Tuesday, September 17, 2013


The Founders Blog has officially moved to theblog.founders.org, and has relaunched with a new design! The folks at ChurchWeb innovations have done very well by us, and we know you'll like our new look.

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The Blog is comprised of the voices of Founders Ministries. Founders exists to recover the gospel, and we want to continue doing so with the best tools available.

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The Blog continues to add loyal readers every month. This relaunch will facilitate growth by creating a sustainable platform for our readers.

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Founders Ministries: Thirty Years of Working for the Recovery of the Gospel

For thirty years Founders ministries has worked for the recovery of the gospel and the biblical reformation of local churches. Our doctrinal commitments set that agenda for us. Because theology mattes to us, the message that is proclaimed in the name of Jesus Christ matters to us as does the nature of the church that He has established.

This is as it should be for all followers of Jesus. The written Word of God reveals the good news of salvation. It tells us not only the content of that news but also how that message actually creates new life by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because Christ and Christ alone is the only Savior of sinful people the good news of His life and work is the content of gospel proclamation. This is what it means to "preach Christ"--to set Him forth as He is revealed in Scripture as the One whose life, death and resurrection has accomplished redemption for all who believe. This is what preoccupied the early church. "And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not ceasing teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ" (Acts 5:42). This is also what shaped Paul's understanding of his apostolic ministry. "And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). So deeply embedded was this in his preaching that Paul could summarize his public ministry by saying, "Him we proclaim" (Colossians 1:28).

 Fred Malone has written an excellent series of posts on this subject that I highly recommend. What he has demonstrated very clearly is that preaching Christ is far more than merely preaching about Him. It is certainly more than preaching tips, principles or precepts to point the way forward to a more moral life. When compared to the messages preached in Acts and the New Testament Epistles, many modern sermons and Bible lessons sound more like Aesop's Fables than they do apostolic preaching and teaching. This is because they miss this crucial point: if Christ is not the point of the message then it is not a Christian message. Where this happens regularly you can be pretty sure that the gospel has been lost.

No faithful pastor or church intentionally turns away from the gospel. That is the path too often taken by those who have little or no regard for the Bible's infallibility. But those who do recognize the full authority and inerrancy of Scripture are not thereby immune to losing the gospel. Our danger is not that we will disregard it altogether. Our danger is, rather, that we will assume it. So, a message on "Five Steps to Being a Better Husband" might say good and true things without ever mentioning the relationship between Jesus Christ and His bride, the church. When pressed about the absence of the gospel in the message, the preacher will most likely defend his message with something like, "Of course I believe that [the gospel]. We ALL believe that. It's assumed." And therein lies the problem.

Assume the gospel long enough and it will become distorted or largely disappear from a church. When that happens, the only antidote is the recovery of the gospel, including the reclamation of the lordship of Jesus Christ that has been secured through His life of perfect obedience to the law of God, His substitutionary, sacrificial death on the cross and His victorious, death-conquering resurrection from the grave. When this message is returned to its pride of place in the life and ministry of a local church then the other biblical teachings out of which it arises are also seen more clearly. The universality of sin that leaves sinners totally depraved and without spiritual life or ability, the efficacious, regenerating work of the Spirit who, like the wind, blows where He wills, the eternal, sovereign electing grace of God that was given to us before the foundation of the world--these and other truths will inevitably find their proper place in our preaching and teaching when the gospel of Jesus Christ is made central.

This conviction is what has driven Founders Ministries from the beginning. It is what continues to direct us into the future. We rejoice to see a growing resurgence of gospel-centrality through the efforts of various groups and across many denominational lines. That bodes well for the future because as the gospel is recovered it will be more carefully proclaimed. And as it is more carefully and widely proclaimed we can expect the Spirit to more widely bless its proclamation. It is, after all, the gospel that is "the power of God for salvation to all everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16).

So the effort to see the gospel recovered and faithfully proclaimed is far from an academic exercise. It is a matter eternal life and death.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Important Principles in Theological Discussion: Fuller Reflects on Rules of Engagement

When, in The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, Andrew Fuller entered the lists of controversy with both hyper-Calvinists and Arminians on the issue of human inability and responsibility, he made a statement about controversy in general that seems an excellent principle to bear in mind. He wanted to avoid “the spirit into which we are apt to be betrayed, when engaged in controversy—that of magnifying the importance of the subject beyond its proper bounds” (1:11). Throughout his ministry he had abundant opportunity to check himself on this principle as well as to examine the details of controversial method. In light of the necessity of carrying on controversy within fraternal, and sometimes not so fraternal, bounds, it would be profitable to look at some of these ideas of a master Baptist controversialist. The three mentioned in this article are operative in Fuller’s engagement with the Socinians.

