Monday, July 31, 2006

Shoo fly. . .shoo!

I have deleted a few comments here because an individual by the name of "Antonio" is a peddler of false doctrine. Secondly, and I know this goes against the tone of most blogs, but this is not a “debate” blog. We might discuss items at times and kick thoughts around but we are not interested in being a billboard for false teachers to link to (besides Antonio has his own blog). I would ask that Antonio and any other’s of like ilk abstain from commenting here since such persons are always learning and never come to a knowledge of the truth. We are a group of friends who are all preachers and this blog is dedicated to such fellowship and conversation. In my year and a half of blogging I have learned that some people should be banned from owning computers and that the world has enough opinion to sustain a plethora of arguments for many more millennia (BTW: I also think turbans are out of style). Antonio, we will let you know if your services are needed here but by the looks of things, I think we will be okay without them until the Lord returns. Please show integrity and honor our requests not to comment here (consider yourself banned).

Oh and by the way….Jesus is Lord!

Applicational Hermeneutics (pt 4)

*** V. The Biblical Solution ***

Here are "8 simple principles to help you accurately interpret (or apply) the Biblical text."

1. Pray that God through the Holy Spirit would grant you wisdom and understanding when studying or applying any passage of holy Scripture.

We can't do this in the flesh. We need to humble ourselves before God and ask for the Spirit's aid in understanding the Scriptures.

2. Utilize proper hermeneutics when studying or applying any passage of holy Scripture.

Pastor Flatt and I are both committed to the grammatico-historical method of interpretation (as are the writers of this blog). This method is designed “to discover the meaning of a text that is dictated by the principles of grammar and the facts of history.” The famous pre-reformation Reformer John Wycliffe wrote, “All things necessary in Scripture are contained in its proper literal and historical senses.” While the famous Bible translator William Tyndale said, “Scripture has but ones sense, which is the literal sense.” John Calvin rightly believed that, “The Holy Scripture is not a ball that we can bounce around at will. Rather it is the Word of God whose teaching must be learned by the most impartial and objective study of the text.” **When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense.** Much more could be said under this heading but for time sake I must move on.

3. Try and leave behind any unnecessary presuppositions or preunderstandings when approaching the Text.

John Calvin wrote, “It is the first business of an interpreter to let his author say what he does say, instead of attributing to him what we think he ought to say.” St. Augustine adds, “The task of the interpreter is to determine the meaning of the Scriptures, not to bring a meaning to it.” Perhaps this is summarized most effectively in a quote by Bernard Ramm, “The danger of having a set theological system is that in the interpretation of Scripture the system tends to govern the interpretation rather than the interpretation correcting the system.”

4. Always remember, CONTEXT is KING!

Taking note of the context is essential for accurate bible study. KEY --►A proof text that ignores the context is a pretext! The Swiss reformer Zwingli wrote, “Pulling a passage of Scripture away from its context is like breaking a flower from its roots.” Context, context, context. In short, context is king!! Make sure you read a verse in its context (whether that means 1 paragraph or
6 chapters). This is one of the things that’s potentially dangerous during a discussion based setting (not having adequate time to study the contexts of the verses that are being referenced).

5. “Observe” what the Scriptural passage says.

Ask lots of questions of the text: Who was the writer? TO whom was he writing? Where does this passage fit in with the rest of the chapter? What genre of Scripture does this fit into? Are any words repeated? Are their any linking words? What grammatical devices does the author use? What are verb tenses in the original language? What are the key theological words? What’s the historical background of this passage? I remember one of my first seminary assignments was to take a short passage of Scripture and to come up with 20 questions to help implement this step.

6. Accurately “interpret” the biblical text.

This step asks the question, “What does it mean?” “How is it to be explained?” One seminary Professor notes, “Interpretation is perhaps the most difficult and time-consuming step.” Many preachers today don’t do in-depth Biblical exposition (expository preaching) because it is so laborious...

