The Pastorate: More Than The Pulpit (Bridges)

The pulpit is only part of a pastor’s ministry.  Of course, it is a major and central part of the ministry, but the pulpit is not the only part.  A pastor also has pastoral work to do; this too is an essential part of his ministry.  I appreciate how Charles Bridges explained this.  It’s also convicting for me, and a good reminder for myself:

“Let us not think that all our work is done in the study and in the pulpit.  Preaching …derives much of its power from connection with the pastoral work; and its too frequent disjunction from it is a main cause of our inefficiency.”

In other words, a major cause of a minister’s inefficiency is a separation of the pulpit and day-to-day pastoring/shepherding.  Bridges continues,

“The Pastor and the Preacher combine to form the completeness of the sacred office, as expounded in our Ordination services and in Scriptural illustrations.”

As a rightly called and ordained minister, my goal then (with God’s help) is not just to be a good preacher, but to be a good pastor as well. As he goes on to explain, Bridges notes the biblical pattern for this balance and he gives some positive effects of the joining of the pulpit and the pastoral work.

One positive effect is how the joining of the pulpit and pastoral work preserves the church from schism and builds up Christian unity.  When the pulpit and the pastoral work are both flourishing, it will help keep a congregation united.

Another blessing from a balanced preaching and pastoral ministry is gaining the confidence and love of the flock:

A pulpit ministration may command attention and respect; but except the preacher convert himself into a Pastor, descending from the pulpit to the cottage, and in Christian simplicity ‘becoming all things to all people,’ there will be nothing that fastens on the affections – no ‘bands of love.’  The people cannot love an unknown and untried friend, and confidence without love is an anomaly. …We must constantly aim at nearer contact, and closer interest with them; winning their hearts as the way to win their souls….”

These are helpful notes for pastors!  It’s a good reminder for us to pray for this kind of balanced ministry, that we would be good preachers and good pastors.  This will bring God much glory and bring much good to his people.

The above quotes are found in part 5, chapter 1 of Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

That’s Not Christian Liberty, That’s Immaturity!

Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ by [Naselli, Andrew David, Crowley, J. D.] Christian liberty is one of those great biblical truths the Protestant Reformers recovered.  The papacy had made all sorts of rules, regulations, doctrines, and so forth that were neither commanded nor taught by Scripture.  The Reformers, thinking of texts like Matthew 15:9, Acts 5:29, Galatians 5:1 (and so on), said that to believe man-made doctrines or to obey man-made religious laws destroys the freedom of the conscience (see WCF 20.2).

The Reformers also talked about Christian liberty in terms of the gospel, that our consciences are be free from the terrors of the law because Christ obeyed in our place and paid for all our sins.  Justification by faith alone is very closely related to Christian liberty!

John Calvin said the following:

“…Christian freedom is, in all its parts, a spiritual thing.  Its whole force consists in quieting frightened consciences before God – that are 1) perhaps disturbed and troubled over forgiveness of sins, or 2) anxious whether unfinished works, corrupted by the faults of our flesh, are pleasing to God, or 3) tormented about the use of things indifferent (Institutes, III.XIX.8)”

Of course, Christian liberty has a few angles to it.  It also means we should obey God and seek to be holy – Christ saved us to do good works! (Eph. 2:10).  I also appreciate how Naselli and Crowley explained Christian liberty as they reflect on 1 Corinthians 9:19 and the surrounding context:

“Christian liberty isn’t, ‘Cool! I finally get to do the stuff I’ve always wanted to but my strict upbringing wouldn’t let me.  Then you Facebook about it so that everyone knows you’re hip.  That’s not Christian liberty; that’s immaturity.  Christian liberty is the domain of the mature, not the immature.  When the immature get ahold of it, they make a mess of it, like some of the Corinthians did.

Christian liberty is not about you and your freedom to do what you want to do.  It’s about the freedom to discipline yourself to be flexible for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of weaker believers.”

In summary, Christian liberty 1) frees us from man-made laws and doctrines, 2) is based upon the gospel and justification by faith alone, and 3) isn’t about doing whatever you want to do, but in self-control being flexible for the sake of the gospel.  Here’s Calvin again:

“Nothing is plainer than this rule: that we should use our freedom if it results in the edification of our neighbor, but if it does not help our neighbor, then we should forego it.”

