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Is This What You Mean by “Church Growth”?

“to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children . . . Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

–Ephesians 4:12–16, ESV

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SBTS Alumni Academy on Biblical Theology

Is there anything more important than the Bible? Jesus said Scripture can’t be broken, and he prayed that the Father would sanctify his people in the truth, then said, “Thy word is truth.”

God’s people need God’s word.

The word doesn’t work like a magic formula, however. We don’t just pass our eyes over a meaningless series of symbols. No, for the word to work it has to be understood.

To understand the Bible we need biblical theology.

Why? Because biblical theology enables us to understand the trees as they stand in the forest, and it enables us to see the shape of the forest formed by all those trees.

Biblical theology helps us see how the biblical authors understood the Scriptures and their own situations. Biblical theology shines the light on how later authors picked up the storyline started by earlier authors of Scripture, summarizing and interpreting it in their use of symbolism, imagery, typology, and significant patterns.

God has spoken to us in his word. We want to understand what he has said. God’s people need to hear his voice.

Are your ears trained to hear him?

We want to do biblical theology because we want to know God and love God’s people by giving them the fullness of what God has revealed in our preaching and teaching.

Join us at the next SBTS Alumni Academy for two days (Jan 8–9, 2015) of biblical theology. If we are to teach the nations to obey everything Jesus said, we have to understand what it means.

Register here, that all the ends of the earth might fear the Lord.

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The Debate about Shouwang Church

Here’s an interesting article about what is taking place in China: “The Debate about Shouwang Church.”

I have a proposition, then a question prompted by the article, then brief thoughts on Paul’s response to such situations:

Proposition: The Chinese government is wickedly persecuting Christians and opposing God and his gospel. May God break the teeth of the wicked (Ps 3:7).

Question: Did the Shouwang Church need to force this issue? Maybe so. I really don’t know. From the article linked above, it appears that the church could have continued to worship had they been content to do so in smaller numbers in private venues.

Thoughts on Paul: On the one hand I can imagine Paul saying that the public confrontation will result in more people hearing the gospel (Phil 1:12–21). On the other hand, there were times when he did not take on the confrontation with the overpowering government, fleeing from King Aretas (2 Cor 11:32–33), and though he wanted to take on the crowd in Ephesus the other believers wouldn’t let him (Acts 19:30).

No doubt more information about the situation in China would be helpful.

What do you think? Should the Shouwang Church have forced the issue or stayed underground?

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See You in Bowling Green?

I’d love to see you in Bowling Green if you’re in the area.

You can register here.

Schedule

August 13, 2010
5:30pm – 6:30pm
Check-In

7:00pm – 10:00pm
Session 1 – A Theological Vision—Churches that Display God’s Glory
Session 2 – Preaching & Biblical Theology Q&A

August 14, 2010
8:00am – 9:00am
Continental breakfast (provided)

9:00 – 12:00pm
Session 3 – Gospel, Conversion, & Evangelism
Session 4 – Membership, Discipline, & Discipleship Q&A

12:00 – 1:00pm
Lunch (provided onsite)

1:00 – 4:00pm
Session 5 – Leadership
Session 6 – Covenanting Together
Q&A

4:00pm
Workshop ends

Location

Christ Fellowship Church
1347 Ky Hwy 185, Ste 13
Bowling Green, KY 42101

Helpful Links

Church’s Website

9Marks Workshops

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Towers Article on Brian Croft’s Visit the Sick

Good article here.

No substitute for loving people this way.

Earlier post here.

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What I Learned in My First Pastorate

Jesus keeps his promise his way.

The power of the Word of God.

The joy of loving people.

For elaboration, read the whole thing.

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New Website for Kenwood Baptist Church

Thanks to the valiant efforts of Dan Born, Kenwood Baptist Church has a new website.

Check out the revamped www.kenwoodbaptistchurch.com, and if you’re interested, you can podcast the sermons here.

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Interview with Thabiti on Being a Healthy Church Member (particularly as a seminarian)

Thabiti Anyabwile was kind enough to interact with me on topics related to his new book, What Is A Healthy Church Member? Our exchange is below. Enjoy!

[JMH = me; TMA = Thabiti M. Anyabwile]

———

JMH: Dear Thabiti,

Thanks for your service to us, brother. If I may, I’d like to ask you for some advice that applies to my particular situation, and then I’d like to put it on my blog that it might benefit others.

