Results tagged “pastoral theology” from Reformation21 Blog

The privilege of dangerous seasons


You will doubtless have heard on a number of occasions those who bewail the present day. I admit to having limited sympathy with those who argue that we are living in the absolute worst of times. I read of the social conditions, cultural norms and spiritual battles of past days and I sometimes think, "We do not have it so bad." However, very often, those who have decided that these are the worst of days use that conclusion to drive a certain way of thinking and acting. Perhaps it is the pastor's conference where the prevailing mood is one tending to despair, where most of the older men are quick to suggest that the nation is under judgement, or some such assertion, ready to root any sense of believing anticipation out of the heart of those naive young bucks who think they have a prospect of blessing. Perhaps it is the crippling affliction of a whole congregation, maybe under the influence of a more negative spirit in the preaching, by which the diagnosis of local, national or global malaise has become an excuse to attempt and expect nothing. After all, why bother?

My gut instinct - and, I hope, my scriptural instinct - is to reject that spirit of defeatism, even where it comes from men whom I otherwise esteem and respect. And yet, it is worth bearing in mind that there are harder times and easier times. Paul wants Timothy to "know this, that in the last days perilous times will come" (2Tim 3:1). It seems that Paul means that, in the period between the first and the second and last coming of the Lord Christ, there will be seasons marked out by distinctive and heightened spiritual danger, periods of intensified spiritual combat. The apostle goes on to describe those seasons: "men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power" (2Tim 3:2-5). I would suggest that it takes no great exegete to recognise that, in the modern West, and perhaps in other particular places around the world, we seem to be heading into - if we are not already in - a perilous time.

And so Paul goes on to counsel Timothy: "Whatever you do, boy, don't try anything. The Spirit has departed and prospects are poor. Keep your head low, and don't make eye contact. Batten down the hatches, retreat behind the barricades, and hope against hope that somehow you and a few others make it through relatively unscathed. Dodge, duck, dive, and do whatever it takes to survive. Try and keep it painless. Maybe once the storm has swept over you will be able to creep out of your hole and try again. Keep face, of course! Learn to preach and pray primarily against the failings and compromises of other Christians and churches. Build up your sense of superiority on the graves of their reputations. Teach about faithfulness in the midst of trials in such as way as to allow everyone to paint their own face in the portrait. Present revival as a panacea, as something that happens to bad people out there, resolving all our difficulties without requiring faith, repentance, or Spirit-stirred activity among the saints. Press on in this way, Timothy, and perhaps I will see you on the other side."

What nonsense! I trust we are all aware that Paul spoke in rather different fashion:

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2Tim 4:1-5)

So it is quite possible that we look out and see something of a present spiritual wasteland, perhaps increasingly a spiritual battleground. We may be troubled at a perceived paucity of proven men and fear a sickly trickle of younger ones. We recognise surges in atheism, paganism, idolatry and false religion, some of it militarised. Old errors are stalking the land, and capturing many hearts. And it may in some measure, even in large measure, be true. We may shortly be living through one of the perilous times, if we are not already doing so.

But is now the time to run or hide? Can we responsibly and righteously walk away when others may be ready to walk in and make the sacrifices necessary to exalt Christ? Who will call sinners to repentance? Who will hold the line and set the standard for those who may be following? Should we interpret these as the days of small things, and so make our excuses for little faith and low expectations?

Surely a field of battle on which holding the line, let alone advancing it, is hard, is a field of honour? If our analysis is in any degree right, have we considered the privilege of being called to serve Christ in this hour? To what has he called us? "You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier" (2Tim 2:3-4). We cannot say we were not warned! In the words of Andrew Fuller, "A servant that heartily loves his master counts it a privilege to be employed by him, yea, an honour to be intrusted with any of his concerns" (Complete Works, 3:320). How much more ought we to count it a privilege and an honour to serve such a Saviour as Christ in dangerous seasons?

We must of course beware of vainglory, that casual and carnal bombast that presumes that heroism runs in our veins. It is probably still the case - it certainly has been in past conflicts - that the men who are most full of themselves on the training ground are not often (even rarely) the ones who acquit themselves well on the battleground. It may be worth remembering the words of Ahab, albeit in a different context: "Let not the one who puts on his armour boast like the one who takes it off" (1Kgs 20:11).

All the same, surely now is the time to rise to the challenge. Now is not the time to step back, but to step up. It may or may not be ours to see great advances made, but those advances might need to be weighed rather than numbered. To accomplish a little something in the darkest hours of the hardest fights may be worth as much in the grand scheme of things as to do great deeds when the enemy is already running. Brands snatched from the burning are worth risking much to save. The enemy may not start running until some of those hard stands and have been taken and those hard yards have been won. Besides, "when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do'" (Lk 17:10).

Now is the time to assess the days, count the cost, and preach the Word. We must be ready in season and out of season. It is our duty and our privilege to convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. This is part of the good fight of faith, what Spurgeon called "the greatest fight in the world." It is the hardest; it is the best; it is the most worthy, being fought for the best cause and the best Master, and offering the best reward.

Remember how Mordecai spoke to Esther as the people of God faced devastation and she began to explain her circumstances and make her excuses. He informed her bluntly that her circumstances would not save her. He assured her confidently that the Lord had not forgotten his people. He promised her soberly that cowardice might see her swept away. And he questioned her graciously, stirring her soul: "Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"

Are we living in the last days? Certainly? Is this one of the dangerous seasons? Possibly, even probably. Yet who knows whether or not this is our high privilege: that we have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.

With another year upon us, there may be a desire to make certain resolutions, or habits, to live by in the new year. Some will establish a new gym routine, others will employ a Bible reading plan, not a few will develop a financial budget replete with additional savings and a more strict spending plan, and a fraction of the population will suggest that we should not create new resolutions for 2015. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of new year's resolutions, as of late, I have been struck by something I desire to maintain in the new year, as well as in the years ahead. This idea happens to befall during this time of year--the new year. So, it is not a resolution inasmuch as it is a resurfaced revelation. It seems that it is an essential ingredient of a lasting ministry. It is basic, but I have taken it for granted. It is my health.

As I stood in the pulpit last week leading my congregation in the call to worship, confession of sin, singing, and other parts of our service, things were fine initially. When it was time to preach, however, I noticed some changes. I was sweating more than usual in an otherwise cool room. About two-thirds of the way through the sermon I began to lose my voice. "What is happening?", I thought? In response, I wiped my face with my hand as to not let the sweat be a distraction. I elevated my voice so that the people could hear me.

At the conclusion of the sermon, just moments before the sursum corda, I asked our audio/video (A/V) gentleman to turn up my microphone. I could barely be heard at my normal volume. The problem was I was sick. I had not taken care of myself enough throughout these winter months to avoid it.

After this experience, my health became more much important. As a solo pastor, there are many things I have to accomplish throughout the week. Some of those things do not require an audible conversation (e.g., sending email, other administrative duties, purchasing supplies, etc.), but many things do require my voice. I have to respond to some emergencies, which require dialogue, counseling, evangelism, family devotion, and, of course, leading worship, preaching, praying, and administering the sacraments on the Lord's Day. Being ill affects many areas of those areas, especially if the illness begins to affect one's ability to speak. 

I recall something my mother used to say while I was in the sixth grade. One cold morning, I determined that I wanted to wear a certain pair of jeans and a shirt. Those items were unsuitable for the cold weather. When I showed my mother what I was wearing, she responded, "Do you want to be cute or do you want to be warm?" I was young and nearly invincible. I was not concerned about the cold. I was more concerned about how cute I was. "Surely these clothes," I thought, "would not affect my health." It did, and years later, it seems, I may not have learned from that experience. 

I need to take care of myself. My vocation is largely dependent upon speaking. Quite frankly, other things are affected by growing ill also (e.g., intimacy with my wife, contact with my children, large group gatherings, dinner with neighbors, etc.). Interestingly, as I recall all the books on pastoral ministry I have read, few if any, mention maintaining one's health. With all the busyness of ministry, it seems like that would be one of the most important things. Or perhaps we have become practical gnostics? We are more concerned with our spiritual health than our physical health?

