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Category Archives: Ecclesiology (The Study of the Church)

Ecclesiology is so named because of the two words from the Greek: ekklesia – “church, called out of” and logos – “study of.” The study of the church as a biblical and theological topic is referred to as Ecclesiology. The New Testament presents various images that the early church struggled with as it sought its self-understanding in light of the gospel and controversies.

David Mathis on “What Does the Bible Say About Baptism? Six Texts We Cannot Ignore”

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Martin Luther, the great Protestant Reformer, said, “There is on earth no greater comfort than baptism.” Luther was famous for fighting against sin and Satan by preaching to himself, “I am baptized! I am baptized!”

Luther was not claiming to be saved simply because he was baptized. Rather, he rightly perceived the wonder and glory of baptism. He saw the visible, external act of baptism as an objective reminder of the invisible, internal reality of new birth and the faith through which we are saved on the basis of Christ alone. Luther was, after all, the great champion of justification by faith — as well as one captivated by the power and grace of baptism.

Yet, as a baptist, I can’t help but observe that something was missing in Luther’s reminder to himself about his baptism. Luther was what we call a paedobaptist (or infant-baptist). He himself was baptized as an infant, not in response to a profession of his own faith, but because of the faith of his parents — the faith they prayed would be manifest someday in their newborn son. Luther himself supported and practiced infant-baptism not only of adult converts, but also of the infants of Christian parents.

How much more powerful would recalling his baptism be if he could actually recall it? What if his baptism would have been an expression of saving faith already plainly present in his soul, rather than just a hope and prayer of his parents?

Repent, Believe, Be Baptized

Luther is not alone in leaving something to be desired in his vision of baptism. God has embedded his sacraments with more than meets the eye. For all of us, the “visible words” of the ordinances teem with depths of wonder and power into which we grow and mature. Christians of all stripes can anticipate shades and textures of meaning in Christian baptism we have yet to realize.

Before I lay out six of the most important New Testament texts to consider, let me acknowledge at the outset that godly evangelical pastors, scholars, churches, and seminaries stand on both sides of this question. The issues are many, and the arguments often complex, and I have great respect for many dear infant-baptist brothers and sisters.

Nevertheless, we credobaptists (or believer-baptists) — who baptize, typically by immersion, only those who give a credible profession of faith — have a deeper case than only what’s on the surface of the biblical text. For instance, as you often hear from believer-baptists, if you go looking in the New Testament for an example of an infant being baptized, you won’t find one. We don’t overlook the obvious, but we do go further and deeper.

(1) Mark 1:5 

All the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to [John] and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Without exception in the New Testament, baptism is tied to repentance and faith in the baptizee. John’s baptism, the precursor to Christian baptism, was explicitly, repeatedly, and irreducibly tied to repentance. “They were baptized by [John] in the river Jordan, confessing their sins (Matthew 3:6). John said, “I baptize you with water for repentance(Matthew 3:11). In the Gospels and Acts, John’s baptism is summarized as “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; also Acts 13:24; 19:4). 

Then, in telling the story of the early church, Acts repeatedly ties Christian baptism to repentance and faith:

  • Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).
  • “Those who received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41).
  • “When they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip” (Acts 8:12–13).

(2) Acts 18:8 

Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.

Infant-baptists often point to the “household baptisms” mentioned in Acts 16:33, 18:8, and 1 Corinthians 1:16 and argue that any infants in these households would have been baptized. However, as John Piper writes,

Nowhere in Scripture is there any instance of an infant’s being baptized. The “household baptisms” (mentioned in Acts 16:15, 33 and 1 Corinthians 1:16) are exceptions to this only if one assumes that the household included infants. But, in fact, Luke steers us away from this assumption, for example in the case of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:32), by saying that Paul first “spoke the word of the Lord . . . to all who were in [the jailer’s] house,” and then baptized them. (Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry,  156–157)

In Acts 18:8, Luke clarifies immediately, in the ensuing sentence, that simply being in the newly Christian household was not enough for baptism. Belief in Jesus was prerequisite: “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8).

The believer-baptist argument goes deeper than such instances in the Gospels and Acts, but we often begin here. And not just in the early-church narratives, which can be thorny in terms of prescription, but also in the Epistles. Four anchor texts in the apostolic letters bind baptism and faith with a clarity and simplicity that is unmatched in the infant-baptist argument.

(3) Galatians 3:26–27 

In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Paul assumes that those who have been baptized and those who have saving faith are the same group (with no sanctioned outliers). Faith and baptism belong together in the church’s practice and in the individual Christian’s experience. Those who evidence saving faith should be baptized. And those who have been baptized have given expression to saving faith.

No allowance or provision is made here, or elsewhere, for some who would have been baptized apart from a profession of faith, in anticipation of faith to come.

(4) Colossians 2:11–12

In [Christ] you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

The mention of circumcision is important because one of the main arguments for infant-baptists is that as circumcision was administered to every male born into God’s first-covenant people, so baptism should be applied to every child (male and female) born into believing families of God’s new-covenant people, the church. However, this is not what Colossians 2, or any other New Testament text, says about circumcision.

Here “the circumcision of Christ” refers to his being cut off, at the cross, for our sins, and the “circumcision made without hands,” which Paul applies to every believer, is spiritual circumcision, that is, new birth (as commentator Doug Moo notes, “the connections . . . are between spiritual circumcision and baptism,” Colossians, 269, n18).

Of these new-covenant people who are born again, circumcised in heart, Paul expects the new-covenant inaugural rite of water baptism to have been applied. As we’ll explore more below, the new-covenant recipients of baptism, as the counterpart to old-covenant circumcision, are those who have new birth (not mere natural birth), a spiritual circumcision which does not happen apart from faith. Colossians 2:11–12, like Galatians 3:26–27, presumes active and professed faith in all baptized, not just their parents.

(5) Romans 6:3–4 

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

As in Colossians 2, the baptized are those who have been buried into Jesus’s death and raised to new life in him. Not only does the image suggest immersion, rather than sprinkling or pouring, but more importantly, “newness of life” testifies to new birth and its effects, not mere first birth.

An “old self,” into which we were born (Ephesians 2:1–3), has been crucified (Romans 6:6) or put off (Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:9). And Paul says such is true of “all of us,” all the baptized. We all now “walk in newness of life,” not in the oldness of our first birth. The infant-baptist argument that presumes faith in the newborn does not do justice to the litany of New Testament texts about conversion, putting off an old man, and walking in newness of life.

(6) 1 Peter 3:21

Baptism . . . now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This text is often avoided, by believer-baptists and infant-baptists alike, because it raises the question about what it meant by “baptism . . . now saves you.” However, if we understand the verse aright, we both clear up that confusion and see further confirmation that baptism is nothing less than an objective expression of subjective repentance and faith (new birth) already present (not simply hoped for) in the baptizee.

