Thursday, June 27, 2013

18 Properties of a Humble Soul

Thomas Brooks was born in 1608, educated for a time at Emmanuel's College, Cambridge, and ordained to preach in 1640. He spent some time as a chaplain to the Parliamentary fleet, serving onboard several different vessels. He eventually became the minister of several different congregations in London. Like Thomas Goodwin and John Owen, Brooks held a congregational view of church government. In 1662, as a result of the Act of Uniformity and its mandated use of the Book of Common Prayer, Brooks was forced to give up his ministerial position. He went on preaching in London, and eventually became a minister at Moorfields. Under the Declaration of Indulgence Brooks was briefly licensed again to preach, however that was short lived and the license was revoked four years later. Brooks died in 1680 and was buried in London's famous non-conformist cemetery, Bunhill Fields.[1]

One of Brooks’ many contributions is a treatise titled, The Unsearchable Riches of Christ. In this work Brooks is expounding on Ephesians 3:8: “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ!” One particularly soul-nourishing section lists ‘18 properties of a humble soul.’ I found these to be very instructive to me, so I have listed them below along with some notable quotes.

1. A humble soul under the highest spiritual discoveries, and under the greatest outward mercies, forgets not his former sinfulness and his former outward baseness.
“Now proud men who are lifted up from the ash-heap, who abound in worldly wealth, ah how does their blood rise with their outward good! The more mercies they have, the more proud they are; mercies do but puff and swell such souls.”
2. He overlooks his own righteousness, and lives upon the righteousness of another, to wit, the Lord Jesus.
“Remember this—all the sighing, mourning, sobbing, and complaining in the world, does not so undeniably evidence a man to be humble, as his overlooking his own righteousness, and living really and purely upon the righteousness of Christ. Men may do much, hear much, pray much, fast much, and give much, etc., and yet be as proud as Lucifer…”
3. The lowest and the most despicable good work, is not below a humble soul.

4. A humble heart will submit to every TRUTH of God which is made known to it; even to those divine truths which are most contrary to flesh and blood.
“There are three things in a humble soul, which do strongly incline it to duty. The first is divine love. The second is divine presence. The third is divine glory.”
5. A humble soul lives not upon himself, nor upon his own doings—but upon the Lord Jesus, and his doings.
“… As children live upon the hand of their parents; so a humble soul sees its stock of blessings are in the hand of the Lord Jesus…”
6. He judges himself to be deserving of the judgments of God.
“A humble soul blesses God as well for crosses as mercies, as well for adversity as for prosperity, as well for frowns as for smiles, etc., because he judges himself unworthy of the least rebukes from God.”
7. A humble soul does highly prize the least of Christ.
“The least smile, the least good word, the least good look, the least truth, the least mercy—is highly valued by a humble soul.”
8. It can never be good enough, it can never pray enough, nor hear enough, nor mourn enough, nor believe enough, nor love enough, nor fear enough, nor joy enough, nor repent enough, nor loathe sin enough, nor be humble enough, etc.
“… But proud hearts sit down and pride themselves, and bless themselves, as if they had attained to much, when they have attained to nothing which can raise them above the lowest step of misery.”
9. It will smite and strike at small sins as well as for great; for those things which the world counts no sin, as well as for those who they count gross sins.
“A proud heart counts great sins small, and small sins no sins—and so disarms conscience for a time of its whipping and wounding power; but at death, or in hell, conscience will take up an iron rod, with which it will lash the sinner forever; and then, though too late, the sinner shall acknowledge his little sins to be very great, and his great sins to be exceeding grievous and odious, etc.”
10. It will quietly bear burdens, and patiently take blows and knocks, and make no noise.
“A humble soul looks through secondary causes, and sees the hand of God—and then lays his own hand upon his mouth.”
11. In all religious duties and services, he trades with God upon the credit of Christ.

12. It endeavors more how to honor and glorify God in afflictions—than how to get out of afflictions.
“… A humble soul is willing to bear the cross as long as he can get strength from heaven to kiss the cross, to bless God for the cross, and to glorify God under the cross…”
13. It seeks not, it looks not, after great things.
“A little will satisfy nature, less will satisfy grace; but nothing will satisfy a proud man's lusts… A proud soul is content with nothing."
14. It can rejoice in the graces and gracious actings of others, as well as in its own.
“Pride is renowned both at subtraction and at multiplication. A proud heart always prizes himself above the market; he reckons his own pence for pounds, and others' pounds for pence; he looks upon his own counters as gold, and upon others' gold as counters. All pearls are counterfeit but those which he wears.”
15. He will rather bear wrongs—than revenge wrongs offered.

16. A humble soul, though he be of ever so rare abilities—yet he will not disdain to be taught what he knows not, by the lowest people.

17. A humble soul will bless God, and be thankful to God, as well under misery as under mercy; as well when God frowns as when he smiles; as well when God takes as when he gives; as well under crosses and losses, as under blessings and mercies.
“A humble soul can extract one contrary out of another, honey out of the rock, gold out of iron, etc. Afflictions to humble souls are the Lord's plough, the Lord's harrow, the Lord's flail, the Lord's drawing-plaster, the Lord's pruning knife, the Lord's potion, the Lord's soap; and therefore they can sit down and bless the Lord, and kiss the rod.”
18. A humble soul will wisely and patiently bear reproof.

Jon English Lee


[1] For more of Brooks’ biography see: Beeke and Pederson’s Meet the Puritans

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

“Heal thyself physician:” The difficult duty of sitting under your own preaching

I have been a pastor for little more than two years now, which means I am still a rookie, and one reality I still cannot reconcile is the notion of preaching to other people the myriad texts (all of them, so far) I find exceedingly difficult to obey myself. I preach about slaying the deadly viper of pride, but I am proud of the way I exposited and communicated the text. I tell my people that they should pray without ceasing and yet my prayer life is too often as inconsistent as summer rainfall in Central Alabama. I preach about seeking God’s grace to lower the thermostat on our tempers and then bawl out my children in the car on the way home. You get my drift.

This past Sunday presented a prime example of the tension that grips me when preaching God’s Word, a tension that always morphs into a full-blown fear that each week behind the sacred desk I am a trafficker of unlived truth. The text was Matthew 5:9 from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Great verse. Great opportunity to talk about selflessness in relating to others, displaying both love to God and love to neighbor and the like.