Something as simple as dressing appropriately throughout the year and eating healthy will help. This will not guarantee nearly perfect health, but it will be an aid. Of course physical exercise can also be a shepherd in the arena of health. Whatever my plan, I need to be more intentional in maintaining my health in 2015. How about you?

The Crucifixion of Ministry

As I prepare to gather a core group (or "launch team," depending on your perspective) for a church plant in Richmond, Virginia, I am attempting to get ahead by developing a leadership training manual. Thankfully I have many resources from other churches in NAPARC member congregations. That takes a weight off my shoulders that I do not need to reinvent the wheel.

One of the most beneficial books I have read on ministry is Andrew Purves' The Crucifixion of Ministry: Surrendering Our Ambitions to the Service of Christ. It revealed many of my self-centered ambitions in ministry while at the same time providing hope for change in Jesus Christ. If the Lord wills that I plant this church, I definitely hope to have this book on the reading list for leadership training. 

Here are some quotations from the book.

"My goal in this book is to offer a perspective on ministry and illustrate a practice that liberates ministers from the grind of feeling that 'it's all up to me.'" (11)

"The ministry of Jesus the Lord is displacing me from the throne of 'my' ministry. In truth it was never mine. We refer to our ministries as if we own them and as if they are all about us. We deeply invest in our own success, although we wrap it up in pious language to soften its prideful aspect. We wish for professional preferment and fulfillment. We enjoy the applause and warm affirmations when they come. We are human, after all." (25)

"To ministers let me say this as strongly as I can. Preach Christ, preach Christ, preach Christ. Get out of your offices and get into your studies. Quit playing office manager and program director, quit staffing committees, and even right now recommit yourselves to what you were ordained to do, namely the ministry of Word and sacraments." (44) 

"Is ministry something we do, or is ministry something Jesus does? The answer, of course, is Yes. We have a ministry, but it is a derivative. It depends in every way upon the continuing ministry of Jesus. His ministry is in the present tense. This is the good news. He is not Lord in name only, but also in act, and not only in the past act, but in the present and future act." (52)

"Ministry is not a matter of a minister working hard, preaching relevant sermons, being a super-efficient congregational administrator, attending those who are sick, downcast, grieving and lonely, all the while growing the congregation and charming the people with a winsome and attractive ability to relate warmly. Outside of abiding in Christ, we have no ministry. It matters not how full our pastoral tool bag is and how much energy we bring to the tasks of ministry. We can do nothing apart from Christ. (119).

Thomas Murphy Was Right

Every organization has its own language. Computer programming companies speak C++. Accounting firms talk in pluses and minuses. The armed forces use a unique language as well. We use words like, "head," "scuttlebutt," "grinder," "salty." The latter is particularly interesting and one that still makes an impression upon me today. The word can have a pejorative meaning, but it does not have to. Those who have been on numerous deployments, and thus are experienced, are called, "salty." It would behoove any newly minted sailor to surround himself with mature, respected, "salty" servicemen.

Similarly, as a newly minted pastor (I only have 3 years of pastoral ministry under my proverbial belt) I want to surround myself with "salty," or experienced, ministers. They have walked the walk and continue to talk the talk. They have what I need: wisdom, patience, experience.

In this instance, the wisdom and experience I require as a new pastor came from the Rev. Dr. Thomas Murphy (1823-1900). In his book, Pastoral Theology: The Pastor in the Various Duties of His Office, Murphy wrote,

"A prominent part of the pastor's work is to go from house to house and see all the families of his congregation at home... This duty of the minister is indispensable... No faithful pastor can or will neglect this work of pastoral visiting" (224).

Murphy used quite strong language (i.e., "No faithful pastor can or will neglect..."). Despite the potential offense he provides, I have found home visitations quite helpful. It adds an element of intimacy between pastor and parishioner that is not ordinarily established on Sunday. 

When I first started pastoral home visitations in my congregation, people wanted to get to know me. They, therefore, cooked for me. I quickly learned, while this was a tremendous blessing, visiting everyone in my congregation would take months if I continued in that manner. Thus, on my second and third round of pastoral home visitations, I attempted to limit my time to about 30-minutes. Sometimes it worked, other times it did not. Either way, I came away extremely blessed.

In my limited experience, Thomas Murphy was right. "This duty of the minister is indispensable." Every home I visit is a blessing for both pastor and parishioner. I am glad I had the privilege to glean from this "salty" minister. 

Hall of fame

On the plane to Glasgow yesterday I enjoyed finishing off Robert Hall Sr.'s Help to Zion's Travellers, edited by Nathan Finn (Borderstone Press, from Amazons US and UK). It is a volume developed from a sermon preached by Hall in 1779. In that sermon, Hall - as a man himself wrestling through the issues associated with a full-orbed embrace of thoroughly evangelical Calvinism - set out to identify, describe and remove the various stumbling blocks that Christians like himself might encounter on their way to the heavenly Jerusalem.

It is truly pastoral preaching. Hall's starting point is Isaiah 57.14, from which he develops his theme before addressing difficulties that arise from doctrine, difficulties arising from personal experience, and difficulties that arise from practice (often the erroneous practice of professing Christians). These are not expository sermons, in the sense that they are not simply unpacking the truth of a particular portion of Scripture, but they never stray from the substance of Scripture and never lose sight of the intention of Scripture. Though from time to time Hall shows himself a work in progress, and though some of the language of his distinctions has been superseded by different phrasing, it is rich spiritual food for the hungry or hurting soul. Even today, there are many who might profit from Hall's persistent and thorough handling of various objections and concerns. If we do not struggle with all these ourselves, those of us who preach would do well to ask ourselves whether or not we have the same pastoral sensitivity and insight, genuinely helping sinners into the way and along the way to the city above.

In one typically delightful section, dealing with the doctrine of election, Hall casts a portion of a chapter into the form of a Q&A:
Q. What hath he done?
A. "Who hath blessed us."
Q. With what hath he blessed us?
A. "With all spiritual blessings."
Q. Where are those blessings deposited?
A. "In Christ."
Q. Where may seeking souls expect to find and enjoy them?
A. "In heavenly places" (or things).
Q. According to what does he proceed in the bestowment of such special privileges: is it owing to our choice of him?
A. No; but "according as he hath chosen us in him."
Q. When?
A. "Before the foundation of the world."
Q. But did he choose us because we were holy, or because he foresaw we should be so?
A. No; but "that we should be holy."
Q. Did he then intend that all such should be made completely holy?
A. Yes, and "without blame before him in love."
Q. And is everything aforesaid completely secured?
A. Yes, "having predestinated us."
Q. Predestinated to what?
A. "Unto the adoption of children."
Q. By, and to whom?
A. "By Jesus Christ himself."
Q. What is the source of such favours, or from whence do they flow?
A. "The good pleasure of his will."
Q. In what does the whole terminate, or to what does it lead?
A. "To the praise of the glory of his grace."
I am not saying that everyone can or should preach like Hall, but perusing a volume like this challenges us as to whether or not we are doing more than imparting knowledge to men: are we equipping and guiding them, feeding and helping them, genuinely shepherding them by means of the Word preached so that they might travel safely and healthily along the pilgrim path?

In case of emergency?

You may well have heard the horror stories about people who overlooked a small lump or growth somewhere on their body, and who kept overlooking it, sometimes ignorantly, but sometimes wilfully, wishing it would just go away, finally heading to see a doctor when the mass had developed to a dangerous degree, only discovering the precise nature, degree and extent of the danger when the best options for dealing with it were largely in the past.

If we believe that there is some developing health problem, is it not the course of wisdom to obtain medical advice before it becomes an immediately life-threatening condition? Would you rather take your car to a mechanic because your brakes have started to stick or slide on occasion, or would you prefer to deal with the aftermath of a terrible accident because your faulty brakes, long ignored, finally failed?

Yet when it comes to our spiritual health and function we often allow problems to fester, developing and worsening over time until the matter becomes critical. Too many believers only go to their pastors when the tumours of sinful behaviour require radical surgery, high spiritual risks, hours of post-operative care, and limited likelihood of complete subsequent health. Many Christians call their overseers to say that there is a car-crash in a relationship or situation when they might have got their brakes checked weeks or months before, and all might have been put quickly and easily right.

To be sure, there are some problems which - by their very nature - cannot be easily identified in the early stages. There are some crises which arise without any warning: a car with perfectly good brakes can hit an unanticipated oil patch on an otherwise safe road. Under such circumstances no faithful pastor will complain of an urgent demand, but be willing and ready to respond to the genuine emergency. Furthermore, those who are overseers of the flock might use such opportunities as the regular pastoral visit to perform or provide a sort of spiritual health-check, a periodic medical of the soul in which those under our care are given the opportunity to bring up nascent spiritual health concerns, while we have the opportunity to do a little gentle probing and checking to ensure that the sheep are substantially healthy (and still the looming wrecks can go unpredicted).

But might I encourage you not simply to wait until everything seems broken before asking your pastors to fix it? Do not treat them like an emergency service who respond only when all other hope is almost or entirely gone, like Nebuchadnezzar turning to Daniel for counsel when the doom against his proud spirit was already looming on the horizon (Dan 4.27). Come to them early. Come when the first signs of trouble and difficulty are brewing. No faithful man of God will resent the opportunity to offer appropriate and necessary care for the flock of God as and when the need arises. Please do not reserve your approach to your pastors for cases of emergency.

Review: "Pastors in the Classics"

Pastors in the Classics: Timeless Lessons on Life and Ministry from World Literature
Leland Ryken, Philip Ryken & Todd Wilson
Baker Books, 2012, 192pp., paperback, $16.99
ISBN 978-0-8010-7197-3

This is an odd book. It is not a bad book, but it is hard to categorise. Divided into two parts, the first consists of twelve fairly detailed considerations of literary representations of pastoral ministry, drawn from a reasonably wide sweep. The second contains 58 précis of other such representations. It is difficult to gauge for whom and for what this book exists: from the blurb and endorsements one is clearly meant to come to the book as a pastor and here find prompts to profound self-awareness together with penetrating insights into the pastoral calling. Frankly, this was not my experience. For Christians (not least pastors) with a literary bent it might provide an interesting reading list or a stimulus for study and discussion. However, as a means of getting to grips with the challenges, demands and struggles of pastoral ministry, I think that there are far better lessons to be drawn from life than art: this is one area where reality trumps realism. I am not suggesting that this is a worthless book, but I think it will sit more readily in the literary theory than the pastoral theology section of the library.

Review: "The Public Ministry of Christ"

The Public Ministry of Christ
William G. Blaikie

This volume, first published in 1883, bridges the disciplines of Christology and pastoral theology, and its author will need no commendation to those who value Scriptural studies that blend scholarship and devotion. Blaikie's contention, argued in the opening chapter, is that it was a deliberate intention of Christ to teach and leave an example for his disciples, and that gospel ministers are not only able but obligated to follow that example as far as gift and grace permits.

This established, we then begin to unpack the elements of our Lord's public ministry. We begin with the preparation for his ministry, in which - to develop the one as a sample of the whole - Blaikie considers the purposes of God in making Nazareth the scene of development, with its relative isolation and solitude, together with the discipline of subjection (to the will of his heavenly Father, lawful human authority in the form of his parents, and the requirements of his official position as our representative) under which the Lord Jesus came. The thirty years give way to forty days in which that cultivated spirit of obedience is tested, with comparisons to and lessons for men who seek to follow Christ's example. Such thoughtfulness and meditation might make many ministers pause and ponder again the circumstances of our own preparation for the ministry, even though we must be careful not to presume upon definitive interpretations of providence.

Blaikie then moves on through the inner spirit of Christ's ministry in which he considers his entire consecration to his work, a then a section contemplating the outer features of Christ's ministry in its Judean, Galilean and post-transfiguration phases, with their general tenor and specific concerns. Christ's labour as a teacher then comes to the fore, and this is developed at some length, with a careful consideration first of its essential qualities, careful structures and striking illustrations. Our guide then consider the parables and some of Christ's longer public discourses and his more private investment in his disciples over the period of his public ministry. A different tack then develops as Blaikie looks at our Lord's dealings with those outside, on the borders of, and within the kingdom. All of these elements are considered in themselves and carefully explained and applied in their relevance to those who walk in the Master's footsteps.

Blaikie closes by considering Christ's last acts toward, words addressed to and prayers for various classes of men, closing with his post-resurrection appearances, in which, for example, emphasis is thrown on the prominence which Christ gives to his sufferings:
In the centre of the solar system, the sun occupies the best position for influencing every planet, but his rays go forth quite readily to the furthest outskirts of the system. "Christ crucified" in the centre of the Gospel firmament, is fitted to irradiate the whole sphere of moral and spiritual truth, and increase the power of every motive, and elevate the aim of every project that seeks to advance the true welfare of man. (339)
Neither does Blaikie lose sight of the very obvious fact that in these interviews the Lord was giving explicit direction to the disciples for the establishment and extension of his visible kingdom on earth, assuring us in his own final words that
If only we would take up the posture of servants, executing the designs of a heavenly Master, relying on the grace of His Holy Spirit, and giving ourselves soul, body, and spirit to His work, results not inferior to theirs [i.e. the disciples] would crown our labours, and of our work as of theirs it would be written, -  "So mightily grew the word of the Lord, and prevailed." (346-7).
In my limited experience I have yet to come across another volume with the distinctive blend and tone of Blaikie's study of the Lord Jesus' public ministry. On one level it would be valuable for anyone studying the life of the Lord and seeking to obtain insights into his labours; when to that is added the deliberate attempt to draw appropriate lessons for the followers and proclaimers of a crucified Christ, another layer is added. In this regard there is a particular freshness as Blaikie gives practical lessons concerning both character and conduct, blending insights into the disposition of Christ in his work and the work itself. The sections on teaching are very different from some of the "how-to" homiletical helps of the present day, focusing on illustrative principles rather than mechanical practices (though see also the same author's For the Work of the Ministry []). For younger men wishing to grasp more of what it means to follow Christ in their own roles as under-shepherding preacher and teacher, this would be a provocatively different and thoroughly engaging source of instruction. For older ministers, a work like this might serve as a glass of cold water, a tonic to refresh and revitalize, stimulating new perspectives on their service for the Lord. To either group, and others besides, the benefit of a book so thoroughly focused upon and breathing the Spirit of the person and work of Christ Jesus would be no small blessing in itself, as filling our eyes and our hearts with delightful views of his character and purposes.

[Readers might also wish to consult, as a companion volume dealing with different themes to different ends, but equally profitable, Blaikie's Glimpses of the Inner Life of our Lord.]

Preaching Christ

A last snippet, for now, from Thomas Foxcroft's The Gospel Ministry once more, fairly early on in his sermon, exhorting himself and other ministers to preach Jesus in every sense:
Ministers then must study to feed their flocks with a continual feast on the glorious fullness there is in Christ; they must gather fruits from the branch of righteousness, from the tree of life for those who hunger, not feeding them with the meat which perishes, but with that which endures to everlasting life. They must open this fountain of living waters, the great mystery of godliness, into which all the doctrines of the gospel that are branched forth into so great a variety do, as so many rivulets or streams making glad the city of God, flow and concenter.

They must endeavor to set forth Christ in the dignity of His Person, as the brightness of His Father's glory, God manifest in the flesh; in the reality, necessity, nature, and exercise of His threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King, in both His state of humiliation and exaltation; in the glorious benefits of His redemption, the justification of them who believe, the adoption of sons, sanctification, and an inheritance that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for the saints; in the wonderful methods and means in and by which we are called into the fellowship of the Son our Lord, and made partakers of the redemption by Christ; in the nature, and significance, the excellency and worth, of all the ordinances and institutions of Christ, with the obligations on all to attend upon them.

Whatever subject ministers are upon, it must somehow point to Christ. All sin must be witnessed against and preached down as opposed to the holy nature, the wise and gracious designs, and the just government of Christ. So all duty must be persuaded to and preached up with due regard unto Christ; to His authority commanding and to His Spirit of grace assisting, as well as to the merit of His blood commending - and this to dash the vain presumption that decoys so many into ruin, who will securely hang the weight of their hopes upon the horns of the altar without paying expected homage to the scepter of Christ. All the arrows of sharp rebuke are to be steeped in the blood of Christ; and this to prevent those desponding fears and frights of guilt which sometimes awfully work to a fatal issue. Dark and ignorant sinners are to be directed to Christ as the Sun of righteousness; convinced sinners are to be led to Christ as the Great Atonement and the only City of Refuge. Christ is to be lifted up on high for the wounded in spirit to look to, as the bitten Israelites looked to the brazen serpent of old. The sick, the lame, and the diseased are to be carried to Christ as the great Physician, the Lord our Healer; the disconsolate and timorous are to be guided to Christ as the Consolation of Israel, and in us the hope of glory. Every comfort administered is to be sweetened with pure water from this Well of salvation, which only can quench the fiery darts of the evil one. The promises of the gospel are to be applied as being in Christ "yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us" (2 Cor. 1:20). So the threatenings of the law are to light and flash in the eyes of sinners as the terrors of the Lord and sparks of the holy resentment of an incensed Savior, which hover now over the children of disobedience and will one day unite and fall heavy upon them. The love of Christ for us is to be held forth as the great constraining motive to religion, and the life of Christ as the bright, engaging pattern of it. Progress and increase in holiness are to be represented under the notion of abiding in Christ and growing up into Him who is the Head, even Christ. Perfection in grace is the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, and eternal life is a being forever with the Lord where He is, beholding His glory and dwelling in our Master's joy.

Thus, in imitation of the apostolic way of preaching, there must be a beautiful texture of references to Christ, a golden thread twisted into every discourse to leaven and perfume it so as to make it express a savor of the knowledge of Christ. Thus every mite cast into the treasure of the temple must bear this inscription upon it which was once the humble language of a pious martyr in the flames, "None but Christ, none but Christ," so that everyone, beholding in the Word preached as in a glass the glory of the Lord, may be changed into the same image, from glory to glory.

The gospel ministry

The following quote is from Benjamin Wadsworth's introduction to The Gospel Ministry by Thomas Foxcroft:
The right performance of this work [of gospel ministry] is attended with many and great difficulties, partly from the various, frequent, furious assaults of Satan; partly from the lusts of men, variously discouraging or opposing it; and partly from the weaknesses and remaining corruptions of even the best of those who engage in it. Yet it is a work that is very honorable in itself, and of vast weight and importance. It must be thought so if we rightly consider that it is the infinitely great, glorious, holy and heart-searching God who (in His providence) calls and commissions men to this work; that the main scope of the work is to batter down Satan's kingdom, to pull down the strongholds of lust in the hearts of men, to promote the glory of divine grace through Christ in saving men's precious, immortal souls, one of which is more worth than a world; and that those who engage in this work must give a strict account of their management to that God who employs them, who can't be deceived and won't be mocked, and who will require at their hands the blood of those souls who perish through their neglect, as well as graciously and abundantly reward them if they are faithful.
What fearful and wonderful labour this is! Does the weight of your work press upon you, in the best and right sense? May God spare us from making shipwreck of our own faith, and being mere sirens to call other men on to the rocks of eternal destruction, and may we prove faithful and fruitful in the discharge of all our duties.

Pastoral courage

As promised, a first snippet from Thomas Foxcroft, who advises us as to the correct and necessary balance and relationship between public and private ministerial responsibility. He gives this specific counsel:
Private inspection or pastoral visitation is of necessity to the same purpose as the public administrations. Hence we have ministers described in Song of Solomon 3:3 as watchmen who go about the city; and it is observable what follows: They "found me," says the spouse. They found her, not she them, plainly intimating that the ministers of the gospel must diligently seek out and look up the wandering and the straying, and maintain a watchful inspection over their flocks, even as the Good Shepherd looks after His sheep, going about and taking particular notice of all. The husbandman walks about in his garden and fields to observe the growth and decay of things, and makes all needful and suitable applications. So ministers must arm themselves with a becoming courage and resolution, and shake off that false modesty, that tame and vicious dread of offending men, which too often wretchedly prevails to the entire omission or sorry performance of this necessary and important duty; and apply themselves with all fidelity and holy boldness hereunto. But they must take heed to manage all with utmost prudent caution and discretion, careful not to use the instruments of a foolish shepherd, but in all points to concert such measures and improve such means as are best adapted to answer the end, so that their work may succeed.

Thomas Foxcroft, The Gospel Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Soli Deo Gloria, 2008), 40-41.

Review: "The Gospel Ministry"

The Gospel Ministry
Thomas Foxcroft
Soli Deo Gloria (RHB), 87pp, hbk
ISBN 978-1-56769-061-3

This unusual but highly profitable little volume is a preacher's own ordination sermon. It was preached in 1717 by Thomas Foxcroft as he set out to demonstrate to the congregation which he was to serve the minister that he ought to be, to impress upon himself and others the standard which he ought to be pursuing and which the church ought to be demanding.

Taking Colossians 1.28 as his starting point - though ranging far and wide through the Scriptures - Foxcroft sets out four key doctrines: that Christ is the one grand subject which the ministers of the gospel should mainly insist upon in their preaching; that the ministers of the gospel need to be very wise and prudent in all their administrations; that laborious diligence, fervour, and indefatigable application should be the character of every gospel minister; and that, in all their ministerial labours, pastors should make the conversion and edification of men in Christ their governing view and sovereign aim.

Even taking into account that this portrait of a pastor takes a few minutes to delineate and a lifetime to cultivate, happy indeed the congregation whose young preacher set out this model at the beginning of his ministry as his goal, in dependence on God's Spirit!

The book is full of that earnest, earthy pastoral theology that is so much bypassed in our day. It is written by a man who intends to know, love and serve Christ's people with a Christlike spirit and through a Christ-soaked ministry. There are high points of insight and fervour throughout the work (look out for a couple of nuggets in coming days), and a thoroughly evangelical tone permeates the whole. The author determines to put Christ at the centre of his work by putting him at the centre of his life. Christ is not only the topic of the minister, but the source of all his power. The congregation is enjoined to earnest prayer for those who seek so to serve them.

Pastors will find this a short, sharp shock, and yet also eminently sweet: a powerful, brief reminder of what we are about, of whom we serve and how we serve. The teaching is mainly positive, and so the rebukes are incidental, and yet they hit home as we see how far short we fall of the standard of diligent godliness and sincere and outworked care that the Scriptures establish. At the same time, there is encouragement, both with regard to the first things of pastoral ministry and its development over time, with instruction along the way.

Congregations will also find here an outline of the kind of ministry that they should pursue and expect. The standard is not impossibly high, but the goal is distinct and the flavour clear. Not only will this book be helpful in that respect, but it is also a call to intelligent prayer for the gospel ministers who already serve the churches, and for more men of this stamp to be raised up and thrust out by the Lord of the harvest.

Review: "Lectures to my Students"

Lectures to my Students
C. H. Spurgeon
Various publishers and editions

Every Friday afternoon Charles Spurgeon would head down to the Pastors' College - of all the institutions in which he was involved, the one that was perhaps dearest to his great heart - and attempt to put an edge and a point on the blades that had been tempered in the fires of the college forges all the week long. This is not the place to discuss the peculiar features and particular excellences of Spurgeon's plan for pastoral training, but it shows Spurgeon's sensitivity to the needs of his students that those Friday afternoons found him at his most deliberately engaging and his most transparently personal as he sought to put a little fire in their bellies before the Lord's day.

It is at this point that many current scholars will, perhaps, huff about a Baptist pietist, even a mere activist or enthusiast, given to taking gross liberties with the text - a genius, we grudgingly admit, but a fairly vulgar and far from polished tool in the Master's hands, and not quite the thing as far as exposition is concerned. Others will give you Spurgeon re-made in the image of Stout's Whitefield, a great advertiser and a pulpit actor of the first water, perhaps even a man who ought to be appreciated as an early model for the megachurch pastor. Please ignore such flawed assertions and myopic perspectives; pick up this book and read it for itself.

The full version of this volume (which is heartily recommended) is divided into four sections, the last of which (though the second in the original publishing sequence) is Spurgeon's infamous Commenting & Commentaries (which is where most of the reprinted commentaries with Spurgeon's endorsement find their - often, it must be said, selective - phrases of commendation). Our primary interest is in the first three sections of the full collection.

