How to Be Saved

On the dusty ground in front of an old home in Moldova, I had the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the woman who lived there. She had heard about Jesus but she did not know that her sins could be forgiven and that she could be permanently reconciled to God and guaranteed eternal life. She had been taught that she must work to earn her salvation. Once I had finished sharing the good news of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and promised return and explaining that one must be saved, she responded in a way that I have never seen in the United States. With great anticipation, eagerness, and concern for her eternal state, she inquired, “How can I have that? How can I be saved?” She invited us in and we explained to her the process of receiving salvation. There, on the rug of her living room floor, with no further instruction, she knelt down and cried aloud for God to save her because of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Have you been saved? Do you know how to be saved? Do you know how to lead someone else to salvation? A few weeks ago I wrote about the grand narrative that runs through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation that God sent His Son to save a sin-fallen world. This article is where the rubber meets the road. How can someone receive salvation?

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First, one must hear the gospel message. No one can be saved without hearing the gospel message of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return which enables salvation. Paul, speaking about the necessity of faith in Jesus for salvation, says, “But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the gospel of good things!” (Romans 10:14-15). Apart from a knowledge of Jesus Christ and His ministry, no one can be saved. If we want to see our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers escape the fires of Hell and be reconciled to God for eternity, we must share the good news of Jesus with them.

Second, one must acknowledge his or her sinful and condemned state. This is what I call the bad news of the good news. Unless you acknowledge the bad news about yourself, you will never be able to accept the good news about Jesus. The Bible is clear that we are all sinners; that we all start out life opposed to God. Isaiah says that even our attempts to be good are tainted by sin and seen as unclean in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6) while Paul says that we all have missed God’s mark of righteousness (Romans 3:23). Paul, speaking to Christians, says that there was a time when we all were spiritually dead because of our own sins, we all used to walk the direction of the world and of Satan, we all followed our sinful and selfish desires, and we all, at one time, were under the wrath of God (Ephesians 2:1-3). Paul warns us that the punishment of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and God’s condemnation to “flaming fire” and “eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-12). Jesus tells John likewise, “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8). As Christians who care for those around us, we must gently and lovingly warn those who have not been saved of this imminent eternal danger.

Third, one must realize the great love of God expressed through Christ’s death and resurrection. Jesus’ death and resurrection on behalf of sinners for their salvation is the heart of the gospel message. Jesus has always existed as God but He also became a man in order to represent mankind before God (Hebrews 4:14-16). As the God-man, He died on the cross as a substitute, taking the eternal punishment for the sins of others. Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience, God the Father raised Him from the dead and returned Him to His exalted place in Heaven (Philippians 2:5-11). We know that God the Father expressed His love for us by sending His Son (John 3:16). We know that God the Son considered the result of His dying to save us a joy (Hebrews 12:2). God’s love for mankind is so great that Christ died for us even while we were sinners; while we were His enemies (Romans 5:6-11). The message of God’s love must always be on the lips of Christians. Will you share the message of God’s love with someone this month?

Fourth, one must respond to this news about Jesus with faith and repentance. Paul tells us that eternal salvation can only be received by grace through faith and that it is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace is undeserved and unearned favor or gifts. Faith is placing a trust in someone or something in such a way that the way we think and act changes in light of that person or thing. But what is the nature of saving faith? Saving faith exhibits two characteristics. First, saving faith trusts Jesus as the sufficient Savior who did everything required for salvation so that nothing else is needed. A faith that requires more than what Jesus accomplished is not saving faith but a false gospel (Galatians 1:6-9). Second, saving faith trusts Jesus as authoritative Lord of one’s life. Lord means “master” or “king” and speaks of one who has the right to direct others. Paul says, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Saving faith trusts Jesus both as Savior and Lord; as the One who saves your soul and directs your life. Upon placing faith in Jesus, God sends His Holy Spirit into the believer to change the believer’s beliefs, desires, and actions (Ezekiel 36:24-28). At that moment, the Holy Spirit causes repentance in the believer’s heart which expresses itself in prayer asking God for forgiveness. Paul says, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). The gospel of Jesus is a message that calls for a response of faith leading to repentance. Let’s encourage those around us not only to hear the good news but to respond to it appropriately.

We have such a great message to share: That God sent His Son to die and rise to save us! That by trusting Jesus, God mercifully forgives us! That by trusting Jesus, God graciously adopts us as His children! That “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1)! Have you trusted in Jesus as Savior and Lord? Will you share with others so they may be saved also?

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Is Evangelism Your Pastor’s Job? No…and Yes

The article below is another one I wrote for a doctoral seminar at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. As I have done previously with this kind of article, I have included parenthetical explanations where I thought it may help a more general audience. My hope in sharing this article is to relieve my brother pastors from the weight of expectation in a task that is not theirs to bear alone. Second, I hope this article will mobilize the church to share the gospel and to see evangelism as one of her primary responsibilities in every member.

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Introduction

The calling and work of pastors are essential for the health of the local church. However, that health diminishes when the pastoral office assumes roles intended for others. This paper will provide a brief overview of the recent history of pastoral theology and its related disciplines, provide a Biblical description of the pastoral office, and explain how evangelism intersects with the pastoral office in order to show that personal evangelism is a secondary responsibility in pastoral care but a primary responsibility for the church in all her members.

Brief Overview of the Recent History of Pastoral Theology

Pastoral ministry in the twenty-first century presents overwhelming demands on those called of God to shepherd His people. David Larsen cites studies showing the pastor-teacher performing 192 different tasks.[1] The result of such an overwhelming load is pastoral burnout, short-tenured pastorates, neglect of pastors towards their families, feelings of isolation between pastors and their flocks, and moral failures of those in pastoral ministry.[2]

Pastoral ministry was not always this deluded. A shift occurred in the foundation of pastoral theology which guides pastoral ministry. Throughout most of church history, pastoral theologians built their understanding of the pastoral office upon Scripture.[3] However, the Enlightenment encouraged an epistemological shift (epistemology is the study of knowledge and its foundations), even in pastoral theology. Eventually, empirical data took the place of special revelation in prominence among many pastoral theologians.[4] Pastoral theology was moved to a new foundation: modern psychology[5] in which goals of social functioning and self-realization replaced the goals of salvation and sanctification.[6] During the twentieth century, those more conservative authors left the foundations of ministry unaddressed and instead focused on practical advice drawn from personal experience.[7]

Near the end of the twentieth century, Thomas Oden wrote his Pastoral Theology directing the discipline back to foundations in Scripture and the Patristics.[8] However, Oden’s goal was to produce a pastoral theology that was both biblical and as ecumenical as possible.[9] His work, therefore, lacked strong differentiation between the offices in the New Testament and lumped them all together as “pastoral offices.”[10] Oden’s work has wielded strong influence and marked a shift in pastoral theology resulting in a corresponding shift in pastoral practice. Many pastoral theologians have been turning to the Scriptures for the foundation of their discipline[11] but have also lacked proper differentiation.

Despite this shift back to the Bible as foundation of pastoral theology, an understanding of the Biblical office of pastor remains somewhat vague and ill-defined in pastoral theologies and pastoral handbooks. When pastoral theologians and pastoral ministry practitioners’ give direction to pastors from the Bible, most assume that all ministry (or nearly all ministry with the exception of diaconal ministry among some traditions) belongs to the office of pastor. Very little differentiation is made between apostolic ministry, prophetic ministry, evangelistic ministry, pastoral ministry, and ministries of the body at large.

The Apostle Paul and his companions Timothy and Titus are very often viewed as the ideal examples of pastoral ministry even though there is little implied evidence and no explicit evidence that they served in the pastoral office in any local church.[12] Contrary to the overwhelming assumption, Merkle provides three reasons to make a distinction between the role of Timothy and Titus and that of pastors: Timothy and Titus’ positions were temporary in such a way to travel with Paul, authoritative in such a way to appoint elders, and unique in such a way that no other New Testament example can be found.[13] Indeed, if Timothy and Titus were pastors, this would be the only two examples of a monarchical episcopate (single-pastor model) until the writings of Ignatius in the mid-second century. While the return to a Biblical foundation in pastoral theology is superlative, a maturing and defining process in this discipline and its cognates is still wanting; a process which is necessary for pastoral ministry to be as focused and powerful as King Jesus designed it to be.

A Biblical Description of the Pastoral Office

          The pastoral office must find its nature and imperatives in Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). Scripture is sufficient, not only for directing one to salvation, but also for developing a right ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) and therefore a right pastoral theology.[14] Scripture’s direction for the pastoral office may be understood in two axioms. First and more explicit, Scripture guides the pastoral office through descriptions, qualifications, and commands directly connected to the three interchangeable terms of the pastoral office when used thereof: πρεσβυτέρους (elder or presbyter), ἐπισκόποις (bishop or overseer), and ποιμένας (pastor or shepherd).[15] Second, and more implicit, pastors must find the nature and content of their assignment in the example of Jesus Christ as He acts in the shepherding motif. Peter, while commanding elders to “shepherd the flock of God among you” then referred to Jesus as “the Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:1-4). This directive to the elders connected with this designation of Jesus implies that elders must imitate Jesus’ shepherding activity. This axiom may be termed pastoral theology in a narrow usage.

These two axioms concerning Scripture and the pastoral office lead to an understanding of five pastoral responsibilities. The first pastoral responsibility is the ministry of the Word. As the church spread and the apostles died, some, but not all, aspects of the apostolic ministry transferred to pastors.[16] In Acts 6:1-7, the Apostles led the church to ordain deacons so they could be free to proclaim God’s Word publicly (Acts 6:4). Paul’s division of officers in Philippians 1:1 suggests that overseers assumed part of the ministry of the Word and deacons served alongside these local overseers in a similar way that they served alongside the apostles. Consistently, overseers must be gifted to teach (1 Tim 3:2) and defend against heresy (Tit 1:9).

The second pastoral responsibility is the ministry of prayer. The overseers also received this important ministry from the Apostles (Acts 6:4). James reveals that pastors devote special efforts and time to praying with people as representatives of the whole church (Ja 5:14).

The ministry of leadership is the third pastoral responsibility. The term ἐπισκόποις (overseer or bishop) carried the idea of leadership from the surrounding Greek culture.[17]  This leadership comes from the authority of the Holy Spirit’s appointment of them to their work (Acts 20:28).

The fourth pastoral responsibility is the ministry of shepherding. The shepherding motif is well established in the Old Testament. God the Father was seen as a shepherd (Psalm 23; Ezekiel 34). Jesus, joined in His Father’s work by shepherding the flock (John 10). Then, Jesus commissioned Peter using shepherding language (Jn 21:15-17). As the apostles spread out, they commissioned leaders of congregations to shepherd God’s flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Pt 1:1-5). This responsibility involves spiritual protection, provision, and care in applying God’s Word to the lives of members with the goal of sanctification and equipping (Eph 4:11-12).

The ministry of modeling the Christ-like life is the fifth responsibility of the pastor.  The term πρεσβυτέρους (elder or presbyter) when used of the New Testament office did not carry the idea of age but maturity.[18] Paul’s direction to Timothy and Titus about the qualifications for overseers in First Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 reveal this modeling ministry as all of the qualifications for elders are commanded for every Christian in other passages of the New Testament with the exception for the ability to teach. Peter likewise commands elders “to be examples to the flock” (1 Pt 5:3).

Intersections of Evangelism and the Pastoral Office

In seeking a more precise understanding of New Testament ministries, one will notice that Paul makes a four-fold differentiation in Word-based ministry roles in Ephesians 4:11 between apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers.[19] Each of these roles were given, not to do the work of ministry, but to equip others to do such work.[20] God’s goal is to make a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” for Himself (Ex 19:6) rather than to have a class of priests within His people.

Peter calls every Christian together[21] a “spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2:5). Then, Peter shares the nature and content of these sacrifices, “so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pt 2:9).  Thomas Schreiner explains the development that Peter makes in this passage:

Now God’s kingdom of priests consists of the church of Jesus Christ. It too is to mediate God’s blessings to the nations, as it proclaims the gospel…The declaration of God’s praises includes both worship and evangelism, spreading the good news of God’s saving wonders to all peoples.[22]

All Christians are called to do the work of ministry. The Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) which Christ gave to His apostles, the foundation of the church (Eph 2:20), passed to all Christians, not to a special class of Christians. Ken Schurb convincingly shows that non-pastors spread the gospel in Antioch after fleeing the persecution in Jerusalem in Acts 11. Schurb writes,

the church was indeed planted among the Gentiles at Antioch through laymen who told the Good News about the Lord Jesus…The work of the men of Cyprus and Cyrene in Acts 11 simply provides an instance in which members of the royal priesthood of believers, faced with a situation where the Gospel was not known, proclaimed the excellencies of the One Who had called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.[23]

The example of the New Testament church reveals that sharing the gospel was the primary task of the entire church in every member.

Therefore, understanding that all Christians have a share in evangelism to some extent,[24] and since Paul distinguishes between the role of an evangelist and the role of a pastor, pastoral theologians must seek to understand this difference so pastors may function as God intended. The term εὐαγγελιστάς (evangelist) is only used three times in the New Testament: here in Ephesians 4:11 making this distinction in roles, once of Philip (Acts 21:8), and once of Timothy (2 Tim 4:5).

Thielman, considering the term and usage of εὐαγγελιστάς (evangelist) and its cognates in historical context, concludes,

“Evangelists,” then, are probably those whom God has especially equipped to travel from place to place with the good news of peace through Christ…Paul, then, probably thinks of “evangelists” as similar to apostles but without their authority because of their lack of direct connection to the historical Jesus.[25]

Merkle agrees with Thielman’s assessment and notes that Philip and Timothy, of whom the title is used, both traveled from place to place sharing the gospel.[26] Everett Ferguson explains that before the offices of Apostles and prophets ceased, the Apostles began setting aside “elders to oversee congregations… Likewise, Paul early began to gather around himself men like Timothy and Titus who were trained to continue the work of preaching the gospel…‘evangelist’ was a technical term for this class of workers…laboring to win new converts.”[27] Since the officers of Ephesians 4:11 are not to do the work of ministry alone but to equip others to do so, evangelists travel to share the gospel and encourage the church to do so as well.

If one realizes the differentiation between ministries in the New Testament and is careful not to impute Paul, Timothy, or Titus with the pastoral office, then the direct command “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5) cannot be assumed in pastoral responsibility. Indeed, the pastoral motif directs shepherds to minister to those who belong to God’s flock, not those who are outside the flock, at least predominantly. The inquiry at hand then, concerns the relationship of the pastoral office and evangelism. This article does not argue that pastors should not evangelize, but rather that evangelism is a secondary function of the pastorate as it intersects with the five Biblical responsibilities of a shepherd expounded previously.