One of my application points was as follows: “When we are in conflict with others, we must talk less and listen more. We must learn to turn the other cheek in the way we respond verbally to others.” Ouch. I get paid to talk. And in conflict with others, I struggle mightily to be like my Lord and turn the other cheek. I recently watched the Jackie Robinson movie, 42, and prayed that God would make me like that great man in the area of self-control. On the way home Sunday I kept thinking, “I just preached on peacemaking and my own pastor (that would be me) falls miserably short of God’s glory in this area. How are God’s undershepherds to come to grips with this daunting reality? How do we reconcile the all-too obvious truth that we are sinners preaching to sinners? How do we get our congregations over the notion that we are not popes, we are not monastics who descend from the cloister each week where we’ve been holed up, busy dodging the world, the flesh and the devil? Sin even dwells in monasteries because sinners live there. But many of the people to whom we are called to minister don’t really believe this about us, and when we sin, and we will, some of them write us off as phonies or Pharisees. In the early months of ministry in which I presently serve, a man told me I wasn’t qualified to be a pastor because I sinned. He seemed a bit stunned when I admitted that, though I believed his case for ministerial perfectionism unbiblical, I acutely felt the tension of a my standing as a saved-by-grace-sinner calling other sinners to walk God’s inspired line.

Veteran pastor and counselor Paul Tripp, in his excellent new book Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, has ridden to my rescue by reminding me once again that I am, in the words of the great Puritan Richard Baxter, a dying man who is called to preach to dying men. I must sit under my own preaching and teaching. My weekly preparation must always be devotional and, if I am to survive this sanctifying meat-grinder known as the pastoral ministry, it must never become clinical.  Tripp writes:
“Pastors, we’re all still a bit of a mess. We’re all at times very poor examples of the truths we teach. We all have the dark ability to expound a passage that lauds God’s grace and yet be a husband or father of ungrace in the car on the way home…You and I can define biblical humility but be proud of what we know and what we’ve accomplished…We are all capable of being self-righteous, proud, judgmental, controlling, easily angered, bitter, and demanding. We sometimes act as if we’re entitled to our blessings. We often forget how much we need everything we teach…We give evidence every day that we are people in the middle of our own sanctification, that we still need the moment-by-moment rescue of grace.”
As pastors, we differ from garden-variety pew-sitters only in this fact: we have the unique privilege—and profound advantage— of being called to study in significant depth God’s chosen sin-killing, heart-renewing, image-restoring agent: the Bible. Yes, we are our own pastors and we must listen to our preaching each week, which is to say, we must do far more than “handle” God’s Word: it must handle us as well. Thus, we must ask difficult questions about canceled sin that still clings to our hearts like barnacles on an old shrimp boat. We must ask God to use His Word to expose our besetting sins and hidden weaknesses so that we become more and more like Christ.

And we must remind our people that, despite popular misconceptions about the perfections inherent in God’s ministers, we are mere clay pots, Wal-Mart crockery, weak men who are in the midst of their own sanctification—just like the hearers of the very sermons we preach. We stand in desperate need of wave upon wave of grace to wash upon the shores of our lives every moment and we must not hide that from our people. But best of all, I do not have to be paralyzed by the expectation of perfection—whether it arises from my mind or the congregation’s— because Jesus was perfect for me. I am not worthy to be a minister, but Christ was worthy for me. I do not and will not measure up, but Jesus perfectly measured up for me. The Gospel is true for God’s people in the pew and it is true for me, His minister, as well.  Tripp writes: 
“We must ask ourselves what the particular passage we’ve been studying reveals about our own hearts. Where does this portion of God’s Word call us to confession and repentance? What does it reveal about God’s character and plan that should reignite our way of living? How should we apply its perspectives, principles, and commands to our daily lives? As we prepare, we need to give our hearts time to grieve our condition and celebrate the gospel. We need to take the time to pray words of confession and commit to concrete steps of repentance. We all need to take advantage of the huge blessing it is to be called by God to spend so much time in his freeing and transforming Word.”
May God grant His ministers grace to hear and heed their own preaching.

Jeff Robinson

Monday, June 24, 2013

Doing the Work of an Evangelist

Now I saw, upon a time, when he was walking in the fields, that he was (as he was wont) reading in his Book, and greatly distressed in his mind; and as he read, he burst out, as he had done before, crying, What shall I do to be saved?
I also saw that he looked this way, and that way, as if he would run; yet he stood still, because (as I perceived) he could not tell which way to go. I looked then, and saw a Man named Evangelist coming to him, and asked, Wherefore dost thou cry?
One of my favorite books of all time is John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. It is rich with biblical insights on living the Christian life. The book tells the story of man (Christian) who is clothed in rags who begins reading a Book (the Word of God) and is awakened to the realities of sin and judgment. As his distress and conviction grow, they are represented by a great burden that weighs heavy on his back. He realizes the fearful consequences of sin and knows that he, his family and his city will be condemned unless "some way of escape can be found, whereby we may be delivered."

After many days of suffering, distress and prayer Christian is seen walking in the fields, reading his Book (his Bible). He is alone and cries out asking the most important question a man can ask: "What shall I do to be saved?" Romans 10:14 describes Christian's dilemma in this way: "How shall they hear without a preacher?"

As Christian ponders what to do next, we are introduced to a new character in the allegory, a man named Evangelist. God, in His kindness, does not leave Christian to himself, but sends His minister to explain and point the way, as He did when He sent Phillip to teach the Ethiopian in Acts 8:26.

Evangelist is an important means of God's grace in helping Christian in his journey. He is the King's servant, laboring for the sake of the kingdom. When he sees Christian, he is out in the fields, where a laborer expecting a harvest should be. He has compassion for the lost and is alert to Christian's distress and need. Often in the story he comes to Christian with encouragement, rebuke, instruction, and correction. But who is this Evangelist? In Bunyan's own pilgrimage it was the faithful pastor of a group of believers in Bedford, John Gifford. According to Bunyan's testimony in Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, it was Gifford who "took occasion to talk with me, ...invited me into his house, where I should hear him confer with others, about the dealings of God with the soul..." [par. 77]

Ministers of the gospel are a gift of God. We can rejoice that God gives His church faithful men, like John Gifford. But pastors are not the only ones who are sent out to point the way to Jesus. We read in Ephesians 4:11-12:
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
Pastors are to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the church. Paul's exhortation to Timothy is "Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2). While this command is especially weighty on pastors and teachers, all believers have a ministry "teaching and admonishing one another" (Colossians 3:16). All believers have a mission to tell others to follow Jesus (Matthew 28:19). And we are all to be ready to share the reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15).

We live in a day when we too often rush by others, hurrying through the fields when we should be laboring. Pray that God will be at work, awakening the hearts of sinners to their need of grace, and stirring His people to go as laborers into the harvest (Matthew 9:37). Pray that He will make you sensitive to the needs of others around you who are burdened and distressed. And pray, that in His providence, you might find opportunity and rich blessing in pointing pilgrims to the Lord Jesus Christ.