To help interpret the Text:
a) Find Solutions to all of your questions (the ones you came up with during the “observation” step)
b) Try to “Paraphrase” each verse or section of the passage… In my own words this means….
c) When interpreting the bible: Utilize the “analogy of the faith” rule- No passage of Scripture, when accurately understood will contradict any other passage.
d) When necessary, use clear passages of Scripture to help interpret more difficult (obscure) ones.
e) Use good exegetical commentaries only after you’ve done all these steps on your own.

(optional step) 7. Determine how this particular passage of Scripture harmonizes with other biblical texts/doctrines.
(Develop a biblical and systematic theology). Systematic and biblical theology is appropriate only after exegesis has taken place (of each passage)…

8. “Apply” the Biblical text to your own life.

Application takes place only after steps 1-6 are completed. If we immediately jump to application we are prone to misinterpret and misapply the Words of God. Remember there is but one true interpretation, but applications are many! The Spirit often applies the Word differently to individual believers. One scholar wrote, “Heart appropriation, not merely head apprehension, is the true goal of Bible study.” Study the Bible to know your God! Can you think of anything more glorious then growing closer with the God of the universe? This should be all the motivation we need to discipline ourselves in personal Bible study. We can grow in our relationship with Jesus through intense study and application of the Word!

I would encourage you to briefly review every sermon that you listen to and ask God to specifically apply the text to your life. Ask God to conform you into Christ’s image through your personal study and application of the Word (1 Peter 2:2). Always ask yourself the “so what?” questions. Knowledge alone merely puffs up.

Martin Luther wrote that the Bible, “is not merely to be repeated or known, but to be lived and felt.” In 1742, Johann Bengel wrote something that summarizes this lecture very well, “Apply yourself wholly to the text and apply the text wholly to yourself.”

Friday, July 28, 2006

Basic Bible Interpretation (pt 3)

IV. The Need for this Particular Study

The Bible truly is God’s Word. As such, it is authoritative and binding for all peoples in all times (that’s why Satan hates it). He loves to undermine and minimize God's book. Throughout history, The Bible has been misinterpreted, thousands of times. Some people have done this intentionally while many more have done so unintentionally.

A) Some Atheists claim the Bible supports their position, after all Psalm 14:1 does say, “there is NO God.”

Of course the first part of the verse says, “The fool has said in his heart, there is NO God.”

B) Jehovah Witnesses and other cult groups say they believe in the Bible.

They quickly point out Colossians 1:15 which says, “Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.” J.W.’s teach that Jesus is not eternal (He has an origin), thus He can’t be God. Of course a basic understanding of the original languages and the context of this particular passage clearly reveals what Paul was trying to say; Jesus is the “first-born” in this sense: He is preeminent in rank and supremacy over all His brethren. In addition, verse 16 claims Jesus was present when the universe was created (His eternality). This passage of Scripture does not destroy the Deity of Jesus Christ. On the contrary, it emphatically upholds it!

C) Roman Catholics often point out James 2:24 to show the apparent inconsistencies of Sola Fide (Justification by faith alone);

James 2:24 says, “You see that a man is justified by works, and NOT by faith alone.” Yet when this Epistle is understand in its historical setting, one realizes that James was attacking the errors of the Antinomians (cheap grace); Which is why he repeatedly emphasizes this concept: True saving faith works itself out in sanctification. A person is justified by faith alone BUT NOT by a faith that is alone (the evidence of our justification)!

D) Christians sometimes point out Matthew 7, which says “Judge not, least you be judged.”

This verse is used by some professing Believers to excuse sinful behavior. Others use it as an excuse not to faithfully confront people (after all who I am to judge?). But when understood in its entire context, Jesus is getting at a much different point. Jesus isn’t saying, “Don’t confront a sinning brother” what he is saying is “1st examine your own life(and make it right) BEFORE judging another person. The key word is found in verse 5, (circle the word), “THEN”………..

E) I’ve heard many Christians misapply Matthew 18:20, which says, “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst."

During scarcely attended prayer meetings someone will inevitably quote this verse in a earnest attempt to bring comfort to all that God is still in their midst (which of course He is). Unfortunately in context this verse is talking about the Lord’s presence (His confirmation) during the church discipline process NOT….