Moving from one seminary to another takes me out of a role at Baptist Church of the Redeemer, where I have been serving as pastor of preaching, to a new city (Louisville) where we’ll be looking for a church for our family to join. This is going to be a radical change for us in terms of church life. In addition to the ways I’ve been involved (preaching, worship planning, song selection, involvement in pastoral conversations and situations, etc.) my wife has been heavily involved in ministering to the ladies at our church. Redeemer is a church that was planted only three years ago, so, we’re accustomed to seeking the Lord, consulting with a relatively small group of people, and then doing what we think will most honor the Lord (whether that pertains to nursery furniture, a ladies’ Bible study or book club, or even a place to meet!). We certainly have our preferences on music style, preaching style, and ministry style, and we’re leaving a congregation we love that sings songs we love and does ministry, we think, in a healthy way.

I suspect that for various reasons there are others like me, who go from being involved in shepherding a congregation to looking for a new church to join. How would you advise us? What kinds of things would you suggest we look for as we seek a new church home, and how can we be healthy church members?

——–

TMA: Jim, that’s an excellent question.  Actually I can identify with you quite a lot.  When my family moved from N.C. to Washington, D.C., we moved from a 3-year old church plant into a situation where we knew next to nothing about the church scene.  We loved that church and we set about the task of finding something like it in many ways.  Actually, that’s the first piece of advice I’d have for someone in this situation.  Don’t look for a church that is “like” your previous church, particularly if the likeness you have in mind involves a host of secondary matters.  Our preferences can be the death of a good church search.  Hold them up to the light of Scripture and be sure to cultivate an accepting heart for other believers who do things differently in secondary matters (Rom. 14).  Look for the essentials first: a church holding a sound doctrinal stance, that preaches the gospel faithfully, that preaches the Scripture expositionally, and that at least encourages a strong “one anothering” culture.  With the word and a strong membership culture, so many other things have fertile soil in which to grow.  That would be my short list, I think.

As for being healthy members, overall it’s probably helpful to find a place where you think you can grow spiritually.  When the Lord moved us from NC to DC and Capitol Hill Baptist Church, I went from being one of three elders backing up the senior pastor in preaching and teaching duties to being #49 on the depth chart at CHBC.  It was clear to me that I knew less than most everyone there, and more important than how much I knew or they knew, they were living so much better than me it seemed.  I felt like the entire family would grow spiritually in ways that really mattered—holiness, humility, love, joy, righteousness and so on in Christ.  So, search for a place where you’ll grow spiritually, even if it’s a place where you’re one of the smartest guys there.

I think there are some temptations and sensitivities you can bring to a church given your labor as a pastor and professor.  The temptation would be to either try to influence the church in pride (“I’ve been a pastor and professor and you should do it this way”) or to assume that you should have more access to the pastors than other members (“I’m a pastor; I can help.  Why don’t they ask?”)  Either attitude, left unexamined or unidentified, could create strain and difficulty in a new church situation.  Be careful of the temptation to say, “I wouldn’t do it that way.”  There may be pride and a judgmental attitude there.  Instead, pray and look for the mindset that says, “I want to support and follow the leaders in any way I can.”  As a member, we’re called to that attitude without regard to our history as pastors.  Support the leaders the Lord has called to that place, and perhaps go out of your way to let them know of your support and that you’re not judging them.  Be a good leader to the other sheep by modeling the kind of submission you perhaps experienced or longed for in your previous church situation.  And that’s one of the unique sensitivities a former pastor brings to a new church.  He knows what it’s like to be the shepherd and for the sheep to misunderstand.  With that sensitivity, you can model so much of what nearly every pastor wishes his people understood.

Beyond that, be healthy church members by attending regularly, giving your life to the people there, sitting joyfully, humbly and eagerly under the leadership and teaching of others.  Pray fervently and without ceasing for the leaders, the members, and the ministries of the church.  Give generously and so on.

———–

JMH: Following up on that question, do you have thoughts on how seminary professors in particular can be healthy church members?

———–

TMA: Again, you bring perspectives and resources that most members will not have.  You can be helpful in your area of expertise, or connect the church to seminary-based resources.  When the elders or the church is working through a particularly knotty problem, you may be in a position to deliver some expertise.  Only be careful.  Remember you’re not in a classroom but in a living breathing church where histories and cultures are always at play.  Be sensitive to who those people are.

Another way you can be a healthy member is help the church leaders fight the mistaken impression that “the seminary is where it’s at.”  Your participation in the church will help with that.  But talk often of the seminary’s parachurch support role for the church.  Encourage seminarians to cultivate that understanding.  Encourage more young men with gifting to consider the pulpit rather than the academy.

