Why I Don’t Believe in a Pretribulation Rapture but Respect Those Who Do

Recently during our church’s mid-week Bible Study, we’ve been discussing Eschatology (that is the doctrine of the end times).  As is usual, there are varying opinions about the order of events surrounding the return of Jesus.  Studying the future return of Jesus should encourage believers to have hope and courage to live faithfully for King Jesus in the present. It should press those who have never been born again to make a decision about Jesus.  It should not, however, cause broken relationships and diminished regard among brothers and sisters in Jesus.

In order to recognize each other as fellow-believers, it is necessary to agree that Jesus is going to return, that we need to be ready for His return, and that He will judge everyone who has ever lived saving those who have surrendered to Jesus as Lord into eternal life with Him and condemning those who have rejected Jesus as Lord to eternal wrath.  These are essential doctrines.

It is important for each believer to study about the return of Jesus and the events surrounding that return while developing an understanding based upon God’s Word.  One problem is that as we do this, we fail to realize that many of these ideas are what we call tertiary doctrines.

Primary doctrines are those we must believe in order to consider one another orthodox Christians, contending for the faith once for all handed down to the saints (Jude 3).  These doctrines include the virgin birth, the literal return of Jesus, a literal heaven and hell, the deity of Jesus, the Trinity, salvation by grace through faith, to name a few.   If someone claims to follow Jesus but does not agree with primary doctrines, we cannot work with or fellowship with them.

Secondary doctrines are doctrines that we must agree on in order to worship and serve in a local church together.  If someone does not agree on these doctrines, we can consider each other brothers and sisters and even work together on some efforts, but we would cause too much confusion trying to worship and serve together in the local church.  These issues often surround ecclesiology, or the doctrine of the church.   Some examples include: church polity, church offices, and spiritual gifts.

Tertiary doctrines are those doctrines that we can freely disagree while acknowledging each other as brothers and sisters, serving and worshiping together, and this disagreement causes very little dysfunction or confusion within the local church.  The ordering of events surrounding the return of Christ often falls into this category.

What follows is a paper I wrote a little over four years ago while I was clarifying my views on eschatology.  This paper was for my own benefit to solidify my understanding in my memory.  Therefore, the writing lacks a conversational tone and appears somewhat raw and unedited but rather is more of a reference sheet.  In it I discuss reasons to approach the events of Jesus’ return with humility within Southern Baptist Life, Reasons to see a unified people of God rather than two peoples of God, reasons to believe in a posttribulation return of Christ, arguments against believing in a pretribulation rapture, a defense of the doctrine of posttribulation return of Christ, and reasons to respect those who hold a pretribulation rapture.

My hope in sharing this paper is two-fold: that more evangelicals give posttribulationism a fair consideration and that those who disagree with each other will have humility and respect toward one another.

My Eschatological Views

By Eric Fannin, Summer of 2012

Reasons why Christians should approach this discussion with humility:

  1. Soteriology: Whether one believes in a Pretribulation rapture or a Posttribulation return of Christ does not affect his or her salvation.
  2. Ecclesiology: The way in which a body of believers practice being a faithful church is not affected by whether they are pretribulational, posttribulational, or mixed on this view.
  3. The Baptist Faith and Message (2000): allows room for Southern Baptists to disagree and still work together (see article X).
  4. Many faithful Southern Baptist Theologians stand on both sides of the debate.
    1. See Dr. Daniel Akin’s A Theology for the Church which is used in many classes throughout the six Southern Baptist Seminaries. In this text, the Posttribulationalism is argued for in the section entitled Last Things which was written by Russell D. Moore, the previous Senior Vice President for Academic Administration and Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the current President of the Southern Baptist’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
  5. Prophesy is one of the most difficult genres of writing in the Bible to interpret.
    1. The Jews of Jesus day had mapped out the prophesies of the Messiah in the way they had believed they would be fulfilled. However, when He came, they missed Him because He did not fit their interpretation of the prophesies.

Reasons to Reject a Duality and Believe in a Congruence of God’s People Whereby the Promises, Prophesies, and Blessings Given to Geo-political Israel are Now Obtained by Those Who Trust in Jesus—from Pauline Theology.

  1. Romans 2:25-29: Paul argues that anyone, regardless of cultural background can become a Jew by the Spirit. Being circumcised cannot save one or affect his or her status with God, as part of His people.  Only those who have been made righteous by the blood of Jesus are part of God’s chosen people.
  2. Romans 9: Paul explains why Geo-political (GP) Israel will not be saved
    1. vv. 1-5: Paul laments GP Israel’s condemnation
    2. vv. 6-8: Paul states that God’s act of not saving GP Israel is not God failing to keep His Word (v. 6) as many were questioning at the time. Here is a declaration that those born physical to GP Israel are not truly God’s people but rather those who accept God’s promise are true Israel.
    3. vv. 9-14: An example from Jacob and Esau: Here is an example of God deciding who He chooses as His people.  He chose Jacob over Esau in this example but the purpose of Paul here is to show that He may decide who His people are.  So it is those who come through Jesus who are God’s people and not those who would seem to be His people naturally or physically.  In other words, just because He does not choose the first born does not make Him unrighteous.
    4. vv. 15-23: Examples from Moses, Pharaoh, and the Potter and his clay:  Here we see that God has a purpose for why He has chosen and used particular people for certain tasks.  In light of this discussion, Paul is showing that although He had chosen GP Israel for the purpose of bringing the Messiah to the nations (see Gen. 12:3: where God states in His call to Abram that in him, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.  God’s purpose in the call of Abram was to bless all the nations through Abram’s seed, who is Jesus), does not mean that He has to save GP Israel.  Just as God had a purpose for Pharaoh and a potter has a purpose for a clay vessel, does not mean that He has to save them.  In the same way, God does not have to save GP Israel.
    5. vv. 24-29: God has included the Gentiles in true Israel. Paul states that God’s people are now also from the Gentiles.  He quotes Hosea to show God’s prophesy about His inclusion of those who were not part of His people.  Paul quotes Isaiah to show that only a small number of those born to GP Israel will be saved in the end because of God’s sentence.
    6. vv. 30-33: Paul finally comes to the conclusion of His argument. It is not one’s birth, nationality, or efforts that determines whether one will be saved, but only those who place trust in the “stumbling stone laid in Zion,” who is Jesus, will be saved.  Therefore, God does not have to save GP Israel, but salvation is by faith in the promise of God.
  3. Romans 11:17-24: In the context of this discussion, Paul states that only a remnant of GP Israel will be included in God’s people.  Paul uses the analogy of an Olive tree to show that some of the natural branches (those who were physically born Jews) were cut off because they were not truly connected to the root (as a true or spiritual Jew must be).  Therefore, those Gentiles that accept Christ (the root in this analogy) will be like wild branches grafted in.  Notice that in this analogy, there is only one tree that is considered to be God’s people.  GP Israel is not God’s people.  Only those Jews who accept Jesus can remain and those Gentiles who accept Him will be grafted in.  But there are no two trees considered God’s people, only one.  Today’s physical GP Israel should not be held in high esteem or regard because they are physically descended from Abraham.  Some of them will be saved and be part of God’s people, but as a nation, they are no different from any other nation.  They are not a special people of God because they have rejected Jesus, the Messiah.
  4. Galatians 3:10-14: Paul states that one is only justified by faith in Jesus and cannot be justified by trying to observe the law. In verse 14, Paul states that “the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles by Christ Jesus, so that we could receive the promised Spirit through faith.”  Paul uses the term “we” to show that both he, a Jew, and his recipients, predominantly Gentile, receive the same blessing of Abraham and the promised Spirit through faith.  Gentiles receive every blessing promised to the Jews.  Those are God’s people who come to Jesus by faith.  Anyone who does not have faith cannot be considered part of God’s people.  After Jesus’ coming, it would demean the work of His death and resurrection to state that someone’s birth would give them a special standing before God.  Only through faith in Him can anyone be part of His people.
  5. Galatians 6:15: Here is the concluding statement in Paul’s argument to the Gentile believers that one cannot be saved by the law as the Judaizers (heretics who taught that Jesus’ atonement was not enough, that one would also have to observe the law in order to be saved) were trying to convince them. One is only saved by trusting in Jesus.  Therefore, the only prerequisite in order to be included in God’s people is to have been made a new creation (cf. Ez. 36:24-27 and Jer. 31:31-34).
  6. Ephesians: The main theme of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is the unity of God’s people as one entity.
    1. 1:9-10: everything is brought together in the Messiah—this includes Jews and Gentiles who trust in Him.
    2. 1:11-13: Paul and other Jews who accepted Jesus, the Messiah, received an “inheritance in Him” because of their hope in Him. Then Paul states “you” (the Gentile believers in Ephesus), also received Israel’s promised Holy Spirit (cf. Ez. 36:24-27 and Jer. 31:31-34), as proof that they will also receive the “possession” or “inheritance” just the same as Jews who believe in Jesus.  The text shows that there is no distinction between Jews or Gentiles in the reception of God’s promises to the Jews, but there is a distinction which is based on who hears the gospel and places faith in Jesus.
    3. 2:11-13: the blood of the Messiah has given Gentiles “the citizenship of Israel” whereby they obtain the “covenants of the promise.”
    4. 2:14-18: No more Jews or Gentiles, but one people through Christ.
      1. v. 14: By His death, Jesus “made both groups one” (Jews and Gentiles) by tearing down the wall of hostility that divided us. In God’s sight, there is no distinction of those born Jewish or those born Gentile because Jesus is our peace with God and therefore with each other.
      2. v. 15: Jesus desired to create one new man (the church or God’s true people of promise) from the two (Jew and Gentile)
      3. v. 16: He did this to “reconcile both to God in one body through the cross.” The reconciliation we have in Jesus is the only thing that can make Jew or Gentile part of God’s “one body.”
      4. vv. 17-18: Jesus came to give peace with God to both, those who were far away (Gentiles) and also to those who were near (Jews). Only those who accept the gospel of Jesus have peace and access to the Father, by the Spirit.
      5. vv. 19-21: Those who accept Jesus, the cornerstone, are no longer foreigners but are citizens and members of God’s household. Abraham is not the cornerstone, Jesus is.  GP Israel is not part of the “whole building” but only those who trust Christ.
  1. Colossians 3:9-17: A statement that there is no cultural or Geo-Political distinction for those who are in Christ.
    1. vv. 9-10 states that those who have put off the old self and put on the new self are being renewed in the knowledge of God, their creator.
    2. v. 11 states that personal, family, and national background have no power or distinction for God’s people because they are “in Christ” and “Christ is all and in all.” Not even Jewish background here gives one a leg up.  Only those whether one is in Christ matters.
    3. v. 12 shows us a statement that those who are in Christ are “God’s chosen ones” who are “holy and loved.” From this verse we see that there is no room for saying that someone who has not or will not accept Christ are God’s people, even if they are of Jewish decent.  Only those who are in Christ are “God’s chosen ones.”
    4. vv. 13-17 calls Christians to love one another based on the fact that they have been accepted as God’s chosen people and are being transformed into the image of Christ.

