Soteriological Clarity Matters

Last night I taught on Soteriology (the theology of salvation) at my local church’s leadership training meeting. I gave about a 50 minute survey on some of the primary aspects of Biblical Soteriology, and as could be expected, many comments were made regarding Calvinism and Arminianism both in the teaching and in the Q & A which followed. After the meeting was over, a dear brother expressed sentiments about our session. He was convinced that the doctrine of Salvation had been convoluted by our focus on the differences between the two Soteriological views. This was the flavor of his concern: “I’m not so sure that talking about Calvinism and Arminianism is necessary or helpful. We should just talk about salvation according to the Bible.”

At face value this sounds like a noble desire. But I don’t believe we’ve been afforded that luxury as church leaders in the 21st century. Of course, Scripture alone is authoritative, and we don’t preach Calvin or anyone else… “we preach Christ.” That said, for centuries men have understood major aspects of the salvation Christ gives in different ways, and they were working with Scripture when they did it. The same is true today, so I’m writing this article to offer a few thoughts about it.

I’d like to share why I’m convinced of point #1 below, then 7 reasons why I’m convinced of the 2nd point. Here are the two points:

1. Biblical Soteriological clarity matters.
2. Understanding Calvinism and Arminianism is important for the church today, especially its leaders.

BIBLICAL SOTERIOLOGICAL CLARITY MATTERS

First, clarity about the Doctrine of Salvation matters because the Scriptures have much to say about the message of Gospel-salvation, the purpose of salvation, and the way salvation takes place.

To be brief on this point, let us consider two passages. We could consider hundreds of passages, but these will suffice.

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” -1 Tim. 3.14-17

In this exhortation, Paul exhorts Timothy to “continue” in what he has learned and “firmly believed”; namely, that which he has learned from those who taught him “the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Christian faith is not untethered from “the sacred writings,” as if blindly reaching out “in our hearts” and believing whatever comes to mind will do us any good at all. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Rom.10.17) It comes by becoming “acquainted with the sacred writings;” by coming to understand specific, glorious, Biblical truths. Timothy had come to “learn” and “firmly believe” the Scriptures. He did not to have flimsy or whimsical thoughts about eternal matters, and that’s because he didn’t fabricate his doctrine. It came from “the sacred writings.”

It is a tragic thing to find, as we sometimes do in our day, professing believers who don’t “firmly believe” anything. They wish to cater to this relativistic age and are unwilling to search the Scriptures for anchors of faith. But the Scriptures have much to say to us, and they are sufficient to make us “wise for salvation” when “united with faith.” (Heb. 4.2) “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete…” These Scriptures establish and inform our faith, and faith in the truth of Scripture protects, keeps, and matures us. By faith and Scripture we are equipped for “every good work.” “All Scripture” matters for “every good work.” The two cannot be separated.

One more verse from the next chapter of 1 Timothy:

“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” -1 Tim. 4.16

Paul charges Timothy to “keep a close watch” on himself and on “the teaching,” or “the doctrine.” By persisting in this holy watch, he is told that he will “save” both himself and his hearers. This certainly applies to the Doctrine of Salvation as it may be discovered in the Scriptures. Biblical Soteriology is a vital piece of the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20.27), and the teaching regarding salvation should only be entrusted to faithful men who have proven themselves able to revere and handle the word of truth rightly. (2 Tim. 2.2) All Scriptural truth matters, so yes, Biblical Soteriology matters.

We could cite many other portions of Scripture to drive this point home, but this much is sufficient to establish the truth that all the doctrines “breathed-out” by God in Scripture are infinitely important, including the Bible’s doctrine regarding Salvation.

All true believers should agree with what I’ve written up to this point. If they don’t yet, they should, and if they have the Spirit of God, I trust they eventually will. But does an understanding of Calvinism and Arminianism really matter? Does it not cloud the conversation to think about the two views, and should we not simply stick to what we see in the Bible? That is what we will consider for the rest of this article.

DOES UNDERSTANDING CALVINISM AND ARMINIANISM MATTER?

Having established that all doctrine matters, including the doctrine of salvation, let us now think about the question my brother raised last night.

Here are 7 reasons why understanding Calvinism and Arminianism matters for the ongoing upbuilding of the Church.

1. It matters because the Bible has specific things to say about Soteriology, and the two views help us to think through specific passages that are pertinent to salvation. The fact that faithful men of God on both sides of the issue (take Whitefield and Wesley, for instance) have interpreted Soteriological passages differently for hundreds of years should tip us off to the need to consider them. In point of fact, many of the arguments raised in the Calvinism/Arminianism debate go back much further than the 16th century. Discussions about many of the same points have been had at great length during previous periods of church history, the Biblical ‘tennis match’ between Augustine and Pelagius being one prevalent example. Certainly, most of the questions raised in these debates are actually addressed in the Bible itself. Calvinism and Arminianism are not islands unto themselves. After all, while neither Calvin nor Arminius are authoritative as Scripture is, they were in fact laboring to grasp and teach the Scriptures. They certainly made mistakes on certain points, but haven’t we also? It would be naive to say that they have nothing to teach us.

2. A great many professing believers, perhaps a majority, have never seriously studied the many Bible passages which pertain to Soteriology, even many who would consider themselves Calvinists or Arminians. Many have been raised with one view or the other being prominent in their churches, and it would do them well to understand why Calvinists and Arminians interpret Scripture the way that they do, rather than identifying rather blindly with one camp or the other. Other professing believers have simply neglected the pertinent passages altogether and treated Soteriological specifics in an agnostic way, as if no clarity regarding details of salvation is available to us at all. This should not be.

3. The subjects covered in the Calvinist/Arminian discussion are largely Biblical subjects: Election, Predestination, Sin/Depravity, Regeneration, Atonement, Sanctification, Perseverance, and topics like these. Here is a certain fact: The Calvinist/Arminian debate wouldn’t exist if men didn’t care to understand what the Scriptures actually mean; what Jesus really meant in John 1.9-13, 3.1-21, 6.35-40… what Luke really meant in Acts 2.22-24, 13.48… what Paul really meant in Ephesians 1-2 and Romans 8-9… what Peter really meant in 2 Peter 3.9… what John meant in 1 John 2.2, etc. In my experience, many (most?) believers who claim that the Calvinist/Arminian conversation is superfluous or unnecessary haven’t really understood the conversation itself, and can not tell you what they actually believe the Bible says about Soteriological subjects. I’ve heard people say things like, “I’m not into that ‘election’ stuff. I just love Jesus.” The problem, of course, is that the Bible itself is the book that introduces the theme of election to its readers. That’s why faithful leaders have studied and discussed it over the years. It may be evidence of pride to say that the Calvinist/Arminian conversation doesn’t matter, especially if we can’t “rightly handle the word of truth” with regard to the Biblical subjects and passages being discussed. If you don’t like Calvin’s understanding of Predestination, for instance, but have no idea what the Bible means by Predestination, you’re not prepared- at least in this area- to teach others. Perhaps some of the teachers you’ve avoided may be able to help you. Have you considered that? The paramount issue is studying, obeying and delighting in Scripture itself, but reading from the works of past and present teachers (especially good ones) is beneficial to our own study and teaching of Scripture.

4. The way that the vast majority of believers understand the Biblical subjects exampled in point 3 (above) is usually somewhere close to either the Calvinist or Arminian arguments. Many claim to be “in the middle somewhere,” but when you get down to the nitty gritty with specific Scriptures, they haven’t much to say about the actual truths themselves. Most believers find, once they really give time to the Scriptures, that they understand Soteriology with some proximity to one or the other side of the historic argument. To say, “Both Calvinists and Arminians are wrong altogether!” smacks of pride, ignorance, and an unwillingness to live in a teachable way. It’s also a convenient and terrible way to relate to the many faithful believers who have studied the Scriptures along these lines. One can certainly have differences on certain points of either view (or both views), but it isn’t healthy to neglect the larger points emphasized in each of them. Pulling the “mystery card” may work for a few categories of theology, but the mystery card is often an excuse for our unwillingness to study the Scriptures with the kind of care they deserve. Too often it is just that- a low view of massive portions of the Bible. It’s important to be able to discuss these matters, especially if we’re not new believers. With regard to the Atonement, election, predestination, and all matters pertaining to salvation, mature believers should be able to teach them from the Bible, even if aspects of these subjects fall into the category of the “secret things” which “belong to the Lord.” (Deut. 29.29) To be sure, the Biblical truths discussed in Soteriology are not all “secret things.” Most of them are disclosed- not concealed- in the Scriptures, and are therefore “the things that are revealed” which “belong to us and to our children forever.” (also Deut. 29.29) It will not do to avoid the primary themes involved in the conversation, even if one wouldn’t claim the title of Calvinist or Arminian.

5. Since Calvinists and Arminians have for hundreds of years debated the meaning of specific Biblical passages (sometimes healthily, sometimes unhealthily), there are many in the Body of Christ who see themselves as being identified with one view or the other, and they are our brothers and sisters. If we are to lead the Church faithfully, if we are to fellowship in truth with all the saints, if we are to make disciples, we should understand these views so that we can better relate to those who hold them as precious, as well as those who are seeking to understand them. We also need to be equipped to challenge any excesses with the sure word of Scripture. We should know that it makes it difficult for members of the church to respect their leaders and teachers if those leaders and teachers have studied matters like these less than they have, especially if their leaders and teachers write these matters off as unimportant altogether. If you’re a leader in the Body of Christ but have nothing to say about the Biblical subjects covered in the Calvinism/Arminianism debate, many of your people won’t trust you when you say, “The debate is unimportant. We should just focus on Biblical salvation.” They will wonder what you mean by “Biblical salvation,” and if all you say is, “Christ died to save us” (central marvelous truth!), they will have many lingering questions about the many Scriptures which speak of further Soteriological matters. They will wonder if you think your interpretation of Scripture is superior to thousands of faithful teachers and preachers, both past and present, who have sought to understand and teach “the whole counsel of God.” Without being able to teach clearly on these matters, they will find it unnecessarily difficult to trust your leadership, and they will not be totally unjustified in doing so. We’ve been charged to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1.3), and that includes Biblical Soteriology.

6. It’s important to understand Calvinism and Arminianism if we would promote the unity of the Body. If we don’t really understand the two views, we run the risk of subjecting ourselves and our people to the caricaturing of one another, to unnecessary divisions, and to theological and spiritual immaturity. Calvinists and Arminians often misunderstand and belittle one another. They need mature believers to teach them how to fellowship over the Scriptures without devouring one another. They need to help the saints not angrily quote John 3.16 or John 1.13 at one another, as if the one with the opposing view had never read it before; as if every relevant verse in the Bible hadn’t been explained and worked through hundreds of times over by brothers and sisters on both sides of the issue for hundreds of years! But if you don’t understand what they’re debating and why it’s important, you won’t be able to steer them in the right direction, nor to identify how they’re misunderstanding each other or misunderstanding the Scriptures. Understanding the main points of discussion between the two views (and the Soteriological Bible passages being discussed) isn’t all that we need if we would teach God’s people, but it is very important, as I hope I’ve shown here.

