Monday, January 08, 2007

Jesus Christ: The Theme of Pastoral Ministry

I am very grateful for the week I spent in Owensboro, Kentucky teaching at the Midwest Center for Theological Studies. Dean Sam Waldron and his assistant, Richard Barcellos, as well as the pastors and members of Heritage Baptist Church (who house the center) were very hospitable. The students were very encouraging and attentive and hung in there very well for the grueling schedule which is inevitably almost a test of endurance.

One of my firm convictions is that pastoral ministry must be centered on the gospel. All preaching, ministering and living must be founded on and flow out of what God has given us and done for us in Jesus Christ. Sometimes I am asked why we don't advertise our church as a "Reformed" Baptist church and why, even though we are affiliated with the SBC, we don't make a bigger deal of that. I always give the same answer. I really have no desire for Grace Baptist Church to be known as as "Southern Baptist" or "Reformed." Rather, I would love for us to be known as "Christ-saturated." My desire for my own life and for the lives of the people who constitute the family of Grace is that we would genuinely be permeated in every dimension of our thinking and living with the grace of God in Jesus Christ. I think I see this the Scriptures and I want to press forward to experience it more and more.

What this means for me is this: the doctrines of grace are not ultimate, Christ is. Calvinism is not the pinnacle, Christ is. The SBC is not most important, Christ is. I realize that I am not saying anything that others would deny, but I feel compelled to say and remind myself of these things regularly. So much of my identity, whether I like it or not, is bound up with my commitment to "that exalted system of Pauline theology" that is known as Calvinism. But I am a Calvinist precisely because I am committed to the supremacy and centrality of Jesus Christ in all of life.

I tried to make this point in the lectures last week on pastoral theology. In doing so I read to the class the following quote from Charles Spurgeon. He precisely expresses the sentiments of my own heart on this matter. The quote comes from his sermon, "Christ Lifted Up." It is found in volume 3 (p. 260) of the New Park Street Pulpit.
Again, the theme of a minister should be Christ Jesus in opposition to mere doctrine. Some of my good brethren are always preaching doctrine. Well, they are right in so doing, but I would not care myself to have as the characteristic of my preaching, doctrine only. I would rather have it said, "He dwelt much upon the person of Christ, and seemed best pleased when he began to tell about the atonement and the sacrifice. He was not ashamed of the doctrines, he was not afraid of threatening, but he seemed as if he preached the threatening with tears in his eyes, and the doctrine solemnly as God's own word; but when he preached of Jesus his tongue was loosed, and his heart was at liberty." Brethren, there are some men who preach the doctrine only, who are an injury, I believe, to God's church rather than a benefit. I know of men who have set themselves up as umpires over all spirits. They are the men. Wisdom will die with them. If they were once taken away the great standard of truth would be removed. We do not wonder that they hate the Pope, two of a trade never agree, for they are far more popish than he, they being themselves infallible. I am afraid that very much of the soundness of this age, is but a mere sound, and is not real; does not enter into the core of the heart, nor affect the being. Brethren, we should rather preach Christ than election. We love election, we love predestination, we love the great doctrines of God's word, but we had rather preach Christ than preach these. We desire to put Christ over the head of the doctrine, we make the doctrine the throne for Christ to sit on, but we dare not put Christ at the bottom, and then press him down, and overload him with the doctrines of his own word.

17 comments:

Pastor Steve said...

A word aptly spoken. Thanks, Tom

peter lumpkins said...

Dr. Ascol,

I'm very glad you had a tremendous time with the students. You surely possess a gift and obvious passion to instruct young "Timothys" in the faith. By the way, what was the average age of the guys enrolled? I'm curious.

More importantly, Dr. Ascol, I could not agree more that our focus should definitively be upon Christ alone when our effectiveness/"success" as a Body of Christ is viewed. It really should be Kingdom focus and His glory and honor above anything or "label" we could manufacture.

Saying that, however, does not prohibit me from wondering if such a committment ought necessarily to gut our appreciation for our rich heritage as Southern Baptists. If I read the Founders--meaning the Founders' community, including yourself, Dr. Ascol--correctly, that stands as a worthy passion you all seek: to embrace our SBC theological heritage--Calvinist heritage--as normative for us now.

I say that, Dr. Ascol, to ask a question--indeed a very serious one that, at least for me, near makes my bottom jaw drag the floor.