First, evangelism intersects with the pastoral office ecclesiologically (concerning the doctrine and function of the church). As pastors have the responsibility of leading local congregations and as the mission of the church is to “make disciples” (Mt 28:16-20) and be Jesus’ witnesses (Acts 1:8), pastors must lead their congregations in evangelistic efforts. This intersection is well-acknowledged among pastoral theologians and practitioners today.[28] Samuel Southard hints at this intersection when he states, “The first responsibility of pastors is not to evangelize but to produce an evangelizing congregation.”[29]

Owen Stultz also recognizes this intersection and provides ten roles for pastors to lead their churches in evangelism, one of which calls for particular mention: “The role of the pastor is to help persons develop as evangelists.”[30] As ecclesiological leaders, pastors not only lead the church as a whole in evangelism but also help those called to be evangelists (a contemporary manifestation likely being church planters and international missionaries) to develop their gifts.

Second, evangelism intersects with the pastoral office incarnationally (“in the flesh”). As pastors have the responsibility to set the example of the Christ-like life for their congregations, they will be an in-the-flesh inspiration to obedience in evangelism. As the Great Commission is the primary responsibility of the priesthood of all believers, every Christian is called to evangelism. The pastor shares the gospel first as a Christ-follower and second as a pastor. His life illustrates to others what it means to follow Jesus. Therefore, He shares the gospel personally, showing others how to follow Jesus in this way. This intersection is also well-acknowledged in pastoral theology and ministry today.[31] Southard remarks, “The personal witness of a pastor provides inspiration and example for others.”[32]

Third, evangelism intersects with the pastoral office metaphorically. As a pastor has the responsibility to shepherd the flock as Christ shepherds, he will be sensitive to those who may become part of the flock.  J Patrick Vaughn recognized this intersection of shepherding and evangelism. He explains, “Pastoral theological reflection upon the ministry of evangelism begins with the very nature of God as captured and expressed in metaphor.”[33]

The shepherding metaphor directs pastors to focus their primary efforts upon the flock. Jesus spent the majority of His ministry instructing and guiding those who believed in Him: His disciples. However, when Jesus, the Chief Shepherd saw sheep without a shepherd, He was moved with compassion for them (Matt 9:36). He focused on serving those who were already His own and “was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Yet He was ready and willing to shepherd all others who would trust Him (Matt 15:21-28). Biblical pastors will focus their efforts toward the sheep, but they will be ready and willing to shepherd those who will trust in the Chief Shepherd.

Fourth, evangelism intersects with the pastoral office theologically. As the pastor has the responsibility to shepherd God’s flock and considers the doctrine of election, he will seek sheep who are not yet spiritually regenerated. Jesus said, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (Jn 10:16). Prime and Begg allude to this passage and this intersection when they state, “Our responsibility is not solely for the flock already gathered in, but for those other sheep that are to be called…A true pastor’s concern is for the other sheep that have not yet heard the Great Shepherd’s call.”[34] However, this flows from the responsibility of shepherding and shepherding the flock gathered takes precedence lest the pastor neglect the revealed flock for the hypothetical sheep.

Fifth, evangelism intersects with the pastoral office didactically (regarding the responsibility to teach). As pastors are responsible for the ministry of the Word among their flocks and the content of the Word centers in the prophecies, fulfillments, incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of Jesus Christ as the gospel (Matt 5:17; Luke 24:44), then pastoral evangelism may be construed as preaching the gospel and its implications to the church. Abbott-Smith defines εὐαγγελιστάς (evangelist) as “a preacher of the gospel.”[35] In this non-technical sense, pastors serve as evangelists every time they preach or teach from God’s Word as the gospel is central to understanding and applying the Scripture to one’s life.

Kurt Richardson also shows the pastoral responsibility of the praying for the sick and anointing with oil from James five. He relates anointing with oil to repentance.[36] In this sense, when pastors pray for the sick, they should encourage repentance and trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of any sin. While this ministry is intended toward the church, it reveals that in every act, pastors teach the gospel and its implications.

Conclusion

          This article has sought to show how pastors may be rightly construed as evangelists in their pastoral care. A brief history of pastoral theology and ministry was given to show the current state of scholarship in pastoral evangelism. Then, a Biblical overview of primary pastoral responsibilities was given. Finally, an explanation of the intersections of pastoral responsibility and evangelism were explored.

A Biblical understanding of the pastor as evangelist reveals that evangelism is not a primary responsibility of the pastor but of the church; of the priesthood of all believers. Evangelism intersects with pastoral ministry in a secondary-logical way. The result of this shift from evangelism as a primary responsibility of the pastor to a secondary one will relieve pastors from a burden that is not theirs to shoulder alone. It will also encourage the church in all her members to take her rightful place in evangelistic effort. In short, this shift will lead to evangelism practiced as a corporate effort instead of a spectacular one.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Abbott-Smith, G. A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1922.

Akin, Daniel L. and R. Scott Pace. Pastoral Theology: Theological Foundations for Who a Pastor Is and What He Does. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017.

Allison, Gregg. Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

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

Armstrong, Richard Stoll. “Evangelism: Communicating the Good News of the Christian Gospel.” In The New Dictionary of Pastoral Studies. Edited by Wesley Carr, Donald Capps, Robin Gill, et al. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002.

Beckwith, Roger. Elders in Every City: The Origin and Role of Ordained Ministry. Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster Press, 2003.

Bisagno, John. Pastor’s Handbook. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2011.

Boisen, Anton T. Problems in Religion and Life: A Manual for Pastors. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1946.

Boisen, Anton T. “The Problem of Sin and Salvation in the Light of Psychopathology,” in The Journal of Religion 22, no. 2 (July 1942), 288-301.

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

Cedar, Paul, Kent Hughes, and Ben Patterson. Mastering the Pastoral Role. Portland: Multnomah, 1991.

Criswell, W.A. Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1980.

Collins, John N. “The Presbyter as Purveyor of the Word of God.” In Worship 83, no. 3: (May 2014), 255-271.

Dobbins, G.S. “Pastoral Evangelism.” In Review & Expositor 42, no. 1: (January 1945), 48-58.

Ferguson, Everett. “The Ministry of the Word in the First Two Centuries” In Restoration Quarterly 1, no. 1: (1957), 21-31.

Hawkins, O.S. The Pastor’s Primer. Nashville: GuideStone, 2006.

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

Holifield, Brooks E. A History of Pastoral Care in America: From Salvation to Self-Realization. Nashville: Abington Press, 1983.

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

Lea, Thomas D. and Hayne P. Griffin, Jr. 1,2 Timothy Titus. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1992.

Lightfoot, J.B. Philippians. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994.

Merkle, Benjamin. 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic and Professional, 2008.

Merkle, Benjamin. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Ephesians. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016.

Merkle, Benjamin. Why Elders?: A Biblical and Practical Guide for Church Members. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic and Professional, 2009.

Merkle, Benjamin and Thomas Schreiner eds. Shepherding God’s Flock: Biblical Leadership in the New Testament and Beyond. Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2014.

Metzger, Bruce Manning. “New Testament View of the Church.” In Theology Today 19, no. 3 (October 1962): 369-380.

Montoya, Alex D. “Outreaching.” In Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005.

Oats, Wayne E. The Bible and Pastoral Care. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953.

Oden, Thomas C.  Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry.  New York: Harpersanfransisco, 1983.

Prime, Derek and Alistair Begg. 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.

Richardson, Kurt, A. James. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997.

Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2003.

Schurb, Ken. “Pastors and People in Evangelism: A Study in Acts.” In Missio Apostolica 8, no. 1: (May 2000), 32-39.

Silva, Moises. Philippians: Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Southard, Samuel. Pastoral Evangelism. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1962.

Spurgeon, Charles. Lectures to My Students: The 28 Lectures, Complete and Unabridged- A Spiritual Classic of Christian Wisdom, Prayer and Preaching in the Ministry. Pantianos Classics, 1875.

Stott, John R.W. The Message of Ephesians. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1979.

Stultz, Owen D. “The Role of the Pastor in Evangelism and Church Growth.” In Brethren Life and Thought 25, no. 2: (Spring 1980), 111-120.

Tidball, Derek. Ministry by the Book: New Testament Patterns for Pastoral Leadership. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008.

Thompson, James W. Pastoral Ministry according to Paul: A Biblical Vision. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

Vaughn, Patrick J. “Evangelism: A Pastoral Theological Perspective” in The Journal of Pastoral Care 49, no. 3: (Fall 1995), 265-272.

Ward, Ronald A. Commentary on 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1974.

Wilson, James M. Six Lectures on Pastoral Theology, With an Appendix on the Influence of Scientific Training on the Reception of Religious Truth. London: MacMillian and Co., Limited, 1903).  

Wilson, Jim. “The Pastor and Evangelism: Preaching the Gospel.” In Evangelism in the Twenty-First Century. Edited by Thom S. Rainer. Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1989.

END NOTES 

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

[2] See Derek Tidball, Ministry by the Book: New Testament Patterns for Pastoral Leadership, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 239.

[3] As evidenced by Andrew Purves, Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), see especially p. 116.

[4] For a common example of this see James M. Wilson, Six Lectures on Pastoral Theology, With an Appendix on the Influence of Scientific Training on the Reception of Religious Truth (London: MacMillian and Co., Limited, 1903) where on p. 9, Wilson claims, “Theological beliefs…are not inferences from an infallible book; they arise ultimately out of the nature of things; they are rooted in human nature; they are verified by ever renewed and ever-enriched human experience; they arise out of the one eternal thing, the eternal mystery—life in God and man.”

[5] Three prominent pastoral theologians which based their works on modern psychology and greatly influenced not only pastoral theology but pastoral ministry in the twentieth-century were Anton Boisen, Seward Hiltner, and Wayne Oats.

[6] See Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), xix-xx and Holifield, Brooks E. A History of Pastoral Care in America: From Salvation to Self-Realization, (Nashville: Abington Press, 1983).

[7] This emphasis can be seen as early as Charles Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students: The 28 Lectures, Complete and Unabridged- A Spiritual Classic of Christian Wisdom, Prayer and Preaching in the Ministry (Pantianos Classics: 1875) and as late as W.A. Criswell’s Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1980).

[8] Thomas C. Oden, Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1983).

[9] Ibid., 61.

[10] Ibid, 49-51, 67.

[11] For instance, see Andrew Purves’ Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004); John Armstrong’s Reforming Pastoral Ministry: Challenges for Ministry in Postmodern Times. (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2001); Daniel Akin and Scott Pace’s Pastoral Theology: Theological Foundations for Who a Pastor Is and What He Does. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017); and James Thompson’s Pastoral Ministry according to Paul: A Biblical Vision. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

[12] This is true even among authors who admit that Timothy and Titus were really “envoys” of Paul rather than Pastors. For example, Derek Tidball presents the argument that Timothy and Titus were not bishops because the title was never used of them, the title was used of other local leaders and the designation for Paul’s companions would have confused the recipients. Timothy and Titus’ duties were temporary and their authority was “open-ended” yet, Tidball continues to use them as the model for pastoral ministry in Ministry by the Book: New Testament Patterns for Pastoral Leadership (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 150.

[13] Benjamin Merkle. 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2008), 101-105.

[14] See Psalm 19:7-14, 2 Peter 1:3-4, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, as well as Gregg Allison’s excellent discussion on the sufficiency of Scripture for ecclesiology in Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 33-39.

[15] See Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1-5; and cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9 for the interchangeability of these three terms for the same office.

[16]  Benjamin Merkle makes this speculation after noting that Luke speaks of the Apostles and Jerusalem elders working together in Acts 11:30 but as Acts progresses, the Apostles are mentioned less and the elders more in Shepherding God’s Flock: Biblical Leadership in the New Testament and Beyond (Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2014), 61

[17] See Daniel L. Akin and R. Scott Pace, Pastoral Theology: Theological Foundations for Who a Pastor Is and What He Does (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017), 153 where they write, “The title ‘overseer’ indicates the function of oversight or supervision of the church. It implies a spiritual responsibility to ‘manage’ God’s church (cf. 1 Tim 3:4–5)…It is an office charged with ensuring the welfare of God’s people through the loving watch-care of their servant leaders.”

[18] Roger Beckwith, Elders in Every City: The Origin and Role of Ordained Ministry (Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster Press, 2003), 30.

[19] Paul changed his grammatical pattern when he speaks of the “teacher” in a way that connected it closely to the office of pastor. Specifically, he excluded his τοὺς μὲν/ δὲ pattern which was used of the other offices mentioned and used καὶ instead. Pastors and teachers here should be seen as one office as they are governed by the same article and connected grammatically with καὶ. See Benjamin Merkle’s Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Ephesians (Nashville: B&H Academmic, 2016), 128. Furthermore, the role of teaching cannot be removed from the office of pastor.

[20] Frank Thielman offers a grammatical and literary defense of this understanding of this passage in Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 277-278.

[21] See First Peter 1:1-5, where Peter, in his Trinitarian formula describing salvation, clearly addresses any who have been spiritually regenerated.

[22] Thomas R. Schreiner. 1, 2 Peter, Jude (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), 115-116.

[23] Ken Schurb, “Pastors and People in Evangelism: A Study in Acts.” Missio Apostolica 8, no. 1 (May 2000), 37.

[24] Richard Stoll Armstrong grounds evangelism in the Great Commission passages and explains, “Jesus lays upon his disciples the responsibility for making further disciples and communicating the good news to the world. Viewed as a stewardship obligation, therefore, evangelism is an obligation of the Church and every church member can do something to help the Church fulfill its evangelistic mission.” One will notice that his article does not refer to the office of the pastor in evangelism throughout in “Evangelism: Communicating the Good News of the Christian Gospel” in The New Dictionary of Pastoral Studies. Eds. Wesley Carr, Donald Capps, Robin Gill, et al (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 120-121.

[25] Frank Thielman. Ephesians. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 274-275.

[26] Benjamin Merkle. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Ephesians (Nashville: B&H Academmic, 2016), 128.

[27] Everett Ferguson. “The Ministry of the Word in the First Two Centuries” in Restoration Quarterly 1, no. 1 (1957), 22-23.

[28] See Derek Prime and Alistair Begg. On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2004), 61; Alex D. Montoya. “Outreaching” in Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 255-257; and G.S. Dobbins “Pastoral Evangelism” in Review & Expositor 42, no. 1 (January 1945), 51-56.

[29] Samuel Southard. Pastoral Evangelism (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1962), 171.

[30] Owen D. Stultz. “The Role of the Pastor in Evangelism and Church Growth” in Brethren Life and Thought 25, no. 2 (Spring 1980), 117.

[31] See Jim Wilson’s “The Pastor and Evangelism: Preaching the Gospel” in Evangelism in the Twenty-First Century. Thom S. Rainer Ed. (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1989), 197 and Alex D. Montoya. “Outreaching” in Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 255-256.

[32] Samuel Southard. Pastoral Evangelism (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1962), 171.

[33] J. Patrick Vaughn. “Evangelism: A Pastoral Theological Perspective” in The Journal of Pastoral Care 49, no. 3 (Fall 1995), 266.

[34] Derek Prime and Alistair Begg. On Being a Pastor:  Understanding Our Calling and Work (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2004), 60-61.

[35] G. Abbott-Smith. A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1922), 184-185.

