All Together at the Lord’s Table

eat[This article also appeared on our church website as a Lord’s Supper meditation]. 

In marriage a husband pledges to love and serve his wife, while the wife responds by promising to love and submit to her husband. The vows are made individually, but in context, they blend together to create a melodic harmony that binds the couple together.

Something similar can be said of our relationship with the Lord. In response to the gospel, each person must individually respond, but not in their own self-styled way. Repentance from sin and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ are the only way we enter into covenant relationship with God.

For this reason, the new covenant is singular not plural; all who find salvation enter into the same covenant. And since the new covenant has been given to the church made up of Jews and Gentiles, it is in the local church where we enjoy and experience the new covenant together. Continue reading

Shepherds After God’s Own Heart

sheep‘And I will give you shepherds after my own heart,
who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.
– Jeremiah 3:15 –

In a chapter lamenting the spiritual adultery of Israel, Yahweh promises to give his people shepherds who will feed them with knowledge and understanding. He calls these “pastors” “shepherds after his own heart.” In the context of the prophets (and in Jeremiah especially), the arrival of these God-centered pastors marks the coming of the new covenant. While there were  faithful shepherds in the Old Testament, there were few. It would take the arrival of the Spirit to fulfill this verse and to supply God’s people with shepherds after God’s own heart.

Today, firmly situated in the era of the new covenant, this verse prompts pastors and churches alike to consider the gift, calling, and responsibility pastors have to shepherd the flock of God among them. And from this verse we can see at least four truths worthy of remembrance and application. Continue reading

Theological Triage (pt. 1): Rightly Dividing Truth from Error


It is not a word that we often associate with church life, or if we do, the connotation is probably not positive. However, I think the word has great potential for helping us understand and promote unity in the church—local and universal.

In its original context, triage “means the process of sorting victims to determine medical priority in order to increase the number of survivors.”  While the term is usually placed on the battlefield or in the wake of a natural disaster, it also has an important application in the church for knowing how to rightly hold the doctrines we believe.

Applied to biblical doctrines, the term has been labeled by Albert Mohler as “theological triage,” and it basically indicates that we should sort out three different kinds of biblical belief—(1) those that separate Christians from non-Christians, (2) those that separate different churches and denominations, and (3) those that individuals may disagree about but which are overcome by greater unity on more primary matters.

Today, I will consider the first level, and later this week days I will follow up with the second and third levels to help us think about our relationship with other faiths, other churches, and other individuals in our church. Continue reading

On Baptism and Children

baptism1A recurring question that all pastors will face is this: Pastor, will you baptize my child? With the (all-too-common, but misguided) pressure to please parents and their young child, it is vital for pastors and churches to know what they believe about baptism and children. For parents too, when little Johnny shows interest in baptism, what should you do?

These are vital questions and ones that have received no little attention among Christians committed to believer’s baptism. To find good answers, we don’t need to recreate the wheel. We simply need to know where to turn. Therefore, in what follows, I have listed a number of helpful articles to help you and I think through this important issue.

A Biblical, Pastoral, Denominational, and Parental Perspective by Jason Allen

In a recent blog, Jason Allen (President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) urges pastors and parents (and the SBC, as well) to “joyfully and wholeheartedly press the accelerator on the gospel while tapping the brakes on the baptistery.” He rightly affirms the fact that it is wise and pastorally-sensitive to affirm children in their desires to follow Christ but to be slow in moving them towards baptism. Since “we must remember it requires more than agreeing to facts about Jesus to be saved,” it is unwise to baptize a young child, simply because they might be able to affirm the plan of salvation. Let me encourage you to read the whole thing.

“Reforming Baptism and Church Membership” by John Hammett (in Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches)

In his excellent book on Baptist ecclesiology, John Hammett, professor of Systematic Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary gives sage counsel on baptism as it relates to children. He writes,

Caution is especially appropriate in the case of very young children. Anyone who works with children knows that five-year-olds will readily ask Jesus into their hearts, but until very recently Baptist would never have considered baptizing them. Believers baptism was seen as virtually synonymous with adult baptism. To request baptism was regarded as a decision requiring a fair degree of maturity. For a church to grant it was to welcome the person into the responsibilities of church membership, which would include participation in the governance of the church, which seems inappropriate in the case of preschoolers. Overseas most Baptists delay baptism until the teenage years, but it is difficult to avoid arbitrariness in setting any specific minimum age for baptism. (Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, 122)

While it is true that delaying baptism does add a measure of subjectivity, if not arbitrariness, he lists at least four reasons for delaying.

Continue reading

Book Notes: Church Planting is for Wimps

plantMike McKinley, Church Planting is for Wimps (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010).

Church Planting is for Wimps by pastor Mike McKinleyis an encouraging look into the life of a new church planter / revitalizer.