Peter anticipates we will be surprised to hear “baptism . . . saves you,” so he immediately explains. He does not mean that the external act of baptism, “as a removal of dirt from the body,” has salvific power on its own. Rather, the instrument connecting the believer to Christ for salvation is the invisible condition of the heart (faith) that is being externally expressed in baptism.

Baptism demonstrates objectively and externally the subjective and internal “appeal to God for a good conscience.” Baptism saves not as an outward act but through the inward faith it expresses. Peter’s statement hangs together on baptism expressing a saving, spiritually newborn condition of heart in the believer.

Plausible or Biblical?

Beyond the instances in the narratives, and the didactic words of the apostles tying baptism to faith, we also make our argument on theological and covenantal grounds. I’ll leave that for the next article, but there is something fitting about not moving on to those arguments too quickly. Essential to the credobaptist position is doing justice to the demonstrable teaching of the New Testament.

The best infant-baptist voices typically provide admirably plausible, reasonable, and consistent arguments. The key issue for us as Christians, however, should not be whether the argument is plausible and consistent, but whether it is taught by the actual text of Scripture.

While we must move on, in due course, to the more theological and covenantal arguments, we dare not pass too quickly over the plain, stubborn, obvious readings of the New Testaments texts. Whatever your tradition, a good argument for the nature and application of Christian baptism cannot ignore or minimize what the Bible actually says, including these six important texts.

*David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines. This article was adapted from David Mathis’ article entitled What Does the Bible Say About Baptism? Six Texts We Cannot Ignore, desiringgod.org (May 27, 2019).  

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*5 BIBLICAL TRUTHS ON BAPTISM

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Article Written By David Schrock

Too often baptism is seen as waters that divide. In the New Testament, however, baptism publicly identifies Christians with their Lord and one another. Especially in Paul, baptism is appealed to as a means of unity in the church. Those who have died and risen again with Christ are known by their common baptism (Romans 6:3–6). As Paul says in Galatians 3:25–29, all those who are “one in Christ Jesus” have been “baptized into Christ.” Baptism, therefore, is a means of identifying those who are one in Christ.

This unifying purpose of baptism explains why Paul is emphatic about baptism in 1 Corinthians chapter one. Instead of unifying the church in Corinth, it was dividing it. In response to the news that the church was fractured by personality cults (“I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, I am of Christ,” v. 12), Paul reminds the Corinthians of their unity in the gospel (see 1:17–2:16). He reproves them for the way baptism was playing a part in dividing them, and in the process Paul presents five truths about baptism.

1. Baptism Identifies Us With Christ

The Corinthians had made the mistake of identifying their baptism with the person who baptized them. Or at least, that’s what Paul’s rhetorical question overturns in verse 13: “Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Absolutely not!

Baptism doesn’t connect us to the individual who immerses us; it identifies us with the king represented by that individual. Even if that person later disqualifies themselves from ministry or leaves the faith, the baptism remains valid. Baptism symbolizes Christ’s work of grace; it doesn’t confer grace in itself.

As Jesus taught in Matthew 28:19 (“make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”), baptism identifies us with Christ, as it is administered by his church. In this way, baptism is the way Jesus gave his disciples to publicly identify with him. He could have said build an ark or move to Israel, or stop cutting your hair. In the Old Testament he commanded some of his people to do these things. However, in the New Testament, baptism is the initiatory rite of every follower of Christ.

Baptism is what marks out Christians and divides them from the world. It symbolizes our spiritual unity in Christ and brings visible unity to Christ’s church. Therefore, if you want to publicly identify with Jesus, water baptism is the way.

2. Baptism Doesn’t Save; It Announces Salvation

First Corinthians 1:14 is a fascinating verse because of the way it downplays baptism. Paul says, “I thank God that I baptized none of you . . .” And to paraphrase, “Oh well, except for a few like Crispus and Gaius. And, oh yes, the household of Stephanas too. I don’t remember anyone else” (vv. 14–16).

These verses disclose the humanity of Paul’s letter, and strangely his Godward praise for few baptisms reveals something about baptism. Most immediately, it reveals that baptism was a concern for Paul in Corinth—why else the emphasis on baptism right after introducing the problem of divisions? Clearly, Paul’s gladness for baptizing only a few people relates to the factions in the church (v. 12).

More theologically, Paul’s words reveal that baptism is not salvific—i.e., baptism does not grant or guarantee salvation; it announces salvation. If baptism effected salvation (as in the erroneous doctrine of “baptismal regeneration”) he would not be able to say: “I’m glad I baptized only a few.” He can only say this if baptism symbolizes the real thing.

Therefore, we conclude from this verse (and the rest of the New Testament), baptism doesn’t confer or complete salvation; it announces the antecedent, already-present gift of salvation. In fact, baptism makes two announcements, one by the individual and one by the church.

3. Baptism Is An Individual Announcement

Most familiar to us in baptism is the reality that baptism gives the individual an opportunity to pledge themselves to Jesus. In Acts, when individuals repented and believed, they “publicized” their newfound faith by baptism. The same is true today. When I was 17 and just beginning to learn how to walk with God, I was asked if I wanted to be baptized. I absolutely did. Somewhere during that year, God opened my eyes to see my need for Jesus and filled my heart with faith.

I spent weeks preparing to give my testimony, so that before entering the water I would verbalize my trust in Jesus. At my baptism I shared my testimony and my faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. The visible act of baptism was personalized by the verbal announcement I made just before.

In every baptism, the individual makes a public confession of their sin and their need for a savior. For this reason, it is vital he or she knows how baptism symbolizes the gospel they believe—i.e., death and resurrection with Jesus (Rom 6:3–6). At the same time, churches must help individuals know what they are announcing in baptism. Ideally, this includes the person sharing their testimony of conversion (through writing, video, or speaking).

In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul identifies two names and one household baptized by him. These individuals testify to God’s work of grace in Corinth and each of them publicly announced their break from Corinth and their allegiance to Christ in their baptism. In this way, they reiterate the point: baptism is an individual announcement. But that’s not all.

4. Baptism Is Also A Church Announcement.

In 1 Corinthians 1 we find two ways baptism is the church’s announcement. First, consider the time Paul spent in Corinth compared to the number of people he baptized. How could Paul spend 18 months in Corinth and only baptize a few people? The best answer is that he instructed others to baptize. In other words, he entrusted the work of baptism to the church that he planted in Corinth.

When Paul came to Corinth, no church existed. Typically the church, as an embassy of the kingdom, baptizes the new citizen of the kingdom. Because baptism and church discipline are the means by which the church exercises the keys of the kingdom (cf. Matthew 16:18–20; 18:15–20), the church is the spiritual institution authorized to baptize.

