Criticizing Your Pastor Around Your Kids

Source: Click Photo

Source: Click Photo

The other day I made reference to an entry from The Treasury, a magazine published in the late 19th century. In the same article I mentioned last week, I found an interesting comment as it pertains to the danger of critical remarks we may make about our pastor(s) around our kids. The following is a good reminder about the weight of our words, specifically as they pertain to the spiritual leaders in our lives…

     “One word of unfavorable criticism upon your minister, or his preaching, will be remembered by your children when all the good you have said is forgotten. If you speak disparagingly, why may not your children speak disrespectfully, and thus by your criticisms you turn the Gospel into very foolishness, and a stumbling-block and a savor of death to some very dear to your heart. If your minister is in his place at all, it is as an ambassador for Christ, and so far as he preaches the Word, God will vindicate His servant and His message from every indignity and slight.”

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“All at it, and always at it.”

SpurgeonSurreyThe other day I saw someone tweet—though I cannot remember who it was—about Spurgeon’s philosophy of “church growth.” The tweet read something to the effect of “#Spurgeon on growth: “I will fill the pulpit, the people will fill the pews.”

The tweet intrigued me, so I went looking for the primary source. I stumbled upon an interesting collection of magazines entitled The Treasury: A Magazine of Religious and Current Thought for Pastor and People. The original Spurgeon quote came up in the October 1885 edition of The Pulpit Treasury, which was included in the collection (p. 386).

Under the subheading, “How The Pew Should View The Pulpit,” the author, “A Layman,” writes the following:

     We read a piece of good advice that a minister gave on the occasion of the installation of a pastor. He said to pastor and people, “Let your motto be, ‘All at it, and always at it.'”

     This certainly is the motto for every congregation that would accomplish the greatest amount of good. If the pulpit and pew shall be successful in Christian work there must be a ready hand and willing mind on the part of all. There is too frequently a desire to see the Church built up, but entirely too many of the members are willing to give all the credit to the preacher. As much as every pastor loves to see his work prosper, he cannot hope to see it unless there is a due proportion of work done by the membership of his church. There is a very close relation existing between the pulpit and pew. Pews without a pulpit would not look well, neither would a pulpit without pews. Spurgeon said to his students, in reply to a question how he succeeded so well, that “he filled the pulpit and the people the pew.” There is much then in filling both places well to make it agreeable and encouraging to all.  (emphasis mine)

     Simple and fitting words of encouragement for any congregation.

The Root and Fruit of Spiritual Fellowship

One of the most disappointing things for a reader is cracking the cover of a book that has received great amounts of praise from credible voices only to be disappointed with the content the book actually delivers.  I can assure you; this is definitely NOT the case with Thabiti Anyabwile’s new book, The Life of God in the Soul of the Church: The Root and Fruit of Spiritual Fellowship.  Within the first 5 minutes of reading, my soul was already deeply encouraged by the simple, straightforward, and substantive manner of Thabiti’s presentation of truth about which, on a number of occasions, made me internally (and sometimes externally) exclaim, “YES!”

In the quote below, Anyabwile draws on the opening chapter of 1 John to explain the goals of spiritual fellowship with Christ and among saints in the church.  He writes:

The goals of…fellowship are joy and holiness.  ‘We write this to make our joy complete’ (v. 4).  Or, as some manuscripts and translations render the verse: ‘We are writing these things so that your joy may be complete.’  John clarifies the message of the gospel for his readers and for us.  He proclaims his message so that our joy would be filled out, swelled to fullness, complete, overflowing, bursting forth—so that nothing would be lacking in our experience of joy!

What an incredible thing.  Have you thought about this lately?  That the Son of God took on flesh.  That Life itself entered the world to be horribly abused, slaughtered, pierced, hung on a cross, buried, and then raised from death—for the sinner’s joy!  Christ endured the agony of the cross for the joy set before Him—for His joy in redeeming us and for our joy in knowing Him!  This is what the end of the gospel brings—joy for the sinner who now looks to His Savior face-to-face.