Writing at the four year mark of a church revitalization in the suburbs of Washington, DC, Mike McKinley gives a look into the work God had done through his efforts. Discipled under Mark Dever and sent out from Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Mike’s approach to church revitalization puts a premium of expositional preaching, followed by attention to meaningful membership, elder leadership, the church constitution, and personal evangelism.

While not a long or heavily annotated book, Church Planting is for Wimps gives a winsome look at church planting / revitalization. In fact, one of the most illuminating parts of the book is his short analysis of those two approaches to “planting” a new church. Continue reading

Do Not Underestimate Your Ministry of Presence


The Impact of One Greeter

When I think about God’s work in my life, I see a face without a name, a man whose identity I do not know, but whose inviting smile is etched on my heart.

Growing up in the suburbs of Virginia, church was not a priority, but when I moved in high school to the farmland of Southern Michigan, things began to change. At the request of a friend I began attending church.  I lingered in this unfamiliar place because the music and message interested me. But ultimately I stayed because I encountered the love of God in his Word and in the smiling faces of God’s people. And no one displayed that love more than the church greeter whose name has since left my memory.

The Lord’s steadfast love reflected in this man’s consistent presence. Every Sunday when I arrived this elderly man greeted me with hospitality and interest. He inquired of my school, sports, and life in general. Though our conversations were less than 60 seconds each Sunday, his ministry of presence left an indelible mark.

I look back on that man and wonder if he ever knew how much his “mundane ministry” impacted my young life. Probably not. Nevertheless, his inviting love played a significant part in my coming to faith in Christ.

Going to Church is Not Just About You

It is easy to think that our church attendance doesn’t matter. We convince ourselves that no one will miss us if we take a little extra time at the campground or if we go to the stadium instead of the sanctuary, but the truth is: Absent members are greatly missed.

Other church members suffer because your spiritual gifts are not being used for their edification (1 Cor 12:7).   Budding Christians miss your presence because they see your absence and begin to believe that it is normal for Christians to be part-timers. And wayward 17 year olds suffer, while they don’t even know it.

Church attendance is often downplayed because “going to church doesn’t save you.” And though that is technically true, such a sentiment is self-focused and short-sighted. While your church attendance may not “save” you, it very well may the means by which God saves someone else. For me, that anonymous doorman’s presence opened more to me than just a door; God used it as a means of opening my heart to receive eternal life in Jesus Christ. His ministry of presence is a lesson for all of us.

Do Not Underestimate Your Ministry of Presence

This Sunday, may we come to church as the Sons of Korah did, desiring to stand at the doorways of God’s temple serving all those who approached (Ps 84:10). May we cast off self-indulgence and indifference and find true joy by serving others with a ministry of presence.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

For Your Edification (5.17.12)

For Your Edification is a bi-weekly set of resources on the subjects of Bible, Theology, Ministry, and Family Life.  Let me know what you think or if you have other resources that growing Christians should be aware.  


Is the Bible Really Living and Active?  Imagine a conversation at the end of Sunday service:

Pastor:  Fred, did you spend time in the word this week?

Fred: Oh, yes.  I spent hours in the word this week.  It was refreshing.  God says that he gives rest to those who ask, and when I was in the word this week, I felt the comfort of resting in the word.

Wilma, Fred’s wife (driving home later): Honey, I didn’t know that you spent so much time in the Word this week.  With your busy schedule, how did you do that?

Husband: Well, what I failed to mention was the fact that I named my Lazy Boy “the word,” so that whether I am watching TV, reading the paper, or reading my Bible, I can “be in the word.”

Wilma: Huh . . . that’s a good idea.  Maybe, I’ll try that.

Of course, no one would really say that.  Right?  But the point is made: The time we spend in the word is as effective as the way we spend it.  Jen Wilkin, mother of four, writes about why so many Christians get so little out of the word.  She nails down the fact that those who read the Bible, need to use effective means of Bible study, or they will just reinforce unbiblical ideas, and remain unchanged.  This is how she begins,

Why, with so many study options available, do many professing Christians remain unschooled and unchanged? Scripture teaches clearly that the living and active Word matures ustransforms usaccomplishes what it intends, increases our wisdom, and bears the fruit of right actions. There is no deficit in the ministry of the Word. If our exposure to it fails to result in transformation, particularly over the course of years, there are surely only two possible reasons why: either our Bible studies lack true converts, or our converts lack true Bible study.

Jen goes on to explain a number of common ways Christians “lack true Bible study.” Read the rest of her helpful article: Why Bible Study Doesn’t Transform Us?

Summer Bible Reading Plan.  Here is a 100 day Bible reading plan that would be great to use this summer if you do not currently have a reading schedule, or you have fallen off the wagon since January.  It is called E100, which stands for Essential 100 Scripture passages, and it designed to help Bible readers get through the whole of the Bible in a manageable amount of time.  It is published by Scripture Union and is designed to help young Bible readers or discouraged Bible readers make their way through the most important parts of the Bible.  The E100 website has more details; here is an easy access print-out.


