Q&A: Many churches adopt confessions, why then do leaders and laypersons often stray from orthodoxy? What lessons can we learn from this?
Q. Many churches adopt confessions, why then do leaders and laypersons often stray from orthodoxy? What lessons can we learn from this?
A. Confessions are good and have biblical precedent. Humans, however, are fallen and as 1 Timothy 4:1 says, “some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” People are lovers of self rather than lovers of God (2 Tim. 3:2-4). That is why there are problems with heterodoxy and heresy, even where there are solid confessions in place. Confessions may not keep false teaching from emerging but it is helpful to have them in place to quench the spread (like gangrene) of unhealthy teaching.
One lesson we learn from the prevalence of unhealthy belief and teaching is the importance of qualified leaders. It is vital that pastors/elders be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2) and correct opponents of the truth (2 Tim. 2:25). We also see the important place of church discipline. The church is set apart as the light of the world and the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) if the truth is not proclaimed and protected by the church how dark will the darkness be?!
The second lesson is that churches must work hard to be watchful and stand firm in the faith (1 Cor. 16:13). If someone is contradicting orthodox teaching and causing division then they should be removed from the church community (1 Tim. 6:20-21; 2 Tim. 3:5; Titus 3:10). The church is to be the set apart people of God (Eph. 1:4; 5:27). Thus, Paul writes “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thess. 2:15).
We see through James P. Boyce’s and Charles Spurgeon’s life that they were entrusted with great gifts but we also see through a survey of their biographies that they also suffered great grief. We have much to glean from them. We will see that we are all called to be faithful stewards of what God has entrusted to us. Though it will be difficult to various degrees we can endure what God has called us to by the grace that He grants us.
Hear Spurgeon’s words:
I know you will tell me that the gold must be thrust into the fire, that believers must pass through much tribulation. I answer, Truly it must be so, but when the gold knows why and wherefore it is in the fire, when it understands who placed it there, who watches it while amid the coals, who is sworn to bring it out unhurt, and in what matchless purity it will soon appear, the gold, if it be gold indeed, will thank the Refiner for putting it into the crucible, and will find a sweet satisfaction even in the flames.
Thus, even as we face difficulties we must entrust ourselves to a God, as Spurgeon did. Even in the midst of Spurgeon’s great suffering he “never doubted that his exquisite pain, frequent sicknesses, and even despondency were given him by God for his sanctification in a wise and holy purpose.”
A Great Work At A Great Cost
Spurgeon and Boyce both had great life works but they both suffered great loss in their lives as a result. Boyce, who founded the seminary I went to, said that the seminary may die but that he would die first. He would worked rain or shine for the prosperity of the school. He said that he did not own the seminary but rather it owned him. Boyce kept the seminary alive and fed it with almost his own heart’s blood. Thus we see that Boyce clearly realized that he would have to imitate his Lord’s long-suffering. There was “mammoth energy and sacrifice involved” for Boyce “in setting the seminary securely during the trials of decades.” “Boyce endured the press of ‘anxieties, trials, and labors” during days when the seminary’s future appeared bleak and exerted ‘herculean toils’ to surmount these seemingly invincible difficulties.”
Similarly, Spurgeon was not a martyr, but he chose to die every day. He suffered with gout; he gave his money, his time, and himself completely to the Lord. God used Spurgeon greatly. He wrote over 140 books, penned around 500 letters a week, spoke to thousands of people each week, started an orphanage, started a pastor’s college, and led countless people to Christ, among other things. That was all possible because he gave himself entirely to the Lord. One of Spurgeon’s biographers, Arnold Dallimore, said, “Early in life he had lost all consideration of his own self, and his prayer that he might be hidden behind the cross, that Christ alone might be seen, had expressed his heart’s chief purpose.”
Spurgeon said, “It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus.” Boyce, similarly, had an “entire devotion.” Likewise, Paul was greatly used by God because he gave himself unreservedly to Him; even to the point of much affliction. If we are going to be used by God, for His glory, we must unreservedly sacrifice all and He must get all, Christianity is all-encompassing. May our chief boast be Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (Gal. 6:14).
Jesus held the weight of the world on His shoulders, even the sin of the whole world. Yet, Spurgeon and Boyce surely often felt as if the weight of the world was on their shoulders. However, they also felt that their burden was easy (cf. Matt. 11:30), and they knew that through Jesus Christ their reward would be great (2 Cor. 4:17). Both Spurgeon and Boyce knew that the cross came before the crown, trials before the triumphant Kingdom. So, Spurgeon said, for instance, “Good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others.”
I would do well to remember the price that godly men and women have paid throughout the centuries when I become discouraged in my work. The writer to the Hebrews wrote about various faithful men and women to encourage the recipients of the letter to endure in the face of persecution (see Heb. 11). I need to remember “the great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1), including Spurgeon and Boyce, and run on with endurance (cf. v. 1).
Martin Luther talked about the theology of the cross. I think both Spurgeon and Boyce had a clear understanding of this theology. In fact, I think Spurgeon could have written his own tome on it. Both Spurgeon and Boyce lived a life of strenuous endeavor, to borrow Theodore Roosevelt’s words. Yet, they did not box as one beating the air (1 Cor. 9:26). Rather, they knew for what they labored, they labored for the Lord, and thus knew their labor was not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). Spurgeon, as he loved Bunyan’s great work and read it around one hundred times, certainly would have agreed with Lloyd-Jones’s observation: “The great truth in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is not that Christian endured great hardships on his way to the eternal city, but that Christian thought it to be worth his while to endure those hardships.”
Spurgeon and Boyce ironically suffered with some of the same physical bodily afflictions. They both suffered with bouts of gout, for instance. Gout is typically the worst when body temperature is lower. Gout very often targets the big toe but can also cause joint pain in wrists and fingers as well as fatigue. Symptoms from gout can actually be so intense that the weight of a sheet can be unbearable. However, the physical pain was multiplied for these great men when you consider all that they were incapable of doing when they were laid up because of their pain. Though they sought to make the best of this time, surely they often felt anxiety and perhaps guilt over what they were unable to accomplish during these bouts.
Yet, their great enemy, to borrow the words of Spurgeon, was also a great teacher. We see in Spurgeon’s biography that his great suffering enabled him to better relate to people (cf. 2 Cor. 1:4). Suffering taught both Spurgeon and Boyce humble reliance on the Lord. This brings to mind Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7). Even as Boyce and Spurgeon were writhing in pain I am sure they thought (1) that God was sufficient to use frail jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7), (2) that God is sovereign and when they weep He still reigns and cares for His Church, and (3) that though they were indeed experiencing great suffering it was nothing compared to the eternal wrath that the suffering of the Son of God had averted for them. Thus, though these great men knew great suffering, they both grew instead of grumbling. Their gout was a rod that dished out sanctification.
I would do well to look at these men’s example and hear again, “Good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others.” I may or may not deal with the physical pain that they dealt with but I can certainly learn from their patience in the midst of it. I must also remember “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Matt. 10:24). If Jesus my Master suffered then I can expect nothing less.
During one of Spurgeon’s bouts with depression he said, “I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for.” Not only did Spurgeon have a natural disposition to depression but the weight of his position and responsibilities also was heavy upon him. He said,
Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment… The kingdom comes not as we would, the reverend name is not hallowed as we desire, and for this we must weep… How often, on Lord’s-day evening, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us!
Thus we see that Spurgeon, “the prince of preacher,” was sometimes even depressed about his sermon on Monday or even as he walked down from the pulpit on Sunday. He said these words to a group of ministers, “We come out of the pulpit, at times, feeling that we are less fit than ever for the holy work. Our last sermon we judge to be our worst.” “We experience dreary intervals of fruitless toil, and then it is no wonder that a man’s spirit faints within him.”