Of these, the first two seem to be constructed without the intention of progress that is apparent in many others of the older pastoral theologies. So, for example, Spurgeon plunges into his material with four chapters on 'The Minister's Self-Watch,' 'The Call to the Ministry,' 'The Preacher's Private Prayer' and 'Our Public Prayer.' And yet, as we begin to jump from topic to topic, we find each one not so much following on from the last as setting out another anchor point. In this way, as we proceed we find our souls both stretched in various directions and, at the same time, firmly held within a developing web of healthy principles and practices that give us a measure of establishment with the aim of stable development and genuine ministerial usefulness.

Most of the time, each element is essentially self-contained, although some topics do break over two or more chapters (the main exception is the third section, of which more below). Each chapter is fairly brief, and marked by typically Spurgeonic arrangements of the material, with thoughtful and engaging headings guiding us progressively through the matter at hand. The style is homely, full of quotations broadly drawn from various authors, marked by humour and practical insight. These 'lectures' very quickly turn into sermons - you can almost feel the momentum building in some of them - and so illustrate the very craft they are intended to illuminate. Each is generally marked by holy wit and sanctified common sense.

There are several specific blessings and some particular challenges from reading Spurgeon on pastoral ministry. One blessing is that these chapters are never mere 'how to' guides. To be sure, they are always practical, but they are never merely a set of mechanical rules for this and for that - for sermon construction, for prayer, and so on. Such technical discussions have their value, but Spurgeon does not so much give you a classroom discourse on the nature and excellence of the instrument as get the machine going and take you into the field to use it.

Again, our author covers topics not always covered elsewhere, and rarely with the kind of knockabout pungency found here. He speaks to us about getting the attention of our congregation, about the minister's fainting fits (if you have never had one, read this before you do - it will save you much grief), on choosing a text, on open-air preaching, on the voice, on posture and gesture. Such material digs up the heart and prompts careful reflection about the ways and the means in which we invest our pastoral energies and the manner in which we employ the tools and opportunities we have been given. Spurgeon will nudge you into rooms of experience you might never have visited and open windows for you to look out on views you might never have contemplated.

Furthermore, Spurgeon is always stimulating, even when provocative or plain misguided. For example, his chapter 'On Spiritualizing' is perhaps the one which is invariably singled out as worthy of being dismissed. I honestly wonder if some who speak so quickly have read perhaps a couple of his more extravagant sermons (remembering that, even if you cannot follow him in everything, he usually takes pains to demonstrate a proper understanding of almost every text he treats, albeit sometimes followed by a phrase like, "However, this morning we are going to take our text as . . .") and presumed that they know what is coming. However, the first third of the chapter is on abuses of the principle. Only then does he turn to the types, metaphors, allegories of Scripture, with further thoughts on generalizing universal principles, preaching on parables and miracles, before some further cautions on the kind of men who can employ such an approach wisely, and those who cannot, the whole illustrated with some judicious quotations and thoughtful comments. I am not saying that I can follow everywhere Spurgeon leads here, but he will make you ask yourself whether or not you have made the Scriptures too much of a dry stick and wrung out a little more sap than you might have intended.

The material on illustration - the entire third section - is worth a mention in its own right. Are you weary of those sermons and commentaries which open each chapter with some strained connection to some situation or event in the real world, or which offer the example of "Algernon (not his real name), a basket-weaver from Clapham, raised by wolves and incapable of eating vegetables," only to have Algy's case fully resolved by the close of the chapter by the penetrating insights and applications of our preacher/author? Spurgeon will help you think through the purpose, value, collections, selection and employment of illustrations, helping us to really enliven our sermons and put hooks in the ears of those who hear us.

I would not wish to ignore the spirit of consecration that pervades the whole. There is nothing here that is dry or dull, but it is all carried along by a man who demonstrates the very earnestness he encourages, characterised by a burning desire to see God glorified in salvation, in the fullest sense of the word. You are never allowed the sense that these are treasures for mere display; each is a tool for use in the great business of seeking and saving the lost in the declaration of the gospel. Overall, the volume is marked by a concern for character as well as capacity, for substance rather than style, for spirit as well as form in service to aim.

But there are a few notes of caution which ought to be sounded. Perhaps first and foremost is the fact that Spurgeon often forgets that you are not Spurgeon. This can be the case even when he is making allowances for us. For example, in the chapter on choosing your text he acknowledges that his strength comes from variety rather than profundity, and that he could not announce a series on a topic or sustain one on a book if you paid him to do so. However, there are few others who would feel well able to wait until Saturday evening before thinking of their morning sermon, or Sunday afternoon before sitting down to prepare for the evening, which was effectively what Spurgeon ended up doing, and pretty much where he sends you.

This then bleeds into a tendency to absolutism at certain times (a tendency by no means confined to Spurgeon's pastoral theology) and to make a general principle from a personal preference or habit. For example, Spurgeon says here that unless you already have conversions to show for your labours, you are not called to the ministry. Had he lived at another time, or in another place, he might have been a little more wary or balanced, or spoken more generally of fruitfulness. The same applies to some of the comments about text selection and the like.

The volume is, as it must be, of its time. Some of the comments, asides and applications will need to be adapted (for example, the kind of pulpit cant against which Spurgeon rails is just as current, although it finds slightly different forms and environments today). However, we do this with anything else from another time and place, and it should prove no great difficulty for the wise.

Finally, in this regard, we have mentioned already that there are some topics which you will have to wrestle with. You are not obliged to agree with everything that even a Spurgeon says, but you will need good and sound reasons to disagree, and may even find your own perspective improved and enriched even if not fundamentally altered by the process.

So, let me urge you, if you have not already done so (and even if you have), to get to grips (perhaps, again) with Spurgeon's Lectures to my Students. To open the pages is to walk into a family gathering, and to listen to a spiritual father among his labouring sons, an older pastor among his younger brothers. It will not be long, I hope, before you are made to feel thoroughly at home, and - listening in to that rich voice from a warm and full heart - start to obtain a blessing.

Face to face

In an attempt to serve my generation by the will of God (Acts 13.36), I make a careful but concerted effort (believe it or not) to employ technology - including social media - wisely and well. I was recently struck by Al Mohler's statement that "if you don't engage social media in a responsible and credible way, for anyone under 29, you don't exist." I am inclined to think that a slight overstatement, or at least not a necessary truth, but I would not deny the principle behind it. Even though the church which I serve contains a wide range in terms of the use of the technology, my use of it can serve a purpose.

One of the tools that I have found most useful in this regard is my smartphone. In a day and age in which pastors are not naturally confined to a particular town or village in which everyone or everything within his sphere lies within walking distance, it enables me to make efficient and profitable use of my time when travelling, making calls and sending texts for encouragement, information, and so on. Also, being able to send out an email to the whole church, or to particular groups within it, makes certain communications easier and more efficient. Making quick arrangements by text can be a boon. A few words over the phone can be a great means of maintaining pastoral contact and lifting up a fainting heart. Skype can be a blessing in keeping in more personal contact with distant friends. Against my native instinct and inclination, for I am by no means an early adopter, and the contrarian in me likes to avoid whatever seems popular, I have even become a full-orbed TwitFace, joining the ranks both of Twitter and Facebook (where, though still very much a learner, in a spirit of enterprise, I naturally invite you to join me). I know that several of the church members follow this and my other blog (to which, if inclined, you can also subscribe), and some do the facey-twittery thing, but a lot of these labours fall outside the local church.

But the reach of Twitter and Facebook and such tools is often fairly indiscriminate. Admittedly, the targeted communications of personal messages, texts, emails and calls are no bad ways of doing some of the slightly more intimate business of pastoral ministry. However, no under-shepherd should ever forget the pastoral instincts of the Apostle John. Admittedly, John did not have quite the range of communication options available to him that we did, but - and here is, I think, a necessary truth - he recognised the relative value of written, more distant communications and of spoken, more immediate communications:
"Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full" (2Jn 12).