Recently, a young Baptist leader on another thread (not on Founders and, to my knowledge, I'm unsure whether Calvinist or nonCalvinist, he is) posted this to me in a discussion on Baptist polity:

"Peter,

If Baptists were to disappear, never to be seen again...what of it? Would the kingdom disappear? As long as Baptists disappear becuase the Church of God, committed to the innerancy of scripture and reaching the lost, eclipsed them, I am fine with that. more than fine, I pray for it. There won't be an SBC in heaven. Like all other temporary things, it will pass away. At God's pleasure and will, of course, and with His timing...hmmm...yeah. I am definitely fine with that."

Here is my question, Dr. Ascol: Does the passion you rightly displayed, and with which I could happily offer the 'Amen', about "[possessing] no desire for Grace Baptist Church to be known as as "Southern Baptist" or "Reformed." Rather, I would love for us to be known as "Christ-saturated." give credence to the above comment our young Brother sincerely offered?

Peace today and faith for tomorrow. With that, I am...

Peter

Aaron L. Turner said...

Thank you brother for this post. How important it is for us to stay Christ centered, and yet how easy it is to get consumed with lessor things.

When I first became pastor at my church I had signed put up on either end of down advertizing our church as a "Reformed Southern Baptist Church" I must say that in retrospect, I regret that. I too desire our church to just be known as a Christ loving, Christ Exalting church.

I do, as I know you do as well, understand that theology is important in having that kind of church. As soon as we say any fact about Christ, we are into theology. But I desire that our theology be accurate, but fill ed with affection for Him.

None of this can happen apart from the ministry of His Spirit in us and in our midst.

scripturesearcher said...

Your week in Owensboro was good for the students you taught and for
you.

I daily thank our triune God for you and your important ministry.

Perry McCall said...

Great post! I look forward to your answer to Peter's question. I sure have missed your regular posts.

Ray Van Neste said...

Well put, Tom!

Tom said...

Peter:

Thanks for your comments. I am not certain about the average age of the men enrolled but I would guess it to be somewhere in the early 30s.

I understand the kingdom-centeredness of the brother's comment that you cited, but I would not agree with it. While I would rejoice over any group preaching Christ I would not rejoice over any errors that might attend their preaching of Christ. I am Baptist because of what I see in Scripture. However, I don't think we can allow our recognition that Christ can be preached by those who hold erroneous views in other areas relieve us of our commitment to see all the Scripture taught as accurately as possible. Baptists are in a great position to do that, I think, because of our corrective views of the church and baptism.

Also, I share your appreciation for our SBC theological heritage and think it is worth remembering and celebrating. I have no doubt that we would see this issue exactly the same--that the value of that heritage is its focus on the glory of God in the revelation of Jesus Christ. Personally, that is why I find the doctrines of grace so spiritually satisfying. They enable me to see and delight in Christ more clearly than ever I could before I grappled with the biblical texts that teach them.

Thanks again for your thoughts!

ta

Tom said...

Aaron:

I know what you mean. "Reformed and Southern Baptist" does communicate where we are theologically and denominationally, however.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could just put up a sign that said, "Christ-saturated and Spirit-filled" and have that make it so!

-ta

Tom said...

Charles:

Thanks for your ongoing encouragement! You are a true Barnabas!

G. Alford said...

Tom said:

“I am a Calvinist precisely because I am committed to the supremacy and centrality of Jesus Christ in all of life.”

Very well said Tom…

I would just like to add that because of this, because I am committed to the supremacy and centrality of Jesus Christ in all of life, I could no more give up preaching the Doctrines of Grace or Calvinism than I could give up Christ!

Many blessings Tom.

peter lumpkins said...

Dr. Ascol,

Thank you for taking the time to respond. I realize you've got lots of traffic and simply cannot respond to all.

The words you wrote, my Brother, express very nicely my own sentiments. We both have high regard for confessionalism, I think, but neither of us would allow that respect to blurr our committment to Scripture as our final court of appeal.

Similarly, from my perspective, I possess a high regard for Baptist heritage without allowing such regard the dubious position of blurring my allegiance to Kingdom thinking.

I can only hope our young Brother's position will, over time, mellow. Not to mention the stark tragedy if his view stands indicative of an ever increasing population of young Baptist leaders.

Grace, Dr. Ascol. With that, I am...

Peter

Grosey's Messages said...