7. It is vital for all Christians, and especially those leading the Church, to have clear convictions on matters of Orthodoxy, as well as matters of 2nd and 3rd level importance. Many of the issues discussed in the Calvinism/Arminianism debate are matters of Orthodoxy, and slippage into hyper-Calvinism or hyper-Arminianism can bring about destructive doctrine and actions in the lives of our people.

Surely shepherding the flock of God demands our attention to these matters, among many others. One doesn’t need to identify as a Calvinist or Arminian to be a faithful leader in the Body of Christ, but he should be privy to the relevant arguments. He should have clear conviction regarding the Biblical themes and passages that the two views have debated over the centuries, and he should trust the Lord who inspired these themes to be unfolded in “the sacred writings.” Only by leaning harder into Scripture, prayer and study, and by doing it together as the Church, will “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Eph. 4.13-14)

What is true of an elder/overseer should be true of all mature believers:

“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” -Titus 1.9

May we all, like Timothy, become increasingly “acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make” us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

To God “be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph. 3.21)

Plodding Our Way to the Resurrection

Plod: to work with constant and monotonous perseverance

J.C. Ryle: “The world will let a man go to hell quietly, and never try to stop him. The world will never let a man go to heaven quietly- they will do all they can to turn him back.”

Sometimes, in the Christian life, our experience of God’s grace is such that we are skipping, dancing, even flying our way through the pilgrimage of discipleship. Most often, however, we are plodding. This is why faithfulness is required. We must grow in the grace of plodding, when no one but God is watching. “Entrust to faithful men…”

4 Vital Kinds of Plodding:

  1. Plodding to walk in Holiness

(personal purity, growth in Christ-likeness, in all the fruit of the Spirit and in faithful submission to Scripture)

1 Thess. 4.3-5: “For this is the will of God: your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God…”

James 5.7-8: “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

Col. 4.12: “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis.” In the writing of this letter, Demas greets the saints. Demas, who would forsake Paul and fail the churches. Men may fall, and we may grieve their falling, but we must plod on for the worth of Christ.

2. Plodding in the work of our hands

(Work ethic, keeping a home, disciplining and nurturing children, etc.) 

Pro. 19.15: “Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger.” 

Ps. 90.12-17: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, O Lord! How Long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”

1 Thess. 4.11-12: “…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

3. Plodding to establish God’s house

(Praying for one another, walking in the light with one another, encouraging one another, caring for one another, preaching the gospel to one another, exhorting one another)

2 Tim. 2.8-10: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”

1 Cor. 14.12: “…strive (plod) to excel in building up the church.”

Epaphras “worked hard” for the churches, both in prayer and in the making of disciples.

1 Cor. 15.9-10: “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” Paul said, “I worked harder…” So was Paul working, or was it God working? The answer is, “Yes.” On the basis of faith, not feeling or mood or ease of circumstance, Paul worked- he plodded on- and at the end of the day he recognized that his own plodding was the very work of God’s grace through him. 

4. Plodding to engage in the Lord’s harvest 

(Praying for Gospel advance, preaching for Gospel advance, making disciples for Gospel advance)

Mt. 9.37-38: “Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

Mt. 24.14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Mt. 28.18-20: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. 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. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Perhaps you’re weary. Mt. 11: “Come to Me, you who are weary….” Gal. 6.9: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap (eternal life), if we do not give up.”

Perhaps you’ve been lazy. Pro. 21.25: “The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor.” Pro. 12.11: “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.” 

Perhaps you’ve been slack in your pursuit of holiness… hiding sin, or making half-hearted confessions with worldly sorrow and making verbal repentance without real intention to crucify the flesh.

Heb. 12.14: “Strive (plod) for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Don’t be so concerned with the sins of others. You plod on for holiness.

Perhaps you’ve been discouraged or succumbing to the lies of Satan regarding your role in building up the church.  Christ has declared, “I will build my church…” “Love one another…” “He who endures to the end shall be saved.” His apostles declared: “Forgive one another…” “let all things be done for the building up of the church.” “You are a nation of priests…” 

Perhaps you’ve been indifferent to the call to engage in proclaiming the gospel and making disciples… indifferent to the lostness of neighbors and indifferent to the lostness of 10,000 people groups in the nations. “…do the work of an evangelist…” “proclaim the excellencies of Christ”

It will be a precious but rare thing in the pilgrimage of discipleship for these graces to flourish on the basis of spontaneous inspiration. Most of the time, these graces will increase in your life inasmuch as by faith, you resolve to plod on… to walk by faith and not by sight… to crack open the Bible again… to get on your knees again… to sing praise unto God again… to humble yourself and serve the brethren again…. To love your wife again… to submit to your husband again… to discipline your children again… to pray for open doors to declare the Gospel again…. To ask for the help of the Holy Spirit again… to put to death the deeds of the flesh again… To look unto Jesus, again, and again, and again, and again….

The life of faith is the life of plodding. We need to be extricated from a romantic view of spirituality, one which depends on moods and inspired moments, rather than the sure Word of God and the sweet, immovable promise of the Gospel. Faithfulness, in Biblical terms, can never be separated from faith itself. 

“If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”

1 Pet. 5.6-11: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

We are plodding toward a resurrection, and as D.A. Carson has said, “I’m not suffering from anything that a good resurrection can’t fix.” 

1 Cor. 15.58: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 

Your faithful plodding, when all the world is stacked against you, is not in vain, brothers and sisters. Let us plod on for the glory of the Lamb until that resurrection comes.

10 Things a Young Man Must Know Before I’ll Let Him Pursue One of My Daughters

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Before I give the “10 Things”, let me give an introductory word.

This article is not a threat. It is not a passive-aggressive tool for intimidating young men. On the other hand, neither is it a mere list of opinions to be taken lightly (there are Bible verses cited, after all).

It is meant to be a help, hopefully, to any young men who think to pursue one of my daughters (or the daughter of a Christian father anywhere in the world), as well as a help to Christian fathers who share with me the sacred task of loving and preparing their daughters for womanhood, and where God grants it, marriage itself.

We fathers have the holy responsibility of one day handing over our daughters in marriage to be loved and led by another man, a Christian husband. It is very important that we’re able to do that with joy and with a clear conscience. We must think clearly, that is, Biblically, about this. Fathers must think clearly, and so must the young men and women who hope to enter into the covenant of marriage. Marriage is not something to be trifled with. It is a glorious thing, and therefore very sweet and very serious simultaneously. It must be approached with the Author of marriage in view. My aim in expressing these points is to be of help toward that end.

Therefore, here are 10 things a young man must know before I’ll grant him permission to pursue one of my daughters:

  1. He must know that God is holy, and that he (the young man) is by nature a sinner, whose only hope is to be found in the Gospel. 

    Any young man who hopes to pursue one of my daughters must have the fruit of a true conversion to Christ, and this should be confirmed by a body of believers that knows him. It is not enough for him to be raised in the context of Christian ministry or to know some Christian language. He must have come to terms with the holiness of God and his own hopeless condition as a sinner. He must have been brought, by God’s grace, to repentance and faith in the Person and work of Christ. It is essential that he has come to know of his great need for Christ and has looked to Him as his only hope for salvation.He must be able to say with the saints of all ages, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” If he doesn’t care about Christ, or if he thinks he is a Christian simply because he was raised in the church; if he is confident in his “good works” or “zeal without knowledge”; if he counts himself to be a spiritual man on his own terms rather than according to Scripture, I cannot bless him to pursue my daughter. I will not. A man unacquainted with what it means to be a disciple of Jesus according to Scripture gives me no reason to be convinced that he is truly a Christian. There must be seen in his life the ongoing fruit of repentance and trust in Christ if he would pursue one of my daughters.

    “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” -Lev. 11.44a

    “None is righteous, no, not one;
    no one understands;
     no one seeks for God.
    All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.” -Rom. 3.10-12

    “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” -Rom. 3.22b-25a

    “…repent and believe in the Gospel.” -Mark 1.15

    “…unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” -Jn. 3.3

    ——————————————

  2. He must know what it means to have honor for his parents, and for all authority in his life. 

    It goes without saying that all parents and authorities are fallible, and that no one stewards authority in a worthy manner at all times. But any young man who hopes to pursue one of my daughters should have real honor for his parents and for other authorities that God has placed in his life. The way a man responds to authority will greatly characterize the way he one day carries the God-given authority of husband-ship and fatherhood, and it will affect the way he handles his own growing authority in his occupation and in the church. A man who trusts the sovereign Lord and honors the authorities in his life now will likely be the kind of man who fears the Lord and leads well (however imperfectly) in whatever spheres of authority God grants him. This is crucial for any young man to know and believe if he would pursue one of my daughters. If he treats his mother badly, chances are, he’ll treat my daughter badly, and I will not open the door for that. Not one inch. How could I?


    “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” -Ex. 20.12

    “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” -Rom. 13.1
    ————————————

  3. He must know Christ, and have an ongoing passion to know Him better. 

    Our hearts are prone to wander, and boy, do we feel it. But a truly converted man will have within himself a true knowledge of Christ and a true passion to go on knowing Him. His life should be characterized by prayer and Scripture reading, though he will have days of waning passion and lowered affections for Christ. The pattern of his life should be that he “presses on to know the Lord.” A young man who has no desire along these lines and no fruit to show in this way is not fit to think about pursuing one of my daughters. He should prioritize the glory and knowledge of Christ first. He should learn to forsake the counsel of the wicked and to dwell by the streams of Scripture, prayer, practical obedience, and true fellowship with the saints. Then he may be fit to think about the possibilities of marriage. I don’t want a man who doesn’t know God to know any of my daughters. Why would I?


    “Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.” -1 Sam. 2.12

    “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” -John 17.3

    Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” -Philippians 3.8-11
    ———————————

  4. He must know that gladly assuming responsibility is the sacred task of godly men. 

    Any young man who would pursue one of my daughters should be a working man with plans to work hard until he dies or Christ returns. He should know that his role as a man is to glorify God by working, by seeking not to be a burden to others, by seeking in fact to provide for others. He should not be too great a lover of sleep. He should know that it’s noble to set the alarm, to rise, and to gladly assume responsibility, day after day.

    Author Douglas Wilson has written: “Biblical manhood is the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility.”

    This applies to all men, but its implications and effects are even more weighty for those who hope to be husbands and fathers. A husband and father is responsible to work, to lead, to steward money and time, to love, to discipline and nurture children, and on and on. He must understand that the life of a godly man means a life of work; a life poured out for God’s glory and for the good of others.