This is a checklist that I put together to look over as I prepare to preach. There are, of course, other things that I could have put on this list. But these are the specific things that I need to be sure to check at this point in ministry…
- Am I preaching the good news of Jesus?
- Am I praying and pleading with God to bless my sermon?
- Am I working with a team in preparation to preach?
- Am I getting and listening to Leah’s feedback?
- Am I preparing far enough in advance?
- Am I preparing my sermon with specific people in mind?
- Am I going to bring people on the journey with me? (Am I going to peak people’s interests? Am I taking baby steps when necessary or am I making huge leaps in my logical reasoning?)
- Am I using the 6 Journalistic Questions (What?, Who?, When?, Why?, Where?, and How?) and answering what will be most helpful for the audience?
- Am I illustrating my point like Jesus would have? And am I getting the full impact from my illustrations?
- Is the sermon going to be “G rated”? (Is the sermon for a general audience or is it restricted to those with special training? Did I break it down like I need a mechanic to break it down for me?)
- Is the sermon going to create and relieve tension?
- Is my sermon focused, making one sustained point? (Am I considering what the one thing is that I want people to take away from the message?)
- Can I pass the 3am test? (If I was awakened at 3am and asked about the main point and structure of the sermon could I answer in a helpful way?)
- Will unbelievers understand and find the sermon appealing? (Not that we ever want to compromise the truth but we do want to intrigue unbelievers with the view of reality that the Bible gives)
In the future I’d like to write a blog post for each of the above points to further convince myself of their importance.
What is expository preaching? What are the duties of the pastor and the role of the congregation?
Expositional preaching has three main characteristics. First, the passaged that is preached on is a single passage rather than various passages put together. Second, the main point or theme of the sermon is derived from the theme or main point of the passage. That is, expositional preaching seeks to exposit the text that is preached. Third, expositional preaching is typically lectio continua—that is, it is preaching that consecutively works through passages of Scripture in their biblical context.
Here are two of my favorite definitions:
“Expository preaching is that mode of Christian preaching that takes as its central purpose the presentation and application of the text of the Bible. All other concerns are subordinated to the central task of presenting the biblical text. As the Word of God, the text of Scripture has the right to establish both the substance and the structure of the sermon. Genuine exposition takes place when the preacher sets forth the meaning and message of the biblical text and makes clear how the Word of God establishes the identity and worldview of the church as the people of God” (R. Albert Mohler Jr., He is Not Silent: Preaching in a Post-Modern World, 65).
“To expound Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and it expose it to view. The expositor pries open what appears to be closed, makes plain what is obscure, unravels what is knotted and unfolds what is tightly packed. The opposite of exposition is ‘imposition,’ which is to impose on the text what is not there. But the ‘text’ in question could be a verse, or a sentence, or even a single word. It could equally be a paragraph, or a chapter, or even a whole book. The size of the text is immaterial, so long as it is biblical. What matters is what we do with it. Whether long or short, our responsibility as expositors is to open it up in such a way that it speaks its message clearly, plainly, accurately, relevantly, without addition, subtraction or falsification” (John Stott, Between Two World, 125-26).
Worship must be carried out according to God’s revealed will. We want to worship God in the way that He has prescribed as best as we possibly can. So, we want our worship to be drenched in Bible. We want every aspect to pour out biblical truth.
Public worship must succeed as much as possible in carrying out what God has given us in His word to do. We should acknowledge, however, that “The New Testament does not provide us with officially sanctioned public ‘services’ so much as with examples of crucial elements.” Even though it is true that the New Testament does not give us “a complete manual of liturgics,” it does gives us clear things that we are to do.
The Great Commission in Matthew 28 tells us a few things that are essential for disciples of Jesus. Matthew 28:19-20 says: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” We will look at implications from the Great Commission first and then turn to other crucial aspects of what it means to be the called out ones of God.