The above quote by Naselli and Crowley is found on page 132 of Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

He Will Not Send You To Purgatory (Ryken)

Philip Ryken’s When You Pray is a very helpful resource for studying the Lord’s Prayer and for learning more about prayer and praying.  When I recently studied the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer (“forgive us our debts...”), I found the following paragraphs helpful:

“As soon as we start trying to figure out how to pay God what we owe for our sins, we realize how much trouble we are really in.  Obviously, we cannot pay off our debts by ourselves.  How could we ever make up for all the sins we have committed?  Yet this is precisely the error most religions make, including false versions of Christianity.  They all operate on the basis that human beings can do something to make things right with God.  Their reasoning goes something like this: ‘Lord, I know I keep messing up, but I’m trying really, really hard to be good.  In case you haven’t noticed, I have a list here of some of the good things I’ve done – charitable work, and that sort of thing.  Yes, I know my list isn’t as long as it could be, but why don’t we just call it even?’  This kind of approach is based on the principle of works righteousness, the idea that doing good works can make someone good enough for God.”

“The truth is, however, that forgiveness is not something we can work for, it is only something we can ask for.  Even if we worked for all eternity, laboring in the very pit of hell, we could never work off the debt we owe to God.  What could we ever pay to God?  Jesus posed the question this way: ‘What can a man give in exchange for his soul?’ (Mt. 16:26b NIV).  The answer, of course, is nothing.  Our souls are the most valuable thing we have.  When, because of our sin and guilt, we owe God our very souls, there is nothing left for us to pay.”

Later Ryken notes that “we owe God far more than we or anyone else could ever pay.”  So what can we do about our massive debt to God?  The only thing we can do is beg God for forgiveness: Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner! (Lk. 18:13).

“This is precisely what we do in the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  We ask our Father to forgive us our debts.  With these words we declare our moral bankruptcy, freely admitting that we owe God more than everything we have.  Then we do the only thing we can, which is to ask him to forgive us outright.  Because he is our loving Father, God does what we ask.  ‘He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities… As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him (Ps. 103:10, 13 NIV).  God the Father offers forgiveness as a free gift of his grace.  When you go to him, weighed down with the debt of all your guilt and sin, he will not sit down with you to work out a payment plan.  He will not scheme to charge you more interest.  He will not send you to Purgatory or anywhere else to work off your debts.  On the contrary, God is a loving Father who offers forgiveness full and free.”

Philip Graham Ryken, When You Pray (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2000), p. 125-6.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

One Key to Sanctification? (Powlison)

How Does Sanctification Work? by [Powlison, David] God sanctifies his people in various ways.  As he makes his people more like Christ, he does so using different methods and means.  Of course, God is the one who sanctifies his people, and the ways he does so are his ways.  Primarily, he sanctifies his people through his Word, the Holy Spirit, and the sacraments.  But he sanctifies his people in various ways.

David Powlison argues as much in his new short book How Does Sanctification Work Rather than thinking there is one “key” to sanctification, Powlison says that “the Lord makes different truths meaningful at different times to different people” (p. 25).  The gospel of grace is the foundation of sanctification, of course, but sometimes God uses other things connected to the gospel to change people.  Sanctification isn’t a “one size fits all” process!

For example, sometimes we grow when the Lord uses a certain Bible truth or verse in our lives. It could be conviction of sin from the law, it could be moral guidance from Proverbs, it could be a reminder of God’s love, or it could be a verse about God’s sovereignty (for just a few examples).  In this book, Powlison notes these kinds of various ways God uses to grow his people.

Powlison’s “five factors of sanctification” are these: 1) God himself changes you (Phil. 2:3), 2) the Word of truth changes you (Ps. 19:7), 3) wise people change you  (Prov. 13:20), 4) suffering, struggle, and troubles change you (Heb. 5:8), and 5) you change (1 Thes. 1:9).  These “five factors” are explained in more detail in chapter six.  I appreciated this chapter.

This is a good book that will get you thinking more about sanctification.  I do agree with Powlison; I’ve seen in my own life the various ways God has sanctified me.  Sometimes the law caused me to avoid sin, sometimes another Christian’s good example caused me to do what was right, sometimes a hard trial strengthened my faith, and often a promise of God has given me fresh courage for the day.  This growth is based on God’s word, his gospel, and the power of his Spirit.  Get this book to learn more!

David Powlison, How Does Sanctification Work?