First, one must be convinced that doctrinal content is important. One of the ideas against which Fuller argued in dealing with Socinianism was “the non-importance of principle itself, in order to the enjoyment of the divine favor.” (317) Socinians, as well as Deists, disliked all the doctrinal points that Calvinists considered as constituent of saving faith. “Nothing is more common,” Fuller observed, “than for professed Infidels to exclaim against Christianity, on account of its rendering the belief of the gospel necessary to salvation.” (317) Those who objected to the doctrinal content of Christianity substituted morality and sincerity as the means of acceptance before God. In so doing, they really substituted another doctrinal basis for eternal life. Their enlightened rationality and genteel manners made obnoxious to them such teachings as vindictive justice, the necessity of atonement for forgiveness, divine sovereignty in salvation, the deity of Christ, and the final infallible authority of Scripture built on its divine inspiration. These ideas, they felt, were so clouded in obscurities, caused such confusion and division among Christians, that the uncertainty was purposeful on the part of the deity “to whet human industry, and the spirit of inquiry into the things of God, to give scope for the exercise of men’s charity and mutual forbearance of one another, and to be one great means of cultivating the moral dispositions,” not the grasping of perfect knowledge “which so few can attain.” (257)

In Fuller’s opinion, they rejected the inspiration and clarity of Scripture because the doctrines built on such a view ran counter to their rational assumptions. “One thing, however, is sufficiently evident,” Fuller noted, “while they vent their antipathy against the holy scriptures in such indecent language, they betray a consciousness that the contents of that sacred volume are against them.” (321). On the one hand, therefore, the idea that doctrinal principles are unimportant to faith simply cannot be maintained in true Christianity. The belief of the revealed truths of Scripture are necessary to faith, not only for the sake of the truth, but for the frame of mind that must be present for the full belief of that which is revealed about human sin, our acceptance before God only in the righteousness of another, and of God’s prerogative in granting this to whom he will. “Are the doctrines which Socinians disown (supposing them to be true),” Fuller asked, “of such importance, that a rejection of them would endanger their salvation?” (194) He believed so and stated as much.

On the other hand, the resistance to principle is simply a fa├žade for the positive presentation of a different doctrinal system. In theological controversy, the cause of truth is not aided by minimizing the importance of any doctrine that constitutes a part of the faith. Our intent must be to work toward further clarification and eventual full unity and acceptance even of controverted points and hard doctrines. Any temptation to declare a moratorium on doctrinal engagement must be resisted, for it is a path to the minimization of the importance of truth in Christian faith.

Fuller, as a second principle, pointed out that nothing substantial is gained, but true weakness comes to the fore, when argument proceeds on the basis of insult. Argument by insult seeks to discredit a position by bringing in impertinent data. Being judgmental about the emotional state or the mental abilities of an antagonist does nothing to discredit the argument. When a Socinian saw the determination of orthodox Christians to defend the deity of Christ, he concluded that “there is no reasoning with them” and felt that they were “to be pitied, and considered as being under a debility of mind, in this respect, however sensible and rational in others.” (257) Socinians felt that they were the true thinkers of the day and that soon their viewpoint would win over the vulgar, that is the non-thinking, non-innovative part of the population that simply accept the rational convictions of the few. This is the way that Trinitarian orthodoxy had won the day; leading intellects formulated the creeds and the vulgar simply followed them. So it is with science in any day. People believe what has always been believed until the more enlightened set a new standard, or, as it were, create a paradigm shift. Fuller recognized the case to be so in matters of scientific research where knowledge is dependent on human investigation which yields only to certain esoteric skills. But in matters of divine revelation, in the grasping of truths for the eternal well-being of the soul, things that eye has not seen and ear has not heard God has revealed. “We have a standard; and one, too, that is adapted to the understanding of the simple.” The Socinians considered ordinary persons as “incapable of forming religious sentiments for themselves; as if the Bible were to them a sealed book, and they had only to believe the system that happened to be in fashion, or rather, to have been in fashion some years before they were born, and to dance after the pipe of learned men.” (324) But if the Scriptures are indeed so obscure and adapted only to create genial moral dispositions, “why this abusive and insulting language?” The Socinians defended their rejection of orthodoxy on the supposed indecipherability of the standard of belief combined with the naivety and mental debility of the orthodox. Such a presentation does not amount to an argument and shows the uncertain ground on which the Socinian claim to be rational Christians was based.

