you. Indeed, his weaknesses can actually be a benefit to you (see 2 Corinthians). And let's face it, with all of the charlatans out there masquerading as preachers, when in fact they are thieves and robbers, it isn't too out of place to say you have the perfect pastor if he does what Paul commands Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16.

People who are looking for the perfect church are sometimes told that if they find it the church will no longer be perfect because they (a sinner) are now there. But maybe they need to be told, when they're feeling grumpy, unwanted, unloved, under-appreciated, etc., that they are in the perfect church because, after all, it doesn't matter so much what they think, but what Christ thinks. 

And maybe, just maybe, if we started to look at our church more from the perspective of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we might be less ready to criticize a place that is actually perfect for us. 

At bottom, my natural inclination and temptation is to focus on #1 (i.e., the problems and sins of the church). But I need to focus on #2 otherwise I'd get depressed, give up, and constantly complain. Do you attend a perfect church? I hope so.

"I come to the right of interpreting [the Bible], which they arrogate to themselves.... It is theirs, they say, to give the meaning of Scripture, and we must acquiesce." Thus Calvin summarizes the fourth and final point of Trent's teaching on Scripture. Trent's words were as follows: "No man... [should] dare to interpret the Holy Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church, to whom it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, has held and holds" (emphasis mine).

Few things annoyed Calvin and other reformers of the sixteenth-century more than Rome's repeated claim, in the midst of theological disputes, to own the exclusive right to determine what the Bible actually says about the matters disputed. The intent of that claim, of course, was to force an immediate stop to all conversation, let alone controversy, about what Scripture teaches regarding justification, the sacraments, religious images, indulgences, and so on. Luther expressed his frustration with such posturing on Rome's part thus: "Were this true" -- that is, were it true that sola Roma possessed the right and requisite spiritual gift to interpret Scripture -- "where [then] were the need and use of the Holy Scriptures" at all? "Let us burn them," Luther continued, "and content ourselves with the unlearned gentlemen at Rome, in whom the Holy Ghost dwells.... If I had not read it, I could never have believed that the devil should have put forth such follies at Rome and [have found] a following."

Nearly three decades after Luther wrote those words, Calvin sounds a similar note of annoyance and disbelief in his response to Trent's teaching: "What hinders them," he asks, "from raising a trophy, and coming off victorious to their hearts' content, if we concede to them what they have comprehended in [this] decree?"

To gain some sense of the reformers' frustration at Roman claims of an exclusive right to interpret Scripture, one might imagine how a wife might feel if, in the midst of a dispute about who said what and thereby broke the marital peace, her husband invoked his own infallible knowledge of what was actually said, as well as his own unimpeachable right to declare the same and level blame or demand repentance accordingly.

Calvin's actual argument against Rome's claim to own the right of biblical interpretation is similar to his argument against Rome's claim that extra-scriptural tradition, in addition to the Bible, constitutes a source of saving truth (see part one of this series). Calvin could, of course, have simply required Rome to prove that she alone was entitled to adjudicate competing readings of the Bible. After all, the burden of proof clearly rests upon those who would hazard such obviously dubious claims, just as the burden of proof would rest with the husband in our proposed analogy to prove his infallible knowledge of what was said and his right to interpret the same.

Calvin takes a different tack, appealing again, albeit negatively this time, to tradition. He recounts examples of official but clearly preposterous Roman interpretations of Scripture, which he reckons anyone endued with any degree of sense will see for what they are. These examples are all taken from the seventh ecumenical council in Nicaea which defended the existence and veneration of images of Christ, Mary, and the saints in places of worship. So, for instance, Calvin observes that this council cited Psalm 16:3 ("As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight") in defense of religious images, on the rather ludicrous assumption that the "saints" mentioned by the Psalmist were those depicted on the walls of some worship space.

As far as ridiculous Roman interpretations of Scripture go, I personally would have cited Pope Boniface VIII's use of Luke 22:38 in the papal bull Unam sanctam to establish his claim that ultimate ecclesiastical and civil authority are divinely entrusted to the papacy. But to each his own; Calvin's references do the job.

Calvin is, however, sensitive to a potential counter-charge from Rome -- namely, that each reformer rejected Rome's fallible interpretation of Scripture in favor of his own fallible interpretations of Scripture, and so failed to improve upon Rome's position (by effectively establishing as many popes as there are Protestants, and, in that process, destroying the unity of the faith).