From A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress / 2. Met by Evangelist

—Ken Puls

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Following Jesus' Training Model

Jesus “was his own school and curriculum” when it came to his training model, observed Robert Coleman.  Despite lacking knowledge of a specific curriculum that Jesus used in training his disciples, contemporary pastoral mentors can certainly utilize the broad areas in which Jesus implemented training for their own mentoring ministries. In previous posts we looked at the local church as the training ground for ministry and how Jesus majored on building relationships with those he trained. In this post we will look at three areas of priority in Jesus’ training model that serves as a model for pastoral mentors: relationships, proclamation, and focus.

First, since Christian ministry is relational, Jesus trained his disciples in relationships. He brought them into a circle of relationships in which they would face the challenge of applying the love, service, forgiveness, gentleness, encouragement, et al. that they saw and heard from him. Here the local church setting proves comparable to the close community in which Jesus trained his disciples. Jesus folded the intimacy of the family structure into the community that walked with him. He brought together diverse backgrounds and cultures into one congregation. His followers did not attend a meeting but rather they engaged their lives with one another in community. Friendships crystallized with the Twelve and the Seventy as Jesus sent them out by pairs for ministry. Not that tensions never surfaced! Relationships bring fallen beings into close enough proximity for disagreements to multiply and pride to irritate. Yet that is just the point in this setting as one of the best platforms to validate the power of the gospel. In the local church mentoring setting, mentees learn the consciousness of being God’s fellow workers who engage in teamwork for pastoral and missionary work.

Second, since mission involves the message of the gospel, Jesus trained his mentees in proclamation. As Paul later wrote, “And how will they hear without a preacher? . . . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom 10:14, 17). Both preaching and teaching in Jesus’ ministry ultimately pointed to his death and resurrection, a model that shaped Peter’s sermons as his mentee (e.g. Acts 2:14–42; 3:11–26; 10:34–43; etc.). This proclamation has its basis in Scripture, modeled by Jesus’ discussion with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–50). Local church mentors face the challenge of training their mentees to be heralds and teachers who rely upon the gospel message to transform those to whom they minister. When Jesus sent out the Twelve and the Seventy he actually entrusted them with the ministry of proclamation despite their apparent weaknesses and immaturities. He had modeled and taught them but only by releasing them to teach and preach would the training reach its goal. Pastoral mentors may hesitate to turn a mentee loose in a preaching opportunity. Yet by actually doing proclamation and receiving the mentor’s wise critique, as Jesus did with his own (Luke 9:10), a mentee learns to faithfully proclaim the good news.

Third, Jesus kept his disciples on focus for their mission. Distraction seems to come easily for those in ministry. Jesus used care, however, to make sure that the relationship between him and his disciples did not drift into a “lecturer-student connection,” and thus lose sight of their kingdom-focus. He modeled the outward (missional) kingdom-focus by his ministry to tax collectors, Gentiles, and sinners of all stripes (Luke 14:1–24; 15:1–32; 19:1–10). Jesus’ person-oriented rather than task- oriented mentorship offers the appropriate model for mentors to embrace in keeping focus with those they train. Incrementally, Jesus led his disciples in shattering the barriers that could easily have halted their focus on outward mission. He did not expect more of his mentees than he had prepared them to deliver. After training and modeling this focus in mission, Jesus left his followers with the certainty that they would take the gospel across every conceivable barrier erected by the prejudices of men (Acts 1:8). This same incremental, layering approach that Jesus used in training for mission remains the model for pastoral mentors as they build a kingdom-mission focus in their trainees.

The idea of mentoring young people for ministry might appear too daunting to even start, yet the simplicity in the model of Jesus encourages potential pastoral mentors to embrace the challenge of training the next generation for ministry. Like Jesus, stick to the simple training model that he displayed by giving priority to relationships, proclamation, and focus.

Phil A. Newton

Monday, June 17, 2013

New e-book from Founders Press

In 1996 Founders Press began with the publication of my little booklet, From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist Convention: What Hath Geneva to Do with Nashville? I wrote it in part to respond to the widely-held assumption (and often-repeated refrain) that "Southern Baptists have never been Calvinists." Founders had been making that case for years but I thought it might be helpful to have an accessible, documented overview of it.

Though today that assumption is hardly ever heard in reasonable historical and theological discussions about the SBC, there is still a need a concise statement of the doctrinal background of the SBC. Several years ago the late Roger Nicole encouraged Founders to reprint it even sending an unsolicited "Introduction" that he urged us to use. Due to other pressing concerns, this project kept being put on the back burner.

Today I am pleased to announce that the electronic version of a new edition of From the PR to the SBC has been released. A print copy is scheduled to be released by the end of the summer. In the new addition copies of the Charleston Confession of Faith and Summary of Church Discipline are included as appendices.

For more information, commendations and download instructions, go here.

Tom Ascol

Why We Should Preach Christ in Every Sermon

My last post asked: “Should we preach Christ in every sermon?” I answered: “Yes.” The thoughtful comments have spurred me to now post: “Why we should preach Christ in every sermon?”

There are two thoughts I would offer in answer to this: (1) Biblical Hermeneutics, and (2) Biblical Example.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Christ-centered expositor
1. Biblical hermeneutics requires us to preach Christ in every sermon. The historical rise of literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutics in the history of interpretation has been a very good thing. There is general agreement among evangelical teachers that the Bible should be taken literally (unless it uses metaphor, typology, allegory, parable, etc.), grammatically (using the original languages for exegesis), and historically (dealing with the historical context of the text). As part of this method, we also include the idea of “Scripture interpreting Scripture.” This is the foundation of exegeting a text and then expositing it in the sermon. This method is intended to prevent eisegesis in a text in order to be faithful to God’s specific Word. Sometimes, this method is used to justify not preaching Christ in every sermon if He is not mentioned specifically in the text, especially when expounding an OT text.

However, grammatical-historical exegesis is not the complete hermeneutical method used by Reformed interpreters. Reformed hermeneutics espouses grammatical-historical-theological exegesis. The addition of theological exegesis for each text is sometimes called “the analogy of faith.” It means that the exegesis of each text must look at the full theological context in which it resides; i. e., the place in biblical history, the covenant context in which it resides, and its relationship to the overall theology of the Scripture. This means that the overall theology of Scripture, which is Christ-centered, must be included in the full exegesis of the text. This is not eisegesis. It is theological exegesis.

