Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Reformation: A Revival of Religion

The study of the Protestant Reformation has been one of my loves since I attended the Criswell College many years ago. Yesterday, I completed reading "The Reformation: A Handbook" by T. M. Lindsay, first published in 1882, and found the work quite interesting and informative. In his closing chapters, Lindsay discusses the principles of the Reformation. One of his paragraphs grabbed my attention and I thought I would share it on this blog.

The church which ought to have shown the way into God's presence seemed to surround the inner shrine of his sanctuary with a triple wall of defence which prevented entrance. When a man or woman felt sorrow for sin, the church told them to go, not to God, but to a man, often of immoral life, and confess their sins to him because he was a priest. When they wished to hear the comforting words of pardon spoken, it was not from God, but from man, that the assurance came. God's grace to help to holy living and dying was given, they were told, through a series of sacraments which fenced man's life round. He was born again in baptism; he came of age in the church in confirmation; his marriage was cleansed from the sin of lust in the sacrament of matrimony; penance brought back his spiritual life slain by deadly sin; the sacrament of the Lord's Supper fed him year by year, and deathbed grace was imparted in extreme unction. These were not the signs and promises of the free grace of God under whose wide canopy, as under that of heaven, man lives his spiritual life. They were the jealously guarded doors from out of which grudgingly, and commonly not without fees, the church and the priests dispensed the free grace of God.

In that same chapter, Lindsay describes how the medieval church developed into the entity which prevented man's way to God. His discussion centered on Pope Gregory VII (Hildebrand), Francis of Assisi, the Mystics, and, finally, ended with Luther. Here is two of his summary paragraphs:

All down the stream of pious medieval life men and women had been yearning to get near God, but their yearning came out in different questions, and in each succeeding revival probed deeper. Gregory asked, How can I be separate from the world? Francis said, How can I be like Christ? The Mystics sighed, How can I have inward fellowship with God? Luther asked, How can I have the sense of pardon, and know that God has forgiven me my sin? ...

The Reformation revival of religion has this question of heart religion always before it, and always answers it in the same way. Men get pardon from God by going to God directly for it, trusting in his promise to pardon. God's free pardoning grace revealed in the Person and work of Christ, and man's trust in this promised grace, are the two poles between which the religious life of the Reformation always vibrates. God, for the sake of Jesus Christ, has promised to pardon his people's sin. The sinner trusts this promise. That is the simple religious aspect of the Reformation movement. All men who, having felt the need of pardon, and having perfect trust in the promise of pardon that God has given in Christ Jesus, go to him, and, casting aside all thought of themselves or of what they can do, simply rest on that promise and leave all to God, have the pardon and the sense of it.

Amen and Praise the Lord!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Hopkins: We Need Revival

My dear friend and brother in Christ, Pastor Creth Hopkins, has posted an article on his blog on the subject of our need for revival. This article has been published in their local newspaper. I encourage you to check it out!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Beddome: On the Love of God

I thoroughly enjoy the writings of the British Baptist pastor Benjamin Beddome. Here is a brief excerpt from his sermon on John 16:27 entitled “On the Love of God”. I hope you enjoy his thoughts.

Our love to Christ, therefore, cannot be the cause of God’s love to us, but is a stream flowing from it; his grace in regeneration produces it; his grace in sanctification preserves and increases it. Love, as well as faith, is the gift, the free gift, of God … If God had loved us no more than he does the devils, we should have remained the same enemies to Christ as the devils are. …

God’s love to us is infinitely superior to our love to Christ. The latter is mingled with coldness and indifference. Such is the imperfection of it, that the Christian often questions its reality; but God’s love is like his nature, boundless; as incapable of addition as it is of diminution.

pp. 19-20, Sermons: Printed from the Manuscripts of the Late Rev. Benjamin Beddome

Monday, August 18, 2008

Daily Bible Reading Programs

Over the years I have used several types of daily Bible reading programs, those programs designed to help you read the entire Bible in a single year. One I have used on several occasions is the program developed by Robert Murray M'Cheyne and published by Banner of Truth. Each day you will read from at least 4 different books (both Old and New Testament) and will ultimately read through the Psalms and the New Testament twice. I enjoy this approach very much.

This past Christmas one of my daughters purchased for me a Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), a newer translation I did not own. Just before the new year began, I ran across a Bible reading program by John R. Kohlenberger III, "Read Through the Bible in a Year". His approach follows the Bible chronologically. Not having pursued that approach before, I committed to use Kohlenberger's plan and my new HCSB for my 2008 Bible reading.

Today is August 18th and my readings are in Ezekiel. I have reached that time in Israel when the Kingdom of Judah falls to the Babylonians and is taken into captivity. As one would suspect, my journey so far has been exclusively Old Testament based. I do not begin the New Testament until September 30, though I would argue that part of John 1 should have been read in early January.