[36] Kurt A. Richardson. James (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1997), 232-236.

The Pastor’s Care of Transgender People

Below is a paper I wrote for a doctoral seminar at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have included some parenthetical explanations when I thought it may be helpful to a more general audience. The issue of transgenderism is an increasing concern in contemporary culture. The church, and pastors particularly, must not ignore this concern but must bring the light of God’s Word to bear so we can help others understand the nature of transgenderism and help transgender people come to Christ and live for Christ. My hope is that this paper will encourage my brother pastors in dealing with these concerns. I want to encourage the interested reader to browse the end notes of this paper as some helpful information is included regarding spiritual warfare, the nature of the pastoral office, and the risks of sex reassignment surgery which could not fit into the body of the essay.

confusion over fuel types

Introduction

          An increasing awareness and social acceptance of transgenderism poses many questions for the church and pastoral care. Pastors will come to interact with transgender people with increasing frequency. They must be prepared to care for such individuals as God provides the opportunity. The nature of transgenderism, of pastoral care, and the right practice of pastoral care must be carefully considered. In order to provide spiritual care for transgender people, pastors must direct them to find a new identity in Christ in accordance with the Scriptures that will allow them to celebrate their biological gender as a gracious gift from God.

This essay will support the above thesis by showing the authority from which the pastor must understand transgenderism and from which he must derive his care. Further, it will provide an understanding of the salvific goal of pastoral care. Finally, this paper will explore Biblical passages which may be used to guide a transgender person in living out his identity in Christ.

The Pastor and Biblical Epistemology

(Epistemology is the study of the foundations of knowledge)

          In the present bellicose atmosphere, a pastor who will provide care for transgender people must have confidence in the Bible as the source of truth. One’s epistemological foundation will affect his understanding of human nature, transgenderism, ethical direction, the nature of human flourishing, and the goal and manner of his work. Epistemologies opposed to the Bible will vie for dominance in the pastor’s work and the minds of the transgender people he hopes to help. Ethicist Daniel Heimbach warns, “Sexual norms upheld by the Church for centuries…are now treated as uncertain, contentious, or even unworthy, by a growing number of Christian scholars, denominational leaders and pastors.[1]

A dominant authority for transgender care in the fields of psychology and medicine lies in the subjective feelings of the patient. In the preface of Harry Benjamin’s seminal work on the issue, he celebrates “the brave and true scientists, surgeons, and doctors who let the patient’s interest and their own conscience be their sole guides.”[2] He later encourages doctors to perform sex reassignment surgeries for those who have “a deep and honest conviction gained after long and mature consideration.”[3] A contemporary article to address the care of transgender adolescents published through the cooperation of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the American Psychological Association stated:

Approaches should be client-centered and developmentally-appropriate with the goal of treatment being the best possible level of psychological functioning, rather than any specific gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation. Appropriate therapeutic approaches with sexual and gender minority youth should…focus on identity development and exploration that allows the child or adolescent the freedom of self-discovery within a context of acceptance and support.[4]

This self-derived authority has increased in influence and continues to persist among authorities in the field of psychology.

The subjective nature of this direction collides with the empirical worldview of many researchers and physicians who desire to support transgender lifestyles. Therefore, some have set out to find objective biological causes of transgenderism. One example is the work of Dick Swaab and Alicia Garcia-Falgueras who argue that natal “sexual differentiation of the genitals takes place much earlier in development…than sexual differentiation of the brain…In rare cases, this may result in transsexuality”[5] due to atypical hormone levels in these developmental stages.  Ethicist Alan Branch reveals that current studies attempting to claim a neurological basis for LGBT identities are often misleading because they have found no necessary and sufficient patterns of brain structure to support their claims, they over-exaggerate the differences of the male and female brain, and have confused causation with correlation in regard to brain plasticity.[6]

The nature of the pastoral task, however, requires the foundation of God’s Word to provide true and lasting care for transgender people. One reason for a Biblical epistemology in pastoral care of transgender people is that the Bible is the necessary cause of the pastoral office. When a pastor ceases to derive the nature of his work from the Scriptures, he ceases to be a pastor and to provide pastoral care.

The New Testament uses three terms interchangeably of the pastoral office, ἐπισκόποις (bishop or overseer), ποιμένας (pastor or shepherd), and πρεσβυτέρους (elder or presbyter), which convey the provision of authoritative direction and instruction.[7] Jesus commissioned twelve of his disciples to be Apostles sent out with His authority to teach His Word (Mt 10:1-15, Acts 6:4). As the church spread, the Apostles appointed pastors (also called elders) in every church (Acts 14:23) who would also teach God’s Word as they received it from the Apostles (Eph 4:11). The content of pastoral instruction is “the knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph 4:13) which contradicts falsehood (Eph 4:14) and encourages “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). The Apostle Peter informs the churches of Northern Asia Minor that this “knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Pt 1:2) comes from the Apostles as “eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pt 1:16) and is the Holy Spirit-inspired Scripture from God (2 Pt 1:19-21).

Pastors must gain an understanding of their work from God’s Word and must direct transgender people (and all those for whom they wish to help) by God’s Word. John Calvin stated:

[E]very dignity of authority ascribed by Scripture to the prophets and priests of the old law, and also to the apostles and their successors, is not ascribed to them personally but to the ministry and functions to which they have been appointed—or to put it more clearly, to the word of God, to the stewardship of which they have been called. For if we consider them one by one, we will find that prophets and priests as well as apostles and disciples were never given power to command or to teach except in the Lord’s name and through his word.[8]

Pastoral work requires directive care through the application of Scripture.

Another reason for a Biblical epistemology in the pastoral care of transgender people is the nature of truth which relies on an immutable, communicative source; namely, God. Gregory Thornbury writes, “The notion of truth is an inherently religious idea. Only an eternal, transcendent sovereign could create everything in such a way as to make the universe knowable, personal, and understandable.”[9] Truth comes from God and the primary source is His Word.

Secular therapies for transgender people encourage the suppression of truth and the deception of others. Benjamin provides four motives for transgender people desiring a sex reassignment or “conversion” operation. Each motive (sexual, gender, legal, and social) comes from a desire to believe and act in a way that denies truth and hides it from others.[10] Indeed, Benjamin even revels in a male to female post-operative transsexual deceiving and marrying a man without ever telling him that he was not born a woman.[11]

Contrary to secular transgender therapies, pastors must guide transgender people to a certainty that is fully objective and powerful enough to contradict their thoughts and emotions about themselves which do not correspond to truth. While addressing the idea of church-officiated transgender weddings, Oliver O’Donovan warns that the church must guard against an accommodation theory, made for difficult pastoral situations, subverting Scripture and truth because “[t]he church’s practice, even if it was devised as an accommodation for the weak, soon becomes the source of its teaching.”[12] Biblical authority, not pragmatism, must drive pastoral care.

Psalm 19:7-9 shows that the Bible, in its every aspect,[13] is the authoritative, perfect, and sure self-revelation of God which is necessary and sufficient for doctrine, counsel, and practice in the life of churches and individuals.[14] The Pastor’s direction for transgender people is stable and certain because it comes from an eternal and unchanging God who revealed Himself in Scripture.

Salvation for Transgender People

In order to provide help for transgender people, pastors must first understand the situation of transgenderism. Transgender refers to “the broad spectrum of individuals who transiently or persistently identify with the gender different from their natural gender.”[15] Transgenderism is not an issue which only affects the contemporary world. One can find examples of transgenderism in some cultures throughout history because it is a condition, like many other conditions, of the sin-fallen human heart. The Ancient Mesopotamian deity Inanna-Ishtar is described as both a woman and a man. She was said to have the ability to curse her enemies to change them from male to female. Consistently, her priests sought to represent her by dressing like a woman on their right side and a man on their left.[16] In Egypt, the female Pharaoh Hatsheput represented herself as both male and female and has been pictured with male genitalia. She would often wear male clothing and the royal beard of the Pharaohs and is referred to as both a son and a daughter.[17]

Ancient Israel was not silent concerning transgender-related issues either. Transvestitc activity was strongly prohibited as תֹועֲבַת יְהוָה “an abomination to the LORD” (Dt 22:5). Acts denounced in this way “were sure to bring God’s wrath on those who perpetrated them.”[18] This prohibition likely reveals that the nations which would surround Israel in the Promised Land celebrated such practices. Duane Christensen points out that this law fits into the broader literary context dealing with other sexual sins, specifically, adultery[19] while Craigie explains men’s clothing includes “not only clothing, but ornaments, weapons, etc., normally associated with men.”[20] This law not only denounced cross-dressing but also intentionally behaving and taking on the role of the opposite sex.

Transsexual “denotes an individual who seeks, or has undergone, a social transition from male to female or female to male, which in many, but not all, cases also involves a somatic transition by cross-sex hormone treatment and genital surgery (sex reassignment surgery).”[21] Transsexualism may seem to many a merely contemporary issue, yet, like transgenderism, similar practices are found in antiquity. Deuteronomy 23:1 prohibits anyone who has been emasculated[22] from entering the assembly of the LORD. Craigie argues that this prohibition is not of those who are accidentally emasculated but those who have intentionally emasculated themselves in worship of a foreign god[23] whereas Merrill contends that it includes both accidental and intentional emasculation.[24] Merrill is likely correct given the emphasis on ritual purity and wholeness in the worship of Ancient Israel. Regardless, those who emasculated themselves were excluded.

Likewise, descendants of Aaron who were to act as priests were prohibited from doing so if they had crushed testicles (Lev 21:20). This passage does not discriminate between accidental, forced, or willful harm to the sexual organs. The early church, at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325), also prohibited anyone from serving in the ministry who had intentionally emasculated themselves.[25] Ancient Rome endorsed something similar to transsexualism. On the cultic festival of the goddess Cybele, any man who wished to become her priest would beat and castrate himself. Then, he would dress like a woman from that day forward. A grave of one of Cybele’s priests was found as far as Britain.[26] Issues resembling transsexualism are not new, nor have they gone unaddressed by the Bible or the church.

Gender dysphoria speaks of “the distress that may accompany the incongruence between one’s experienced or expressed gender and one’s assigned gender.”[27] The secular view contends the cause of this distress to be the negative reaction of others,[28] specifically, the “stresses of prejudice, discrimination, rejections, harassment, and violence…[from] multiple social systems, including family, school, and religious networks”[29] which cause an increased risk for “suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and suicides”[30] as well as “negative self-concept, increased rates of mental disorder comorbidity, school dropout, and economic marginalization, including unemployment with attendant social and mental health risks.”[31] To its proponents, transgenderism does not cause suffering.

Pastors must realize that there is real suffering in the individual with gender dysphoria and some of it may be due to victimization. However, there is certain suffering in transgenderism and transsexuality that comes from spiritual causes[32] related to the beliefs and behaviors of transgenderism. Pastors must address transgender people with compassion and direction; as sheep without a shepherd (Mt 9:36); as those who are willing to bring them healing through the gospel of Jesus and the direction of the Word of God.

The mental distress and physical harm[33] that come upon those who practice transgenderism do not primarily come from outside of them, but from their own souls.[34] The Bible reveals the initial cause of suffering in the world was disobedience to God (Gen 2:17) which caused a spiritually deadness in all of mankind (Rom 5:19). This deadness results in a state of life contrary to God’s will and under God’s wrath (Eph 2:1-3). Paul states that because of this rejection, God “gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (Rom 1:24).

Transgender people reject the truth of God (as does every person manifest in some way), which is the gender God provided them at birth. It is the lie coming from the lusts of their hearts. This ἐπιθυμίαις (lust) is a desire of something forbidden.[35] A transgender person’s strong feeling of being assigned the wrong sex at birth and his desire to dress, act, and exist as a member of the opposite sex[36] is consistent with the Bible’s teaching regarding the state of the human heart. Sin separates man from God (Is 59:2) and results in insensitivity to and opposition of God’s will. Therefore, Jeremiah states, “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick” (Jer 17:9).

The secular gospel for transgender people is to pursue the lust of their heart. Benjamin primes his argument by setting up a cognitive dissonance for his readers and promising a solution. Explaining one may have a psychological sex opposed to his biological sex, he writes, “Great problems arise for those unfortunate persons in whom this occurs. Their lives are often tragic and the bulk of all the following pages will be filled with the nature of their misfortunes, their symptoms, their fate, and possible salvation.”[37] Later, he explains to his readers that sex reassignment surgeries are the source of hope for transsexuals.[38] While the secular world encourages transgender people to go deeper into the lie of their hearts’ desires, pastors must lovingly guide them to see their desire as deceitful and requiring correction and healing. The pursuit of their desires is the cause of their distress.

Paul says that these desires dishonor the bodies of those who have rejected God’s truth (Rom 1:24-25). The term ἀτιμάζεσθαι (dishonor) carries the connotation of shame.[39] This shame is likely the cause of most of the negative psychological issues associated with transgenderism. It cannot be cast off or shifted to others as the secular proponents contend. Rather, repentance for transgender beliefs and behaviors combined with faith in Jesus Christ will remedy the psychological problems and distress in time. Describing the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul shows that the gospel moves one from insensitivity toward God’s Word to receptivity, from slavery in sin to freedom, from shame to glory, from deception to truth, and from spiritual blindness to enlightenment (2 Cor 3:12-4:6).

In the Bible, refusal to acknowledge and confess sin results in intense psychological turmoil that leads to psychosomatic problems. David writes, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away…My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer” (Ps 32:3-4). Confession of sin to God results in forgiveness of guilt (Ps 32:2, 5) and אַשְֽׁרֵי (perfect happiness: Ps 32:1-2).[40] Adams agrees, “God’s remedy for man’s problem is confession. The concealing of transgressions brings misery, defeat and ruin, but the confession and forsaking of sin will bring merciful pardon and relief.”[41]

However, direction to confess transgender beliefs and actions alone will not be sufficient care for transgender people. Pastors must instruct them that such confession must spring out of a life-surrendering faith in Jesus. This faith receives God’s grace in that the sinner is imputed with Jesus’ righteousness so he is justified from sin (Rom 4:22-25) and transformed to live consistently with God’s will (Eph 2:8-10). Matthew Stanford explains,

When we come to faith in him, that dead, separated spirit is nailed to the cross with Christ, never to return (Galatians 2:20). In its place, the Spirit of Christ takes up residence in us (Galatians 4:6; Colossians 3:1-3). We are alive for the first time—in spiritual union with God! The believer is complete in Christ; we have everything we need for life and godliness in him (2 Peter 1:3).[42]

Salvation acquired through faith in Jesus, not only restores transgender people to God and frees them to live consistently with truth, but also imparts to them the hope of eternal life. By trusting in Jesus, they are removed from God’s condemnation (Rom 8:1) and ensured eternal life with Him (Jn 3:16; 14:1-6).