Let me add that this theological element in hermeneutics is not quite the same as “Scripture interpreting Scripture.” An exegete may use cross-reference or word-studies of a text, comparing Scripture with Scripture and still miss the overall theology of Scripture in the exegesis. The analogy of faith takes the whole counsel of God into account, the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints, when interpreting the text. For instance, when preaching on an OT text, one may use the literal-grammatical-historical method, including Scripture interpreting Scripture in cross-references and word-studies, expounding the text faithfully in its original meaning in the OT. However, our Lord explained that He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. To explain the OT text and to expound its original contextual meaning without taking into account how our Lord fulfilled it in His person and work ignores the full theological interpretation of the text. So, one may expound accurately the OT text and its meaning in context without its full theological meaning in light of the completion of all revelation according to the analogy of faith.

To preach Christ in every sermon is more than just preaching a text in its literal-grammatical-historical meaning then going off into an unconnected explanation of the gospel. Rather, it is to expound how that text is connected to and fulfilled theologically in Jesus Christ, the theological center of God’s revelation to man. This method does not demean the OT as less inspired or not as important as the NT. Such caveats are not helpful or accurate. Rather, it recognizes that every OT text reaches its full meaning as contributing the revelation of Jesus Christ in all the Scriptures.

One more thing about the theological method of interpretation. It recognizes that all men are born condemned under law in the fall of Adam and that from Gen. 3:15 on, the rest of Scripture reveals the coming of Christ under grace. This is the old Law and Gospel theology that was central to the Reformation’s rediscovery of the gospel. All Scripture must be interpreted in light of the Law and the Gospel theology which reveals Jesus Christ to man. This enables the expositor to preach the gospel in every sermon legitimately without eisegesis. Charles Bridges, in The Christian Ministry, said:
The mark of a minister “approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed,” is, that he “rightly divides the word of truth.” This implies a full and direct application of the Gospel to the mass of his unconverted hearers, combined with a body of spiritual instruction to the several classes of Christians. His system will be marked by Scriptural symmetry and comprehensiveness. It will embrace the whole revelation of God, in in its doctrinal instructions, experimental privileges, and practical results. This revelation is divided into two parts--the Law and the Gospel--essentially distinct from each other, though so intimately connected, that an accurate knowledge of neither can be obtained with the other (222).
2. Biblical example requires us to preach Christ in every sermon. We now live under the New Covenant of Jesus Christ, the completed revelation of God to man. We have been given the full revelation of God in the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints. Our example of preaching and teaching is now displayed in how Christ and His Apostles preached and taught. His teaching of Himself, each sermon in Acts to unbelievers, and each Epistle to believers is fully Christ-centered. Even if we take a text from Christ or the Apostles' writings which do not explicitly mention the Lord Jesus Christ, they must be explained in light of their whole teaching in the context of His message and the whole Epistle’s message. These are our examples of biblical preaching under the New Covenant.

For modern-day examples of such preaching, you only have to look at the greatest preacher of the 19th century, Charles Spurgeon, and the greatest preacher of the 20th century, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. They both followed the grammatical-historical-theological method of hermeneutics to preach Christ in all the Scriptures.

Fred A. Malone

Thursday, June 13, 2013

An Unhealthy Craving for Controversy

The Calvinism Advisory Committee sought to deal with an issue that Baptists have not always negotiated well. Their report was clear and stated both positions fairly. Participants have strong convictions and neither of the parties view the document as an agreement to surrender their convictions or eliminate any right to continue dialogue. The future will help sort out the breadth and nature of the doctrinal agreements as well as how maturely we can continue to hold and present strong convictions without censors being applied. While we must obey Paul’s admonition not to cherish an “unhealthy craving for controversy,” (1 Timothy 6:4) and must “not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone,” (2 Timothy 2:24), so must the steward of God’s truth not forsake the admonition of “correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:25). Finding the right relation of these tasks, and the particular points upon which we are required of God to be in the calling of correction calls for strong graces of candor and benevolence.

This is not the first generation of Baptists to have controversy over Calvinism (or could it just as easily be called a controversy over non-Calvinism?). The modern begetters of Baptists of the seventeenth century in England nurtured their children in the throes of controversy over these important issues. As in our day, one of the areas of disagreement was over original sin. John Smyth, the proto-, and then erstwhile-, General Baptist concluded, “That there is no original sin . . . but all sin is actual and voluntary, viz., a word a deed, or a design against the law of God; and therefore, infants are without sin.” Thomas Helwys, Smyth’s loyal friend, but independent minded thinker, did not quite follow Smyth at this point but believed that through Adam’s disobedience, “all men sinned,” and “death went over all men,” so that they are “borne in iniquitie and in sin conceived” and have “all disposition unto evil,” but nevertheless, when God offers grace, “Man may receive grace, or may reject grace.” So though they disagreed on the immediate effects of sin on Adam’s posterity, both Smyth and Helwys affirmed that grace was needed for the recovery of fallen man; this grace, however, was the proffer of salvation which could be either received or could be resisted. As Smyth confessed, prevenient grace when received would enable the sinner to repent and attain to eternal life, but, “on the other hand, they are able themselves to resist the Holy Spirit, to depart from God, and to perish for ever.”

Conversely, the first Particular Baptist confession stated, that after fall of Adam, “death came upon all, and reigned over all, so that all since the Fall are conceived in sinne, and brought forth in iniquitie, and so by nature children of wrath, and servants of sinne, subjects of death, and all other calamities due to sinne in this world and for ever.” This condition of sin makes necessary, not an optional grace, but an effectual grace. They reasoned, based on a number of biblical texts, that “faith is ordinarily begot by the preaching of the Gospel, or word of Christ, without respect to any power or capacitie in the creature, but it is wholly passive, being dead in sinnes and trespasses, doth believe, and is converted by no lesse power, then that which raised Christ from the dead.” This state of being “passive” refers to the incapacity of one that is dead to effect his own resurrection, but by no means implies that such a call does not immediately produce bountiful and energetic spiritual life, focused with a high degree of devotion to the scriptural witness to God. “That Faith is the gift of God wrought in the hearts of the elect by the Spirit of God, whereby they come to see, know, and believe, the truth of the Scriptures, & not onely so, but the excellencie of them above all other writings and things in the world, as they hold forth the glory of God in his attributes, the excellency of Christ in his nature and offices, and the power of the fulnesse of the Spirit in its workings and operations; and thereupon are inabled to cast the weight of their soules upon this truth thus beleeved.”