As I read, I mark those passages which jump out at me in one way or another. So my HCSB presently provides somewhat of a map of where I have been (and not been!). When I complete this year, it will reflect those moments in 2008 when the Lord impressed me while I was reading His Word. Of course, I suspect I will continue underlining in this translation during the coming years as well.

To date, the HCSB has been an enjoyable translation to read. However, I find the reading program somewhat burdensome. Let's face it. Even those of us who like reading the history of Israel, long for some New Testament from time to time! Waiting almost 10 months to reach ANY New Testament seems a bit too much.

So, while I will continue to use my HCSB in the future, I do not expect to embark on another year's journey through the Bible using a chronological approach. Once is quite enough, thank you very much!

Maybe I can find a reading program which reads the Old Testament and New Testament chronologically but at the same time. In other words, each day you read a bit from each Testament but do so in chronological order. That would be more tolerable.

Perhaps if such a program does not exist, I could develop my own.

If you have a favorite Bible reading program, I would be interested in knowing what it is.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Caution for Pastor Search Committees

While on the subject of Pastor Search Committees (see previous post), I want to issue a caution to such committees.

Usually a search committee will develop a "requirements list" for the church's future pastor. Often this list is based on perceived church needs or likes. One of the items normally on that list is some level of formal education. If you read search committee postings for potential pastors you will often read "Seminary graduate" or "Masters degree required" or something similar.

I have nothing against a committee having a "requirements" list or making education one of those requirements. However, I believe the true "requirements" list for a pastor is the one recorded in the Scriptures.

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:2-7; ESV)

There is nothing here demanding the prospective pastor to have a formal education. Obviously, if he is to be an able teacher he must know the Word of God (not only factually but also theologically). Yet I have met many "uneducated" men who have a better grasp and understanding of Scripture than some seminary graduates. History confirms this truth. Probably the most notable example would be Charles Haddon Spurgeon. What a shame (or should I say sin?) if the "search committee" of the New Park Street Church had told C.H.S., "Sorry, but you have no formal education, no seminary degree, so our committee will not consider you for the position of our pastor."

Please do not misunderstand me. I am NOT arguing against formal education or seminary training. Rather, I am attempting to make the point that our search committees should look first to the Scriptures for the requirements of a pastor, not to their lists.

Perhaps instead of viewing the "requirements list" as requirements, maybe committees should take them as guidelines. The primary mission of the committee is to determine if the man being considered meets the requirements listed in Scripture AND if the Lord has called this specific man to be their next pastor.

No matter what approach a committee takes in attempting to discern the qualifications of a prospective minister, I exhort them to seriously question ANY candidate on their Bible knowledge and theological understanding of Scripture. Such a practice should apply whether the man sitting before them is a seminary graduate with a Th.D. degree or someone who has no formal education past the 6th grade.

Friday, August 8, 2008

"Manners" and Pastor Search Committees

As early as 2003 while serving as a bi-vocational pastor, the Lord put a burden on my heart to be willing to serve some congregation somewhere as a full time pastor. The burden became so great by 2005 that I submitted my resignation to the small church I was pastoring in order to help them transition to another pastor before the Lord put me in a full time position.

Well, it is now 2008 and the Lord has not opened the specific church door to me, YET. For these past 5 years, many church openings have been brought to my attention. With the internet, you can view such openings via a variety of searches. On any given day, you can locate dozens of full time Southern Baptist church pastor openings. Add to this the various Baptist papers and I could spend all my free time sending resumes to various churches in almost all states. However, I have refrained from operating this way.

When I become aware of an opening, I quickly pray about the situation. If I do not sense a response from the Lord, I disregard that specific opportunity. When the Lord does impress me about a certain church, I then spend some days praying about it. In a few cases these past 5 years, the Lord continues to convict me about these specific churches. I then send a copy of my resume to those churches.

Needless to say, while I have sent resumes to less than 1% of all the openings I have seen in the past 5 years, I have sent several. Therefore, I can say I have some experience with how pastor search committees treat such resumes.

Please note the following statistics based on my personal tracking:

  • Over 78% of my resumes never receive one word from the pastor search committee; no phone calls, no e-mail responses, and no snail mail letters.
  • 21.7% of the time I have received one response, the overwhelming majority of those are "no, thanks" (some of them, though, are simply notes telling me my resume has been received).
  • About 2.5% of the time, the pastor search committee has responded to me two or more times. Usually one of these contacts is to inform me my resume has been received and one of the other contacts informs me I am not being considered.
I find such percentages appalling! They indicate a disrespect for the candidate on the part of the search committee. By not responding to the individual, they leave the minister "hanging". Is this how we should treat the servants of God who are simply responding to the conviction the Lord has placed on their heart?

Since I am employed full time in the business world, I also have experience sending my business resume to various companies whenever I am looking for a new position. Secular corporations treat their applicants with much more respect. Companies have always responded with, at a minimum, two letters: one stating my resume/application has been received and the other indicating I am no longer being considered for the position. I can't think of one experience in my 35 years of employment contrary to this.

If you are on a Pastor Search Committee, you need to demonstrate respect for those servants of Christ applying for your pastorate. In some way, acknowledge receipt of their resume. Also, when your committee determines a given applicant is no longer being considered, notify the applicant of this situation immediately.

Church Pastor Search Committees should put secular employment departments to shame with their communication to the applicants. I exhort such committees to commit to communicating diligently with EACH applicant.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Sermons and Their Delivery #4: Plagiarizing Sermons (continued)

Having discussed plagiarized sermons with some who have done such plagiarizing, I know what one of the follow up issues will be: “What’s wrong with preaching someone else’s message if that individual has given us the permission to do so?”

My last post concluded that plagiarizing a sermon is stealing. Plagiarizing is stealing the structure, thoughts, and words from the individual who did the original work. But what if that author has told others they could preach his message with his blessing? Doesn’t that eliminate the “theft” aspect of plagiarizing?

It amazes me that any preacher would encourage another servant of God to preach his message. Maybe that’s because I don’t consider any of my messages worthy of repetition! Yet, some preachers have done just that. For example, Dr. James Merritt, a popular Southern Baptist pastor and past President of the convention, has a web site in which he sells sermons. Furthermore, at the Pastor’s Conference of the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention, he encouraged fellow pastors to obtain his Father’s Day message and preach it to their churches, noting it was not plagiarism since he gave them permission to use it. Oh, really?

I will admit a sermon is not plagiarized if (1) the author has given permission for its use and (2) the user informs his audience that the message is not his. Receiving the author’s permission does eliminate the “stealing” aspect of plagiarism. But what about the deceit of the speaker when he preaches this message to a congregation who believes the message is his? The violation of the 9th commandment is still there. If you intend to preach a message that is not yours, my fellow minister of Christ, then tell your congregation at the outset what you are doing.

Even if a man of God had the permission of the sermon’s author to preach it and informed his congregation what he was doing, there are several reasons for not using such a sermon. Allow me briefly to return to my earlier definition of a sermon:

… an exposition and application of God’s Word which has been internalized by God’s messenger and then delivered by that messenger to the people for whom it was intended.
First, is such a message really intended for the audience to whom it is to be given? Has God truly convicted His messenger to preach another’s message on that day to his flock? Certainly He could do this. In fact, maybe there are times when He does do this. But I am sure such a situation would be the exception, not the norm.

Second, has such a message truly been internalized by the messenger? He hasn’t done any work in preparing it (other than, perhaps, changing some illustrations, etc.) so how can it be a part of him? When he delivers it will the passion of the message be evident or will it be a fake passion he must add in order to get a response from his audience?

Third, how much praying has the messenger done over the message? Since the message is not a “part of him”, it would seem any prayers offered to God over it would be of the form “Help me to deliver this message in a convincing way” or “Help me to read this message clearly”. Is that how we pray over messages? I hope we go beyond praying just for the delivery and include praying for the message, its content, and its structure. Of course, with a “borrowed” message, who needs to pray for those things?

Could there ever be a situation where a pastor is forced to borrow a sermon and deliver it? I suspect there are times like that in the lives of some. If the preacher MUST proclaim another’s message then he should be certain he has permission and make it clear to his congregation what he is doing. But, as I said above, such situations should be few and far between.

For preachers who plagiarize sermons on a regular basis, I can see only two reasons why they do so. First, they have no idea how to construct an expository sermon. If that is the case then they should seek the necessary training. All of our seminaries have courses on this subject. Some local Baptist schools offer such training as well. And I’m sure there are area pastors who have this skill and would gladly guide another servant of God who asked them for help. Preachers, if you can’t put together your own message then seek training or get out of the pulpit!

The second reason for plagiarizing sermons is laziness. If you know how to build an expository message but simply don’t do so then you are lazy. Be honest. You will find time for everything else in life except the time (and labor) necessary to prepare the meal for your sheep. Maybe you stay in bed most mornings. Maybe you spend most of your time in the office involved in counseling sessions. Maybe you spend your Fridays on the golf course. If you are willing to put your energies into these aspects of your life but not into your sermon then get out of the pulpit!

I close this post once again appealing to those pastors who plagiarize sermons. Stop it, men! You are to be examples of integrity to your flock and the overwhelming majority of that flock understands that plagiarism is wrong. That’s why you try to hide what you do in the pulpit each week. It’s time to repent to God and to your people. Then you can return to the Lord’s Word with a pure heart and prepare the spiritual bread your flock needs for spiritual nourishment.