Thank you Dr. Ascol... marvelous, marvelous quote... I think CHS said somewhere he is a Baptist because he believed it was the closest thing to what the scripture portrayed..
CHS said in that message quoted
"The only means of unity we shall
ever get will be all of us preaching Christ crucified; when that is done, when every minister’s heart is in the right place, full of anxiety for souls —
when every minister feels that, be he called bishop, presbyter, or preacher— all he wants to do is to glorify God and win souls to Jesus, then, my dear friends, we can maintain our denominational distinctions, but the great
bugbear of bigotry and division will have ceased and schism will no more be known.

And all this from a 21 year old man....
Steve

Jonathan said...

Pastor Tom,
Thanks for your ministry among us. We are all praising God for your time with us in Owensboro! Thanks also for your words of wisdom and "fatherly advice" to me. May Jesus Christ be praised!

Mark Redfern said...

Pastor Tom,

Thank you so much, again, for your ministry in Owensboro. It is humbling to sit at your feet.

Thanks for coming all the way from Florida to teach us - and more than that, to pour your life and the glory of Christ into us. Thank you for setting Christ before us continually as sum and substance of our message and our ministry. Our lives will never be the same.

Rich Barcellos said...

I agree with Mark! Thanks so much Dr. Ascol for your labors.

Tom said...

Greg, I agree!

Peter, I am not at all surprised that you and I see these things similarly. I think we probably agree on many things in this vein.

Jonathan, Mark and Rich, the privilege was all mine! Thanks.

-ta

puritancovenanter said...

While I agree with the importance of keeping the main thing the main thing, I still believe it is important to reflect our distinctives. Let me explain why I think this is important.

I belonged to a Baptist Church for many years that had a Calvinistic Pastor who believed Unity was one of the most important issues. He wanted our church to be known because it was known by Jesus Christ. God's glory and doctrine was a very big focus. As important as doctrine was considered, it was to take a back seat to brotherly love. After all Jesus said that that is how they would know we were his followers. And let me mind you that it wasn't cheap love that was promoted at our church. It was a very balanced view of love.

After a few years the church numbered in the thousands. When I started attending it was around 250. So it grew rather significantly.

Our Sunday School classes started looking like mini churches in a big church. The Sunday School teachers where mostly Elders or very competent men who could teach. Our Church staff was Calvinistic for the most part but our Eldership was not necessarily inclined to hold to these views. This is true even from the beginning of the Church.

After a while personalities where becoming stronger in the Church structure and some of the Elders started teaching contrary to the Pulpit. In fact one of the Largest Sunday Schools took a topic that was rather disheartening. It's title was, "Why I am not a Calvinist."

This was tolerated in the name of seeking to love our Brothers and to show that even Calvinists and Arminians can get along in Christ. Attendees would go to Sunday School and hear this kind of anti-calvinsitic teaching and then go to a Service where God's grace and Soveriegn glorious love was proclaimed. It was confusing for some and divisive for others.

This Church was weakened in my estimation and it is a picture of what has happened to the Southern Baptist Convention.

I am not pleading for a separation from working with our semi-pelagian brethren. In fact I take Romans 12:3 and on very serious. But I believe much unity is sacrificed in the name of unity when we don't hold forth our distinctions.

I believe we are losing sight of 1 Timothy 4:16 when we don't want to proclaim the truths of Scripture in Christ.

"Give attention to yourself and to the doctrine; continue in them, for doing this, you will both deliver yourself and those hearing you."

It can also be very confusing for members and others when we don't hold forth the truths we hold to. It can also cause the local assembly to be weakened and divided.

I hold no condemnation for semi-pleagians as some Calvinists do. In fact many of my best friends are very arminian. I just plea for our fellowship to be Christ and for our local assemblies to recognized each other. I also plea for more soundness and distinction to be made also because sometimes the distinctions are very unifying and Christ exalting.

I am first a Christian. But so are many others. And there are yet others who name his name who are not of him. Secondly I am a Reformed Baptist because I see that the 1689 most clearly distinguishes the Person and Work of Christ and His local body as I see scripture proclaiming. And it is a good safe guard because it is based upon the Scriptures. It is a good unifying document which seeks to see God Glorified and therefore glorifying and exalting Jesus.

I am not accusing anyone of being ashamed of being a Reformed Baptist but I think it is important that we understand why we are and not to hide it under the pretense of seeking a Higher Glory.

Just my honest opinion.

Thanks for giving me your ear.

Aint Rich Barcellos Cool Tom.... I think he is.

Your admiring brother,
Randy Martin Snyder