Arguments Against Term Eldership

Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol 2: Systematic Theology In confessional Reformed and Presbyterian circles, elders are typically elected by the congregation based on the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  Although it differs a bit in various Reformed and Presbyterian churches, typically men who are elected to the office of elder serve for several years (i.e. 3), then take several years “off,” then sometimes serve again (assuming the elder doesn’t move away, get divested of his office, or become unable to serve for serious health/personal reasons.).

But is this type of “term” or “class” eldership the most biblically prudent way to go?  John Murray says it is not.  He argues that the office of elder is a lifetime office.  I tend to agree.  Here are some points Murray makes against term eldership:

“…The idea of being ordained to office for a limited period of time is without warrant from the New Testament, and is contrary to the implications of election and ordination.   …While the New Testament does not expressly legislate against term eldership, there are considerations which fall into the category of good and necessary inference, and which militate against the propriety of this practice.  These considerations are derived from the implications which underlie or inhere in the acts of electing and ordaining to this office, implications which are incompatible with the idea of term eldership.”

“…[First,] the gifts for eldership [i.e. in 1 Tim. 3, Titus 5, Acts 20] are not of a temporary character.  …The simple fact is that when a man possesses certain endowments which qualify him for eldership, we must proceed on the assumption that they are abiding, and permanently qualify him for the discharge of the functions of the office.”

“…There is [also] the argument that pertains to the unity of ruling office.  In respect of ruling the church of God, the ruling elder and the teaching elder [pastor] are on complete parity.  When the teaching elder is ordained, he is ordained to rule as well as to teach, and his ruling function is just as permanent as his teaching function.”

Murray also gives some practical considerations against term eldership: “1) It tends to create in the minds of the people the notion of trial periods.  That should have no place whatsoever in the election of elders. 2) It tends to develop such a notion in the minds of elders themselves, and therefore a decreased sense of responsibility and office. 3) It interferes with the continuity, and therefore with the sense of responsibility, as also with the stability of the office. 4) It may occasion the removal of good elders as well as bad ones. 5) It may minister to party division and strife. 6) It is rather liable to give the impression of representative government and of democracy.  Presbyterianism is not democratic. 7) It tends to promote the idea that the eldership should be passed around.”

Of course Murray gives more biblical and practical defense of his position.  You can read the entire article in Volume 2 of his Collected Writings and it is also found (with some helpful explanation) in Witmer’s The Shepherd Leader.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Feeling Good About Christ’s Gifts Instead of his Person

How easy it is to become so desirous of good things that they even eclipse the good God who gives them.  John Piper tells a challenging story:

What is it for God to love and for us to be loved by him?  What is it for us to love God and love other people?  This is right at the heart of biblical counseling, isn’t it?  A sense of being loved, helping people to be come loving people, and understanding how God loves us – sinners that we are.

For many years I have been trying to figure out how God’s pursuit of His glory relates to His love for you and me.  What I find gets clearer every year, and in recent months has gotten even clearer.  For example, a woman came up to me after church, weeping her eyes out in distress over the problems in her life.  At one point in our conversation I asked her, “If you were in a place where you had your family, perfect health, all your favorite foods, and all your favorite recreation, and you didn’t have to feel guilty, would you still want to be there if Jesus wasn’t there?  She cried out, “Yes!”  That is where a lot of professing Christians are.  The gifts of Christ are what they feel good about, not Christ.  Forgiveness feels good, getting rid of guilt feels good, staying out of hell feels good, having a marriage work feels good, having kids stay off drugs feels good, and having the body made well feels good.  Frankly, Jesus can take a vacation.  Just give me these things.

John Piper and Jack Delk, “The Glory of God: The Goal of Biblical Counseling,” in Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling. Pgs. 29-30.

This reminds me of Jesus’ words in Luke 12:29-32:

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Though God is mindful of our need for the essentials of life, he is also cultivating in us a satisfaction in his plan to give us the kingdom, such that the glory of the coming new creation radically reorients us as we face the trials and afflictions of this present age.

R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA

Two Justifications?

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 2 Some in broader evangelicalism (New Perspectives on Paul) and in broader Reformed circles (Federal Vision) have talked about a future justification based on works in a way that is out of step with historic Reformed theology.  Of course, the Reformers debated Rome over this issue as well.  Francis Turretin (d. 1687) described the historic Reformed “sola fide” position well:

“Although our justification will be fully declared on the last day (our good works also being brought forward as the sign and proof of its truth, Mt. 25:34-40), still falsely would anyone maintain from this a twofold gospel justification – one from faith in this life (which is the first); the other (and second) from works on the day of judgment (as some hold, agreeing too much with the Romanists on this point).”

“The sentence to be pronounced by the supreme Judge will not be so much a new justification, as the solemn and public declaration of a sentence once passed and its execution by the assignment of the life promised with respect to an innocent person from the preceding justification.”

“Thus it is nothing else than an adjudicatory sentence of the possession of the kingdom of heaven from the right given before through justification.  And if works are then brought forward, they are not adduced as the foundation of a new justification to be obtained then, but as signs, marks, and effects of our true faith and of our justification solely by it.”

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 2, p. 687.

shane lems
hammond, wi

The ESV Reader’s Bible: Highly Recommended!

When I saw that Crossway had published the ESV Reader’s Bible, I must say I was a bit skeptical. “Ahhh, yes,” I thought to myself, “another way to get us ESV affectionados to purchase yet another ESV related product … clever work, Crossway!” But something about the product description and preview kept nagging at me. Add to that, Westminster Bookstore’s competitive price of this handsome cloth-over-board volume and I could no longer resist ordering myself a copy ($14.99 + S&H).


I am floored that something so simple could bring such a change in my Bible reading. No verses. No section headings. Just the biblical text. I was sure it was just a gimmick, but I have been amazed at how differently I read God’s word in this edition. My first book to read was 1 Thessalonians and I can’t really explain it any other way than to say it just “felt” different. It felt like I had received a letter from Paul, not a prepared manuscript with reference markers and headers to “assist” my reading.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough! I have heard critiques that the pages are too thin, but this had not bothered me in the least, especially with the “line-matching” printing being utilized to ensure that the text on both sides of the page is in the same place. I can understand why one might think that this is just psychological, but all I can say is that I read this version of the Bible differently than I do my ESV Reference Bible.

Check out this book on the WTS Bookstore website, watch the video, and take a look at the preview. From there you should be able to make a decision about whether this Bible is right for you. I personally have enjoyed it very much and only wish I had had a copy sooner. It doesn’t replace my Reference Bible, but it has added a rich new dimension to my reading of Scripture!

R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA

On Buying Commentaries

Luke [Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament] Having been a pastor for over seven years now (a brief time in the larger scheme of things), I’ve had to buy quite a few commentaries.  As some of you may know, it’s not overly easy to select commentaries when you’re beginning to study a book of the Bible.  Commentaries are quite expensive and there are so many of them out there.

For example, a quick look at Amazon reveals that there are well over 35 decent commentaries on the Gospel of Luke.  If one were to write up a full list that includes commentaries from the past, the number would probably exceed 50!  Books that summarize useful commentaries are out of date almost as soon as they are on the bookshelves since new commentaries are published so frequently.  How do we even begin to search for good commentaries to buy?   Here are a couple of things I think about before purchasing commentaries – things which save me money and time.

1) I don’t get commentaries that are similar; I don’t get three or four commentaries from an evangelical and/or Reformed perspective.  The first few times I purchased commentaries, I got a handful of Reformed and evangelical ones, and they all were pretty much the same.  For example, if you have Ryken on Luke, you probably don’t need Hughes’ commentary on it.  Or, if you have Derek Thomas’ commentary on Acts, you probably don’t need Sproul’s (etc.).  Quite possibly, the longer a Reformed preacher studies and preaches, the less he even needs Reformed commentaries!

2) I buy commentaries that differ in structure and style.  I always like at least one commentary that is somewhat technical in language/syntax discussions (i.e. Word Biblical Commentaries or perhaps NICOT/NICNT).  I’ll also get a commentary that is more thematic and less exegetical, like the NIV Application Commentaries or the Preach the Word series.  In other words, I get one or two technical commentaries and one or two that are not as technical but more practical.  Note: It is difficult to find technical commentaries on some books, so you may have to look hard!

3) I buy commentaries with which I might disagree.  Since many Reformed and/or evangelical commentaries sound the same, I also get commentaries from the Roman Catholic and the liberal perspectives.  For example, I like the Sacra Pagina commentaries as well as the Interpretation commentaries; I’ve also used WKJ and Abingdon commentaries (Concordia also publishes some helpful ones).  I have some Jewish commentaries on OT books and critical commentaries, which I’ve found quite helpful.  I always appreciate seeing how others look at the text, since it often makes me think and study harder.

4)  I like to round out my collection with older commentaries.  In other words, I don’t only use commentaries that have been written in the past 3o-40 years.  I like to use commentaries from the Reformers, the medieval doctors, and the church fathers.  It’s good to hear how God’s people interpreted texts before our modern era!  For example, I’ve come to appreciate commentaries by Lightfoot, Ellicott, Poole, Augustine, and Chrysostom (among others).

5) I try not to get too many commentaries.  I sometimes see pictures of a person’s shelves with ten or eleven commentaries on a certain book of the Bible.  My first thought is, “Do you have time to read all those and study the text and do pastoral visits/counseling?”  My second thought is, “Where do you get the money?”  (Thankfully, sometimes pastors receive commentaries as gifts or find used commentaries for great prices.) I’ve resisted the temptation to become a “commentary junkie,” getting every new commentary that publishing companies market so heavily.  Also, personally, I don’t feel like I *must* read every section of every commentary I using.  If my sermon studies are going well, I typically don’t read all my commentaries – else my sermons tend to get too full and detailed.

Doing the math, one might be able to benefit from five commentaries for one book of the Bible: one evangelical or Reformed commentary, one or two from another perspective, one exegetical/textual, and one or two from church history.  Granted, there is some overlap in those categories, but it may serve as a starting point – or at least something to think about!

I realize everyone is different when it comes to purchasing and using commentaries – and I could be wrong!  So feel free to disagree and/or add your own comments, suggestions, and lessons learned.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

Vos on Predestination

Reformed Dogmatics (5 vols.)    In Reformed Dogmatics, Geerhardus Vos explains predestination in a most wonderful way.  Here’s part of it (edited very slightly):

The doctrine of human inability after the fall is inseparably connected with predestination, so that one must maintain them both together or drop them both together. One of the two; it depends on God or it depends on man who will be saved. If one chooses the first, then one has accepted predestination. If one chooses the second, then this is possible only under two presuppositions:

1) Either one must be Pelagian and say man has not become lacking in ability through his fall; then he is able to decide for himself.

2) Or one must say man was at first lacking in ability, but God does something to man, in fact to all men without distinction, whereby they again become able to make a decision. But then A, who is saved, must have something good that B, who is not saved, does not have. And A must have this good of himself because he received precisely the same grace as B.

In any case, here the inability of man is denied, whether one propounds that denial in a Pelagian or a semi-Pelagian fashion.

Vos, Geerhardus. Reformed Dogmatics. Ed. Richard B. Gaffin & Richard de Witt. Trans. Annemie Godbehere et al. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013) Vol 1, p. 76.

NOTE: As of now, volumes 1 and 2 of Vos’ Dogmatics are available through Logos with the purchase of the Reformed Platinum or Diamond packages.

shane lems

The Gospel For Mormons Who Reject It

Starting at the Finish Line: The Gospel of Grace for Mormons Book Cover You’ve probably heard the polls that Mormonism is a fast growing religion in the United States (although the polls don’t say how many are leaving the Mormon ranks).  You’ve probably seen and/or talked to those well dressed, polite Mormon missionaries.  But you may not have read an account by a man who was a “by-the-book” Mormon for 20 years only to leave Mormonism because of its inconsistencies and because of its emphasis on good works for salvation.  This book, Starting at the Finish Line, was written by a man who has that story: John B. Wallace.  He was in many ways a devout Mormon who ended up getting “burned out” by Mormon doctrine and practice.

Wallace wrote this book mostly for Mormons who are questioning the religion, those who are leaving the Mormon ranks, or those who have already left.  He is quite blunt in the book, but in my reading he truly cares for Mormons who are trapped on a “grace plus works” religious treadmill.  Wallace clearly has a passion for the gospel of grace alone and a passion to share that gospel with Mormons who obscure, deny, and twist it.  Even though Wallace is blunt, I don’t think it is offensive because his care and concern also shine through.  I’ve read much of the Book of Mormon, discussed Mormonism with some of their missionaries, and read other Mormon writings; Wallace’s book rang true with what I’ve read and heard.

Starting at the Finish Line does not talk about all the ways Mormon doctrine differs from Christian doctrine (i.e. the doctrines of creation, theology proper, the Trinity, the church, and the end times, just to name a few).  Instead, Wallace focuses on two main points: The Bible and the gospel of grace.  In the first section, he defends the historicity and reliability of the Old and New Testaments in light of the Mormon denying those things and adding more books to their religion.  I appreciated this section since it did show how Mormons do not really hold closely to Scripture alone and Scripture itself.

The bulk of the book really talks about grace – the fact that Jesus came into the world to die for wicked sinners and give them the gift of eternal salvation by faith alone (not by works).  Time and time again Wallace explains how he was very works oriented in the Mormon religion.  He shows many quotes and examples of how the Mormon understanding of the gospel is very much at odds with the historic, biblical Christian teaching of free and full forgiveness in Christ alone by God’s grace alone through faith alone.  The gospel of free grace is a stumbling block for Mormons, and Wallace wrestles with that point in an excellent way throughout the book.

At times, the book did seem a bit repetitive.  However, that might be a good thing for someone who believes their works play a part in their justification and salvation.  Also, there are a few places I wished Wallace would have been clearer on a few issues, but he was very clear on imputation, faith alone, the sufficiency of the atonement, and justification by grace.  The historic Christian gospel shines through in this book – Jesus is truly front and center here.

I very much recommend this book to those who are in Mormon circles, who were in them, or who know people in Mormon circles.  Actually, I recommend this book for anyone who 1) wants to know more about Mormonism and 2) who wants a great reminder of the “amazing grace” of salvation through faith alone in Christ’s finished work alone.  I’m thankful Wallace took the time and energy to tackle this tough subject.  And I’m thankful he did it in a way that showed Christ is all we have, and all we need!

(Note: the Kindle version of this book is just $3.99 at the time of the post.)

John Wallace, Starting at the Finish Line (n.l., Pomona House Publishing, 2014).

*I received this book from Cross Focused Reviews for the purpose of giving an honest review.*

rev shane lems
hammond, wi