The Church Is Greater Than Her Pastors (Turretin)

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1 In the era of celebrity pastors and famous preachers who have thousands of “likes” and (sadly) even fans, it’s very important to remember that Christ’s church is greater than her pastors.  Pastors serve for 10, 20, or 30 years; maybe sometimes they even serve 50 or 60 years.  Then they die and someone else takes their place.  The church lives on even when the pastor leaves or goes to be with the Lord.  In a rightly ordered church, everything doesn’t collapse when the pastor leaves or dies.  The church may grieve, but she doesn’t fold or dissolve.  Instead, she prays, calls a new pastor, and together they press on in the faith.  I appreciate how Francis Turretin talked about this in the third volume of his Institutes.

“…Now the church is superior to pastors, not pastors to the church; the church does not belong to the pastors, but the pastors to the church.  ‘All things are yours,’ says Paul, ‘whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas’ (1 Cor. 3:21-22).  Here he rebukes those who gloried in men as heads and for whose sake they raised dissensions and parties among the Corinthians.  He shows that they acted falsely because the church is greater than and superior to all.  Hence pastors are called servants and ministers of the church: ‘We are your servants for Jesus’ sake’ (2 Cor. 4:5).”

Earlier Turretin noted this:

“…The church is not for the sake of the ministry, but the ministry for the sake of the church.

Turretin did say more, but this is a good reminder for pastors (myself included) that we are called to serve the church and humbly minister to her.  The church doesn’t revolve around the pastor.  The church does not exist to serve the pastor.  The pastor is not the church’s lord and ruler.  Jesus is.  The church revolves around him and exists to serve and worship him.  Pastors are merely servants that point the church to Jesus.  Might we even say that pastors are in a way expendable?

The above quote and entire discussion about pastors and the church are found on pages 227-8 of Turretin’s Institutes, vol 3.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Israel, the Church, and Replacement Theology

Numbers (PTW) I appreciate and agree with Iain Duguid’s discussion of “replacement theology” in his commentary on Numbers 24:

Some Christians believe that Old Testament promises that speak of “Israel” are only intended for ethnic Israel and not for the church. For them, Balaam’s prophecies speak of a glorious future for the physical descendants of Israel, but they would call any attempt to apply these promises to the church “replacement theology.” I would suggest that this is a misunderstanding of what the Scriptures teach about Israel. It is not that the church has replaced Israel in the New Testament so much as that Old Testament Israel—ethnic Israel—finds its true goal and fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is himself the star of Jacob, the Israel of God.

In the person of Jesus, therefore, the true Israel has arrived, and all those who come to God by faith in him—Jews and Gentiles alike—become God’s children and are thereby incorporated into this new people of God (John 1:11, 12). In Christ, Jews and Gentiles together become the true heirs of the promise given to Abraham, his spiritual descendants (Galatians 3:29). Outside of Christ, on the other hand, there is no longer any true Israel. It is those who are in Christ who are the true chosen people: a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9). We have been chosen by God for exactly the same special relationship that he had with his Old Testament people. In his incredible grace and mercy, God chose us before the foundation of the world, so that we might be blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3, 4). He has rescued us from the final judgment that awaits all those who remain outside his people and has given us the glorious inheritance of a relationship with himself. In Jesus, the star of Jacob has risen for us and for our salvation.

Iain M. Duguid and R. Kent Hughes, Numbers: God’s Presence in the Wilderness, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), 287–288.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

When Satan Spreads Discord and Conflict Among God’s People (Brooks)

Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices (Puritan Paperbacks) One of Satan’s strongest and most successful weapons against the church is getting Christians to ‘bite and devour each another’ (Gal 5.15 NIV).  He does what he can to sow seeds of conflict among Christians so the seeds grow into fights and quarrels among brothers and sisters in Christ.  Thomas Brooks – in his usual biblically wise manner – gives remedies against Satan’s attempts to make us fight and bicker.  Here are some of his remedies which I’ve edited and commented upon:

1) “Dwell more upon one another’s graces than upon one another’s weaknesses and infirmities.  It is sad to consider that saints should have many eyes to behold one another’s infirmities, and not one eye to see each other’s graces.”  Since each Christian has the flowers of grace in his/her garden, other Christians should look upon those sweet, pleasing, and delightful graces that God has given his children.  This is one way the devil’s darts will be destroyed.

2) “Dwell upon those commands of God that require you to love one another.”  Brooks here quotes numerous NT texts that call Christians to brotherly love (i.e. Rom 13.8, 1 John 4.7, etc).  “Dwell upon these precious commands, that your love may be inflamed one to another.”