However, when a church does not exist, as in Corinth, it must be the apostle or missionary who baptizes. This is what Paul did in Corinth (see Acts 18). But as soon as he baptized a few, he apparently handed over the baptismal duties to someone else.

This leads to a second observation. In verse 17 Paul declares, “For Christ did not send me to baptize.” What an odd statement. How can Paul say Christ did not call him to baptize? What about the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19)? Was Paul only called to make converts, not disciples? He did in fact baptize some; so what is Paul saying?

I don’t believe Paul is confused or negligent in his calling. Rather, he understands his calling as distinct from the work of the local church (where baptism is “housed”). He was not a local pastor. He was an apostle (1 Corinthians 1:1), an evangelist, a missionary. If you follow Paul through Acts, he went around preaching the gospel and planting churches. Even when he stayed from longer periods (18 months in Corinth; 3 years in Ephesus), he was not a local elder per se.

It’s for this reason that Paul distinguishes his mission as a call to preach the gospel and not to baptize. In planting churches, it makes sense he would baptize some, but as a roaming apostle his life-calling was not to baptize many in a local church.

Broadening Paul’s personal conviction to a wider principle, his statement reiterates the point Jesus made about the keys of the kingdom. They are not given to any individual but the church in its local assembly. It is the local church that baptizes believers—unless, of course, no church exists. In which case, someone like Paul in Corinth or Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8) baptizes a new convert in hopes that he (or she, in the case of Lydia) will be part of a new church.

The abiding principle is this: the church has the responsibility in baptism to testify to a person’s faith. The church does not have the power to confer or complete salvation. However, it does have the delegated authority to baptize believers in Christ based on their visible faith, which leads to a final consideration: the relationship between belief and baptism.

5. Baptism Follows Belief

Believer’s baptism, defined as baptism following belief, is the pattern in Corinth. Acts 18:8 says, “And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.” This comports with the regular pattern in Acts: the gospel is preached, people believe, and they are baptized.

Throughout the New Testament, baptism comes after belief. Even when households were baptized, as with Stephanas (1 Corinthians 1:16), the baptism came to the believers of the household.

Acts 16 bears this out. When Paul was in Philippi, the jailer asks, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul responds: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (v. 31). In short, it is not baptism that saves, it is faith in Jesus Christ. However, because baptism is the means by which individuals make their faith public, and the way churches affirm their profession, Luke continues the baptismal story of the jailer:

And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. (vv. 32–34)

Notice the stress on the preaching of the Word (v. 32) and the joy of receiving that Word in faith (v. 34). Significantly, it wasn’t just the jailer who rejoiced in faith; it was the whole household. There is no mention of infants here; no mention of sprinkling. Sprinkling cannot be “baptism” because the word baptizō means “to immerse.” The pattern repeats: baptism follows belief.

Historical records show the origin of infant “baptism” did not occur until the practice of “emergency baptisms” began in the third century.[1] In the New Testament, the regular pattern is for baptism to follow belief. To a church divided by the practice of baptism, Paul emphasized their belief in the gospel. In fact, Paul’s words about divisions exacerbated by baptism (vv. 13–16) are followed by his corrective: a renewed vision and focus on the cross of Christ (vv. 17–25).

In truth, baptism is given to affirm the faith of those who believe the gospel. In Corinth, they had lost sight of Christ’s cross (1:18–25), the Father’s calling (1:26 – 31), and the Spirit’s illumination (2:6–16). Indeed, baptisms that should have been pointing to the gospel of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had become an object in and of themselves. And for that reason, Paul called the church to look through the symbol to the substance, to see the one God in whose triune name they were baptized. Indeed, this is the unifying purpose of baptism—to conjoin through the same covenant sign believers in Christ to enjoy the same fellowship with God by the same Holy Spirit.

A FINAL WORD

Today, baptism is both overemphasized and underemphasized. Some make baptism necessary (and sufficient) for salvation. Others, in response to this overemphasis, make light of baptism. Likewise, some put no barrier around baptism, letting anyone who wants to dive in. Still others, who want to only baptize true converts, make it overly hard to be baptized. To be balanced, faithful pastors and churches should aim to affirm evident faith as soon as possible.

For some, like the Philippians jailer, it will not take long to observe their faith or to join that brother or sister in affirming his or her faith with baptism. For others, for children or those who are still hazy about the gospel, the decision to baptize may take longer. In principle, though, the five truths outlined above will be helpful to remind us of the importance of baptism. While not essential for salvation, it is essential for the health and witness of the church. Moreover, churches who take baptism seriously serve individuals well by stressing the seriousness of baptism and the joy it is to be baptized.

*Adapted from the article: “Waters That Unite: Five Truths About Water Baptism” by David Schrock. David is the pastor for preaching and theology at Occoquan Bible Church in Woodbridge, Virginia. This article was adapted from 9marks.org 

[1] Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 857: “The most plausible explanation for the origin of infant baptism is found in the emergency baptism of sick children expected to die soon so that they would be assured of entrance into the kingdom of heaven. There was a slow extension of the practice of baptizing babies as a precautionary measure. It was generally accepted, but questions continued to be raised about his propriety into the fifth century. It became the usual practice in the fifth and sixth centuries.” See also Steven A. McKinion, “Baptism in the Patristic Writings,” in Believer’s Baptism: A Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright; Nashville: B & H Academic, 2006), 163–88.

For Further Reading/Study on Baptism:

Jamieson, Bobby. Understanding Baptism.

Jamieson, Bobby. Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required For Church Membership.

Pratt, Jr. Richard, editor. Understanding Four Views on Baptism.

Wright, Shawn D. Believer’s Baptism.

Wright, Shawn D. & Ferguson, Sinclair (editors). Baptism: Three Views.

 

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*Making Disciples Jesus Way: A Few at a Time by Dr. Greg Ogden

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Thesis: The church urgently needs to recapture its original mission of making disciples of Jesus by creating intimate, relational environments of multiplication and transformation.

“The crisis at the heart of the church is a crisis of product”, writes Bill Hull (Hull, Bill. The Disciple Making Pastor. Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1988, 14.). Is there any more important question for a pastor to answer than, “what kind of people are we growing in our ministries”? According to pollsters such as George Barna and George Gallup, we are not producing people who are a whole lot different in conviction and lifestyle than the rest of society. This has been well documented so I will not bore you with a recitation of the bad news. I will get right to what I consider the solution.

Jesus made it crystal clear that there is to be a singular product which He equates with the mission of the church—“Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) Every church’s mission is the same. There is only one mission: making disciples of Jesus. We may prefer to express it in a fresh, contemporary way, such as “to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ” (Mission Statement of Willow Creek Community Church , South Barrington , IL), but it will still just be a restatement of the Great Commission.