On the subject of eternal decrees Smyth stated, “That God has created and redeemed the human race to his own image, and has ordained all men (no one being reprobated) to life.” Thomas Helwys dealt with predestination as God’s establishing of categories for salvation and damnation, not the selection of individuals for entry into either of the categories. “That God before the Foundation off the World hath Predestinated that all that beleeve in him shall be saved, . . . and al that beleeve not shalbee [sic] damned, . . . all which he knewe before.” Particular Baptists, while agreeing that the categories of belief and unbelief were parallel with the eventual assignment to eternal life or eternal retribution, took quite a different stance on God’s sovereign selection of the persons, clearly asserting that “God had in Christ before the foundation of the world, according to the good pleasure of his will, foreordained some men to eternall life through Jesus Christ, to the praise of glory of his grace, leaving the rest in their sinne to their just condemnation, to the praise of his Justice.”

On the atoning work of Christ, Smyth, concerned that a limited atonement made the proffer of the gospel a mere charade, wrote, “That the grace of God, through the finished redemption of Christ, was to be prepared and offered to all without distinction, and that not feignedly but in good faith.” Not only is the offering universal, but the preparation of grace by Christ’s death is universal. The Particular Baptists, three decades subsequent to the writing of Smyth’s confession, seemed to take note of Smyth’s explicit concern by affirming, “That Christ Jesus by his death did bring forth salvation and reconciliation onely for the elect, which were those which God the Father gave him; & that the Gospel which is to be preached to all men as the ground of faith, is, that Jesus is the Christ, the Sonne of the everblessed God filled with the perfection of all heavenly and spiritually excellencies, and that salvation is onely and alone to be had through the beleeving in his Name.” According to the Particular Baptists, the universal proclamation is true and sincere for that which is preached is the sufficiency of Christ and the conditions of union with him in his saving work. These are true for all people and may be set forth, to use the words of Smyth’s concern, “and that not feignedly, but in good faith.” The effect of both these views was universal gospel proclamation, an idea to be visited on another day.

Concerning whether a saved person, subsequent to his saving belief in Christ, may even then, by exercise of will for evil or error fall away from his saving union with Christ, Helwys saw such an event as a real possibility. A person may indeed escape the filthiness of the world in a saving way but again be overcome. One that is righteous in a saving way may forsake his righteousness. “And therefore let no man presume, “ Helwys warned, “to thinke that because he hath, or had once grace, therefore he shall always have grace: But let all men have assurance, that iff they continew unto the end, they shalbee saved: Let no man then presume; but let all worke out their salvacion with feare and trembling.” The Particular Baptists certainly would agree that persevering to the end is a definite mark of salvation, but they were assured that God operated effectually for the “preservation and salvation of the elect.” For that reason, “those that have this pretious faith wrought in them by the Spirit, can never finally not totally fall away; and though many storms and floods do arise and beat against them, yet they shall never be able to take them off that foundation and rock which by faith they are fastened upon, but shall be kept by the power of God to salvation, where they shall enjoy their purchased possession, they being formerly engraven upon the palms of Gods hands.”

John Spilsbury, a signer and perhaps the chief writer of the Particular Baptist Confession of 1644, would not have responded well to a suggestion that he should make every effort to get along with and find points of commonality with the non-Calvinist dissenters.

Seventhly, As for the absence of original sin, and power in the will to receive and refuse grace and salvation being generally offered by the Gospel, and Christs dying for all persons universally, to take away sinne that stood between them and salvation, and so laid down his life for a ransome for all without exception, and for such as have been one in Gods love, so as approved of by him in Christ for salvation, and in the covenant of grace, and for such to fall so as to be damned eternally, and all of the like nature, I doe believe is a doctrine from beneath, and not from above, and the teachers of it from Satan, and not from God, and to be rejected as such that oppose Christ and his Gospel.

It is precisely the effort of Southern Baptists to forge a framework for purifying the rhetoric on both sides and creating a larger understanding of the importance of our doctrinal common places that makes the present patience under tension an unusual, but worthy, experiment. Time will tell if it becomes a new era of doctrinal minimalism and, thus decline, or of increased compassion and true fraternity and eventually greater and more comprehensive unity.

Tom J. Nettles

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Is Unity in the Southern Baptist Convention Possible?

I think Southern Baptists can grow in our unity around the gospel of Christ for the sake of kingdom mission without pretending that our differences don't matter. The Calvinism Advisory Committee has already beautifully shown that we can talk to each other in a spirit of love and grace, recognizing our serious and substantial disagreements without minimizing them. There are a number of important theological and practical questions that we still need to discuss and debate with urgency and fervor.  And I believe it's possible to do that while remaining lovingly unified. Satan, however, will do everything in his power to keep that from happening.

In Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devicesone of the most important of the Puritan “diagnostic casebooks,” Thomas Brooks says that Satan plots to divide God's people “by working them first to be strange, and then to divide, and then to be bitter and jealous, and then to 'bite and devour one another' (Gal 5:15)” (198). First, Satan tempts us to see some sort of “strangeness” in other Christians, which creates feelings of separation and difference. Second, outward “division” develops, leading believers into opposing tribes and identities. Third, inward and unchecked “bitterness” leads to deep resentment of one another. Fourth, the bitterness grows until it finally results in biting and devouring one another.

Brooks offers no less than twelve “remedies” against Satan's divisive scheme, but I'll only touch on four of them.  If we want to be unified: 

1. We need to dwell on God's graces in fellow believers more than their sins, weaknesses, and doctrinal imperfections (198).

When we differ with brothers and sisters, there is often a temptation to dwell on our differences. If a brother's remaining sin offends us, Satan tempts us to dwell on the offense more than anything else. But we should discipline ourselves to think on the godly qualities of all our brothers and sisters in Christ.

That's what Paul tells us to do: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8).

We should be thinking about those things in other Christians. We need to dwell on the excellent qualities of Christ's beloved people. The Christlike qualities of our brothers and sisters are their true nature. The part of them that's holy is the redeemed part. One day, all of their sins and imperfections will be stripped away, and they will be like Jesus. So, shouldn't we dwell on the part of them that will last into eternity, even now?

That's what God does. Brooks says, “Tell me, saints, doesn't God look more upon His people's graces than upon their weaknesses” (199)?  Doesn't that give you comfort and joy? Knowing that God sets His eyes on the part of you that is already changed, however small that may be, is a reason to rejoice! On the basis of Christ's imputed righteousness, God delights in whatever Spirit-wrought holiness is present in one of His beloved children. Since God dwells on our graces, shouldn't we do the same when looking at other believers who are deeply flawed, just like we are?

2. We should remember and celebrate areas of doctrinal agreement (201).

Though we should never minimize or gloss-over areas of substantial and important difference (such as Calvinism), we can and must rejoice in the things on which we agree.

Southern Baptists have many significant differences, but don't we agree on the weightiest matters of theology? We agree substantially on the absolute authority and inerrancy of the Bible, the nature of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the need of conversion, Christian ethics, the doctrine of the church, baptism, the necessity of cooperation for evangelism, cultural engagement, and global missions. For the most part, we “differ only in those points that have long been disputable amongst men of greatest piety” (202). This is a reason to celebrate.