Third, though controversy creates an atmosphere where the temptation to insult is great, one must not be too quick to take offense. Fuller looked closely at the position of his antagonist and took care not to identify an argument as an insult. If an argument aimed at discrediting his doctrine assumed a discernible position and from it drew pertinent inferences, even if the inferences were severe toward his belief, he did not consider such strategy or argument insulting. If Socinians believed that belief in the deity of Christ is wrong, and the consequent worship of him is forbidden by the commands against idolatry, and that orthodox Christian are therefore, idolaters, that is but a necessary conclusion from a premise they think is clear, and is certainly open to candid investigation by their opponents. Fuller took all this in stride and wrote, “If Socinians have a right to think Trinitarians idolaters, they have, doubtless a right to call them so; and, if they be able, to make it appear so: nor ought we to consider ourselves as insulted by it. I have no idea of being offended with any man, in affairs of this kind, for speaking what he believes to be the truth.”

Courting of compliments from one another did no good in such disagreements but instead antagonists should “encourage an unreservedness of expression, provided it be accompanied with sobriety and benevolence.” (205) The charge of bigotry, however, brought against orthodox Christians would be true, and not an ad hominem insult, only under certain characteristics that Fuller delineated. But the conviction that certain beliefs are necessary to salvation, and an attachment to those doctrines “on account of their appearing to us to be revealed in the Scriptures” (203) does not lend itself to the charge of bigotry, but is a manifestation of fair, honest, benevolent, and rational forthrightness. Concerning the several and highly pertinent points of controversy, Fuller wrote.

It must be allowed, that these doctrines may be what we consider them, not only true, but essential to Christianity. Christianity, like every other system of truth, must have some principles which are essential to it: and, if those in question be such, it cannot justly be imputed to pride or bigotry, it cannot be uncharitable, or uncandid, or indicate any want of benevolence, to think so. Neither can it be wrong to draw a natural and necessary conclusion, that those persons who reject these principles are not Christians. To think justly of persons is, in no respect, inconsistent with an universal good will towards them. It is not, in the least, contrary to charity, to consider unbelievers in the light in which the scriptures represent them; nor those who reject what is essential to the gospel, as rejecting the gospel itself. (194)

To deny the importance of principle is a path to infidelity. To argue by insult, corrects no opponent and brings no light to the point of disagreement. To take something as an insult that is intended as a salutary, truth-clarifying, gospel-manifesting, God-glorifying proposition of biblical doctrine does nothing to reconcile divergent positions and may be dangerous to the soul.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Are You Quarrelsome?

A “quarrel” is a verbal fight. Not all conflicts are quarrels, but a conflict becomes a quarrel when it's sinfully combative or contentious.  I've been thinking about my own quarrelsomeness, and this is some of the fruit of my study. The Bible has quite a bit to say about quarreling:

  • People can quarrel over property (Gen 26:20-24). 
  • They quarrel with their leaders and with God (Ex 17:2, 7; Num 20:3, 13; 27:14; Deut 33:8). 
  • Disagreements can turn into quarrels (Prov 17:14). 
  • Brothers quarrel (Prov 18:19). 
  • Spouses quarrel (Prov 19:13; 21:9, 19; 25:24). 
  • Honorable men don't quarrel, but “every fool will be quarreling” (Prov 20:3). 
  • Gossip/slander produces quarreling (Prov 26:20). 
  • Those who walk properly do not quarrel (Rom 13:13). 
  • Do not “quarrel over opinions” in matters of liberty (Rom 14:1). 
  • Do not quarrel about which church leader you think is better (1 Cor 1:11-12). 
  • There's to be no quarreling in the church (1 Tim 2:8). 
  • Pastors are not to be quarrelsome (1 Tim 3:3; 2 Tim 2:24-25). 
  • Craving for controversy produces quarrels (1 Tim 6:4). 
  • Do not “quarrel about words” (2 Tim 2:14). 
  • “Foolish, ignorant controversies” breed quarrels (2 Tim 2:23; Titus 3:9). 
  • “Avoid quarreling . . . be gentle, and show perfect courtesy to all people” (Titus 3:2). 
  • Quarrels are the result of unfulfilled desires and passions (Jas 4:1-2). 