When I have opportunities to speak to pastors on the subject of disciple-making, I have taken an informal poll, “Raise your hand if you have a few people in your weekly schedule with whom you meet for the purpose of helping them to become reproducing disciples of Jesus?” Sadly, I get minimal response. It would seem to be a natural expectation since Jesus modeled for us the way to grow disciples. He called twelve “to be with him” in order to shape their character and transfer his mission to them. I believe we have a crisis of product in major part because pastors are not following the model that Jesus gave us. And we are missing out on a most joyful and fruitful opportunity.

In this article I will describe an embarrassingly simple, yet reproducible way to grow disciples of Jesus that will leave your practice of ministry forever changed and your church populated with self initiating, reproducing disciples of Christ.

Here is the model: Disciples are made in small, reproducible groups of 3 or 4 (triads or quads) that cultivate an environment of transformation and multiplication.

In my experience, the following three elements form the necessary building blocks to grow disciples, which, in turn, addresses our “crisis of product”:

• The model for multiplication

• The priority of relationships

• The environment for accelerated growth

The Model for Multiplication

I call it my major “ah-ha” moment in ministry. It has shaped my approach to growing disciples more than anything else. Frankly, it was a discovery break-through I stumbled on.

I had been frustrated that I was not seeing a multiplication of disciples. The one-on-one model was the paradigm that I had assumed was the way to make reproducing disciples. After all, wasn’t the Paul-Timothy relationship the biblical pattern? Discipling meant to give myself to one other person for the purpose of seeing the life of Christ built in them, which would then lead them to do the same for another and so on. The only trouble was, I wasn’t seeing “them doing the same for another.” In other words, there was no multiplication.

What was I doing wrong? We have all heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results. Frustrated, I would redouble my efforts: make sure I had good content; ratchet up my prayer life; teach the skills of bible study, witness, etc; and yet I was not able to instill confidence, pass on the vision, nor empower the other person to disciple others. All my refinements only led to the same results.

Then the break-through came. I had written a disciple-making curriculum (Greg Ogden. Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), which became the basis for my final project for a Doctor of Ministry degree. My faculty mentor thought it would be a worthy experiment to test the dynamics of this material in a variety of settings. So in addition to the one-on-one, I invited two others to join me on this journey. There was no way I could have anticipated the potency to be unleashed. Just by adding a third person it was as if the Holy Spirit was present to us in a way that was life-giving and transforming and laid the foundation for multiplication.

I have never gone back to the one-on-one model for making disciples because of what I experienced. Now thirty years later, I have had considerable opportunity to reflect on the difference in dynamics between triad and quads, and the one-on-one approach.

What were the limitations of the one-on-one model?

1. In the one-on-one the discipler carries the full weight of responsibility for the spiritual welfare of another. The discipler is like the mother bird that goes out to scavenge for worms to feed to her babies. With their mouths wide open, the babes wait in their nest for the mother bird to return. The discipler is cast in the role of passing on their vast knowledge to the one with limited knowledge.

2. The one-on-one relationship sets up a hierarchy that tends to result in dependency. The one- on-one creates a father-son, teacher-student, mature-immature relationship. As appreciative as the Timothy might be, the one in the receiving position will more often than not, not be able to see themselves in the giving position. The gulf between the Paul and the Timothy is only accentuated when the relationship is between pastor and parishioner. The pastor is the trained professional, who has superior biblical knowledge which the non-professional, ordinary lay person will never see themselves achieving.

3. The one-on-one limits the interchange or dialogue. I liken the one-on-one discourse to playing ping-pong. It is back and forth, with the discipler under continuous pressure to advance the ball. The discipler must keep pressing the interchange on to a higher plane.

4. The one-on-one also creates a one-model approach. The primary influence on a new disciple becomes a single person. The parameters of the discipling experience are defined by the strengths and weaknesses of one individual.

5. Finally, the one-on-one model does not generally reproduce. If it does, it is rare. Only self- confident, inwardly motivated persons can break the dependency and become self-initiating and reproducing (These generalities are in no way meant to demean the positive and powerful experiences that a one-on-one relationship has meant to many. When it comes to the multiplication of disciples my experience teaches me that this generally does not lead to reproduction).

In my opinion we have inadvertently held up a hierarchical, positional model of discipling that is non-transferable. As long as there is the sense that one person is over another by virtue of superior spiritual authority, however that is measured, very few people are going to see themselves as qualified to disciple others. We may tout this is as a multiplication method, but in actuality it contains the seeds of its own destruction.

As a result of my experience, I commend a non-hierarchical model that views discipling as a mutual process of peer mentoring (“Discipling is an intentional relationship in which we walk alongside other disciples in order to encourage, equip and challenge one another in love to grow toward maturity in Christ. This includes equipping the disciple to teach others as well” – Ogden, Discipleship Essentials, 17). In order to avoid the dependency trap, the relationship needs to be seen as side-by-side, rather than one having authority or position over another.

An Alternative Practical Model of Disciple-Making (Triads/Quads)

Here is my best take on why triads/quads are energizing, joy-filled and reproductive:

1. There is a shift from unnatural pressure to the natural participation of the discipler. When a third or fourth person is added, the discipler is no longer the focal point, but they are a part of a group process. The discipler in this setting is a fellow participant. Though the discipler is the convener of the triad/quad, they quickly become one of the group on the journey together toward maturity in Christ.

2. There is a shift from hierarchy to peer relationship. The triad/quad naturally creates more of a come-alongside mutual journey. The focus is not so much upon the discipler as it is upon Christ as the one toward whom all are pointing their lives. Even as a pastor, I found that though the relationship may have started with a consciousness that I was the “Bible answer-man” because of my title and training, within the first few weeks the triad/quad allows me to be another disciple with fellow disciples who are attempting together to follow Jesus.

3. There is a shift from dialogue to dynamic interchange. In my initial experiment with triads, I often came away from those times saying to myself, “What made that interchange so alive and dynamic?” The presence of the Holy Spirit seemed palpable. Life and energy marked the exchange. As I have come to understand group dynamics, one-on-one is not a group. It is only as you add a third that you have the first makings of a group (Think Trinity).

4. There is shift from limited input to wisdom in numbers. The book of Proverbs speaks of the wisdom that comes from many counselors (Proverbs 15:22). It is often those who may be perceived as younger or less mature in the faith from which great wisdom comes, or a fresh spark of life or just great questions. In a current quad, one of the men at our initial gathering announced, “I have never opened the Bible.” I had observed an eagerness and hunger in Mick, so I was sure that I had misunderstood his comment. So I responded, “You mean you have never studied the Bible seriously”. “No, I have never opened a Bible.” Since that first session, Mick has demonstrated a veracious appetite for Scripture. Yet what has been particularly challenging is his perceptive questions that have led to engaging dialogue and deeper exploration.

