Get to the Meat, Read Theology

Calvin-Latin

One of the great weaknesses in Christianity today, particularly among her pastors and leaders, is the lack of theological foundation. I have seen this weakness in my own life in my ten years of ministry. I went to Bible school and graduated from a conservative, reformed, seminary. Yet despite this I was not prepared theologically for pastoral ministry. I spent too much time in practical books that dealt with contemporary subjects and too little that dealt with the great truths of God’s Word. As I moved through pastoral ministry I became more and more aware that I did not have a solid theological foundation.  I did not know the catechisms, confessions, creeds, nor basic theological categories. I found this often led me astray. A cool, neat, sounding, novel idea would gain my ear. I would later find out it was either poorly worded, unnecessary because there are better answers, or just plain wrong. This could have been prevented by a thorough study of classic works. Here are some suggestions directed primarily at those who are in ministry or are going into ministry. Continue reading

And They Approve Those Who Practice Such Things

Sheep 2

Can you be an unrepentant, practicing homosexual and a follower of Jesus Christ?   I want to answer this question and then follow it up with a second, perhaps more pertinent question, what if a person doesn’t practice sodomy, but approves of those who do? Just to be clear I am discussing how to deal with those who claim to be Christians yet either practice homosexuality or approve of those who do. I am not talking about how to interact with non-Christians on the subject.

Sexual Immorality Keeps You Out of the Kingdom

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
(Lev 18:22)

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Ephesians 5:5)

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1Cor. 6:9-10)

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood (Rev 22:14-15)

An unrepentant sinner of any kind is bound for Hell. This includes thieves, liars, drunkards, and the sexually immoral, such as practicing homosexuals, adulterers, porn addicts, and lesbians. Just to cut off “but what about,” I am not talking about a man struggling with his sin, fighting it, sometimes winning and sometimes losing. Nor am I talking about a new Christian or immature Christian who does not understand what the Scriptures teach nor has learned how to wage war on sin. I remember hearing of a Christian couple, new to the faith, who were living together unmarried. They had no idea it was wrong, until a pastor told them. That is not the situation I am talking about. Continue reading

Notes on III John

  • The name Gaius shows up many times in the New Testament (Acts 19:29, 20:4, Romans 16:23, I Corinthians 1:14) but we have no way of knowing  if the Gaius in III John is one of these or a different one.
  • Truth is central to John’s teaching. The Greek word for truth is used 109 times in the New Testament. 43 of those come in John’s writings. In III John it used seven times in fourteen verses. In verse 1 truth and love are woven together. Our love for one another, like John’s love of Gaius, must be in the truth. Love without truth is a lie.
  • John is not above praying for Gaius’s physical well-being. Many Christians find this beneath them. They only want to pray for “spiritual” issues. John does not share this view.
  • John in interested in people, not just the church. In these fourteen short verses he mentions Gaius, Diotrephes, and Demetrius. It also clear from verses 5-7 that he is aware of specific deeds done by Gaius and his church to travelling strangers and brothers. John does not simply show up on Sunday and shake hands. He knows the people. He even closes the letter reminding Gaius to greet the friends by name (verse 14).
  • III John is primarily about how to receive Christians, probably missionaries, who arrive at Gaius’ church. John tells Gaius that he does well in whatever he does for these “brethren and strangers.” He also does well by “sending them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God.” Hospitality is not just welcoming someone, but also sending them away properly.
  • When we welcome these traveling Christians we become “fellow workers.” (verse 8) We do not have to go to the mission field or be in full time ministry to work for the spread of the gospel. By welcoming those full time workers with care and financial provisions we take part in their work. Paul says the same thing in Philippians1:5 and 4:15.  
  • Diotrephes is one of the more notorious characters in the New Testament. He loves to be first or to have the first place. How does this translate into action? What happens when a man or woman loves to be first? They end up rejecting those God has place over them. Notice Diotrephes does not receive the Apostel John’s rebuke (verse 9). They end up rejecting Christians who are passing through (vs. 10).  Again these Christians passing through are probably missionaries. Finally, he also forces those around him to reject these missionaries passing through (vs. 10). If they do not reject these travelling missionaries he kicks them out of the church.  Diotrephes is a leader at Gaius’ church with some influence. He is probably a fellow elder. Pride leads to the rejection of authority, the rejection of fellow workers, and persecution of those who do not hold your views. Nothing destroys Christian fellowship like pride. 
  • God does not allow men like Diotrephes to get away with hurting his church. He will answer for his actions and his words of nonsense (vs. 10) when John arrives. Too often we despair over wicked leaders. But Jesus loves his bride. He will deal with Diotrepheses in our churches.
  • The verb “imitate” (vs. 11) is only used four times in the New Testament. In every other place (II Thessalonians 3:7, 9 and Hebrews 13:7) it means to imitate your leaders. The noun form often means this as well (See I Corinthians 11:1). It probably means the same thing here. John is telling his readers and Gaius, “Do not imitate Diotrephes. Imitate Demetrius.” It is possible both of these men are leaders in the church.  The important point here is that we imitate people, not ideas. We are to follow men. We can learn through CDs, internet, etc. But we can only imitate the men who we see.
  • Pen and ink are not enough for John. He wants to see them face to face. Here is Holy Scripture written by the hand of the Apostle John and inspired by the Holy Spirit and yet face to face trumps it. There is much value in using the different mediums God has given to us to communicate with one another. But there is no substitute for being face to face. This same idea is expressed in II John 1:12 and throughout Paul’s letters.
  • John’s gentle, pastoral tone in this letter is a good model for all men who aspire to leadership. He is warm, gracious, and encouraging. Like a good shepherd he is going to protect the sheep from the wolf Diotrephes. He calls them his friends, which reminds the reader of Christ’s words in John 15:13-15. And he ends with his desire to see them face to face.  In fourteen short verses John gives us a model of loving, pastoral ministry. 