Reason to Believe in a Posttribulational Return of Christ

  1. A straight forward reading of Revelation fits the Posttribulationalism best.
    1. There are only two resurrections mentioned. One at the end of the Tribulation for those who have believed in Jesus (Rev. 20:4-6) and one at the end of the millennium of unbelievers who will be judged by their works (Rev. 20:12-15).
    2. A return of Jesus before the tribulation is absent in All other accounts in the Bible of Jesus’ return and the rescue of the church show it to be a public event in which everyone will see and hear Him coming (1 Thess. 4:16, Mt. 24:27-31).
  2. God’s people are shown as going through the Tribulation.
    1. His people are delivered at the resurrection of the dead (Dan. 12:1-2), not before it.
    2. There are believers from all tongues, tribes, and nations who come out of the Tribulation (Rev. 7:9, 14), even if they had believed during the Tribulation, they still went through it—God does not deliver His people from this Tribulation.
    3. Many of God’s people will die during the Tribulation (Rev. 20:4).
  3. Jesus teaches His disciples to be ready for the Tribulation before His coming in Matthew 24.
    1. v. 3- it is directed towards His disciples, not the public.
    2. v. 9- shows that they will go through tribulation
    3. v. 22- show believers going through tribulation
    4. vv. 27-33 shows His return and rescue of His people, which will be evident to all, being at the end of Tribulation.
  4. Tribulation of some sort is guaranteed to those who follow the Lord.
    1. John 16:33- Jesus tells His disciples that they will have tribulation in this world but that they can find peace in Him through the tribulation because He has overcome the world.
    2. Romans 8:17- Christians inherit Christ’s sufferings
    3. Philippians 1:29- It is granted that Christians will suffer
    4. 1 Pet. 4:12-19- there will be a fiery trial to try Christians because of Jesus’ name at the time of judgment.
    5. Exodus 11:7- God’s sustained His people as they went through a time of Tribulation.
    6. Throughout church history, and even today, Christians have suffered greatly in various and numerous parts of the world for Christ.

Arguments against a Doctrine of Pretribulational Rapture

  1. Novelty of the doctrine of Pretribulational Rapture: It is a very new idea.  To my knowledge, no explicit statement of a pretribulational rapture can be found in church history until the 1830s when James Nelson Darby created a system of Dispensational Theology.  While statements of a posttribulational return of Christ abound—even from very early church history.
    1. Irenaeus wrote explicitly from a posttribulational view. He learned from Polycarp who was a disciple of the Apostle John.
  2. Daniel 12:1: the deliverance promised to God’s people is not specific enough to assume that they will escape the tribulation. However, the least that can be certain is that they will be delivered from the eternal fire of Hell and from God’s wrath.  Also, if at least one person is saved during the Great Tribulation, then Daniel 12:1 cannot mean that believers won’t go through the Tribulation, because at least one would.
  3. Refuting the Imminence Argument– Although those in favor of a pretribulational rapture argue its necessity for the immediacy or imminence of Christ’s return (that He could return at any moment) because if the Great Tribulation comes, then we will be able to count down the exact day that Jesus would return. However, this does not consider that Jesus promises that difficulties will get worse and worse before He comes (Mt. 24) and that these things will be the “labor pains” that the end is near.  If difficulties are getting worse and worse from now until then, the Great Tribulation could begin without anyone knowing exactly when it has started.  Certainly, Christians in other countries who are being persecuted today, likely believe that this Tribulation has already started.  Because no one will know exactly when the Great Tribulation begins, the immediacy/ imminence of Christ’s coming is still preserved in the posttribulational view.  Christians must be ready for His coming at any moment because the world is growing in evil and rebellion towards God and intolerance towards those who believe in Jesus.
  4. 2 Thessalonians 2:2: Paul comforts believers who have been falsely told that Christ had come back and they missed Him. However, Paul comforts them to not worry by telling them Jesus will not return until the Man of Lawlessness comes into full power opposing those who believe in Jesus.  This verse shows that followers of Jesus will endure at least a portion of the Tribulation because the Man of Lawlessness does not come into power until half way through the Tribulation.
  5. Revelation 3:10: This is a text that many who hold to a pre-tribulation rapture sight this verse as evidence that God will remove believers before the Tribulation. However, this verse occurs in the context of a specific message to a specific church at a specific point in time.  Although there are practical implications for modern day readers, eschatological events are not in view here.  Some proponents of dispensationalism have tried to allegorize this text to say that it refers to a church age rather than to a specific church during the time of John.  This allegorizing is an unwarranted and unfaithful hermeneutic (interpretation of the text).  There is no indication from the author, John, or from any passage in the Bible that these verses are to be allegorized (The argument at Rev. 3:10 has been made by Dr. John S. Hammett (Ph. D, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and professor of systematic theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary).
  6. No Biblical Evidence of a Two-Phase Return: There are no Biblical passages that clearly express a two-phase return of Christ. One sees two phases only if it is assumed before coming to these passages.  Other passages can only make sense with Christ’s return happening at one point in the future (such as 2 Thess. 2).

Dealing with Accusations Against the Doctrine of Postribulational Return of Christ

  1. Response to the accusation of not taking the Bible literally: Those in favor of a pretribulational rapture often pride themselves on using a literal interpretation of the Scripture and state that any other view allegorizes Scripture.
    1. Those holding a pretribulational rapture break their own rule. They do not take the Bible literally. Everyone takes some passages metaphorically because that is the way they were intended to be taken.  In The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did not literally mean to pluck out our eyes or to cut off our hands.  He was using commissive or emotive language to tell us to get rid of anything that causes us to sin or stumble.  Another example can be found in Ezekiel 36:24-27.  God was not saying that He will literally take a heart of stone out of each one of His people, He was saying that He would take out the part of them that desired to rebel against Him and give them His Spirit who would cause them to want to obey God or otherwise have a soft “heart of flesh” toward God.   Furthermore, pretribulationists often break their own rule when it comes to prophecy.  Many will use Revelation 3:10 to claim that the church will not go through the Tribulation because the text says “I will keep you from the hour of testing.”  However, this takes the literal term, hour (60 minutes) and claims it to refer to a seven-year tribulation.  Thus they are taking the term metaphorically, not literally.
    2. Taking the Bible literally can be very unfaithful at times: When trying to correctly interpret Scripture, it is important to find the intention of the Biblical author who was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write what he did. Those who read the Bible do not get to decide what it means, that is the place of the author who was guided by the Spirit.  The reader has the task of trying to understand what the author wrote.  Different genres of Scripture will require different hermeneutics (interpretation practices).  For instance, narratives and epistles are intended to be taken literally on most accounts.  Parables are to be understood as fictional stories that generally emphasize one moral or spiritual truth.  Wisdom literature should be taken as general principles while poetic literature such as the Psalms often are intended to be taken metaphorically.  Likewise, prophetic literature often uses metaphorical language, not intended to be taken literally.  When one takes a passage literally that is intended to be taken metaphorically, he or she is unfaithful to the Bible and often on dangerous grounds.  An example can be found in Genesis 15:1.  God tells Abram not to be afraid because God is his shield.  If this is interpreted literally, the reader has broken the second commandment of creating a graven image of God.  God intended to express to Abram that He would protect Abram so he would not have to fear, not that Abram could hold God in his hand and stop arrows and swords with Him.
    3. If all of the prophecies of Jesus were taken literally, Jesus could not be the Messiah:
      1. Ps. 118:22-23, Mt. 21:42: Here is a prophecy about a capstone being rejected by the builders, but then becoming the cornerstone.  If this were to be taken literally, no man could be the Messiah.  However, this is a metaphor for the one who will come and be rejected by the Jews but will be the foundation of God’s true people.
      2. Is. 8:14, Ro. 9:31-33, 1 Pe. 2:7-8: These passages are full of prophecy of the Messiah being a sanctuary, a stone of stumbling, a trap, and a snare.  These words are also taken metaphorically because that is the way that Isaiah, Paul, and Peter intended them to be taken as they were guided by the Spirit.
      3. Dt. 21:23, Ga. 3:13: This prophecy is about one who will be hung on a tree as a curse. However, Jesus was hung upon a man-made cross, which although made from the wood of trees, was not itself a tree and to one who is taking verses literally a cross cannot be a tree.
      4. Ex. 12:1-11, Is. 53:7, Jn. 1:29-36, 1 Co. 5:7-8, 1 Pe. 1:18-19, Re. 5:6-13, 7:14, 21:22-27, 22:1-4: All of these say that the Messiah is to be a male Passover lamb without blemish who will or has been slain to atone for sin.  Jesus was not a male lamb, but these prophecies and statements are to be taken metaphorically, not literally.  Jesus did die in the place of sinners to atone for sin, but He was not literally a lamb.
      5. Mt. 12:38-40: Here the Pharisees ask Jesus for a miraculous sign.  Jesus says that just as Jonah was in the belly of a huge fish for three days and three nights, “so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”  This is an illusion to Jesus’ burial. But Jesus was crucified on a Friday and resurrected on a Sunday.  Taken literally this would not fit Jesus’ death and resurrection.  But since, “three days and three nights” is a Semitic idiom to mean any portion of three calendar days, it can be taken as His death and resurrection.  Jesus was not in the tomb for a literal three days and three nights, but He was in the tomb for a portion of each of the three days and nights according to Jewish understanding.  However, if taken very literally, this prophecy that Jesus has given would not be fulfilled.
  1. Response to the accusation that those who hold to a posttribulational return of Christ are liberals:
    1. The reason why being Biblically Liberal is wrong is because liberals undermine the authority of Scripture claiming that sections of it are not true or possible. Many faithful evangelical and Southern Baptist Christians hold to a posttribulational return of Christ and believe strongly in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Scriptures.  The question is not whether the Scriptures are true; faithful believers on both sides of the debate agree on that.  The right question is: what do these particular passages about the second coming of Jesus mean?  Did the author mean for them to be taken literally, generally, metaphorically?  Is he speaking of one event or is it two events which appear to be one?  Either way, this debate should be carried on with humility and free of such damaging and incorrect accusations.
    2. The pretribulational rapture views came into existence in the 1830s with dispensationalism. To my knowledge, there are no records of anyone believing otherwise before this time.  However, around that time period, many people were questioning Biblical authority and legitimacy.  Those who decided to take a stand against such liberal views of the Bible came to be known as fundamentalists.  Dispensationalism, which is inseparable from a pretribulational rapture, became very popular among Fundamentalist circles through the Scofield Study Bible and through various Bible Institutes which were developed in opposition to the liberal nature of many seminaries at the time.  Therefore, during this time, a large number of the faithful believers held to a pretribulational rapture.  This doctrine, because of its strong influence in fundamentalism has wrongly become a test of orthodoxy to some.

