Who Leads the Church – Elders or Deacons?

Who Leads the Church – Elders or Deacons?

The Front Porch is a ministry that provides resources, sermons, and conversations on theology within the African-American church context and beyond.  I have personally been very encouraged by the work of Pastor Tony Carter in the metropolitan Atlanta area.  His commitment to a biblical church government, expository preaching, and sound doctrine is a breath of fresh air in our wasteland of church culture in Atlanta.

A conversation was posted on The Front Porch last August between Tony Carter, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Louis Love on the subject of church government.  Who runs the church?  In our church culture in the south (especially in Baptist churches), the deacons typically oversee the church while a single pastor preaches each Sunday.  The pastor also manages the staff, volunteers and cooperates with the deacon board and the entire church body regarding decisions of the church.  This may be a typical or recently traditional form of church leadership structure, but it isn’t biblical.  Tony Carter, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Louis Love talk about these problems and seek to describe the biblical pattern that God has established from the beginning.

For more on this subject, take time to read the following books:

Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons – Thabiti Anyabwile

Biblical EldershipAlexander Strauch

Deacon Run Churches: Are They Biblical? – The Front Porch

Connect with The Front Porch on Twitter.

The Surprising History of Harvard

The Surprising History of Harvard

My family was having a meal with a group of ladies who were visiting from England back in January.  As we discussed life in America, someone brought up the American educational system.  As we talked about the origin of some of the most well known and prestigious universities, a couple of the young ladies had no idea that those institutions were originally founded for the training of ministers of the gospel.

It may come with the jolt of an electric shock that Harvard was originally founded for the training of gospel ministers, but it’s true.  Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States.  The school was founded in 1636 in Massachusetts and named after the generous preacher, John Harvard, who upon his death in 1638 gave his entire library and half of his estate to the school.  To this very day, his statue on the campus of Harvard is one of the most popular landmarks of the institution’s history.

The founders of Harvard looked forward, like other groups who organize the founding of an institution of higher education.  They looked into the future and drafted a statement that would help set a vision for the school.  The language of this document has the ring of the Puritan age.  The following is taken directly from Harvard’s official admission requirements:

2.  Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well,the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17.3. and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of him Prov. 2, 3.

From the beginning, Harvard placed a high priority upon God’s Word.  From the reading of God’s Word to the studying of God’s Word, the Harvard faculty seemed to be committed to standing firm upon the truthfulness and reliability of the Bible.  The following statement from the admission requirement gives a picture into where Harvard once stood upon the importance of God’s Word.  They called it “light” that “giveth understanding to the simple” as they quoted from the Psalms.

3. Every one shall so exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day,that he shall be ready to give such an account of his proficiency therein, both in theoretical observations of the language, and logic, and in practical and spiritual truths, as his tutor shall require, according to his ability; seeing the entrance of the Word giveth light, it giveth understanding to the simple, Psalm. 119. 130.

This document that would be binding upon all students pointed them to God’s Word to know and worship God.  They were committed to training ministers to love God’s truth.  This is evident by the following paragraph:

4. That they eschewing all profanation of God’s name, attributes, word, ordinance, and times of worship, do study with good conscience, carefully to retain God, and the love of his truth in their minds, else let them know, that (notwithstanding their learning) God may give them up to strong delusions, and in the end to a reprobate mind, 2 Thes. 2. 11, 12. Rom. 1. 28.

Today, Harvard has a completely different position regarding God’s Word.  The divinity school still remains in existence, but they also have Harvard College which serves as their main undergraduate educational option.  Within the divinity school, the faculty members instruct from a liberal perspective regarding the trustworthiness of God’s Word.  The present faculty would not hold to the Puritan positions on inerrancy, biblical authority, and sufficiency as did the founders.  Today, many faculty members within the divinity school of Harvard embrace a more ecumenical position of openness and spirituality.  This is far different from where John Harvard and the founding faculty of our nation’s oldest higher educational institution once stood.

Harvard research professor, Dr. Harvey Cox, in his forthcoming book, How To Read The Bible (to be released 4-14-15 from HarperCollins), writes, ”I am not satisfied with the ex nihilo interpretation of the creation account, which implies a God who is utterly omnipotent and therefore does not have to struggle against evil as we humans do” (26).  This gives us an idea of why Dr. Cox would reject the verbal plenary inspiration of God’s Word as well.  He employs a “history of interpretation” method of biblical interpretation.  In short, Dr. Cox writes, “it moves us out of the duality of ‘what it originally meant’ verses ‘what it now means’ to what it has meant(128).  According to Professor Cox, this methodology widens our perspective and gives us a better understanding of what the Bible says by listening to others interpret the Bible through their lens and context of life.  I will have more to say on Dr. Cox’s positions when I review his book, but needless to say, his positions are starkly different from the positions of John Harvard.