——–

JMH: And lastly, how can seminary students be healthy church members?

——–

TMA: Seminarians should think of themselves primarily as church members, not “seminarians.”  I think a lot of men see themselves as ‘tweeners levitating somewhere between their previous church and the church or mission field they’re headed towards.  They’re in a kind of suspended animation.  And often a seminarian can suffer spiritually as they float out their in academic space somewhere.  The church suffers too without their gifting and service.

It will be tempting to think of their studies as a special status that obviates their relationship to and responsibilities in the local church.  But they are primarily Christians, and as such should be active in a local church body as members not seminarians.  We don’t excuse other college students from the expectation that they should be active in a local fellowship; and we shouldn’t do it with seminarians either.  So, they should join a local church and plant roots.  They may be leaving in a few years but learning to love a church quickly will help them learn to love new members quickly when they’re pastors or when serving in highly transient areas.

And like seminary professors, students should be humble and patient, avoid judging others and asserting unimportant preferences.  They should see the church as the main classroom of Christ, and the classroom as an auxiliary.  Given that, they should seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.  And by God’s grace, they will as they humbly receive the word (Jam. 1:21), receive grace through the various administrations of God’s gifts (1 Peter 4:10-11), and are equipped for service until they reach maturity in Christ, the Head (Eph. 4:11-16).

——–

JMH: Thabiti, hearty thanks for these helpful and edifying thoughts. I am particularly grateful for the way you have applied the truth of the Scripture to the situation we face. May the Lord continue to bless your ministry!

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It will be sad to say goodbye . . .

Our brothers and sisters at Redeemer are hosting a going away party. If you’re in the area and want to join us, we would love to see you. The details are on my dear brother Travis Cardwell’s blog here.

Because Travis’s post says such nice things about us, I must note that every good thing that could be said about us is due to the sheer mercy of God. We have nothing that we have not received. Praise God that he uses beggars like us, for whom, by God’s grace and mercy, everything is so much better than we deserve.

SDG

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A Wedding Sermon

Yesterday I had the great joy of preaching at a wedding for one of the guys in our church, who is also a student at SWBTS Houston. At the encouragement of a couple friends who were present, I’m posting my remarks here. May the Lord be pleased to bless our marriages that we might be living pictures of the mystery of Christ and the church!

—————

When God gave the woman to the man in the Garden of Eden, the words were pronounced, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). The harmony enjoyed in Eden was soon lost when the couple sinned, and God said to the woman as he pronounced judgment, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen 3:16). That curse is the origin of all marital difficulty. That curse is the origin of feminism. That curse is the origin of males who sinfully “rule over” their wives in inappropriate ways. That curse came because of human sin, and that curse threatens to make marriage hopelessly impossible.

What a depressing thing to say at a wedding!

But we aren’t hopeful about your marriage because we can make a joke and lighten the mood. We are hopeful about your marriage because when Jesus came, he died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin. His resurrection shows that he has triumphed over the curse. He has opened the way to life.

All who trust in Jesus are justified before God and empowered to live in a new way, a way that is not doomed by the dreadful curse on sin.

Continue Reading →

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So, Aren’t We All Cessationists? (at least on this point)

I have been sitting on this post for a long time. My students have heard me make this argument in class, but I have been hesitant to post it. The main reason I haven’t posted until now is my great respect for the continuationists at Sovereign Grace Ministries. Those guys are among the most humble, godly, joyful, loving people I’ve ever met, and I don’t mean any disrespect to them in this post. I disagree with them, though, and I’m about to say why. Before I do, some caveats:

First, my argument for cessationism is exegetical, but it is not tied to any statements in 1 Corinthians 13.

Second, this argument is not tied to a particular form of either dispensational or covenant theology (I’m in that overlapping middle that is sympathetic with both Progressive Dispensationalism and New Covenant Theology).

Third, below I will lay out my argument. When I’m done, I’ll tell you what I think is the major defeater of my argument (in other words, I’ll tell you how I would argue against this position if I were a continuationist), and then I’ll tell you what (I think) defeats that defeater.

Here goes:

D. A. Carson has written,

“As long as ‘apostles’ are understood to refer to a select group (the Twelve plus Paul) whose positions or functions cannot be duplicated after their demise, there is a prima facie case for saying at least one of the cari,smata (charismata) passes away at the end of the first generation, a gift tightly tied to the locus of revelation that came with Jesus Messiah and related events” (Showing the Spirit, 88).