Biblical Redirection

          Pastors should provide Biblical guidance to transgender people who have trusted in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Transgender people who have become Christians will first need help centering their identity in Christ instead of their desire to be a member of the opposite sex. In Colossians, Paul argues against Judaizes who advocated for the necessity of following Old Testament cultic laws in addition to faith in Jesus for salvation. Paul assures the Colossians that they are “made complete” in Christ (Col 2:10).  πεπληρωμένοι (made complete) is a perfect participle directing the reader’s attention to the time in the past when he trusted in Jesus and received salvation that resulted in a continual state of completeness. The idea is that the Christian has been fully supplied with everything he needs to be accepted into God’s favor and restored to a position of wholeness. He is complete in and through Christ.

Paul further warns the Colossians not to seek further fullness through circumcision which he describes as “self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body” and instructs that these actions “are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col 2:23). For transgender people, pastors can direct them to realize that they are whole in Christ, without changing their bodies. Kline and Schrock point out the application of spiritual circumcision that happens in Christ allowing one to be set apart for God through faith alone (Col 2:8-15) in counseling transgender people. They claim, “despite the sincerest intentions of transsexuals, the surgery they desire to perform on the body needs to be performed on their heart…what they need is not a new body, but a new heart.”[43]

Paul encourages the Colossians under temptation toward seeking completeness apart from Christ to remember their union with Christ. They died with Christ to a life at odds with God (Col 2:20), have been raised up with Christ so they can pursue God’s will (Col 3:1-2) and when Christ returns, their bodies will be perfected in glory (Col 3:4). Now those who saw themselves as transgender people pursuing the lifestyle and thinking of the opposite sex are now encouraged to “consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry” (Col 3:5). By their new union with Christ, they may pursue life in accordance with God’s will for them, including living out the gender in which He gave them.

One further idea needs addressed here. The current culture has sought to persuade those tempted toward transgender behaviors that their discordant feelings must define their identity.[44] However, in First Corinthians 6:9-11, directing the Corinthian church toward holy living, Paul lists several sins which will disqualify a person from salvation. Three of these sins included together deal with sexual immorality. One term, μαλακοὶ (effeminate) is a term used often to mean “soft” but was applied to a male who becomes the receptive partner in a same-sex intercourse.[45] Indeed, it speaks of a man who is taking on the sexual role of a woman. However, Paul reminds them of a powerful truth that should change the way they think and live. He says, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Branch explains, “Many people who have been born again previously practiced such things prior to knowing Christ, yet the gospel empowered them to put these evil actions in the past. This…does mean they have a new desire to serve God and a new power to say no to what God forbids.”[46]

Second, transgender people who have trusted in Christ will need Scriptural guidance in understanding and accepting their biological gender. Throughout the creation account of Genesis 1, the refrain “and God saw that it was good” is repeated after each creative act. At the end of the account, Moses recorded, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31).

Included in this account is God’s creation of mankind. Moses wrote, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27). God’s good creation of mankind was divided into two groups: male and female. God has provided only two genders which, once given, are unchanging. Kenneth Matthews states, “There is no place in God’s good order for unisexuality or for any diminishing or confusion of sexual identity…The proper role of the sexes therefore is crucial to God’s designs for human life and prosperity.”[47] These genders are equal in value because they each have and express the imago Dei (image of God) in different but significant ways. They have different roles in the family (Eph 5:22-33) and in the church (1 Tim 2-3).

The complimentary nature of the two sexes within marriage is intended to bring glory to God by reflecting the character of God and the relationship of Jesus and the church in the gospel (Eph 5:22-33). Masculinity and Femininity each reflect God’s glory and character through differences in strength and beauty, sacrificial leadership and humble submission, protection and nurture. Gordon Wenham emphasizes that the distinctions of male and female focuses on the sexual distinctions that foreshadow the blessing of fertility.[48] Transgenderism, when carried out, disables fertility and severs God-directed roles from biological sex.

Finally, a pastor must provide hope and direction for a life lived in God’s will, even in cases where sex reassignment surgery has occurred. As mentioned earlier, those whose genitals had been damages, through accident, force, or personal volition, were not allowed to enter the assembly of God’s people or serve as priests. Yet, Isaiah 56:3-5 promises great hope of salvation for the eunuch who enters into a covenant relationship with God by God’s terms. While the image of a eunuch as a “dry tree” may mean that he can have no children, which would certainly be true, Gary Smith offers another possibility, “maybe the point goes even beyond this issue, for a dry tree is usually considered worthless, useless, and is consequently burnt up in a fire.”[49] But the promise for the eunuch, who cannot reverse what has already happened to his body, can now choose to live a life that honors God within His covenant, and can receive honor and eternal blessings.

Jesus provides great hope for transgender people who turn to Him. While, if they have undergone sex reassignment surgery which cannot be reversed and should not marry, they can still find joy in serving God in singleness. Jesus speaks of three types of eunuchs when he talked about the usefulness of singleness for the Lord. Some were those “who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:12).

If someone had carried out their transgenderism to the point of becoming like a eunuch, now in Christ, he may live a life fully dedicated to God. This idea of singleness is upheld and encourage by the Apostle Paul also. He states, “One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord” (1 Cor 7:32). John Chrysostom highlights the blessings of this kind of singleness. He writes, “Thank God therefore now, for that with rewards and crowns thou undergoes this.”[50] The transgender person who turns to Christ, will find a place to belong and a fruitful and fulfilling life serving Christ’s Kingdom.

Conclusion

          This paper has sought to show that pastoral care for transgender individuals will direct them to find a new identity in Christ according to the Scriptures which will enable them to celebrate their God-given gender. An argument for the authority of the Bible over subjective feelings or empirical efforts was made. An understanding of life-giving salvation by turning to Jesus Christ was explained. Finally, Biblical passages relevant to counseling those individuals who have turned to Christ out of transgenderism were discussed. There is true and lasting hope and healing in the gospel, not only for transgender people, but for all who will surrender to Jesus in faith.

 

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Danker, Fredrick William, ed. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Fee, Gordon. The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987.

Fox, Nili Sacher. “Gender Transformation and Transgression: Contextualizing the Prohibition of Cross Dressing in Deuteronomy 22:5.” In Mishneb Todah: Studies in Deuteronomy and Its Cultural Context in Honor of Jeffrey H. Tigay. Edited by Nili Sacher Fox, D.A. Glat-Gilad, and M.J. Williams. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2009. 49-71.

Grosheide, F.W. Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes, The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953.

Harris, R. Laird, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1980.

Heimbach, Daniel. Pagan Sexuality: At the Center of the Contemporary Moral Crisis. Wake Forest, NC: Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2001.

Henry, Carl F. ed. Baker Dictionary of Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks, 1973.

Hruz, Paul W., Lawrence S. Mayer, and Paul R. McHugh. “Growing Pains: Problems with Puberty Suppression in Treating Gender Dysphoria.” In The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society 52 (June 2017), 3-36.

Kline, Craig and David Schrock. “What Is Gender Reassignment Surgery? A Medical Assessment with a Biblical Appraisal.” In Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood 20.1 (Spring 2015): 35-47.

Louth, Andrew, ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament I: Genesis 1-11. Downers Grove, IL: InverVarsity Press, 2001.

Matthews, Kenneth A. Genesis 1-11:26, The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996.

Merrill, Eugene H. Deuteronomy, New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994.

Morris, Leon. 1 Corinthians, Tyndale New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983.

O’Donovan, Oliver. “Transsexualism and Christian Marriage.” In The Journal of Religious Ethics 11.1 (Spring 1983): 135-162.

Pattison, E.M. “Gender Identity.” In Baker Encycopedia of Psychology & Counseling, 2nd ed. Edited by David G. Benner and Peter C. Hill. Grand Rapids, BakerBooks, 1999. 487-491.

Rooker, Mark. Leviticus, The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

Schaff, Philip and Henry Wace, eds. NPNF: The Seven Ecumenical Councils 2.14. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999.

Smith, Gary V. Isaiah 40-66, The New American Commentary. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009.

Standford, Matthew S. The Biology of Sin: Grace, Hope, and Healing for Those Who Feel Trapped. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth.” In HHS Publication SMA 15-4928 (2015).

Swaab, Dick F. and Alicia Garcia-Falgueras. “Sexual Differentiation of the Human Brain in Relation to Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation.” In Functional Neurology 24 Vol. 1 (2009): 17-28.

Taylor, Mark. 1 Corinthians, The New American Commentary. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2014.

Thornbury, Gergory Alan. “Prolegomena: Introduction to the Task of Theology.” In A Theology for the Church Edited by Daniel L. Akin. (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2007), 5.

Wenham, Gordon J. The Book of Leviticus, New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.

Wenham, Gordon J. Word Bible Commentary: Genesis 1-15. Waco, TX: Word, 1987.

Young, P.D. “Gender Identity Disorder.” In Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling, 2nd ed. Edited by David G. Benner and Peter C. Hill. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks, 1999. 491.

 

End Notes

[1] Daniel Heimbach, Pagan Sexuality: At the Center of the Contemporary Moral Crisis (Wake Forest, NC: Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2001), 6.

[2] Harry Benjamin, The Transsexual Phenomenon (New York: The Julian Press, 1966), ix.

[3] Ibid., 105.

[4]  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth,” HHS Publication SMA 15-4928 (2015): 3.

 [5] Dick F. Swaab and Alicia Garcia-Falgueras, “Sexual Differentiation of the Human Brain in Relation to Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation,” Functional Neurology 24 Vol. 1 (2009): 18.

[6] J. Alan Branch, Born this Way? Homosexuality, Science, and the Scriptures (Wooster, OH: Weaver Books Company, 2016), 82-83.

[7]  πρεσβυτέρους denotes spiritual maturity and an ability to set a faithful example of life in submission to God. ἐπισκόποις communicates leadership.  ποιμένας is only used once in its nounal form (Eph 4:11) but accompanies the two previous terms in its verbal form (Acts 20:17, 28 and 1 Peter 5:1-5). Further, it conveys the task of spiritual provision and guidance through instruction and care.

[8] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Robert White (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2014), 723.

[9]  Gregory Alan Thornbury, “Prolegomena: Introduction to the Task of Theology” in A Theology for the Church, Daniel L. Akin, ed. (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2007), 5.

[10]  Benjamin, The Transsexual Phenomenon, 114.

[11]  Benjamin, The Transsexual Phenomenon, 126.

[12] Oliver O’Donovan, “Transsexualism and Christian Marriage” The Journal of Religious Ethics 11.1 (Spring 1983): 157-158.

[13] The comprehensive nature of the inspiration of God’s Word is seen in David’s use of terms with overlapping meaning (מִֽשְׁפְּטֵי, מִצְוַת, פִּקּוּדֵי, עֵדוּת, תֹּורַת) to describe the Word of God.

[14]  Also see John 17:17, 2 Timothy 3:14-17 and 2 Peter 1:2-3, 20-21.

[15]  American Psychiatric Association, DSM V/American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorder, 5th ed. (Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, 2013), 451.

[16] Nili Sacher Fox, “Gender Transformation and Transgression: Contextualizing the Prohibition of Cross Dressing in Deuteronomy 22:5” in Mishneb Todah: Studies in Deuteronomy and Its Cultural Context in Honor of Jeffrey H. Tigay, Nili Sacher Fox, D.A. Glat-Gilad, and M.J. Williams, eds. (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2009), 53-55.

[17] Fox, “Gender Transformation and Transgression: Contextualizing the Prohibition of Cross Dressing in Deuteronomy 22:5,” 59-61.

[18] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1980), 977.

[19]  Duane L. Christensen, Deuteronomy 21:10-34:12, Volume 6B, Word Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 492.

[20] Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976), 287.

[21] American Psychiatric Association, DSM V, 451.

[22] Either by having crushed testicles (פְצֽוּעַ־דַּכָּא), done intentionally at times by the use of stones for castration, or the removal of the penis (וּכְרוּת שָׁפְכָה).

[23] Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, 297.

[24] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 307.

[25] Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., NPNF: The Seven Ecumenical Councils 2.14 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 8.

[26]  Alan Branch, lecture notes for DR 31280 The Bible and Pastor Care, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, August 2, 2018.

[27] American Psychiatric Association, DSM V, 451.

[28]  American Psychiatric Association, DSM V, 458; and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth,” 1, 11, 13, 14.

[29]  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth,” 20.

[30] American Psychiatric Association, DSM V, 454.

[31] Ibid., 458.

[32] In addition to the causes of the heart which will be discussed below, the Western world easily forgets about spiritual causes from demonic forces. In the Scriptures, those who serve demonic deities or who are demoniacs are often seen harming their own bodies. John Chrysostom writes about those who remove their genital organs, “For to cut off our members hath been from the beginning a work of demoniacal agency, and satanic device, that they may bring up a bad report upon the work of God, that they may mar this living creature” in NPNF: Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew 1.10, Philip Schaff, ed., (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 384.

[33]  Extensive and common complications arise from sex reassignment surgeries such as a fifty percent wound infection rate, massive bleeding, urinary problems, incontinence, problems with the urethra, infertility, an inability to orgasm, leaking of seminal fluid, hypoactive sex drives, etc. See Craig Kline and David Schrock, “What Is Gender Reassignment Surgery? A Medical Assessment with a Biblical Appraisal,” Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood 20.1 (Spring 2015): 35-47 and especially 40-41. For a discussion on the dangers of puberty suppressing medications now in vogue see Paul W. Hruz, Lawrence S. Mayer, and Paul R. McHugh, “Growing Pains: Problems with Puberty Suppression in Treating Gender Dysphoria” The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society 52 (June 2017), 3-36.

[34] Jay Adams, speaking of many mental problems of which he would likely apply transgenderism, says, “Their problem is autogenic; it is in themselves. The fundamental bent of fallen human nature is away from God. Man is born in sin, goes astray…and will therefore naturally (by nature) attempt various sinful dodges in an attempt to avoid facing up to his sin.” In Competent to Counsel, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1970), 29.

[35]  William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: A Translation and Adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur 4th ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), 293.

[36]  For a discussion concerning the feelings and behaviors of transgender people, see P.D. Young, “Gender Identity Disorder” in Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling, 2nd ed., David G. Benner and Peter C. Hill, eds. (Grand Rapids: BakerBooks, 1999), 491.

[37] Benjamin, The Transsexual Phenomenon, 9.

[38] Ibid., 126.

[39] William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 119.

[40] Harris, Archer, and Waltke prefer the translation “bliss” over happiness. In Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 80.

[41] Adams, Competent to Counsel, 105.

[42] Matthew S. Standford, The Biology of Sin: Grace, Hope, and Healing for Those Who Feel Trapped, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 22.

[43] Kline and Schrock, “What is Gender Reassignment Surgery? A Medical Assessment with a Biblical Appraisal,” 45.

[44] Alan Branch warns of the modern propensity to turn sexual issues into identity issues in Born this Way? Homosexuality, Science, and the Scriptures, 135.

[45]  Fredrick William Danker, ed. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 613. Also, see Gordon Fee’s excellent discussion on this term in The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), 243-245.

[46] Branch, Born this Way? Homosexuality, Science, and the Scriptures, 135-136.