What is the cause of quarrels?

James 4:1-2 says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” The root of quarrelsomeness is “covetousness.” Covetousness is discontentment with Christ, a desire to be satisfied in something outside of Him.

We quarrel to try to change someone's mind or behavior because we want something (Jas 4:1-2). Our covetous wants are often rooted in selfishness and pride. We may want to win an argument, look better than another person, or showcase our intellectual superiority. So, we quarrel. We may want to crush another person so that they won't dare challenge us again. We may want our lives to be more convenient or comfortable; so, we quarrel, trying make another person treat us the way we want to be treated. On the other hand, we may quarrel to change a person's mind for their own good because we love them. Parents sometimes quarrel with their children and teenagers out of desperation because they want to protect them from something harmful.

Ultimately, quarreling is an attempt to control someone by fighting them with our words. When we quarrel, we're trying to force another person to agree with us and to make them change by brute force. Quarreling is foolish because it can never win another person's heart. We may win arguments. We may end up getting our way, like bullies sometimes get their way. But quarreling ends up driving others away, causing resentment, and damaging personal relationships.

The Lord Jesus did not quarrel.

Christ had many opportunities to quarrel, but He never did. The Pharisees and Saducees often attempted to lure Christ into quarrels, but Jesus always responded with perfectly wise speech. Christ's disciples regularly misunderstood Him, and even contradicted Him, but Jesus never quarreled with them. Instead, He patiently corrected them and taught them, over and over. Christ spoke the truth in love to all men.

Matthew 12:19-20 says of Christ, “He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench.”

Christ isn't quarrelsome.  His perfect speech stands in the place of our quarrelsomeness.  That's the doctrine of justification.  As we lay hold of Christ by faith, God forgives us of our quarrelsomeness and treats us like our speech is perfect, even though it's not.  And He wins our hearts by His wisdom, gentleness, judicious speech, measured words, and rescuing love. And the more we see of Him through the eyes of faith, the more we will love Him, fear Him, pursue Him, rejoice in Him, and want to know more of Him. The more we love Him, the more we'll learn to put off the sin of quarrelsomeness, and put on gentle and loving speech, becoming more like our Savior.

What should we do instead of quarreling?

1. We should trust God. When we quarrel, we're actually attempting to be God, rather than trusting God. We're trying to rule over the minds, hearts and behaviors of others, instead of relying on God to rule them. We're attempting to leverage someone into change by fighting them with our words. But God calls us to remember that He is sovereign over the hearts and lives of others. We can never change a person from the inside out, but God can, and God does. If we believe His meticulous providence and His perfect loving care for us and others, then we can trust Him without trying to change others by quarreling. To the degree we do this, our anger and our fears will diminish as we rest in His kind providence.

2. We should rely on God's appointed means of grace. Ordinarily, God changes people by means of His Word, prayer, and loving service. So, if we really want people to change, to trust Christ and become more like Him, we need to tell them the truth in love, pray for them, and serve them with sincerity and humility. When we do this, we need to remember that there's no guarantee that others will ever change. God alone is Lord of the human heart. He changes people according to His sovereign pleasure, but if we want to be instruments of change in people's lives, we have to trust God to work through His appointed means.

3. We should think of disagreements as an opportunity to love and serve. If we're to do all things in love, then we're to disagree in love too. “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 at the truth. Love bears all thing, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-7). We should first listen carefully to those with whom we disagree, make sure we have understood what they're saying, and we should only choose to voice a disagreement, if we believe that it will serve them and God's glory. If our goal is loving service, then we'll always be willing to hear correction and reproof from those we're trying to serve. We should never disagree about petty matters or things that selfishly serve our own interests.  Instead, faithful disagreements seek to serve others, to do them good, to lead them to worship, and glorify Christ.  They should always aim to persuade others that we care about them and their souls.