5. There is a shift from addition to multiplication. For me there is no greater joy than to see a Christian reproduce. All the above adds up to empowerment. For over two decades, I have observed an approximate 75% reproduction rate through the triad/quad model of disciple- making.

In summary, a smaller unit encourages multiplication because it minimizes the hierarchical dimensions and maximizes a peer-mentoring model. By providing a discipleship curriculum specifically designed for this intimate relationship, it creates a simple, reproducible structure, which almost any growing believer can lead. Leadership in these groups can be rotated early on since the size makes for an informal interchange and the curriculum provides a guide to follow.

Anything worthy of the name of discipling must have a way of creating the dynamic of intergenerational multiplication.

But this is only one aspect of growing self-intiating, reproducing disciples.

Disciples Are Made In Relationships, Not Programs

Making disciples places priority on an invitation to relationships, not an invitation to a program.

Disciple-making is not a six-week nor a ten-week, nor even a thirty-week program. We have tended to bank our efforts on making disciples through programs, while not keeping a priority on the relational process.

Biblically, though, disciples are made in relationships. When I am forming a new triad/quad, I approach someone personally, eyeball to eyeball in the following way: First, I ask the Lord to put on my heart those to whom He is drawing me. I am looking for those who are hungry and teachable. When there is a settled conviction as to who the Lord would have me approach, here is generally what I say to them, “Will you join me, walk with me as we grow together to become better disciples of Christ? I would like to invite you to meet with me and one or two others weekly for the purpose of becoming all that the Lord intends us to be. As I was praying about this relationship, I sensed the Lord drawing me to you.”

How does this relational approach differ from a program?

(1) Discipling relationships are marked by intimacy, whereas programs tend to be focused on information.

Programs operate with the assumption that if someone has more information that it will automatically lead to transformation. In other words, right doctrine will produce right living. Filling people’s heads with Scripture verses and biblical principles will lead to change in character, values and a heart for God.

Alicia Britt Cole captures this difference between program and relationship, “Program was safer, more controllable, and reproducible—less risky, less messy, less intrusive. It seemed easier to give someone an outline than an hour, a well-worn book than a window into our humanity. How easy it is to substitute informing people for investing in people, to confuse organizing people with actually discipling people. Life is not the offspring of program or paper. Life is the offspring of life. Jesus prioritized shoulder-to-shoulder mentoring because His prize was much larger than information; it was integration” (Alicia Britt Cole, “Purposeful Proximity—Jesus’ Model of Mentoring”, Online Enrichment, A Journal for Pentecostal Ministry).

(2) Discipling relationships involve full, mutual responsibility of the participants, whereas programs have one or a few who do on behalf of the many.

Most programs are built around an individual or a few core people who do the hard work of preparation and the rest come as passive recipients of their work. Of course, this is less true of a more egalitarian small group than it is of a class where one-way communication dominates. Though this may provide tremendous benefit to one who has done the preparation, the result is usually enormous amounts of unprocessed information. As much as I believe in the power of preaching for conviction and decision, I would be naïve to believe that preaching alone produces disciples. If preaching could produce disciples, the job would have been done.

In a discipling relationship the partners share equal responsibility for preparation, self-disclosure, and an agenda of life-change. This is not about one person being the insightful teacher, whereas the others are the learners who are taking in the insights of one whose wisdom far exceeds the others. Certainly maturity levels in Christ will vary, but the basic assumption is that in the give and take of relationships, the one who is the teacher and the one who is taught can vary from moment to moment.

(3) Discipling relationships are customized to the unique growth process of the individuals, whereas programs emphasize synchronization and regimentation.

The very nature of most of our programs is that they cannot take into account the uniqueness of the individual, which is essential to growing disciples. A program usually has a defined length. You commit to ten weeks and you are done. Often churches follow the academic calendar. Start a program in September when school starts and complete it in June in time for summer vacation. Once the cycle is completed, disciples are supposed to pop out the other end of the system. Completing the program is equated with making disciples.

Discipling relationships must necessarily vary in length of time, because no two people grow at the same speed. It is not just a matter of a forced march through the curriculum, but an individualized approach that takes into account the unique growth issues of those involved.

(4) Discipling relationships focus accountability around life-change, where as programs focus accountability around content.

Programs of discipleship give the illusion of accountability. But upon closer look the accountability is more focused on completing the assigned study curriculum than follow through on the changes or transformation into Christlikeness that is expected of a disciple of Jesus.

Growth into Christ-likeness is the ultimate goal. The gauge of accountability in programs tend to be easily measurable, observable behaviors such as Scripture memory, completing the required weekly reading, and practicing spiritual disciplines. In a discipling relationship the accountability focuses on learning to “observe or obey all that [Jesus] has commanded” (Matt. 28:19). For example, there is a huge difference between knowing that Jesus taught that we are to love our enemies, and actually loving our enemies. Discipling relationships are centered on incorporating the life of Jesus in all we are in the context of all that we do.

The Environment of Transformation: The Three Necessary Ingredients

Without question the setting where I have experienced the most accelerated transformation in the lives of believers has been in these triads/quads or small reproducible discipleship groups. I call them the “hot-house” of Christian growth. Hot houses maximize the environmental conditions so that living things can grow at a rate greater than would exist under normal circumstances. The conditions are ripe for accelerated growth. This is what happens in a triad/quad.

Why is this? What are the climatic conditions in a discipleship group of three or four that create the hothouse effect? There are four ingredients when exercised in a balanced way that release the Holy Spirit to bring about a rapid growth toward Christlikeness: This can be summarized in the following Biblical principle: When we (1) open our hearts in transparent trust to each other (2) around the truth of God’s word (3) in the spirit of mutual accountability ,(4) while engaged in our God-designed mission, we are in the Holy Spirit’s hothouse of transformation.

Let’s look at what is contained in each of these three environmental elements that makes for accelerated growth and reproduction.

Climatic Condition #1—Transparent Trust

We return to the fundamental truth that has been repeated the theme throughout this article: Intimate, accountable relationships with other believers is the foundation for growing in discipleship. Why is transparency a necessary condition for change? The extent to which we are willing to reveal to others those areas of our life that need God’s transforming touch is the extent to which we are inviting the Holy Spirit to make us new. Our willingness to enter into horizontal or relational intimacy is a statement of our true desire before God of our willingness to invite the Lord to do His makeover in our life.

