Wednesday, February 28, 2007

How To Spot a Wolf

Excerpt from "Watch Out for the Wolves Within"
By John Piper

Acts 20:28-31

Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which He obtained with the blood of His own Son. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.

3. The third incentive Paul gives to the elders is that great danger always awaits the church. Verse 29-30, "I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them."

The incentive for vigilance here is the danger that inside the church men will aspire to the eldership who are wolves in sheep's clothing (Matt. 7:15). They will slowly begin to speak twisted and distorted things about Scripture. And unless the elders are spiritually alert and thoroughly Biblical in their vigilance, the wolves may decimate the flock.

Let me just mention one feature to watch out for in the recognition of wolves. As I have watched the movement from Biblical faithfulness to liberalism in persons and institutions that I have known over the years this feature stands out: An emotional disenchantment with faithfulness to what is old and fixed, and an emotional preoccupation with what is new or fashionable or relevant in the eyes of the world.

Lets try to say it another way: when this feature is prevalent, you don't get the impression that a person really longs to bring his mind and heart into conformity to fixed Biblical truth. Instead you see the desire to picture Biblical truth as unfixed, fluid, undefinable, distant, inaccessible and so open to the trends of the day.

So what marks a possible wolf-in-the-making is not simply that he rejects or accepts any particular Biblical truth, but that he isn't deeply oriented on the Bible. He is more oriented on experience. He isn't captured by the great old faith once for all delivered to the saints. Instead he's enamored by what is new and innovative.

A good elder can be creative. But the indispensable mark when it comes to doctrinal fitness is faithfulness to what is fixed in Scripture—disciplined, humble submission to the particular affirmations of the Bible—carefully and reverently studied and explained and cherished. When that spirit begins to go there's a wolf-in-the-making.

So the third incentive for elders is the ever-present danger of wolves in sheep's clothing who twist the truth and lead the people away to destruction.

By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: Email: Toll Free: 1.888.346.4700.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Controversy That Just Won’t Die

The controversy over Lordship Salvation just seems to keep popping up from time to time. I left comments over at TeamPyro the other day in response to a post entitled “Sectarianism and Separation”. The article dealt with division within the body of Christ and some of the valid reasons for separation for the sake of doctrinal purity, and was a kick-off for a series that Phil is going to be posting on concerning what Jesus meant by unity. A guy by the name of Lou Martuneac left comments in response to the comments that I had left in response to Phil’s post. While I appreciate Lou’s complementary comments in response to mine, I am afraid that he and I are on the opposite side of the proverbial fence concerning the lordship debate. Not to mention that it appears that we also do not see eye to eye on the subject of Calvinism; he is opposed to Reformed theology. I believe that Scripture teaches nothing less than Christ’s lordship over our lives if we are truly His followers. This does not in any way imply perfection, since no one will ever achieve perfection in this life. And the charge by many Free Grace people that those who embrace Lordship Salvation are implying perfection is simply bogus.

And by the way, the subject of Lordship Salvation has been discussed before over at TeamPyro in a post entitled “Why the Lordship Debate Died”.

Before I comment further on this matter, I want to make it clear that I am not intending to slam Lou. It seems that Lou is a very gracious individual. Nathan Busenitz mentioned this about his own interaction with Lou in his series of articles at Pulpit Live, “Lou and Lordship”. What is ironic is that after Nathan finished reading Lou’s book “In Defense of the Gospel”, he is convinced that Lou is really a proponent of Lordship Salvation. It seems that while Lou is attempting to maintain a middle ground (which simply cannot be achieved), his reasoning appears to be more in line with the Lordship view. I have not had the opportunity yet to read this book, but when I get a chance I likely will as I am curious to read first hand what Lou’s views are. You may want to read Nathan’s series over at Pulpit Live. It is an interesting response to Lou’s book.

But I have to admit that I am vehemently opposed to the way many of the Free Grace people present salvation. While these folks believe repentance is important after conversion, they deny that it is an integral part of saving faith.

I remember when John MacArthur came out with his book, “The Gospel According to Jesus” and the controversy that was stirred over that book. The pastor of the church that I attended back at that time read the book and was very touched and influenced by it. It really prompted our church to clarify and proclaim with clarity what it meant to be saved and become a follower of Christ.

I really do not understand why this debate continues, especially since Scripture is clear that Christ is indeed Lord of our life if we have a saving relationship with Him.

Scripture is clear that those who love Jesus are those who keep His commandments.
John 14:15, 21, 23
John 8:31

If we have embraced saving faith in Jesus Christ, we have been set free from slavery to sin.
Romans 6
Ephesians 2:1-3
Titus 2:14

If we are enslaved by sin, and our lifestyle is characterized by a pattern of sin, then that is an indication that we have not entered into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
1 John 1:5-6
James 2:19

Scripture also teaches that we are to “make our calling and election sure”, to examine ourselves to be sure that we give evidence of saving faith.
2 Peter 1:10
2 Corinthians 13:5

What got me was that my comments over at Pyro had absolutely nothing to do with the debate. No mention of the Lordship Salvation debate was included in what I wrote, yet somehow, the discussion got launched at least momentarily in the direction of that never-ending controversy that seems to rear its ugly head from time to time.

I guess the reason I feel strongly about the subject is that as I observe the Christian landscape today, I can see the outcome of years of preaching a truncated Gospel that downplays repentance and the Lordship of Christ. Churches are filled with people who have jumped on board to get their felt needs met, but have no interest in being devoted followers of Christ. Churches have fallen for the lie that they need to follow this seeker-sensitive approach if they are going to win people to Christ. Scripture is clear that we don’t win anyone to Christ, but it is a sovereign work of God working in the hearts of men to receive the truth, the truth that can only come by simply and boldly proclaiming the message of saving faith. We desperately need to get back to preaching the pure Gospel which includes repentance and the recognition of Christ’s Lordship.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Biblical Church Leadership – Pt. 4

What Is Shared Leadership?

Contrary to what many may think, eldership is not a highly esteemed board position open to anyone who wants to join. But rather, it is team of qualified men who must meet certain qualifications that include spiritual and moral considerations before they may be chosen to serve (1Timothy 3:1-7). This process should also include public examination of their qualifications (1 Timothy 3:10) and they must also be installed publicly (1 Timothy 5:22; Acts 14:23). Their motivation and empowerment must come from the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28). They must be acknowledged and loved by the congregation. Those who are particularly gifted at preaching and teaching need to be honored by the congregation through financial support, enabling them to serve full or part time. (1 Timothy 5:17, 18) This structure produces a team of qualified elders lead by the Holy Spirit to benefit the church family.

A council of elders was a form of government common in society in the ancient Near East. The evidence of this governmental structure is evident throughout the Old Testament and was as fundamental as the family. (Exodus 3:16; Ezra 10:8) And Paul utilized this basic pattern in the New Testament when he appointed elders for each church. (Acts 14:23) This is a collective form of leadership where each elder shares the authority and responsibility inherent with the position. Using more contemporary terms, this type of structure may be commonly referred to as a shared leadership or team leadership.

There are many benefits to this plurality of leadership. One of the most important benefits is the balancing out of personal weaknesses and flaws. All of us have weaknesses and flaws that we are blind to. These flaws have a way of distorting judgment, even to the point of destroying those in leadership. This is particularly dangerous in those who are particularly talented and exhibit a great deal of charisma. Without peers to call attention to danger signs, these leaders end up on a path of self destruction. Unfortunately, these types become so self-deceived that they really do not want anyone to confront them. Mutual submission to a team of leaders is crucial to curb egos and improper ambitions that particularly gifted leaders are prone to.

In a team leadership structure, the strengths that each individual brings to the table helps balance out each others weaknesses. Furthermore, the vast majority of men are not multitalented and can never possess the broad range of strengths that only a plurality of leadership can bring.

A shared leadership approach also provides a means of spreading out and lightening the workload of the ministry. True Biblical ministry does entail a heavy workload and a great deal of responsibility. Coupled with all the responsibilities that are inherent with the position, those in leadership also carry the burden of dealing with sin in the congregation, and endless complaints and conflicts between members. Moses was faced with this situation back in the book of Numbers in chapter 11 and it nearly overwhelmed him. Notice God’s remedy for the situation. The Lord instructed Moses to appoint seventy men from the elders in Israel, who would share the burden with him.

“16The LORD therefore said to Moses, "Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you.
17"Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone.”
(Numbers 11:16-17, NASB)

The so-called single pastor model of leadership is in reality a very cruel burden to place on any one man. This is probably the easiest way to burn out and discourage a pastor by placing all the responsibility of shepherding squarely on his shoulders alone. If nothing else, it certainly wearies an individual to the point that they can no longer be very effective, despite the fact that they “hang in there”. In sharp contrast, in a plurality of leadership, each elder helps share the burden, enabling each one to minister according to their personal giftedness, rather than being forced to attempt to be an expert at everything. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 eloquently describes the benefit of the mutual encouragement of the team leadership approach.

“ 9Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.
10For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.
11Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?
12And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.”
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NASB)

But more than just sharing the work load, a team ministry provides a balance of power and accountability. Placing an individual in a position of sole power and authority opens them up to succumbing to the temptations that lead to corruption. All men are subject to the passions and desires of the flesh, even Christians. And even Christian leaders can succumb to the evils of human pride and greed. The only way to help guard against this danger is through the mutual submission and accountability that only a shared leadership structure can help provide.

The shared leadership structure also provides for the mutual encouragement and accountability to carry out their responsibilities. Like anyone else, church leaders can become lazy and sloppy in the obligations of their work. Having fellow colleagues in the ministry to whom they are accountable for their work is a huge benefit. This concept can be clearly illustrated using the example of athletes engaged in various sports. To quote Strauch:

“Coaches know that athletes who train together push one another to greater achievement. When someone else is running alongside, a runner will push a little harder and go faster. The same is true in the Lord’s work. That is one reason the Lord sent His disciples out in twos.” (Strauch, p. 44)

This does not mean that there are not problems that can be encountered with the team structure. The process of working as a team can have a tendency to be slow and frustrating. And the plurality of leadership approach requires among other things, patience, prayer, love, trust and an appreciation for each others giftedness and viewpoints. This structure can also have the tendency to be prone to inaction. But to overcome this, it requires that there be clear organizational structure employed to prevent it from degenerating into disorganization and ineffectiveness. Clear expectations of responsibilities, communication and good management principles are imperative.

1. Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, p. 38-44.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Proper Application

I was engaged in a conversation with someone from church the other day. The conversation led from one topic to another, but started with a discussion concerning Brian McLaren and the emerging church in general, moved to a brief discussion concerning pastoral ministry and ended up briefly discussing interpreting and applying Scripture. When discussing applying the text of Scripture, the text in 1 Timothy 2:9 came up in the discussion, where women are instructed to dress “modestly and discreetly”.

“Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.” (1Timothy 2:9-10, NASB)

We were discussing the role of women in the church and I was emphasizing the fact that Scripture is very clear on its prohibition on women being in pastoral ministry. This launched us in the direction of discussing the literal interpretation of Scripture. This individual made the statement that he had the utmost respect for people who take this passage in Timothy literally, in other words, that women should not wear their hair in braids or wear any jewelry, though he tended to disagree with them taking it that literal. I briefly mentioned that the point of the passage was not to prohibit women from having braided hair, but on modest dress. His reply was “well now you are interpreting the passage”. Our conversation was being interrupted and I could not pursue further discussion on the matter to get clarification on his statement. But I walked away thinking “huh?” Well how else can you properly apply the passage if you do not first interpret what the passage says?