For further study, I recommend War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles by Paul David Tripp.

Tom Hicks

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Sabbath and the Decalogue in the Old Testament

Today we continue our series on the Sabbath. Previously I have discussed the Sabbath as a Creation Ordinance and the prescriptive nature of God's rest in Genesis 2. Now I want to discuss if it is proper to dismiss the 4th commandment as 'ceremonial law.'

1. The Unity of the Decalogue

Image Credit
Some want to claim that the Sabbath command is a ceremonial law that is no longer binding. However, no one would doubt the continuing validity of the other nine commandments. John Murray shows the flawed logic found in arguing that only nine of the Ten Commandments are still binding:
“If we say the fourth commandment is abrogated and the other nine are not, we must understand what we are saying. It would indeed be an amazing phenomenon that in the heart of the decalogue there should be one commandment — and one given such prominence and meticulous elaboration — that is totally different from the others in this regard that they are permanent and it is not. Surely no one will dispute that in the Old Testament the ten commandments constitute a well-rounded and compact unit. And surely no one will dispute that the Old Testament is itself throughout conscious of that fact. If the ten commandments were a loose and disjointed collection of precepts, there would be nothing very extraordinary about the supposition we are now discussing. But that is precisely what the decalogue is not. And so to establish this supposition that the fourth commandment is abrogated, when the other nine are not, would require the most explicit and conclusive evidence. 
As we read the Old Testament we do not find any warrant for discrimination between the fourth and the other nine. Nor indeed do we find any intimation in the Old Testament that in the Messianic age the Sabbath law would cease. If any commandment is emphasized it is the fourth.”[1]
The unity of the decalogue makes the abrogation of a single command seem very strange indeed. Some want to mix together the Sabbath command and the 'judgments,' commands given by God after the Ten commandments that were based upon the moral commands. This mixing of categories is unjustified because of the uniqueness of the Decalogue.

2. The Uniqueness of the Decalogue

While the Israelites were at Sinai, God gave many laws. However, the moral commands of God had a certain primacy over the other ‘judgments.' First, the Ten Words were the only laws written by the finger of God himself. Second, unlike the rest of the laws that were spoken, the Ten Commandments were carved into tablets of stone. Third, none of the other laws were placed in the Ark of the Covenant; rather, the Ten Words were placed in the Ark at the metaphorical ‘feet’ of the Almighty himself. Fourth, the “literary shape” of their delivery demonstrates a distinction between the “Ten Commandments” and the “Judgments.” 

Peter Gentry explains that the headings of the two distinct passages (Ten Words, Ex. 20; and The Judgments, Ex. 21-23) and the use of specific terms indicates, “the broad outline and shape of the text.”[2]  Furthermore, the difference in sentence construction distinguishes the different sections. He explains, “The Ten Words are presented as absolute commands or prohibitions, usually in the second person singular. They are general injunctions not related to a specific social situation…By contrast, the Judgements are presented as case laws. These are presented as if they were court decisions functioning as precedents.”[3]  Clearly these examples are indications of some internal distinctions within the law of the Lord. The perpetual moral standards behind the Ten Words are given primacy over the other ‘judgments,’ which would eventually prove to be temporary.

3. Old Testament expectation of the Decalogue's Perpetuity

The Decalogue was never shown to be made up of laws of varying application and duration. The Sabbath command in the Ten Commandments is merely an official codification of the creation ordinance. The moral imperative may have been given ceremonial and civil accouterments, but the moral imperative remained (and remains) unchanged. Murray concludes,
“If there had been in the Old Testament some evidence that would create a presumption in favour of discrimination, if there had been even something that would justify a strong suspicion that in the Messianic age the Sabbath law would no longer bind, then, of course, even slight confirmation from the New Testament might clinch that suspicion and warrant the inference that the fourth commandment had been abrogated. But no such suspicion is created and the evidence is altogether against such a supposition.”[4]
Nothing in the Old Testament gives us an indication that the Sabbath Command was a temporary command peculiar to the Jews.  

In coming posts in this series on the Sabbath I will examine, among other things, Jesus's view on the Sabbath, whether the New Testament abrogates the Sabbath command, plus some implications of the doctrine of the Sabbath on ecclesiology. 

