Do You Have An OT Pastor?

ot-leaderChristians often tend to view the Old Testament like their embarrassing, kind-of-crazy uncle. He’s family; and, he can produce a funny story on command. But, we can’t help but think that our family gatherings wouldn’t suffer too terribly if his tobacco spit and his confederate flag, and rusted out pick-up truck didn’t show up at the next family party.

Similarly, we are thankful for the story of David and Goliath and some of the other more PG OT narratives. But we are more than willing to dispense with David and his buds if that saves us from having to deal with the more barbaric stories of rape, genocide, and world-wide floods.

But when we focus exclusively on the later third of the Bible, we lose a great deal of the mercy and grace of God. The God of the NT is the same as the God of the NT. After all Jesus came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it. As Lloyd-Jones notes,

Read these four Gospels, and watch [Jesus’s] quotations from the Old Testament. You can come to one conclusion only, namely that He believed it all and not only certain parts of it.

And because Jesus believed the whole OT, we should embrace the beginning and middles of our Bibles. Those pages speak both the warning and grace with cherish in the NT.

The kindness and mercy of God show up profoundly in 1 Samuel 12. The prophet Samuel has been removed from national power by the people of Israel through the sovereign will of God. The people have also rejected Samuel’s sons and have embraced the weak-willed Saul as king. Worst of all, the people have turned their back on God, looking to men for salvation. When the stiff-necked Israelites finally understand that they, “have added to our sins this evil” and seek repentance, Samuel extends them the hand of friendship and love. Notice his powerful words in 1 Samuel 12:23,

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.

The prophet of God does not sit in his office with a smug expression on his face as he haughtily tells them, “I told you so.” No, he does the opposite. He loves this cruel, unteachable, and incentive people. He prays for them. And he does not pray for God to send fire upon them. He asks God to forgive them and to bless them with faith. But that is not all. He promises to teach show the people the good and the right way of God. Samuel loves those who abused him and wants them to excel at life and godliness.

Why does this OT prophet extend his abusers such mercy and forgiveness? He understands that his calling, his mission, and his ministry comes from the Lord. He loves others well because he fears the Lord who loves him well.

Friends in ministry, would we do the same? If our Sunday school class asks us to resign and then asks us to pray for Susie because she is struggling with cancer, would we pray? If our son is asked to resign his youth pastor position by our elders for misusing church funds and then those same elders asked us to forgive them for making a mess of the music ministry, would we forgive them? If our church accused us falsely, asked us to resign, and mocked the doctrines of grace and then pleaded with us to forgive them, would we go back and pastor them?

I fear many of us would not. Most of us would want to punch the above people in the face. At the very least, we would either give them a dressing down or whine about them to our fellow pastor buddies. But Samuel does not attack; nor does he whine. He keeps his eyes upon God and dives head first into the ministry, praying for and teaching the nation of Israel.

Samuel’s life perfectly illustrates Paul’s command to pastors in 2 Timothy 2:24-25.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.

The faithful Pastor or elder understands that their call descends from God as opposed to ascending from the pew. The faithful pastor will not quarrel with his people but will teach them. Moreover, the faithful pastor will endure evil. He will anticipate being maligned, attacked, and abused by his congregation. But He will keep going because he know ministry is not ultimately about the people in the pew. It is about glorifying God. And when he endures the abuses of others for the purpose of seeing those in sin redeemed through a knowledge of the truth, God is glorified.

Our churches struggle today, because our pastors and elders don’t wrestle with the whole counsel of God. We don’t know of Samuel’s patience and grace. Thus, we complain and strike forth in anger at the very moment we need to extend the forgiveness modeled by Samuel and discussed by Paul. Bonhoeffer helpfully admonishes all weary pastors and church leaders when he writes,

If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is not great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all to in Jesus Christ. This applies in a special way to the complaints often heard from pastors and zealous members about their congregation. A pastor should never complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God.

Samuel modeled thankful leadership because he understood God well.  Thus, his people grew in their faith! We need more pastors like Samuel.