Reasons to Appreciate Brothers who believe in a Doctrine of Pretribulational Rapture

  1. They have a reverence of the Holy Bible: Those who have held to a pretribulational rapture believe in the authority, inerrancy, and infallibility of Scripture and are willing to take a stand on and for the Bible.  This is to be applauded with a grateful heart when many others have turned away from the Bible.
  2. They have held to orthodox Christian principles: Generally, those who have held to a pretribulational rapture have remained faithful to primary and secondary tenants and doctrines of orthodox Christianity without relent.
  3. They have encouraged excitement in others for the second coming of Christ: In today’s ever busy culture, many believers lose sight of the second coming of Christ. Those who hold to a pretribulational rapture have encouraged others to think and study about the end times and to look forward with great anticipation to the second coming of our Lord.

 

“Why Isn’t My Pastor Doing His Job?” or The True Work of a Pastor

There are many misconceptions and misplaced expectations on pastors today which often do great harm to a pastor, his family, the church in which he leads, and even the community in which the church is located.  Some like to think that the pastor should only be a chaplain who merely preaches and visits people, leaving the direction of the church to some other body, maybe the deacons or a church council.  Others think that he is to take care of every need of every church member, placing many of the duties of the deacon upon the pastor.  Many are tempted to think of a pastor as merely an employee of the church who does what some leading body directs him to do.

Yet many of these misconceptions and misplaced expectations can not be found in the Scriptures nor in 1900 years of church history.  So where do these ideas come from?   If we will have healthy churches, healthy Christians, and healthy pastors, we must begin to ask, what should be the basis of our expectations and beliefs about pastors?    In the following article, I present where the expectations of many have went wrong over the last 100 years.  I also argue that the basis of pastoral responsibility must firmly be placed upon two Biblical ideas:

  1. Pastoral Theology, that is, the study of how God acts as a shepherd and then emulating God’s attitude and actions as a pastor.
  2. Biblical commands and examples, that is, what does the Bible say pastors should do and what does the Bible show healthy pastors doing.

The nature of pastoral work is too urgent to find our understanding of it in any other source than the Scriptures which have provided everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) and that being the case, then they have certainly provided everything we need to understand pastoral ministry.

shepherd

Having established the correct basis for understanding the work of a pastor, in the following article, I then show that the true work of a pastor can be divided into four main responsibilities:

  1. The Ministry of the Word and of Prayer:  The most important work that a pastor can do is to preach God’s Word and to pray for his flock.  All other pastoral responsibilities must be subservient to this one.  Indeed, deacons are to be ordained in every local church so that the pastor may give the main portion of his time to preparing to preach, preaching, sharing the Word in peoples homes, and praying for his people.
  2. The Ministry of Leadership: Although many churches have developed unbiblical practices about who leads the local congregation, the Bible shows that it is indeed, the pastor, or even better, multiple pastors, who guide, direct, and lead the church body.  Any church who desires to obey God’s Word, will not seek to place any body of authority over the pastor outside of the entire local congregation gathered by the Holy Spirit.  In fact, one of the three main terms used in the Scriptures for a pastor is ἐπίσκοπος (episcopos), that is translated, overseer or supervisor.  The pastor is Biblically given the authority to direct and lead over every aspect of church ministry.  There should not be any portion of the church’s work which is off limits to his direction and guidance.
  3. The Ministry of Shepherding:  Jesus is our Good Shepherd who came to us to protect us and provide for us spiritually.   Pastoral ministry is incarnational ministry.  Pastors must be with their people just as Jesus came to be with His people. Therefore, the pastor must seek to spiritually protect his flock by warning them of false teaching and unbiblical thinking.  Indeed, the goal of pastoral counseling is not to be therapeutic, but to help one replace unbiblical thinking with Biblical thinking.  The pastor must provide for His flock through faithful teaching of the Scriptures.  Just as Jesus knows his sheep and his sheep know him, the pastor must seek to know and spend time with his sheep.
  4. The Ministry of Modeling: This ministry is made evident in the moral requirements for pastors in the Scriptures.  Pastors, as well as deacons, are to show their flock what it looks like to follow Jesus.  It is necessary to be taught how to follow but it is also incomparably beneficial to have an example of what it looks like to follow Jesus right before you.

In presenting the following article, although it is a little lengthy and scholarly, I hope that my brother pastors will stop trying to meet the expectations of men and be encouraged to forsake them for the expectations of God.  I also hope that my brothers and sisters in churches all over the western world will learn what can be expected of their pastors and will seek to guard their pastor’s very limited time and resources to do the important work to which God has called him.  Just as the writer of Hebrews says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).

I now present to you the article discussed above:

 

THE WORK OF A PASTOR

Written by Eric G. Fannin

August 8, 2011

            There is great confusion in today’s churches about the role of the pastor.  This affects the health of pastors, tempting them to take needed time away from their families, from solitude with God, and from having a time of Sabbath rest.  Accordingly, congregants find themselves disappointed with pastors as their expectations go unmet.  David Larsen cites studies showing the pastor-teacher performing 192 different tasks.[1]  Larsen identifies the problem and solution for this.  He states, “The malaise of the church and its ministry must be challenged by a return to our roots in divine revelation and sound doctrine.”[2]

The Bible reveals that every responsibility the pastor pursues should fall into the following four general categories: the ministry of the Word and prayer, pastoral care, leadership, and serving as an example.  These categories are adapted from John Hammett’s Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology.[3]  The Biblical argument for the four categories of pastoral responsibility is based on two axioms.  First, pastoral ministry must be driven by a sound pastoral theology.[4]  Second, pastoral ministry must be grounded in a clear understanding of scriptural directives for the pastoral office.

Therefore, this essay will include: a development of the current problem in the practice of pastoral ministry, an explanation and defense of each axiom presented as the solution, and support for the four categories of the pastoral responsibility.

A Development of the Current Problem in the Practice of Pastoral Ministry

Considering the problem of pastoral ministry today, one must realize that the fads of pastoral ministry often reflect the changes in culture of the time.  Pastoral ministry in America has taken a step in the wrong direction since the early twentieth century.  The Bible and sound doctrine have been minimized as the source of pastoral care.  Psychotherapy and other social sciences were added to supplement Scripture.  This different approach became the source of pastoral counsel to many pastors.  In this kind of ‘pastoral ministry,’ the pastor does not give any directives from the Bible but instead seeks to help the counselee find meaning from within.

In the 1950s, American pastoral ministry was greatly influenced by Seward Hiltner’s A Preface to Pastoral Theology.  In that book, Hiltner describes pastoral theology as, “that branch or field of theological knowledge and inquiry that brings the shepherding perspective to bear upon all the operations and functions of the church and the minister and then draws conclusions of theological order from reflection on these observations.”[5]  The problem with Hiltner’s definition of pastoral theology is that he has the grounding of theology backwards.  He desires to learn about God by observing the “operations and functions” of the pastor and making theological conclusions based on the actions of men.  One’s theology must not be routed in experience which, very often, is errant and fallible.  Theology must instead be firmly established in the infallible, inerrant, and unchanging Word of God.

Hiltner explains his view:

We acknowledge fully that study of Bible and doctrine results in principles that may and must be applied.  We assert further, however, that the process moves the other way also, that adequate critical study of events from some significant perspective makes creative contributions to theological understanding.  Pastoral theology, like any branch of theology, applies some things learned elsewhere.  But it is more than that as well.[6]

Hiltner’s proposal of pastoral theology reveals a very dangerous presupposition of God’s word being insufficient to provide revelation of God and inadequate in providing direction for the church with her offices and functions

Andrew Purves provides three other reasons why a valid view of pastoral ministry is lacking today: First, he notes, “views of human wholeness and competent functioning seem to dominate” the field.[7]  Today’s pastor often sees his work as trying to help his congregants feel whole and function well in society instead of directing their view to Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross for their sins (Heb. 12:1-2).  His second critique is that, “the modern pastoral care movement…is by and large shaped by psychological categories regarding human experience and by symbolic interpretations regarding God.”  He continues, “pastoral theology and, consequently, pastoral practice in the church have become concerned largely with questions of meaning rather than truth, acceptable functioning rather than discipleship, and a concern for self-actualization and self-realization rather than salvation.[8]  Many pastors pursue the faulty premise of trying to help congregants be all that they can be rather than pointing them toward repentance and trust in Jesus for their salvation, sanctification, and maturation in Christ.  Purves’ appraisal is that, “pastoral work today is understood largely in functional terms.”[9]  This means that pastors try to understand pastoral theology by observing what a pastor does and accordingly making conclusions about who God is and what the pastor should be and do based on those observations.      Thomas Oden rightly assesses the importance of a solid grounding in the Bible for pastoral ministry.  He exhorts, “the practice of ministry can better be engendered by solid reflection on its theological and biblical grounding.”[10]

Many of today’s pastors have sunk deeply into the mire of expectations from the world, the church, and even from within himself.  With the recent study of pastoral theology and pastoral ministry which includes new obligations from psychotherapy, other social sciences, and from self-reflection, today’s pastor can easily become sidetracked from his God-given duties revealed in Scripture.   These duties are firmly rooted in the character of God as a shepherd of His people and in the mandates given to the pastor in Scripture.