Jon English Lee

[1] John Murray, The Fourth Commandment According to Westminster Standards, http://www.the-highway.com/sabbath1_Murray.html (Accessed 4/30/2013).

            [2] Peter John Gentry and Stephen Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant: a Biblical-theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2012), 305. Although Gentry and Wellum do reject the tri-fold categories of ceremonial, moral, and civil law, it is interesting that they clearly see and teach the textual evidences of the uniqueness of the decalogue from the judgments.
[3] Ibid., 306.

[4] John Murray, The Fourth Commandment According to Westminster Standards, http://www.the-highway.com/sabbath1_Murray.html (Accessed 4/30/2013).

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Selecting Music for Worship (Part 2): Know Theology

How well do you know the music your church sings in worship? Can you think, for example, of a song that teaches that sin corrupts and deceives the heart? Or a song that unfolds the work of the Trinity in our salvation? If you were to measure the depth of doctrine and the breadth of truth in your church’s music for worship, what would you find?

In my last post we began considering ways that worship leaders can best prepare for the task of selecting music for worship. My first encouragement was know the Word. The first and best way to prepare for the task is to be regularly and diligently in God’s Word.

But second, and closely tied to the first, those who lead music in the church must know theology. Music is tied to theology—our songs instruct us. Music gives us voice to rehearse and remember the truth. It helps us rightly respond and rejoice in the truth.

Except for the preaching of the Word, no other ministry in the church has such a profound impact on shaping our understanding of truth than music. The music we sing helps us declare what is true about God, ourselves, and the world around us. And it embeds that truth in our thinking and in our lives. Paul makes the connection between music and truth in Colossians 3:16. He instructs us:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16, ESV).
We want to sing and celebrate what is true. We want our music to support and undergird the teaching and preaching ministry of the church. For this to happen we must be wise and discerning in what we choose to sing. We must know the truth and be able to recognize lyrics that are rich in truth, lyrics that are light on truth, and lyrics that stray from the truth.

So commit yourself to study theology. Read sound, theological books. Learn to think theologically about your church’s music. Peruse and evaluate the lyrics of music you are using or considering for use in worship. Along with looking for quotes, allusions and connections to specific Scripture references in each song, ask yourself: What theological truths does this song teach?

One of the methods I have used to help me think theologically about music is to compile a Theological Index of Church Music. I started the index twenty years ago as a project for one of my PhD seminars in seminary. I created both an outline of theological topics and a list of song titles (psalms, hymns and spiritual songs) that we were singing at the church where I was leading worship. Then I created the index by working through the lyrics of each song, line by line, listing the song title under each entry in the outline that was stated or affirmed in the song. The resulting index provided a valuable resource, not just for selecting songs by theological topic, but for evaluating the scope and content of our church’s music.

You can find the Theological Outline here along with a list of some of the books I used to compile the outline.

I have resisted  (for now) posting my full Theological Index of Church Music. I recognize that each church will have its own compilation of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs that it knows and sings well. I have also discovered that much of the benefit in having the list is the time spent creating it—thinking through lyrics and evaluating strengths and weaknesses.

Here, however, are a few entries from my opening questions:

Songs that teach that sin corrupts and deceives the heart
  • All I Have Is Christ (Jordan Kauflin – Sovereign Grace Music)
  • And Can It Be (Charles Wesley / Thomas Campbell – PD)
  • No, Not Despairingly, Come I to Thee (Horatius Bonar – PD)

Songs that unfold the work of the Trinity in our salvation
  • Heavenly Father, Beautiful Son (by Mark Altrogge – Sovereign Grace Music)
  • Come Praise and Glorify (by Bob Kauflin / Tim Chester – Sovereign Grace Music)
  • Wonderful, Merciful Savior (by Dawn Rodgers and Eric Wyse – Word Music)

Ken Puls

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Paul’s Mission and His Partners in Ministry

Who trained leaders to plant congregations in the early church? That has been the subject of my past three blogposts. We first looked at a general introduction to leadership training in the book of Acts, followed by the early signs of leadership development in Acts, and then the church spreading through the church planting ministry of the saints scattered due to persecution. The present post will take a brief glance at training with Paul’s mission and his partners in ministry. My next post will offer concluding observations to leadership training in Acts.