3. We need to remember the commands of God that require us to love one another (200).
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another” (Jn 13:34); “This is my commandment, that you love on another as I have loved you . . . These things I command you so that you will love one another” (Jn 15:12, 17); “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-7); “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4:15); “Let brotherly love continue” (Heb 13:1); “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn 4:10-11).
Our sovereign Lord absolutely requires us to love one another. Love is the mark of a true believer. “By this it is evident who are the children of God and the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 Jn 3:10). That's because we will love our brothers if we believe His Son and His love for us. “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19).

4. Above all else, we must work to be clothed with humility (209).

Thomas Brooks says:
“Humility makes a man peaceable among brethren, fruitful in well-doing, cheerful in suffering, and constant in holy walking (1 Pet 5:5). . . . Humility will make a man bless him that curses him, and pray for those that persecute him. . . . Humility can weep over other men's weaknesses, and joy and rejoice over their graces. . . . Ah, Christian! Though faith is the champion of grace, and love the nurse of grace, humility is the beautifier of grace; it casts a general glory upon all the graces in the soul. Ah! Did Christians more abound in humility, they would be less bitter, forward, and sour, and they would be more gentle, meek, and sweet in their spirits and practices. . . . Humility will make a man excellent at covering others' infirmities, and at recording their gracious services, and at delighting in their graces; it makes a man joy in every light that outshines his own, and every wind that blows others good. . . . Were Christians more humble, there would be less fire and more love among them than now is” (210-211).
May the Lord grant unity to Southern Baptists, and may He help us strive for unity in the truth with a spirit of humble love and grace toward one another.

Tom Hicks

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sin and its Proper Response (Part 2)

Yesterday, in Genesis 39, we saw Potiphar’s wife demonstrate that sin is often Perception-driven and that unchecked sin produces boldness. Now we will let Joseph show us the proper response to sin and temptation.

1. He Refuses (vs. 8)

Joseph’s first and continual response is to refuse to give in to temptation. Notice, though, the reasons that he gives for his refusal are some of the same reasons that others would give in favor of the sin: “my master has no concern about anything in the house…he has put everything that he has in my charge… he is not greater in this house than I…nor has he kept anything back from me…” Joseph saw rightly that the situation was full of providential blessings, not divine markers pointing him into further sin. Beware the temptation to read circumstances as infallible road signs. Furthermore, Not only did Joseph refuse the woman’s advance, but as vs. 10 says, he refused her day after day… even refusing to be with her. He doesn’t let sinful temptation stay in his presence. That’s just foolishness. We must consciously and zealously avoid any temptation (more on that later).

2. He Recognizes Sins True Nature (vs. 9b)

Joseph knew that sin is ultimately, “great wickedness and a sin against God.” We have a tendency to think that the little sins that don’t have any visible victims aren’t a problem. But the problem is huge, and the problem is our view of sin and our view of God. We serve an infinitely Holy God. Even the tiniest sin that we could think of becomes an infinite offense, not because of the size sin itself, but because of the One against whom the sin is committed. It is the one whom is offended that determines the Magnitude of the offense. In our own lives, we must see BOTH that our sins are an infinite offense AND that the offense is against God. In God’s eyes, there are no small sins, and all sins are against Him.

3. He Runs! (vs. 11-12)

She lays the perfect trap: no witnesses around, husband isn’t home, and no one will know. Plus, if he doesn’t give in, his career can be in jeopardy. In the face of extreme temptation, Joseph gives us the proper response: he flees. Notice what he doesn’t try to do: he doesn’t try to reason with her. This isn’t the time to try and be a noble evangelist and convert her to Christ. This isn’t a time to try and pull out the Bible and do a word- study on “pornea” in the NT; he rightly sees that the situation is critical and he needs to get out. When temptation reaches a boiling point the best thing to do is to flee from that temptation.

We must recognize the chinks in our own armor and flee from situations that might exploit those weaknesses. Recovering alcoholics are taught never put themselves in situations where they might be tempted to drink. When they find themselves in sticky situations, they are taught to leave immediately. As recovering sin-addicts, we must use the same approach. We must never put ourselves in compromising positions of temptation. But, when those temptations do arise, we must flee immediately.

Joseph gives us a great example to follow regarding sexual purity and proper perception of sin. Like Joseph, our vision of sin and of God must be biblically informed if we are to properly judge the extent of our offense. May we be ever vigilant in avoiding temptation and quick to flee when the scene becomes deadly.

Jon English Lee

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sin and Its Proper Response (Part 1)

Recently I have been working through Genesis 39 and the story of Joseph. I have been thinking about Potiphar’s wife and how she demonstrates some common sin-related themes. I thought I could jot down a few notes regarding sin and temptation:

1. Sin is often perception-driven

In verse 7 we see that she “cast her eyes on Joseph.” We must remember that whatever we expose our eyes to can often be the beginning of our undoing. We can look back to Genesis 3 and remember Eve who “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes… she took the fruit and ate.” Staying in Genesis, we see in chapter 38 Judah is tempted to sleep with Tamar because he saw her veiled face and believed she was a prostitute. What about David and Bathsheba? (2 Samuel 11) “When David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.” We must always be careful of what we expose ourselves to; of what we focus our gaze upon.

Humans were designed with a desire and capacity to look upon something and to worship it. The problem comes when we place our vision, and ultimately our worship, on something other than the Crucified Christ. When anything other than Christ occupies our vision, we will be led astray and will wander down the path of sin.

2. Unchecked sin produces boldness

In verse 12 we see that Potiphar’s wife “caught him by the garment.” Sin will lead us to do things that we would never do in our right mind. It lures us in with false promises of happiness and fulfillment, and we are subtly convinced to commit further sins. Cain was jealous and angry with his brother Abel. When those sinful desires weren’t corrected and repented of, he then murdered his own brother. Look at King David. He stole another man’s wife. Then, when he is unable to cover his tracks, he has that man killed. He commits several heinous sins that he would never have done when in his right mind. His lustful desires brought about a boldness for sin that led him into further sins.

Unchecked sinful desires lead us into further sin. We must beware of our sinful desires and snuff them out before they give birth to further sins and, eventually, spiritual death. James 1:15 says, “Then desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Unchecked sin can lead us down the path toward spiritual death. We must constantly be on the lookout for signs of sin in our own lives.

What idols occupy your vision? What desires run unchecked in your heart? Ask yourselves these things and constantly guard your heart. Check back tomorrow to see how Joseph demonstrates the proper response to sin.