    Any young man who resists this idea or lacks wisdom along these lines is not fit to pursue a woman. He may request and obtain this wisdom by the grace of God. It is not out of his reach. God is gracious to His sons, and leads them in the way everlasting. To grow in this wisdom, we must depart from the world and look to Him continually. If we are willing to learn what it means to glorify God as working men, we may rightly obtain a godly woman.

    A young man should think on these matters first and seek God’s grace to grow up into what manhood requires, lest his irresponsibility and laziness wreak havoc, not only upon his own soul, but upon a young wife, as well as their children and grandchildren. I will not let a lazy man pursue my daughter. Why in the world would I?

    “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” -1 Cor. 16.13

    “…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” -1 Thess. 4.11-12

    “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” -1 Tim. 5.8
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  5. He must know what it means to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” 

    Very simply put, any man who would pursue one of my daughters must have Jesus Christ as the King of his life, and that manifestly. He must be willing to go anywhere and do anything for the sake of Christ. His own ungodly desires, the unbiblical ideals of his parents, and the ways of the world must not have dominion over him. He must seek first God’s Kingdom and have as his great ambition this one thing: to be pleasing to the Lord. (2 Cor. 5.9)Seeking first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness are both essential. A Christian man will have a growing love for righteousness. It should go without saying, but I will not hand my daughter over to marry a man who is not engaged in a knock-down drag-out war with his own sin; war against his own self-righteousness, laziness, covetousness, impatience, and lusts of all kinds. If he’s a porn-site frequenter, if he is not making war against sexual lust through repentance, Gospel faith, Bible meditation, prayer, confession of sin to brothers within the church, submission to godly counsel, he cannot pursue my daughter. He must be seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

    “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” -Mt. 6.33

    “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” -2 Tim. 2.1-7
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  6. He must know that he is not entitled to my daughter. 

    The modern dating system, which is honed by Hollywood and discipled by Disney, aims to convince us that a young man is entitled to a young woman simply because he’s attracted to her. This has caused our whole approach to “dating” to amount to little more than a training run for divorce.Little consideration of God, little consideration of the meaning of covenant, little Biblical clarity- these all mark the common approach to romantic relationships. We really think we understand love better than God does. That is a tragic thing, especially since God is the Creator of marriage and the One for whom it exists. The massive landscape of modern “love” which is littered with decimated marriages testifies to this fact.

    The young man who would pursue my daughter must know that he is not entitled to a future with her. He should have as his aim to grow in godliness and to show that he is the kind of young man who is prepared to enter into covenant with a woman.

    He does in fact have something to prove, by the grace that God gives to the one who asks.

    The swirl of hormones (for him or her) and the chemistry of “good vibes” do not make legitimate any claim to love nor guarantee a future together. The young man should know that having a wife is a privilege from God to be held in great honor. It is not something he is owed. It is something to be approached with reverence and fear, a gift to be cherished. A young man should get understanding on this and count the cost before he makes his move.

    Any father who will give his daughter to a young man who has little godly fear, little sacrificial love, and little Biblical wisdom is failing in his role as a father. He is consigning the couple to probable heartache and destruction. He is treating his daughter and his stewardship of her too lightly, and the young man will likely follow the same pattern.

    Any young man who would pursue one of my daughters must know that he is not entitled to a woman, but that she is to be pursued in reverence and awe. He must have a mind bent upward to God’s throne, eyes buried in His Word, a heart humbled and delighted in His presence, and feet walking steadily along the narrow path of obedience to Him. Many foolish young men are unwilling for this and think themselves entitled to a woman based on their handsomeness, winsomeness, or natural passions. Those who wish to pursue one of my daughters, those who fear the Lord, will pay heed to it.

    “Let marriage be held in honor among all…” -Hebrews 13.4

    “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” -Pro. 18.22

    “…they are heirs with you of the grace of life…” 1 Pet. 3.7
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  7. He must know that I will be intentionally involved as a caring and responsible authority, in everything leading up to the marriage of my daughter. 

    The young man who would pursue my daughter must know that until I hand her off in marriage, I am her responsible head. Therefore, I will be intimately involved with whether or not the green light is given to pursue her, with the parameters and privileges of that pursuit, and with the manner of their relationship- both in courtship and engagement.This is not because I have anything against the young man. In fact, if I give permission to pursue my daughter, my energies will be invested in supporting and helping the young man just as much as I hope to be of help to my daughter.

    The young man will come to know that I am for his flourishing in every way.

    I desire his prosperity, my daughter’s flourishing, and the blessing of children and grandchildren to follow, should God be pleased to give them.

    My intentional involvement does not mean that I’ll seek to control every decision, like what color flowers are chosen for the wedding, what songs are played, or what job the young man should choose along the way. A father’s intentional involvement is not some kind of anxiety-riddled micro-managing. It has to do with how my daughter’s heart is managed along the way. I will be held accountable by God for how I carry myself in terms of responsible involvement (shepherding her), and in terms of Christ-like character in that involvement (how that shepherding takes place).

    Until they are wed, it is my responsibility to love and protect my daughter from foolishness, from unwise decisions that strengthen temptation, and to impart wisdom and help as the relationship progresses.

    Far too often, as a pastor over the last few decades, I’ve done premarital counseling with Christian couples who have fallen into sin (especially sexual sin) repeatedly with one another. It is my role to do whatever I can to protect my daughter and her future husband from this (this is a vital purpose for godly fatherly authority), to care for their souls, and to sow into their lives best future marriage possible. I don’t take that lightly, which is why I aim to be intimately involved with the whole pilgrimage of courtship and engagement.

    Upon their marriage the father’s role changes, and the new husband becomes the head of the wife. The father then takes a secondary role, being present in their lives as a godly support, but not as a primary authority. That role passes to the husband, as it should. Until then, any young man who would pursue my daughter should know that I will love her (and him) too much to be an absentee father. God requires this of me, and it is a joy to carry out that stewardship.

    “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” -Eph. 6.4

    “An overseer, then, must be above reproach… he must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity…” -1 Tim. 3.2, 5
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  8. He must know that vital membership in the local church is indispensable. 

    We cannot be Christian disciples in the New Testament sense if we are not accountable to, committed to, submitted to, supported by, and serving in a Biblically sound local church. I will never give my blessing to a man to pursue one of my daughters if he is not actively partnering with a local body of believers- walking in the light, worshiping and praying with the saints, hearing the Word of God preached, being strengthened by the means of grace, submitting to a plurality of qualified pastors/elders, engaging in the Great commission, serving alongside the people of God in the context of a local church.The church he chooses does not need to agree with me on every theological point, but it must be orthodox in Gospel-doctrine, seeking as a family of believers to faithfully walk out the commands of Scripture. The young man who would pursue one of my daughters should care about this (and my daughters should care that he cares about this). The young man should care what I think about this, and care what my daughter thinks about this.

    I will not hand my daughter over to a man who has a low view of the church, and a man who is not faithfully committed to a local church shows that his view is too low.

    A low view of the local church stems from a low view of the Gospel (which is the foundational message of the Church), a low view of Christ (Who is the Head of the Church), a low view of the gravity of his own sin (from which only members of the Church are redeemed), and a low view of God Himself (for Whose glory the Church exists). Young man, please become a churchman before you think to pursue one of daughters. I won’t let you pursue her unless you are. I would be a fool to do otherwise.

    “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” -Eph. 4.25

     “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” -Heb. 10.23-25

    This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” -1 Jn. 1.5-10
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  9. He must know that Scripture is precious, authoritative, and sufficient. 

    A young man who would pursue one of my daughters must have a real treasuring of the Bible in his heart. He must delight in the Word and spend real time in its teeming waters.He must have Scripture as his ultimate authority (not worldly paradigms, not personal revelations, not opinions, not favorite teachers). His aim must be conformity to its truth and obedience to its commands.

    He must believe that the Scriptures are sufficient in essential revelation for the people of God- for all of doctrine, life and ministry. He must have conviction along these lines, otherwise, where will he turn in times of trial as a man, as a husband, as a father? Where will he get wisdom from? Where will he seek understanding? He must be able to say with Peter, “Where else can we go? You have the Words of eternal life.”

    “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” -Ps. 119.16

    “…scripture cannot be broken…” -Jn. 10.35

    “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God[b] may be complete, equipped for every good work.” -2 Tim. 3.16-17
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  10. He must know that Christ is better than everything in this world, including my daughter. 

    I desire, hope, and pray for godly men for each of my daughters. I want each of those men to delight in the woman they marry. I want them to cherish them, to love them, to care for them, to nurture them- “’til death do us part”. I know very well that like myself, they will not be able to do this perfectly. But they will not be able to do this in the deepest and richest way possible unless Christ is their ultimate treasure. I don’t expect a man to perfectly treasure Christ. None of us are capable of that- not until the resurrection. But I do desire that they should be driven by the conviction that Christ is better than everything in this world, even better than my daughter.The young man who would pursue my daughter must have a real conviction that Jesus is better… better… better. Better than money. Better than notoriety. Better than business success. Better than ministry. Better than sex. Better than marriage, having children, and all else. Better than everything. Knowing this and remembering this will equip his marriage to flourish long-term. Knowing this will cause his joy in God to be full.

    Ultimately, that is what I desire for the young man who would pursue my daughter, and for my daughters themselves: Fullness of joy in the One true God, through Jesus Christ- the only One who is worthy of our very lives. This alone will equip a man and a woman to rejoice rightly in one another and to spend their days in humble gratitude to God for the gift of marriage. Treasuring Him will establish them in the lifelong walk of being conformed His image together, as a brother and sister in Christ, as friends, as a father and mother… as husband and wife. And that is a glorious thing.

    The man who would pursue one of my daughters should treasure Christ above all, for unless he does, he will not be able to love her as Christ loved the church, “and gave Himself up for her.”

    “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” -2 Cor. 11.3

    “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” -Col. 1.18

    “…Christ is all, and in all.” -Col. 3.11b

The Sweetness of Election

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“Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by Your name, O LORD, God of hosts.” || Jer. 15.16

It may be offensive to our humanistic sensibilities that we only delight in God because of His grace, but it is a theme which runs thickly through the Scriptures. The child of God, humbled and made happy through the Gospel, knows something of this reality.

The prophet Jeremiah found the words of God, or rather, they “were found,” implying that he didn’t find them of his own accord. God’s words became to him “a joy and the delight” of his heart. The underlying reason for this is conveyed in the final portion of the verse before us.

“…for I am called by Your name, O LORD, God of hosts.”

The LORD had chosen him, called him by name, and this was seen to be the wellspring of his newfound delight in the Word of God.

This should be a profound mystery and a balm for our souls. “In love He predestined to adopt us as sons…” That is how Paul puts it. (Eph. 1)

This startling and astonishing truth establishes our hearts amid all the uncertainties of life and gives us assurance amid all the contrary voices of this crooked age. As George Herbert says, it makes us the “trees whom shaking fastens more.”