F) One person recorded this somewhat humorous example of how a pastor totally misapplied the Word of God during a Bible conference.

The speaker was preaching from John 11, the story of the resurrection of Lazarus. This was his interpretation, “Lazarus is a symbol of the church, and what we have here is a vivid picture of the rapture of the believers. The resurrection of Lazarus is the church going through the rapture.”

G) Some people try and handle poisonous snakes based on their reading of Mark 16:18 while others speak in tongues because the apostles did so in Acts 2.

-->One thing that’s essential is to recognize the difference between prescriptive and descriptive passages of Scripture.

H) A more common error today is perfectly described for us in a blog posting from a member of our church.

He writes, “I believe one of the key issues today regarding poor hermeneutics is our American tendency to 'need' the quick fix. We aren’t interested in hard-work and seeing the bigger picture; rather, we believe it is our right to have the solution presented to us in a clear/concise way. We want to believe the infomercials showing us how to become millionaires by age 30 or get great abs in 5 minutes a day. We want the maximum benefit with the least amount of work. For Christians, this attitude creates the desire for 'THE verse'. You know… the perfect summary in 10 words or less that gives us the answers we so desperately need to all of our current problems. When we approach scripture this way, we frequently impose our presuppositions on the text. We surgically remove a verse that 'speaks' to us, from the surrounding paragraph, letter, and book.”

All of us have probably been guilty of doing this at some point in our Christian life. We’ve played fast and loose with the biblical text…We’ve wanted a quick answer so we’ve imposed our meaning on the Biblical text. We need to be very careful how we interpret and apply the Bible……….

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Hermeneutics (pt 2)

II. The Good News

Hallelujah friends, God has spoken! The infinite God of the Universe has revealed Himself and His glorious character to finite man! This is really great news! We could not know GOD apart from him revealing himself to us. The primary way God speaks today is through His external Word. Thus it is our great privilege to figure out the spiritual significance of God’s Holy Word. To study the Bible to know its meaning. This of course can only be done through the Holy Spirit’s enablement, (see 1 Cor 1-2). Passages like 1 John 2:20 and 1 John 2:27 should provide every believer with hope. All of us can accurately understand the Word of God because of the H.S. The H.S. guides true believers into the Truth! This is very good news.

Of course, this truth does not eliminate the need for diligent study (1 Tim 2:15 makes that clear). This does not eliminate the need for gifted teachers either (Note 1 Cor 12:28 & Eph 4:11); But it does mean you (lay people) are not totally reliant on us. I hope this reminder is received as good news this evening! God has provided us a light onto our feet and a lamp until our path. We can know something of the mind of Christ and the will of God.

III. A Basic Definition

Before I move forward in this lecture let me 1st try and define this seminary word for you: “Hermeneutics” is simply a set of principles. It’s the science and art of interpreting the Bible. Bernard Ramm adds, “It is a science because it is guided by rules within a system; and it is an art because the application of the rules is by skill, and not by mechanical imitation.” More specifically sound hermeneutics “determine the rules which are legitimate in the interpretive process and those which are not.”

Another key concept that must be understood is the word exegesis: This means to lead the meaning out of the text, to show the way, or to interpret the proper meaning. IN other words, the human interpreter must avoid imposing a preconceived notion into any given text (Eisogesis). Our goal as we study the bible is to determine the original meaning of the text! We want to know what God meant when He, by the Holy Spirit, led the prophets and apostles to write the Holy Scriptures! (see Dr. Thomas' exegetical theology chart for more detailed info).

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Starbucks Use and Church loyalty

I admit that I'm not a Starbucks drinker but a Starbucks user. At any rate, this article pointed out an amazing stat that is nonetheless easy to believe. 80% of Starbucks revenue comes from folks who visit the store an average of 18 times a month. Now let me draw out a conclusion that has been forged in real experience and statistical proof. Not even the American evangelical church can claim such loyalty. It has already been pointed out that Southern Baptists (I picked them because they are the largest of this group and I use to be one) can not account for well over 8 million members of their churches (see here). Other mainline denominations are no better. In fact all the mainline groups (Presbyterian, United Methodists, Episcopalians, etc.) are hemorrhaging members at an astounding pace. So what does this mean?