If we toss the OT into the trashcan, we will lose this beautiful picture of spiritual leadership. We pastors need both the OT and NT to lead well. Our church need both the OT and NT to understand God.

How can any Christian say that they do not need the OT?

Your Church Discipleship Isn’t Working

discipleshipDiscipleship. Seemingly every Southern Baptist Pastor and every evangelical minister, lay leader, and church member worthy their salt is all about this word. Discipleship books are popping of the selves of Christian books stores, conferences are dominated by the theme, and most every Sunday school vendor has launched some sort of new “Discipleship” curriculum that synthesizes discipleship principles into an accessible five to seven step program that promises to redefine you and your church.

The focus upon discipleship is extremely timely and needed. Today, only 1 of every three Southern Baptists attends church on Sunday. And only 39% of SBC members read their Bible every day. Mega churches such as Willow Church have and are continuing to radically adjust their programming because they discovered church participation does not equal spiritual growth and abiding faith. As Bill Hybles notes, “We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become self-feeders.” As a result of this mistake and of many others, SBC and evangelical churches often resembles the American culture which prizes self-actualization above all else. As Americans and Christians look within they do not find peace. They find narcissism. New York Times Columnist Ross Douthat comments that,

A nation of narcissist turn out to be a nation of gamblers speculators, gluttons, and gym obsessives, pornographers and Ponzi schemers, in which household debt rises alongside public debt, and bankers and pensioners and automakers and unions all compete to empty the public trough.

The same can often be said of Christendom. The evangelical, conservative church desperately needs revival and reformation. She can greatly benefit from rediscovering discipleship.

The focus upon discipleship is also needed because Jesus commands his followers to make disciples. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus commands us to:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Christians are to make disciples. Christians are to be regularly teaching each other, investing in the lives of others, and sharing their faith. All who follow Christ have been commissioned by their God to make disciples. All Christians should be about the business of being discipled and discipling.

The church should champion discipleship. I am thankful for Bill Hull, Robby Gallaty, and the many others who have speared headed the discipleship movement. But in their zeal to disciple, the created a defective view of discipleship. Gallaty defines discipleship as, “intentionally equipping believers with the Word of God through accountable relationships empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to replicate faithful followers of Christ.”

The definition is good as far as it goes. It rightly priorities the relational nature of the Christian faith. But Gallaty’s and many others stop short of the historical definition of discipleship taught in the Scriptures and defended by Southern Baptists of old. The leaders of the modern discipleship movement divorce discipleship from the historical doctrines of formative and corrective discipline, making discipleship the property of the small group instead of the church. To teach God’s people the full counsel of God, the people of God have to deal with ecclesiology. They have to teach on and exercise the keys of the kingdom. The small group is the only one of many important cogs used by God to mature men and women into his image.

alex-gorham-341310-unsplashUntil liberalism stormed into the SBC in the late 19th and early 20th century, Baptist theologians seldom employed the word discipleship. The used the word discipline from which the English word discipleship derives. They believed two types of discipline existed: Formative Discipline and Corrective Discipline. As one might guess, formative discipline consisted of all the disciplines needed to mature or form the believer in the faith. Baptists affirm that the church forms disciples through covenants, the preaching of the Word, and small groups. Instead of being the impetus for discipleship, small groups are places where church members are encouraged to live out their covenantal commitments in light of their pastors’ teaching. Small group foster and aid the general discipleship process of the church but are not the discipleship process.  Mark Dever rightfully notes, the pastor’s “teaching of the Word is the core of the church’s discipleship ministry.” And the great German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer concurs, writing that “the sermon remains the encompassing of spiritual care.”

As men faithfully expound the Scriptures detailing all the commands of Scripture, men and women hear truth, internalize truth, and then begin to make decisions based on the truth. Dr. D.Martin Lloyd-Jones notes that the goal of preaching is “to isolate the radical problems and to deal with them in a radical manner.” Preaching is discipleship. Church covenants are discipleship. Small groups are discipleship. And every element of church worship and life that proclaims the gospel is discipleship from the pulpit to the arm chair. In short, formative discipline is the process of forming believers into disciples through the accurate and intentional teaching of biblical truth. As the great Baptist theologian Edward T. Hiscox writes,

[edification and spiritual growth] are largely attained by instruction from the pulpit, the various departments of worship and the general activities of the Christian life.