[47] Kenneth A. Matthews, Genesis 1-11:26, The New American Commentary, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 173-174.

[48] Gordon J. Wenham, Word Bible Commentary: Genesis 1-15, (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), 33.

[49]  Gary V. Smith, Isaiah 40-66, The New American Commentary, (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 533.

[50] John Chrysostom, NPNF: Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew 1.10 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 384.

Dealing with Disease

During the course of our lives, most of us will have some sort of health concerns and difficulties. It’s easy to get frustrated, discouraged, or even depressed in the midst of such concerns. However, God has a much better plan for us through these hardships that He allows to come our way. So how should we understand these difficulties? How should we respond to them?

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First, remember that God is in control. After Jesus warned His disciples of the difficulties which would come as a result of following Him, He taught them, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31). God concerns Himself with even the most minor circumstances such as the death of sparrows and the number of hairs on each individual’s head. Jesus reasons that since mankind is far more valuable than sparrows and more important than the quantity of a person’s hair, we can be sure that God oversees every detail of our lives—sickness included.  Sickness, disease, and difficulties do not surprise God when they come into your life. He knew they would come to you. He allowed them to come to you. He is in control of whether they come, when they come, and how long they last. And indeed, He is right there with you directing your situation and protecting you from greater harm than is coming. He sifts every offense the enemy desires to bring against you through His mighty hands and only allows what He desires through to you.

Second, remember that God loves you. During times of disease and difficulty, our faith in God’s goodness is tested and we are tempted to focus on ourselves and withhold praise from God. We may ask, “Does God really love me?” Yet, Jesus answered that question definitively on the cross. Paul says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) and again “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). If our whole lives fall apart and our entire health diminishes, we can still say with great certainty, “God loves me dearly” and we can affirm Job’s statements, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity” (Job 2:10) and “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15). In times of difficulty, dwell on the love of Christ (Philippians 4:8) rather than on the hardship of your situation.

Third, realize that the ultimate cause of all suffering is sin.  God created the whole world perfectly (Genesis 1:31). Disease, difficulty, division, depression, and death only came as a result of sin entering into God’s perfect world and more specifically as a result of the separation that sin brings between man and God (Isaiah 59:1-2). God is the source of all life, all goodness, all health, and all flourishing. When we are separated from God, we are separated from the abundance of His provisions. If sin never entered the world, our health would be perfect and our lives would be eternal. In many instances, we suffer disease, not because we have sinned, but simply because we live in a fallen world that has been ravished by sin (John 9:1-12). However, there are other instances where we experience disease and difficulty as discipline from the Lord for sin in our lives. King Uzziah incurred life-long leprosy for his pride and disobedience to the Lord (2 Chronicles 26:16-23). Some of the Corinthians were “weak and sick” and some had even died because they took the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy way (1 Corinthians 11:27-31). Ananias and Sapphira died instantly because they lied to the Holy Spirit and the church (Acts 5:1-11). When we experience bad health, it is a calling to examine our lives for sin. If we find any sin, we should then repent. James directed sick believers to call the pastors of the church to come and pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord to find restoration (James 5:14-15). Pastors’ primary task is to preach the Word of God and the gospel which calls us to repent of sin and trust in Jesus (Acts 6:4). Anointing with oil is associated with the call to repent in the New Testament (Mark 6:12-14). We may be sick merely because we live in a sick, sin-fallen world or we may be sick because we have sinned. Our sickness is a good reminder to search our hearts and actions for sin and repent—knowing that if not for sin, no one would know sickness.

Fourth, look to the future of our great salvation. Jesus became a man, lived a perfect life in this sin-fallen world, died on the cross, rose from the grave, and ascended into heaven in order to conquer sin and its effects on us. While we’re forgiven of sin the instant we trust in Jesus, we still experience the suffering that sin has caused in this world. But a day is coming when Christ will return. When He does, He will free us from the presence of sin and all the ill it has worked in our lives—including health problems. In our salvation, we have a future resurrection in which we will be given perfect bodies that will never have ailments. Paul says, “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). Even if our health concerns take our abilities, our minds, or even our lives, they cannot conquer us who are in Christ for Christ has promised to raise us with a perfect body that will never be tainted with sin. In your struggle with health concerns, find certain hope in the promise of your resurrected body.

Fifth, realize that God has a purpose for allowing your difficulties. We know that God is in control. We know that God loves us. Then why does He allow us to have health issues if He could prevent them? Consider the core of our faith—God sent His Son in order to suffer. Isaiah says, “But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief.” But why would God be pleased with the suffering of His Son? Isaiah continues, “If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand” (Isaiah 53:10). Because Jesus desired to make Himself a guilt offering, an offering that would cover over our sins so we could be forgiven and accepted by God. It was through Jesus’ sufferings that we became “His offspring,” that His days, and ours, would be prolonged in resurrection, and that God’s will would prosper. So when we suffer health concerns, we must pray, “God, I know you’re in control and that you love me dearly. What would you like to accomplish through my problems?” God has promised to work out good for Jesus’ followers in all our circumstances—even health problems (Romans 8:28). In your suffering, God may be guiding you to repent of sin, or to share the gospel with someone you meet because of your suffering, or to rely on and value Him above your health and natural abilities, or to grow in character through your trials. So when you struggle with your health, “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:27-30).

So brothers and sisters, when we struggle with health concerns, we don’t have to be discouraged by what has happened, depressed by what we’re experiencing, or afraid of what is to come. We have a faith that gives us hope for our discouragement, joy for our depression, and certainty for our fears. Let’s consider the words of Paul in His physical ailments, “Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). May God lead us to honor Him through our difficulties and may He bless you as you continue to follow the Lord Jesus who suffered for us.

The Gospel: A Bird’s Eye View

God has blessed us greatly by sending the gospel of Jesus Christ to us that we might be saved and through us that we might lead others to salvation in Jesus Christ. But, in order to lead others, we have to understand the nature of the gospel. What is the gospel of Jesus Christ?

The word gospel translates a word from the New Testament which means “a good message.” And our message is not any “good message” but it is the “good message” about Jesus Christ. To gain a deeper understanding of the gospel of Jesus, it is helpful to step back and get a bigger, broader picture of the gospel.

cross_Bible

So what is the big picture of the gospel? While the Bible is composed of 66 books, written by over 40 different authors, in three different languages, and a time spanning around 2,000 years, there is one grand storyline that runs throughout the pages of the Bible. This storyline, or better yet, this grand narrative is the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. We can see this storyline in four different acts that begin in Genesis and end in Revelation.

The first act is CREATION. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). In eternity past, God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) existed, but the universe did not. All exists because God decided to create. Since God is perfect, everything He does and creates must also be perfect. Therefore, after the creation account we read, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). There was nothing wrong with the world: no disease, no hardship, no broken-relationships, no pollution, no disaster, no messed up bodies or minds, no disobedience to God, and no death. However, we look around us and realize that the world is far from perfect now. If God created everything perfectly, how did we get where we are now? This leads us to the second act.

The second act is the FALL of mankind into sin. Sin refers to both attitudes and actions contrary to God’s direction; simply put, sin is disobedience to God. God warned the first man that sin would lead to death (Gen 2:15-17). By death, God meant both a spiritual death of separation from Himself, the source of all life (Isa 59:2), and a delayed physical death that resulted from being cut off from that source (Gen 3:19). When the first man sinned, his nature changed. He became a sinner. He passed this sinful nature on to every one of his decedents—to all of mankind so that we are all sinners by nature (Rom 5:19) from conception (Psa 51:5). Every human lives consistently with that nature by disobeying God (Rom 3:23). The result of being a sinner is God’s condemnation in Hell for eternity (2 Pet 2:4-10). If nothing changes, every human being would be in a grave and desperate eternal state. But this leads us to the third act.

The third act is RESCUE through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. From the moment that mankind fell into sin, God promised to send a Savior into the world (Gen 3:15) to destroy Satan and bless all the people groups of the earth. As the Old Testament continues, we see mankind’s inability to make ourselves right with God and we see more details given about who this Savior would be. He would come as a decedent of Abraham (Gen 12:3), a decedent of Isaac (Gen 26:4), a decedent of Jacob (Gen 28:14), a decedent of Judah (Gen 49:10), and a decedent of David (2 Sam 7:12-13), just as Matthew testifies (Mt 1:1-18). He would be a prophet with power like that of Moses who would serve as a mediator between God and mankind (Duet 18:15-17). He would come as a Substitutionary Savior, taking the punishment for sin that belonged to others (Isa 53). He would be a Priestly-King in the order of Melchizedek (Ps 110). He would be born of a virgin in order to be God-Among-Mankind once again (Isa 7:14). He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), would be the faithful Israelite who would return from Egypt (Hos 11:1), would be the true Shepherd betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (Zech 11:7-14). Jesus came and lived a perfect life of obedience toward God the Father, He died on the cross, willingly taking the punishment of others upon Himself. He was buried and rose on the third day. He ascended into heaven at the right hand of the Father. When Jesus came, He confirmed all of this when He said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The word “believes” in the New Testament speaks of a sincere trust that results in a change of life. When someone surrenders to Jesus as Lord and Savior in faith, God saves him or her from death and Hell (Rom 10:9-13) and changes his or her nature from sinner to saint (2 Cor 5:17).

The fourth act is the RESTORATION in which Jesus makes all things new. When Jesus came the first time, He made a way for those who would trust Him to be made right with God, forgiven of sin, transformed into those who obey God in faith, and promised eternal life. Yet, the world is still corrupted by sin and its results. Will things ever be made right again? Paul tells us that the whole world is eagerly waiting that day (Rom 8:19-25). Jesus promised that He would return and make everything right (Matt 16:27). He will do so by destroying the present world, creating a new heavens and earth, perfecting His people, living among His people, and condemning forever those who reject Him (Rev 21:1-8). The eternal state of genuine born-again Christians will be like that of mankind in the Garden of Eden before the Fall (Rev 22:1-5).

So, the Bible has one storyline, one grand narrative that can be thought of in the acts of Creation, Fall, Rescue, and Restoration. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the gospel in which we have trusted. This is the gospel of which we are blessed to testify (Acts 1:8). May God bless you as we join together in sharing this good message of Jesus Christ.

Briefly on Baptism

Has the idea of baptism ever confused you? It has been practiced in different ways with different ideas surrounding it. Is it really important to be baptized? Should baptism be reserved for adults only or is it okay to baptize infants? For answers to these questions, we must turn to God’s Word. Below I have provided a short summary of how the Bible speaks of baptism with references to the corresponding passages. May God bless you as you consider this important act of discipleship.

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Baptism is the initiatory ordinance (that is an authoritative order) of Christ received by every Christian upon his conversion symbolically identifying him with full commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. As a symbolic act, it has no power to save, but instead points to that which does—fellowship with Christ in His death and resurrection. Baptism is a symbol of repentance of sin (Matt 3:11), a way to identify with the Triune God (Matt 3:13-17; 28:18-20), a manifestation or display of genuine saving-faith in Jesus (Acts 2:37-39), a portrayal of conversion and the union of the believer with Christ by which he has died to sin with Christ and risen from the dead to live a new life in Christ (Rom 6:1-7), a representation of a “humble request to God for a conscience cleared of guilt because of Christ’s atoning blood”[1] (1 Pet 3:18-22), and a familial identification with Jesus and the church (Gal 3:26-29).

As Jesus, the head of the Church, commissioned His apostles, those He called during His first coming to serve as the foundation of the church, to baptize as a necessary step of making disciples (Matt 28:19), the local church is the only right administrator of baptism. As baptism represents repentance, a manifestation of true saving faith, and conversion and as the New Testament never commands or portrays the baptism of unbelievers of any sort, the only right subject of baptism is the one who has surrendered to Jesus Christ in personal faith. Therefore, infant baptism is illegitimate as infants cannot comprehend the gospel or surrender to Jesus’ Lordship. Those who wrongly received baptism as infants should be baptized legitimately upon placing their faith in Jesus as an act of obedience.

The term for baptism throughout the New Testament, baptizein, and its cognates signify “immersion.” Immersion is the act of being completely immersed or covered in water. The New Testament shows no other mode of baptism than immersion. Therefore, immersion is the only proper mode of baptism while sprinkling (also known as aspersion) and pouring (also known as affusion) are illegitimate modes of baptism. As baptism identifies the believer with Jesus and His church (Matthew 28:19-20; Ephesians 4:4-6), churches should not extend baptism to any person unwilling to join a local church. As baptism is a command of Christ, the church should not extend Lord’s Supper to a person who lives disobediently by rejecting baptism (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).

[1] Mark Dever, “The Church” in A Theology for the Church ed. Daniel Akin (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 789.

7 Reasons to Be Thankful this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is an entire day that we set aside to be thankful. But our thankfulness isn’t to some blind power of the universe. Thanksgiving doesn’t make sense apart from a Creator who made us and sustains our lives. Without God, thanksgiving is a sham. There would be no need to thank fate or chance for these forces have no will or mind. They cannot be gratified by our gratitude. But there is a Creator who made us, who revealed Himself in the Bible and in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, who exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the God from whom every good and perfect gift comes down (James 1:17). This is the God whom we can thank for our many blessings on Thanksgiving. And the greatest of these blessings are the spiritual blessings which come to us in the new life obtained through faith in Jesus Christ. What are these blessings? Below you will find seven of them, although there are many more that you can discover by reading Christ’s Word as you walk with Him.

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Reason #1: Justification

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (Romans 5:8-9).

What precious truth we have here! In order to be thankful for justification we must understand that we are sinners. In fact, the Bible says that every person is a sinner (Romans 3:23) and that every heart is deceitful and wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). We must also understand that the punishment of sin is death and an eternity of suffering without God (Romans 6:23, Revelation 20:11-15).

Yet, God loves us even though we’re sinners!  What evidence do we have of this? “Christ died for us.” God sent His Son into the world that He could be your substitute—that He could die in your place! The Bible declares that Jesus never sinned (Hebrews 4:15) and therefore He did not deserve to die. Yet, He gave up His life to take your punishment that you might live in His place (1 Peter 3:18).

Because of what Jesus did that day on the cross, you can be justified! The word justified (δικαιόω, dikaioō) is a legal term. It means to declare innocent or righteous. Even though you have sinned against God and were headed for eternal condemnation, God can declare you innocent because Jesus took your place. Therefore, if you are in Christ, God, the universal and eternal judge will not hold you eternally guilty and you will be saved. How can you take hold of this justification? By surrendering your life to Jesus Christ—that is by repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ (Mark 1:14-15).

Reason #2: Sanctification

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

In Ephesians, Paul has explained the mystery of the gospel. Nearing the end of his letter, Paul is explaining how the gospel of Jesus makes a difference in our interactions with others. He uses Christ’s love for the church to explain how husbands should love their wives. In doing so, Paul reveals a great blessing in the gospel for which we can be thankful: sanctification.