3) “Dwell more upon these choice and sweet things wherein you agree, than upon those things wherein you differ.”  Or, if I can add a great phrase attributed to Augustine, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things, charity.”  Back to Brooks: “You agree in most, you differ but in a few; you agree in the greatest and weightiest, as concerning God, Christ, the Spirit, and the Scripture.  You differ only in those points that have been long disputable amongst men of greatest piety and parts.  You agree to own the Scripture, to hold to Christ the head, and to walk according to the law of the new creature.”

4) “Dwell upon the miseries of discord.”  Here Brooks spends only a few sentences (as if to say – “don’t dwell too long on this!”) to explain how it neither glorifies God nor edifies the saints to be fighting.

5) Be the first one to make peace when there is conflict (my re-wording of Brooks).  “It is not a matter of liberty whether you will or you will not pursue after peace, but it is a matter of duty that lies upon you; you are bound by express precept to follow after peace, and though it may seem to fly from you, yet you must pursue after it (Heb 12.14).”  In other words, be a peacemaker not sometimes, but all the time.

6) Saints should “join together and walk together in the ways of grace and holiness so far as they do agree, making the word their only touchstone and judge of their actions.”  Pray together, be in delightful conversation often, mourn together, and rejoice together according to the word.

7) “Labor to be clothed in humility.  Humility makes a man peaceable among brethren, fruitful in well-doing, cheerful in suffering, and constant in holy walking (1 Pet 5.5).”  “Humility honors those that are strong in grace, and puts two hands under those that are weak in grace (Eph 3.8).”

Those are just 7 of 12 remedies Brooks gives to deflect Satan’s arrows of discord and disunity.  This godly advice will not just help local churches, but also Christian marriages and friendships in general.  In summary, consider Paul’s prayer for the Philippian church in 1.9 – there he prays that the church would abound in love (filled with knowledge and wisdom) for one another.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015
(NOTE: This is a repost from December, 2009)

What Are First Fruits?

I’m still making my way through this helpful book: Images of the Church in the New Testament by Paul Minear.  One image he talks about is the image of the first fruits.  This is a rich theme in the Bible that applies to various concepts in the Old and New Testaments (see Gen 49:3, Ex 23:16, Lev 2:12, Jer 2:3, Rom 8:23, 1 Cor 15:20, etc).

Here’s how Minear nicely summarizes the different nuances of the meaning of first fruits:

It recalls a pattern of Jewish thought in which the first produce, whether of grain, flocks, bread, or children, was specially given by God and therefore must be given back to him as a token of total indebtedness.  This conception had played a central role in national festivals and in temple liturgy.  In Christian imagination the picture fused together several basic conviction:

1) God’s lordship over all and his gift of all.
2) The Passover requirement of the sacrifice of the first-born.
3) Man’s dedication to God of all his ‘produce.’
4) The appearance and presentation of the first fruit as a pledge of the coming harvest.
5) The power of the first to represent all others in the series.
6) The power of the first to sanctify and to cleanse the whole series.

These assumptions permeate the following appearances of the idiom in the New Testament: Christ is the first fruits of the dead (1 Cor 15:20-23); the Spirit, which is at work within the Christian community, is the pledge and guarantee, the ‘down payment’ of the coming redemption, which is designed to reach the whole creation (Rom 8:23; cf. also ch 11:16); the first converts in a providence embody the promise and power of salvation for the whole province (Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:15); the Christian community as a whole is begotten in order to serve as the first fruits of all God’s people (James 1:18; cf also Rev 14:4).

Minear then notes how “first fruits” is a biblical way to think about Christ’s church: “It locates the historical present of the church as lying between what God has done and what he will surely do.  It suggests that God is now active in social history.  It identifies Jesus Christ as the agent through whom God’s hand is at work” (Minear then cites Eph 2.10, Rev 3:14, Col 1:16).

So the imagery of “first fruit” is found in the OT and ultimately fulfilled in Christ, the Spirit’s work, the church, and God’s mission to the world!

Paul Minear, Images of the Church in the New Testament, p 112-113.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Morbus Sabbaticus (Sunday Sickness)

Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations From time to time I read and utilize sermon illustration books.  Some of the time the illustrations aren’t good or helpful.  Sometimes they are helpful.  Other times they just make me think.  Here’s one that stuck out this morning in my studies:

“Morbus Sabbaticus,” better known as “Sunday sickness,” is a disease peculiar to some church members. The symptoms vary, but these are generally observed:

1. It never lasts more than twenty-four hours.
2. It never interferes with the appetite.
3. It never affects the eyes. The Sunday newspapers can be read with no pain. Television seems to help the eyes.
4. No physician is ever called.
5. After a few “attacks,” at weekly intervals, it may become chronic … even terminal.