Lessons in Ecclesiology.  Jonathan Leeman answers a couple important questions about the doctrine of the church.  First, he defines what the characteristics of a local church are.  Most importantly, in his article, What Is the Local Church?, he defines the difference between a ‘group of Christians’ and a ‘church’ (Hint: They are not the same thing!)  Then, he follows up by considering church membership.  In his article, What Is Church Membership?, he points out that a church is more than just a ‘voluntary organization.’ For those who want their church reflect the priorities of Christ, these are important questions, and Leeman gives biblical answers.

Additionally, Leeman is finishing his doctoral research on ecclesiology (i. e. the doctrine of the church) and has written a number of helpful resources on the subject, most recently: Church Membership and Church Discipline.  His larger work, The Church and the Surprising Offense of the Love of God: Reintroducing Church Membership and Discipline, goes even deeper into the biblical case for reclaiming a knowledge and practice of church health.

Carl Trueman on John Owen. John Owen has been described as the “Redwood of the Puritans” by J. I. Packer, and indeed his exegetical theology stands tall centuries after he has passed into glory.  Trueman, a church historian and gifted writer, introduces Owen in this ten minute biographical sketch that is worth watching to know better this great pastor-theologian.  For more on Owen, see John Piper’s biographical sermon: The Chief Design of My Life: Mortification and Universal Holiness.


What Should We Say About Gay Marriage?  A few weeks before President Obama made his public declaration to endorse Gay Marriage, Southern Baptist Pastor, Mark Dever, sat down with seminary president, Albert Mohler, to discuss the subject of marriage according to the Bible and in our culture.  This discussion recorded at Together For the Gospel, will give you a good handle on a number of the key points in the gay marriage debate, and how Christians can defend God’s design in marriage–one man, one woman, united by law, until death.

Don’t Be a Passive Reader.  N. D. Wilson, author of Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl and a handful of other well-regarded fiction books, gives his critical review of The Hunger Games.  His review is spot-on and shows that Christians who enjoy the book/movie are in need of reading the book with much greater sensitivity to the world in which we live.  His review reminds us that when we read, watch, or listen to any sort of entertainment, we are imbibing a worldview (that is probably not inspired by the Holy Spirit) and thus we need to read pro-actively.  Beware of being a passive reader.  It may be more dangerous than the hunger games themselves.

May God use these resources to grow you in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

P.T. O’Brien, W.E. Vine, and the Heavenly Assembly

Peter O’Brien in his commentaries on Ephesians and Colossians, in his article on the church in the IVP Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, and in his extensive chapter on the heavenly assembly in The Church in the Bible and the World  (edited by D.A. Carson) has argued for the eschatological orientation of the NT term “ekklesia.”  His arguments are persuasive and worthy of consideration for understanding the NT language of church and churches–though not all agree.  (I look forward to Gregg Allison’s book on ecclesiology and his interaction with O’Brien). 

Nevertheless, one person who does agree with O’Brien is W.E. Vine, the early twentieth-century philogist who is most well-known for his Expository Dictionary of OT and NT Words.  Reading W.E. Vine’s commentary on “the church” in Colossians 1:18 (in Volume 2 of The Collected Writings of W.E. Vine), I found a helpful discussion on the subject.  In it Vine makes an appeal for the plain reading of the Bible and concludes that the New Testament conception of the universal church is a heavenly concept.  He writes:

The word ‘church,’ as used in this and similar passages [Col. 1:18, 24; cf. Eph. 1], contemplates the entire company as it will be seen when the Lord comes to receive it to Himself.  it is nowhere in Scripture viewed as an earthly organization established in the world, it is heavenly in its design, establishment and destiny.  Its individual members are incorporated into it as each one is born of God through faith in Christ.  At no period can all the bleivers living in the world have constituted the church.  They could not at that particular time be spoke of the body of Christ.  Most of the church had not come into existence in the early part of the  present era.  At the present time most of those who form part of it are in Heaven (they are not ceased to be members because they are there [cf. Heb. 12:23]).  By some the term “the church” is applied to all the believers living in the world at any time, but such a view is not borne out by the teaching of the New Testament.  Belivers are formed into local churches, each of which is called a ‘body’ (1 Cor. 12:27).  But nowhere are the churches in any district or country or in the world organized into an entity or body.

Local churches, Scripturally formed, are visible communities, professing the same faith, governed by the same Lord, but this has never afforded any found for their external amalgation of for their being considered a church.  There is no such phrase in Scripture as “The Church on earth,” nor is the whole number of believers on earth viewed as, or spoke of, the church of God.  The idea is a pure inference and conveys a false impression, being a contravention of the teaching of Christ and the apostles (Comments on Colossians 1:18, p. 341-342).

May the Lord Jesus Christ give a greater love for his church as we understand it in its local and heavenly expressions.  

Sola Deo Gloria, dss