Does the Bible Condone or Condemn Slavery?

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The church I am serving is currently studying Colossians.  The next passage I will speak to is Colossians 3:22-4:1, which begins with: “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth…”  Given the history of The United States of America along with our current political and social context I did not think I could easily jump to pretending this passage is really just speaking of employer/employee relationships.  I did some research — both secular and church-based and composed an essay that reports on what I found.  When it comes time to preach my sermon I will need to condense what I found into about 5-7 minutes so that I can actually address what the passage is saying.  I was surprised and saddened by what I found — the USA is one of a very few societies in recorded history that was both a “slave society” as well as a “closed slavery system.”  See below…

 The practice of slavery has developed in virtually every civilization known to humankind. Slavery in ancient Rome differed from its more modern forms in that it was not based on race. Nevertheless, it was an abusive and degrading institution. As much as two thirds of the Roman Empire were slaves during the 1st century — in both lowly and prestigious positions. Besides manual labor, slaves performed many domestic services, and might also be tasked with highly skilled jobs and professions. Greek slaves in particular were often highly educated working as accountants, tutors, and physicians. Unskilled slaves, or those sentenced to slavery as punishment, worked on farms, in mines, and at mills. Their living conditions were often brutal and their lives were usually short.

Slave Societies

Ancient Rome was one of only a few “slave societies” in recorded history.[1] The term “slave society” distinguishes between societies where slavery was practiced and societies where slavery defined the principle labor market through buying and selling. The 18th century (or Antebellum) American South would also be considered a “slave society.”

Open vs. Closed Slavery Systems

Another distinction historians and anthropologists make is distinguishing between “open” and “closed” systems of slavery. In the “open slavery system” slaves could be freed and accepted fully into general society; in the “closed slavery system” slaves were a separate group and were not accepted into general society even if freed. Roman slavery generally conformed to the “open slavery system.” Cicero, the Roman politician, lawyer, and orator noted in his speeches that a Roman slave could usually be set free within seven years and under Roman law a slave would normally be freed by age 30.[2] By contrast, “American slavery [was] perhaps the most closed and caste-like of any [slave] system known.”[3] Thus, 17th-19th century slavery in America[4] was both a “slave society” as well as a “closed slavery system.” And, sadly, many of the effects of our “closed slavery system” remain embedded in our culture.

New Testament Roman Slavery

I found that the following quote serves as an adequate overview: “In the first century, slaves were not necessarily distinguishable from free persons by race, by speech or by clothing; they were sometimes more highly educated than their owners and held responsible professional positions; some persons sold themselves [or their children] into slavery for economic or social [reasons]; they could reasonably hope to be emancipated after [several] years of service…they were not denied the right of public assembly and were not socially segregated (at least in the cities); they could accumulate savings to buy their freedom; their natural inferiority was not assumed.”[5]

Basic NT Teaching

Jesus is the most revolutionary person who ever lived – and the purpose of His coming was to initiate a full-fledged yet subversive revolution, an upside down kingdom. Jesus, in His first coming, established the kingdom of God on the earth. Jesus, in His second coming, will consummate the kingdom of God on the earth. A helpful illustration is the Allied troops successfully landing on Normandy Beach in WW-2. With the success of the invasion the back of Hitler’s army was broken and the end of the war was inevitable. However, some of the fiercest fighting of the war occurred in the 11-month period between the Normandy invasion and VE-Day (e.g., Battle of the Bulge). It is the same with Jesus and His kingdom – His death and resurrection breaks the back of Satan’s army and the end of the war is inevitable yet we are still in a very real fight.[6]

Jesus and the NT writer’s subversive and revolutionary Christian affirmations, if taken seriously, begin to tear apart the fabric of institutional slavery. Jesus and the NT writers proclaimed the kingdom of God, declaring God alone as the one true King over heaven and earth. Jesus called His followers, as citizens of God’s kingdom, to live in a radically different way on earth and to “fight” in a radically different way. Rather than hating their enemies, they were to love them. Rather than seeking revenge, the disciples of Jesus were to turn the other cheek. No ordinary revolutionary would say things like this. Jesus was advancing a deeper and more pervasive revolution, the overthrow of the kingdom of the Evil One and the victory of the kingdom of God. Jesus (and the NT writers) sought to keep the good news of the gospel at the hub of the cultural wheel – not social justice or any number of other legitimate causes.

The NT writers’ position on the negative status of slavery is more than clear:

  1. Jesus clearly stated that His role and calling was to “proclaim release to the captives…[and] to set free those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18-19)
  2. Paul clearly and decisively repudiated slave trading (1 Tim 1:9-10)
  3. NT authors repeatedly affirmed the full human dignity and equal spiritual status of all people (Matt. 7:12; Acts 17:26-31; Eph. 2:14; Gal 3:28; Col. 3:11, 4; 1 Jn. 3:17)
  4. Paul encouraged slaves to acquire their freedom whenever possible (1 Cor. 7:20–22)
  5. In Revelation 18:11–13, doomed Babylon (i.e., spiritually speaking those who oppose God) stands condemned because she had treated humans as “cargo,” having trafficked in “slaves [literally ‘bodies’] and human lives.” This repudiation of treating humans as cargo assumes the doctrine of the image of God in all human beings.

The Bible clearly teaches a fundamental equality because all humans are image bearers of God (Gen 1:26; James 3:9). Yet, an even deeper unity in Christ is to transcend human boundaries and social structures: no Jew or Greek, slave or free, no male and female, as all believers are all “one in Christ Jesus” (Col. 3:11; Gal. 3:28).