This is why fellowship cannot fundamentally be reduced to activities, a set of programs, or a set of dos and don’ts.  In essence, through fellowship the Lord’s life pushes us, propels us, and draws us to joy—great joy—built through relationships, not structure. (pp. 21-22, emphasis mine)

Check back next week for a review of The Life of God in the Soul of the Church, posted in partnership with a blog tour sponsored by Christian Focus Publishers.  I will tell you, in advance, that this is the best book I have encountered on the subject and practice of fellowship in the local church.  Whether you’re a pastor or layperson, you’ll want to pick this one up!

FYI: WTSbooks.com has it for $8.99…that’s 40% off the retail price of $14.99.  CLICK HERE for more info.

WORSHIP: “Service” or “Experience”

I’ve noticed a shift in the terminology some churches are using to refer to their weekly, corporate, Lord’s Day gathering.  Whereas many churches have long referred to the corporate gathering as the “Worship Service” or “Sunday Service”, some are abandoning the term “service” for the term “experience”.

Note the following church’s invitation, posted on their website, under the heading “THE SUNDAY EXPERIENCE”:

“You are invited to experience one of our relevant gathering environments where people of all ages can learn what it means to follow Jesus.”

“Our highest priority is to build relevant gathering environments where you can safely investigate and develop a friendship with Jesus.  It is our desire to remain relevant to the culture in which we live.  When you arrive at [Church Name] you will find a progressive environment filled with people like you.  The environment is casual, the friendships are real, and the truth is relevant.”

Jonathan Leeman, in his book, Reverberation: How God’s Word Brings Light, Freedom, and Action to His People, offers some excellent insight in this regard.  Noting several strategies churches employ in place of an utter reliance upon the Spirit of God working through the Word of God to create life and growth, he writes:

“One last strategy that risks undermining the gospel is the strategy of appealing to non-Christians by drawing them into the experience of worship.  The goal here is to let outsiders feel what worshiping God is like.  The problem, however, is that worship is not a feeling or an experience.  You cannot create true worship in people’s hearts by placing them in the right surroundings.  You might as well take them to the temple, have them sacrifice a lamb, and see if that doesn’t provoke contrition in their hearts.  A good percentage of the Old Testament is devoted to demonstrating that placing people in the right environment—in the land, under a king, with the law in hand—does not produce worshipers.

Worship, very simply, is born of repentance.  It’s the result of a Word- and Spirit-induced change of nature.  The unrepentant, by definition, neither worship nor experience worship.  The irony of so many hip and progressive churches is that they are relying on an old covenant mentality.”[1] (emphasis mine)

I’ll likely be pressing into this issue a bit deeper in the days ahead…  In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the shift from SERVICE to EXPERIENCE?


[1] Jonathan Leeman, Reverberation: How God’s Word Brings Light, Freedom, and Action to His People (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2011), 79-80.

PRAY FOR YOUR PASTOR OFTEN…ESPECIALLY THIS MORNING.

I was reading through a section of Joanne J. Jung’s Godly Conversation: Rediscovering the Puritan practice of conference (Reformation Heritage Books, 2011).  As she was noting the primacy of the Word preached/proclaimed in the corporate worship service among the Puritans, she cited the words of Richard Baxter on the task the pastor must assume as he brings the Word of God before the congregation.

Jung writes:

Richard Baxter gave perhaps the finest definition of the purpose and position of preaching expressed by the Puritans:

It is no small matter to stand up in the face of a congregation, and deliver a message of salvation or damnation, as from the living God, in the name of our Redeemer.  It is no easy matter to speak so plain, that the ignorant may understand us; and so seriously that the deadest hearts may feel us; and so convincingly, that contradicting cavillers may be silenced.

The sermon carried the weight of being the God-ordained vehicle for salvation and sanctification, serving as the chief means for conversion and growth in godliness. (p. 72)

The responsibility your pastor has before himself today, and each Lord’s Day, is massive!  Pray hard for him.  Seek to encourage him.  Strive to support him as he labors to clearly preach the gospel.  For, “It is no small matter to stand up in the face of a congregation, and deliver a message of salvation or damnation, as from the living God, in the name of our Redeemer” (emphasis mine).

REVIEW: WHY DO WE HAVE CREEDS?

What do you believe in?

If someone were to ask you that question, how would you respond?  What beliefs would you first profess?  The truth is, as Burk Parsons notes, “everyone believes in something.”  And it is because of this simple truth that we have creeds.

Living in a day where creeds are often looked upon with skepticism, or altogether dismissed and forgotten, Parsons has provided a timely volume defending the legitimacy and importance of the historic creeds of the Christian faith.  Why Do We Have Creeds?, a recent addition to P&R Publishing’s “Basics of the Faith” series, provides readers with a clear and concise defense of the importance of creeds within the life and practice of the church.  And while some may say “My only creed is Christ” or “The Bible is my only creed”, Parsons’ brief volume respectfully shows why it is not enough to simply believe in something…it’s what you believe about that something that makes all the difference.

After discussing the nature of belief and Christian religious belief in particular, Parsons lays the foundation for his examination of the role creedal and confessional statements by demonstrating the absolute sufficiency, authority, and infallibility of Holy Scripture.  While some today, fearing that creeds may be viewed by believers as authoritative over or equal to the Scriptures, thereby objecting to the import and use of historic creeds and confession within the church,  Parsons points out that “the church’s historic creeds affirm that Scripture alone is our final authority.”  Further, “the church’s creeds and confessions do not stand as authorities over Scripture but rather serve as affirmations of Scripture’s authority for all of faith and life.”  Thus, Parsons notes, “Creeds themselves are authoritative only in that they are subordinate to and derivative from the only divine authority, namely, the inspired and inerrant Word of God.”

Moving forward, Parsons helps believers understand the necessity of creeds within the church by examining the usefulness, foundation for, and purpose of creeds and confessional statements.  Dispensing with the notion that doctrine merely is divisive, Parsons plainly states that creedal statements guard against heresy, provide sound doctrinal summary and instruction, and give Christians a rallying point of unity around the truth of Scripture.

The strength of this book lies in it mixture of brevity, substance, and engagement with historic and contemporary scholarly voices.  While targeted at the person unfamiliar or relatively new to the creeds of the Christian faith, Parsons’ God-given ability to write clearly will serve as a helpful primer for those desiring to understand and appreciate the historic confessions of the faith; also serving to give the person familiar with the subject a framework for clear and practical explanation.  I highly recommend it!

BOOK DETAILS

Read inside (PDFs): Sample Pages

Publisher: P and R Publishing Company
Author: Parsons, Burk
ISBN-10: 1596382023 | ISBN-13: 9781596382022
Binding: Paperback
List Price: $5.00
BUY NOW at Westminster Bookstore: $3.75 – 25% Off

*The publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review, provided a copy of the aforementioned title.  I was under no obligation to write a favorable review.

REVIEW: Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, by Carl Trueman

What bearing and import does a movement, nearly half a millennium old, have on the church today?  Lest we be counted guilty of what C.S. Lewis and Owen Barfield called “chronological snobbery”, viewing the thinking of our own day as far superior to those who have gone before, we would do well to be reacquainted with the life, thought, and convictions of the Reformation.  Carl R. Trueman, in his recently republished book, Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Christian Focus, 2011), hopes to encourage the church by examining the movement known as “the Reformation,” and demonstrating how “a critical appropriation of the Reformation is vital to a healthy church today.” [Scroll down for a link to a Christian Focus giveaway of 3 Trueman titles, including Reformation!]

Originally written in 1999 in order to be delivered at the Evangelical Theological College in Wales, Reformation is no less filled with the lively wit and searing insight that characterizes much of Trueman’s writing today.  The book is a clear demonstration that Trueman, nearly a decade younger, was still a diligent exegete of history and its significance upon contemporary Christianity.

Reformation is divided into 4 brief chapters:

Chapter 1: “The Pearl of Great Price: The Relevance of the Reformation Today – Here, Trueman argues that “the key insights of the Reformers are as relevant today—and as applicable to situations today—as they were in the sixteenth century.”  Defining the Reformation in light of its broad theological contribution to the church, Truman proposes the following definition: “the Reformation represents a move to place God as he revealed himself in Christ at the centre of the church’s life and thought.”

Chapter 2: “Meeting the Man  of Sorrows” – Trueman focuses largely upon Luther’s Christology in this chapter, and particularly his “theology of the cross.”  In my estimation, Trueman surpasses the work of Gerhard Forde in his explanation and application of Luther’s “theology of the cross.”  Trueman’s ability to effectively articulate Luther’s position, with a thorough knowledge of the historical context within which it arose, allows him to draw out applications in plain language which are accessible to even the one never exposed to this facet of Luther’s theology before.  This chapter exceeds its size in its importance for effective gospel preaching and understanding within the context of human suffering!

Chapter 3: “The Oracles of God” – A chapter devoted to the Reformers’ view of Scripture and its impact on the church today.  Trueman examines the nature, authority, purpose, and significance of the Scriptures noting how it played a central role in the piety of the Reformers.  Ringing of “Machen-esque” insight and lucidity, this chapter is especially helpful as it notes the necessity of a high view of Scripture and its central place within the church today; especially as it relates to the preacher in the pulpit.

Chapter 4: “Blessed Assurance” – Noting that one of the key elements of Protestant theology is the experience of assurance in the life of the believer as it pertains to salvation in Christ, Trueman begins by briefly summarizing Luther’s struggle with personal righteousness and how he came to understand that righteousness is something God graciously credits to the believer through faith because of Christ (cf., Rom 1:17).  The significance of Luther’s discovery of justification by faith, Trueman notes, is “that God’s love is unconditional and total, that it brings us salvation as a gift, and that, most amazing of all, we can know this salvation for certain ourselves.”

Though the volume as a whole is brief, it is an excellent primer on the practical significance of the Reformation upon the church today.  Trueman ardently examines the landscape of the Reformation and provides valuable insight as to its practical and theological importance for the church today. A note of caution to the reader: if you’re looking for a book primarily devoted to the history of the Reformation you’d do well to read Reeves’ The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation or Nichols’ The Reformation: How a Monk and Mallet Changed the World.  However, if you’re looking for a book by a first rate historical theologian that effectively draws out the significance of the Reformation for the church today, you couldn’t choose a better volume than Trueman’s Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.  Additionally, this book is by all means accessible and beneficial to those of varying levels of knowledge of Reformation history.  This volume is a valuable addition to the church that understands or is growing to understand, “ecclesia reformata semper reformanda est.”  (trans: “The reformed church is always in need of reforming.”)

I wholeheartedly recommend it!

Read inside (PDFs): Sample Pages

Publisher: Christian Focus
Author: Trueman, Carl R.
ISBN-10: 1845507010 | ISBN-13: 9781845507015
Binding: Paperback
List Price: $10.99
BUY NOW at Westminster Bookstore: $7.69 – 30% Off

*As a part of the Christian Focus Blog Tour, the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review, provided a copy of this book.  I was under no obligation to write a favorable review.

CHRISTIAN FOCUS GIVEAWAY: Click here to be redirected to the Trueman book giveaway!

TRUEMAN REFORMATION INTERVIEW: Click here to be redirected to the audio archive of Trueman’s recent interview on the Janet Mefferd Show.

Trueman: On Being Relevant…

Opinions abound concerning the role of the church within the wider culture.  One specific aspect of the church’s cultural engagement pertains to how the church might be “culturally relevant”.  Most recently, the church has sought cultural relevance in a variety of different ways–from media, to music, to language in Bible translation, to art/architecture, and beyond…

Carl Trueman, in his recently republished book, Reformation: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Christian Focus, 2011), speaks prophetically about what it truly means for the church to be culturally relevant.

Trueman writes:

“We are not in the business of clowning around to make ourselves relevant through entertainment.  The church first makes itself relevant by facing up to life as it really is, life as the Bible demonstrates it really is, and not by offering yet more amusing diversions to dull the pain of a morality made tedious by an excess of possessions and a dearth of real, human relationships.  And the church faces up to reality by facing up to God’s Word and to the man who stands at the centre of the Bible and was himself the Word incarnate, the suffering Christ on the cross.  We are to point people to him as the answer to their suffering because only in the context of Christ will the suffering and brokenness of this world of sin and selfishness come to make some kind of sense and find its resolution.  Obviously, to an extent, evil and its consequences will always remain a profound and ugly mystery; but knowing that human sin has been overcome by Christ who himself suffered and died on a cross will at least serve to put the problem in perspective and give us realistic expectations of what this world has to offer to the one who seeks to follow in the footsteps of the Master.” (pp. 61-62)

I’ll be featuring a review of Truman’s book, next week, as a part of a Christian Focus Publishers blog tour…stay tuned…

Moore on Making Easter “Family Friendly”…

Russell Moore, has some stirring and challenging thoughts for churches that wrestle with going/decide to go the “family friendly” route during the Easter season…

Dr. Moore writes:

Every year, around this time, parents and churches ponder how to communicate the Easter story to children, as something more than dyed eggs. The problem is, of course, that it’s impossible to talk about the resurrection of Jesus without talking about death. And, in the case of Jesus, it’s really hard to talk about death without talking about crucifixion.

Some churches resolve this tension by deeming the cross too violent for kids. They talk instead about Easter meaning that Jesus is our “forever friend.” They say that Jesus “went away for a little while, and his friends were sad,” but that he soon “came back to see them.”

Most Christian churches, thankfully, still speak on Easter of the cross and the resurrection, but in many places this is, well, precisely because it’s Easter. The story seems particularly strange to the children in such places because “Jesus is my forever friend” is the standard fare the rest of the year.

We need to understand that this temptation isn’t just related to children, although we see it perhaps most explicitly there. The temptation that comes to all of us, in every era of the church, is to have Jesus, without seeing ourselves in the gore of his bloody cross and the glory of his empty grave. In the way that we speak of Him to our children, or to skeptics, or to seekers, we sometimes believe we’ll gain more of a hearing if we present Him as teacher but not as a former corpse. It is too disturbing, we think to ourselves, too weird.

Peter thought that way too. Not the bold preacher of Pentecost, mind you, but the Peter of just a short time before that, the Peter of Caesarea Philippi. Peter certainly knew Jesus as friend, and he had just confessed that He was Messiah and Son of the living God. But when Jesus began to teach that He must “suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed, and on the third day be raised,” Peter was outraged (Matt 16:21).

Peter was no preschooler, but he was disturbed. Matthew tells us that he began to rebuke Jesus. His cognitive development was not yet to the point where he could understand such things. This will never happen, Peter said. He loved Jesus. He wanted to be with Jesus. He wanted to stand with Jesus. He just didn’t want the Jesus of the cross or the empty tomb. Jesus didn’t call this shallow theology. He didn’t call it inadequate teaching. He called it Satan (Matt 16:23).

Our children need to hear the Gospel. They need to see Jesus. That means they need to see both sides of skull place. That’s graphic, sure. It’s confusing, of course. And not just for kids. But it is the only message that saves. It’s the only message that prepares one for salvation. It is, as Paul says, that which is “of first importance,” the message he received from Jesus Himself (1 Cor 15:3-4).