Paul first reminds the Ephesian husbands that Christ “gave Himself up” for the church. Then Paul explains why Jesus gave Himself up. He did so in order that He might sanctify the church. What does sanctify mean? The word used here is ἁγιάσῃ (agiasē) which means to make holy or righteous. It carries the idea of consecration, that is the setting apart someone from profane things.

The idea is that through justification, Christians are declared righteous. In sanctification, Jesus works to make Christians what He has declared them to be—innocent and righteous. Jesus, by His Spirit, convicts Christians of their sins and gives them the will to put those sins away. He also convicts them and guides them into righteous acts. And how does Jesus do this?  He does it “by the washing of water with the word.” Jesus uses the Bible, inspired by the Holy Spirit (cf. John 16:13, 2 Peter 1:20-21) to make His people righteous. So this Thanksgiving, we get to be thankful that Jesus doesn’t give up on us because we are too sinful. Instead, He works to change us. Just as Paul encourages us, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

Reason #3: The Promise of Glorification

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30).

We can also be thankful for the promise of glorification. What is glorification?  If justification is the beginning of salvation and sanctification is the process of salvation, then glorification is the end or result of salvation. In the passage above, Paul has explained that God’s love for His people is eternal and victorious in Jesus. Then he makes the promise that “God causes all thing to work together for good” for those who are in Christ. But what is the good for which God works? It is not our selfish desires. It is our glorification! Paul strings together the process of salvation which includes God’s foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification.

The word glorified is ἐδόξασεν (edoksasen) which means to make glorious or to clothe with splendor. God created mankind in a glorified state—in His image (Genesis 2:26-27). But mankind rebelled against God and that rebellion marred the image of God in mankind so that man is not quite what he was meant to be. Yet, Jesus came in order to defeat death so that, by union with Him, His resurrection would lead to our resurrection to a glorified state—a state in which the image of God is repaired within us. Thus, Paul tells the Corinthians,

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:51-57).

The promise of glorification is a great promise!  It means that one day we will not struggle with desires for sin. God will take them away completely. It means that we will not struggle in a world of sin, for Christ will make a new world that has not been corrupted by sin (Revelation 20:1-8). It means that one day we will not have bodies that fail as the ones we have now. We will have eternal bodies; glorified bodies.  That means no hair loss, no diabetes, no cancer, no blindness, no Alzheimer’s, no down syndrome, and no death.

In the Romans eight passage, Paul uses the word “glorified” in the simple past tense. Why would he say it has already happened? Because God has declared it. God is completely faithful. Therefore, when He promises something, it may be stated with such a certainty as if it had already taken place. So, this Thanksgiving, let’s be thankful for the assurance of glorification!

Reason #4: The Presence of the Holy Spirit

“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).

On the night that Jesus was betrayed, before His arrest, He desired to comfort His disciples in preparation for their impending grief. He consoled them by disclosing His future plan to prepare an eternal home for His followers. While this promise imparted, and still imparts, great consolation, Jesus had more comfort to grant—He promised His Spirit’s eternal presence with His followers.

Notice that the Holy Spirit is given by the Father at the request of the Son. Jesus described the Holy Spirit as another “Helper.” Helper translates the word  παράκλητον (paraclēton). In the technical sense, this is a judicial term for an advocate who pleads one’s cause before a judge or an intercessor who intervenes on another’s behalf. The Holy Spirit certainly acts as an advocate or intercessor for the born-again Christian. Paul assures,

the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27).

When Christians do not know what to pray, the Holy Spirit prays for us!  He guides our will and even when our knowledge is obscure, He guides our way!

Jesus tells us that the Helper will be with His followers forever. In Jesus’ incarnation, He took on a human body, which He retains even to this day at the right hand of the Father. A body may only be in one place at a time. Yet, Jesus promised His presence with His followers forever (Matthew 28:20). How then can He be with us even now? By sending His Spirit to us. He said, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). This is the very Spirit that inspired the Scriptures and in, by, and through those Scriptures, He guides us “into all truth” (John 16:13). And this Holy Spirit only abides with those who surrender to Christ. He is our Helper through Christ Jesus! What a comfort and blessing worthy of all praise and thanksgiving that we are never left alone; never left to our own understandings. We have a Helper to advocate for us and guide us!

Reason #5: The Fellowship of the Church

and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

The writer of Hebrews had just reminded his readers of the confidence that Christians have to enter into God’s presence by the blood of Jesus. Then he makes several exhortations based upon that truth. Since Jesus died for us “let us draw near…let us hold fast…let us consider…” It is to this last exhortation that we now turn. Christians are called to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. Why? Because the world is full of distractions that want to choke out our service to the Lord (Matthew 13:22). Therefore, we need each other to stimulate us to love and good deeds. The word for stimulate is παροξυσμὸν (paroksusmon) which usually carries a negative connotation of provoking someone to argue or fight. But the writer of Hebrews makes a sharp contrast with this word. Christians are to provoke each other for good not for evil. The word can also mean to irritate. Have we gone so far as to irritate each other to serve God? The life of the Spirit will always irritate the desires of the flesh. Therefore, let’s irritate one another, let’s provoke one another, let’s call one another to serve God through love and good deeds.

But how can we provoke one another to love and good deeds if we never gather? How can we love Jesus if we don’t love His people (cf. John 13:34-35, John 14:15)? How can we love His people if we neglect them? The assembling together of which the writer of Hebrews spoke certainly included the weekly Lord’s Day gathering of the church. This is and has been for nearly 2,000 years, the regular time for the church to meet every week and celebrate the resurrection Jesus. It’s a time for stimulating one another toward love and good deeds. What a blessing Sunday mornings are!

Not only do Christians provoke each other to love and good deeds each Sunday morning, but as we gather we are “encouraging one another.” The word for encourage has a vast range of meaning that covers instructing, encouraging, strengthening, comforting, begging, and admonishing. It would be hard to know exactly which one of these ideas the writer of Hebrews had in mind when he used the word. But one thing is certain, he intended that we would come together and address each other with God’s Word—His commands and His promises.

The writer of Hebrews reveals a truth that makes us ever grateful for fellowship with our brothers and sisters: the Day of the Lord is approaching. The day when Jesus returns to separate His church from the world and to judge the world will come. The fellowship of the church guards us from wandering from Christ and His will, from building with the wrong materials (1 Corinthians 3), from having greater loves than Christ (Mark 12:28-34). The fellowship of the church is one of God’s greatest blessings for which we can be thankful.

Reason #6: Purpose for Living

This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3).

Without God’s revelation of Himself and His will through His Word, the Bible, this life would be one full of confusion that could be likened to being cast into the ocean at night time—you wouldn’t know which way was up or which way was down. But instead, the God who created us also has a purpose for us. What is that purpose? Jesus, just before He was arrested, prayed for His disciples—even all His future disciples. He prayed for you and for me. At the beginning of His prayer, He stated the essence of salvation—knowing God and Christ.

Considering the grand narrative of the Bible, you will notice that Adam and Eve were created in fellowship with God. But after they rebelled, they were cut off from fellowship with Him. God made a temporary way for Old Testament Israelites to fellowship with Him through the tabernacle, the temple, and the sacrifices until the time was right for a permanent and better way. Jesus came to bring a permanent reconciliation between man and God (Romans 5:10). Jesus came so that we could live in relationship with God. Jesus came as God among us (Matthew 1:23). Jesus came so that we could have God live within us in the person of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus returns, He will bring us to the New Jerusalem in which the church will get to live with Jesus forever (Revelation 21:3).

God’s purpose in the Garden of Eden, in the tabernacle, in the Temple, in sending Jesus, in sending the Holy Spirit, in the creating the New Jerusalem is to be in relationship with His people. God loves you and wants a relationship with you. That is your purpose in life. That is something to be thankful for. So then, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Reason #7: The Promise of a New Home

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).

This is my favorite passage in the entire Bible because it is full of unceasing hope and joy. When God created mankind in His image, that meant that He created mankind to rule—to rule over His creation as stewards (Genesis 1:26-30). Yet, when mankind rebelled against God, all that was in their care suffered the consequences (cf. Genesis 3:16-19, Romans 8:18-22).  Sin entered the world and corrupted it. With sin came relational turmoil, pain, disease, natural disasters, and death.

The majority of the book of Revelation speaks of God’s judgment upon the world that will end with the destruction of the world. But, since Jesus came, that will not be the end. Jesus promised that He would go to prepare an eternal home for His people (John 14:1-6). After His return, Jesus will provide a new heaven and a new earth for His people that will be uncorrupted by sin. There will not be any of the plagues that entered the world because of sin. Jesus will be there physically with His people once again. His bride, the church, will be completely cleansed of sin and will sin no more. Since God is the source of all good, no wrong will ever be done to His people or His new heaven and earth. All sadness and death will be a thing of the distant past.

Yes! We have many things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. The greatest gifts are those which come from the salvation that comes from Jesus Christ! Do you have that salvation? Do you have those gifts? Jesus has done all that is needed for you to be saved; to be brought into a relationship with God. All that’s left is for you to take hold of that salvation. Paul says,

that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation… for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:9-10, 13).

Thanks be to God!

 

A Deeper Dig on Deacons

 

Over the past several years I have heard of a concerning number of Baptist churches who intentionally do not have deacons. I have heard some Baptist pastors boast that their respective churches do not have deacons as if deacons were a hinderance to God’s plan for gospel advance. I find this to be very problematic since God’s inerrant Word provides the office of deacon and reveals that New Testament churches had deacons. God did not make a mistake when He divinely guided the Apostles to direct local churches to select deacons from among their numbers. Biblical faithfulness rather than pragmatism must guide church order and structure. Or do we think we know better than God?

In the past, the church in which I pastor did not have deacons. By God’s grace, we now have three faithful, Biblical deacons who are serving God and His people for His glory to the advance of the gospel. On the evening I am writing this post, I was privileged to hear one of our deacons share about the opportunity that God had given him and another one of our deacons to provide a benevolence need and share the gospel. I heard one of our other deacons close a church service in prayer, asking God to give all the church members opportunities to share the gospel. Thanks to these three faithful men who accepted the call to serve as deacons, I am able to serve as a pastor more freely and faithfully and our church is functioning in tune with God’s design as revealed in the New Testament.

As you read below a portion of one of my essays for a doctoral seminar at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary which discusses the deacons of the New Testament, please consider the grace that God has revealed in providing His local churches with deacons. I would encourage you to write one of your deacons a card to let him know that you are praying for him. Thank your deacons for the way they serve. Praise God for His perfect and unchanging plan in local church structure and order! May God bless your church and deacons even as you read this article!

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The Office of Deacon

When Paul established churches, he did not intend for an organic gathering of individuals without structure. He addressed the Philippian church emphasizing that he wanted two groups of people in particular to heed his message: “the overseers and deacons” (Philippians 1:1).[1] Paul required that deacons, like overseers/elders, meet specified qualifications (1 Timothy 3:8-13). Paul, nor the other apostles, treated any other offices with such concern.

Paul used the term διάκονος (diakonos) for this office in Philippians 1:1 and First Timothy 3:8-13. This word translates as “minister,” “servant,” “attendant,” or “deacon.” John Hammett notes that the New Testament writers use the term thirty-six times but only the two passages referenced above clearly refer to the ecclesial office.[2]

The Origin of the Diaconal Office

Viewing the two clear passages which refer to deacons does not reveal the location or time in which the office began. While Acts 6:1-7 does not use the term διάκονος (diakonos), many scholars and churchmen consider it the pericope of diaconal origin. Darrell Bock and F.F. Bruce do not believe that this passage speaks of deacons because Luke does not use the technical term for deacon.[3] However, apart from mentioning that Luke neglects the technical term for deacon, neither produces an argument against the traditional understanding of the passage. Some of these denials of the traditional rendering seem to consider institutionalism harmful. Hans Küng argues that these seven Hellenist men serve more as elders than as technical deacons.[4] The account of the elders caring for monetary funds in Acts 11:30 seems to corroborate Küng’s claim. Gregg Allison urges caution in viewing Acts 6:1-7 as an account of deacons while acknowledging strong arguments for both sides.[5]

Kari Latvus does present an argument against taking the seven men in Acts six as deacons: the seven are never called diakonoi (deacons), the verb diakonein (to serve) and noun diakonia (service or ministry) are used generally to refer to both preaching and serving in this passage, and the seven have a different outcome than the current understanding of deacon ministry in that they work as preachers or evangelists in the following chapters.[6] Yet, the Scriptures refer to church leaders at other times without using the technical terms (i.e., Hebrews 13:7, 17). The terms for serving and service/ministry make an association of this passage with the office of deacon more likely. Finally, preaching and serving as a deacon are not mutually exclusive activities. Only Stephen is shown preaching (Acts 7) and Philip is shown evangelizing (Acts 8). But Stephen’s apologetic proclamations and Philip’s witness of the gospel are activities expected of all Christians (cf. 1 Peter 3:15, Acts 1:8).

John Hammett presents a very convincing and concise argument for accepting the traditional view of Acts 6:1-7. First, Luke uses the cognates of the office in question, διακονίᾳ (service or ministry) and διακονεῖν (to serve), in verses one and two in relation to the work these seven men would undertake. Second, the qualifications for these seven men are commensurate with the qualifications in First Timothy 3:8-13. Third, “if Acts 6 is not linked to the origin of deacons, we have an office with no precedent in Jewish society, with no origin described in Scripture, and yet an office that was widely and readily accepted by New Testament churches.”[7] Merkle relates the apostles and the seven men in this account to the relationship between the future elders and the deacons. He concludes, “although the term diakonos does not occur in Acts 6, this passage provides a helpful model of how godly servants can assist those who are called to preach the Word of God.”[8]

God’s sovereignty and Jesus’ headship and pastoral care for the church make it unlikely that He would leave His church ignorant about an apparently important office that He wanted them to implement. The textual evidence is strong enough to warrant belief that this passage speaks of deacons or at least provided a reliable pattern for deacons to follow in their relationship with their elders and congregation.

The Responsibilities of the New Testament Deacon

A survey of Acts 6:1-7 and First Timothy 3:8-13 hints at four responsibilities of New Testament deacons within their respective churches. In Acts 6:1-7, both Judaic and Hellenistic Jews comprised the church. According to Polhill, these Hellenistic Jews likely came from the diaspora and settled in Jerusalem later in life. They spoke different languages and wore different clothes than the Judaic Jews.[9] Bruce explains that the main differences between the two groups were their differing languages and attendance to synagogues which used their respective languages.[10] The gospel had not yet gone to the Gentiles but the mixture of Judaic and Hellenistic Jews created a potential fault line that the church would need to guard. Complaining[11] arose along this natural fault line.

The church had been providing food for their widows. This was a normal practice among religious Jews in Jesus’ days. While the Apocryphal book of Tobit contradicts the gospel, it does reveal the thinking and practice of the Jews soon before the church began. Tobit states,

Praier is good with fasting, and almes and righteousnesse: a little with righteousnes is better then much with vnrighteousnesse: it is better to giue almes then to lay vp gold. For almes doth deliuer from death, and shall purge away all sinne. Those that exercise almes, and righteousnesse, shall be filled with life.[12]

The church had continued this Jewish practice of providing for the needy but they did so motivated by the gospel rather than an attempt to earn their salvation.