In response, Calvin -- rather remarkably -- acknowledges the need for individual interpreters of Scripture to "willingly submit" their own judgments about Scripture's meaning "to the judgment of the Church." Calvin, in other words, unabashedly prefers a corporate, churchly interpretation of Scripture to any private individual's judgment regarding Scripture's meaning. "We neither contemn nor impair the authority of the Church; nor do we give loose reins to men to dare what they please."

Remarkably, then, Calvin ends up asserting something like the position of Rome against which he argues -- that is, that "it belongs" to the Church "to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures." But Calvin's own view differs from Rome in three essential regards: First of all, he recognizes the Church (with a capital C) as the collective body of visible churches (lower case c) where God's Word is rightly preached and God's sacraments are rightly administered -- where, in other words, there is integrity of doctrine and practice. Calvin thus deems it doubtful that the institution which, under the authority of the papacy, answers to the name "Roman Catholic Church" is even part of the true Church, much less the whole of it.

Secondly, Calvin entrusts doctrinal authority in the visible Church to persons properly trained to study Scripture from every age and region of the church, rather than any given person (the pope) or ecclesiastical body (a council) at any given point in time. This makes corporate, churchly judgments regarding the meaning of a text rather more difficult to discern, and -- since the Church consists of believers yet to be born -- points to the necessarily open-ended nature of ecclesiastical judgments about Scripture's meaning.

Thirdly, Calvin freely acknowledges the fallibility of the Church, which once again points to the provisional nature of corporate, churchly judgments regarding Scripture's meaning. The Church, being fallible, must intentionally and constantly render itself correctable in relation to God's infallible Word.

Calvin's argument against Rome's claim of an exclusive right to interpret Scripture might surprise many Reformed believers today. In the final analysis, Calvin assaults Rome's claim to the title "Church" more than Trent's claim that biblical interpretation properly belongs to the Church. "I wish," he concludes, "they would shew us such a Church as Scripture itself portrays; we should easily agree as to the respect" -- and privilege? -- "due to it. But when, falsely assuming the name of Church, they seize upon the spoils of which they have robbed it, what else can we do than protest?"


Aaron Clay Denlinger is professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida.

Loving Christ But Hating His Bride?

"Mark, it's a sad fact, but books on our Lord don't sell well" - Anonymous.

Blog posts on Jesus don't do well, either, if you are judging a blog post by stats. 

But what about books and posts on Christ's body, the church? When was the last time you read a good book on the church? 

Knowing Christ involves knowing his people. We are united to him. You cannot conceive of Christ apart from his people, for his people are the fullness of him (Eph. 1:23). The language of husband (Christ) and bride (the church) dominates the pages of Scripture. There is a well-known saying from the Early Church father, Cyprian: "You cannot have God as your Father if you will not have the church as your mother." Indeed. But, at the same time, you cannot claim to love Christ and hate his bride. Why? Because Christ loves his bride. And if Christ loves his bride, are you in any position to think and act differently?

We must keep firmly in mind just how much Christ loves his church. That fact alone should transform the way in which we think about the church of Christ, which he purchased with his own blood. 

Of course, the saints of God are the only real stumbling block to belief. Without us, the gospel would be easy to believe. But God has not ordered matters that way. He has ordained the church for his Son. He has given a bride to his faithful, obedient Son, as a reward, not as a curse. And whatever problems we may have with the church, we must keep in mind that Christ's people are his fullness (Eph. 1:23), so that without him he would be an incomplete (maimed) person! This requires faith to believe. For, the church is the limp of Jesus, the limp caused by Adam's dislocating action in the Garden. But by the will of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ's body limps her way to victory for no other reason than she belongs to Christ.

Christ's love for his bride finds its expression in the terms that are used to describe God's people. The people of God are described in various ways: "the saints," "the elect," "called," and "beloved." Paul will use "beloved" synonymously with "elect" to describe the church (Rom. 1:7; 1 Thess. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13; Col. 3:12). The New Testament draws its language for Jews and Gentiles in the New Covenant from the language of the Old Testament. Hosea, for example, highlights the love-relationship between God and his people - his people who are the called/elect (cf. Rom. 11:28). Those whom God has called or chosen out of this world are those who belong to Christ by faith in the power of the Spirit. They are those who are recipients of the triune God's special love, and are therefore appropriately called "beloved." 