Bask in this truth, child of God. Let its rays warm your soul. Let its balm mend your injured soul and tend to your bruised conscience. Let it humble your resistant soul. Let it quiet your anxieties. Let it still your fidgeting. Let it wash away the dross of the fall. Pray for “the spirit of wisdom and revelation” along these lines, that you may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” This truth will enable you to be “strengthened with His might” in your inner-man.

As surely as He loved you from eternity-past, He loves you now, and He will love you for all eternity, “world without end.”

“…having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” || John 13.1

“I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find in myself why He should have looked upon me with special love. So I am forced to accept that great Biblical doctrine.”

Gleanings from Psalm 19.7-14

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I would like to reflect upon Psalm 19.7-14 in this paper. There is much to glean from it for our nourishment in the faith.

“The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul…”

In v. 7 we see that the “law of the Lord is perfect.” This is a theme often neglected by Christians. On the one hand, Paul the apostle noted that “Christ is the end (aim) of the Law.” He is the point of the Law, the very fulfillment of the Law. But this does not mean that the Law is a deplorable thing as it is often assumed.

Paul also declared the Law to be “spiritual,” and elsewhere, “holy, just and good.” Though Romans and Hebrews reveal the limitation of the Law to justify us, thus declaring the necessity of the Gospel, they do not demean the Law of God. In this Psalm we see that God’s Law is perfect, and as it issues from God Himself, it revives the soul who is humbled before Him.

“…the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple…”

When we prayerfully contemplate and receive the testimony of the Lord about Himself we find ourselves upon the surest footing. What He says of Himself is immutable, glorious, unbending. Though He often surprises and brings us to awe, it is never because He changes. His testimony is sure, quite unlike ours. Though we consider ourselves wise, we are fickle and changeable creatures. His sure testimony dismantles our purported wisdom and brings us to the “simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ,” the One who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” There is deep-seated rest in being made simple before the immutable God.

“…the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart…” 

The “precepts” or “decrees” of the Lord are right, and this is of great comfort to the one who trusts Him. There is no “shifting shadow” in Him; no dubious claims, no suspicious motives. He is perfectly accurate and perfectly just in all His statements and requirements. The Psalmist says that this truth “rejoices the heart.” The servant of the Lord, whose hope and trust are in God, will be brimming with happiness over the fact that God has given him boundaries and promises regarding the life of discipleship. Lawlessness and relativity breed chaos and unrest. The just and true “precepts of the Lord” bring happiness to the heart, and this is a very precious thing “to those who are being saved.”

“…the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes…”

That which God commands is pure, and brings holy enlightenment to the eyes of Israel’s singer. The “Enlightenment” of the 18th century did little more than expand the horizons of how human depravity grapples for the vanity of self-expression. It dressed up fallen wisdom with frills for philosophical pageantry and the perpetual parade of human narcissism.

The “enlightenment” of Psalm 19, or Ephesians 1 as another example, is a holy enlightenment: One which reveals the character of God and the commandments/ways of God. It opens blinded eyes and frees us to behold and treasure Him. All of His commands are in the spirit of John 11, when Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth from the tomb. By His command we emerge from the tomb of unclean thoughts and vain presumptions, and into the purity and sweetness of seeing and hearing the God of our salvation.

“…the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever…”

The fear of the Lord, which is “the beginning of wisdom,” is both “clean” and eternal, according to the Psalmist. This should be encouraging to our weary souls, which are fraught with the subtle drone of a thousand worldly fears. To fear Him is to be cleansed from all other fears, and that precious fear endures forever. It will always be present and increasing in the hearts of the Redeemed.

“Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds ye so much dread; Are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on thy head.” -Cowper

To fear God is to be freed from all other fears, extricated from their stranglehold, purified from the effects of the world, the flesh and the devil. How clean is the fear of God! It is our portion through the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, “accomplished and applied” to us on the basis of faith. Therefore, as it is summed up in in the infinite God, it endures “forever.” Let us see to it that we fear Him.

“…the rules of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.”

The Lord has rules, and He is no legalist. We must consider a few things about this.

1. The rules are the Lord’s rules. They are not the rules of kings. They are not the rules of popes or potentates. They are not the rules created by men for government or religion. He is the eternal God, and He has rules.
2. His rules are true. They are not flimsy. They are not optional. They are not relative to time, culture, and opinion. They are true. They do not change color or shape, for their foundation is God Himself. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne,” and true rules issue from that holy place, yielding rewards and consequences for the obedient and the rebellious.
3. His rules are “righteous altogether.” They are not merely accurate and immutable, though they are certainly characterized in those ways— they are righteous. We have lost the savor of the Biblical word “righteous,” and we need to recover it. It is “more to be desired” than “much fine gold,” for only righteousness can put the universe right again.

God’s rules are righteous, for they issue from His righteous Being. This is why they are more desirable than find gold and sweeter than the “drippings of the honeycomb.” They come from God— the King of all kings and the desire of the nations.

There are two more reasons given to explain the preciousness of God’s rules.

1. “By them your servant is warned.”
2. “In keeping them there is great reward.”

The Psalmist cherished the warnings of God, which communicated God’s mind to him and instilled in him the fear of the Lord and a hatred for sin and error. And he clung with hope to the promise of God, that “great reward” would be given to the one who keeps and obeys the “rules of the Lord.” Do we share with the Psalmist this kind of relishing in the rules of God in both Testaments, those rules which are applicable to all men?

We suffer from the twofold problem of living in an “anti-rules” society as “anti-rules” men. The problem is both in our hearts and in our surrounding societies. But the Psalmist had learned to delight in the King of the ages and in His rules. They protected him from deception and gave him certitude and hope in the reward which is to come. A true disciple will find himself increasingly agreeing with the Psalmist along these lines. Are you?

“Who can discern his errors?
    Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
    let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.”

The Psalmist acknowledges that we cannot discern our errors on the basis of our own assessment. We need God’s Word. We need His Spirit. We need the community of faith around us. And we need His cleansing mercies to declare us innocent even from “hidden faults.” We need Him to keep us back from “presumptuous sins” and to break their “dominion over” our lives. So he prays for this, and we should too, on every stretch of our pilgrimage in the faith.

In God’s answer to the prayer of the Psalmist comes the assurance of forgiveness and belonging in His house. If God will help us discern our errors; if God in Gospel-mercy will declare us innocent even from hidden faults; if God will preserve us and keep us from presumptuous sins which would otherwise master us, “then” we would be “blameless and innocent of great transgression.” This demands our submission and obedience, but we cannot do this by our own discipline or wisdom. We need Him to expose us, to justify us, to keep us, and to complete the work in us. In short, we need Him. Therefore, we must pray as the Psalmist prayed.

This is a glorious Old Testament Gospel-prayer, one which speaks to our justification, our sanctification, and our glorification. The Ancient of Days has given His ultimate and final answer in His Son. We must behold Him to be changed, and we can be assured that “all who call on the Name of the Lord will be saved” to the uttermost.

 

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

In 2 Cor. 5.9 Paul stated, “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.” As a man in Christ he voices the same desire as the Psalmist does in our final verse. The Psalmist longed for his words and the very deepest thoughts and intents of his heart to be “acceptable” or “pleasing” to God. In calling the Lord his “rock” he acknowledges that he has no other source or foundation than God Himself. He cannot please God without God. In calling him his “redeemer” he relishes in the promise of God’s faithfulness to save us from all that displeases Him.

So we come full circle. The Laws of God, the precepts of God, the rules of God are perfect and sweet. The one who looks unto Christ and finds Him to be the rock and the redeemer may be found blameless before Him, wrenched loose from the powers of self-deception and worldly chaos— his cup running over with everlasting happiness in Him.

This is the portion of the redeemed, “and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

The Indispensability of Apostleship

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“…the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things… gave apostles…” || Eph. 4.10b-11a

There is much confusion aswirl over the subject of apostleship, especially as it relates to the question of whether or not it should be seen as an ongoing ministry in our day.

Some would say, “Apostles ceased to be when the last of the Twelve died.”

Others would say, “Apostles ceased to be when the canon of Scripture was closed. We don’t need apostles today because we don’t need more Scripture written.”

Others, especially in Charismatic and continuationist “missional” circles might say, “Apostles exist today. They are the movers and shakers, market-place influencers, or the ones gifted to build ministries that have profound impact on the Great Commission and give aid to churches on various levels.”

Still others would say, “Apostles exist today and have authority to govern regions and to oversee multiple churches and ministries.”

To be sure, confusions abound and emotively charged opinions often fuel fiery debates with regard to the issue of apostleship.

My main three aims in this article are to survey two of the primary errors when it comes to thinking of apostleship (the first of which is not so modern but is still prevalent today), namely, (1) objections to the ongoing necessity of apostleship and (2) unbiblical modern apostleship claims and views, and (3) to offer what I believe to be a view of apostleship that is grounded in Scripture and is therefore indispensable to the life and mission of the Church in the NT vision, and which remains applicable today, even until Christ returns in glory.

So, the cat’s out of the bag. I am convinced that apostleship is meant by our Ascended Lord to be an ongoing ministry in our day— indeed, an ongoing ministry until the “Apostle and High Priest of our confession” returns. What this means may be surprising to some of you, but if you give thoughtful consideration to what I’m presenting you will find that none of the ideas I hold forth are either novel or extra-biblical. I am convinced that apostleship is indispensable chiefly because I hold to “Sola Scriptura”, not in spite of my reverence for and conviction to the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture.

This raises a host of questions from various angles, of course, and I haven’t the time here to raise and address all of them. Let me focus on what I believe to be the two primary errors in our day when it comes to the issue of apostleship.

Error #1: The Cessationist View Regarding Apostleship

The Cessationist view, specifically with regard to apostleship (usually including a view that prophets too have ceased to be), is the view that with the death of John the Apostle (the last of the Twelve), or more commonly, with the closing of the Canon of Scripture (or when the last NT book was written), there no longer remained a need for apostles, as their primary role was to unfold the mystery of the Gospel in an authoritative and Biblical sense, first as preachers, then as authors of the NT.

In this view, the mystery “kept hidden for ages” had now been disclosed in Christ (which is true according to Rom. 16.25), the Scriptures had been written, and since this was (in the their view) the primary role of the apostles, none were any longer needed for the ongoing mission and upbuilding of the Church. I happily agree with the first part of that statement (that Scripture-writing apostles had an authority unique to themselves in relation to the foundational, post-resurrection/post-Pentecost proclamation of the Gospel and authorship of NT books), but I differ with the last part (that apostleship ceased altogether with the completion of the Canon).

I share some sympathies with those who hold to this view, though in the last analysis I find its conclusion about the cessation of apostleship to be unbiblical. My sympathies lie with the fact that those who hold to this view are eager to uphold the supremacy and uniqueness of Biblical revelation. That is a conviction that self-proclaimed apostles as well as missiologists of various stripes have disregarded in our day, and it has been the seedbed of many ills.