No symptoms are usually felt on Saturday. The patient sleeps well and wakes feeling well. He eats a hearty Sunday breakfast, then the attack comes until services are over for the morning. The patient feels better and eats a solid dinner.  After dinner, he takes a nap, then watches one or two football games on TV. He may take a walk before supper, and stop and chat with neighbors. If there are church services scheduled for Sunday evening, he will have another short attack. Invariably, he wakes up Monday morning and rushes off to work feeling refreshed. The symptoms may not recur until the following Sunday, unless another service is scheduled at the church during the week.

This illustration is based on a true story – or true stories!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Church: Organism and Institution (Bavinck)

The church of Christ has always had leaders and a teaching ministry (cf. Eph. 4.11, Titus 1:5, Heb. 13:17, etc.).  It’s not wrong to think of the church as an institution; the church does have a structure.  But the church also is the body of Christ, a living community that is called to love and serve.  So we can also think of the church as an organism.  Herman Bavinck explained this in a balanced way:

Government is indispensable for the church as a gathering of believers. Just as a temple calls for an architect, a field a sower, a vineyard a keeper, a net a fisherman, a flock a shepherd, a body a head, a family a father, a kingdom a king, so also the church is unthinkable without an authority that sustains, guides, cares for, and protects it.

Bavinck then explained the role of Christ in governing his church.  He goes on:

…The church is not conceivable without a government.  Granted, Christ could have exercised his office without any service from humans. If it had so pleased him, he could have dispensed his spiritual and heavenly blessings without the help of institutions and persons. But this was not his pleasure; it was his pleasure, without in any way transferring his sovereignty to people, to nevertheless use their services in the exercise of his sovereignty and to preach the gospel through them to all creatures. And also in that sense the church was never without a government. It was always organized and institutionally arranged in some fashion.

As the gathering of believers, the church is itself used by Christ as an instrument to bring others to his fold. By it Christ administers his mediatorial office in the midst of the world. Thus, from the very beginning, the church appears on the scene in a dual form. It is a gathering of the people of God in a passive as well as an active sense; it is simultaneously a gathered community and the mother of believers or, in other words, an organism and an institution.

Herman Bavinck, ed. John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 330.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Church, the Israel of God (Minear)

I recently picked up an older book that gives a detailed summary of the different New Testament images for the church.  It’s by Paul Minear and is called Images of the Church in the New Testament (1960).  I’m not finished with it, but so far it has been pretty interesting and helpful.  Below is a helpful excerpt of a section where Minear summarizes the political and national analogies of the church found in the NT.  One is “Israel”:

This designation [Israel] was given most directly in a letter of Paul to the churches of Galatia.  These churches were composed largely of Gentiles who had been suffering from the inroads of the Judaizers.  Yet Paul closed his sharpest polemic against the Judaizers by the surprising benediction: ‘Peace and mercy be upon…the Israel of God.’  Those waging bitter battles against the Jews were thus reminded that they themselves were God’s Israel.  This Israel included all who walked according to the rule that circumcision ‘counts for nothing’ (Gal. 6:15-16).  Even though two groups were thus contesting the name, Paul did not fall back upon a concept of two Israels, the old and the new, or the false and the true.  He defined God’s Israel as one people, as measured qualitatively by God’s mercy in the cross of Christ

This same qualification appears in other writings that speak variously of the church as the commonwealth of Israel (Eph. 2:12), as the house of Israel (Heb. 8:8-10); 11:25), as the sons of Israel (Rev. 2:14), or simply as my people Israel.  It is in relation to this people that the mission of the Messiah is understood.  He is sent to Israel (Matt. 15:24), as its shepherd, ruler, and judge, to bring repentance and forgiveness (Acts 5:31).  His advent is designed for Israel’s glory (Luke 2:32), and for the rising and falling of many in Israel (v. 34).  Though many in Israel do fall, nowhere in the New Testament is it conceded that God had rejected or could reject ‘his people whom he foreknew’ (Rom. 11:2).

In its liturgy and life the church knows itself to be addressed by the familiar words: ‘Hear O Israel’ (Mk 12:29).  Its God is none other than the God of Israel, and the fulfillment of all his purposes is shaped by the terms of his steadfast love for Israel.  To be sure, some Christian writers appealed to the fact that a new covenant had been promised by the old, but they continued to insist that this new covenant was one that God established with the house of Israel (Heb. 8:8-13).

So strong is this sense of solidarity that one must conclude that the continuity between the two Testaments is grounded in the fact that both tell the story of how the same God fulfills his covenant promises to the same people.  It is significant that no change of name was considered necessary to make room for the new community.  The Israel to whom the gospel comes and through whom the mission to the world is accomplished is the same Israel to whom the promise had been given.

Paul Minear, Images of the Church in the New Testament (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), 72.

Shane Lems