Interestingly, we must remember that the names for God's people are names that can be attributed to Christ himself. He is the chosen one (Isa. 42:1), who was foreordained before the foundation of the world (1 Pet. 1:20). He is the Saint, the holy one, par excellence (Mk. 1:24; Jn. 17:19). He is the beloved of the Father (Eph. 1:6; Matt. 3:17; 17:5).

Paul describes the church as the "fullness of Christ" (Eph. 1:23). This is a remarkable description, considering that Christ himself fills all things (Eph. 1:23; 4:10). Elsewhere, Paul also explains how in Christ the "whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col. 2:9). In other words, there is complete fullness in Christ, and yet we are still called his "fullness." 

As poor beggars, who are bust dust and ashes, the church is empty without him. We cannot think a good thought apart from Christ filling us with good thoughts; we cannot do a good work apart from Christ enabling us (Jn. 15:5). Christ fills us with his Spirit, the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9; Acts 16:7). Thus instead of being filled with wine, we are to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18); instead of being filled with the knowledge of the world, we are to be filled with "all spiritual wisdom and understanding" (Col. 1:9). 

This filling depends on who Jesus is and what he did for his church. In order to make us rich, he had to become poor; in order to fill us he had to empty himself. Having emptied himself for our sakes, we now fill him for his sake. But what does this mean?

Very simply, Jesus is the head, we are the body. The head is incomplete without the body and vice versa. Each saint, who shall ever be saved, makes up Christ's fullness. If there were but one sheep missing from being brought to Christ, the good shepherd, he would not be full, but empty. All of the graces that are bestowed upon his body, like oil flowing down the head onto the body, will one day reach their fulfillment, and the church, which carries her own scars (indwelling sin), will be perfectly cleansed in every way. 

That is why the goal of our salvation is conformity, both in body and soul, to Christ (Rom. 8:29; Phil. 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:49; 1 Jn. 3:2). 

Pastor Mark Jones admits, however, that loving some in the church is easier than loving others.


Well, OK, but just this once ...

Today is almost certain to see the appointment of the first Anglican woman bishop in the UK. Stockport in Manchester look to be the unlucky winners. It has been declared: "The time is right." A break with tradition, we are told, but the only reasonable thing to do. The Archbish has said in that typically flaccid way of the hierarchy that it is "a new way of being the church." As is typical of such movements, this is the little drip before the great flood, a fairly low key appointment, testing the waters, getting people used to the idea, and so on.

I am sure that there are many grieved Anglicans at this further demonstration of the abandonment of biblical Christianity within the Anglican communion. I think it is fairly well attested that - despite my appreciation for many Anglicans - I am no friend of Anglicanism as a system. I am always fascinated by conversations in which sincere, believing Anglicans assure me that their commitment to the church has nothing to do with principle, they just don't see certain issues as being matters of principle (I am not saying all feel this way, but I have heard it several times).

But my concern is, more generally, how very practiced evangelical Christians seem to be at backing down. I imagine we believe that it is gracious. Do not resist the evil person, turn the other cheek, give your cloak to him who wants your tunic (not as catchy, I admit), go the extra mile, give to him who asks, surrender every point of principle ... oh, hang on!

I do think Anglicanism may be a case in point, though I am not suggesting that this is by any means restricted to them. Many seem irremovably attached to Anglicanism's peculiar structures and practices; they are wedded to the institution, regardless of its form and substance. Others have their own such commitments. And so a stream of excuses is made to remain within the organisation or denomination regardless of its drift. The line in the sand is drawn, a respectable "Harrumph!" is issued as yet another matter of conviction is swept away, and another line in the sand is drawn, with the assurance, "But this time we mean it!" Meanwhile the encroachments on scriptural truth and practice continue year on year, until the religious landscape is utterly altered. And meanwhile, the evangelicals sit there saying, "Well, OK, but just this once ..."