The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is the Gospel. That’s the first word. If we cannot speak of that, we would be better off not speaking of Jesus at all, rather than presenting another Christ, one who meditates but does not mediate, who counsels but is not crucified, who is accessible but not triumphant over sin and death.

The apostle Paul told us the word of the cross would be folly to those who are perishing (1 Cor 1:18). He didn’t warn us that it would sometimes also be folly to those who are publishing. No matter. It is still the power of God

This Easter, preach the Gospel… to the senior citizens, to the middle-aged, to the young adults, to the teenagers, to the seekers, to the hardened unbelievers, to the whole world. And, yes, preach the Gospel to the preschoolers.

I’m not saying it won’t be scary. The Gospel will disturb the children. And, if you understand it, it will disturb you too.

(HT: Moore to the Point)

Dr. Moore is the Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice-President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as a preaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church, where he ministers weekly at the congregation’s Fegenbush location. Moore is the author of several books, including The Kingdom of ChristAdopted for Life, and Tempted and Tried.

WATTS & WORSHIP.

Mike Cosper, pastor of worship and arts at Sojourn Community Church, has a great write-up at the Gospel Coalition blog on Isaac Watts and his enduring impact on worship in the church.  Citing Watts as “the reformer you know by heart but not by name” (sadly, many people know him in neither way), he comments on several notable principles worship leaders can glean from Watts’s enduring legacy.

Cosper notes:

Here are a few things worship leaders can learn from Watts’s legacy:

  • Worship leading is pastoral. Watts was first and foremost a pastor. His work in bringing reform to worship practices flowed from concern for the people of God. In an age of celebrity worship leaders and pastors, we can be reminded that Watts, with his profound contribution to the church, was concerned primarily with shepherding and encouraging his flock. People don’t need a rock star who can wow them with talent. They need a pastor who can help them sing, discerningly choose songs, and craft a culture of worship that effectively shapes the spirituality of a congregation.
  • Contextualization is about comprehension. I don’t think anyone would ever accuse Watts of watering down the gospel. His version of Psalm 22, which reflects on Christ’s suffering and victory, contains the lyric “all the kindreds of the earth shall worship or shall die.” Worship or die is not a phrase often heard in compromised congregations. For Watts, contextualizing meant ensuring that the offense of the gospel is made clear to both insiders and outsiders. He is a hero of contextualization, willing to buck tradition and risk persecution for the sake of presenting the gospel in a way that was fresh, clear, and compelling.
  • Worship should be concerned with truth and beauty—but beauty is a servant of truth. This is one of the most interesting facts about Watts; he was the consummate pastoral artist. He found the English Psalms written by his contemporaries to be wanting for their lack of beauty. He wrote many times about the power of poetry to stir emotions, and it serves as a reminder that worship should not only be concerned with truth. It should also be beautiful. The Psalms themselves are magnificent poems. New Testament hymns like Colossians 1 and Philippians 2 are beautiful and poetic, and the work of the pastor should include wrestling with language that illumines the beauty of the gospel and the glory of Jesus. But we can also see that beauty is a servant of truth—it is put to use for the sake of illuminating and illustrating the truth, not for its own sake.
  • Worship should be both wide and deep. Even a brief summary of Watts’s hymns reveals a breadth of content that stands in contrast with the songs we sing. He wrote hymns of adoration, lament, thanksgiving, confession; even the imprecatory Psalms found a place (like the aforementioned Psalm 3). Here’s a challenge: Spend some time with Watts’s hymns, make some notes on their breadth and diversity, and contrast that with you own “hymnal” (your own collection of songs). See where you’re strong and where you’re weak.

CLICK HERE to read the full post (…well worth the time!) which features more on Watts, more on Sojourn’s upcoming worship release, and a free mp3 download!

(HT: @TGC)