Equip the Saints to Do What?

Context is king. But we often ignore this king, especially when we are trying to make a point. For example, last week I read an article which stated that the congregation needs to understand that they are supposed to do the work of the ministry and not leave everything up to the pastor. The pastor is there to equip. So far so good. The author used Ephesians 4:11-12 as exhibit A. Here are those verses:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ

The author was particularly concerned that women get their rightful place in ministry. The author understood that women cannot be pastors/elders. But this verse along with some others proved that they could lead book studies, Bible studies, Sunday school classes, etc.  After all, the entire congregation is supposed to do the work of the ministry. And the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers demands that women can and should do whatever men can do unless they are explicitly excluded from it, such as pastoral ministry. To have a church that really honors Christ women need to be fully involved in ministry.

There are numerous problems with this argument, including a faulty understanding of the priesthood of all believers. But I want to focus on the context of Ephesians. For this author when Paul uses the word “ministry” he means “official church work.” It may be mercy ministry or leading Bible studies or serving on the building committee or a host of other things, but ministry means official church work.

But is this what Paul means when he says “do the work of the ministry?” Does Paul mean that pastors are there to equip the saints to lead Bible studies? Does Paul mean that elders are there to equip the saints to serve on building committees or to be involved in official mercy ministry? Does Paul mean that pastor/teachers are there to equip women to be involved in every area of official church work except preaching?

When we ask this question in context the answer is no. There are two reasons for this: First, most of those things did not exist when Paul wrote. He cannot be telling us that women really can lead Sunday school because Sunday school was not around. Were there Bible studies or building committees in 58 A.D.? The most probable answer is no. Second, this is not his point in Ephesians. We must ask what does the word “ministry” mean in Ephesians? Not what does it mean in my mind and how can  I make Paul’s words flexible enough to include what I want it to include.

Ministry (or service or building up the body) in Ephesians has nothing to do with “official church work.” Paul does not lead up to or follow the exhortation in 4:11-12 with a description of official church work and how the members of the body can get involved. He begins chapter 4 with a calling for us to walk worthy, which means loving one another, bearing with one another, and keeping the unity of the peace. He then reminds his readers that Christ has given them the gift of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers to help them in this calling. The leaders are there to equip them for this ministry work. He then goes on to describe this ministry work: doctrinal faithfulness (4:14), speaking the truth (4:15), putting off the old man and putting on the new (4:17-24), which means not lying, guarding your anger, working hard and giving, watching your speech, putting away evil, being kind and forgiving each other (4:25-32).

Chapters 5-6 contain the same types of exhortations.

In other words, when Paul says that the leadership is there to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry he does not mean anything official. He means that pastors are there to equip the saints to love one another, bear with one another, submit to one another, forgive one another, speak kindly to one another, give to one another, teach one another through singing, etc. In Ephesians doing these things is ministry. And thus in the end, reading Ephesians 4:11-12 in context actually expands the ministry of the saints. A woman does not need to teach Sunday school to do ministry. A man does not have to serve on a building committee to be building up the body. When we love on another, when wives submit and children obey, when husbands die for their wives, when we put on the whole armor of God, when we obey at work, when we forgive, we are doing the work of the ministry, serving one another, and building up the Body of Christ.