Johannes Nissen identifies three categories of fellow-workers with Paul. (1) The most intimate circle included Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy. (2) Aquila, Priscilla, and Titus represented “independent co-workers.” (3) The last group, local church representatives, put workers at Paul’s disposal so that the churches partnered with him in church planting ministry.[1] While the first two categories figured most prominently in the NT, the last involved considerable numbers of workers.

Significantly, Paul’s ministry, as Nissen rightly explains, was not hurried proclamation to the nations. “His ministry also had a more pastoral aspect,” evident by his letters. He did not simply plant a church and move on to another; he sought to shepherd the new disciples in the faith.[2] Unlike the philosophers of his day that sought to change individuals, Paul sought to form communities of disciples who continued on in the faith—and that could only happen with sufficient leadership.[3] He placed priority, as evident from the Acts narrative and his epistles, on making sure that shepherding leaders continued to teach and train the churches in the faith (e.g. Acts 17:14–15; 18:24–28; 2 Tim 4:10–12; Titus 3:12–14). This post will look at leadership development in the intimate circle, independent co-workers, and local church representatives in Pauline ministry.

Intimate Circle

Silas, one of the “leading men among the brethren” in Jerusalem, had been deputed by the Jerusalem church to address the churches of Syria and Cilicia with the Jerusalem Council’s message (Acts 15:22–33). That the church in Jerusalem recognized his giftedness as a good representative of the faith indicates that Silas spent considerable time involved with that congregation. The “whole church,” along with the apostles and elders, chose him as a representative to the Gentile believers (Acts 15:22). The church had ample opportunity to attest to his character, servant-leadership, knowledge of Scripture, and preaching ability. They sent him on no small task! This observation assumes that Silas’s involvement in the Jerusalem church shaped and prepared him for future ministry to the point that his congregation happily commended him to this epochal ministry to the Gentile church. The opportunities granted earlier to Silas by the Jerusalem church gave them confidence to send him on this vital and sensitive mission of the early church, and later as Paul’s mission partner. The Jerusalem church’s leaders and congregation left its mark on his ministry.

Although still a young man, eighteen to twenty years old by various reckonings,[4] the evidence of Timothy’s call to ministry and gifts to serve, prompted the Lystran and Iconium elders to set him apart for gospel preaching and teaching (1 Tim 1:18; 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6–7).[5] Paul would later remind him of this sacred time that his church’s elders, presumably with the whole-hearted support of the congregation, set him apart for ministry. Significantly, his reputation went beyond his home church in Lystra to the Iconium church as well.[6] This suggests that Timothy had also engaged in some acts of ministry with the latter church so that they could readily affirm his gifts for ministry. It seems probable that he learned something of the ministry of elders by observing and receiving from those that Paul and Barnabas had appointed in his church (Acts 14:23). He had learned something of what it meant to model the Christian faith as he observed, and maybe served under, the elders in Lystra and Iconium. By listening to Paul and others ministering in Lystra, he had learned something about gospel conversations and proclamation.

Independent Co-Workers

Aquila and Priscilla[7] had significant ministry in Ephesus, where Paul left the couple after their time of service in Corinth (Acts 18:18–19). They left no gap in the work initiated by Paul in Ephesus, especially by their mentoring efforts with the eloquent Alexandrian believer Apollos (Acts 18:24–28). As they had done in Corinth, the couple opened their home to host a new church in Ephesus,[8] training disciples, such as Apollos, for fuller gospel ministries. Their leadership in preparing Apollos “for a vigorous and effective ministry in Corinth,” David Peterson commented, demonstrated the “interconnection and interdependence of churches in the apostolic period.”[9] Luke’s narrative during the missionary labors of Paul offers only a small window into the personalities engaged in church planting, as well as those training them. Yet one has no difficulty thinking that Aquila and Priscilla multiplied their discipling and mentoring efforts beyond Apollos, while serving in Corinth and Ephesus (Acts 18), then later back in Rome (Rom 16:3), and once again back in Ephesus (2 Tim 4:19). Paul knew them to be dependable, theologically astute, and winsome in relationships—just the right balance needed in training others to preach Christ, plant churches, and build up believers.[10]

Although Luke makes no reference to Titus, he was involved in Paul’s ministry recorded in Acts. Paul identifies him as a Greek (Gal 2:3) who accompanied the apostle and Barnabas on a special journey to Jerusalem (Gal 2:1–10). Assuming that Titus joined Paul and Barnabas on the Acts 11:27–30 famine-relief journey,[11] his association with Paul as a competent representative predated the first missionary journey, indicating him as an early part of the Antioch church who would have trained and prepared him for ministry.