Surely we need to ask ourselves, and one another, "At what point do we actually say, 'Enough is enough?'" What will make vigorous, penetrating calls to repentance replace tame capitulations? When does that line get crossed that makes us say, in effect, "I must come out from among them, and be clean"? It is easy to swing with the rhetorical hammer from outside, but all of us - whatever our ecclesiology - face many such moments in the life of the church. They are rarely easy moments, but they are crucial moments. They may seem very minor (e.g. the tacit acknowledgement that gathering with the saints on the Lord's day actually isn't that big a deal when it comes to being a member) or greatly significant (e.g. overlooking a matter of public and even scandalous sin, with the corresponding failure to discipline) and far-reaching (e.g. altering the whole constitution of the ministry that God has appointed for his church). How bad do things need to be before we realise just how far down a godless road we have travelled? At what point do we recover that zeal for the house of God that refuses to allow men to trample any longer upon the church of Christ?

Whatever our affiliations or commitments, denominationally or relationally, there must come a point at which we say, "Enough is enough." That point ought to be whenever and wherever the Word of God is evidently breached or abandoned. The way forward at that point may not be immediately clear and may be profoundly costly. But surely that is the point at which it must be acknowledged, a way forward - we might almost say, a way back - must be found and followed.

Baptism: What's On My Bookshelves

When I first arrived at seminary, I was appalled that anyone claiming to be Protestant would baptize infants. In my limited understanding, only Roman Catholics conducted themselves in such an unbiblical manner. In my mind, infant baptism may have been as close to heresy as one could get without quite being labeled heresy. 

This shallow view of baptism sent me on a journey to study the sacrament. Since my journey began years ago, I have collected several books on this important topic. I have concluded that the sacrament of baptism is much more than simply placing water on someone's head (or immersion if you prefer). Baptism has direct implications for the way in which one reads the Bible (i.e., covenant theology, dispensationalism, etc.), the way one views the sacraments (i.e. sacramentology), the way one understands the church (i.e., ecclesiology), and the way one interacts with his or her child(ren) in the home.

While I am not endorsing all the information in the books listed, here are some of the books, along with the Bible, that are on my bookshelves. I have not included books on covenant theology nor dispensationalism, though these topics are approached in some of the books listed. If you are wondering which books I would recommend on either side of the debate, I have placed those books at the end of this post. Let me be clear, however. Simply because I am recommending these books--among the others--does not mean I am endorsing everything in the books nor I am necessarily endorsing the author's views on other topics not mentioned in the books.

A Baptist Perspective on Baptism:

1. Baptism in the New Testament by G. R. Beasley-Murray
2. Christian Baptism: A Fresh Attempt to Understand the Rite in terms of Scripture, History, and Theology edited by A. Gilmore
3. Antipaedobaptism in the Thought of John Tombes: An Untold Story from Puritan England by Mike Renihan
4. Pilgrim Pathways: Essays in Baptist History in Honour of B. R. White edited by Brackney and Fiddes
5. Lectures on Baptism by William Shirreff
6. A Decisive Argument Against Infant Baptism Furnished By One of its Own Proof-Texts by John L. Dagg
7. Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ edited by Thomas Schreiner and Shawn Wright
8. Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace by Paul K. Jewett
9. The Baptism of Disciples Alone: A Covenantal Argument for Credobaptism Verses Paedobaptism by Fred Malone
10. The Scripture Guide to Baptism: Containing A Faithful Citation of All the Passages by R. Pengilly
11. Baptism and Christian Unity by A. Gilmore
12. Should Babies Be Baptized? by T. E. Watson
13. Waters of Creation: A Biblical-Theological Study of Baptism by Douglas Van Dorn
14. Concerning Believers Baptism edited by F. C. Bryan
15. Baptism and the Baptists: Theology and Practice in Twentieth-Century Britain by Anthony Cross
16. From Paedobaptism to Credobaptism: A Critique of the Westminster Standards on the Subjects of Baptism by W. Gary Crampton
17. Biblical Baptism: A Reformed Defense of Believers Baptism by Samuel E. Waldron
18. Christian Baptism by Adoniram Judson
19. A Conversation About Baptism by R. L. Child
20. More Than a Symbol: The British Baptist Recovery of Baptismal Sacramentalism by Stanley K. Fowler
21. Baptist Sacramentalism by Anthony Cross and Philip E. Thompson
22. Baptism Sacramentalism 2 by Anthony Cross and Philip E. Thompson

A PaedoBaptist Perspective on Baptism:

1. Return to Grace: A Theology for Infant Baptism by Kurt Stasiak
2. To A Thousand Generations: Infant Baptism - Covenant Mercy for the People of God by Douglas Wilson
3. Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism by J. V. Fesko
4. The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism edited by Gregg Strawbridge
5. The Sacraments in Biblical Perspective by Ronald P. Byars
6. Christian Baptism by John Murray
7. Infant Baptism and the Silence of the New Testament by Bryan Holstrom
8. The Priesthood of the Plebs: A Theology of Baptism by Peter Leithart
9. The Promise of Baptism: An Introduction to Baptism in Scripture and the Reformed Tradition by James Brownson
10. Children of the Promise: The Biblical Case for Infant Baptism by Robert Booth
11. A Christian's Pocket Guide to Baptism by Robert Letham
12. The Meaning and Mode of Baptism by Jay Adams
13. What Christian Parents Should Know About Infant Baptism by John Sartelle
14. Baptism by Francis Schaeffer
15. William the Baptist by James Chaney
16. Children of the Promise: The Case for Baptizing Infants by Geoffrey Bromiley

An Historical Approach to Understanding Baptism:

1. The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant: An Historical Study of the Significance of Infant Baptism in the Presbyterian Church by Lewis Schenck
2. The Origins of Infant Baptism: A Further Study in Reply to Kurt Aland by Joachim Jeremias
3. Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries by Everett Ferguson
4. Baptism in the Early Church by Hendrick Stander and Johannes Louw
5. What Has Infant Baptism Done to Baptism? An Enquiry at the End of Christendom by David Wright
6. Infant Baptism in Historical Perspective - Collected Studies by David Wright
7. Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries by Joachim Jeremias

3 Views on Baptism:

1. Baptism: Three views edited by David Wright

If you are struggling through the issue--along with your Bible--here are some books on each side of the baptismal font/tub that may help as you study this important sacrament.

A Baptist Perspective on Baptism:

1. Baptism in the New Testament by Beasley-Murray
2. Waters of Creation: A Biblical-Theological Study of Baptism by Van Dorn
3. A Decisive Argument Against Infant Baptism Furnished By One of Its Own Proof-Texts by Dagg
4. Should Babies By Baptized? by Watson

A Paedobaptist Perspective on Baptism:

1. The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism edited by Strawbridge
2. Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism by Fesko
3. To A Thousand Generations: Infant Baptism - Covenant Mercy for the People of God by Wilson
4. A Christian's Pocket Guide to Baptism by Letham

Also, if you are interested, here are two debates on the matter, as well as a short, non-exhaustive series I wrote on the topic nearly two years ago.

1. Strimple and Malone
2. Shisko and White
3. Baptism: The Doctrine That Caused Tears

Upcoming events

A few things coming up . . .

First, today and tomorrow is the Grace Baptist Assembly, meeting in the wilds of Derbyshire, on the theme of "Building Healthy Churches." I am a reasonably last minute replacement for Alun McNabb, kept away by illness, and my topics in two sermons will be the nature and purpose of the church. Though it is probably a little late for interested parties to book, I am sure that prayer will be much appreciated.

Then, on Monday 2nd June is the Effective Evangelism Conference at Grace Baptist Church, Edlesborough. Four men will be addressing various aspects of the labours of the church to reach the lost: door to door work, open-air preaching, small groups, and dedicated seasons. The emphasis will be on the principled and practical equipment of those eager to preach the gospel for the task in hand. All are welcome.

Finally, in the evening of Monday 2nd June at 6.30pm is the Annual Lecture of the Evangelical Library. Andrew Atherstone of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, will be speaking on Burying George Whitefield: Eulogies And Elegies in England and New England. Again, all are welcome.

Spurgeon's standards for conversion and membership

Spurgeon, Charles Haddon 4.jpgI hope that I will be able at some point to provide a review of Tom Nettles' excellent volume, Living for Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (pastors and preachers, you need this book, and can get it at,, Westminster).

In the meantime, there are a couple of threads from the book that it is profitable to weave together. Spurgeon was adamant that the door to the church be well-guarded, and had a carefully-developed system whereby converts applying for membership were graciously but robustly assessed by elders, himself, and the whole congregation. He did not rush people into professions of faith, baptism and church membership (indeed, he had some distaste for the inquiry room as potentially exerting a pressure beyond that of the Holy Spirit's work on the heart of a sinner).