Jon English Lee

Friday, June 07, 2013

Should We Preach Christ in Every Sermon?

Faithful preaching is expositional, which means that it explains a biblical text in its context and applies the text to the hearers. There have been times, however, when I've heard expositional preaching that makes little or no mention of the Lord Jesus Christ (sadly, I've done this myself).  If an unbeliever had been sitting among the hearers, he would not have heard enough of the gospel to be saved.  Furthermore, saints would not have heard enough of Christ to move them to live and obey out of love for Him. Scripture teaches that every expository sermon should be Christ-centered.

True preaching is not:
  1. An expositional sermon, even from a New Testament text, without mentioning Christ except in an evangelistic appeal at the end.
  2. A sermon filled with illustrations and humor, while only nominally mentioning a text, or Jesus Christ Himself, occasionally.
  3. A "practical series" on marriage, joy, etc., without explaining how the person and work of Jesus Christ applies to marriage, joy, etc.
  4. A running commentary on a passage of Scripture without preaching Christ because He is not mentioned explicitly in the text. 
None of the above measures up to the Bible's requirement for preaching.  Scripture gives us clear instructions about how to preach.  Consider the following.

1. Our Lord Jesus and His Apostles practiced Christ-centered preaching. Every word our Lord uttered ultimately was about His own person and work as our prophet, priest, and king, even when He expounded Old Testament texts, which did not always mention Him explicitly. Christ's Apostles followed His example in their preaching. Every evangelistic sermon in Acts and every epistle was centered on Jesus Christ.  The epistles were read to churches in their entirety, including the parts about Christ and the gospel. In every application of the epistles, there is always a reference to Christ, His person and His work. I am not saying that Jesus Christ was mentioned by name in every text of His preaching and the Apostles teaching. What I am saying is Christ was the foundation and goal in the proclamation of every word of God. 

2. The Bible mandates preaching Christ to unbelievers and believers.

First, it is clear that the Apostles preached Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to unbelievers (Acts 5:42, 8:35, 11:20). Jesus was the center of their message. When Paul first came to Corinth to preach the gospel to the unconverted, he said, "For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2).  Jesus Christ was the substance of Paul's evangelistic preaching in Corinth. Peter also preached Christ on the day of Pentecost as well as in the other evangelistic messages of Acts (Acts 2; 10; 17).

Second, the Apostles preached Christ to believers. The Apostles constantly tied their rebukes, exhortations, and doctrinal instructions to the person and work of Christ, past, present, and future. It's impossible to read the epistles without seeing that the person and work of Jesus Christ is the center point of salvation and sanctification. To the Colossians, Paul described his preaching and teaching to Christians: "We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ" (Col 1:28).  It takes little research to see how Paul tied his exhortations to the Corinthian Christians to the person and work of Christ for them. For instance, when warning against adultery, Paul said, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body" (1 Cor 6:19-20).  Paul based his warning against adultery on Christ's work. Christ Himself was the substance of Apostolic preaching, both to the unconverted and the converted. The Bible mandates Christ-centered preaching both to the unbeliever and believer.

3. The Bible mandates preaching Christ in every sermon from every text. In Genesis 3:15, Jesus Christ is declared the center of God's revelation to man. Adam represented all of his posterity and fell into sin, breaking the covenant of works, which required perfect obedience for life. But Jesus Christ, the last Adam, is the only mediator between God and man.  Christ satisfied God's just wrath in the covenant of redemption and did what Adam failed to do. Jesus Christ is the only Savior and Lord of all who believe in Him. The Old Testament records the unfolding of the promise of redemption in Christ found in Genesis 3:15. And the New Testament reveals how Christ came to fulfill that first promise in Genesis 3:15.  The Bible's own structure provides us with a theological mandate to preach Christ in all the Scriptures because both the Old Testament and the New Testament are theologically centered in Jesus Christ.

Preachers in the New Testament did not preach in the manner that has become customary to us. They did not take a text out of the New Testament, analyze it, expound it, and then apply it. What did they preach? They preached the great message that had been committed to them, the great body of gospel truth, the whole doctrine of salvation revealed from Genesis to Revelation. My argument is that this is what we should always be doing, though we do it through individual expositions of particular texts. That is the relationship between theology and preaching.

So, dear brothers, are you preaching the Lord Jesus Christ in every expository sermon? Could an unbeliever be saved through your exposition? Can a believer hear enough of Christ to be moved to love Him more and obey Him by faith working through love? May God help us to proclaim Him!

Go to part 2, here.

Fred A. Malone

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Where Circus and Church Meet: A Plea for the Recovery of Sola Scriptura in Worship

I struggled to keep a straight face when he asked me the question.

I was a candidate for the pastorate of this Baptist church, one that was nearly 200 years old, one that had sprung up as a result of the Second Great Awakening in the Ohio Valley.

Surely my ears were deceiving me: did this dear brother in Christ, this member of the pastoral search team, really just ask me, “What is your view of clown ministry in the local church?”

A thousand disparate thoughts catapulted through my mind over the next thirty seconds as I sat with the search team stunned in awkward silence; Giant cobalt blue shoes. Oversized purple and pink polka dot ties. Orange floppy hats with a flower that squirts water. Miniature red sports cars. The Shriner’s Day parade in my Deep South hometown. How many Gospel clowns fit in a Volkswagon? Ronald McDonald leads worship. The Gospel. Heaven. Hell.

Surely this was one of my pink elephant dreams. But it was all too real. Yes, this church had clowns: aggressive, hyper-involved clowns, a reality that would be a deal-breaker or deal-maker for the future pastor. “Okay,” said I, syllables stumbling from my lips as if upended by a pair of candy-striped oversized shoes. “These clowns work with the children, right?”

“Well, no,” said the church leader. “They do evangelistic outreach . . . And some other stuff." I later learned what the “other stuff” entailed; the clown troupe often performed “dramatic skits” during the morning worship service on the Lord’s Day. And there were also mimes; they had their own service occasionally on Sunday nights, using no words and trapping themselves inside invisible boxes to the glory of God.

This congregation took its clowning seriously and, needless to say, I was not a fit candidate to serve as its preaching elder. Members blanched at my insistence on applying the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura as regulative for both corporate worship and external church ministry.

Sadly, this is not an isolated instance of “innovative” worship.

One church several years ago* installed a baptismal pool in the shape of a fire truck complete with red paint and lights (it has since been removed). The baptistery was specifically designed for baptizing children who made a profession of faith. When a young one emerged from underwater during baptism, streamers and confetti streamed skyward from the small pool and the truck’s lights flashed with two-alarm luminosity. The pastor said this unsubtle device was installed to make baptism more palatable and “interesting” to children.**

These days, it seems, many Baptist churches are suffering from the same peculiarly Americanized form of worship common to contemporary churches. The above true story is exhibit A of what Michael Horton describes as a “greasy familiarity” with which modern-day Christians approach God.