Churches that have poor discipleship programs most likely do not have a faulty small group structure. They have a faulty preacher.

Discipleship, formative discipline, begins and ends with the local church.

Admittedly, even the most faithful of local churches will not produce perfect disciples. Though church covenants, godly preaching, and small groups should do much to promote the spiritual growth in the church, men and women are still very much sinners who are prone to sin. Matthew 18 clearly teaches the local church to be prepared for such failures. Men and women are commanded to confront those who sin and to call them to repentance. Most of the time such confrontations end well and the sinner believer is restored. But at times, the believer refuses to repent, the Christians must go back to the sinner with witnesses. And if that does not work, the believer must take the matter to the church. And if the sinner still refuses to repent, the sinner must be put out of the church.

Corrective church discipline described above can be likened to a school grade. Jonathan Leeman notes that the church should award A’s to those who diligently pursue Christ and to those who willingly repent of their sins, but hands out F’s to those who refuse to obey Jesus’ commands. If the church refuses to issue letter grades and if the church refuses to discipline men and women for unrepentant sins, the discipleship culture of the church will unravel. Anarchy will reign because obeying self is always easier than obeying Jesus. Hiscox prophetically notes,

The Church is the school of Christ; let the school be controlled with strict, yet wise and kindly discipline or the pupils will learn more of evil than of good, and anarchy and confusion will supplant good government.

Sadly a quick scan of today’s churches validate Hiscox’s warning. They are weak, feeble, wandering, sick, and lead by ungodly men and women because they have abandon elements of if not the entire doctrines of formative and corrective discipline. J.L. Dagg also hit the nail on the head in in 1858 when he wrote, “When discipline leaves the church, Christ goes with it.”

The discipleship programs in most of our conservative churches are broken because they follow Gallaty and Hull and others and only embrace one of the elements formative discipline, neglecting preaching and covenants and completely ignoring all the meaningfully elements of corrective discipline.

Brothers and sisters we do not need more small groups. We need men and women who are committed to the whole counsel of God and who are committed to preaching and living the Word, willing embracing all the costs and heart aches of church discipline. Until the churches of the SBC and conservative evangelicals begin lovingly and thoughtfully practicing church discipline, there will be no revival in America. I share Dr. Albert Mohler’s conclusion that,  “A church lacking these essential qualities, is biblically defined, not a true church.”

Are you ready to embrace both formative and corrective church discipline?

The Beaten Yet Victorious Church: My Hope!

church-1The churches of the Southern Baptist Convention are in sad shape. SBC pastors and leaders rejoiced last year when Tom Rainer, the President of Lifeway, released new statistics that implied that only 65% of evangelical churches were in decline. Previously, church growth experts had estimated that approximately 80% of churches were either plateaued of declining. The Department of Defense becomes uneasy when 14% of its forces are unfit for battle. The Church rejoices to discover that 45% her units are ready for the kingdom fight.

When we dig into the statics a little more, we discover why churches consider less bad news good news. According to the SBC annual report only 1 out of every 3 Southern Baptists attends church each Sunday. Two-thirds of our church members skip church every Sunday. And only 39% of those who regularly attend church read their Bibles every day. Because of the lack of Church attendance and because of their lack of biblical knowledge, most Christians more closely resemble their culture than the Scriptures. Seventy-six percent of Christians believe that the best way to find yourself is to look within; 72% believe that joy and fulfillment come through pursuing their desires; and, 40% believe that all sexual expression are permitted. Another study revealed that Christians where just as likely as their neighbors to buy lottery tickets, to have affairs, to lie, to seek revenge, and to steal. The main benefit of Christendom consists in the reduction of alcohol and swearing. Though 84% of Americans know someone who claims to be a Christian. Only 15% of Americans know a Christian who has been radically transformed by the gospel. The church is a mess.