I would define The Apostles that Carson describes as those who saw the risen Lord Jesus and were commissioned by him. This would seem to mean that The Apostles were the 12, with Matthias replacing Judas (Acts 1:15–26), James the Lord’s brother (1 Cor 15:7; Gal 1:19), Paul (1 Cor 15:8-9), and maybe Barnabas (Acts 14:4, 14).

The word “apostle” is also used in the NT to describe those who were “sent out” from the churches, and these instances are generally translated along the lines of “messenger” (see, e.g, 2 Cor 8:23; Phil 2:25). If we were to follow the pattern of the NT on this point, we might call missionaries that we send out from our churches “apostles,” but we would always want to clarify that we don’t mean Apostle in the way that Paul and Peter were Apostles. All we would mean is “messenger,” or perhaps, “missionary.”

Dave Harvey has written the Sovereign Grace book on Polity (available free online here), which I think has beneficial information, but I don’t think the statement on “apostles” is helpful:

“While Sovereign Grace Ministries heartily agrees that ‘no one in the church today functions with the authority of the original apostles,’ let us not hastily extrapolate . . . to conclude that no one today functions as an apostle of any kind.”

I don’t think this is helpful because it clearly says, “We don’t mean Apostle in the sense of Paul and the 12, but we still want to use the word as though some people today have the gift.” The problem is, when Ephesians 4:11 says, “He gave some as apostles,” I think it’s really hard to make that mean something other than “Paul and the 12, James, Barnabas, and maybe Jude.” Ephesians 3:5 refers to The Apostles as those to whom the revelation of the mystery was given, which seems to refer to the guys who wrote the other parts of the New Testament. Right before that, Ephesians 2:20 refers to The Apostles as foundational for the church. So it seems to me that The Apostles that Paul describes Jesus giving to the church in Ephesians 4:11 are this closed circle of men who saw the risen Lord and were commissioned by him (the twelve and the few others added after the resurrection).

I understand the “gift” of “apostles” in both Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:28 to be a gift of certain people. That is, I do not understand either verse to be referring to a “skill set” of apostleship, but to certain men who were given to the church as The Apostles.

It seems to me that, in the passage cited above, Harvey concedes that the gift of Apostle has ceased, but then wants to say that something similar to it continues. But if that’s what the gift means, we might all be continuationists!

But we’re not really continuationist on this point. The real continuationists are those who conduct themselves as though the gift of Apostle hasn’t ceased, and there are at least two groups who behave as though it does: Roman Catholics and Mormons. For the Roman Catholics, tradition and the Pope’s ex cathedra statements are as authoritative as Scripture. The Mormons also claim to have new revelation that is on the level of Scripture.

It seems to me that any group that holds to a closed canon thinks that the gift of Apostle has ceased (I have argued the same point regarding prophecy here). Those who think the canon is closed and call themselves “charismatic/continuationist” on this point can only do so because they have redefined the terms.

Perhaps an analogy would be helpful here. I think this would be like me re-defining what it means to be an Arminian and then claiming to be one–after all, I do think that people have free will! Let me put it in a way that corresponds with Harvey’s statement above: “While we agree that free will as the Arminian typically understands it does not exist, let us not hastily extrapolate that there is no such thing as free will of any kind.”

Would it work for me to announce, “Therefore, I believe in free will, and I will call myself an Arminian.” Is this helpful in the discussion? Wouldn’t a real Arminian object to the way that I have co-opted their language?

So it seems to me that everyone who thinks that there are no more Apostles like Peter and Paul thinks that at least one spiritual gift has ceased. It seems, then, that this discussion is simply over the degree of cessationism that we hold, because anyone who holds that there is no one in the church today with the same kind of authority possessed by Peter and Paul believes that the gift of Apostle has ceased. In conclusion, it appears to be the case that, at least as it regards the gift of Apostleship, all protestants are really cessationists. If they are not, they can, in principle, add to the New Testament.

One final tongue in cheek comment: if we had an apostle or a genuine prophet today, wouldn’t it be possible to settle some of the thorny issues that divide protestant Christians into denominations? For instance, wouldn’t an Apostle or a Prophet be able to tell those paedo-baptists to quit sprinkling their babies and join up with the Baptists!?