Listen, everyone interprets Scripture. Even those who are taking a passage literally are basically, interpreting it literally. The question is whether or not they are interpreting it correctly, and how literally should the passage be taken. The context must be studied in order to discern what the text says and this process should include determining who it was written to, and the historical background of the time it was written. In the aforementioned passage, the women during that time period would weave jewelry including gold and pearls into their hair. This called attention to themselves and their affluence, and was creating a problem because it was distracting people in their worship of the Lord.

The whole point of the passage centers on women not calling attention to themselves, especially in a sensual manner. That is the intent of the term “discreetly”. Instead, women should be focusing attention on behavior that exemplifies godliness. The intent of the passage is not to prohibit women from braiding their hair per se, but to avoid attire that focuses flaunting expensive clothing, and clothing that would draw attention to her sexuality. This, may I add, is something that needs to be preached from the pulpit of our churches more often than it does. Especially in this culture we live in today that is becoming very open with its sensuality.

The extent that a passage needs to be taken literally is extremely important for proper application. In the passage of 1 Timothy 2:9, it is possible for someone to abide by the criteria of literally not having hair in a braid, not wear any jewelry, but miss the point of godliness in their lifestyle. The whole point of the passage can easily be missed and degenerate into legalism.

For a prime example of a passage that is not meant to be taken literally, consider Matthew 5:29.

“29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”
(Matthew 5:29, ESV)

Jesus is not commanding us to literally pluck out our eyes, but is using hyperbole to emphasize the seriousness of sin, and the voracity that we need to take in order to eradicate sin out of our lives. We should take every measure to remove and avoid things that cause us to stumble and fall into sin. Yes, go to great lengths to root out sin, but please, do not go out and search for sharp objects to gouge out your eyes!

But I think that this is something that is symptomatic of a problem that has become so widespread in evangelicalism. This mentality of hastily applying the text of Scripture in a dire attempt to be “relevant”, ignoring the doctrinal context treating it as if it is somehow less relevant and less practical. Passages that have a predominant doctrinal content are somehow deemed as less practical and less relevant than those that seem to directly relate to daily living. The common question posed today in too many evangelical circles is not “what does this verse mean”, but “what does this verse mean to me”.

This issue was discussed in an article by John MacArthur at Pulpit Live some time ago, What Does This Verse Mean ‘to me?. This is an excellent article, and if you have not already read this article before, I would encourage you to do so. To quote MacArthur:

“The difference may seem insignificant at first. Nevertheless, our obsession with the Scripture’s applicability reflects a fundamental weakness. We have adopted practicality as the ultimate judge of the worth of God’s Word. We bury ourselves in passages that overtly relate to daily living, and ignore those that don’t.”

As MacArthur points out, practical application is indeed important, but so is sound doctrine. What evangelicalism has done is place a false dichotomy between doctrinal and practical truth. Sound doctrine is practical!

It is tragic that Christians today treat doctrine as merely theoretical, dismissing it as impractical and causing unnecessary division. MacArthur refers to a book he read that actually had the absurdity to warn readers about preachers who emphasize “interpreting Scripture rather than applying it”. And I agree with MacArthur that this is very unwise counsel.

We need not fear any artificially misconstrued danger of irrelevant doctrine. No, what we really need to fear is an unbiblical and dangerous approach to relevance. The real travesty is the myriad of confusion that exists today as a result of lack of sound doctrine.

Solid biblical exposition has taken back seat to a pragmatic mentality of “what can I get out of the Bible to meet my needs”; what will seem to “work” in an individual’s daily life. Motives are more self-centered rather than God centered. No thought is given to the mind of God and what brings glory to God. In reality, the doctrinal application provides a sound basis for the practical application. If you read very carefully in the New Testament, you will observe, especially in the writing of Paul, the doctrinal foundation is given before launching into the practical application. God’s divine Truth provides the basis for behavior that honors Him. In the article in Pulpit Live, MacArthur draws on the example of the book of Romans. The first eleven chapters provide the foundation for dedication to Christ. Then beginning in chapter 12, Paul elaborates on the practical consequences of the theological basis outlined in the previous chapters of Romans.