At two separate points in the book, Nettles shows how - at times of particular evangelistic endeavour, as well as during the more regular procedures of church life - the saints were encouraged to make a thoughtful and scriptural assessment of a man's standing with God and prospective relationship with the local church.

With regard to conversion,
counselors of inquirers looked for three pivotal evidences of true conversion. One focused on the nature of the individual's perception of his sin and dependence on the work of Christ. Did the inquirer seem to have a clear and distinct and abiding sense of the seriousness of his offense toward God, a healthy remorse for that sin, a desire to turn from it and cease such offensive behavior toward God; did he also recognize that God was willing to receive him through the atonement made by Christ and through that alone? Second, did the present determination of the person's soul indicate a clear intention to live for Christ and overcome the opposing forces of the world; did he feel the urgency of seeing others escape from the wrath to come? Three, with a full knowledge of his own unworthiness and his full dependence on God, did the person have some knowledge of the doctrines of grace and that mercy was the fountain from which his salvation flowed? (310-11)
Then, with a great deal of common ground, here is the expectation for church membership:
Arnold Dallimore's examination of this book [called the Inquirers {sic} Books, in which interviewing elders recorded their comments] showed that the entire interview process centered on the determination of three things. One, is there clear evidence of dependence on Christ for salvation? This involved a clear and felt knowledge of sin and a deep sense of the necessity of the cross. Two, does the candidate exhibit a noticeable change of character including a desire for pleasing God and a desire for others to believe the gospel? Three, is there some understanding of, with a submission to, the doctrines of grace? The only effective antithesis to merit salvation, in Spurgeon's view, was a knowledge of utter dependence on divine mercy. (248)
Perhaps, in our day, we are not always sure what we should be looking for in the heart and life of men and women who profess faith in the Lord Jesus. Far too many churches, perhaps feeling the pressure of numbers or some other force, are inclined to drop their standards or blur their distinctions, if they have them in the first place. In the face of that, these standards seem to me to be thoroughly biblical, genuinely gracious, and appropriately robust. They combine doctrinal understanding, experimental religion, and principled obedience - a religion of head, heart and hand, if you will. If more congregations embraced a righteous assessment of this sort with regard to professing converts and applicants for membership, I am persuaded that they would be spiritually healthier places than they too often are.

Guessing and gauging the street preacher

A couple of interesting questions have come in following the recent piece on street preaching, and it might be helpful to offer some answers in this same environment.

First, no, I did not have any particular individual or group in mind when I wrote the piece. I began thinking it through a couple of weeks ago, and wrote it without studying or watching some of the more recent reports and pieces of footage, although I think some of them do bear out some of the comments and suggestions made. Also, bear in mind that a brother can be strong in some areas and not so robust in others, and often - for example - the gift that makes one man excellent in one-on-one discussions might not particularly equip him for preaching, or the same spirit that makes one man particularly clear in his gospel proclamations might make him a little cut-and-dried when interacting with the authorities. As I hope was plain, I have seen a number of men do things I think are sometimes unwise, and seek to steer clear of such mistakes myself. If the hat fits, wear it, but it was not designed for any one individual or group in particular.

Second, and more interestingly and valuably, someone asked about the relationship of the street preacher to the local church, and the matter of qualifications and calling. "Who," asks this thoughtful correspondent, "is qualified to open air preach?" It is a good question, and an important one.

Let me begin by stating that this is not the same issue as whether a man is qualified for the office of a pastor or elder. That is a different question, though it may at times be related. The Confession of Faith to which I subscribe, the 1677/89 Baptist Confession of Faith, states the following in its chapter on the church:
Although it be incumbent on the bishops or pastors of the churches to be instant in preaching the Word, by way of office; yet the work of preaching the Word, is not so peculiarly confined to them; but that others also gifted, and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it, and approved, and called by the church, may and ought to perform it. (26.11)
The texts offered as proofs are Acts 11.19-21 and 1 Peter 4.10-11, primarily proving the point that the preaching of the truth is not necessarily restricted to the elders of the church, but ought to be discharged by those gifted for and called to the work. Here the confession bears close resemblance to the Westminster Larger Catechism, which asks in Question 158, "By whom is the Word of God to be preached?" and answers, "The Word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office."