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Contribute to Our Salvation? (Luther)

Product DetailsThe following quote by Martin Luther, from The Bondage of the Will, is one of the main points of the Reformation, the biblical truth that the salvation of sinners belongs completely and wholly to the Lord:

“A man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realizes that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will and works, and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of Another – God alone.  As long as he is persuaded that he can make even the smallest contribution to his salvation, he remains self-confident and does not utterly despair of himself, and so is not humbled before God; but plans out for himself (or at least hopes and longs for) a position, an occasion, a work, which shall bring him final salvation.  But he who is out of doubt that his destiny depends entirely on the will of God despairs of himself entirely, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such a man is very near to grace for his salvation.”

“…So these truths are published for the sake of the elect, that they may be humbled and brought down to nothing, and so saved.  The rest of men resist this humiliation; indeed, they condemn the teaching of self-despair; they want a little something left they can do for themselves.  Secretly they continue proud, and enemies of the grace of God.  This, I repeat, is one reason – that those who fear God might in humility comprehend, claim and receive his gracious promise.” Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, II.vii.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Love Rightly Ordered (Augustine)

When Augustine was commenting on how the “sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful” and married them (Gen. 6:2 NIV), he made a brilliant observation on God-given beauty and love rightly ordered:

And thus beauty, which is indeed God’s handiwork, but only a temporal, carnal, and lower kind of good, is not fitly loved in preference to God, the eternal, spiritual, and unchangeable Good. When the miser prefers his gold to justice, it is through no fault of the gold, but of the man; and so with every created thing. For though it be good, it may be loved with an evil as well as with a good love: it is loved rightly when it is loved ordinately; evilly, when inordinately,

Augustine goes on to quote a poem/hymn, which he himself probably wrote:

It is this which some one has briefly said in these verses in praise of the Creator:

These are Thine, they are good,
because Thou art good who didst create them.
There is in them nothing of ours,
unless the sin we commit when we forget the order of things,
and instead of Thee love that which Thou hast made.”

We might say this is also an exposition of the Bible’s teaching that we should love God first and foremost (Mt. 22:37).  Here’s one more paragraph from Augustine after his poem/hymn:

But if the Creator is truly loved, that is, if He Himself is loved and not another thing in His stead, He cannot be evilly loved; for love itself is to be ordinately loved, because we do well to love that which, when we love it, makes us live well and virtuously. So that it seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love; and on this account, in the Canticles, the bride of Christ, the city of God, sings, “Order love within me.”

There’s something to read again and think about: virtue is the right order of love.

These quotes are found in Augustine’s City of God, XV.22.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

God’s Decrees Are… (Boston)

The Works Of Thomas Boston: Volume 1 by [Boston, Thomas] The Bible teaches that God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11 NIV). This means that whatever God decrees comes to pass and whatever comes to pass God has decreed.  This includes the details of creation, predestination, providence, and so forth.  I like how Thomas Boston defined the properties of God’s decrees using Scripture.  He said the following about God’s decrees:

  1. They are eternal.  God makes no decrees in time, but they were all from eternity. So the decree of election is said to have been ‘before the foundation of the world,’ Eph. 1:4.  …If the divine decrees were not eternal, God would not be most perfect and unchangeable, but, like weak man, should take new counsels, and would be unable to tell everything that were to come to pass.
  2. They are most wise: ‘According to the counsel of his will.’ God cannot properly deliberate or take counsel, as men do; for he sees all things together and at once. And thus his decrees are made with perfect judgment, and laid in the depth of wisdom, Rom. 11:33. ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God I how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!’
  3. They are most free: ‘according to the counsel of his own will’; depending on no other, but all flowing from the mere pleasure of his own will, Rom. 11:34. ‘For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counselor?’  …So his decrees are all absolute, and there are none of them conditional. He has made no decrees suspended on any condition without himself.
  4. They are unchangeable. They are the unalterable laws of heaven. God’s decrees are constant; and he by no means alters his purpose, as men do, Ps. 33:11. ‘The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.’ Hence they are compared to mountains of brass, Zech. 6:1. As nothing can escape his first view, so nothing can be added to his knowledge.
  5. They are most holy and pure. For as the sun darts its beams upon a dunghill, and yet is no way defiled by it; so God decrees the permission of sin, …yet is not the author of sin: 1 John 1:5. ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all,’ Jam. 1:13, 17. ‘God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man. With him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.’
  6. They are effectual; that is, whatsoever God decrees comes to pass infallibly, Isa. 46:10. ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.’ He cannot fall short of what he has determined.

This is an edited summary of a larger helpful discussion on God’s decrees found in volume 1 of Boston’s Works.  It’s found on pages 158-159 for those interested.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI