Monthly Archives: October 2012

 

Oct

30

2012

Jared C. Wilson|12:00 pm CT

From Pastor to Pastors: Our Church’s Transition to Plurality of Elders

Two days ago our church membership voted to install our first board of elders in who knows how long. (I’m told that 200+ year-old Middletown Church had elder governance once upon a time, but it has not in recent history.) Establishing leadership from a plurality of elders has been one of my ministry goals since arriving here in August 2009, and as I’ve shared with some over the last 3 years about the process, I continue to receive questions on the nuts and bolts. The reality is not all that sophisticated, honestly.

I wish I had a carefully formulated strategy behind our transition, but I do not. The most important ingredient in this process is a church community already determined to do what the Bible says to do, and this spirit of submission to the Scriptures was not something I gave them, but something they had already developed before I came, something trained in them by the Spirit through the three evangelical pastors before me. I simply capitalized on it. But given the ingredient of a biblically receptive congregation, here are the steps that I took, emphasizing up front that the key pastoral ingredient is patience:

1. I began by teaching the existing leadership team (in our case, the board of deacons and deaconesses) about biblical governance. I suggested books to read (see resource list below), passed around copies of articles and essays, emailed them links to peruse, showed them in the Scriptures the basis for plurality of elders in leadership, and just talked through it with them, answering a bunch of questions and concerns.

2. When the deacons were adequately informed and prepared for the next step, I preached through the issues in our worship service, in a series I called “Church Matters.” In one particular sermon I explained the need for plurality of elders. I continued seeding more awareness of the need in subsequent sermons and talks a bit here and a bit there.

3. A month in advance of our annual meeting last year (2011), I explained that I was going to propose adding to our bylaws the establishment of an elder board. I handed out position papers that I wrote on both elder leadership and the role of women in leadership (explaining why we would continue to have women deacons but would not have women elders).

4. I answered a lot of questions in that pre-meeting time in private meetings with church members.

5. Annual meeting arrived. Members voted unanimously to adopt elder leadership.

6. From fall 2011 to fall 2012, we took nominations for elders from the congregation based on the biblical qualifications required. I interviewed and assessed all candidates.

7. 6 weeks ago I presented the stable of elder candidates for our first elder board. I asked if anyone had an issue — of personal conflict or knowledge of a defaming sin — with any of the men to let me know in advance of meeting. (Nobody did.)

8. Two days ago at our 2012 annual meeting the membership voted unanimously to approve the stable of candidates as presented.

Voila, we have plurality of elders as leadership now. The whole process took 2 years — 1 year to prep the existing leaders and then the congregation and get the bylaws changed, and 1 year to receive nominations and assess candidates.

God has been really good to us.

Your mileage in the process may vary, of course, but this is a rough outline of how it was handled at Middletown.

Resources we found helpful:
- Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons by Thabiti Anyabwile
- A Book on Church Leadership You’ll Actually Read by Mark Driscoll
- Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch
- a bunch of 9 Marks stuff, including the book The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever and this journal article “Moving from a Deacon-Led to an Elder-Led Church” by Phil Newtown

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Oct

30

2012

Jared C. Wilson|10:31 am CT

“I’m Not Much of a Reader”

In pastoring, in discipling, I’ve heard it more than I care to count. When exhorting a fellow spiritual journeyman to “Take up and read” the Bible as part of a regular discipline of growth in the Spirit, I will sometimes get this excuse: “I’m not much of a reader.”

“I don’t read,” these folks are saying. “I don’t really read anything. Nothing personal against the Bible itself; I just don’t learn that way.”

This book, they tend to agree, is the place where God is speaking. The one true living God of the Universe reveals what he wants us to know to be complete for every good work in this book called the Bible. In this day and age, when the Scriptures are available in the West at the click of a link or the touch of an iPod, excuses to remain biblically illiterate aren’t just silly — they are sinful.

Imagine I showed you a tent across the yard. You can see a glow emanating from its zippered door. “Inside that tent,” I said, “is God himself. He has something to say to you. You just have to go inside the tent, and the God of the Universe will reveal the mystery of the ages to you.” And then imagine you were to say, “I’m not much of a walker. I prefer sitting to walking.”

Makes about as much sense.

“What great toil and effort it cost the church fathers to gather up a few crumbs, while we with half the labor – with almost no labor at all – can acquire the whole loaf. O how their efforts put our indolence to shame!”
– Martin Luther

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Oct

30

2012

Jared C. Wilson|10:24 am CT

Why She’s a Complementarian

While you’re pulling up a seat for what will likely ensue after Kathy Keller’s important review of Rachel Held Evans’s exegetical fumble posted this morning, take some time to read Lore Ferguson’s explanation for why she is a complementarian. An excerpt:

It seems to me that on a very base level the problem of the feminist movement and the patriarchy movement, and indeed sin itself, is principally a lack of trust. We have, from the very beginning, been attempting to wrench what was not given in the search of what was labeled off limits.

The whole garden, every tree and plant, the dominion over the whole earth was ours—everything but this one tree, and yet this one tree is the one Eve took the fruit from and gave it to Adam to share.

From the start we are in search of what is not within our grasp. And if we feel powerless holding onto what does not belong to us, we grasp, we cajole, we plead, and finally in an act of spirited defiance, we take it. We reach high into the branches and we twist that fruit until what looked so good is now so bad, and we eat of it—we dominate in the name of righteousness.

And what happens is not satisfaction. It is not completion. It is not godlike presence or perfection. What happens is that we are immediately found wanting for more and nothing covers us fully enough. We need something more to satisfy.

This, to me, is the major practical flaw in movements that attempt to thwart a design, albeit a design with limits, to attain what was not designed to be ours.

We are never satisfied . . .

Here is why I am a complementarian (aside from the fact that I think the Bible is clear about it and I’m too tired of all the other mental gymnastics I do to add one more routine): because it goes against my nature to submit to anyone on anything. I’m aware of it so strongly that I war against anything that teaches me to reach for a higher branch of forbidden fruit.

I war against anything God has said clearly it is not right for me to have (I Tim. 2.12). I war against anything that demands action of me I have not been fit to act on (I Peter 3.7). I war against anything that says if one person has something I ought to have it too (Rom. 12.3). The truth is trust is where I belong, it is where I am safest, where I am held, where I am known, where I rest, and most of all where He has made His glory known to me.

You may call me foolish or underfoot, you may even accuse me of being blinded by my male leadership, and I am okay with that, because here is what I know: I am seen and noted, I am chosen and delivered, I am full of the Father’s design, the Groom’s love, and Spirit’s help. The more I trust, the further into Himself He takes me.

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Oct

29

2012

Jared C. Wilson|9:30 am CT

“Much More”: The Gospel as Middle and Better Way

And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
– Matthew 5:41

These are polar opposites: legalism and license, Pharisaism and hedonism, religion and anarchy, self-righteousness and unrighteousness. They are each more alike in essence than they appear, but between these polarities lies the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the middle and better way.

The gospel is the middle way because it provides the centering of God’s powerful grace, freeing us from the condemnation of works righteousness on the one hand and the condemnation of disobedience on the other.

But the gospel is the better way because it takes the excesses of the hedonistic polarity and applies them in Spiritual power to the aims of the religious polarity. Here’s what I mean:

Jesus posits that disciples may be required to go with someone for a mile. License would have us disobey the command altogether — running in the other direction. Legalism would have us obey what is required — going one mile. The grace in the gospel, however, trains us (Titus 2:11-12) to do the minimum and more. A second mile. They want your coat? Give ‘em your shirt too.

Similarly, think of the marriage relationship. If we simply followed the law, we would treat our spouses fairly, kindly, well. But captured by Christ in his gracious gospel, husbands don’t just avoid being mean to their wives, they cherish them, loving them sacrificially, selflessly. Wives don’t just respect their husbands, they submit to them. The affectionate excess of licentiousness is channeled by grace to super-fulfillment of the law. God in Christ did not simply tolerate us; he lavished the riches of his grace upon us (Eph. 1:7-8).

The gospel is not a bare minimum thing. Apply it to the area of financial giving. Paul urges the middle and better way of the gospel in 2 Corinthians 9:7. The lawful thing to do would be to give. 10% sounds about right. The disobedient thing would be not to give at all. The gospel goes to the heart first, not the hands. How generous was God in Christ? As Tim Keller says, “Jesus didn’t tithe his blood.” He gave what was needed, for the joy set before him even though it killed him. So the gospel provides the grounds for sacrificial, joyful giving. Don’t give under compulsion; don’t give under reluctance. Give according to the measure of the gospel’s dominion over your heart. The excess of the “all out” of stinginess is applied to the requirement to give so that it becomes an “all in” generosity.

In repentance I pursue holiness as zealously as I pursued sin in unrepentance, with much more affection for God than I afforded my idols, even in the panting passions of my lust. Only the gospel can empower this.

Over and over, Jesus shows us this middle and better way. “You have heard not to kill. I say not to hate.” “You have heard not to commit adultery. I say not to lust.” Not killing or committing adultery are certainly ways to obey the law. Not objectifying people made in God’s image in the depths of our hearts is a way to go deeper, to go the second mile in response to the law’s demand for the first. So Jesus says “Love your enemies and bless those who persecute you.” The law would only have us tolerate, avoid, and in some cases prosecute.

The gospel explodes niceness. “Outdo one another showing honor” (Romans 12:10), it says.

The gospel would have us turn the impulse for revenge inside out until it’s a gracious forgiveness. For that’s what Jesus did for us. He has not just met the requirements of the law, he has signaled the end of it. He has not just justified us, but has sanctified us and glorified us. He has not just pardoned us, but he has united us to himself. He has not just given us life, but life abundant (John 10:10).

So now we look through the gospel at the law and see it differently. Not as a burden but a delight. We see others not as projects or impediments but image-bearing opportunities to make Jesus look very big.

For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
– Romans 5:17

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Oct

26

2012

Jared C. Wilson|8:20 pm CT

The Gospel’s Antidote for Envy

The antidote for the self-justification and the self-sovereignty driving envy is rootedness in justification by faith and the supremacy of Christ. Like all other sins, envy is fundamentally a sin of pride, and the only way to kill pride is to confess our sin, repent of it, and believe in the forgiveness given to us by God’s free grace in Jesus.

Flashing back to Genesis 4, why do you think Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and Cain’s was not. Did God just like Abel better? Did Abel know the right religious words or jump through the right religious hoops?

No, Abel’s sacrifice was accepted first because it was the sort of offering God had commanded, but also because his offering of sacrificed livestock best reflected the stakes of making us right with God. After the fall, one of the first things Adam and Eve did to cover their shame was clothe themselves with plants. But they had brought death into the world and bloodshed; only bloodshed could cover their shame. So God replaced their leafy garments with animal skins. This is how serious sin is; this is how serious envy is. Something has to die. “[W]ithout the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).

God required an offering and Abel brought real sacrifices. Cain brought the fruit of his hard work. We cannot and will not satisfy the debt of envy through the fruit of our hard work any more than Cain could. If we want to kill envy, it will take death.

Thanks be to God, then, that Jesus offers himself as the acceptable sacrifice. The fruit of his hard work culminates with his substitutionary death, taking our place, covering our shame, killing our sin.

In one of the great glorious ironies of the gospel, it is envy for what Jesus has that drives us to betray him and nail him to the cross, but in his crucifixion he is gladly, willingly, humbly, and freely giving us everything he’s got. No one is more generous than Jesus. We need not envy him or anyone else; his unclenched hand freely gives us all things! So says Paul:

He did not even spare His own Son,
but offered Him up for us all;
how will He not also with Him grant us everything?
(Romans 8:32)

So, then, envy is not only spiritual suicide, it is spiritual nonsense! Not one of us can add an ounce of satisfaction through a pound of envy. But in the free gift of eternal life there is eternal fulfillment.

The final and best way to assassinate envy, therefore, is to park ourselves at the foot of the cross early and often. Rather than constantly fooling with envy’s sideways glance, we ought to be “keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Look at him and his glory, and you will find rest.

– from 7 Daily Sins: How the Gospel Redeems Our Deepest Desires

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Oct

26

2012

Jared C. Wilson|6:42 pm CT

Heretics Are Usually Nice Guys

Romans 16:18: “For such persons [that is, the persons who depart from the doctrine] do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”

Let’s take the second one first. Verse 18b: “By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” The word for flattery is simply blessing. And smooth talk doesn’t necessarily mean manifestly slippery. It just means pleasant and plausible. So the reason we must be so vigilant over biblical doctrine is that those who depart from it take simple people with them by pleasant, plausible speech that presents itself as a blessing. False teachers don’t get a following by being rough and harsh. They get a following by being nice.