But that is not all. The American culture has fixed her sights upon the church and has been firing salvo after salvo at our rickety vessel. The American culture which has embraced the religion of self has little patience for a religion that calls people to die to themselves. Ninety-one percent of Americans belief self-revelation is the key to happiness, and 89% believe that those who criticize the choices of others have gone against the moral code. Consequently, 60% of Americans view evangelism to be as extreme conducting a religious war. Preaching the morality of the Bible is deemed to be as dangerous as attempting to blow up Time Square according to a majority of Americans. They view the Bible as being outdated, irrelevant, and dangerous. Those who affirm the Scriptures, stand on the Word of God, and teach the Bible are said to be on the wrong side of history, standing with the bigoted backwards men and women of yesteryear. The number of Americans who identify with evangelical church continues to decline, and the fastest growing religious group in America continues to be the Nones, those who have no religious affiliation. The cry of Nitcheze is increasingly the cry of America, “God is dead.”

The church is both eroding from within and collapsing from without.

Though the evangelical church in America has been battered and bruised, she possesses great hope! In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says,

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The church has great hope, because Jesus builds the Church.

The Church exists not because of our church growth plans and not because of our welcome packets. Those things aren’t bad, but they do not make the church go. Nor will they save the church. As Lloyd-Jones noted years ago,

The problem confronting us is not a problem of methods, or of organization, or of making a slight adjustment here and there, or improving things a little bit, or keeping them up-to-date, or anything like that.

A recent Lifeway study of church planters revealed that the church does not grow through human means. Three percent or less of the new congregations came to their churches because they Newspaper adds, billboards, or fliers. Another 6% came to church because of the church’s social media presence. The overwhelming majority of people attending the church,  77%, came because they had relationship with someone in the church.

Jesus builds the Church through the proclamation of the Gospel.  As Lloyd-Jones notes,

Men can produce evangelistic campaigns, but they cannot and never produce a revival…A revival by definition, is the mighty act of God and it is a sovereign act of God…Man can do nothing. God, and God alone, does it.

God does it alone and he does it. He works. He builds the church. And the gates of hell will not prevail against it!

Nitcheze is dead.  The church is not. God builds the church. God defends the church against the attacks of Satan and the world. From the get go the church has faced daunting odds both from without and from within. Men and women like Simeon the magician join the church and try to buy their way into leadership (Acts 8:9-24). The church at Corinth tolerates a man having an affair with his step mom (1 Cor. 5).  False teachers come in and twist the gospel at Galatia (Gal. 1:6-10). Jude and 3 John demonstratively warn to the church to be on the lookout for wolves in sheep’s clothing. Paul and the Jews imprison and murder Christians (Acts 8:1-3). Nero, Diocletian, Julian and other Roman leaders abused and murder Christians for political gain and for sport. The church has always been under attack.

The reformer, Martin Luther lamented the state of the church which was overrun with sin, sexual immorality and pride because the gospel was seldom preached. J.C. Ryle stood for the gospel in the 1800’s as British society abandoned the gospel viewing it to be old and antiquated. In the 1930’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer lamented that many in the church were preaching salvation without requiring “repentance.” And in the 1980’s D. Martin Lloyd-Jones was already defended the church from modern thinkers who believed humanity had evolved beyond abilities of the Bible. But despite all the corrosion from within and the attacks from without. The church remains. Rome is gone. The political power of the Vatican is at an end. The Holy Roman Empire is gone. But the church remains because she is God’s and God builds his church!

As I prepare to leave First Baptist Church Eastman and begin to serve at Amissville Baptist Church, I find great hope and encouragement from the words of Christ. I leave a church with problems and go to a church with problems. But none of them are too great for God. If we the people of God will stand upon his Word if we will faithfully preach the gospel and regularly repent, we have every reason to be hopeful! God builds his church on Christ through the proclamation of the Scriptures. The success of the Church does not depend on my ingenuity or yours. It depends on God. And the God who created the universe and who redeemed a lost and sinful people is more than up to the task. He has built his church and will continue to build it! I will shortly embark to become the senior pastor of ABC because I know God builds and defends his church! To God be the glory!