Harvard has changed.  The faculty has changed.  The student body has changed.  Perhaps this change at Harvard is best depicted by a quick comparison of the school’s motto found on the original Harvard seal verses the present day official seal of Harvard.  Rather than  “Truth (Veritas) for Christ (Christo) and the Church (Ecclesiae),” the new seal simply reads, “Veritas” or truth without any binding or absolute foundation.

The question remains – has the Bible changed?  Rather than standing firmly upon the robust authority of God’s inerrant Word, Harvard has taken a more loose position regarding the Bible.  Although the success and prestige of Harvard continues into our modern era, the original doctrines once taught from the lectern in the classroom have been turned into antiquated documents of Harvard’s history, or perhaps, reference points in Dr. Cox’s “history of interpretation” method of biblical hermeneutics.

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Note:  I have been invited to Spain to debate Dr. Harvey Cox regarding the inerrancy and authority of the Bible in October of this year.  I will write more about Dr. Cox’s forthcoming book referenced in this article and the debate in the coming months. 

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

Last June, I was placed on a list to receive the prepublication copy of Don Whitney’s second edition to his excellent book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.  Few books exist that transcend time so well as this book, yet Whitney still found a way to add excellent content and updates to his classic.  Only now have I finally found time to write a review of his book, and with great delight I hope to encourage you to purchase this book, read it, make notes, and revisit the pages of this book over the course of your spiritual life.

As a marathon runner, I recall my early days of pounding out the long runs in preparation for my first marathon.  I can still remember the lack of preparation that led to the pain of blisters, muscle fatigue, and mental challenges that accompany the marathon.  As I look back, I can see how some simple early adjustments related to my choice of shoes, socks, and my overall running plan could have prevented much frustration.  Don Whitney’s book is a great resource for your journey in the Christian life.  All new Christians should have it, and the aged Christian should revisit it often.

Whitney’s book is thirteen chapters in length and covers ten spiritual disciplines:

  1. Bible Intake (2 chapters)
  2. Prayer
  3. Worship
  4. Evangelism
  5. Serving
  6. Stewardship
  7. Fasting
  8. Silence and Solitude
  9. Journaling

In the early pages of his book, Whitney writes:

The word rendered “discipline” in the New American Standard translation is the Greek word gumnasia from which our English words gymnasium and gymnastics derive.  This word means “to exercise or discipline,” which is why the King James Version renders 1 Timothy 4:7 as “exercise thyself rather unto godliness,” the English Standard Version as “train yourself for godliness,” and the New International Version as “train yourself to be godly.”  It’s a sweaty word with the smell of the gym to it.

Like marathon running, we all find excuses.  Most people I know hate to run and often tell me that they can’t run.  They tell me of their knee pain or their surgery that prevents them from running long distances.  While I understand what they are telling me to be true, I also know that the reason they choose not to run is likely based on their distaste for the discipline of running as opposed to the perpetual knee pain.

I know a man who after suffering a catastrophic injury in a factory had to have surgery to repair his leg by the insertion of a rod.  His doctor told him that he would never run again.  He went on to run in the Trans-American Footrace (running across the entire United States of America from coast to coast).  He set the record for the fastest time to cover the entire Appalachian Trail (approximately 2,200 miles).  He likewise went on to set the record for the fastest time on the Pacific Crest Trail from southern California at Mexico’s border to Canada (2,663 miles).  We can always do more than we think if we dedicate ourselves to the task.

Don Whitney covers important spiritual disciplines and provides a biblical foundation, historical examples from men such as the Puritans, and deals with the popular excuses that often fuel a lack of discipline among Christians.  For instance, when discussing Bible memorization, he writes, “Most people think they have a bad memory, but it’s not true.”  He goes on to say, “most of the time memorizing is mainly a problem of motivation.”

In fact, that type of language is all throughout Whitney’s excellent book.  He continuously insists on having a plan and organizing your effort to remain spiritually disciplined.  From prayer to journaling, every aspect of the Christian life requires a plan of action.  The people who refuse to have a plan typically burnout quickly in their Bible reading, prayer, and other important spiritual disciplines.

It’s not about reading the Bible in 365 days.  That may not be possible for your reading speed and time.  Nevertheless, you should chart your progress and have a plan to read through the Bible over time (many Bible reading plans exist online and are easy to use).  Just like running a marathon requires discipline, so does the Christian life.  Each individual discipline requires a plan and commitment to persevere in the faith.