This makes plain that the questions of divine gift and equipment go alongside the issues of ecclesiastical approval and calling in the matter of preaching, but that a man might be gifted for occasional or regular preaching in a variety of circumstances without needing to meet all the qualifications set out in Scripture for the elders of the church, and may and should discharge that gift and responsibility in a responsible and appropriate fashion. In other words, street preaching, like all other preaching, should be exercised under authority and oversight and after proper evaluation of gift and grace.

Street preaching is too often the preserve of the proverbial loose cannon. It may be that the man in question is simply zealous but uninstructed, or perhaps he is a man who cannot or will not be governed, but who is not willing that his voice should not be heard (if the church will not give him a platform, he will go out and make one for himself). He sets himself up autonomously - "Me Ministries International" or "Fire on the Streets" or "The Bellowing Prophets of Doom" would be typical of this approach - and cracks on with the job, apart from or even despising any kind of church authority. But street preachers are not some kind of disavowed secret service, working beyond the fringes of the law by rules of their own making. We need to ensure that this work is exercised under government with appropriate oversight - specifically, that under all normal circumstances it is carried out by and under the auspices of a local church.

Such identification and appointment is not the same as ordination or induction, if you practice such things. It is a recognition that Christ has appointed a particular agency for the spread of the gospel in the world, and that agency is his church. Any man seeking to exercise a gift for the public proclamation of the gospel should begin by submitting himself to the care and discipline of a faithful church. That is the proper environment in which his gifts and calling can and should be assessed. If he cannot or will not do this, then he ought not to be involved in preaching anywhere, for a man cannot exercise authority until he proves that he can submit to it. Now, it is possible that in some circumstances a gifted man, called of God, might be prevented by an unfaithful church or a skewed authority from the proper exercise of his legitimate gift. I am not addressing that situation, because difficult exceptions and hard cases make poor laws. Is it possible that God should raise up a man to preach whose gift and calling is not recognised or will not be recognised? Yes. But we are speaking first of a normal, healthy situation. Note that even the apostle Paul did not go out on his journeys apart from or against the church: under the influence of the Holy Spirit, he was set apart by the church , sent out from the church, and went back to the church to report on the work that he had done.

So, the church - first and foremost - should be responsible for assessing and employing the gifts and graces of a man. At the very least, I would suggest that this requires the intelligent, engaged, consistent oversight of the elders, even if it does not demand the full and formal assent of the church. Any man who stands to preach on anything like a regular basis should give credible evidence of consistent godliness in his life. Other faithful saints - ideally recognised elders of the church - should be aware of both the matter and the manner of his ministry, and able to guide and advise as appropriate. Not least, street preachers need to be sending those stirred or converted toward the local church to be further counselled and instructed and cared for. The church should therefore identify the gifted man, pray for him, send him out, support him appropriately, hear his reports, and anticipate a blessing by his labour.

In practice, I recognise that this might involve tensions. In our experience, I sometimes work with men who are part of a more responsible parachurch organisation. The man who heads up the work is part of a local church in which his gifts have been recognised, and - fortunately - he himself has a robust view of the church. There are men from the church I serve who are involved with me in the work. Not all of them would wish to stand up and preach, but neither would we simply permit one of our men to decide autonomously that he wishes to preach, anymore than we would let him roll up into the pulpit on a whim or - under normal circumstances - than we would want one of our brothers to preach in another congregation without the involvement of both churches and their elders. We would want to encourage, assist and instruct such a man, but not simply abandon him or set him loose in the hope that he will not do too much damage. And if someone else rocked up on the street and asked to be involved, some of our first questions would be about his relationship to a faithful gospel church, because this is one of the ways in which we would determine his credibility as a gospel witness.

This brings us to the proper evaluation of gift and grace. Again, too often street preaching is seen as something apart from or even carried out despite the local church, a work that can be taken up by anyone with a bit of grit and gumption, as if zeal is the only necessary qualification for the work. Perhaps the church can give the impression that a chap might not be quite up to the pulpit in the gathered church, but that he can be safely shunted off to the street to work off his energies. I hope that - in the same way as no-one would think, "We would not want this man to be our pastor, so let's send him off to preach the gospel where Christ has not been named" - no-one will imagine that we put the less gifted or plain awkward men on the street as the place where they can cause least trouble. Identifying genuinely gifted men is the work of the whole church. If I might borrow and redirect the cogent words of the Baptist theologian, John Leadley Dagg, "Every man who believes alone, that he is called of God to the ministry, has reason to apprehend that he is under delusion. If he finds that those who give proof that they honor God and love the souls of men, do not discover his ministerial qualifications, he has reason to suspect that they do not exist" (Manual of Church Order [Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1990], 248).