"I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink; but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face" (3Jn 13-14).
This is what gives the lie to those who think that they are above personal visits and face to face conversations, the men who will be there for you when you are ready for the bodybag but not before. If the Apostle John, commissioned by Christ to have a foundational responsibility in and overarching oversight for his infant church, can have a heart to look men in the eye and speak into their ear, an awareness of the value of face to face communication, and a readiness to invest not just in a written message but in a journey for the purpose of enhancing the joy of the saints, then so can you.

Let us never underestimate the blessing of speaking face to face. To be sure, there is an escalating scale - there are times when a brief email or text will do, when it is merely a matter of data to be passed on, when a generic statement (for which, if necessary, read aimless platitude) or unfocused update (for which, if necessary, read narcissistic reference) is sufficient, even more than enough. There are occasions when - since you cannot be present in person - you try to develop all the possible dynamics of personal interaction by means of something like a video-call. However, there are times when these things are not sufficient, when the pastor needs to look into the eyes of the sheep, needs to pour words of healing, advice, encouragement, or rebuke into their ears, needs to deal with someone face to face, times when the presence of the person adds all the warmth and nuance to the communication that the absence of that person will undermine, sometimes fatally. It is one of the reasons why Christ longs to be with his church bodily, and the church longs to be with Christ.

We still hear a fair amount about incarnational ministry. Unfortunately, it too often refers to choosing the right T-shirt, identifying the right body piercing, listening to the right music, and so on. It too rarely refers to a readiness to put down your phone, pod, pad or whatever else you might be using, and give your undistracted attention as a physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual presence to the person or people who need it. That is what a pastor does.

From father to son

Despite the temptation to rise to Dr Trueman's bait - I can only assume that the man who wrote a book called Histories and Fallacies had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he whiffled out that tosh about Baptists "executing Dutch nudists," otherwise one wonders precisely how reliable is the historical-theological instruction being offered in seminaries these days . . . but more of that anon - I offer something of what I hope is greater substance. I am working on a piece on Matthew Henry, born 350 years ago this year, and came across some gems of advice from his father, Philip Henry. I pass them on in turn, hoping that they profit others, and that Dr Trueman appreciates my readiness to "follow peace and holiness," even with him.

From a pious aged father to his son a minister newly married

Dear Pair, whom God hath now of two made One
Suffer a Father's exhortation.
In the first Place see that with joynt indeavour -
You set yourselves to serve the Lord together,
You are yoakt to work but for work Wages write,
His Yoak is easie, & his burden light,
Love one another, Pray oft together, and see,
You never both together Angry bee -
If one speak fire t'other with water come,
Is one provok'd be tother soft or dumb -
Walk low, but aim high, spotless be your life
You are a Minister, and a Minister's Wife
Therefore as Beacons set upon a Hill -
To angels and to men a spectacle -
Your slips will falls be calld, your falls each one
Will be a blemish to Religion -
Do good to all, bee affable and meek
Your converse must be Preaching all the week -
Your Garb and Dress must not be vain or Gay,
Reckon good works your richest, best array -
Your House must be a Bethel, and your Door
Always stand open to receive the Poor
Call your estate God's, not your own, ingrave
Holiness to the Lord on all you have
Count upon suffering, or you count amis,
Sufficient to each day its evil is,
All are born once to trouble, but saints twice,
And as experience shews Min[iste]rs thrice,
But if you suffer with and for your Lord,
You'l reign with him according to his Word.

M . H. Lee, Diaries and Letters of Philip Henry (London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1882),  359-60, quoted in Allan Harman, Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2012)

Incidentally, Philip Henry, from his deathbed, gave Matthew further advice in response to his son's request, "Oh, sir, pray for me that I may but tread in your steps." Philip replied, "Yea, follow peace and holiness, and let them say what they will."

A Question of Character (7)

In our final installment of this series, we will look at Paul's final qualification for us to think about when selecting elders. The Apostle's last instruction has to do not with what the church thinks of the man, but what those outside the church think of the man.

Why would it be important for those outside to think well of a Gospel minister or elder? After all, more than any other profession perhaps, ministers are derided, looked down upon, and generally disdained by those who are not Christians. Much of this simply comes because those outside hate the Lord of the Gospel the man preaches. So is Paul commanding the impossible here?

I don't think so. In fact, this qualification in verse 7 may be one of the most important. If we think about what Paul is saying, it makes perfect sense. As Paul is giving general instructions to Timothy here, I think the general principle is this: a minister's life ought to be exemplary not only to those inside the church but those looking in, so to speak. The argument, again, is simple: if those without cannot see Christ in an office-bearer's life, then he is not fit to lead those within the household of God.

One thing to note off the bat: if the man meets the prior qualifications, this last one will come naturally. If he is temperate, self-controlled, not greedy, a good household manager and a mature and maturing Christian, he will immediately stand out from the world. So, I think that is one reason why Paul places this stipulation last: it naturally follows from what comes before. But let us not make the mistake that we need to lessen our attention for that reason. We are a dull people, in need of constant reminders.

It is tautological to say that this qualification that the Apostle lays down here remains unmet by so many today. So large is their number, it would be a waste of time to chronicle here the ministers in just the past few years who have incurred the wrath of those outside the church. From scandals involving young men and drugs, to greed that would make an Enron executive blush, the church in our land is beset by wolves in sheep's clothing who have devoured their own flocks, while staining the church's reputation on a national and even international stage. 

But what about closer to home? As ministers and elders, what do our neighbors think of us? Our other family members? Our friends? Do we adorn our profession of the Gospel or do we bring Christ into ill repute by our ways? I know firsthand some of my own blunders in these areas. My skin crawls even now when I think about some of my public conduct that brought shame upon Christ's glorious name. Have you repented, pastor, of making those outside think less of Christ by your words, actions, or attitudes?

Interestingly, as with the preceding verse, Paul attaches a warning here, perhaps two. The first warning tells us that a man who does not have a good reputation with those outside will fall into disgrace. Haven't all of us known an elder who is well known as a cheat at the workplace, a poor husband and father, unspiritual, and undiscerning? What do unbelievers think of such a one? They mock him. They see him as one more weapon in an already overstocked arsenal with which to assault Christ's church.

The second warning is similar to the warning of verse 6. The man who does not have holy and righteous character, leading to a good reputation with those outside, not only falls into disgrace but the devil's snare. We must never forget that Satan rejoices when unbelievers hold the leaders of Christ's church in contempt. If he can bring down the generals, what will become of the foot soldiers? 

The importance of the Apostle's command was brought home to me early in my Christian life. I was in my early 20's and was at a Christian men's conference with some friends from church. I remember one of the leaders relaying a story about when he was at the same men's conference a few years earlier. My friend asked the clerk at the desk of the hotel where most of the attendees were staying if the clerk would like a free pass to the conference. The clerk replied that he would not, in fact, like a free pass. When my friend asked why, the clerk replied that there were more pornographic movies ordered on the weekend of this men's conference than at any time previous. This clerk was disgusted by such behavior and rightly so. He simply couldn't take the conference seriously. The men who ordered pornography fell into disgrace, into the snare of the devil.

This story illustrates what must be the case for all Christians, but especially elders: we must be those who are the same when people are watching as when they are not watching. Most importantly, we must never forget we live always before the face of our God, before whom "no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Heb 4:13).  What a sobering thought!

A couple of applications come to mind. First, if you are a minister or elder, do you keep careful watch over your conduct at work, in the neighborhood, at the grocery store? Is your conduct above reproach (1 Tim 3:2)? If one of your church members should come by your workplace, would your conduct there match what you are like on the Lord's Day or Session meetings?

Second, there is extraordinarily good news. Are you discouraged by the above? If you've read this series and you are a minister or elder, I am sure you are like me - overwhelmed and terrified. But take heart. The amazing thing is that we do this ministry in union with the resurrected Christ, as Philip Ryken once said. We are those who have been crucified with him and resurrected with him, to walk in newness of life (cf. Romans 6:4). 

If we walk daily with Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit will produce his fruit in us. We will begin to be those who are self-controlled, temperate, and who have a good reputation with those without. If I could put it this way, most of what the Apostle commands us here in 1 Timothy 3 will be, in a word, a byproduct of the Spirit's ministry in us. 