The Two Axioms: An Explanation and Defense

The first axiom is that a biblical pastoral ministry must be based on a sound pastoral theology.  The pastor must have a clear understanding of how God is a shepherd to in order that he may join God in His work as an under-shepherd, doing the will of the Chief Shepherd.

This is the Biblical idea that Jesus modeled for all pastors to follow.  In John 5:19 Jesus defends His own ministry before his detractors by saying, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”[11]   Since Jesus bases His ministry on the Father’s example, then why would the Christian pastor need to add anything outside of the Bible for his ministry?  Jesus did only what He saw the Father doing and what the Father told Him to do.  Therefore the faithful Christian pastor must first of all follow Jesus’ example of basing his role on the example of God.

Purves argues for this same idea:

To insist that God, or, more accurately, the ministry of the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit, is the subject matter of pastoral theology means then that there is no faithful content to speaking forth and living out the gospel pastorally apart from knowledge of and sharing in the mission of the God who acts savingly in, through, and as Jesus Christ and in the Spirit precisely as a man for all people.[12]

 

Purves also contends that the only way that a pastor can rightly judge his ministry is to view it through the knowledge of God and God’s mission.[13]  If a pastor’s ministry is not consonant with God and God’s mission, the pastor is not faithfully shepherding God’s flock.

On this issue, Jesus tells His disciples that He has shared the Father’s business with them and by extension His own business.  He teaches, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last” (John 15:15-16a).  The Christian pastor must be about God’s business and He must find out what the Father’s business is by viewing it from the words of Jesus and the example of Jesus.  This business is to bring all people to worship God through redemption by the death of Jesus and by new life in His resurrection through the Holy Spirit.  Reiterating this idea, Oden states, “Christian ministry from the outset has been conceived as a continuation of Christ’s own ministry.  Christ is head of the church.”[14]

The second axiom is that pastoral ministry must be grounded in a clear understanding of scriptural directives for the pastoral office.  Jesus exemplifies this principle in John 8:28 when He says, “…I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.”  The Biblical pastor will follow this example of doing what the Father teaches him to do.  Jesus did not stop and ask what the psychology of his day said people needed of Him, He learned from His Father what He must do.  The wise pastor will do likewise.

There is a grim warning for pastors who do not seek God’s direction in the book of Jeremiah.  Jeremiah prophesies, “For this is what the LORD says: “At this time I will hurl out those who live in this land; I will bring distress on them so that they may be captured”…The shepherds are senseless and do not inquire of the LORD; so they do not prosper and all their flock is scattered” (10:18 & 21).  Jeremiah directly links the Babylonian Exile of Judah to the shepherds of Judah not inquiring of God.  If the pastor desires to be faithful and spiritually effective, he will seek God’s Word to guide him in his everyday pastoral responsibilities.

In his book Reforming Pastoral Ministry, John Armstrong states the need for this foundation of pastoral ministry all too well, “True authority never comes from within our human persona or from the office (or gifting) itself, but from a divinely given mandate and from a scripturally based message.”[15]  If pastors are to make an eternal difference, they must return to God’s Word to receive their marching orders from God.

After discussing the problem of pastoral ministry today and the solution found in the two axioms it is time to flesh out that solution by discussing what business God would have the faithful pastor spend his time and energy doing.  The reader will notice that each duty of the pastor comes forth out of the two axioms, God’s example and God’s commands.

The Four Categories of Pastoral Responsibility

The first category of ministry for a pastor is the ministry of the Word and of prayer.[16]  In the twenty-third Psalm, David shares that God is his shepherd who has him lie down in green pastures and leads him beside still waters.  God, as shepherd, provides nourishment to his sheep.  This kind of nourishment restores souls according to the psalmist.  In Psalm 19, one learns that the Word of God is the only thing that can restore a soul to God. Therefore, the pastor’s job is to faithfully feed God’s flock the life restoring Word of God.

In Psalm 23 and Ezekiel 34:1-31, God is seen as a shepherd who is a comforter and protector.  He provides good pasture for the sheep and protects them.  The sheep are safe under His watch.  He has His rod and His staff to fend off all who would do them harm.  In the New Testament, John records that Jesus also was a shepherd to His people who provided for them.  As the biblical pastor teaches the Word of God faithfully, he will be defending God’s flock from false teaching, heresy, discouragement, and doubt just as God has done for His people.

When Jesus was about to ascend to Heaven, he established Peter as the leader of the apostles and the church of Jerusalem.  When Jesus ordained him as the first New Testament pastor, He gave him his commission: feed and care for the flock of God (John 21:15-18).  The most important job of the pastor is to feed the sheep.  This can happen in a variety of places but it must happen if the pastor is truly a pastor.  It can happen in the pulpit, over coffee, in a counseling session, or in everyday conversation.  Jesus’ sheep must be fed by His pastors.

One can see the significance of the ministry of the word and of prayer in the early church as well.  There was a problem that arose in Acts 6.  The Grecian Jews were upset because their widows were overlooked in the church’s food distribution while the widows of the Hebraic Jews were given food.  The apostles knew that they could not neglect their other duties to be closely involved, so they gathered the believers together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.  Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.  We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2-4).

With all of the previous Biblical proof coupled with the qualifications of the overseer to be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2), one must conclude that the Biblical pastor will spend the majority of his time praying for his people and teaching them the Word of God.  Ned Mathews argues for the priority of this responsibility of the pastor above his other responsibilities, he writes, “the pastor, who is also designated in Scripture as elder and bishop, is expected primarily to “feed the flock of God” (1 Pet 5:2 KJV).  Indeed, he must give even more careful attention to this duty because of the presence of those who teach doctrinal error.  To fail at this is inexcusable in a bishop because he is expected to protect the flock from such predators.”[17]  The ministry of the Word and prayer is the most important function of the pastor and must not be sacrificed.

In his book written to pastors, E.M. Bounds admonishes his readers that they must combine prayer with the ministry of the word.  He exhorts, “Preaching that kills is prayerless preaching.  Without prayer, the preacher creates death and not life.  The preacher who is feeble in prayer is feeble in life-giving forces.”[18]  The ministry of the Word and of prayer must always be combined and always be practiced first and foremost by the faithful biblical pastor.

The second category of ministry that a pastor is responsible for is that of pastoral care.[19]  God is a shepherd who cares for his people.  He wants them to have safety and comfort.  In Psalm 23, God is seen as a shepherd who brings comfort and safety to His sheep.  In the Old Testament, Isaiah says of God, “He tends his flock like a shepherd:  He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (40:11).  In Jeremiah, God is a shepherd who loves his people “with an everlasting love,” that draws them “with loving-kindness,” and builds them up after they have been scattered (31:3-4).  Jeremiah says that God “will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.” (31:10).

Jesus goes on to proclaim, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:14).  He knows His sheep intimately.  He is aware of what is going on in their lives and is involved.  Jesus tells of the goal of the shepherd to keep all of his sheep together and safe.  He compares God to that shepherd and says, “your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”  The pastor’s goal should be the same.

In his classic work, The Reformed Pastor, Richard Baxter discusses the pastor’s responsibility to take heed of all of the flock that has been entrusted to him.  He exhorts:

A minister is not to be merely a public preacher, but to be known as a counsellor for their souls, as the physician is for their bodies, and the lawyer for their estates…But as the people have become unacquainted with this office of the ministry, and with their own duty and necessity in this respect, it belongeth to us to acquaint them with it, and publicly to press them to come to us for advice about great concerns of their souls.[20]

A pastor can care for his flock by making certain that each has heard, understood, and accepted the gospel.  He is called to lead the congregation in church discipline for those who have been accepted as members but are living as if they are unsaved.   John Hammett, in his discussion on regenerate church membership says, “I certainly would encourage any pastor attempting changes in these areas to move slowly, building trust with his people and adding to their understanding of biblical truth as he proceeds.  Particularly, church discipline as redemptive rather than punitive should be clearly explained.”[21]

Prime and Begg remind their readers that “Behind all true preaching by shepherds and teachers there are hours of study and preparation linked with deep involvement in people’s lives—an involvement in which there are no regular “working hours”…Shepherding is synonymous with pastoral care:  It is the practical, individual, and spiritual care of Christ’s people as His lambs and sheep.”[22]  Prime and Begg tie together the two functions of the ministry of the Word and prayer with that of pastoral care.  They add that a pastor who visits his congregation regularly enhances his preaching because it helps him understand the struggles of the flock.[23]  The goal of pastoral care is to help the flock grow in faith and the joy of the Lord, therefore, directing congregants to Jesus and the gospel must always pervade a pastor’s care.[24]

The third responsibility of the pastor is leadership.  In Psalm 23 and 80:1, God is portrayed as the shepherd who leads his flock.  In Ezekiel 37:24-26, God appoints the coming Messiah as Shepherd over His people and He will establish the flock, increase their numbers, and live among them.  God is the shepherd who leads his flock and gathers them together in Jeremiah 31:1-10.  In 1 Peter 2:25, Jesus is called the shepherd and overseer of our souls.