Paul called Aquila, Priscilla, and Titus his “fellow workers” (Rom 16:3; 2 Cor 8:23), with Titus also called “my partner” among the Corinthian church. While traveling with Paul on occasions, most of their ministries came through assignment or pastoral opportunity. Those mentoring them in ministry laid groundwork for strong impact through them in the early church.

Local Church Representatives

Paul names upward of forty persons involved in sponsoring his missionary activities.[12] Many more—Jews, Gentiles, women, and slaves—accompanied him temporarily or permanently on his journeys, participating at various levels of mission work.[13] His practice of involving local church representatives implies an important ecclesiological note: mission work is teamwork.[14] Each disciple involved in proclaiming Christ, planting churches, and nurturing congregations used “their gifts to enrich the church in other places.”[15] Although often unnamed, the congregations of the first century sent their finest members to do kingdom work beyond their own communities, with many of the churches having done initial preparation for those they sent out to minister. Luke recognized Erastus who ministered with Timothy in Paul’s mission team (Acts 19:22), Gaius and Aristarchus as traveling companions from Macedonia (Acts 19:29), and Sopater of Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus of Thessalonica, and Tychichus and Trophimus of Asia (Acts 201–5). Their churches laid groundwork for their mission work.

While Paul notably mentored and continued training those partnering with him in ministry, what seems apparent by the observations made in Acts is that each local church had some part in preparing and sending out these first century Christian workers. That remains the pattern for every church engaged in the work of planting, shepherding, and revitalizing local churches.

Phil A. Newton

[1] Johannes Nissen, New Testament and Mission: Historical and Hermeneutical Perspective (3d ed.; Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2004), 110.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Abraham J. Malherbe, Paul and the Popular Philosophers (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 70. See also Steve Walton, Leadership and Lifestyle: The Portrait of Paul in the Miletus Speech and 1 Thessalonians (Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series, Richard Bauckham, gen. ed.; Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 134–135, who explains that Luke presents Paul, like Jesus, as one who mentored others in the servant-leadership model.
[4] Curtis Vaughan, Acts (Founders Study Guide Commentary; Cape Coral, Fla.: Founders Press, 2009), quotes A. T. Robertson, The Acts of the Apostles, vol. III in “Word Pictures of the New Testament” (New York: Richard R. Smith, Inc., 1930), 243, as Timothy being eighteen, while Simon J. Kistemaker, Acts (NTC; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 578, counted him as twenty.
[5] Kistemaker, Acts, 579.
[6] E. F. Harrison, Interpreting Acts: The Expanding Church (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1986), 261.
[7] B. R. and P. C. Patten, “Prisca . . . Priscilla,” in ISBE, 4 vols., Geoffrey Bromiley, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 3:973. Note Acts 18:18, 26; Rom 16:3; 2 Tim 4:19 referring to Prisca or the diminutive form Priscilla, before mention of Aquila.
[8] Eckhard J. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission (2 vols.; Downers Grove: IVP, 2004), 1228.
[9] David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (PNTC; D. A. Carson, ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 512, fn. 26, 523. When Apollos wanted to go to Corinth to proclaim Christ, Aquila and Priscilla likely used some of their contacts, perhaps even some they had discipled, to gain entry into the fellowship of the church; see Harrison, Acts, 304.
[10] Craig Ott and Gene Wilson, Global Church Planting: Biblical Principles and Best Practices for Multiplication (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 10, correctly explain that church planting requires not only spiritual skills but also people skills since “it is also a complex human undertaking.” Aquila and Priscilla seemed to hold these tensions well.
[11] Timothy George, Galatians (NAC 30; Nashville: Broadman, 1994), 135–151.
[12] Robert J. Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Cultural Setting (rev. ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 150–151.
[13] Ibid., 151–155. See also Schnabel, Early Christian Mission, 1425ff. for the identity of these fellow workers, along with Paul’s designations for them.
[14] Ott and Wilson, Global Church Planting, 48–49.
[15] Peterson, Acts, 544.