Some church culture hawks will look at this and say, "That's it! If we start giving away espresso at our church services then people will come" (if you don't believe churches do this see here). Others with a more agnostic frame of mind might say, "See Christians are no better than anyone else, in fact they're less loyal." However, I think something else might explain why Starbucks can keep members and many churches cannot. The problem is not one of marketing. I lived in Los Angeles and can tell you that no church can compete with the world's marketing ability. Churches in my own area run TV commercials and news ads that come off looking silly at best and pandering at worst. To be sure, if your church gives away something that the average person likes then they might be lured for a season. However they will eventually figure out that if it’s coffee you want then Starbucks makes it better (which is the same reason you don’t go to McDonalds for the fish). There is an old business axiom that goes something like this: “what you win them with is what you will keep them with.” So what happens if you attract people to your church with promises like, “let us help get your finances in order” or “feeling depressed…come and let us help you”? Do they stay after they get their checkbook balanced or no longer “feel” depressed? Statistics show they clearly do not.

I think one of the lessons that shrinking church roles teaches us is that churches have been wooing folks with everything under the Sun except the gospel. When the warm fuzzies wear-off they are left holding a cold cup of coffee while listening to a “preacher” give a humanistic motivational speech. The world is very savvy at many things but one thing it is unable to do is be “the pillar and support of the truth” which is the sole role of the church (1 Tim. 3:14). So until some pupliteers wake-up to the reality that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation they will continue to miss the forest for the trees. Now this does not mean that true needs are overlooked in an effort to get someone to pray a prayer (I’m pretty sure that the latter is never mentioned in Scripture). There are extremes on both sides of this needy fence. One says give them a cup of cold water and don’t even dream of mentioning Jesus and the other says give them the coldest water they’ve ever had and make sure the cup has John 3:16 printed in bold on the outside. The first approach leaves Jesus out of the equation altogether and the other makes the cold water look better than having your sins washed away. The call of the gospel means telling others that they have no hope outside of faith in Jesus Christ and that it won’t necessarily make their life “better”. It also means that the church has a responsibility to help those who find it difficult to follow Jesus (i.e. discipleship). Lastly, it should be a reminder that many folks churches consider as “members” are not on the heavenly role that matters. . . they just came to your church for the coffee.

Leon Morris (1914-2006)

Dr. Leon Morris has died in Melbourne Australia at the age of 92. Morris wrote many works of enormous help to Bible expositors everywhere. Most preachers have within their reach one of his numerous commentaries or theological works which will now remain as a testimony to Morris' theological heritage.

Hermeneutics (part 1)

These notes come from a recent lecture i gave at my home church...

Applicational Hermeneutics

I. The Problem
We live in a day and age when people want to express there opinions at almost any cost.

(E.G.) Radio shows: Jim Rome, Sean Hannity, Howard Stern, etc.
TV Shows: Oprah Winifrey, Dr. Phil, Jerry Springer, etc.
Internet: Everybody and their grandma seems to have a blog these days.

Americans like to share their opinion in just about every venue imaginable…This attitude has inevitably permeated herself into the church. I think that this can be both a positive thing and a negative thing.

Dialogue teaching is one, of many different ways, the Bible can be taught during: small group settings, Sunday school classes, or even home bible studies. Dialogue & Interaction can be helpful for both the teacher (clarity) and the students (understanding/attention).

Expository exultation (ie. biblical preaching) should never be replaced by these popular teaching methods; But that doesn’t mean other forms of teaching don’t have a place in the life of the church…. (That’s exactly why our church offers a variety of teaching styles during our sunday school hour and FLOCK groups).

I don’t have time tonight to go into all the different ways Postmodern thought has affected the church…Suffice to say it has; in a variety of ways.

One of the more common errors is a very catchy but potentially unwise small group question: WHAT DOES THIS BIBLE PASSAGE MEAN TO YOU? (Have you heard this one before?) The emphasis is on the TO YOU part.

Some people believe a passage of Scripture can rightly mean multiple things to different people… Certain teachers would have you believe the Bible can be rightly explained with multiple, contradictory interpretations. So they ask: WHAT’S YOUR personal take on THIS VERSE? What does this passage mean to you? Some ask this question AS IF absolute truth was simply a by-product of modernity…As if truth were relative…Professor Roy Zuck wisely asks, “If the Bible can be made to mean anything we want, how can it be a reliable guide?”

When it comes to interpreting the Bible my fallible opinion and your personal impressions don’t matter too much. One Pastor put it this way, “the meaning of Scripture is the Scripture.” In other words, IF you don’t have the correct interpretation, you don’t have the Scriptures! You can not rightly apply a passage if you have the WRONG interpretation of the biblical text.

Friends, this is one of the reasons why sound hermeneutics are so essential! One of the most important disciplines for Christians to grow in, is learning how to apply sound hermeneutical principles to the biblical text. This is a crucial discipline for all of us to grow in.

This needs to happen regardless of the ministry context:
A) In our Children’s ministries…
B) Ladies Bible Study,
C) During Youth Group,
D) Adult Flocks,
E) Sunday School time,
F) at home during family devotions,
G) During biblical counseling sessions,
H) & obviously in the pulpit on Sunday mornings.

If you’d like one key verse that supports my thesis carefully, study 2 Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.”

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Who Said It?

The doctoral seminars are flying by after one week. Today we enjoyed presentations from each other on various expositors through church history. We heard about Hus, Lloyd-Jones, Boice, Criswell, Spurgeon, M’Cheyne, and Calvin. For me the highlight was fellow classmate, John Glass’s presentation on John Calvin. John Glass is a one of a kind. He is the only pastor who can say all of the following: 1) he believes in and practices expository preaching, 2) preaches in both French and English, 3) is an expert on Calvin, and 4) is the only expositor pastoring in Geneva, Switzerland today. Since we’re on the subject of Calvin, who said the following about the Reformer?
“Next to the study of the Scriptures which I earnestly inculcate, I exhort my pupils to peruse Calvin’s Commentaries, which I extol in loftier terms than Helmich himself (a Dutch divine, 1551–1608); for I affirm that he excels beyond comparison in the interpretation of Scripture, and that his commentaries ought to be more highly valued than all that is handed down to us by the library of the fathers; so that I acknowledge him to have possessed above most others, or rather above all other men, what may be called an eminent spirit of prophecy. His Institutes ought to be studied after the (Heidelberg) Catechism, as containing a fuller explanation, but with discrimination, like the writings of all men.”

Friday, July 14, 2006

Martin Luther: the preacher

In today's D.min seminar, we spent all day talking about Martin Luther (the German Reformer)….his bumps, his bruises, his foibles, his strengths, his brilliance, and his pastoral excellence. Dr. Steve Lawson led our discussion into the heart of this Reformer’s ministry. As we are all pursuing doctorates it was fitting that we hear from Luther on the matter who said in his Table Talk, “Be assured that no one will make a doctor of the Holy Scripture save only the Holy Ghost from heaven.” Preachers need to drink deeply from the well of Martin Luther. No protestant preacher today can rightly know where his feet are planted without having Luther fixed somewhere upon his compass. Here are a few quotes to get the juices flowing;
“I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept…the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.”

“A good preacher invests everything in the Word.”

“When I was young, I read the Bible over and over and over again, and was so perfectly acquainted with it, that I could, in an instant, have pointed to any verse that might have been mentioned.”
NOTE: If one has not studied Luther, where should he begin? I would recommend to the novice that he get Stephen J. Nichols’s Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life. Next I would recommend the classic biography of Luther by Roland Bainton called Here I Stand. After becoming familiar with his life and context, start reading his sermons and tracts. Luther believed his greatest work was Bondage of the Will and I believe history has proved him right so if you read nothing else…read Bondage.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Don't know much about history. . . of preaching?