The Cessationist’s fear of present-day apostles (and prophets) often issues from a high view of the Bible, coupled with the assumption that the apostolic ministry is a foundational revelatory ministry- which was of course true for the the apostles who were given the task of writing portions of our NT. If claims of modern apostleship are made, Cessationists assume, so might there be claims of new revelations which are not in keeping with the testimony of Scripture. I understand that fear, and it is a healthy fear on the front end— we should flee from any would-be Bible-twisters or new Scripture-writers. However, I believe Cessationist conclusions are misguided for many reasons, while I commend them for being jealous to guard the truth of the Word. They have valid reasons to maintain this concern due to the abuses of self-proclaimed apostles, and where it applies I agree with them. But when we take “the whole counsel of God” into view (that is, the whole Bible), there’s much more to be considered than the Cessationist view offers.

Let us consider some of their objections to present-day apostleship. For brevity’s sake, I’ll give a few short thoughts in response to each one.

Primary Objections Made by Those Who Believe Apostles Have Ceased

Objection I. “We don’t need apostles today because Scripture has already been written.”

Is this a true statement?

I don’t think so, and here are some of the reasons why.

As is clear from the Bible itself, the authorship of Scripture was ever meant to be definitive of apostleship nor exclusive to apostleship. There is much I could say on this point, but here are some reasons why this point is erroneous, if even well-intended.

a. Not all apostles wrote Scripture. In fact, most of the apostles named in the NT didn’t write Scripture. Only a few of the original 12 wrote Scripture (Matthew, Peter, John), and of the other 10 or so names associated with apostleship in the NT, only a few were given the authoritative role of writing what would become Scripture (Paul, as well as the author of Hebrews, if in fact it wasn’t Paul).

b. Not all the authors of Scripture were apostles (nor were the remainder all prophets). This is glaringly obvious when we survey the whole of the Bible.

First off, if the authorship of Scripture was exclusive to apostleship the entire Old Testament would not be Scripture! That is absurd, and I’ve never heard anyone make that claim.

Not counting the Old Testament, Mark, Luke (whose Luke-Acts combo constitutes more of the NT’s content than Paul’s epistles!), and perhaps James, respectively.

I needn’t belabor this point. There is no way to make a case from the Bible that biblical authorship was either definitive or exclusive to the role of apostleship. Simply put, some apostles were chosen and uniquely empowered by God to write some of the books in the Bible, but not all apostles were given this task, and the majority of the men chosen by God as instruments for the penning of Scripture were not themselves apostles. We may conclude confidently that the authorship of Scripture was neither definitive nor exclusive to the role of apostleship.

Objection II.

“Jesus chose the twelve, and Paul was the only other apostle, since he also had ‘seen the Lord.’ (1 Cor. 9.1) Any subsequent claim to apostleship is a presumptuous thing at best, and at worst, a destructive kind of deception- even a blasphemous claim.”

This point, which has cemented into a rather common tradition, is purely based on historical and biblical ignorance. Here are a few reasons it cannot be true:

a. Within the NT text itself, there are at least 10 men besides the 12 directly called ‘apostles’ or named amongst the company of apostles (c.f. Acts 1.26, 14.14; Gal. 1.19; 1 Cor. 4.6, 9; Rom. 16.7; 1 Thess. 1.1, 2.6; Phil. 2.25). Even if you seek to argue that some of these were comrades of the apostles but not really apostles, you cannot make that case for all of them, as many of them are explicitly called apostles in the texts provided. There is no sound hermeneutical approach, no commendable exegesis of these texts which would lead us to conclude that some, if not all of the names mentioned herein were not known as apostles in the early church. The idea that only the 12 plus Paul were apostles is not confirmed in Scripture.

b. Ephesians 2.20 and 4.11ff never specify that the work of the apostles (and prophets) will only continue in the sense that their Biblical testimony is foundational for the Church.

Is apostleship by nature foundational? Without question. Any deviation from the Biblical prophets and apostles should be feared and rejected as error. But nowhere does the text teach or even imply in the slightest sense that the ongoing equipping and upbuilding of the church is the work of pastors, evangelists, and teachers only.

It is an acrobatic feat of interpretation (not without some sleight of hand) to pluck apostles and prophets out from this text, or to define them as first-century ministries while the other ministries are to be ongoing.

I understand why many have concluded this, and I sympathize with the well-meaning intention to maintain a high-view of Scripture, but I think it eventuates in a diminishing of the Bible at the end of the day. It is a twisted exposition of Eph. 4.11 and other Biblical texts regarding apostleship. Often this is done unconsciously or because of theological traditions that go back some centuries. Nonetheless, a poor interpretation of Scripture and the elevation of opinions and extra-biblical traditions is the antithesis of a high-view of the Bible, not the reverse. The original 12 certainly had a unique apostleship as eye-witnesses of the Lord’s ministry, and they will have a privileged place in the age to come, as Matt. 19.28 makes clear. Certainly Paul’s apostleship was tip-of-the-spear and unique as the original pioneer apostolic work among the Gentiles, not to mention that he was given the task of writing works that would make up a large part of the NT. No post-biblical apostle will ever do that, and if he claims to, he is disqualified and should be avoided at all costs. But this does not prove that apostleship itself has ceased.

It should also be noted that none of the apostles, even the ones who wrote Scripture, were in and of themselves immune to error or short-sightedness. In other words, none of the them were Jesus, and none of their lives as a whole constitute the Canon of Scripture. That which the Holy Spirit breathed out in Scripture, both historically and didactically is what constitutes the Word of God. It is the Scriptures that are infallible, not the men who were used of God to write them. Even within the Scripture itself, we see occasional disagreements amongst the apostles. These do not prove the fallibility of the Bible, but rather the fallibility of all men, save the Man Christ Jesus. Our faith is in God and the Holy Scriptures, not in the apostles as men.

c. Paul speaks about false apostles in his epistles (1 and 2 Cor. especially), and Jesus commends the church in Ephesus for finding false apostles to be false. Why does this speak to the necessity of ongoing apostleship? Because the ground of their falsehood was not as cessationists claim today, “No other apostles besides the 12 and Paul were meant to be given to the Church.” Rather, the ground of their falsehood was their lack of Christ-likeness, their poor doctrine, their lack of true servanthood, their poor grasp of the Gospel, and on and on. They had not truly been sent by the Head of the Church, and that marked them out as false. Paul never said, “They’re false, because they are neither among the 12, nor are they me. Me and the twelve are the only apostles ordained by the Lamb.” Of course not. They were false on other grounds.

In other words, they were disqualified from being counted as apostles because they had not been shaped and sent by the Lord in a manner which pleased His heart and was in keeping with His Word. The fact that there were false apostles meant that there ought to be true apostles, and there is no biblical reason to assume that this ought not to be the case today. There are fakers today, and the need for true apostles is of paramount import still.

d. You cannot be an apostle without a Christophany, and all claims to modern Christophany are false.

Gordon Fee gives another angle on this in his commentary on 1 Corinthians:

Along with 15:8 this question establishes two things: (a) Paul believed that his experience on the Damascus road was more than a mere vision. For him it was a resurrection appearance of a kind with all the others—to be sure, after the ascension and therefore out of due season (15:3–8). (b) But since others who saw the Risen Lord did not become apostles, what most likely legitimized his apostleship was the accompanying commissioning. Although he does not say so here, in Gal. 1:16 the revelation of the Son of God is accompanied by its purpose, “that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (cf. 15:8–11, where the resurrection appearance is followed by discussion of his apostleship).

Fee, G. D. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 395). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Emphasis mine.

In other words, the qualification for apostleship came with the Christophany, it wasn’t the Christophany itself. It was rather, that when the Lord appeared to him He simultaneously commissioned him as an apostle. This is an important observation, and distinguishes Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord from the encounters of other believers who never entered the apostolate. It seems clear to me that the Lord of the harvest intended other apostles to be sent, not merely the 12 and Paul. After all, the prayer of Matthew 9.37-38 is still binding upon the Church, as long are there remain unreached peoples. Therefore, we need not just any kind of worker, or missionaries defined however we please to define them. We need apostles.

In connection to this, let us think about 1 Cor. 9.1. As we’ve noted, it is often said that since Paul had “seen the Lord”, a Christophany was required for one to be called as an apostle. 1 Cor. 15.3-11 may seem to contain an even stronger argument for this idea, and it is quite understandable that many would come to this conclusion from the text. The 12 had seen the risen Lord, and Paul encountered Him on the road to Damascus, as well as later in a time of prayer in the temple (Acts 22.17-21). Many conclude from this that a visible/audible encounter with Jesus is a qualification for apostleship. Is that what Paul was saying? I don’t believe so.

I do see how this could be a point of confusion, but I believe Paul actually answers his questions within the texts themselves. The point of 1 Cor. 9.1 is to give defense of his character and role to the Corinthian church. His aim was to undergird his exhortations regarding food sacrificed to idols (ch. 8), and to reiterate the divine right of an apostle to receive financial support from the churches to which he was rightly related (ch. 9). Thus, he asks several questions. “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?”

Paul’s motive here is not to give a list of qualifications for apostleship, but to defend his apostleship for the sake of building up the Body of believers at Corinth. He is not saying, “All apostles must have visibly seen the risen Christ.” We must take into account the fact that while the 12 had all seen Him, and some of the other apostles in the NT may have been present when the 500 witnessed the ascension, we have no explicit record of every apostle in the NT seeing Christ in this way. Nor does the Book of Acts or the other Epistles mention a Christophany as a qualification for apostleship. We may assume that they all did, but this would be an assumption still. This is not sufficient ground to conclude that apostles (or from the Latin: missionaries) are no longer necessary to the task of the Great Commission.

The primary point of 1 Cor. 15.3-11 is indeed the supremacy of the Gospel and the reality of Christ’s resurrection, for which reasons Paul is mentioning all of those who saw the Lord in His resurrected state.

Another reason I don’t think Paul was putting forth a Christophany as a qualification for apostleship is that Paul was not the last apostle called and sent in the NT, though he does say, “last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me.” Some of the apostles mentioned in the texts above were not only called and sent after Paul’s commissioning, a few of them were even led to the Lord and discipled by Paul, Timothy and Titus being a few examples. Did they have a Christophanic experience? Certainly no text makes this clear.

Not only that, but Paul mentions the 500 others who saw them, the vast majority of which probably never became apostles. We have no record of them all being sent in the apostolic sense, and if we did, this would disassemble the idea that only the 12 plus Paul were apostles. Was Paul’s main point that apostles must have a Christophany, or that Christ in fact had risen from the dead, and that there were many witnesses to the fact? I believe the latter is the case more warranted by Scripture.

There is, however, a qualification for true apostleship given in 1 Cor. 9, and it is not the requirement of a Christophany. It is found in vv. 1b-3:

“Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who would examine me.”

In other words, true apostles will preach the Gospel, make disciples, and plant and nurture churches. Their seal of approval is seen in the Christ-glorifying churches which grow out of their planting and watering. God gives the increase, and the fruit of the Spirit vindicates the authenticity of the apostle.