If we are office-bearers, we must be those who know Jesus Christ intimately. We should know his tender mercy, his lovingkindness, his amazing grace, and his care for us. As we know this more and more, these character qualities will simply burst forth in resurrection glory - a foretaste of the age to come right now. What a blessing this will be to our churches when this happens!

So let us strive after holiness. But let us not strive after these things simply to be good officers. Rather, let us simply be exemplary Christians because we've been so close to our Savior that that which Paul commands flows naturally. Let us be those whom others can look up to without so much of a trace of postmodern cynicism, so typical of those outside the covenant of grace when they behold church leaders. And let us earnestly pray with Augustine: "Oh Lord, command what you will and give what you command."

A Question of Character (5)

After reading Dr. Trueman's and Pastor Walker's posts on this topic, the reader will permit me a fair amount of reticence to post on 1 Timothy 3:4-5. My colleagues' thoughts have been very convicting to my own rather green pastoral conscience, so I write with a good bit of trepidation!

It is perhaps nowhere more evident than in an elder's home the true spiritual temperature of the man in the office. Is he outwardly charismatic, always ready to listen to a needy congregant, at every single event for every single child of the church, never misses a meeting of any committee, and willing to lead multiple Bible studies, prayer groups, etc.? Go to his home. What do you find there? Is his wife sullen, distant, or "putting on a front"? Are his children estranged from him and bitter about the church? The pulpit and a man's public ministry often hide many sins the confines of his home exposes.

Here,in 1 Timothy 3:4-5, the Apostle directs our attention to the governance of the man's home. In verse 4, he writes: "He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive." Since we are focused on the character of a Christian minister in this series, I want to make a few observations on this verse as it relates to the character of a minister in his home.

First, Paul calls upon ministers to manage their homes well. The man is the primary nurturer and discipler in the home. He is not simply to delegate childrearing responsibilities to his wife and then forget about them. Rather, he is to patiently and calmly oversee the affairs of his home, from finances to discipline. First and foremost, the minister must be a shepherd and overseer of the little flock entrusted to him in his home.

Second, Paul calls upon ministers to make sure their children are submissive, with all dignity. Without entering into the thorny details of the debate, I do not think that Paul here, or in Titus 1:6, is teaching that ministers who have unconverted covenant children are disqualified for the office. Rather, I think he is calling upon the minister to be an example of true Christian parenting in his home.

This means the minister's home should be one where the children are disciplined according to the word of God. This is patient, wise, and caring discipline. The minister will not spare the rod but he will never use it in anger. He will model for his flock godly parenting, in short.

The minister's home should also show forth the daily joys of parenting. He should regularly gather his little flock for family worship. He must catechize his children. He should pray with them every day. He should speak frequently about God's wonderful works in creation and redemption. And he should see that his children are constantly trained to see all of life through the lens of Christ. And while he will not seek a "crisis conversion" experience for his children, he will not neglect to pray for and look for the fruit from children who have owned the precious and amazing covenant promises of God for themselves. 

How many ministers have been hindered in Gospel effectiveness because of unwise home management? How many wives and children despise the church and her Lord because of such unwise management? I fear the answer to both questions is: "Many." But there is hope. I remember a man whose ministry I greatly admire relating to some of us the story of putting his own son under church discipline. As you can imagine, it was heart-wrenching. And praise God, the Lord used this move by my friend: his son eventually repented and is now a church officer to boot. But my friend took his duties of home management seriously - to the point of doing something I think most ministers shudder to think about doing. As always, however, the question is whether we will trust God and his wisely ordained means or our own wisdom? The former leads to blessing; the latter leads to confusion and heartache.

Paul tells us in verse 5 why these high and lofty expectations are to be met by a minister in his home: "For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?" Paul's argument here is simple. It is an argument from the lesser to the greater: if a man cannot manage his own home, how can he be expected to manage God's "home," the church? The expected answer to Paul's rhetorical question is: "He cannot."

Therefore, a word to churches looking for pastors: when the lights are down, and the amazing sermon is over, and the winning personality gets into his car to drive home, do you know what he's coming home to? Do you know if he has tended his own garden well, as it were? Could it be that perhaps one of our great failures as churches is the criminal lack of examining a man in the vital area of his home life? We cannot expect the Lord to bless our churches if our ministers' homes are not blessed.

Finally, a word to my brothers in the ministry. It is a tired but true adage to say that the only people that will be in the car with you when you move are your family. Are you discipling them? Would you be unashamed if a camera were placed in your home and the proceedings shown to your church? How easy - and extraordinarily dangerous - it is to be all things to all men and nothing to the people dearest to us - our families.

Where does a minister's character show up, then, according to Paul? In our homes. You can put on a smile, preach a great sermon, pray a lofty prayer, and oversee every committee expertly, but if your home life is a mess, you will be building little cities of wood, hay, and stubble. What will it profit us if we love our churches but not our flocks under own roof? Let us all take heed to the Apostle's words here: fitly manage your own home to the glory of God, or "Ichabod" will be inscribed over your management of God's household.

A question of character (4)

The qualifications that Paul lays down for pastoral ministry in the church of God are not focused on a man's gifts so much as his graces. In 1 Timothy 3.2 and following, as Carl pointed out, we do not have a demand for sinless perfection, but for that overarching blamelessness which manifests a grace-wrought, Christ-patterned, penitently-maintained spiritual maturity. Noteworthy is the fact that aptness to teach - having the gift of instruction - is the only quality, either here or in Titus, that has to do with discharging one's public ministerial duties. Again, the balance of concern is on the man's character. The 'gift of the gab' is not a pastoral qualification. The overseer does not need to be charismatic, handsome, easily or quickly able to draw a crowd, a grandstanding preacher, a first-class (or even third-rate) comedian, a snappy dresser, or any of the other things that so often seem to count for so much in the church in our society. In the words of the quaintly named Hezekiah Harvey, "No brilliancy of intellectual or literary or rhetorical qualification can atone for the absence of a devotional spirit and a pure life in a Christian pastor" (The Pastor, 17).

But there are certain things that this man must be in himself. These are the bare minimum. Whatever else he is or is not, these are the things that he must be: they are non-negotiable for any man who aspires to the office of elder, and woe betide the church who either waters down the requirement or who adds to it. The former will find herself with perhaps a number of men but none of them truly equipped to do the work as God intends it to be done, the latter will doubtless spend all their time complaining about the absence of suitable candidates (though we cannot pretend that the church is over-endowed with such men) all the while perhaps overlooking the very gifts in their midst that Christ has given to his people.

Moving on in 1 Timothy, in verse three we have a number of additional requirements: the man of God must be "not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous" (NKJV). (In the ESV, "not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.") Given that some texts list fewer qualities in different sequence, I will work through these qualifications by type, which I hope will satisfy (rather than infuriate) everyone.

The first quality here is that he be "not given to wine." In dealing with this we need to work between two extremes. On the one hand, this verse is not requiring that every elder be teetotal. If you wish to make that case, you must do so from elsewhere in Scripture. At the same time, the concern is not restricted to actual drunkenness. Rather, it has to do with his appetite and his reputation with regard to the glass and the bottle (or, indeed, the pipe or the syringe, or whatever).

In short, the man is not to be given to intoxication and gluttony. The extended application would cover the abuse of legal and illegal drugs and other "mind-altering substances." The man of God needs to be clear-headed as one who is required to make sober and incisive assessments and judgements (Is 28.7). He is not then to have an excessive appetite for or be under the influence of alcohol (or other such substances); he is not to be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation or debauchery, but to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5.18). His whole life, publicly and privately, by deed and in reputation, must demonstrate this quality of restraint with regard to intoxicating substances. If you cannot control the use of alcohol or fear that you will not be able to do so, or if there is a significant prospect that your liberty will become another's excuse to sin, then do not risk its abuse by yourself or by others - absolute (or very carefully managed) avoidance might prove the safest course under such circumstances. The gospel minister, as much as if not more than anyone else, must demonstrate that his body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 6.19). Lack of control with regard to alcohol (or other such substances) is often associated with lack of control over other desires, words and actions, and it may be this that links us into the next matter.