First, the church is given a command. Something we must collectively work at carrying out. We must make disciples and that includes sharing the good news of Jesus with others (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Public worship then is to facilitate discipleship (which includes encouraging evangelism).
These thoughts are taken from John C. Maxwell’s book The 21 Indispensable Qualities of A Leader.
“The world has never seen a great leader who lacked commitment” (18).
“Effective communicators focus on the people with whom they’re communicating… Who is my audience? What are their questions? What needs to be accomplished?” (26).
“If you follow your passion–instead of others’ perceptions–you can’t help becoming a more dedicated, productive person. And that increases your ability to impact others” (85).
“If you want to grow your organization, you have to remain teachable” (144).
Quoting Gilbert Amelio,
“Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership. The leader must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiam to others. If a leader can’t get a message across clearly and motivate other to act on it, then having a message doesn’t even matter” (23).
[[This is written to be especially applicable for high school graduates but the points apply to us all.]]
- Don’t forget about God and your personal convictions. You could gain the world, popularity and an inconceivably high GPA, but if you forfeit your soul it profits you nothing. In Jesus alone is there abundant life.
- Be in Christian community. Go to church. Read your Bible. Pray. Sing songs of praise to God.
- Talk to your pastor or spiritual mentor. Let them know when you have questions or are struggling with something.
- Have a personal development plan and record your goals and how you’re going to get there. And then do those things.
- Exercise. Just do it.
- Work ahead when possible.
- Do fun stuff but don’t be stupid. Always consider the possible consequences of your actions.
- Have fun but make the most of your time. For instance, maybe turn off Candy Crush and don’t binge-watch as much Sponge Bob, or whatever. Maybe even turn the Internet off every once and awhile. It’s won’t be gone forever, I promise.
- Have fun. Although it feels difficult these are probably the funniest and easiest years of your life.
- Build relationships. Build relationships with your peers but also with professors, advisors, and bosses. Network (but not just for the purpose of networking. Actually care about people). And meet new people, different people. Say hi to people that you normally wouldn’t say hi to.
- Explore your interests and abilities. As you consider the future, keep an open mind.
- Ask questions and ask for help (in all sorts of settings).
- Learn about finances. Make a budget. Learn about investing. Don’t take out a loan unless you really have to.
- Get there ten minutes early and leave ten after. Talk to your professor or boss and listen to the questions that your peers have.
- Stop your horrible habits now, don’t wait.
- Write things down (your schedule, thoughts, wishes, dreams, and the occasional poem). Your brain dumps its memory every night, your phone or notebook doesn’t.
- Ask questions. Interact with the content you’re being taught. Share your opinions (though, not in an obnoxious know-it-all way)
- Read the syllabus. Love the syllabus. Live and die by the syllabus.
- Call your parents and siblings (if you have them).
- Prioritize! Don’t procrastinate! If you prioritize well you have more room to procrastinate.
- Love learning for the sake of learning, not just for the grade. A love for learning will serve you better than your GPA.
- Chose your friends wisely.
- Chose your “special someone” wisely.
- Enjoy the work you do even if you don’t enjoy it.
- Remember one side sounds right until you hear the other. This is a proverb that holds true in all areas
- “I read it on the internet” doesn’t equal truth (even if you see the same thing in a few places).
- Relativism is actually harmful. Unless there is objective truth, the exhortation for people to be kind (e.g. planet care, respecting others, and not harming others) is subjective and relative to the whim of individuals (and thus doesn’t really need to be heeded).*
- Read books. Read blogs, read news articles, but let the biggest part of your diet be books, especially old books that have stood the test of time.
- Do your work. Your professor should know what they’re doing. So, do the work that they assign.
- Keep your own list. Remember what you have learned and pass it on.
*”To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis on which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights” (Timothy Snyder, *On Tyranny*).