The small size of a triad/quad says that this is going to be close. There is little place to hide. The environment in which self-revelation is drawn out is increasing trust. Certainly trust does not happen instantaneously. Trust is an earned and developed quality. To get to the deep end of the pool we must go through the shallower waters of the affirmation of encouragement, support through life’s difficulties, and prayerful listening in order to help our partners hear God’s voice in life’s decisions. Only then are we likely to venture in over our heads by confessing our patterns of besetting sin to one another.

My experience tells me that few believers either have the regular habit or the safe context in which we can reveal to another human being what lurks inside the recesses of our hearts. Until we get to point where we can articulate to another those things that have a hold on us, then we will live under the tyranny of our own darkness. James admonished his readers, “Confess your sins to another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed” (James 5:16 ). James makes a direct connection between confession and healing. In this context healing appears to be of a physical nature. Yet James believed that the health of one’s spirit directly affected the health of one’s body.

What is the connection between confession and freedom? Bringing the shame of our guilt into the light before trusted members of the body of Christ can in itself have a liberating effect. Once something is admitted before others, it begins to lose it power to control. Sin loves the darkness, but its power weakens in the light.

To learn to swim in the deep waters of transparent trust is a necessary element for accelerated growth in the Christian. Learning to swim can be a scary experience, especially when you in over your head. But once you learn to trust the water to hold you up, you can relax and experience its refreshment.

Climatic Condition #2–Truth in Community

The second of four environmental elements that creates the conditions for the hothouse of accelerated growth is the truth of God’s word in community. I started with relationships because I believe that the context in which God’s word should be studied is in community. A great failing today is that we have separated the study of God’s word from transparent relationships. We have been more concerned about getting our doctrine right than our lives right. It is not that knowledge is not important, it is. It is not that right doctrine is not important, it is. It is just not enough. Because the goal is to incorporate truth into our being which happens as we process it with others.

It is particularly important in our day that a disciple has the opportunity to cover the essential teachings of the Christian life in a systematic and sequential fashion. We are living at a time when the average person has minimal foundation for their Christian faith. A generation ago Francis Schaeffer and Elton Trueblood warned us in prophetic voice that we were one generation away from losing the memory of Christian faith in our culture. We are the next generation of which they spoke!

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno is an unlikely place to find evidence for this loss memory. One night Leno took to the streets with microphone in hand asking people questions about their biblical knowledge. He approached two college age women with the question, “Can you name one of the Ten Commandments?” Quizzical and blanks looks led to this reply, “Freedom of speech?” Then Leno turned to a young man, “Who according to the Bible was eaten by a whale?” With confidence and excitement, he blurted out, “I know, I know, Pinnochio!” The memory of Christianity has been lost.

One of the participants in a discipling triad that I led was woman about ten years my senior who had been raised in the home of a congregational pastor. After we had completed our time together, she said to me, “Greg, I have something to confess. When you asked me to join this group, I didn’t think I had a whole lot to learn. After all I had been studying the Scriptures all of my life having been raised in a home where the Bible was central. But I discovered as we covered the faith in a systematic and sequential order, that my understanding was much like a mosaic. I had clusters of tiles with a lot of empty spaces in between. This approach has allowed me to fill in all those places where tiles belong. I now see in a comprehensive fashion how the Christian faith makes sense of it all.”

Climatic Condition #3–Life-Change Accountability

Life-change accountability is rooted in a covenant. What is a covenant? A covenant is written, mutual agreement between 2 or more parties that clearly states the expectations and commitments in the relationship (Greg Ogden’s Discipleship Essentials, page 14 provides an illustration of what a mutual covenant might look like). Implied in this definition is that the covenantal partners are giving each other authority to hold them to the covenant to which they have all agreed.

Yet there is a rub. To willingly give others authority to hold us accountable to what we said we would do is for most Westerners a violation of what we hold most dear. Robert Bellah’s ground breaking research, Habits of the Heart, is a sociologist’s search for the core of the American character. He found that freedom from obligation defined the center of what it is be to an American. Here it is in a nutshell: We want to do, what we want do to, when we want to do it, and no one better tell us otherwise. We want to be in control of our own choices, life direction, character formation, schedules, etc. Everything in us grates against accountability.

Yet accountability brings us back to the very core of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. A disciple is one under authority. Disciples of Jesus are who leave no doubt that it is Jesus who is exerting the formative influence over our lives. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) The way to get serious about this truth is to practice by coming under authority in our covenantal relationships in Christ.

Climatic Condition #4: Engaged in our God-Designed Mission

Micro groups are not designed to be holy huddles. Though we all seek safe environments where our true self can be nurtured, micro groups also need to be springboards from we are sent to serve Christ in all dimensions of our life. In many ways, this fourth dimension, though last in order, is most critical. Without mission, there will be little transformation. It is as we apply our faith in the work place, in our roles in the home, are stewards of our financial resources, exercise or spiritual gifts in ministry the church or addressing an area of brokenness in the world, that we have to come to terms with our fears and limitations.

As we are engaged is mission we are stretched beyond our limited resources. When we are thrown back in reliance on Jesus, waiting for Him to show up because we are beyond our confort zone, we are just where we need to be. This is where the importance of our micro group takes on even deeper significance. In this group we are refreshed, patched up, encouraged and sent back out to be ambassadors of Jesus.

Conclusion: “The crisis at the heart of the church is a crisis of product.” I would challenge every pastor in America to schedule into his week a 90-minute time slot to meet with two or three others for the express purpose of discipling for multiplication. Can you imagine the impact on the quality and quantity of the product, if we began to see an organic multiplication of these reproducible groups over the next ten years?

*This article is presented here with the written permission of the author – Dr. Greg Ogden. The original article may be found along with many excellent disciple making resources at the website: globaldi.org which stands for the Global Discipleship Initiative of which Greg Ogden is the Chairman of the Board. The Global Discipleship Initiative trains, coaches, and inspires pastors and Christian leaders to establish indigenous, multiplying disciple making movements, both nationally and internationally.

About the Author: Greg Ogden (D.Min, Fuller Theological Seminary) recently retired from professional church leadership and now lives out his passion of speaking, teaching and writing about the disciple-making mission of the church. Most recently Greg served as executive pastor of discipleship at Christ Church of Oak Brook in the Chicago western suburbs. He previously held the positions of director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Fuller Theological Seminary and associate professor of lay equipping and discipleship. His seminal book Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ has sold over 250,000 copies and has been a major influence on discipleship in the contemporary church. He is also the author of several other excellent resources that will help you in effectively making disciples who make disciples: Transforming Discipleship; Making Disciples a Few at a Time; The Essential Commandment: A Disciple’s Guide to Loving God and Others;  Leadership Essentials: Shaping Vision, Multiplying Influence, Defining Character (co-authored with Dan Meyer); Essential Guide to Becoming a Disciple: Eight Sessions for Mentoring and Discipleship; and Unfinished Business: Returning the Ministry to the People of God.