When I was a wee lad I loved to go on field trips during school. It was a great way to learn through hands-on experiences. Today we began our D.Min session by taking a book tour/field trip of Dr. Rick Holland’s study. The focus of our tour was books on the history of preaching (we also got to see Rick’s pics from his tour of reformation hot spots like Geneva and Wittenberg. Having Genevan pastor, John Glass, in our cohort to provide commentary on the pictures was only an added bonus. It was a riveting discussion and very helpful in bringing the vast expanse of this wonderful history together.

Preachers should know their history and this means they should know their craft which includes knowing from where they have come. Many writers have chronicled this history from various perspectives (e.g., E. C. Dargan, Hughes Old, John Kerr, A. E. Garvey, Pattison, F. R. Webber, and John Broadus among others). Jude tells us that preaching can be traced at least as far back as far as Enoch who was only seven generations removed from Adam. Then there was Noah, Moses, the prophets, Ezra and the scribes mentioned in Nehemiah chapter 8 and many others in the OT. There was John the Baptist, Jesus Himself, the Apostles and their associates. There were the church fathers, medieval preachers and then the Reformers. Since the Reformation, preaching has been on the incline but understanding how we got here has been on the decline. A. E. Garvie relates the importance of preaching history this way:

“The history of preaching…is the necessary presupposition of any discussion of the credentials, qualifications, and functions of the preacher today. Since he stands in a historical succession, he will recognize the responsibility of his trust, and the difficulty of his task, only as he has a distinct consciousness of this succession, and takes up into this ideal of his vocation all the elements of permanent significance and value in the previous history.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

What is "exposition"?

What happens when a word reaches beyond any meaningful consensus and everyone makes a claim to its use? This is exactly the problem with the word “expository” as in “everyone claims to be an expository preacher.” It is no stretch to say that many preachers consider themselves expository preachers yet there is little agreement about what the word means. A survey of standard books on preaching will reveal that various authors all emphasize different perspectives (e.g., Robinson, D. A. Carson, Kaiser, Lloyd-Jones, Vines, Olford, Greidanus, Broadus, et al). This was a question we considered at some length in our first D.Min session today and one all preachers should carefully consider.

An examination of terminology raises difficult questions: Can there be biblical preaching that is not expository? Can there be exposition that is not preaching? Is exposition limited to a verse, a paragraph, or something else? Can topical preaching be expositional? The questions could be multiplied at this point. As a reference point I offer Richard Mayhue’s foundational definition from Rediscovering Expository Preaching.

Expository preaching is preaching that focuses predominantly on the text(s) under consideration along with its (their) context(s). Exposition normally concentrates on a single text of Scripture, but it is sometimes possible for a thematic/theological message or a historical/biographical discourse to be expository in nature. An exposition may treat any length of passage.

Following is a helpful summary of the essential elements of expository preaching:
1.The message finds its sole source in Scripture.
2.The message is extracted from Scripture through careful exegesis.
3.The message preparation correctly interprets Scripture in its normal sense and its context.
4.The message clearly explains the original God-intended meaning of Scripture.
5.The message applies the Scriptural meaning for today.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Students of Preaching

Since the contributors to this blog are all preachers it is only fitting that we remain students of preaching and preachers. On that note, a couple of us are in Los Angeles for the next two weeks as we are in the D. Min of expository preaching program at The Master’s Seminary. I will be blogging some of the highlights from the lectures and interaction with my fellow cohorts.

USELESS TRIVIA WARNING (Turn back now): One of my favorite bits of actual LA “preaching trivia” is the fact that there is an actual street called “Exposition Boulevard.” Even better, it is the main street that goes through MacArthur Park in downtown LA.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Heroes of the Faith (pt 3)

As I mentioned in my last post this discussion is all about (biblical) balance. It is possible to idolize gifted teachers in a way that would shame the Giver of all good gifts. We must be very careful not to worship our heroes. At the same time, it is entirely appropriate to “honor” faithful servants of the Lord. I will argue in this essay that it also fitting to “imitate” faithful Christian leaders.