Just take two examples from history: Arius (d. 336) and Socinus (d. 1604)—both of whom denied the deity of Christ. Parker Williamson describes Arius like this:

Here was a bright, energetic, attractive fellow, the kind of citizen whom any Rotary Club would welcome. Singing sea chanties in dockside pubs and teaching Bible stories to the Wednesday night faithful, this was an immensely popular man. His story reminds us that heresy does not bludgeon us into belief. We are seduced. (Parker T. Williamson, Standing Firm: Reclaiming the Chastain Faith in Times of Controversy [Lenoir, North Carolina: PLC Publications, 1996], p. 31.)

And another writer describes Socinus like this:

He was a gentleman. His morals were above reproach and he distinguished himself by his unfailing courtesy. Unfailing courtesy was remarkable in an age when even the great Protestant leaders, Luther and Calvin would use vile street language when arguing with their opponents.

This means that it will seldom be popular to resist false teachers in the church because they are almost always perceived as bringing a blessing and speaking with winsome words. They are gentlemen. And Paul says the innocent are carried away. Hence he says, “Watch out for them. And avoid them.”

– John Piper, Watch Out For Those Who Would Lead You Away From the Truth (2006)

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Oct

24

2012

Jared C. Wilson|3:20 pm CT

The Church in a Politicized World

Are these our options? Political idolatry on the one hand and political silence on the other? Shall we presume to protect the gospel’s relevance by cordoning it off from certain areas of our life? The Church all over the world — not just in the West — has real problems figuring out how to press the gospel into every corner of the cultural room, as it were, without it getting walked all over. I do think the Word of God helps us navigate these things.

Peter offers help:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

– 1 Peter 2:11-17

What basic outline does this passage offer us for seeing the Church’s place in the politicized world? I see three basic hallmarks of the Church’s witness:

1. Respectable and respectful participants
2. Bold prophets
3. Faithful proclaimers

First, Peter reminds the brethren that their citizenship is in heaven (“sojourners and exiles”). This world is not our home, so we should not live like our ultimate treasure is anything temporary, whether it be good or bad or neutral. As it pertains to the Christian and politics, “abstain from the passions of the flesh” is really important. We are used to thinking of drunkenness and sexual immorality and the like in relation to that phrase, but it is equally applicable to political zealotry. Too many of us indulge the passions of the flesh when it comes to treating our candidates like messiahs, the other candidates like devils, and assuming laws and leaders and our land itself is the hope of the world. All of this is passing away, and we ought to treat it like it is.

And yet Peter is not necessarily advocating a withdrawal from the system. He is advocating honorable citizenship, a participation that commends the gospel of the kingdom. The level of political participation will vary Christian to Christian, culture to culture, as conscience and conviction demands. Certainly there is no biblical legality for voting or not voting, politicking or not politicking. Let us be ruled by the Spirit in the matters on which the Scriptures are silent. But whether we vote or don’t vote, campaign or don’t campaign, let us do all things to the glory of God. This means at the very least, living upright, honorable, charitable, respectful lives as witness to our real citizenship. It also means not buying into the political idolatry of any side, playing tit for tat, spinning the truth or lying or embracing hypocrisy or whitewashing our problematic candidates. It means refraining from rhetoric that reveals we worship false gods. Let’s be respectable and respectful participants.

Secondly, Peter encourages the brethren to be subject to the human governmental and civic institutions “for the Lord’s sake” (cf. Paul’s words in Romans 13:1-7). So we obey the laws that do not violate God’s laws, and we do so with the commendation of Christ in mind. So when we have to pay our taxes, we pay our taxes with Christ in mind. And if we vote, we vote with Christ in mind. Vote, but vote as if you are not voting.

“Live as people who are free,” Peter says. We will not be tied to any particular political or legislative outcomes as if our ultimate hope or devastation are tied to them. We will not let our affections be owned by who is in the State House or the White House.

“Live as servants of God,” Peter says, and here we get another shade to what it means to live as people who are free in a politicized world. It means participating respectfully and respectably, but it also means living as those whose ultimate allegiance is to God and not men. In Acts 5:27-29, when the apostles are brought before the authorities to remind them that they have handed down the law restricting their freedom to preach the gospel, the answer they provide is not mute submission. They say, “We must obey God rather than men.” We are beholden ultimately to God, not our political party or the American government, so when we are called to violate God’s commands we cannot obey. Indeed, when we see systemic sins and injustices promoted and protected by the powers that be, as servants of God we are required to be bold prophets.