Many today may claim to have Christophanic experiences, and they have throughout Church history. Some of them may be true, but many (I would assume most) of them are false. But you cannot fake the establishment and growing in grace of a family of believers, who previously were bound in darkness, sin and idolatry, and who through the faithful preaching of the Gospel are now serving the living God, growing in holiness and humility, treasuring and obeying the Scriptures.

Much more could be said of the Cessasionist view, but that will have to suffice for now. Let us look to another erroneous and rather widespread view regarding modern-day apostleship.

The “New Apostolic Reformation”/Charismatic “Third Wave” View

I have already written much more than intended, so I’ll be as terse as possible here.

For the last three decades or so, there has been an emphasis within the wider Charismatic movement on apostleship. Some have dubbed this emphasis The New Apostolic Reformation, though all Charismatics who hold to present day apostleship would not consider themselves to be a part of the movement specifically. You can find out more about this online or through a number of publications, though I must say, these are rather shark-infested waters.

On the one hand, much of what you’ll see from the so-called “N.A.R.” (and spin-offs from it) will be troubling, and in my estimation, we should be troubled by much of it. On the other hand, many who seek to criticize modern-Charismatic emphases on apostleship often do so in venomous, slanderous ways, usually lumping all charismatic believers into the mix with leaders and teachings that the wider circle of Pentecostal/Charismatic churches wouldn’t be in harmony with on all points.

It is a task quite daunting to wrap one’s mind around this, and in some ways it is impossible to know the whole of the matter. It is unprofitable to spend too much time investigating it. There are so many variations and streams that overlap in this category that we must be careful not to caricature or misrepresent true brothers and sisters in our pilgrimage for truth. The spectrum is rather large, with some so-called apostles being outright charlatans while others are genuine brothers and sisters who are eager for God’s glory, but may have misunderstandings of apostleship because of how they’ve been taught.

This is crucial to remember, for there are many faithful Pentecostal/Charismatic men and women of God all over the world, many of whom have suffered greatly for the faith and led many sons to glory. It is an error to lump all Pentecostal/Charismatic churches in with the false apostleship we’re speaking of, even though most of those who claim apostleship are found within Pentecostal/Charismatic churches and movements, generally speaking. There are likely a great host of servants in the nations who are continuationists, most of whom will never be known on the popular level, whose ministries are very much in keeping with true apostleship in terms of their character, their suffering, their doctrine, and their fruit. This must be acknowledged as we think about the aberrations.

That said, let me note just a few of the erroneous assumptions that have been espoused, especially over the last 20-30 years or so under the auspices of C. Peter Wagner and his colleagues. I name him here not to demean him, but to say that since his books and teachings were quite public and influential, the errors which sprung from them need to be addressed rather than ignored. It is an unfortunate thing that many Charismatic leaders have been unwilling to address these things publicly, but I am convinced that many false claims to apostleship have been made as a result of these teachings, and the subject is too precious in Scripture for us to permit these distortions.

I. The Idea of Apostles as Ministry CEO’s or Regional Overseers

Within the N.A.R., apostles came to be defined as men (and women) with remarkable organizational gifting, often smacking of a Bill Gates type of leader- one with outstanding abilities to influence and build large organizations. It was even claimed from time to time that men like Steve Jobs had an apostolic calling, but failed to fulfill it because they did not follow the Lord. This is an unbiblical idea. Our giftings in the Church are Spiritual- and unregenerate men cannot have them. Natural giftings can certainly be squandered. This happens all the time. But an “apostolic calling” is not given to unregenerate men.

Certain leaders in the movement were eventually branded “apostolic overseers” of a whole cluster of churches or ministries, especially as they were gifted to execute things administratively. Portions of Paul’s epistles were cherry-picked to affirm this, usually devoid of their real meaning and context, and these men were seen as problem-solvers, movers and shakers, and this came to define apostleship within the movement. The NT idea of a gospel-grounded, relationally-oriented, sacrificial servant-apostle was scarcely emphasized, and an unbiblical model emerged. The central-to-Paul character and doctrine of “Christ crucified” was scarcely considered among those who who were being “appointed” to apostleship. I am sure that there were exceptions to this within the movement, but by and large this seemed to be the flavor of things.

One would be hard-pressed to assume that Paul the apostle, the prototypical “sent one” to the Gentiles, was anywhere nearly as impressive as these figures in a worldly sense. 2 Cor. 10 bears this out in no uncertain terms. His strength was demonstrated in the weakness of his features and skills, in many ways, God’s power being perfected and magnified through his weakness and his sufferings. The fragrance of worldly success is not the “fragrance of Christ” which characterized NT apostleship, which was marked by humility and holiness, godly sorrow and joy unspeakable.

The theology of the NT apostles, the character of the NT apostles, the churchmanship of the NT apostles, and the Gospel mission of the NT apostles was on the periphery of the movement at best, and often, it was nowhere to be found. Hence, one should regard the movement, by and large, to be false, even if some of its proponents were true brothers. They did not qualify biblically to function as apostolic servants.

II. The Idea of “Apostolic Alignment”

I find no pleasure in digging this one up, in fact it pains me. But I find it necessary to address. The stakes are too high to be silent about it.

It became common within this movement to speak of “apostolic alignment”, the process by which Dr. Wagner and others of his company would “align” other ministries with themselves, appointing them as new apostles, prophets, or influencers of other kinds through the laying on of hands. It is Biblical for men to be appointed to different roles of leadership by the Church through the laying on of hands, but within the N.A.R. this happened on rather unbiblical and unreal grounds.

One dramatic case of this was seen on the international stage when Todd Bentley of the “Lakeland Revival” was “apostolically aligned” in a ceremonial appointing in 2008. Dr. Wagner and many of his colleagues were present at this event and gave sanction to it. It would soon be exposed that Bentley was engaged in an immoral relationship, which itself disqualified him from being a leader in the Body of Christ of any kind, not to mention his being appointed to a role with grandiose claims about him being a prototype for all future evangelists and revivalists. Despite the claim of real apostolic activity in this “alignment”, there was evidently little to no real accountability or viable relationship involved in the process. This is characteristically non-Pauline. There was no context by which his character and doctrine could be assessed. But Paul told Timothy not to lay hands on men too hastily, lest we “share in their sin.”

This display on a wide public platform should only be seen as destructive and false, and the usage of “apostolic” language only served to make it all the more tragic. This kind of “Apostolic alignment” is a “Saul before the David,” and as much as the N.A.R. might have cried for its prospering, it was totally untethered from the spirit of NT apostolic sending. However much the language of “apostolic” was used, it was by its very nature the antitheses of New Testament apostolicity, which is characterized by a radical jealousy for the Name of God, a deep-seated submission to the Scriptures, a profound love for the Body of Christ, and a fatherly/brotherly kind of relatedness to all who are appointed to roles of leadership within the Church.

Too much goes on without being “in the light” in these kinds of ceremonies. It might be said that these kinds of appointments are more akin to Bill Gates hiring a new regional director at Microsoft than they relate to the healthy appointing of a leader in the church. In fact, they may be even less accountable and honest. This should not lead us to demonize all within the movement, but this kind of thing should never have been tolerated. We ought all to tremble at the manner in which we are relating to one another as the church, and to be much more cautious about the way in which we are appointing leaders.

The aftermath of the Lakeland incident was tragic and multi-layered, but it is not uncommon (though often much less public) in such circles. Poor examples of this kind can be found in more traditional church settings as well, but we are thinking about claims to apostleship in this article, so that is my focus here.

These examples ought to be enough to compel us to look for light from the Scriptures. Wagner was, after all, correct in concluding that there ought to be (and are) apostles in the Church and in missions today. In fact, he was right about several things. But the errors which came out of this movement are more grave than I have time here to convey, and a humble and prayerful return to “the whole counsel of God” in Scripture should be our watchword.

For the last section of this article, I would like to focus on the Meaning, Purpose, and Indispensability of Apostleship.

The Meaning of Apostleship

If we would rightly grasp the meaning of apostleship according to the Scriptures, I suggest that our understanding of it must be both de-mystified and sanctified.

Apostleship De-mystified

This speaks primarily to the cessationist view of apostleship and its ripple-effects throughout church history.

The apostles of the NT were not super-heroes, nor were they elite saints whose role it was to write the Holy Bible. As noted above, some of them did write some of Scripture, but this was not their role as a whole, nor is this the meaning of “apostle” in the NT sense. We need to be freed from Romish influences which Popify Peter and posterize Paul. These issue from a low view of the Gospel.

The apostles of Scripture are, after all, our brothers. The Lord laid His hand upon them, shaped and sent them, but they remained men— trophies of grace, not icons to memorialize. Leaders to follow, not men to worship. Peter and John as well as Paul and Barnabus charged their would-be worshippers not to exalt them, “for we are only men like you.” Of course, the original twelve had a unique kind of apostleship (Mt. 19 bears this out), and I repeat, the authority to write Scripture does not continue today. Any claim to apostleship that includes new Scripture being written is patently false and inspired by Satan. But even among false apostles today, the claim to this authority is rare.

We do need apostleship to be demystified today. None of us as orthodox evangelical believers would claim to worship the apostles, but we have mystified their lives as if they were saints of a higher class. In fact, they were not. They may have been more Christ-like than us, but the possibilities of grace were not confined to them. The same Gospel which saved them has saved us, and the same Spirit which sanctified them is yet sanctifying us. This is one of the main points of NT apostolic teaching. The apostles meant for us to follow in their train, not to exalt them as ends in themselves. We are to look upon them, and seeing through them, to behold the One who means to conform the whole of the Church to His image.

The Canon of Scripture is superior in perfection and authority to all else that is taught in Church history, but again, it’s authorship is not exclusive to the role of apostleship. The Biblical Gospel is the authoritative Gospel, whether it came through Paul the apostle or Isaiah the prophet, or Luke the Physician.

The apostles of Scripture were not to be seen as the source, but rather as those who were ever pointing to the Source, serving as an example to the saints in character and doctrine, and a special example to apostolic servants/missionaries in every generation. We must de-mystify them in this sense. We cannot “follow Paul as he follows Christ” if we think that he was cut from finer cloth than we. This is vital for the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Apostles were not super-heroes or virtuosos.

No, Paul’s dust was the same as ours and his Christ is the same Christ as ours, so long as we are submitted to the Scriptures and drinking of the same Spirit. The “chief of sinners” was a precious servant of Christ, shaped by the grace of God, and held forth as a pattern for us, not as an ivory-tower monument, untouchable and unreachable. Let us not belittle the grace of God by mystifying who the apostles were.

Apostleship Sanctified

This speaks more to those who would claim that apostles are for today, but whose view of apostleship is not in keeping with the picture laid forth in the Scriptures. Of course, this applies to the cessationist view as well, as all of our false assumptions regarding apostleship need to be purged and brought back to the foundational ground and definition laid forth in Scripture.