In addition, then, to his evident self-control with regard to alcohol, the would-be overseer must not be violent. In the language of older versions, he must not be a "striker" or a "bruiser," inclined to passionate and uncontrolled outbreaks of rage, not obtaining his way by browbeating and bullying, willing to intimidate those who stand in his way (up to and including by means of physical violence). He must be "not quarrelsome," not given to fighting with the fist or tearing with the tongue, not characterised by ranting or lashing out: he has no reputation for "letting rip." Later in the epistle Paul will pick up these qualities as distinctively associated with false teachers:
If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. (1Tim 6.3-5)
False teachers tend to be belligerent men who thrive best in an environment of mutual antagonism. The man of God, then, is not the man who climbs the tree by bullying his way up, who must have his way in every elders' meeting, or who - being the senior or executive pastor, if such terms are permitted - obtains his ends by simply belittling, excluding, firing or otherwise intimidating into submission those who disagree with him. He is not a pugnacious man, ready and even willing to contend over every matter as a thing of first importance, all wounded defensiveness and aggressive hypersensitivity, crushing all who stand before him under the iron hooves of his hobby horses. One has to ask at this point, how many bloggers and commenters swiftly disqualify themselves from pastoral office by their attitude, language and tone?

But it is also worth making plain that Paul is not encouraging a lukewarm and lily-livered ministry. He is not dismissing spiritual robustness or the moral courage that is willing to stand up for what is right: where necessary, the pastor must "convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2Tim 4.2). He does not say that the man of God must never be angry. If a pastor cannot get angry in the right way at the right times over the right things, then his heart is not yet sufficiently in tune with the character of God and his humanity not yet properly conformed to the image of Christ. However, the cause and demonstration of that anger must conform to the pattern we see in Christ (compare 2Cor 11.29).

Rather, in moving forward, Paul is pointing Timothy toward the character of "a servant of the Lord," who "must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition" (2Tim 2.24-25). This gentleness is a quality modelled on the meek and gentle Christ (2Cor 10.1). It is a gracious disposition, pointing to a man characterised by patience and mildness and forbearance and fairness. Here is someone who readily overlooks and pardons the weaknesses and failings of others, who keeps no list of wrongs done against himself. He can appreciate a man's right to hold a legitimately different opinion even while vigorously disagreeing with it. He is not swift to retaliate to perceived or actual insults and assaults. He is not eager to demand his pound of flesh, but will rather part with what is his by right than contend over what is unnecessary. He has the developed capacity to pass over abuse and attacks without feeling the need constantly to defend himself. He is willing to hold out a Bible to the sincere and humble man who differs with him and say, "Please show me," but he is governed by that Word and will not give way on those things of which he is assured.

Again, note that such gentleness is not a contradiction of his manliness, but the very demonstration of it. He does not need to hide this quality of soul behind the iron-studded curtain of worldly machismo. In fact, gentleness is a function of true strength. Gentleness is not weakness, but strength exercised in kindness, might demonstrated in mercy. Again, there is no suggestion that this man does not know when to stand up and be counted, but he can discern between the nature of different engagements and the different weapons to be employed, and his spirit is fundamentally one of sympathy and compassion.

Finally, he must not be "greedy for money," "not covetous." The man is no mercenary. Again, we have seen this in connection with false teaching in 1 Timothy 6.3-5: "If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness . . . men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain."

Covetousness usually involves greed for money, for the desire usually leads to corruption in the pursuit of its object. Fundamentally, Paul is speaking here of an immoderate and sinful love of money. The true pastor is not caught between God and the world: "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Lk 16.13). Rather he is, in the truest sense, otherworldly. He is dead to the wealth of this world, not governed by it or the pursuit of it (and certainly, his ministry will not be characterised by enticements to and the offer of mere worldly gain).

The more specific language has to do with dishonest gain, a desire to obtain financial wealth or prevent financial loss and a readiness to do so by hook or by crook. The pastor is not to abuse his ministry to boost his capital, not to make godliness a mere masquerade in pursuit of wealth. How many ways might these things be done? We can fiddle our taxes, boost our expenses claims, emphasise our giftedness, drop hints about our peers' salaries, labour the point of remunerating a man, make it known that we have received a 'good offer' from another congregation, complain about our wants or lie about our needs, or use a hundred other ways of communicating and pursuing our desires for more, including simply getting our hands on the purse strings for ourselves.

Again, Paul is not requiring that pastors be or be kept poor. Elsewhere he requires that "the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine" (1Tim 5.17), a requirement that unashamedly includes an element of financial reparation (cf. 1Cor 9.14). He does not state what a man of God must or must not wear, what car he must or must not drive, where he must or must not live (although one feels compelled to draw the line at discussions about which executive aircraft he uses - how does one decide between a Gulfstream and a LearJet? - or which of his mansions he chooses for the next holiday). Rather, the man of God does not find his comforts and consolations in his bank balance or his savings fund, but is rather content in the promises of God: "Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For he himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you'" (Heb 13.5). As Patrick Fairbairn makes plain, "striving to awaken generous thoughts and lofty aspirations in the minds of others, the pastor may come in a measure to reap material benefits from the operation of these; but if his own soul is grovelling in the dust, and the love of worldly pelf [wealth] holds him captive, both himself and his mission are sure to be despised" (The Pastoral Epistles, 142). The true man of God has no consuming desire for wealth, but is rather content with God's dispensation, willing with Philip Henry rather to preach for nothing than not at all, ready to beg all the week provided he might declare the free grace of God on Sundays. Alongside the matter of his hospitability (v2), this positively implies his generosity and liberality.

This has to do, then, with the would-be overseer's attitude to and affection for money. Wealth is not inherently sinful, but the man whose life is governed by the pursuit of worldly wealth, or who peddles the Word of God in that pursuit, is not qualified to be an elder. Here we can perhaps follow Thomas Brooks, and say, "You are wise, and know how to apply it."

Overall, this verse contributes to the portrait of a man characterised by self-control in all his appetites and actions, and marked by spiritual maturity. Remember Bunyan's wisdom that "the man whose picture this [the full-orbed Biblical portrait, comprising more than 1 Timothy 3.1-7 but certainly including it] is, is the only man whom the Lord of the place whither thou art going hath authorized to be thy guide in all difficult places thou mayest meet with in the way: wherefore take good heed to what I have showed thee, and bear well in thy mind what thou hast seen, lest in thy journey thou meet with some that pretend to lead thee right, but their way goes down to death."

Consider the portrait, and do not - for your soul's sake - follow the wrong man.

Absorbing and exuding Christ

Continuing our thoughts on pastoral character, here is William Arnot:
The more that the teacher absorbs for himself of Christ's love, the more benefit will others obtain from him. . . . Those who drink in most of the Master's spirit are most useful in the world. Those who first take heed to themselves will be most effective in caring for the spiritual weal of those who look up to them. (Studies in Acts, 380)

Pastoral character

In a few days time I have the privilege of being one of the preachers at "The Call" Conference in Edinburgh. (I believe that there are still opportunities to book a place if you wish.) The theme of my sermon - and one which I feel the weight of - is "The shepherd's soul," addressing "the necessity of any leader to daily and intimately walk with God to be a qualified, effective leader in the church."

It ties in fairly neatly with the whole matter of pastoral character: the man of God must walk with God if he is to know the sustained blessing of God in accordance with the promises of God. So from time to time over the next few days I hope to offer as supporting evidence for our primary contention some apposite quotes from the great and the good on pastoral character and piety, beginning with Wilhelmus à Brakel, who said that the man of God
must have the heart of a preacher; that is, he must stand in awe of the God in whose Name he preaches, and with love seek the welfare of the souls to whom he preaches. He must know himself to be entirely undone in himself and have a lively impression of his own inability, so that he will not trust too much in having studied properly. He ought to pray much beforehand, not so much to get through the sermon, but for a sanctified heart, for a continual sense of the presence of God, for suitable expressions, and for a blessing upon his preaching to the conversion, comfort, and edification of souls. His concern ought not to be whether the congregation will be pleased with him and will praise the sermon, but his motive must rather be a love for the welfare of the congregation.
It is, perhaps, worth pointing out that our author goes on to offer some pretty stern words to those who make a show of their learning in the pulpit, but we might save that one for another time . . .