Peter writes to pastors and instructs them to, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care serving as overseers” (1 Peter 5:2a).  In his discussion of 1 Peter 5:2, Schreiner notes that “serving as overseers” is a participle in Greek that specifies another function of elders (pastors), he states, “As God’s shepherds and leaders they are to oversee the church and superintend it.”[25]

Being a pastor can not be separated from leading.  In the New Testament the terms for pastor, bishop, and elder are used interchangeably.  The pastor is God’s overseer of the flock.  This does not mean that he is the sole leader in the church but it does mean that he is to oversee all of the functions, direction, and leadership of the church.   The pastor’s overseeing leadership must not come from within himself but must come from God, if it does not, the pastor will likely lead by his own selfish ambitions.  Bryant and Brunson teach, “Every team has a captain, and every church is supposed to have a pastor who receives his word from the Lord and then leads the congregation…Leadership is not born nor is it manufactured.  It is given.  In the church, leadership is God-called” [emphasis added].[26]  The pastor must receive his calling, his equipping, and his direction directly from God if he is to be a faithful pastor.

The final responsibility of the pastor is to serve as an example to the flock.  God is a holy God and has always called his people to holiness (Lev. 10:44-45).  The leaders of God’s people are also held to a high standard of personal holiness so they might be an example to the rest of the flock (James 3:1).  Peter instructs fellow-pastors in “being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3).   This is clearly the purpose of the qualification list for pastors in both 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:9.  Each qualification in these lists is a moral quality that every Christian is called to have except for the teaching and encouraging responsibilities that are necessary for a pastor.

In discussing these biblical qualifications, Mark Dever addresses the church, “Instead of searching for leaders with secular qualifications, we are to search for people of character, reputation, ability to hand the Word, and who display the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.”[27]

Bryant and Brunson emphasize this responsibility, “Whatever else a shepherd and teacher provides for God’s people, he is to give them an example to follow.  God’s people require examples if they are to be effectively shepherded and taught.”[28]     They also go further to say the pastor exemplifying the Christian life is a provision from God to his people showing them how to live.[29]  The faithful pastor will set a good example in his life for God’s flock.

In conclusion, two liberating ideas are revealed: first, that pastors can become more faithful to their calling, their family, and their congregation if they are willing to cut away all of the expectations that have been laid upon them outside of those that fall within the ministry of the Word and prayer, pastoral care, pastoral leadership, and serving as an example.  In doing this, the pastor will be basing His ministry firmly on the example of God as Shepherd and upon God’s directives for His under-shepherds.  Second, the reader will notice that personal (not public) evangelism was not specifically mentioned in this discussion of pastoral responsibilities, this is for two reasons. The first reason is because personal evangelism should easily fall into all four categories of responsibility for the pastor.  Second, personal evangelism is only the responsibility of the pastor more than it is that of the congregant because he is to be an example to them.  The pastor must not be the only person of a congregation sharing the gospel.  If this is the case, there will be very few conversions in a church’s community in comparison to the congregants also being faithful to the commission of the Lord Jesus to share the gospel.

The problem in pastoral ministry of looking for answers in all the wrong places is great in this day and time.  However, a solution exists that is much more simple yet much more faithful and effective to God’s goal for the pastor “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13).

 

Works Cited

Akin, Daniel L., Allen, David L., and Mathews, Ned L., eds.  Text-Driven Preaching:  God’s Word at theHeart of every Sermon.  Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2010.

Armstrong, John H., ed. Reforming Pastoral Ministry: Challenges for Ministry in Postmodern Times.  Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001.

Baxter, Richard.  The Reformed Pastor. Nabu Public Domain Reprints, 1656.

Bounds, E. M. Power Through Prayer.  New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1982.

Bryant, James W. and Brunson, Mac. The New Guidebook for Pastors.  Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2007.

Dever, Mark.  Nine Marks of a Healthy Church.  Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004.

Hammett, John S. Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Kregel Publications, 2005.

Hiltner, Seward.  Preface to Pastoral Theology.  New York: Abingdon Press, 1958.

Larsen, David L.  Pastoral Ministry in the Local Congregation: Caring for the Flock.  Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991.

Oden, Thomas C.  Pastoral Theology:  Essentials of Ministry.  New York: Harpersanfransisco,

Prime, Derek and Begg, Alistair.  On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work.  Chicago, Moody Publishers, 2004.

Purves, Andrew.  Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation.  Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.

Schreiner, Thomas R. The New American Commentary Volume 37: 1,2 Peter, Jude.  Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers,  2003.

White, Thomas, Duesing, Jason, G., Yarnell, Malcolm, B. III, eds.  Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches.  Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2008.

White, R. E. A Guide to Pastoral Care: A Practical Primer of Pastoral Theology.  London: Pickering & Inglis, 1976.

Footnotes

[1] David Larsen, Pastoral Ministry in the Local Congregation: Caring for the Flock (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), p. 15.

[2]Ibid., p. 16

[3]John S. Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2005), pp. 163-166

[4] Andrew Purves,  Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004). This book is largely an argument for this first axiom, stated specifically on p. xx.

[5]Seward Hiltner, A Preface to Pastoral Theology. (New York: Abingdon Press, 1958), p. 20.

[6]Ibid, pp 22-23

[7] Andrew Purves,  Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004)., p. xix

[8] Ibid., pp. xix-xx

[9] Ibid., p. xx

[10] Thomas C. Oden, Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry (New York: Harperssanfransisco: 1983), p. xii.

[11] All citations from the Bible will be from the New International Version unless noted otherwise.

[12] Andrew Purves,  Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), p. xix

[13] Ibid.

[14]Thomas C. Oden, Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry (New York: Harperssanfransisco: 1983), p. 59

[15]John H. Armstrong, Reforming Pastoral Ministry: Challenges for Ministry in Postmodern Times. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), p. 33.

[16] In this essay “and prayer” was added to John Hammett’s original category of ministry of the word to pick up this important Biblical pastoral function from Acts 6.

[17]Daniel L. Akin, David L. Allen, & Ned L. Mathews, eds., Text-Driven Preaching: God’s Word at the Heart of Every Sermon (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), p. 76.

[18] E.M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1982), p. 30.

[19] John Hammett originally termed this responsibility of the pastor “pastoral ministry.”  It has been changed in this essay in order to avoid confusion since all four responsibilities could be called “pastoral ministry.”  Hammett often refers to pastors as elders and therefore the category “pastoral ministry” is not confused with the other responsibilities in his work.

[20] Richard Baxter.  The Reformed Pastor. (Nabu Public Domain Reprints, 1656), 81-84.

[21] Thomas White, Jason Duesing, , Malcolm Yarnell, III, eds.  Restoring Integrity in Baptist

Churches.  (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2008),  32.

[22] Derek Prime and Alistair Begg, On Being A Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work (Chicago, Moody Publishers, 2004), p.150.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid, p. 151.

[25]Thomas R. Schreiner, The New American Commentary Volume 37:1,2 Peter, Jude (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2003), p. 234.

[26] James W. Bryant and Mac Brunson, The New Guidebook for Pastors (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2007), p. 73.

[27] Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books,  2004), 231-232.

[28]Ibid., p. 36.

[29] Ibid.

Why Jesus Followers Are Excited to Give a Tenth to Their Local Church

It is well-known among pastors that when they preach about money, they are likely to get angry encounters, e-mails, and phone calls.   However, God’s Word speaks to every issue of our life.  The issue of personal finance is certainly one of them and one of which Jesus spoke of often.

When a person is born-again (see John 3), they must confess Jesus as their Lord (Romans 10:9-10).  That means that Jesus has ownership of that person’s life and all of his or her resources.  When a pastor preaches on financial matters and someone gets angry, it is a good indicator that money has become an idol.  Faithful church members who tithe are usually excited when pastors preach on what God says about money.  So why do Jesus-followers get excited about giving a tenth of their income (the word tithe literally means one-tenth) to their local church?

 

Reason #1: It follows the example given to us BEFORE the Law was given.

In Genesis 14, Abraham, the spiritual ancestor of Jesus-followers, went to war against several kings and won.  When he returned, he gave a tenth of all he had to the King of Salem (that is of the area later to be Jerusalem).  The King of Salem’s name was Melchizedek and he served as a priest to the true God of whose priestly order is Jesus (Hebrews 7:17).  Abraham gave that God may be glorified through Melchizedek’s ministry.

Some have sought to argue that Jesus-followers should no longer tithe because we are not under the law.  However, Abraham’s example of tithing predates the giving of the law by over 400 years (see Exodus 20).  Therefore, though the Christian is not under law, tithing did not come from the law but from the example of Abraham, our faith ancestor, who trusted God and it was counted to him as righteousness.

Reason #2: God commands that His people tithe

In Malachi 3, God accused the Israelites of robbing Him because they had withheld the tenth of their income that Abraham had set the example in giving.  God then challenged them to give the tithe and see how God would pour out blessings on them.  Jesus-followers tithe because God commands it and because we trust Him, and not our wallets, to meet our needs.

Reason #3: Jesus commands that His people tithe

In Luke 11, Jesus is pronouncing warnings upon the Pharisees (a Jewish religious sect at the time).  In verse 42, He warns them because they would give a tenth even of small things like their spices that they grew or acquired but they neglected justice and the love of God.  Many today like to take this and say that we don’t need to tithe but we only need to be just and love God.  However, Jesus commands them, “but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”  Jesus tells them to tithe and to be just and loving toward God.  Neither Jesus, nor the apostles, give us any reason to think that the command to tithe has passed away.

Reason #4: We value our King and His Kingdom above all else

In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches that no one can serve two masters. He then directly pits God as a master against money as a master.  If Jesus is Lord, then we joyfully give a tenth of our income to the church.  However, if money is our Lord, then we will get angry anytime someone threatens our idol.

Reason #5: We are on mission to make disciples for our King

tithing for the mission

In Matthew 28, Jesus gives the command to His apostles, and by extension His whole church, to make disciples of all nations.  This is the task of the universal church in general and of local churches in specific.  This great commission requires taking the good news of Jesus out locally, regionally, and internationally, which all takes funding.  It is also important to care for the physical needs of others so they see the love of Christ in action.

In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul writes of how the Macedonian churches gave to the mission of God even in the midst of persecution and poverty.   He even explains that they gave “beyond their ability.”  The Macedonians were so excited about Great Commission efforts that they begged for the privilege to give.  Christians today tithe to their local church because we are excited about making disciples!

Reason #6: We desire for our God to be worshipped

In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul continues his discussion about giving and tells the Corinthians that when they sow generously, they will reap generously.  But what is it that they reap?  They reap being part of others praising God!  Paul states, “Because of this service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ…”  Others come to know and worship our God when we give generously to Great Commission work.

Reason #7: Jesus intends local churches to be the main avenue for Great Commission work

In Mathew 16, Jesus teaches His apostles that He will build His church upon the gospel (that Jesus is the Christ) and that they have the responsibility to share the gospel with others (mentioned here as binding and loosing).  The gathering together of Jesus-followers as the church and particularly as the local church is Jesus’ institution in which He cares for dearly.

John Hammett, in his book, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches informs that the local church is greatly emphasized over the universal church (all believers of all time) as the term for church, ekklesia is used overwhelmingly more of the local church as opposed to the universal church (see p. 28).  The local church is very significant from a Biblical standpoint.

In Acts 2:44-47, we have a great example of a healthy church.  In fact, this was the first church, the church of Jerusalem just after the day the Holy Spirit came upon all the people of God at Pentecost.  The picture shows us that everyone in the church gave to provide for one another and that they worshipped God.  The result of their giving, fellowshipping, and worshipping was that “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, the Apostle Paul told the Corinthian church to take up a collection on the first day of the week (Sunday or the Lord’s Day when the church gathered regularly for worship).  They were told to do this, “in keeping with your income.”  The idea is that if you make more, you give more.  If you make less, you give less.  This is what happens when a believer is determined to tithe. Whether we make little or much, we give at least a tenth to our local church’s general budget.

Reason # 8:  We desire to provide for our pastors

In 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 and 1 Timothy 5:17-18, the Apostle Paul teaches that members of a local church are called to give to provide for the needs of the pastors and their families.  Pastors give their time to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.  This is a time consuming responsibility that takes as much or more time each week than the average career.  In order for pastors to fulfill their responsibilities faithfully, they must “receive their living from the gospel.”

Many have said that a pastor should be glad that he doesn’t receive a large sum for his work because it will keep him relying upon the Lord.  However, this attitude has done great harm to many pastors and their families and has driven many from the calling.  No congregant should expect his or her pastors to have a lower standard of living than they themselves have, but it should be consistent with the average income of the membership of the church.

Reason #9: We trust God to provide all our needs

In Psalm 50, God declares that He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  The idea is that every resource belongs to God.  He never runs out.  The one who doesn’t tithe doesn’t trust God to provide from His infinite abundance.

In James 1, we are told that every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of heavenly lights who does not change like the shifting shadows.  God has provided everyone with all resources that they have.  If we give to Him faithfully, we should not doubt that He is able to continually provide.

In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches us not to worry about physical needs but to trust God who cares dearly for us.  When the Bible calls us to give a tenth of our income, it is a calling to trust God.   It is not because God needs your tithe, but it is because God wants to show you that He can provide when you trust and obey.

 

While many have tried to reject the idea of a tithe, we find that both Old and New Testaments teach the responsibility and joy of Jesus-followers to give to their church’s general budget. In fact, if someone followed the teachings of the New Testament alone, one would easily and joyfully give more than a tenth of his or her income just as the Macedonians counted it a privilege to give “beyond their ability.”

A local church cannot do what God has called her to do unless each family in the congregation is giving a tenth of their income.  What part of your church’s calling has been abandoned because you have neglected to tithe?

If you have gotten angry or anxious because of this article, I would challenge you to consider:  What are you trusting to give you joy?  What are you trusting to provide your needs?  Who is your Lord whom you obey?  There is only room for One on the throne and His name is Jesus!

 

 

 

 

9 Reasons Why Church Attendance Is Crucial

Over the past few years I have noticed a trend which other pastors also seem to be noticing:  Faithful church attendance is on the decline among church members.  It appears that in years past, church members did not consider themselves faithful unless they attended church at least once per week.  However, now the trend seems to be that sporadic attendance is faithful attendance—this is especially true of those within the 20-50 age range.  Individuals and families see themselves as faithful church members when they only attend about twice per month.

I believe that this trend is not only unbiblical, but extremely dangerous for the spiritual health of the individual and the family.  Here are 9 reasons to consider going to church gatherings every week without fail:

Reason #1: God has commanded regular and faithful church attendance.

“And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, 25 not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

In verse 25, the writer of Hebrews gives a command by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  He tells us not to stay away from our worship meetings as some habitually do.   If Jesus is really our Lord, than God’s commands should be the most important motivator in our lives.

Reason #2: Regular Church attendance prepares you for judgement day.

The writer of Hebrews again is helpful here. In chapter 10 and verse 25 he gave the command to not stay away from worship meetings because we see the day drawing near.  What day is this?  It is the Judgement day when everyone will have to answer to King Jesus.  For the one who has not been born again, attending a Biblical church will allow him to hear the good news of Jesus which tells him how he might be saved.  However, this passage is directed to those who have been born again already.  Should Christians skip church because they have been saved and they are not going to Hell?  Not at all!  Christians will also go through judgment, but a different kind.  Our works will be judged (see 1 Corinthians 3). Regular weekly church attendance will equip the Christian to do the most good for the Kingdom of God.

Reason #3: You need the church and the church needs you. 

In the two short verses above, the writer of Hebrews explains another reason for regular church attendance: “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works… encouraging each other…”  If we are not present at our weekly gatherings, we cannot really encourage each other.  In fact, the opposite is quite true.  If you are sporadic in your church attendance, you will discourage the rest of the church and make it harder for them to follow Jesus.  You will also discourage your church leaders who have worked very hard to prepare for the worship gatherings.  There are few things more discouraging then walking into a church excited to worship Jesus with others to find out that many of the others decided that something else was more important than worshiping Jesus.

The word “to promote” in the Greek is a word that means to irritate or to agitate.  Meeting together allows us to confront one another’s apathy toward serving God. Each Sunday when we gather, our meetings encourage us not to spend too much time on the couch or on the sports field but rather to spend our time loving and doing good works in Jesus’ name.

Reason #4: Regular church attendance gives evidence of your love for Jesus.

In John 14:21 Jesus says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commands.”  These words of Jesus seem to capture one of John’s main ideas in his first Epistle which he wrote later.   But the idea is that if we love Jesus, we will obey Him.  If we don’t obey Jesus, we don’t love Him and we are a liar.  It has already been established that one of God’s commands is to not stay away from our worship meetings.  If someone really loves Jesus, he will be faithful to meeting with the local church.

Reason #5: Regular church attendance gives you and others evidence of your salvation.

Salvation happens when God’s Spirit, often referred to as the Holy Spirit, makes His home inside a person’s heart as a result of that person putting his trust in Jesus.  This is regeneration.  This process is explained in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel.  God says, “I will place My Spirit within you and cause you to follow My statutes and carefully observe My ordinances.”  Notice the result of God’s Spirit entering a person: the person begins to obey God.  If we have trusted in Jesus, then we will grow in our obedience to God and that obedience will act as evidence of salvation so we can know for sure that we have been saved and others will know it as well.  However, if we are consistently disobedient, then it is evidence that we may not have God’s Spirit and we may not have trusted in Jesus.

Reason #6: Regular Church attendance was the practice of the early church.

Luke is very informative here by recording the practices of the early church.  After Jesus rose from the grave and ascended into heaven, the church’s immediate response was to gather regularly for worship.

We read in Luke 24:53, “And they were continually in the temple complex praising God.”   Now, at this time, the church had not yet been fully established, however Jesus’ disciples gathered regularly to worship Him at the Temple.  Later, they would meet in each other’s homes.  Eventually, local churches would build buildings in which they would gather.

In Acts 2, Luke records for us the result of the Holy Spirit indwelling the disciples of Jesus:  “And they devoted themselves to the apostle’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers…Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house.”  These early believers worshiped God daily together.  Why do we find it so hard to worship Him once a week together?

Reason #7: Regular Church attendance gives you the many benefits of hearing God’s Word preached regularly.

In John 21, Jesus’ command to Peter after He rose from the grave was to feed Jesus’ lambs.  This is a metaphor for His followers (see John 10 where Jesus is the Good Shepherd).   In Acts 6, deacons were ordained in order that the apostles and pastors could preach the Word of God without distraction.  In 1 Timothy and in Titus, Paul directed His young fellow-workers to appoint pastors to guard the church from false teaching.  In Ephesians 4:11, we learn that pastors are given to the church to equip the church to serve King Jesus.

Pastors are gifts from God who protect you from going astray and teaching you to follow Jesus.  God has called them to proclaim His Word to you and to equip you.  However, if you don’t attend the services, you miss what God had in store to teach you that day through His Word proclaimed by your pastor.  I often think of being a pastor like being a country grandmother.  Many country grandmothers would have the whole family over on Sunday afternoon for a giant meal that she made from scratch.  She would put a ton of work and preparation into the meal.  However, the family had to show up in order to enjoy the benefits of the meal and the time of fellowship surrounding that meal.  Your pastor puts a huge spread on the table for you every week for your benefit.   Will you receive the gift that God has in store for you each Sunday?

Reason #8: Regular Church attendance helps parent’s train their children up in the instruction of the Lord.

Many people think that it is the church’s responsibility to train children to follow the Lord.  However, in Deuteronomy 6, Proverbs, and Ephesians, we find that it is the child’s father, with the help of the mother, who has been given the responsibility  to raise children in the ways of the Lord.  However, the church can come alongside the parents to help them by giving them godly advice, Christian fellowship for the whole family, and the support of other Christian parents.

Reason #9: Regular Church attendance is an act of care toward those for whom Jesus loves.

In Ephesians 5, we learn that Jesus loved the church so much that He died in order to cleanse and purify her.  When I was growing up, there was a small abandoned house a few miles down the road.  One day, authorities found a young infant dead in that house.  The infant had been murdered by her parents by exposure.  We can easily see that the parents did not love this infant because they abandoned her.  Have you shown hatred for the church that Jesus loved?  Have you abandoned her?  Yes, she is not perfect yet, but we are still called to love the church because Jesus loves her.

This list is not conclusive, but I hope it will irritate and agitate you to love and good deeds through church attendance.  Even though the context is different to which Paul applies it, it still has implications for our discussion, “You are not your own, 20 for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  Will you obey your Lord who bought you with His precious blood?  Will you glorify Him through faithful weekly church attendance?

 

Does the Bible Address Marijuana?

Near the end his letter to the Ephesian church, the Apostle Paul discussed how Jesus-followers can be “imitators of God as dearly loved children.” Here Paul reminds them that Jesus sacrificed Himself to make them right with God and to save them from His eternal wrath against sinners.

In this salvation, Paul describes the regeneration (or new birth/change in nature) that happens in someone’s heart whenever he or she surrenders to Jesus as Lord and Savior. He says, “for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.” Our past nature was one that delighted in sinfulness and rebellion against God.  Now, God has changed our nature so that we desire to obey Him.

Paul explains how we can be imitators. He warns us generally by saying, “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” After this he gets more specific in describing how to be imitators of God.  At one point he states:

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” -Ephesians 5:18

Here, Paul gives two imperative commands. The first command is not to get drunk with wine. He describes that it “is dissipation.” The word dissipation here is ἀσωτία (asotia) in the Greek. It literally means “against salvation.” Getting drunk or intoxicated is not consistent with the life of a saint; with the life of one for whom Jesus has died. It is a life without restraint or self-discipline. This kind of living brings no glory to God, which is a major concern to the genuine Christian.

The second imperative that Paul gives is to “be filled with the Spirit.” The idea Paul is getting at is that the life of a Jesus-follower is one that submits to the Holy Spirit, one that hears and obeys the Word which the Holy Spirit inspired: the Bible.

The major concern in this verse is about who is in the driver seat of the life of a Christian. When you give yourself over to intoxication, the Holy Spirit is no longer in control. The substance that you have intoxicated yourself with is in control.  It is now the major influencer of your life during the time of intoxication and it inhibits your judgment and ability to submit to the Holy Spirit.

Now, some will say that only wine is mentioned here. But the main task of the Jesus-follower when reading the Bible is to seek authorial intent. That is, we must always be asking, what did this particular writer, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, intend to communicate. This is the primary goal of hermeneutics (Bible interpretation).

Paul mentions wine here in Ephesians 5:18. So we know that we shouldn’t get drunk with wine. However, we can not stop there if we desire to be faithful interpreters of the Scriptures and sincere Jesus-followers. We must seek to understand Paul’s pattern of meaning and apply it where it fits today. We usually refer to this as the implication(s) of a passage (sometimes called the unconscious meaning of the author). The idea is that Paul had wine in mind when he mentioned this to the Ephesians, but if we were to ask Paul, “What about whiskey, or beer, or vodka? Is it okay to get drunk on these?” Paul would assuredly say something like, “No! If you do this, the Holy Spirit is no longer in control, but these substances have too much influence over you.”  (Please see Robert H. Stein’s A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible or any basic hermeneutics book for more on the idea of implications or unconscious meaning).

Now, the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service has warned, “Both independent reviews corroborate the Public Health Service’s findings of health hazards associated with marijuana use: Acute intoxication with marijuana interferes with many aspects of mental functioning and has serious, acute effects on perception and skilled performance, such as driving and other complex tasks involving judgement or fine motor skills.”

With the intoxicating and impairing affect of marijuana as listed above, Paul’s pattern of meaning would extend to not being intoxicated with marijuana because it would inhibit the Christian’s ability to be filled with (or guided by) the Holy Spirit.

If we indeed desire to be imitators of God as dearly loved children who live to honor Jesus’ sacrifice and walk in the light, we will not get intoxicated with marijuana but we will be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Why Is Christmas Such an Important Christian Holiday?

Christmas is the Christian Holiday which celebrates the fulfillment of Old Testament Prophecy.  The Old Testament tells us that God created everything and it was “good.”  But we know that the world is not good anymore, at least as it was supposed to be.  How did it get this way?  One word:  Sin.  Sin is rebellion against God.  According to Genesis 3, hardship, pain, toil, despair, messed up relationships, death, and separation from God are all the results of human sin.  However, God desired good for mankind.  So as early as Genesis 3:15, God promised to send a Savior to the world to save mankind from the effects and penalties of their sin.   Throughout the Old Testament, many prophets continue to prophesy about this Savior.  However, the Old Testament ends without this Savior on the scene.

When the New Testament begins, we have four different testimonies of a man named Jesus of Nazareth who fulfills all of the prophesies about the coming Savior.  Just a small sample of these prophesies follow: He was born of a virgin in Bethlehem, He was a descendent of Abraham, Judah, and King David.  He had to come out of Egypt (after His parents fled there with Him to escape Herod), He would perform miracles like Moses, He would be betrayed by a friend for 30 pieces of silver, He would die on a tree, He would be put to death alongside criminals, his bones would not be broken.
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This coming Savior would actually be God in the Flesh.  He would be Immanuel, that is, God with us.  We call this doctrine, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.  The Incarnation is what Christmas is all about.  The the second person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son, came down from His throne and became a man for us to save us from our sin.  How would He do this?  Well, that’s what Good Friday and Easter are all about:  He lived a perfect life without any rebellion against God the Father, then He died in our place, and rose from the grave so that all who trust Him will be saved from their sin and its effects.

But, this time of year, we celebrate that God became Man so He could restore us to Himself again.

But why was it necessary for God to become a man to save us?  Why is it necessary for our Savior to be both God and man?

Our Savior must be God because our sin is committed against an eternal being: God.  Since our sin is committed against an eternal being, the punishment is likewise, eternal.  If Jesus isn’t God, He could not save us because His death, even if He never sinned, could not pay an everlasting penalty.  But because He is God, as an eternal being, His death can pay the eternal debt that our sin acquired.

Our Savior must be man because only a man can permanently stand in the place of mankind.  In the Old Testament, animals without blemish were sacrificed to make God’s people temporarily restored to Him.  However, when Jesus died as a man, he was the perfect representative for mankind.  This task could not have been fulfilled by an animal nor even an angel.  It had to be the God-man.

Below, I have included a very brief doctrinal essay that I wrote on Christology, or the study of the Christ, while in Seminary. If you would like a little more detail about why we celebrate Christmas, I would encourage you to read on.  If you want to study this in depth, purchase a copy of Saint Athanasius’ On the Incarnation.

May God bless you with a very Merry Christmas as you celebrate the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Doctrinal Statement:  The Person and Work of Christ

by Eric G. Fannin

The question of who Jesus is, is the most important question that a person will ever ask.  The doctrine of Christology is the most important teaching of the Christian faith, for faith in Jesus Christ is the distinction of a genuine Christian.  This essay will briefly discuss those doctrines of Christology concerning:  Jesus the Promised One, Jesus the God, Jesus the man, the virgin birth, the sinless savior, and the resurrected Lord.

Jesus is the one who is promised throughout the Old Testament and he is the fulfillment of the Law.  The promises for a Messiah or savoir for Israel are given as early as Genesis 3:15.  This text is often referred to as the Protoevangelium.  It speaks of the “offspring” of the woman crushing the serpents head.  Further, in Genesis 12, God promises Abram that God will make him a great nation and he will bless the nations.  This blessing came through the Messiah, Jesus.  In Genesis 15, God promises Abram an heir, of which the Messiah would be brought.

God also makes a covenant with David to give him, through his decedents a forever house, a forever throne, and a forever kingdom (2 Samuel 7).  This reached it’s fulfillment in Jesus.  Also, Isaiah’s suffering servant figure represents the Messiah which is Jesus, whose life, death, and resurrection fit the figure of the suffering servant flawlessly.  Furthermore, Luke records Jesus’ words claiming to be the one the scriptures spoke of.

The Bible also makes clear that Jesus is not only man but that he is God himself, the Son of the Trinity.  Paul states in Philippians 2 that Jesus is in the very form of God.  The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus is greater than the angels and Moses and all of the other prophets of the Old Testament.  Paul reiterates in Colossians 1 that Jesus is the very image of the invisible God and the firstborn over all creation.  He also states that all things were created for Christ and by Christ.  The only one worthy to have everything created for him and the only one that is powerful enough to create the world is God himself.  Jesus is God, the Son.

Jesus was not only fully God but he was also fully man.  The Scriptures tell us that Jesus was not a spirit of some sort without a body but that he was a man and experienced life as we experience it.  He had hunger and thirst (Mt. 4:2, Jn. 19:28).  He felt pain and sorrow (Mt. 27:33-35, Jn. 11:35).  He even experienced temptation (Mt. 4:26).  Paul informs us in Philippians 2 that though Jesus was in the form of God that he made himself a servant, being born in human likeness.  Jesus had full humanity in his person.

Jesus was also born of a virgin as the scriptures foretold that he would be.  In Isaiah 7, God gives a sign to the House of David that the Messiah would be born of a virgin or a young maiden.  Matthew records in 1:18-25 that Mary, Jesus’ mother, while betrothed to Joseph, yet before they were brought together, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit.  Luke also records the conversation between Mary and Gabriel, the angel came to tell Mary what was about to take place.  He informs that she will conceive to bear the Son of God.  Upon this news she asks how this could happen since she is a virgin and he tells her that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and God Most High will overshadow her and she will conceive.

Not only is Jesus the Promised one of Israel, the God, the man, born of a virgin but Jesus was perfectly sinless and holy throughout his entire life.  He never once sinned.  The writer of Hebrews, while encouraging and informing that believers have a great high priest in Jesus, wrote that Jesus is able to sympathize with mankind because he was tempted in every way that man is tempted, yet he was without sin through all of that temptation (Heb. 4:15).  The apostle Peter also informs that Jesus committed no sin, but died for the sins of the world (2 Peter 2:22).

Lastly, Jesus not only died for the sins of the world, but he was also resurrected from the grave.  Paul tells his readers in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that Christ was raised from the dead on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.  Furthermore, Paul adds that the resurrection is so important that one’s faith in Christ is in vain if Christ did not rise from the dead.  For if Christ did not raise from the dead than his power to defeat death, the sting of which is sin (1 Cor. 15:56) would be nullified.  If Christ did not raise than he did not defeat sin or death.  But Paul contends vigorously that Christ was raised from the dead as is proclaimed in the gospel.  Paul also informs that because Christ was raised from the dead, that same power will rise from the dead and transform those who have been born again, to live forever with Christ.

This essay has briefly put forth many important doctrines entwined in Christology: the central and distinguishing doctrine in the Christian faith.  The author has shown biblical support for Jesus as the promised one, the God, the man, being born of a virgin, a sinless savior, and the resurrected Lord.

Too Much Topical Preaching!!!

Eric preaching

I preach twice a week.  It takes me a very long time to prepare the sermons that I preach and I do not think that is a bad thing.  I preach expository messages.  That means I take a passage of Scripture (often progressing through a particular book) and I seek to explain to the people what the Biblical author intended when He wrote the passage often doing so verse by verse.  I then try to illustrate, argue for, and help people apply the ideas of the Biblical author.  I believe that this is the most faithful type of preaching.

I often listen to sermons throughout the week on my phone (usually Matt Chandler, J.D. Greer, and Alistair Begg), and they are all faithful preachers, but it is not the same as hearing God’s Word in real life with God’s people.  Recently I got to go to a service and hear another pastor preach.  I was excited to hear the Word preached in real life with other believers present!  However, shortly after the sermon began I was disappointed because the sermon was topical.  That means that the preacher comes up with the main idea (hopefully its a Biblical idea, sometimes its not) and then tries to support his idea with different passages of Scripture.

I want to be clear about this. I don’t care what another preacher thinks!  I want to know what the Biblical author was getting across as he was inspired by God!  Now don’t get me wrong, I think there is a place for topical preaching but its uses should be few and far between.  I think a pastor should only preach this type of sermon whenever there is an urgent issue in the church that needs to be addressed immediately (but even still, expository preaching is often better in this case if the preacher merely knows what passage to preach from).  However, the main diet of a church should be expository preaching!  After all, preachers’ sermons and ideas are not inspired by the Holy Spirit but the Biblical authors and their ideas were!  It is very easy for topical preaching to go wrong! It is easy for topical preaching to keep the preacher and the congregation in a shallow knowledge of the Word by merely skimming the top of several passages rather than digging deep and really understanding a passage.  It is easy for preachers to preach their favorite topics over and over again and not giving their flock the whole diet of God’s Word.  It is easy for preachers to misinterpret, overemphasize, and take passages out of context when they are preaching topically because they are dealing with several passages at once which makes it harder for congregations to test what the preachers are saying by God’s Word because the preacher is jumping around in the Bible too much!

After the service, another believer said, “That was a great message, wasn’t it?”  I wasn’t sure how to respond.  I didn’t want to speak negatively of another pastor.  I could agree with many things the preacher said but the problem wasn’t so much the message as it was the driver of the message.  I want God’s inspired Word to be driving the message. Not the preacher.  I think we need a revival of expository messages.  I hope that more congregations will stop getting by on topical messages and desire the meat of God’s Word.  I hope that more churches will start to demand that pastors preach expository messages!

 

It’s Time to Wake Up!

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This morning I woke up with a burden on my heart for some individuals I know who say they are Christians and that they have been saved, yet they seem to be spiritually asleep.  I had a burden on my heart for them and for any who are in the same situation: unconscious of the weightiness of spiritual and eternal matters.  I realize that I have been in this same situation before myself.  I wish someone had shaken me sooner and had awakened me so I could know even more joy in knowing and serving Jesus during those times.  I hope that I wake up more even now.

I wrote in my prayer journal, “My Father, I am often burdened for those who claim to be saved but are not following you.  Why aren’t they awake to spiritual realities?  Why don’t they realize the weightiness of who you are and what you’ve done?”

Then, immediately afterwards, I read Isaiah 49-52.  Three times in Chapters 51 and 52, God tells the people His people to “Wake up, Wake up.”  I don’t think this is a coincidence.  I believe it’s time to sound the alarm!  I believe it’s time that we encourage each other that we confront each other to wake up!  It’s time to make sure that we don’t allow each other to fall asleep spiritually!  The third time that God tells His people to wake up here He says,

“Wake up, wake up;
put on your strength, Zion!
Put on your beautiful garments,
Jerusalem, the Holy City!
For the uncircumcised and the unclean
will no longer enter you.
Stand up, shake the dust off yourself!
Take your seat, Jerusalem.
Remove the bonds from your neck,
captive Daughter Zion.”
For this is what the Lord says:
“You were sold for nothing,
and you will be redeemed without silver.”

The idea here is to get rid of the wickedness in our lives and to step out of the chains that sin had bound us in.  As Christians, we are no longer slaves to sin!  Jesus has unlocked the chains that we might serve Him freely and out of gratitude!  We were in slavery, but now we have been redeemed!   It was without silver but it was with the precious blood of Jesus!   He died for us!  How could we live our lives in apathy toward Him?  How can we live our lives like His didn’t matter?! 

Church, it is time to get real!  If you say you have been saved but this salvation has not made a big difference in your life, it is no salvation!  True salvation changes a person completely!  It makes us a new creation!  It gives us a new birth!  It causes us to obey God where we only desired to rebel before!  The last sermon I preached was from Malachi 3.  After realizing that Jesus changes everything, this message about returning to the Lord helps us to test our faith!  Three questions you should ask yourself to see if you have really been converted are:  Do I desire to study and obey God’s Word?  Do I give sacrificially and joyfully?  Do I serve God gladly with my words, time, and energy?

I am not saying that we earn our salvation or that we have to change ourselves.  I am saying that if a person is truly saved, God’s Spirit, which entered him or her upon repentance and faith in Jesus, will not allow that person to remain as you are but will be making him or her more like Jesus (Rom. 8:29).

Brothers and Sisters, it’s time to wake up!  The apostle Peter tells us,”Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.”  Satan is trying to make sure that you go to Hell!  If he can’t have you, he will try to make sure that you don’t lead your wife, husband, children, grandchildren, parents, friends, neighbors, and co-workers to Christ so that they will be damned to the Eternal Lake of Fire.  If you remain asleep to spiritual and eternal matters, that may happen!  If you are saved, he will try to make sure that you don’t lead others to Jesus!  Satan wants you to sleep!  It’s time to wake up!

Are You Weary and Burdened?

Me and two friends goofing off at a park in NC  Obviously, I'm not the one with the heavy load here.

Me and two friends goofing off at a park in NC Obviously, I’m not the one with the heavy load here.

For several weeks now I have been refreshed in serving and worshipping the Lord.  This is very exciting and I praise God for it.  However, with this has come an intensified concern for the well-being of the church where I serve as pastor.  I have had a hard time sleeping on many nights and resting on my days off because this concern has been constantly reentering my mind and continuing in my heart.

During my prayer time yesterday I had many of these concerns on my heart.  I was concerned about the health of the church, concerned about the church growing, concerned about individual church member’s spiritual growth and health, concerned about whether I am doing the things that God would want a pastor of one of His churches doing, concerned about why our church isn’t growing faster.

In the midst of these concerns flowing out of my heart, the Holy Spirit reminded me of the following passage:

“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” –Matthew 11:28-30.

The beginning of this verse begins with the Greek word δεῦτε.  It means to “come here” and to “come now!”  I find it comforting that Jesus doesn’t want us to lose heart because we are carrying a heavy load.  He wants us to come to Him  right away!   He doesn’t want us to be discouraged for any length of time.  How long do we carry heavy loads in our own strength before we actually take them to Jesus?  He has promised that when we come to Him, He will give us rest and allow us to learn from Him.

Now, I want to be clear.  I am not saying that Jesus doesn’t want us (any and every Christian that is) to take on responsibility of any kind.  In fact, He calls many of us to bear extremely heavy responsibilities for Him.  However, when we come to Him, we find rest and strength in order to carry such loads.  The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity.  God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.”  I want you to notice here that the way of escape is not the removal of the temptation or of responsibility.  The way of escape is the strength to be able to bear the temptation and the responsibility without giving in or giving up. 

Now, back to our original passage from Matthew 11.  Jesus says in verse 30, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  Jesus is contrasting the gospel (that is the good news of His life, death, and resurrection that allows us to be saved from eternal destruction) with all of the demands of the law and the extra demands of the Pharisees.  Under the Mosaic Covenant and Law (that is the Covenant that God made with Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai), the Israelites were required to follow the whole law.  The curse for disobeying the law was death (Deuteronomy 28:45).  However, Jesus came and obeyed the whole law on our behalf.  He died to pay the penalty for our disobedience to the law.  Now, we can come to Him, take on His yoke, and He will take ours.  This means, that whenever we are weak and whenever we fail, there is no more penalty or punishment for us.  Why?  Because Jesus took it!  I don’t have to be constantly afraid that I am going to fail God!  Why? Because Jesus had victory on my behalf!

This also leads to one last idea:  Jesus is in control!  He is the one who works in the hearts and minds of His people!  He is the one who grows His church! He is the one who will convict unbelievers to repentance and faith!  I am His instrument and so are you!  He has merely called us to take part in His ministry.  Therefore, when we are burdened and weary in heart, it is important to remember that this is primarily His ministry and His yoke that we get to take part in!  That’s what makes this yoke an easy and light one to bear.  It’s because Jesus has borne it and is bearing it in us and with us!

Praise God!

What Are You Craving?

Taste and See

Taste and See

“Taste and see that the LORD is good.  How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!” -Ps. 34:8

I woke up in the middle of the night last night with this verse intensely in my heart and mind.

I had been wondering why at times we go to church out of obligation and why at times we just go through the motions. This verse shows us why.

We’ve stopped feasting with God. It’s because we often get distracted from the one who truly matters and is worth focusing on. It’s because our distractions have led us away from remembering how much joy there is in walking closely with Jesus, seeing His glory, and praising Him with other believers. I think, when we again taste and see that the LORD is good, we will desire to worship with brothers and sisters as often as possible, and I mean truly worship!

Do you remember how joyful and excited you were when you were first saved? Do you remember how much you craved God and His word and at the same time were satisfied by Him and yet still desiring more of Him? Are you remembering that the LORD is good today?

May Jesus be worshipped among us all!