The church must therefore discharge this responsibility wisely and well. In doing so, we need to remember that there are degrees of grace and varieties of gift, and in this matter I would submit to the claims of clear revelation and sanctified common-sense. The street preacher must clearly be a soundly-converted man, one who knows and feels the gospel which he proclaims, wherever he does so. There are some particular aspects of the man's spirit worth considering. Unholy aggression, pride, hot-temperedness, machismo and bravado do not serve the man here any better than they do anywhere else. The church should not suspend its assessment of basic Christian graces under the impression that they matter less on the street than any other place.

With regard to practical qualifications, not everyone who is competent to stand in the pulpit and preach for 30, 45 or 60 minutes to a gathered congregation will be equally competent to preach on the street, and not everyone who is competent to preach on the street is necessarily equipped to preach from the pulpit. Of course, we would hope that there would be genuine and significant overlap. Nevertheless, it is possible that a man with a quickfire mind, catching at the attention of the people who hurry past in the street could not sustain the lively yet more systematic structure required to keep attention and make progress in the pulpit. Similarly, the man able to develop an engaging and reasoned discourse from the pulpit might be entirely flummoxed by the give-and-take of the street environment. Some men can do both, some either, some neither. Some of this can be learned, but some will be natural, and the church should take account of this. Again, zeal and desire are important, but are not the only consideration: a man might be full of zeal to play his rugby in the front row, but if he barely reaches five feet in height and weighs in at ten stone (140 pounds, American friends) then he simply has not been equipped for the task, and zeal must give way to prudence.

We must take account of the fact that the environment and dynamics are not the same as in the gathered church, and - while that does provide some room for manoeuvre - I would not go so far as to suggest that this suspends all normal principles for the proclamation of God's Word. I say this because I have heard it suggested that, for example, because it is not the gathered church, it would be appropriate for a woman to preach or 'speak' (i.e. preach but call it something else) on the street. I would not subscribe to this because of what I believe are the spiritual dynamics involved in the authoritative proclamation and application of the Scriptures. I recognise that in Acts 1.12-14 and 2.1-4, for example, all - including the women present - were "filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak." This is in accordance with the prophecy of Joel that  "your sons and your daughters shall prophesy" (Jl 2.28) - they would all declare the saving truth, "speaking . . . the wonderful works of God" (Acts 2.11). However, quite apart from the different setting, I do not think that this act of witness necessarily involved authoritative public teaching. When the time came for that, it was Peter who stood up to make the case. So, while I am always delighted to have the sisters labouring with us in this sphere, I would not anticipate that they would be leading the teaching and preaching, though they would, I hope, be personally engaged with various people passing by, speaking with and to others the wonderful works of God.

Returning to the capacity to preach, testing the gift is always a good idea. While this might be done in measure in the Sunday School class, the pulpit, the small group, or some other similar environment, preaching on the street is sufficiently distinct in some of its dynamics that it may be that a man should be given his opportunity there as well to see whether or not he has some potential. In all this, remember that - as in any other assessment - the man in question does not need to be the finished article, nor (again) are you necessarily assessing him for the pastorate. But perhaps this is a sphere, alongside other appropriate environments, in which a gift can be nurtured and prompted, a way of developing a man's spiritual and practical capacities in ways that would not otherwise happen. It may be that, in due course, you might find yourself with a cohort of gifted, courageous, principled men, all of whom are likely to be better for the experience, and some of whom might in due course serve as pastors or function as evangelists, to the praise and glory of God and to the prosperity and good of his church.

In short, then, without confusing the capacity to preach with the call to shepherd the flock, a church with the opportunity or demand for this kind of witness - whether because there are gifts becoming manifest among the saints, or because the church and her elders see an opportunity, or some other good reason - should consider, assess and employ appropriately gifted men in the work, providing them with the kind of prayerful support that will make the most, under God, of their particular opportunities and capacities. The church should not relinquish this task to some other group or individual, nor abandon her zealous and gifted men to their best but isolated efforts. In this, as in all else, the church is responsible for the identification, nurture and employment of the gifts that Christ has given to her.