I address here the more Charismatic views because I believe that the word “apostle” has been cheapened and made too common by their claims. While I’m eager not to explain apostleship as something that has ceased, or something that is so elevated that we could never think of seeing it at work in our day, I’m equally leery of the cheapening effect that false claims to apostleship have had on the church and its mission. This foul treatment of apostleship has been especially flagrant in the Charismatic world, and though I am myself continuationist, I am compelled to address it.

Perhaps it would be fitting here to insert my conviction that apostles and missionaries are one and the same, in the Biblical sense of the words. “Apostle” comes from the Greek and “Missionary” comes down to us from the Latin. Apostleship (or the missionary call) should be be defined from the Scriptures that it came from, and hence, when we think about the role of an apostle (or the role of a missionary) Scripture itself must be our guide and authority.

If one of the roles of true apostles, as it was in the Bible, is to appoint elders/pastors who qualify to serve in accordance with 1 Tim. 3, Titus 1, 1 Pet. 5 and Acts 20, then it should go without saying that apostles themselves should bear the same kind of character, doctrine, and spiritual wisdom which is required of elders/pastors on a local level. Elders/pastors are not merely men of elite intellect and morality, as if their qualities issue from themselves, but they are humble and godly men who have been shaped over time by the faithful hands of the Potter. Apostles must be shaped by God in like manner. Thus Paul exclaimed, “You saw what manner of men we were among you.” “I am what I am by the grace of God.”

We must return to understanding apostleship in accordance with the example we see in the New Testament. Therefore, unless we are basically gripped with and grounded by a Biblical vision of apostleship, our view must be sanctified, that we might rightly pray for and equip sent ones by the help of the Scriptures and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Purpose of Apostleship

Why did the Lord ascend on high and give the gift of apostles along with the other gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4.11? Let us look to the text itself for the answer:

“…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” || Eph. 4.12-16

Simply put, along with prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, apostles were given by Christ to equip the saints for the work of service, and to build up the Body of Jesus in the nations.

They are sent to proclaim the Gospel where it has been named and where it has not been named (Acts 2, Rom. 15), to make disciples (Mt. 28.16-20), to impart spiritual gifts (Rom. 1, 2 Tim. 1), to plant and nurture churches (Acts 20, 2 Cor. 11.28), to appoint elders (Acts 14.23, Titus 1), and to do this in an ongoing manner until the fullness of Christ characterizes the Church and every people group has been penetrated with the light of the Gospel (Mt. 24.14).

Apostleship is synonymous with true missionary work. Missions work that is devoid of the character, doctrine, and ways of NT apostleship is by definition non-missionary, sub-apostolic. Claims to apostleship that are not in keeping with the missionary labors of the NT apostles are by definition sub-apostolic.

Apostles and Missionaries, from a biblical vantage point, are one and the same (a study of the Greek and Latin from which we derive “apostle” and “missionary” reveals this). Many have claimed apostleship cheaply, and others have claimed to be missionaries with little or no apostolic character. We cannot settle for this, saints. We must de-mystify and sanctify the meaning of apostleship/missions with the help of the Scriptures.

The Indispensability of Apostleship

In light of these things, it should be seen that apostleship is indispensable to the fulfillment of the Great Commission, which is the establishing and building up of local churches amongst every tribe and tongue.

We cannot be the church nor fulfill our mission without true apostles. Let us look to the “Apostle and High Priest of our confession”, the One who shed His blood to purchase men from every tribe. Let us “therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” 

Is apostolic ministry indispensable? Is it needed today?

“If we’re thinking of an ‘apostle’ in Biblical terms, that is, a ‘sent out one’, with a ministry that’s really establishing God’s work where God’s work is either absent or extremely weak (which is really what the apostles were doing in a general sense) then yes, we do need God to raise up such signal servants, who will draw the attention of both the churched and the unchurched people to the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ, sometimes at great sacrifice to themselves. Because they are so taken up with Christ… Christ is being preached. In that sense we need to pray, in our different towns, cities, countries… that God will raise up such clear voices— individuals whose ministry will be trail-blazing for others.” || Conrad Mbewe, Pretoria, South Africa, October 14th, 2010

Let us return to the Scriptures. Let us return to prayer. The Gospel is too precious a message, the destiny of men too ponderous, and the Name of Christ too holy for us to “sit at ease in Zion” while the world around us perishes. The task before us is great. We don’t need youthful goers or adventure-seekers. We need apostolic servants. Surely, the Lamb who was slain is worthy of “sent ones.” This is no small thing, but it is indispensable to the Great Commission.

“Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.'” -Mt. 9.37-38

 

Book Reviews for March 2018

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“Might in the Scriptures: A Memoir of Adolph Saphir, D.D.” by Gavin Carlyle was published in 1893, and is the only published biography of Saphir to my knowledge. You may be able to find an antique copy of it on Ebay or elsewhere, and other versions of it are readily available online.

It is 475 pages long and well over a hundred years old, so unless you’re interested already in Saphir or in the issues surrounding his life and ministry, it may seem like too much for you to get through.

However, I would encourage you to take it up.

Adolph Saphir (1831-1891) is unfortunately not well known in most Christian circles today. In his day, especially in England, he was a well-known Presbyterian pastor, preacher and author. His contemporary fellow London-pastor and friend Charles Spurgeon called him “the godly Saphir,” “the Biblical student, the lover of the Word, the lover of the God of Israel.” He was also a close friend of the famed Jewish-Christian author Alfred Edersheim.

Saphir was esteemed by the Church in his day as a true man of God, a kind of modern “Apollos”—- both brilliant and eloquent, and marked by “the sacred anointing” of the Holy Spirit. His preaching was a demonstration of Lloyd-Jones’ oft-quoted phrase: “logic on fire.”

He was born-again in 1843 (along with his father) through the ministry of the Jewish Mission of the Church of Scotland (of which McCheyne was a chief leader). He served the Lord faithfully in various contexts, through several pastorates, and in a host of church/missions conference settings. This he did through much trial, through much sickness, and with a sporadic but long-term bout with anxiety and depression. We can learn much from his teachings and his life, as well as from the fruit of his ministry and the conflicts he endured. This book contains a rich selection from his teachings, books and letters, and a thorough survey of his life.

After almost 50 years of service to the Lord, in 1891, he and his wife were taken ill with influenza and bronchitis (on top of his long-term battle with typhoid fever). She died on April 1st, and he passed into eternity on April 4th, after suffering from angina-pectoris. Physicians said that he literally died of a broken heart, which highlights the deep and precious relationship that he had with his wife Sara. His last words were from the Scriptures, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness.”

Most of his books are available online either as antique copies, facsimile reprints, or in digital format in one place or another. I highly recommend reading them all. In my judgment, no man outside of the Scriptures had a better grasp of the mysteries of the faith, the glory of the Gospel, the authority and beauty of the Bible, the importance of the Church, the Person and work of Christ, and the issue of Israel as it pertains to the history of faith, and the eschatological testimony of the Biblical prophets. He had flaws as all men do, but I would argue that few men understood and proclaimed “the whole counsel of God” as he did.

I’ve been gleaning from Adolph Saphir’s books since 2001, when another Jewish believer and friend named Art Katz (1929-2007) recommended them to me. They have been a consistent source of encouragement, conviction, and biblical grounding in my life ever since.

It was a real joy finally to read in such great detail the life behind the writings/expositions, and I commend it to you.

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This little book by Douglas Wilson (95 pages) is a dynamite stick of practical wisdom for parents and children alike. It especially highlights the father’s responsibility and role in raising his sons to pursue a woman according to Scripture, raising his daughters to honor God with their lives, and preparing them to be grounded in terms of what kind of man they ought to be eager to enter into covenant with— and what their father’s place is in that pilgrimage.

I cannot recommend it enough. I finished it with tears. Tears of regret (wishing I had read it and put its truth into practice when my children were young), tears of joy (which resulted from newfound clarity), and tears of hope for the future of my children and grandchildren.

I don’t believe I’m exaggerating when I say that the Biblical wisdom in this book, and the helpful teaching which accompanied it, have been used of the Lord to change the way I think about fatherhood, parenting, marriage, and courtship. What a gift to the church. You should get a hold of it, and imbibe it.

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This 144-page book on biblical eldership was excellent. I so appreciate the brothers at 9 Marks and the good work they’ve put their shoulders to for the sake of the Church.

This book continues that precious work. Up until now, I’ve recommended Strauch’s “Biblical Eldership” as the best book on the subject, and it’s still must reading, in my opinion. But this newer work by Rinne may have become my first recommendation. It’s readable, convicting, encouraging, and clear.

I’ve served as an elder in a few local churches for about 15 years (and read or listened to many books and teachings on eldership), and I found myself freshly convicted and helped by what’s laid out in this book. If you’re an aspiring elder, currently serving as an elder, or would like to understand eldership better as a member of your church, this book will be an invaluable resource for you.

Man’s Fable Pulverized: An Easter Poem

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Life? Pitch blackness. A labyrinth, spark-less,

Lungs expand & contract, circulating darkness;

All men beleaguered, bruised reeds in the maze,

Enmeshed in sin, culpable, Oh, grave dwelling place.

———————-

Meaning? We look for it, tunneling our past,

Sands of time, waters of hope, slip from our grasp.

Rusted toys, tools, and philosophies pacify;

We lost ones tread on, we dissatisfied.

———————–

Stability? We forge veneers for our bodies of death;

Offering up cheers, hollow, vague, half-breathed,

Self-proclaimed masters of fate, yet so mastered;

By time which keeps marching, marching every day faster.

————————-

Truth? It’s a stranger to us, though presumption,

Compels us to claim it and voice it, with gumption;

But our truth is spineless, with no heart nor splendor,

It’s relative and fading, ashes and tinder.

————————–

Beauty? For us, it’s a thing double-blurry,

Our objects are passing, our sight plagued by hurry;

We squint to perceive good in all the world’s wonders,

Which do briefly thrill, but leave our hearts asunder.

—————————-

For all we like sheep have gone so far astray,

All we like fools have not numbered our days;

All we Serpent-like have coveted a throne,

All men ruptured cisterns, black-hearts, bitter-bones.

All we like insecure kings craving honor,

All we like orphans in this aimless wander;

All we like convicts trampling Heaven’s Law,

All we like narcissists without God-ward awe.

All we like cowards, saving face, loving self,

All we acting honest, but liars in stealth;

All we tight-fisted consumers have grappled,

Hugging our myth, our gold-plated shackles.

————————-

What then could mend this great breach in our souls?

What could make clean, make full, make whole?

What defines life, grants meaning, makes stable,

What rings true and beautiful, piercing our fable?

————————–

There in the Garden One Man was betrayed,

He shouldered our guilt and with bleeding pores prayed,

From “loud cries with tears” He emerged with resolve,

To fulfill the Decree, the elect to absolve.