Keeping Watch Over Your Souls III


1.      If you disagree with something the elders did or are doing, talk to us about it. If you feel that we have sinned against you, let us know.  If you have a problem with us, do not spread it abroad among the members of the body. Bring it to us. You have taken a vow as a member of Christ Church to promote the peace and purity of the church and submit to the elders.  This vow is tested when you disagree with us or we have hurt you in some way. We are not perfect. If we are wrong or have sinned, we will confess it and turn.  If it is a miscommunication, we will seek to clear it up.  If you are wrong, we will correct you gently, following the pattern of II Timothy 2:24-25.  The point is come to us if you have a concern.
2.      Below is a list of some, but certainly not all, of the reasons to contact your elders. 
a.       If you are having financial trouble or trouble at work and/or could lose your job.
b.      If you are having marital difficulties, including sexual issues, communication problems, anger, etc.
c.       If you are having trouble with your children.
d.      If you are single, you can contact us about sexual issues, problems with parents, problems with friends or anything else that you feel you need advice on.
e.       If you have theological questions or questions concerning the interpretation and/or application of Scripture.
f.       If you have questions about our worship, a specific sermon, a teaching or practice of Christ Church.
g.       If you are having physical problems, such as ongoing sickness.
h.      If you are having a conflict with another member of the church or with someone who is not attending our church that you are unable to resolve.
i.        If you have committed or are involved in a serious sin and need guidance on how to overcome it.
j.        If you are thinking of leaving the church.
k.      If a crime has been committed against you or you have committed a crime.
l.        If you are having trouble with pornography and cannot seem to overcome it.

Keep Watch Over Your Souls II

The writer in Hebrews tells his readers to make sure the elders can do their work with joy and not with groaning.  He also tells them that it is to their advantage if they make their shepherds’ job easy.  Here are some things you can do to make our job easier.
1.      Regularly attend worship and other events at church with a joyful and attentive heart.
2.      Pray and read God’s Word daily
3.      Seek to grow in holiness and righteousness.
4.      Pray for your elders daily.
5.      Pray that God would raise up more elders and deacons at Christ Church.
6.      Pray for the other members of the church daily.
7.      Encourage us when we do something well. (Galatians 6:6)
8.      Joyfully obey the godly advice we give to you. The writer of Hebrews encourages his readers to imitate the faith of the elders (13:7), to obey them and to submit to them. We live in an anti-authoritarian age.  We are taught from a young age that authority is to be rejected. God’s word does not see things this way. The leaders in the church are to be obeyed.  In most cases, to reject the authority of God’s appointed elders is to reject Christ Himself. 

Keeping Watch Over Your Souls I

Here is the introduction to a paper I wrote to our congregation giving them specific ways to make the elders’ job more joyful. Over the next couple of days I will list the ways we encouraged our people to help us as we seek to shepherd them. 

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.  Hebrews 13:17

In II Corinthians 11:22-33 Paul is giving proof of his apostleship by listing the various trials he has had to endure. He mentions beatings, being shipwrecked, thieves, hunger, and sleeplessness. Finally, he mentions the daily, deep concern he has for all the churches. We would not put caring for a church in a list with beatings, but Paul does. Shepherding the people of God requires great diligence and care. Perhaps this is why the author of Hebrews adds the above exhortation at the end of his book reminding his readers to let those who rule do so with joy and not grief.  The elders of  Christ Church wrote this paper to show you how you can help us in this task and what we are doing to make sure we can stand before God blameless (Acts 20:26-27).
Before we get to specifics, there is one other point: shepherds must know their sheep. Our Lord makes this explicit in John 10, especially verses 3 and 14 where Jesus says that He “calls His own sheep by name” and that He “knows his own.”  Shepherding is a hands-on activity.  You cannot shepherd sheep from afar. A shepherd cannot mend a broken leg from miles away. A shepherd cannot keep his sheep from running over a cliff via Skype.  A shepherd must know and be present with his sheep. This is made explicit in the Hebrews passage quoted above.  As elders we must give an account for your souls. That means we must know you.  We are going to stand before the Judge of all heaven and earth.  We will not just give an account for our lives and the lives of our families, but also an account for your souls.  Therefore we must know the state of your souls.  Expect us to be involved.  But us being involved does not mean you sit back and wait for us. There are ways you can make our shepherding easier.