We looked at 1 Corinthians 3:5-17 in my previous post. Don Carson summarized this section as follows:
“1. Christian leaders are only servants of Christ and are not to be accorded allegiance reserved for God alone.
2. God cares about his church, and he hold its leaders accountable for how they build it.”

The apostle Paul was not interested in dividing the Church. He gave his very life trying to unite the Church under the banner of Jesus Christ her Head. He did not want a bunch of Paul-groupies causing disunity in the Church. This is one of the reasons why he wrote 1 Corinthians 3:5-17. Yet in this same epistle the apostle Paul called the Corinthians to “imitate” him as he followed Christ (1 Cor 11:1). Paul understood that he was a leader. Pastors are examples and role-models whether they want to be or not. Their can be no Charles Barkley pastors in the ministry (“I’m not a role-model, parents should be role-models”). Paul actually encouraged his readers to imitate his life on numerous occasions (1 Cor 4:16; 1 Thess. 1:6). One pastor puts it this way, “Spiritual leaders must set an example of Christlikeness for all to follow.”

Hebrews 13:17 is pretty straightforward. In this passage of Scripture the author of Hebrews writes, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” The Greek work for “imitate” is mimeomai from mimos. Here we are told "to mimic" the lives of our own church leaders (those who are worthy of imitation of course).

Of course in chapter 11 the author of Hebrews gave a number of illustrations of men and women who lived tremendous lives of faith. These godly heroes from the past should provide inspiration for all Christians (in the present). Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

When I think of the Christian heroes I have (Spurgeon, Calvin, Whitefield, MacArthur, Begg, etc) I view them in these categories. Their faithfulness to God encourages me to live with the same type of consistency. Their commitment to the Word in the midst of great opposition is something I hope to imitate and mimic. Their love and passion for Christ is something that I desire as well.

Christian heroes (past and present) can help point us to Christ and motivate us all to live more faithful lives.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Weekend Fun: You provide the caption

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Christian Role Models and Factionalism? (pt 2)

Is it really Idolatrous to have Christian Heroes? (pt 2)

Our God is the creator of the universe. He’s made every single person in the universe different and unique. In other words, none of us are exactly like another human being. This diversity surely is an expression of the creative genius of God. God is glorified in Man’s creative differences.

God has given all of us different talents, gifts, and abilities. When these “spiritual gifts” are used in the local church God is glorified and the body is edified. God has given believers a diversity of gifts for the unity of the body (1 Peter 4:10-11, 1 Cor 12-14). Of course, God has also given each of us different personalities, genetic make-ups, etc. so when two godly pastors preach on the same passage of Scripture it should not sound exactly the same (even when they apply the same hermeneutical principles with great exegetical skill).

It’s important to start here because some people try and imitate Christian leaders (from the past or present) and find themselves frustrated because they can’t duplicate them (at least not very well). Because of this reality some people say it is silly to try and imitate any Christian heroes (past or present). Others say trying “to imitate” or “model” another person shows an underlined attitude of discontentment (i.e. I wish I were made just like so and so). In my judgment this is a both/and deal NOT an either/or situation. Like in so many areas of life this is all about biblical balance.

The Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians against the dangers of factions (read 1 Cor 3). The early Corinthian church was apparently divided over a number of different issues. One of these dividing issues was Christian leadership. Some were saying, ‘I am of Apollos,’ while others declared, ‘Apollos is so ignorant of the Apostles writings, I am of Cephas;” while still others proclaimed, ‘You fools I was trained by our founding father, the great apostle Paul.”

D.A. Carson summarizes 1 Corinthians 3:5-17 very well. He writes, “Two truths can be simply set out:
1. Christian leaders are only servants of Christ and are not to be accorded allegiance reserved for God alone.
2. God cares about his church, and he hold its leaders accountable for how they build it

We can learn a lot from these two points. Every man, woman, and child is nothing apart from the grace of God (1 Corinthians 15:10). When God saves us we have the great privilege of being servants of the Master, fools for Christ, children of God. Martin Luther, John Wesley, and Sinclair Ferguson (to name just a few notable churchmen) are only “servants of Christ and are not accorded allegiance reserved for God alone.” We must be very careful not to worship our heroes (yes Calvinists are included in this discussion). One pastor puts it this way, ‘the best of men are still men at best.” Ultimately glory, praise, and honor is only due God (1 Tim 6:16).