You can observe the same pattern in Paul’s writing elsewhere. And it is this pattern that serves as the basis for transforming behavior. It is the primary challenge and utmost importance in biblical ministry to accurately and precisely expound the truth of Scripture. This is clearly evident in Paul’s admonition to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15, and underscores the importance of precision in handling God’s Word in the life of those called to leadership in the church.

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”
(2 Timothy 2:15, NASB)

Too many Bible studies focus on what the text means to the individual. Too many discussions are merely based on individual opinions. Before we make any application of the text of Scripture, we must first determine what it means. Then discussion can take place on how it applies to our lives.

I will end with this quote from MacArthur: “We don’t make the Bible relevant; it is inherently so, simply because it is God’s Word. And after all, how can anything God says be irrelevant?”

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Biblical Church Leadership - Pt. 3

I was going to begin discussing the qualifications of elders, but I have decided to discuss the team aspect of the leadership structure first. I believe this is vitally important for two reasons; 1) the NT teaches a team approach of church eldership, rather than one man wielding all of the leadership authority over the church, and 2) our church is currently in the process of researching the model of church leadership since the resignation of our senior pastor this last December. Then the decision will be made as to whether we should search internally or externally for the right candidate. I believe that our church is at a critical turning point and there is a golden opportunity to implement a more biblical approach to the leadership team which will be critical if we are going to be able to refocus and establish a more biblical approach to the ministry of the church. It all hinges upon whether we are going to follow God’s leading which MUST begin with following the principles that God laid out in His Word.

This does not mean that the qualifications of the individual who is selected for eldership is less important. But what I have found is, that while many may understand what the qualifications may be, the concept of a team leadership approach is misunderstood and more importantly, not always practiced in the church. I also believe that the lack of a plurality of leadership is detrimental to the overall health of the church. There are undoubtedly challenges with this approach, but I believe that it is the model given to us by God in the New Testament as a benefit to providing a spiritually healthy leadership approach for the church.

Plurality of Leadership

The concept of shared leadership is indicated throughout the Bible. The concept was present in the Old Testament institution of the elders of Israel. It was also found in the appointing of the twelve apostles by Jesus. The Lord did not appoint one man to lead His church; instead He personally trained twelve men to carry out the mission. The concept of a plurality of leadership was given to the church by Jesus. The twelve apostles were the first council of leaders for the first community of Christians and provide a great example of servant leadership, brotherly love and a shared leadership structure. The concept of a plurality of leadership is even displayed in the choosing of the seven for ministering to the needs of the church’s widows in Acts chapter six. These were the early prototype of what would later be the deacons in the church. It was a collective leadership format, with no indication that there was one man dominating the entire group, making the rest of the group his servants. Given the evidence available, the deacons in the church, just like the elders, served under a plurality of leadership. [1]

The evidence is abundant in the New Testament that the church was governed by a plurality of leadership.

  • Acts 15 – Elders in Jerusalem united with the twelve disciples to form a collective council of leadership to judge doctrinal controversy.
  • James 5:14 – Instruction is given to “call for the elders of the church” on behalf of the sick individual. The term “elders” is plural and “church” is singular, indicating that there was a collective body of elders in a single church.
  • Acts 14:23 – Paul appoints a plurality of elders to each new church that was founded.
  • Acts 20:17,28 – Paul calls for the “elders” plural, not a singular “pastor” for a final meeting.
  • 1 Timothy 5:17 – This passages should indicate beyond any doubt that Ephesus was governed by a team of several elders. “Let the elders [plural] who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.”
  • Philippians 1:1 – Paul greeted the “overseers [plural] and deacons”.
  • Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5 – Paul appointed a plurality of elders to take care of the churches he established, as well as appointing others to do the same.
    In fact, Paul did not consider a church fully functional until it had a team of qualified elders. (Titus 1:5) [1]

Here are some other NT passages that provide evidence of the shared leadership principle:

1. Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, p. 35-38.