 

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Dr. Walt Russell on The Biblical Concept of Discipling Others

MULTIPLYING COMMUNITIES THROUGH DISCIPLESHIP

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In many respects the last generation’s barrage of literature on the subject of “discipleship” has generated more heat and smoke than light. Many contradictory  constructs have been offered. What does the Bible say about being “a disciple” and “discipling” others? Is there a word from God upon which we in the church can build a biblical and consistent philosophy of ministry discipleship? Where do we fit in all of the valuable data about character development gained from research in the social sciences? Is the integration of the biblical view of a discipleship ministry with the social science view of character development ever possible? Hopefully, this article will begin to answer some of these vital questions. This attempt will first seek to lay a biblical foundation and framework for discipling others; and secondly, to suggest a general philosophy of discipleship from the biblical concept.

THE BIBLICAL CONCEPT OF “DISCIPLE”

The Derivation of the Concept of “Disciple” One searches the Old Testament in vain to find the term “disciple” or even to find the contemporary concept of “discipleship” within the pages of Israel’s history and literature. One wonders if persons were “discipled” in Israel since the Word of God does not emphasize such a concept. The only possible answer is “Yes, they must have been ‘discipled,’ but perhaps through somewhat differant means than normally advocated by contemporary advocates.” The Hebrew theocracy was set up by Yahweh to emphasize the nation’s relationship as a whole to Yahweh. The emphasis was corporate and all teaching and learning were related directly to the revealed will of God. There was no room for men to speak authoritatively to other men apart from the revelation from God (Kittel, 427 – Much of the research data in this section has come from the article mathetes in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol, IV, pages 415-460), edited by Gerhard Kittel. This article will be referred to in this essay as “Kittel,” with the appropriate page number). Also, the training and maturing of the youth was centered in the home (e.g., Deu. 6). Israel found no room in such a structure for the classic discipler/disciple relationship as pictured today. Moses did not “disciple” Joshua per se. rather, Joshua was Moses’ “servant” (Hebrew, ebed). The prophets did not have disciples, but rather they had assistants and servants (e.g., na’ar in 1 Kings 18:43) (Kittel, 428).

The basic concept of “disciple” that one finds in the gospels and the concept that is used as the model for discipleship in the church is derived from Greek philosophy and Rabbinical Judaism (Kittel, 431-441). The Greek term mathetes “disciple” was used of a member of a philosophical school, a student of medicine, or an apprecntice of a trade in hellenistic culture (Kittel, 438-40). In Rabbinical Judaism a “disciple” attached himself to a teacher or rabbi in much the same manner as was done in Hellenistic culture (which was the source of Judaism’s practice). The disciple subordinated himself in almost servile fashion to his rabbi in order to learn all that the rabbi had to teach. In both the Hellenistic and Jewish cultures two very significant observations could be made about the rold of the disciple:

(1) The time spent as a “disciple” was only transitory until the disciple could become the teacher, rabbi, doctor, tradesman, etc.

(2) The emphasis in both cultures wa generally on objective content (e.g., learning a trade). There are notable exceptions like Socrates’ methodology, but generally this observation holds true. Jesus’ usage of the concept “disciple” in the gospels is obviously derived from Rabbinical Judaism (and ultimately from Greek culture). However, He greatly midified the general concept by emphasizing at least four unique aspects:

(1) Being a “disciple” of His was not a transitory stage that one passed through on the way to a more sophisticated and respected level. Rather, being a disciple of Jesus was a permanent relationship and was the climax of every man’s aspirations (Kittel, p. 448).

(2) Jesus called His disciples they did not select Him as their Rabbi.

(3) Jesus emphasized commitment to His Person first, and then commitment to objective content about His Person. In a sense these are inseparable, but according to Jesus’ emphasis the commitment to His Person not just His teaching was given priority (e.g. Mark 1:17 and John 21:21-22).

(4) Jesus emphasized faith in Him as the true test of a disciple’s commitment (e.g. John 6:60-66). This emphasis is totally unique and unparalleled in Greek and Jewish culture.

At this point one may question the need to go so deeply into the historical derivation of the concept of “discipleship”. Very crucial and necessary applications will be drawn from this historical data that will be foundational in forming a biblical structure for discipling others. These applications will be made in the second part of this essay. First, we must explore the biblical usage of the term “disciple”.

The Biblical Usage of “Disciple”

The word mathetes (“disciple”) occurs 268 times in the New Testament. Thirty of these occurences are in the Book of Acts and the rest are distributed among the gospels, particualrly in matthew (74 times) and John (81 times). Perhaps at this point it would be interesting to see how contemporary writers feel “disciple” is defined. The following is a representative example of the plethora of such definitions: “Disciple: A Christian who is growing in conformity to Christ, is achieving fruit in evangelism, and is working in follow-up to conserve his fruit.” (Gary W. Kuhne, The Dynamics of Personal Follow-Up, 130). This comprehensive disciple

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

walter_russell_faculty

WALTER RUSSELL is a Professor of Bible Exposition at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, CA. He earned his degrees at Westminster Theological Seminary (Ph.D.); St. Mary’s Seminary (M.A.); Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.); and University of Missouri (B.S.). Dr. Russell’s areas of expertise are exegesis, hermeneutics, and New Testament theology, especially as they relate to world evangelism and the spiritual growth of the church. He has an extensive background in collegiate ministries, university teaching, and the pastorate, having planted two churches. He authored The Flesh/Spirit Conflict in Galatians and Playing with Fire: How the Bible Ignites Change in Your Soul. Dr. Russell has contributed articles to Bibliotheca SacraJournal of the Evangelical Theological SocietyGrace Theological JournalWestminster Theological JournalTrinity Journal, and Christianity Today. His life themes are the primacy of the Great Commission in the life of the church, the renewal of the church through the development of dynamic community, and the strengthening of the church through vibrant teaching of the Scriptures.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2018 in Discipleship

 

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Book Review of Jammin Goggin & Kyle Strobel: “The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb”

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The Amazing Power of Weakness

Book Review By Dr. David P Craig

I can remember how discouraged I used to get when as a young pastor I would attend Pastor’s conferences and hear stories of pastor’s bragging about how “great” their ministries were. I would always come back from those conferences wondering if I was really “called” to ministry because I wasn’t experiencing the “greatness” these other pastors were experiencing. In my late twenties I took on a pastorate in a rural community that nobody (myself included) had ever heard of. About six months into my ministry I heard about a “rural pastors conference” and decided to see if this would help me in my new ministry. Before the first session, we had a “meet and greet” time and I remember everyone introducing themselves and trying to describe the area they were serving in – because nobody heard of each other, and nobody had what would be described as a “great” ministry.