————————

Then kissed by a traitor, one not unlike us,

Who treasured not Christ, but preferred money-lust;

The King-eternal bound by the chains we procured,

His back whipped to ribbons, thorn-crowned, He endured.

He ascended the Hill, the Place of the Skull,

Where spiked to the Tree He would taste wine & gall;

‘Twas bitter, though not nearly as harsh or sour,

As the wrath He assumed in that holy hour.

————————

The Messiah of Israel mocked by His kinsmen,

Mantled with Atonement-blood, red crimson;

While Roman soldiers stood aloof and blind-hearted,

Blind to the miracle of sin’s waters parted.

—————————

Only this God-Man could raise the cup well,

Only this Lamb could unseat powers of hell;

Only One Mediator could bear sin and blame,

Drinking justice to the dregs that we might be renamed.

—————————–

“It is finished!”, He cried, Oh, ineffable finish,

The power and gleam of our idols to diminish;

The Fountain blew open, decisively, surely,

The sweet tide of mercy surged powerfully and purely.

——————————

Love vast as oceans and skies and all heavens,

Our sins pulverized, more than seventy times seven;

Fears, ills, and wants now eclipsed by His face,

Our orphan-state? Erased. Our debts? Not a trace.

——————————–

As saving blood permeated Golgotha’s slope,

As Pharisees scrambled, the veil rent by hope,

Bewildered disciples hid themselves in their rooms,

Their warm-hearted Teacher was now cold, still, entombed.

————————

And then, at the Father’s command angels stirred,

The stone’s seal was snapped, the curse overturned;

And indestructible life warmed the frame,

Of God’s own dear Son, the Lamb who was slain.

—————————

He rose once-for-all from the throes of the grave,

To make friends from foes, to make sons from slaves;

He slew death to ransom a Bride from all nations,

Once-for-all raised for our justification.

—————————–

He conquered to rescue dead men from all tribes,

Silenced the Accuser’s feverish diatribe;

For this Man of sorrows with joy set before Him,

Would betroth the many, would cleanse and restore them.

——————————-

He lives! He speaks! Let proud hearts be baffled,

His grace is now praised, our fable unraveled;

Let those who now trust Him, with joyful hearts burning,

Make haste to proclaim Him, until His returning. ——-

The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like his.”

“…to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

-by B.A. Purtle

Good Friday by George Herbert

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Good Friday by George Herbert (3 April 1593 – 1 March 1633)

O my chief good,
How shall I measure out thy blood?
How shall I count what thee befell,
And each grief tell?

Shall I thy woes
Number according to thy foes?
Or, since one star show’d thy first breath,
Shall all thy death?

Or shall each leaf,
Which falls in Autumn, score a grief?
Or cannot leaves, but fruit, be sign,
Of the true vine?

Then let each hour
Of my whole life one grief devour;
That thy distress through all may run,
And be my sun.

Or rather let
My several sins their sorrows get;
That as each beast his cure doth know,
Each sin may so.

Since blood is fittest, Lord, to write
Thy sorrows in, and bloody fight;
My heart hath store; write there, where in
One box doth lie both ink and sin:

That when sin spies so many foes,
Thy whips, thy nails, thy wounds, thy woes,
All come to lodge there, sin may say,
No room for me, and fly away.

Sin being gone, oh fill the place,
And keep possession with thy grace;
Lest sin take courage and return,
And all the writings blot or burn.

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Book Reviews for February 2018

Here are the books I read for February. I read a few I didn’t intend to read, and left off reading Baxter’s “Reformed Pastor” and the new release “Reading Paul with the Reformers.” I aim to get to those later. Here are some brief reviews on the ones I went through.

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Iain Murray’s “J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone” (Banner of Truth 2016) is very much worth reading. With the appendices it comes to 259 pages, and is valuable in my estimation for these reasons:

1. There aren’t many bio’s of Ryle available, so to get a glimpse into the life and thought of a man so precious in Church history is an invaluable blessing.
2. This is probably the best reason: It is well-laced with quotations and clips from Ryle’s body of writing, along with other sources. There is, indeed, little better outside of Scripture for robust, clear, powerful teaching than that which came to us through Bishop Ryle.
3. For those interested in the history and future of the Church of England, it provides a unique perspective, especially regarding the condition of Churchmen in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It raises questions about the history and future of Anglicanism, and much of this is beneficial for evangelical believers in any context.
4. Murray’s overview of the strengths and weaknesses of Mr. Ryle is inspiring to faith and godliness, as well as instructive for ministers (and believers in general) with regard to pitfalls we ought to watch for.
5. It leaves one with a stamp of jealousy for a faithful clinging to Scripture in the face of unbiblical expressions of Christianity. This jealousy for God, the Word, and the Church characterized Ryle’s life resplendently. He was indeed a “man of granite with the heart of a child,” unflinching and unswerving with regard to the truths of Scripture, but largely charitable and patient, even with those who spoke ill of him for being so “archaic” and “puritanical.”

The one weakness I would note, and others may count it a strength, is that the amount of material covering issues pertaining to the Church of England, the ecclesiological and political wrestlings it experienced, were to me a bit overwhelming and made for less-than-interesting reading, at least for those segments of the book. These details will be of great value to some, particularly to those interested in the finer details in the history of Anglican polity. Perhaps that will be of greater interest to me in the future.

For me, much of it became information that I was simply eager to get through so that I could get to what I felt was the real meat of the story, and to Ryle’s own words, which were almost entirely crisp, convicting, faith-building, and practical.

Again, others will likely be helped greatly by details that seemed to me superfluous. In this season of my life, they are the least desirable aspect of the book as far as a solid edifying read is concerned. That said, even in those portions valuable thoughts are given and important questions are asked that the reader may dwell on to much profit.

J.C. Ryle loved the Church of England and was a faithful churchman in her midst until his dying day. But he did go to his grave with outstanding concerns for her future, which the book does well to convey.

Along with the history of his many engagements with the wider Church of England, it is remarkable to see the fruit that was born through the writing of his tracts and books, through his preaching ministry, through his investment in global missions, and maybe especially in the truly pastoral convictions he carried in terms of praying for and shepherding the flock of God on a personal level. This he instilled in the ministers he trained and mentored, and it is sadly a rarity in many Christian contexts. We need a recovery of it today, and Ryle’s example may help us along in that.

One of the most saddening parts of Ryle’s story was the unfolding of his son Herbert’s increasingly modernist views of Scripture and Church. The 2nd appendix lays this out well (along with other portions of previous chapters), and it leaves us with a longing to do all that we can in prayer, exhortation, tenderness, and faith, to deliver to our sons and daughters, in word and deed, the same faith which was handed down to us from the apostles of old.

Overall, the book was excellently written, edifying, informative, and challenging. So many of Murray’s thoughts and exhortations, which are sandwiched between quotes and footnotes, are very worthy of prayerful consideration and response as well.

For these reasons, I would encourage you to read this book. May the Lord use it to help us along in His plan to make of us a people “Prepared to Stand Alone” in the midst of a wavering generation, content with “jellyfish” theology, pragmatic ministry innovations, and that ever-present itch to appeal to humanistic views of truth and justice, an itch which plagues every nation today. This book will help to steel-ify your spiritual spine as you seek to give witness to the crucified Lamb, Who “was, and is, and is to come.”

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Spurgeon’s classic work, “Lectures to My Students” was a real joy to me. I’ve recommended it to aspiring pastors and missionaries for a few decades, but I’m slightly embarrassed to say that while I had read significant portions of the book, maybe amounting to half of it, I had never been through it from start to finish until now.

Now that I have, I can recommend it all the more heartily. It is chock-full of spiritual and practical wisdom, mini-expositions of passages, and a great wealth of pointed exhortations which flow from the well-spring of Spurgeon’s own experience as a man, a pastor, and a preacher.

It could well be called Spurgeon’s “Lectures on Preaching”, as more than half of it in my estimation addresses issues pertaining to the proclamation of the word. He is not bound by rigid definitions of exposition, but he cherishes exposition as central to preaching. He offers helpful thoughts on extemporaneous preaching, different ways in which we should give ourselves to study and prayer, and even the practical elements of how to train and use our voices and how not to use our voices.

One of the refreshing things about the book is how consistently it is laced with a godly kind of humour (pardon the British spelling). I found myself belly laughing on several occasions. It is not the kind of trite or cheap humor modern Americans might be accustomed to. It is what I’ll call a serious and profitable humor, which leaves the Christian preacher with a sense of how foolish much of our thinking is, and how we ought not to position ourselves to fall into the categories Charles often uses as the butt of his jokes. It is helpful humor, like unto the kind that Jesus sometimes uses in the Gospels.

Sometimes Spurgeon offers lengthy counsel that flows from his opinions, and as in all books, it is to be weighed with Scripture.

All in all, for a pointed, biblical, readable, practical, convicting, encouraging book on what it means to be a Christian, a preacher, and a pastor, this book should be in our top five, in my opinion. It’s a wonderful gift to every churchman.

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Adolph Saphir’s “Christ and the Church: Thoughts On the Apostolic Commission” is a wonderful read. I’ve never been let down by Saphir (I think he’s my favorite author), and this book was no exception to that experience.

As any book on the Church should, he spends the early parts (first 2 chapters) giving expression to the glories of Jesus Christ, who is the foundation of the Church. Few men have so poignantly and doxologically given articulation to the person and work of Christ, and as in his other books, he does this masterfully in “Christ and the Church”. Like Paul, Saphir would not have us to think that the Church is built upon itself (“we preach not ourselves…”, but rather upon the foundation which has already been laid, “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

He goes on to give expression to the phenomenon of the people of God in the Old Testament, how central the Name of God was to their existence and faith, and how this becomes yet more concentrated when the Name of Jesus is revealed to and declared through “the church which is His body.”

His work on the obedience of faith in the New Covenant community is exceptional, and there are valuable and rare ecclesiological points made in the subsequent chapters.

All in all, for a baptism in Christ-centered faith, leadership and church-life, this book is to be highly recommended. Upon my rather small platform of influence, I’m happy to say as I have for years, “By all means, get Saphir in your library!” He is too little known, and would be of help to all who desire to know and please the God of Israel.

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This book on E.M. Bounds by Lyle Dorsett (also the author of a great bio on Tozer, among others) was very good. To be honest, I went through this one much quicker than I would’ve liked, so I didn’t retain what I could’ve. I’d like to go through it again in the future.

I am among the thousands of believers who have benefited greatly from Bounds’ writings on prayer, and I was eager to learn more about the man who wrote so powerfully, especially on that subject.

Dorsett does a fine job of surveying his life and giving us a glimpse into the experience of this remarkable man. One of the surprising details of the story is his involvement in the Civil War, which will be as much of a moral wrestling match to some readers as it was for Bounds.

I recommend you checking this book out. You’ll be enlightened as to Bounds’ life, and even better, you’ll be encouraged and challenged as a disciple by his example and words.