As you set goals, establish plans, and chart your progress on the way to the Celestial City, I urge you to get a copy of Don Whitney’s book to aid you in this process.  As much information as he provides, it’s laced full of wisdom and encouragement.  A few claps and cheers on the side of the road will help you persevere toward the finish line in the marathon.  Like a helpful aid station in a marathon, Don Whitney’s book serves as a major source of encouragement in the Christian life.  I think you will agree!

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Dr. Don Whitney serves as professor of biblical spirituality (2005); associate dean of the school of theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Dr. Whitney came to Southern from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he was Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation for ten years. He has authored six books, includingSpiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, and is a popular conference speaker, especially on personal and congregational spirituality. He served in pastoral ministry for twenty-four years.

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life – Amazon

Lessons From The Cemetery

Lessons From The Cemetery

Just across the street from our church campus is an old community cemetery that our church adopted years ago in order to better manage it and increase the appearance which has a direct reflection upon our church.  On a regular basis, I walk through the cemetery on my way to the convenience store in order to buy a drink and perhaps a snack (Butterfinger).

This cemetery is where my grandfather, great-grandfather, and other family members are buried.  Since my time as pastor of Pray’s Mill Baptist Church where I grew up as a boy, I have preached 20+ funerals.  I have visited this cemetery many times through the years.  As a boy, I would pass through with my bicycle to buy a pack of baseball cards on a hot summer’s day.  In recent years, I have stood before a heartbroken family in my long black coat with an open Bible as they said goodbye to their loved one.  Through the years, I have learned some important lessons in this old cemetery.

Death Is No Respecter Of Persons

As I walk through the cemetery, there is one plot where three small tombstones sit in a line that catch my attention almost every time I enter the gates of the cemetery.  These tombstones commemorate three infant babies that were taken by death from one family years ago.  Sometimes we forget that life is temporary and that death is no respecter of persons.  As I walk through that cemetery to grab a candy bar, I often reflect upon my life.  Am I prepared for my funeral?  I could be buried in the old cemetery by the end of the week.

I often speak of the frailty of life in my sermons on the Lord’s day because I have learned what it’s like to preach to a person on Sunday and have their funeral on the following Friday.  As a pastor, it is my duty to equip people to live and prepare people to die.  What about you?  Are you prepared to die?

It may be difficult to fully understand, but God is the One responsible for life and death.  No person lives without God and likewise, no person dies apart from God.  The elderly who go to their grave at 90+ years of age are governed by the same God who watches over the infant who dies a few days after birth.  Every tomb in the old cemetery adjacent to our church campus represents a life that God gave and that God took away.  As Job said, in all cases, we must learn to say, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

People Need Hope In The Resurrection

Each time I stand before family members who are seated before a casket in those dreadful funeral home chairs, it’s a fresh reminder that we all need hope.  I know what it’s like to look into the eyes of a child of God at the grave of a loved one and see their pain through their tear filled eyes.  The hope they need to rest upon is the promise of Jesus’ return and the resurrection that will happen as Jesus reunites the souls of His children with their new bodies.

Likewise, I know what it’s like to look into the eyes of a lost person at the grave of their loved one.  Their need is evident.  Their pain is real.  They have no hope and they need to find hope in the resurrection.  In such moments, I have spoken of the spiritual resurrection that must happen at the new birth in order to find hope in the physical resurrection that will happen on God’s divine calendar.

In both cases – the resurrection of Jesus, the spiritual resurrection of the new birth, and the final physical resurrection of the new body brings hope to the broken hearted in a cold cemetery in January.  Death has been defeated.  Jesus will one day wipe every tear from our eyes, and death will be no more.

We Often Forget People 

On my typical walk through the cemetery, I will stop and read a few of the tombstones.  As I look at the names, occasionally I will recognize the family and start to make connections to the person.  At that moment, I start to recall stories and connections the individual has to our church.  Then I notice how the plot is unkept and obviously lacks attention.  More troubling is the reminder that we often fail to remember the person, not just their cemetery plot.  I often try to consider how many stories are buried in that old cemetery.  Stories that would bring laughter and tears, good memories and tragic reminders.

As we press on through this temporal life, it would do us well to remember those who have gone before us.  Their memory is important.  Their legacy matters.  For some, we can learn how to live.  Others can teach us how to die.  Still more can teach us lessons that will prevent tragic mistakes.  Nevertheless, we should be diligent in trying to exhume the memories of friends and loved ones from the dirt of the cemetery.

As we continue learning how to live, we must prepare to die.  May our legacy be so bright and full of Christ that nobody could bury it in the ground.  Perhaps a man will be walking through the cemetery to buy a candy bar one day and stumble across your name on a tombstone.  Hopefully your legacy will point to Jesus Christ!

John Owen reminds us, “We cannot enjoy peace in this world unless we are ready to yield to the will of God in respect of death. Our times are in His hand, at His sovereign disposal. We must accept that as best.”