There was such a liberating and freeing feeling being around pastors that knew they were weak, ministering in obscurity, and all recognized that if God didn’t show up – we were in big trouble. I love this book because all the examples in this book are encouraging. When you are around ego it deflates you, when you are around weakness it elates you! All of us pastors had nothing to prove, and nothing to brag about, but we all shared our need of the power of God to sustain and guide us in our respective ministries. Since that time I’ve primarily interacted with bi-vocational pastors and pastors of smaller churches because they are usually very real, humble, and focused on needing help from God – not on how they can help others be “great.”

It was at that conference that I realized that God calls most pastors to obscure places and average ordinary ministries. Most pastors will never make the cover of “Christianity Today” or write a book that makes a notable “best-seller” list. Honestly, I’m good with that. Enter Goggin and Strobel’s book. They aren’t down on mega churches (I don’t think they even use this word in their book). However, they give an excellent analysis of what makes for the ministry of the Lamb (ministering out of weakness – Kingdom ministry from above) versus ministry from the Dragon (ministering out of the flesh – from the Kingdom of Darkness and Satan).

I’ve experienced ministry out of the flesh driven by pride and ego; and I’ve experienced ministry that comes from weakness, brokenness, and of the Spirit. I think that once you experience the power of brokenness or ministering out of weakness you never want to go back to the “dark side.” I’ve been around pastors and churches where God doesn’t even have to show up and nothing would even have to be changed. The author’s do an excellent job of showing from the Bible how the way of power has infiltrated many churches today. It is not just dangerous – it’s demonic. This is a serious charge.

My favorite aspect of this book are the highlights from interviews that Goggin and Strobel share from several well respected faithful older Christians: J.I. Packer, Eugene Peterson, Jean Vanier, Dallas Willard, John Perkins, and Marva Dawn. Through the interviews and Scripture the author’s give a compelling case for why ministry in dependence on God rather than our own skills and resources are more powerful in the long haul of ministry. Power in ministry comes when the Holy Spirit is depended upon to show up because we are operating out of our relationship and satisfaction in Christ. Power is not about self, resources, skills, it’s evident from above when we humbly focus on exalting Jesus above all things.

I hope this book gets a wide reading. I think it is wise, biblical, and will encourage pastors and Christians who are serious about faithfully serving Christ in power out of weakness in dependence on Him for life-long ministry.

 

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Book Review of Ron Rhodes’: The 10 Most Important Things You Can Say To A Catholic

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Explains Key Differences Between Catholicism and Protestantism 

Reviewed By Dr. David P. Craig

I have a deep love for those who have been raised in the Catholic Church. As a Protestant we share many cherished beliefs and values. However, we have some significant differences of belief as well. In this book Rhodes tackles nine of the major areas where Catholics and Protestants disagree.

Here are the nine areas of conflict addressed by Rhodes: (1) Catholics believe that the Apocryphal Books should be included in the biblical canon – Protestants do not; (2) Catholics believe that tradition is authoritative for belief and practice, whereas, Protestants believe the Bible alone is authoritative for faith and practice; (3) Catholics believe that Peter was the first Pope, Protestants on the other hand hold that he was a great apostle (among various apostles in the early church); (4) Catholics hold to the infallibility of the Pope, the Bishops, and the Magisterium of the Church; whereas Protestants hold to the Bible as being infallible, but not the human leaders of the Church; (5) Catholics venerate Mary as a co-redeemer and mediatrix, a perpetual virgin, and various other views that conflict with Protestant views. Protestants simply view Mary as simply the godly mother of Jesus and nothing more. (6) Catholics mix justification and sanctification – adding human merit/works to one’s salvation; whereas Protestants view salvation as solely and entirely by grace through faith in Jesus – justification is instantaneous and once and for all. (7) Catholics and Protestants have a very different view on “mass” or the “Lord’s Supper.” Catholics hold to transubstantiation whereas Protestants hold to consubstantiation or the memorial/symbolic view. (8) In Catholicism Penance must be done to absolve sins, in Protestantism Confession of sin is to be made to God, not a human priest. (9) Catholicism believes in Purgatory (second chance after death); Protestants hold to no second chances after death.

For each of these views Rhodes offers the Catholic argument first, followed by a Protestant rebuttal and defense. The chapters are short and only the most salient points are made. For each chapter Rhodes uses different icons to identify points made by Catholics and Protestants. Each chapter contains points to use with caution, helpful witnessing points, and supplementary and more detailed material that can be found in Rhodes’ larger book entitled “Reasoning from the Scriptures with Catholics.” As of this review Rhodes has written a few other short books of this ilk on Creation and Evolution; Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Islam, and Masons.

I highly recommend this resource. It’s short and to the point, and yet delineates some key points to help Protestants share the good news with their Catholic friends.

 

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Book Review on Bold Reformer by David S. Steele

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Book Review By Dr. David P. Craig

I have to start out this review by commenting on the author. Dr. David S. Steele, I am privileged to say is a very dear friend with whom I am blessed to have known for close to 30 years. We met at Multnomah University (Multnomah School of the Bible) back in the mid 1980’s, where we were roommates and have remained good friends ever since. We also earned our doctorates together in the early 2000’s in Seattle. I write this to say that I am very biased in whole heartedly recommending this book because the author is one of the men I most admire and respect on planet Earth. Whether he speaks or writes – I listen! He is one of the most disciplined pastors I know. He loves God deeply, and is passionate that others would come to know Him through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are both Lead/Preaching pastors in our respective churches (he in Washington; I’m in California); approximately the same age; and both have had our share of trials and triumphs in ministry. I believe what makes this such a great book to recommend is because Dr. Steele writes as a theologian, pastor, and practitioner. There are no theories here. What is written are biblical truths that have been forged in the trenches of ministry. Dave Steele is indeed a Bold Reformer in the ilk of men like Martin Luther, the Apostle Paul, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and other godly men who have been courageous in the trenches of ministry who preceded us.

Bold Reformer is a great book because it cuts through theories and fads and hones in on essential theological truths that are necessary whether past, present, or future. It is a book that I have now read twice, and will definitely read again. It’s especially a helpful book for pastors in the trenches and would-be pastors. In this book Dr. Steele writes about the essential foundations a pastor needs to believe and promises he can rely on through thick and thin. I am grateful for my friend, and grateful that out of his own trials he has written a helpful and encouraging book for pastors to never give up.

This year (2017) will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s famous nailing of the 95 Theses on the castle door at Wittenberg that sparked the Reformation. I truly believe that this book has the potential to spark a new reformation in pastors today. The same principles that Martin Luther applied are necessary today and needed desperately in order to bring about reformation and revival. I am hopeful that Bold Reformer will be used to bring about a new reformation of and for the glory of our awesome God as it is widely oread and practiced.

 
 
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