In the daily distribution of food for the widows, the church unintentionally neglected the Hellenistic widows. The apostles addressed the situation with the wisdom of Jethro when he told Moses to delegate some of his responsibilities in Exodus 18:17-27. The apostles called the church together and proposed a plan inspired by the Holy Spirit:

It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:2-4).

From this account, the church derived the diaconal role.

The first New Testament diaconal responsibility involved the deacons’ relationship to the apostles. They served to protect the apostolic ministries of the Word and prayer. Had the apostles met the needs of the Hellenistic widows themselves, they would have neglected the ministry to which God called them. Later, the deacons served in this same supporting role for overseers as Philippians 1:1, in conjunction with this passage, displays. Hammett explains, “Diakonos indicates more of a support role than episkopos or presbyteros…The example in Acts 6 fits the distinction between the ministry of leaders (elders/overseers/pastors) and the important but different ministry of other servants (deacons).[13]

Second, the New Testament deacons cared for the physical needs of the church. The seven men of Acts 6:1-7 provided for the widows’ sustenance. The meaning of the office title indicates this function as “one who waits tables.” The apostles did not require the deacons to be able to teach as they required of the overseers (cf. 1 Timothy 3:2; 8-13). However, this ministry of providing for the physical needs acted as a complimentary role to the apostles’ and overseers’ ministry of teaching. It enabled the ministry of the Word to advance.

Merkle, combining the first two responsibilities states, “the deacons provide leadership over the service-oriented functions of the church…it seems best to view the deacons as servants who do whatever is necessary to allow the elders to accomplish their God-given calling of shepherding and teaching the Church.”[14] Paul’s requirements in First Timothy for the deacons to not be fond of “sordid gain” and to be “good managers of their children and their own households” likely hints at their responsibility in using church funds to provide for physical needs.[15]

Third, the New Testament deacons worked to prevent divisions within the church. The reason the apostles proposed the office was because a division was beginning. Merkle acknowledges that the apostles “understood that allowing this problem to continue could cause division in the church.”[16] The apostles also knew that Jesus wanted the church to have unity as one people. They heard the Lord pray, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:20-21). When a threat of division appeared, they dealt with it decisively by establishing the diaconate. Mark Dever adds,

The apostles were not just interested in rectifying a problem in the church’s benevolence ministry. They wanted to prevent a fracture in church unity, and a particularly dangerous fracture–between one ethnic group and another. The deacons were appointed to head off disunity in the church. Their job was to act as the shock absorbers for the body.[17]

Since preventing and repairing division in the church served as a catalyst for the apostles establishing the diaconate, it likely continued as one of their responsibilities throughout the New Testament.

Fourth, the New Testament deacons set a godly example for their respective assemblies. When the apostles guided the church in selecting their deacons, they did not allow anyone to serve. The men who served had to meet certain qualifications. They had to be “men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3). The good reputation was necessary so the church could have an effective witness with outsiders. The fullness of the Holy Spirit and wisdom were necessary to deal with divisive issues within the church. However, the early church had the expectation that every Christian should be of good repute and full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. When Paul guided Timothy in establishing leaders in Ephesus, the deacons and their wives had to meet certain qualifications (cf. 1 Timothy 3:8-13). The early church expected this kind of character from the members of their assemblies.

A perplexity exists as to the need of giving and stating qualifications since the apostles expected the same from everyone in the assemblies. The likely conclusion is that the New Testament deacons shared with the elders (that is, pastors) the ministry of Christ-like modeling. Hammett, after mentioning this role of the deacon, states, “Anyone identified as an officer in the church in some way represents the church publicly and is thus required to possess a degree of maturity…the office of deacon is not a small, unimportant ministry that anyone can render.”[18]

While the New Testament authors do not explicitly state that these four responsibilities belonged to the deacons, Acts 6:1-7, First Timothy 3:8-13, and Philippians 1:1 hint at them. The scarcity of information on the diaconal role in the Scriptures may be intentional. The apostles may have intended to be vague so the deacons could serve unforeseen needs in the church as they arose. The early deacons may have served in any way needed.[19]

 Endnotes 

[1] Moises Silva, considers why Paul singled them out and concludes that he was showing a regard for them while preparing to give them “rebukes and criticisms that occur in the body of the letter” in Philippians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 41.

[2] John Hammet, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2005), 192.

[3] Darrel L. Bock,  Acts (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 259. F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 182, and F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts: Revised (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), 122.

[4]  Hans Küng, The Church (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1976), 511-512.

[5] Gregg Allison, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 242.

[6] Kari Latvus, “The Paradigm Challenged: A New Analysis of the Origin of Diakonia.” Studia Theologica  62, no. 2 (2008): 147-148.

[7]  John Hammet, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2005), 192.

[8] Benjamin Merkle, 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2008), 229.

[9]  John B. Polhill, Acts (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 1992), 178-179.

[10] F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts: Revised (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publlishing Company: Grand Rapids, 1988), 120.

[11] The word here is γογγυσμὸς which can be rendered “grumbling” or “murmuring.” This would have been a certain sign that division had begun and would need to be dealt with swiftly to defend unity.

[12] Tobit 12:8-10 in The Authorized Version of the English Bible 1611, Vol. 5, William Aldis Wright, ed. (London: Cambridge University Press Warehouse, 1909), 113.

[13]  John Hammet, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2005), 194.

[14] Benjamin Merkle, 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional), 240.

[15] John Hammett points this out as well in Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2005), 196.

[16] Benjamin Merkle and Thomas Schreiner, eds., Shepherding God’s Flock: Biblical Leadership in the New Testament and Beyond (Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2015), 65.

 [17]  Mark E. Dever, “The Church” in A Theology for the Church, Daniel L. Akin, ed. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 799-800.

[18] John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2005), 196.

[19] See Benjamin Merkle, 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2008), 238-242.

 

7 Reasons I Became and Remain a Southern Baptist

Reason #1: Southern Baptists Trust the Authority of the Bible

If God is the creator of all things then He has knowledge that we do not have and if this Creator spoke to mankind to reveal Himself and to reveal truth, then His revelation must be trusted more than the finite understanding of man. Southern Baptists have not always trusted the Bible as their main authority. In fact, many Southern Baptist leaders and scholars questioned the inerrancy of Scripture until the conservative resurgence which started in the 1970s.  The Conservative resurgence was a drawn-out battle for the authority of the Bible and ended with the Southern Baptist Convention affirming that authority and those who were Biblically moderate and liberal withdrawing and forming their own denomination. I grew up in a very Biblically conservative church which is a part of a very Biblically liberal mainline denomination. I left that denomination because of their equivocality concerning the authority of Scripture.  I am thankful that Southern Baptists believe that “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim 3:16) and “The law of the LORD is perfect” (Ps 19:7).

Reason #2: Southern Baptists Are Gospel-Centered

The Christian faith is entirely dependent upon the historical life, death, resurrection, and return of King Jesus. The church exists to make disciples for Jesus (Matt 28:16-20) by serving as witnesses to His person and work (Acts 1:8). Southern Baptists have been known for their evangelistic efforts. However, Southern Baptists are becoming known for a greater gospel-centeredness than sharing the news of Jesus with those who have never been born-again. In my experience, I have noticed that many Christians view spiritual growth as moving beyond the gospel—as seeing the gospel as a mere starting place in the Christian journey. However, the more I read and hear Southern Baptist leaders, the more I realize that they encourage Christians to view spiritual growth as moving deeper to the center of the gospel rather than moving beyond it.  As Dr. Daniel Akin states, “Christology is the focal point and essence of Christianity. As we have seen, from Genesis to Revelation, Jesus is the Bible’s great theme…What we believe about Jesus, who he is and what he did, will greatly shape the rest of our theology.”[1] Dr. Kenneth Keathley adds, “Salvation is a person, Jesus Christ, and therefore, ‘he who has the Son has life’ (1 John 5:12). The Bible emphasizes several aspects to salvation—justification, sanctification, and adoption, among others—but all fit under the general heading ‘union with Christ.’ The New Testament presents salvation as the unity of Christ with the believer and the believer in Christ (John 15:5; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 2:20).”[2] Southern Baptists are more and more emphasizing discipleship as abiding in Christ (Jn 15:1-11).

Reason #3: Southern Baptists Are Mission-Focused

God is the missionary God who left His home in order to bring salvation to those who were far away (Jn 1:14). God calls His people to bring His glory to others (Ps 67). Jesus commissioned the church to take the news of salvation to all the nations (Jn 20:21, Mt 28:1-20, Acts 1:8). I am grateful that Southern Baptists take this call seriously. The Cooperative Program is the evidence of Southern Baptists’ genuine concern for Jesus’ mission. The Cooperative Program is a very effective financial plan that allows Southern Baptist churches to combine their resources for the purpose of the Great Commission. Each SB church gives to their state convention which withholds a portion of the funding for state mission work and sends the rest to the SBC. The SBC divides those funds between its entities for Great Commission work. Through this program, Southern Baptists have the largest international missionary agency in the world, the International Mission Board, which has nearly 3,600 missionaries in the field. Likewise, the Cooperative Program supports the North American Mission Board which has nearly 5,700 missionaries. CP giving is divided as follows:

2016-2017-HeartChart

Reason #4: Southern Baptists support six solid seminaries.

We expect our physicians to go through years of rigorous schooling before they prescribe medication or perform surgery. However, issues of the soul and eternity are of greater importance and greater complexity. The work of Christian leaders requires greater and more thorough training than that of physicians.  The six Southern Baptist Seminaries provide just that. After the conservative resurgence, these seminaries have boomed as a result of God’s blessing for their faithfulness to His Word. Indeed, they have become six of the most significant and largest seminaries in the nation. I am very grateful to God for my time at one of them, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC and am blessed to be a student at another, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. I have often heard pastors advise, “Seminary can be a Cemetery. Learn what they say, parrot it back, get your degree, and forget about it altogether.” I also know of a “Christian” seminary that holds Islamic chapel services. The other day I spoke with a fellow Baptist pastor (not Southern Baptist) in an airport who goes to a “Christian” seminary in which the majority of his professors openly claim that they are not born-again Christians. I can honestly say and rejoice that this is not the experience for students of the six Southern Baptist Seminaries.

Reason #5: Southern Baptists Have Been Blessed with Many Godly Leaders

I can think of several denominations in which many of the people and churches believe the Bible and seek to follow it while their leaders deny the Bible and seek to undermine it. Contrary to that, leaders (past and present) of the Southern Baptist Convention like Adrian Rogers, Paige Patterson, Albert Mohler, Danny Akin, Russell Moore, Jason Allen, Steve Gaines, and Fred Luter stand on the faithfulness of God’s Word and proclaim it.  I am always glad to see Albert Mohler and Russell Moore speak on behalf of Southern Baptists without fear or equivocation to the onlooking nation. I was so humbled and encouraged in the 2016 election for SBC president when Steve Gaines and J.D. Greer ran for president. When the ballots were counted and the election was too close to call, both men offered to withdraw and support the other. They were more concerned about the unity of the convention and the work of God than their personal ambitions. I have likewise been blessed with the counsel and guidance of regional Southern Baptist leaders like Seth Polk, Senior Pastor of Cross Lanes Baptist Church and Jacob Atchley, Lead Pastor of the Church at Martinsburg. Such men set a great example and provide strong Biblical leadership for fellow Southern Baptists.

Reason #6: Southern Baptists espouse Biblical Ecclesiology (church government and order)

Southern Baptists believe in the autonomy of the local church. We believe that each local church exists and functions under the headship of Jesus Christ and has no outside authority. As I’ve shared in a previous post, “The New Testament reveals that God has given authority to the local church to govern herself under the headship of Christ. New Testament churches practiced discipline (Matt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 5), baptized new believers and added them to their membership (Acts 2:41), selected and ordained deacons (Acts 6:3), appointed and sent missionaries (Acts 13:2-3), and recognized and corrected false teaching (Acts 15:22). A New Testament church is a church who governs herself under the headship of Christ.” Southern Baptists know the importance of the local church and have many wonderful scholars who teach this faithfully such as Drs. John Hammett, Jason Duesing, and Thomas White.

Reason #7: Southern Baptists Work Hard Toward Racial Reconciliation

As our country becomes further divided along the lines of race, Southern Baptists have been working for years to bring reconciliation. In 1995 and in 2015, the SBC passed resolutions calling racism sin and seeking the eradication of racism and the advancement of racial reconciliation. At the 2017 SBC, after some confusion over the resolution, Southern Baptists condemned white supremacy.  In recent years, the SBC has had both Native American and African American presidents. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has become well known for its Kingdom Diversity Initiative.  Southern Baptist’s are striving to live out the  “renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:9-11).

Notes 

[1] Daniel L. Akin, “The Person of Christ” in A Theology for the Church. Daniel L. Akin, ed. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 542-543.

[2] Kenneth Keathley, “The Work of God: Salvation” in A Theology for the Church. Daniel L. Akin, ed. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 686.

The New Testament Model: Multiple Pastors and Multiple Deacons for Each Local Church

In last week’s article, I made the provocative claim that “The model of one pastor serving one congregation is an unbiblical and unfaithful development of the second century.” That should shock many readers in the United States because many of our churches have one pastor, not multiple pastors. I know that many who read this desire to be as Biblical as possible. In this week’s article, I would like to substantiate my claim that we may consider how to be more faithful to God’s Word.

Image result for Pictures of the Acts of the Apostles

Before I do so, I would like to define my terms. First, the terms elder (also translated presbyter), overseer (also translated bishop), and pastor (also translated shepherd)[1] are used interchangeably in the New Testament for one office. I most often use the term pastor to refer to this office because it is the term used by most Baptist traditions, although elder is becoming more popular. While I usually use the term pastor, while referring to the New Testament model, I may use all three (or six) terms interchangeably.

Second, a two-tiered model is a model of church government which has multiple pastors and multiple deacons in each local church. This is the model which comes from the New Testament. Therefore, this is the model to which I am advocating each local church transition. I will provide evidence of multiple pastors for each local church in the New Testament but I will not do so for deacons since that is more agreed upon at present. By the term two-tiered model I do not mean one pastor and multiple deacons in each local congregation. While that also may be called a two-tiered model, it is not the New Testament’s two-tiered model but a model that came as a later reduction of the three-tiered model of the fourth-century AD.