A Possible Defeater

If I wanted to maintain the continuationist position, I would argue that the term “Apostles” cannot be limited to this “closed circle of men” (the twelve minus Judas plus Matthias, Paul, Barnabas, James, and maybe Jude) described in the New Testament. One text (which my friend Denny Burk pointed out to me) that might open up the circle of The Apostles is 1 Corinthians 15:7, where after saying that Jesus appeared to the twelve in 15:5, Paul says that Jesus appeared to James and “all the apostles.” This text could be taken to mean that “The Apostles” refers to a broader group than those named above. Incidentally, those who think that Junia is both female and an Apostle (Rom 16:7) also think there are more apostles than those I have named.

Answering the Defeater

I think it likely that Paul mentions the twelve in 1 Corinthians 15:5 and then mentions “all the apostles” in 15:7 because The Apostles is a broader group than merely the twelve. One member of this broader group has been named in the previous phrase in 15:7, James. I am inclined to think that the reference to “all the apostles” in 1 Corinthians 15:7 is a reference to all those who make up this group of fifteen or sixteen men (the twelve including Matthias, James, Jude?, Barnabas, and according to 1 Corinthians 15:8, Paul). I think that Paul is saying that Jesus the Risen Lord appeared to them and commissioned them.

With D. A. Carson, I think that The Apostles are a closed circle and that when those men died the foundation of the church had been laid and the gift of Apostle ceased.

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Family Equipping Youth Ministry: Alex Chediak Blogs the reThink Conference

Those of you interested in approaching youth ministry in terms of equipping parents to disciple their children and helping them in that process will want to check out Alex Chediak’s blog report of the recent reThink Conference.

Here’s the lineup of posts:

1. Introduction
2. Interview with Steve Wright (part 1)
3. Interview with Steve Wright (part 2)
4. Session I – Leon Tucker
5. Session II – David Horner
6. Session III – Dave Owen
7. Session IV – Steve Wright
8. Session V – Randy Stinson

Steve Wright will be recording a few episodes for Family Life Radio later this week.

Update: Free audio for each of the five sessions has now been made available:

Session 1 – Leon Tucker
Session 2 – David Horner
Session 3 – Dave Owen
Session 4 – Steve Wright
Session 5 – Randy Stinson

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A New Ministry: SBTS in the Fall

In God’s great mercy I will be joining the faculty of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the fall. Here’s the story in the Towers Online.

Here’s what I said when I shared this news with our church family at Baptist Church of the Redeemer:

Psalm 139:16, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

Psalm 139:16 tells us that every day of our lives is written in God’s book before they come to pass. God is sovereign over every day of our lives.

Acts 17:26, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place . . .”

Acts 17:26 is describing nations, and it states that God has determined how long a nation will exist and what its boundaries will be. I think the same is true of individuals: God has determined how long we will live on this earth and what the boundaries of our dwelling place will be.

Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Ephesians 2:10 tells us that God has prepared beforehand good works for us to do.

2 Timothy 2:4, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”

2 Timothy 2:4 tells us that Christian ministers are like soldiers. Soldiers receive orders, and they obey, seeking to please their superiors.

The circumstances of our lives have made clear that new orders have been given to me.

It has been a high privilege to serve Southwestern Seminary for the past 5 years. The students have been eager to learn, encouraging to me, and what a joy to see them enter the harvest! The administration has been generous to me, always showing a sincere pastoral love, and God blessed me with dear friends in my faculty colleagues.

It has also been an unexpected, unlooked for joy and privilege to serve at Baptist Church of the Redeemer for the last three years. I never intended to get swept up in a church plant, but God blessed us immensely through this group of families who wanted to plant a church. We are so grateful that we were drawn into this endeavor. We have never been happier at a church than we are at Redeemer. We have learned and continue to learn from our brothers and sisters, and I am spurred on by their godliness and devotion. What a privilege to serve such a people!

I would be a fool to choose to leave.

But it has not ultimately come down to my choice. Months of thinking over and praying through this possibility have made me certain that if The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary invited me to join the faculty, it would be the call of God to leave Houston and move to Louisville to labor in a different section of the Lord’s vineyard.

God has opened this door and has called us to this new ministry. We are sad to leave home, family in Texas, and most of all our church, but at the same time we are excited about what the Lord has for us.

Lord willing, I will take up the post of Associate Professor of Biblical Theology at Southern in the Fall of 2008. I am humbled and honored to have the opportunity to serve in this role. May the Lord prosper his Word!

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On a logistical note, if anyone is looking to buy a house in southwest Houston, let’s talk!

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