This “greasy familiarity,” Horton writes, is based on “The belief that we have direct and immediate access to him (God) whenever and however we want. Whenever sincere people gather in a building to worship according to their personal tastes and opinions, God is impressed that they took the time, that they cared enough to worship. It was ‘real.’ They were ‘vulnerable.’ They got ‘honest before God.’”

But what is the root issue with such contrivances as “Gospel clowns” and worship that is heavy on plucky familiarity with God and light on theologically informed proclamation? It is a loss of the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) or the absolute sufficiency and authority of Scripture in the corporate worship and life of the local congregation. Evangelicals desperately need to recover this regulative principle in order to remove unbiblical worship and fanciful worship and outreach elements from their midst, to build healthier Christians and healthier congregations.

Taproot issue: authority

Most conservative Baptists agree that the Bible is inspired by God and many consent to the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. However, it is Scripture as the church’s sole authority, it’s sufficiency, in matters of worship and church life that seems to have been rejected, at least in practice, by modern day Baptists.

As in contemporary culture, the primary issue at play in local congregations is that of authority. The very notion of authority is rejected by many in a postmodern culture and the church has followed, to great detriment, in its wake. The lone authority typically affirmed by many church members is that of the autonomous individual.

But authority does not exist in a vacuum; someone or something will inevitably take the lead in a church where Scripture is no longer viewed as sufficient. When the regulative principle is cast aside, authority will likely arise in one of three forms:
  • Na├»ve tradition. This is not tradition in the sense of Roman Catholicism’s veneration of it, but is tradition of a sort that argues, “We’ve always done it this way, so it would be unconscionable to do it any other way.” A hymn or chorus with unbiblical content or a troupe performing “interpretative movement” remains as an element of corporate worship because it has existed unchallenged for decades within a given church body. 
  • Religious experience. Often, mystical experience will help formulate doctrine for a local church. I once attended a church where leaders trotted out a particular emotion-laden song when they felt the church was in the midst of a “spiritual dry spell.” Every time it was sung, tears flowed freely from the congregation, and a “mini revival” usually ensued. The sermon would be set aside and parishioners concluded that “God showed up today with such power that we didn’t even have preaching.” Paul’s words in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ,” seem to place a premium on preaching, but hey, who can argue with results, right? This is a first cousin to the third form of authority. 
  • Unprincipled pragmatism. This form of authority provides the answer to the question “What works?” Pragmatists sometimes argue, “the message is unchanging, but the method is always changing.” Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875) employed this strategy through such methods as the “anxious bench” to “stir up” revival during the Second Great Awakening. His methods manipulated emotions, which, for Finney, was the key in leading sinners to decide to follow Jesus. 
The regulative principle—What is it?

The regulative principle of worship is based on the Reformers’ application (John Calvin and his progeny, the Puritans, in particular recovered and adhered to this doctrine) in the area of worship and church life of their principal sola Scriptura position. In essence, the regulative principle—as defined by most Reformed theologians—holds that true worship may include only those ways which God has either expressly commanded in Scripture or which may be deduced from Scripture by “good and necessary consequence,” while false worship is anything done in worship which God has not expressly described.

Baptists have a substantive history of subscription to the regulative principle. For example, article 7 of The 1644 London Confession established the way in which the church determines how God should be worshiped:
The Rule of this Knowledge, Faith, and Obedience, concerning the worship and service of God, and all other Christian duties, is not man’s inventions, opinions, devices, laws, constitutions, or traditions, unwritten whatsoever but only the word of God contained in the Canonical Scriptures.
Similarly, Chapter XXII, Article I of venerable The Second London Confession of 1689 states:
The Light of Nature shews that there is a God who hath Lordship, and Soveraigntye (Sovereignty) over all; is just, good, and doth good unto all; and is therefore, to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served with all the Heart, and all the Soul, and with all the Might. But the acceptable way of Worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself; and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations, and devices of Men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way, not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.
Not only does the Second London Confession establish the reality of the regulative principle, but it also sets forth the elements that the Bible prescribes for corporate worship. This is the genius of the regulative principle; there is no guesswork when it comes to deciding whether or not an element is fit for corporate worship. The Second London Confession argued, correctly, I think, that God has provided such as list of fit elements within His special revelation:
The reading of the Scriptures, Preaching, and hearing the word of God, teaching and admonishing one another in Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual songs, singing with grace in our Hearts to the Lord; as also the Administration of baptism, and the Lords Supper are all parts of the Religious worship of God, to be performed in obedience to him, with understanding, faith, reverence, and Godly fear; moreover solemn humiliation, with fastings; and thanksgiving upon special occasions, ought to be used in an holy and religious manner.
Numerous Baptist pastors and theologians from the pages of history have subscribed to Scripture’s sufficiency and authority in matters of church worship and practice including Benjamin Keach, John Gill, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, John Leadley Dagg and James Petigru Boyce.

Gill is exemplary here; one of the first major writing Baptist theologians and pastors in England, Gill (1697-1771) propounded his view of the regulative principle most clearly in a pamphlet entitled “The Dissenter’s Reasons for Separating from the Church of England.” Gill penned it in 1751 in response to a Welch Anglican who sought to have all dissenting children in Wales catechized according to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. It was an attempt to expunge them of Baptist beliefs.

Gill hammered the established church on several points he viewed as unscriptural including its improper administration of the Lord’s Supper and baptism, its ‘sign of the cross’ in baptism, its practice of infant baptism, its unbiblical system of church polity, and its wearing of vestments. Gill wrote of these things, “they are nowhere enjoined in the word of God.” One can only imagine what Gill might have written in response to “gospel clowns.”


My denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, waged a strenuous warfare in the 1980s in which it decisively defeated the deadly sloth of liberalism, drove liberal theology from its ranks and re-established the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.

Now, the crying need of the hour within the SBC and among our fellow Baptists is to recover the sufficiency and authority of God’s Word and to rediscover the regulative principle to inform the worship and life of the church. May it please God to grant us grace sufficient for such a reformation.

*Originally this was reported as having happened "recently." Part of this post has been taken from an article written several years ago and the event in question was, at that time, recent. The word "recently" has been replaced by "several years ago" to reflect this.
**Other minor changes have been made in this paragraph to reflect more accurately the fact that this occurred several years ago. The parenthetical statement was also added after receiving that information today. Thanks for those who pointed these things out.

Jeff Robinson