Third, a three-tiered model is a messier term because the model is dynamic, making transitions and transformations throughout church history and therefore will have differing forms. All of these forms are unbiblical as they reject the New Testament model of multiple pastors and multiple deacons in each congregation. In the second century, we see the first three-tiered model take shape as one of the pastors (usually called elders at the time) was chosen to serve as that local church’s overseer or bishop or what I will call the monarchical bishop. Later in church history, that bishop would be chosen to serve over several local churches who each had elders and deacons. By the time of Chrysostom in the late fourth century, elders were replaced with a priest for each local congregation who was given sacerdotal duties and seen as a type of mediator between Jesus and the church. The three-tiered model in many regions had transformed to a bishop over each region, a priest over each congregation, and a deacon serving as the priest’s assistant. The present model in many congregational churches has rejected the idea of a single bishop outside the church ruling over them but seem to have kept the idea of a single minister (I use this term here because the term priest was used regularly from the fourth to the fifteenth century but now a variety of terms are used with differing nuances behind them) leading over them from within, rather than returning fully to the New Testament model of multiple pastors from within their own congregations leading them.

Below you will find excerpts from an essay I wrote for a doctoral seminar at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with some changes to make it more readable to a wider audience. The first section will show the New Testament’s model of a plurality of pastors (aka elders). The second section will show the New Testament’s two-tiered model practiced during the late first and early second century after the close of the New Testament. The third section will show how and why the most primitive three-tiered model developed in the mid to late second century AD. The conclusion will provide three considerations for churches desiring to transition to the New Testament model.

Plurality of Overseers/Elders/Pastors

According to the New Testament, each local congregation had a plurality of elders. No overseer had to bear the responsibilities alone. John Hammett contends, “When one looks at the verses containing the words elder, overseer, and pastor, a consistent pattern of plurality emerges.”[2] The model of a monarchical bishop in each congregation is a development of the second century as this essay will demonstrate later.

When Paul left Titus in Crete, he instructed Titus to “appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5). Paul does not tell Titus to appoint an elder in every city. The term πρεσβυτέρους (elders) is in the plural while πόλιν (city) is in the singular. Paul’s goal was to have multiple elders in every congregation. While one may argue that each city could have had multiple churches, allowing for one overseer for each congregation, Luke reveals a practice that contradicts one overseer per each congregation by Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. They “had appointed elders for them in every church” (Acts 14:23). Here again, πρεσβυτέρους (elders) is plural but ἐκκλησίαν (church) is in the singular form. Paul and Barnabas’ practice was to appoint multiple elders in each congregation.

In Acts 20:17, Paul “called to him the elders of the church.” Consistently, πρεσβυτέρους (elders) is plural while ἐκκλησίας (church) is singular. Benjamin Merkle argues, “The church in Ephesus is referred to in the singular (it is not the churches of Ephesus), indicating there was only one body of believers in Ephesus that was governed by a plurality of leaders…”[3] Corresponding to the above instances, Shawn Wright reveals further Biblical evidence of the New Testament pattern of plurality and concludes, “The pattern is clear: more than one elder per a local congregation.”[4]

Two-tiered Ecclesiology in the Patristic Era

Some of the earliest documents in the Patristic era reveal the two-tiered structure of multiple overseers/elders/pastors and deacons as revealed above in the New Testament. As Steven McKinion explains about the Patristic era, “The most prominent offices were those of elder (presbyter) and deacon. Other titles for the first of these offices both in the New Testament and patristic literature were pastor and overseer (bishop).”[5] This essay will now provide a few brief examples of the two-tiered structure of the church in the earliest Patristic documents that carried over from the New Testament. The two-tiered structure is not an invention of those holding to a congregationalist polity. Those who were temporally closest to the apostles also understood the New Testament in this way.

First Clement is one of the earliest church writings extant after the New Testament. As mentioned previously, Clement was an elder in the Roman church who wrote to the Corinthian church at the end of the first century because they wrongly deposed their overseers. Clement used structural and agricultural language to explain that God appointed the apostles who appointed the overseers and deacons. He also used the Septuagint’s account of Isaiah 60:17 to make his argument as the translators used both ἐπισκόπους (overseers) and δικαιοσύνῃ (deacons) in that passage. Clement stated,

And thus preaching through countries and cities, [the apostles] appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus saith the Scripture in a certain place, ‘I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.’[6]

Clement argued to the Corinthians that God intended for them to have bishops and deacons within their local congregation.

Directly before this passage, Clement tied the two-tiered model to the doctrine of salvation; to the gospel. He said that the apostles went about preaching the gospel by the Holy Spirit and as they did, they first set up bishops and deacons. Clement’s account is consistent with Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey (Acts 14:23) in which they appointed elders. It also fits well with Paul’s letter to Timothy as Paul provided qualifications for these two offices that the Ephesian church might implement them.

As Clement addressed their deposition of the overseers, he made an argument that the apostles intended for appointed men, by the consent of the church, to serve as elders, taking on the ministry of the apostles. Clement described the office of elder with the term episcopate (office of overseer) and with the shepherding motif of serving the flock. He explains,

We are of the opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole Church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. Blessed are those presbyters who, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure…”[7]

Clement’s close association with the office of elder with the acts of overseeing and shepherding reflects the interchangeable use of the terms ἐπισκόποις (overseers), πρεσβυτέρους (elders), and ποιμένας (shepherds) in the New Testament (cf. Acts 20:17,28; 1 Peter 5:1-5).

The Didache, an anonymous writing of the early second century, served as an instruction manual for the early churches. During the time of its composition, itinerant teachers and prophets traveled from church to church. However, these prophets and teachers were not the leaders of the local congregations. The writer of the Didache instructs,

“Appoint, therefore, for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful and proved; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers. Despise them not therefore, for they are your honoured ones, together with the prophets and teachers.”[8]

The writer revealed that local churches should have two offices and multiple officers of each within their members: bishops and deacons. The common practice was to have a two-tiered structure.

Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John and an elder of the church of Smyrna, wrote to the Philippian church to provide them practical instruction and commend to them the letters of Ignatius. Polycarp likely wrote this letter in the first half of the second century. He gave instructions to the deacons and elders. Of the deacons and to the young men, Polycarp teaches,

Knowing, then, that ‘God is not mocked,’ we ought to walk worthy of His commandment and glory. In like manner should the deacons be blameless before the face of His righteousness, as being the servants of God and Christ, and not of men. They must not be slanderers, double-tongued, or lovers of money, but temperate in all things, compassionate, industrious, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who was the servant of all…In like manner, let the young men also be blameless in all things…being subject to the presbyters and deacons, as unto God and Christ.[9]

Polycarp’s instruction is reminiscent of Paul’s qualifications for the diaconate in First Timothy 3:8-13. He also instructed the young men to follow the example of the deacons and the direction of two types of officers: presbyters and deacons.

Polycarp continued by guiding the presbyters in their responsibilities to their local assembly. He directed,

“And let the presbyters be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those who wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always ‘providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man;’ abstaining from all wrath, respect of persons, and unjust judgment; keeping far off from all covetousness, not quickly crediting [an evil report] against any one, not severe in judgment, as knowing that we are all under a debt of sin.”[10]

Here, Polycarp revealed that the church should have presbyters and deacons. In describing the work of the presbyters, he relied upon the shepherding motif as he directed them in “bringing back those who wander.” He may also have had the idea of overseers in mind when he commanded them to “not be severe in judgment.” For Polycarp, then, the presbyters served as pastors and overseers.

One last issue must be considered regarding Polycarp. Many in church history have considered Polycarp the bishop of Smyrna. Some proponents of a three-tiered structure may argue that the introductory clause of Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians supports this as it states, “Polycarp, and the presbyters with him, to the Church of God sojourning at Philippi.”[11] A. Cleveland Coxe offered an equally valid translation. He renders it, “Polycarp, and those who with him are presbyters.”[12] If this translation is correct, Polycarp was a fellow-elder with other elders in Smyrna, not a bishop who presided over the elders. This phrase cannot reliably support a three-tiered structure. These few examples of the late first and early second centuries reveal a two-tiered structure of the church consisting of the overseers/elders/pastors and the deacons.

Divergence from the New Testament Model in the Patristic Era

 The first century provides no evidence of a three-tiered structure in the church. One cannot say the same of the second century.  Hans Küng traced the development of church offices providing a possible scenario. He argued that the early church first had a loose structure with teachers and prophets. He then said that elders and deacons provided more structure in the church and took the place of teachers and prophets. In the second century, one of the elders began to serve as a monarch over the congregation and in time became a monarch over multiple congregations in one region.[13] Küng’s argument for a loose ecclesial structure with prophets and teachers is doubtful as he questioned the authenticity of the pastoral epistles, believing them to have been written in the second century. However, the writings of the early church fathers provide support for the rest of Küng’s analysis.

Ignatius of Antioch offered the first evidences of the office of overseer splitting into an bishops and elders. Ignatius served as bishop of Antioch. Tradition holds him to be a disciple of the apostle John alongside Polycarp. Ignatius wrote a letter to the Trallian church to encourage them to continue following Christ, give them practical instruction for godly living, and to warn them against following false teachers. He presented several clear statements of a three-tiered structure that includes a monarchical bishop in the Trallian church.

Encouraging his readers to be subject to their monarchical bishop, Ignatius wrote,

For, since ye are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, ye appear to me to live not after the manner of men, but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us, in order, by believing in His death, ye may escape from death. It is therefore necessary that, as ye indeed do, so without the bishop ye should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ…It is fitting also that the deacons, as being [ministers]of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all. For they are not ministers of meat and drink, but servants of the Church of God.”[14]

Ignatius separated one of the elders and marked him as the bishop. Then he elevated the bishop in such a way that usurps both congregational and elder authority.[15] Ignatius presented a hierarchical structure of bishop, elders, and deacons.

Ignatius continued to display this structure in greater detail as he explained the hierarchy with a metaphor: “In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the Sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles.”[16] Since he likens the bishop to Christ and the deacons to the appointment of Christ, it would follow that the ordination of deacons is no longer from the authority of the church, as it was in Acts chapter six, but rather of the bishop.

Striving to protect the church from false teachers, Ignatius continued, “he who does anything apart from the bishop, and presbytery, and deacons, such a man is not pure in his conscience.”[17] At the end of the letter, Ignatius once again set a bishop up over the elders when he states, “it becomes every one of you, and especially the presbyters, to refresh the bishop…”[18] There can be no doubt that Ignatius presented a three-tiered structure.

One other letter from Ignatius reveals his reason for having a monarchical bishop. Ignatius wrote to the Philadelphian church out of a concern for false teaching and division. A sign of a true follower of Christ is that he is in fellowship with the bishop a church. Ignatius writes, “For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop.”[19] The monarchical bishop may have developed, at least for Ignatius, as a clear and practical way to identify false teachers and false believers from true ones.

While likely dealing with divisions in the church that developed into segments of the church celebrating Lord’s Supper apart from the whole, Ignatius hinted at his theological reasoning for the structure of a monarchical bishop in the three-tiered hierarchy. He argued, “Take ye heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one alter; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants…”[20] Ignatius shadowed the apostle Paul’s language as Paul provided theological grounds for church unity (Ephesians 4:4-6). For Ignatius, a monarchical bishop not only staved off heresy, he also provided the foundation for unity.

Beckwith, speaking of the separation of bishop from elders, adds, “Probably the reasons were not in every case the same, though church discipline and the preservation of unity seem likely to have been the most common reason.”[21] Whatever the reasons, Steven McKinion mentions Jerome’s account of the development of the monarchical bishop came about through the elders of a congregation selecting one of their own as primus inter pares (“first among equals”).[22] These examples reveal that the church during the patristic era changed coarse from the two-tiered structure of the New Testament mostly for practical reasons rather than Biblical reasons.

Conclusion

New Testament evidence supports a two-tiered structure of multiple overseers and deacons in each local church. The church in the early patristic era went off the Biblical path in regard to these offices. The church who desires a God-honoring structure and a healthy church will implement the two-tiered model of multiple pastors and multiple deacons in each local church as God has graciously and sovereignly directed in His Word.

I have three suggestions for local churches considering a transition to the Biblical model of having multiple pastors and multiple deacons for their church. First, consider the ramifications of a single-pastor model. How has placing the responsibilities meant for multiple people on the shoulders of one person hurt your church? Hurt your pastor? Hurt the mission of the church? How could your church change for the better if you honored God’s model?

Second, while every pastor should be financially compensated, not all pastors must be compensated fully (1 Tim 5:17-18). The pastor who takes the brunt of the teaching responsibilities should be supported most fully. Smaller churches should consider offering part-time remuneration or stipends to pastors who do not take the brunt of the teaching responsibilities (although every pastor must teach, cf. First Timothy 3:2). I know of one smaller church who brings on young men who have a call to ministry as assistant pastors. The church pays them a $300-$500 per year stipend. This gives support to the lead pastor, experience and mentorship to the young pastors, and a Biblically faithful pastoral ministry to the local church.

Third, smaller congregations who struggle to find qualified candidates to have multiple pastors and deacons should prioritize the Biblical model over their present existence. What I mean is that smaller churches who cannot find or support multiple pastors (not even with a small stipend for those who do not teach/preach most) and who have exhausted all efforts to establish multiple pastors should consider merging with another church of like faith and order that they may follow God’s plan for multiple pastors and deacons in each congregation. A church in this circumstance must choose whether they will honor God and His plan or whether they will honor their own identity and desire.

[1]  See Acts 20:17-35, 1 Peter 5:1-5, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 with 5:17-22 and Titus 1:5-9.

[2] John S. Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2005), 178.

[3] Benjamin Merkle, Why Elders?: A Biblical and Practical Guide for Church Members (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2009), 29.

[4] Shawn D. Wright, “Baptists and a Plurality of Elders” in Shepherding God’s Flock: Biblical Leadership in the New Testament and Beyond, Benjamin Merkle and Thomas Schreiner, eds. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2014), 251-252.

[5] Steven A. McKinion, ed., Life and Practice in the Early Church: A Documentary Reader (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 151.

 [6]  Clement of Rome, The Letter of the Romans to the Corinthians, 42 (ANF 1:16).

[7] Clement of Rome, The Letter of the Romans to the Corinthians, 44 (ANF 1:17), emphasis added.

[8] Didache, 15 (ANF 7:381).

[9] Polycarp of Smyrna, The Epistle of Polycarp, 5 (ANF 1:34).

[10] Ibid., 6 (ANF 1:34).

[11] Ibid. (ANF 1:33).

[12]  A. Cleveland Coxe, The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of The Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325, Vol. 1. Eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 33.

[13] Hans Küng, The Church (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1976), 522-527.

 [14] Ignatius of Antioch, The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians, 2 (ANF 1:66-67).

[15] See also Ignatius’ letter to the Smyrnæns where he likewise says, “See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop.” Ignatius, Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnæns, 8 (ANF 1:89).

[16] Ignatius of Antioch, The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians, 3 (ANF 1:67).

[17] Ibid., 7 (ANF 1:68).

[18] Ibid., 12 (1:72).

[19] Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians, 3 (ANF 1:80).

[20] Ibid., 4 (ANF 1:81).

[21] Roger Beckwith, Elders in Every City: the Origin and Role of Ordained Ministry (Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster Press, 2003), 13.

[22] Steven McKinion, Life and Practice in the Early Church: A Documentary Reader (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 151.