Yet the Bible ALSO tells us to “honor” a variety of people and (God ordained) positions. Generally, we are told to give honor to whom honor is due (Romans 13:7). We are commanded to honor our father and mother (Matt 19:9); Honor widows who are truly widows (1 Tim 5:3); Honor elders who labor hard in the Word (1 Tim 5:17); Honor our human masters (1 Tim 6:1); Honor the king and all men (1 Pet 2:17); and honor our wives (1 Peter 3:7). It would be entirely appropriate then to “honor” and “esteem” faithful Christian ministers (see 1 Thess 5:12-13).

Carson goes on to say in his book The Cross and Christian Ministry, “It is not that gratitude to Paul or Apollos or some other worker is inappropriate. Rather what Paul finds inexcusable is the kind of fawning and defensive attachment to one particular leader that results in one-upmanship, quarreling, and jealousy. Implicitly, such allegiance is making too much of one person. It verges on assigning that person godlike status…No Christian leader is to be venerated or listed to or adulated with the kind of allegiance and devotion properly reserved for God alone.”

Much more could be said about this passage but I will save those thoughts for my next post.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Is it Idolatrous to have Christian Heroes?

If you were to enter my pastoral office at work you would quickly notice two things. 1. The massive bookshelves that surround my office; and 2. The pictures of Christian preachers (past and present) that look over my shoulder (on my office walls). As a young minister I often look to the past to find Christian inspiration. I love reading about the legacies of the former “giants of the faith”. Godly men like George Whitefield, John Calvin, John Knox, and Charles Spurgeon (all of whom grace my walls) are heroes of mine (for a variety of reasons). These men were solely dedicated to the Word of God; men who gave their very lives for the gospel. Leaders who did not compromise even when it cost them dearly. Powerful Bible preachers and in many regards wonderful Christian role models. These men loved their Savior and lived for his approval. In my estimation they were Hebrews 11 type people.

There are also many modern day preachers who I greatly respect and admire. For this reason I have an autographed picture of my former pastor (John MacArthur), a small cut out picture of D Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and a postcard picture of Alistair Begg posted on my wall. I attended Grace Community Church for close to 13 years so obviously John MacArthur’s ministry is near and dear to my heart. He was my pastor for many years as well as the President of the two institutions I graduated from (TMC and TMS). Lloyd-Jones was a tremendous leader and a fantastic preacher, while Pastor Begg is a charismatic speaker who (in my opinion) really knows how to drive home the biblical application of a Text. I have great admiration and respect for all the pastor-preachers who grace my pastoral walls. In some ways they keep me accountable and humble. They encourage me to persevere and remain steadfast in my ministerial calling. They remind me that nothing matters more than God's gospel.

With that said, there is clearly a major “famine in the land” when it comes to great expository preaching that is both exegetical (i.e. deep), God-centered, Christ-exulting, and clear. Well-known preachers like John Piper, Mark Dever, R.C Sproul, John MacArthur, Al Mohler, Don Carson, and Alistair Begg are exceptions to this trend. {Of course there are many "lesser-known ministers" who faithfully serve God, (&)who are equally committed to this method/model of ministry/preaching (the contributors of this blog I hope are fair examples of this).}

The questions I want to ask and answer are ones that I hear quite frequently these days: Is it wrong to have a modern day (or ancient day) Christian heroes? Is it sinful to talk about having a favorite preacher (past or present)? Does all this “hero worship” inevitably lead to idolatry, human kingdom building, and/or divisive Christian factions? Are Piper-ites and MacArthur-ites and Begg-ites guilty of unbiblical factionalism (see 1 Corinthians 3)? Is it wrong that I have pictures of sinners saved by grace on my walls?

These are some of the questions I hope to tackle during my upcoming posts. Please be patient as it will take some time to develop and answer all these questions fairly.