The Bible provides quite a history of the unique role of God’s community speaking truth to power. Think Moses to Pharaoh, Nathan to David, Daniel and friends to Nebuchadzezzar, the prophets to the kings, John the Baptist to Herod, and the apostles to everybody in saying “Jesus is Lord” in the day of the Caesars. No, they did not conflate the kingdom of God with the kingdom of the world, and no, they did not conflate gospel with legislation, but they were not silent about the kingdom’s opposition to injustice and immorality. And churchmen of conscience have maintained this same responsibility time and time again throughout history, acting and speaking directly to say the gospel’s “No” to the political world’s gross injustices.

The reforms throughout history as it pertains to slavery, civil rights, orphans, care for the poor, AIDS in Africa, and now abortion and sex trafficking were and are gospel issues requiring the moral compass of the Church to speak boldly and prophetically. We can most certainly deny that the gospel is everything while maintaining that the gospel helps us know how to think and talk about everything.

Peter closes this way, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” Notice the parallels between “everyone” and “the emperor.” They are due honor. The Church is distinguished as being owed love, not because all others do not deserve love but because the household of faith, as the family that endures eternally, receives a special loving allegiance above the world and its rulers. The gates of hell will prevail against the gates of cultures and kingdoms. But not the church. And Peter roots it all — familial love for the brethren, the honor kind of love for everybody else — in “fear of God.” Where is our reverence due? Where is our worship due? Where are our affections due? The gracious God who loves us, saves us, redeems us, secures us, and promises us the glory to come. Therefore we will be faithful proclaimers of this God and his kingdom through stubborn fixation on his gospel. The gospel is our plumb line for discerning between activism and apathy in all things.

We resolve to be honorable citizens in this world because we are citizens of another, and we resolve to speak truth to power boldly because we must obey God rather than men, and we resolve to know nothing except Christ and him crucified, because he is the hope of the politically idolatrous world.

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Oct

24

2012

Jared C. Wilson|11:02 am CT

Why I Cannot Vote to Reelect President Obama

These are not the only reasons I cannot place a vote for President Barack Obama in the upcoming election, but they are the primary ones.

In ascending order of importance (to me):

5. The Affordable Care Act, which only compounds the systemic dysfunctions and increasing demands in America’s health care system.

4. His associations and appointments reflect a poverty of character and values.

3. He cannot be trusted to defend our nation’s citizens and interests.

2. He is regularly ordering the murder of innocent civilians overseas.

1. He is decidedly and unashamedly against protecting the health and lives of the most vulnerable in our society.

For these reasons and more, I do not believe a vote cast for the President is in obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Oct

23

2012

Jared C. Wilson|2:13 pm CT

Too Earthly Minded to Be Any Heavenly Good?

“A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

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Oct

23

2012

Jared C. Wilson|9:45 am CT

Keep Your Heart

One of my favorite chapters in Joe Thorn‘s invaluable little book Note to Self is this one on “keeping your heart”:

Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.

– Proverbs 4:23

Dear Self,

You work at keeping your conduct in line, and you work at maintaining a good reputation, but you don’t work enough on keeping your heart. The problem with this is unless you learn to keep your heart, your conduct and reputation will be of little value and may come crashing down in times of weakness.

The call to keep your heart is a call to work on your life internally, not merely externally. The latter is easy; the former is much harder and more complicated. The religious or moral person will focus on the external and maintain good appearances, but it may have little to nothing to do with the heart. God is first and foremost concerned with your heart, for when you are keeping your heart, the rest of life follows.

To keep your heart means that your focus and work is on maintaining communion with God and pursuing the transformation that only God can accomplish in you. It is not performance-based religion, nor the moral improvement of your life, but the ongoing work of cultivating love for God and hatred for sin. It is the unending effort of guarding ourselves against idols while resting in the promises of the gospel.

To keep your heart is your primary business as a Christian, and it cannot be done with passing interest or any small amount of energy. It requires the consistent use of all the means of grace. You must make the most of worship, Scripture, prayer, and the church gathered in all its forms with an aim at keeping your heart and growing in grace. If you are doing any less than this, you are keeping up appearances but not your heart. And you know that the heart is what God is primarily interested in (Psalm 51:16-17) — hearts that are broken over sin, healed by God’s forgiving grace, and consequently filled with love for our Redeemer God.

– Joe Thorn, Note to Self (Crossway, 2011), 97-98.

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