The seeds for the destruction of slavery were sown in the New Testament (see Philem. 16-17, Eph. 6:9; Col. 4:1; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; 6:1-2) –Wayne Grudem

In the NT, the Greek word doulos is frequently used to designate a slave (one bound to another), but also a follower of Christ (or a “bondslave” of Christ).[7] The term would have been an extremely common metaphor that every strata of society would have understood, which points to a relation of absolute dependence where the master and the servant stand on opposite sides with the former having a full claim and the latter having a full commitment. The metaphor indicates that a true servant can exercise no will or initiative on his or her own. Jesus Himself took on the form of a doulos” (Phil. 2:7). As believers we have moved from being slaves to sin to become slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:17-18) by the matchless grace of God through the Incarnation of Jesus.

Returning Onesimus

John Piper writes that instead of a frontal attack on the culturally pervasive institution of slavery in his day, Paul took another approach in his letter to Philemon.[8] Onesimus was a slave, Philemon was master and both were now Christians. Onesimus had evidently run away from Colossae (Colossians 4:9) to Rome where Paul, in prison, had led him to faith in Jesus. Now he was sending Onesimus back to Philemon. This letter tells Philemon how to receive Onesimus. In the process, Paul does at least 11 things that work together to undermine slavery.

  1. Paul draws attention to Philemon’s love for all the saints. “I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints” (1:5). This puts Philemon’s relation with Onesimus (now one of the saints) under the banner of God’s saving grace and love, well beyond commerce.
  2. Paul models for Philemon the superiority of appeals over commands when it comes to relationships governed by love. “Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you” (1:8-9). This points Philemon to the new dynamics that will hold sway between him and Onesimus. Acting out of freedom from a heart of love is the goal in the relationship.
  3. Paul heightens the sense of Onesimus being in the family of God by calling him his child. “I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment” (1:10). Remember, Philemon, however you deal with him, you are dealing with my child.
  4. Paul raises the stakes again by saying that Onesimus has become entwined around his own deep affections. “I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart” (1:12). The word for “heart” is “bowels.” This means, “I am deeply bound emotionally to this man.” Treat him that way.
  5. Paul again emphasizes that he wants to avoid force or coercion in his relationship with Philemon. “I would have been glad to keep him with me…but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord” (1:13-14). This is pointing Philemon to how he is to deal with Onesimus so that he too will act “of his own accord.”
  6. Paul raises the intensity of the relationship again with the word forever. “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever” (1:15). In other words, Onesimus is not coming back into any ordinary, secular relationship. It is forever.
  7. Paul says that Philemon’s relationship can no longer be the usual master-slave relationship. “[You have him back] no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (1:16). Whether he lets Onesimus go back free to serve Paul, or keeps him in his service, things cannot remain as they were. “No longer as a slave” does not lose its force when Paul adds, “more than a slave.”
  8. In that same verse (1:16), Paul refers to Onesimus as Philemon’s beloved brother. This is the relationship that takes the place of slave. “No longer as a slave…but as a beloved brother.” Onesimus now gets the “holy kiss” (1 Thessalonians 5:26) from Philemon and eats at his side at the Lord’s Table.
  9. Paul makes clear that Onesimus is with Philemon in the Lord. “[He is] a beloved brother…in the Lord” (1:16). Onesimus’s identity is now the same as Philemon’s. He is “in the Lord.”
  10. Paul tells Philemon to receive Onesimus the way he would receive Paul. “So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me” (1:17). This is perhaps as strong as anything he has said: Philemon, how would you see me, treat me, relate to me, receive me? Treat your former slave and new brother that way.
  11. Paul says to Philemon that he will cover all Onesimus’s debts. “If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account” (1:18). This is a beautiful picture of the gospel. All our debts are charged to Christ’s account.

The upshot of all this is that Jesus, Paul and the other NT authors pointed the church away from slavery because it is an institution that is incompatible with the way the gospel works in people’s lives. Whether the slavery is economic, racial, sexual, mild, or brutal, Paul’s way of dealing with Philemon works to undermine the institution across its various manifestations while keeping the gospel of Jesus Christ front and center. To walk “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14) is to walk away from slavery.

In summary, Jesus and the NT writers stringently opposed oppression, greed, lust of every kind, slave trade, and treating humans as cargo. It should also be noted the NT teaches that only through grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone do we receive the life and power of the Holy Spirit to walk in the way of God’s kingdom. God’s grace comes TO us and does IN us and THROUGH us what we cannot do on our own. The earliest Christians were a subversive, revolutionary, new community united by, in, and through Jesus Christ — a people transcending racial, social, and sexual barriers. And some days, if I am honest, it doesn’t look like we’ve made much progress…

 

[1] Moses Finley. Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology, Chatto and Windus, 1980.

[2] Marcus Tullius Cicero. Orationes Philippicae 8.32. (A series of 14 political speeches Cicero gave condemning Mark Antony in 44 BC and 43 BC.)

[3] James L. Watson. Slavery as an Institution, Open and Closed Systems, in James L. Watson (ed.), Asian and African Systems of Slavery, Blackwell, 1980: 43.

[4] Slavery in America began when the first African slaves were brought to the North American colony of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619 to aid in the production of such lucrative crops as tobacco.

[5] Murray Harris. Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ, IVP 2001: 44.

[6] Adapted from Oscar Cullmann. Christ and Time: The Primitive Christian Conception of Time, John Knox Press, Rev October 1964.

[7] Another common NT term, diakonos, derives from a verb meaning “to wait at table,” or “to serve.” As the Son of man, Jesus “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45).

[8] How Paul Worked to Overcome Slavery, desiringgod.org.

Happy 500th Reformation Day!

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This is an expanded re-post from Dr. Stephen J. Nichols who is president of Reformation Bible College and chief academic officer for Ligonier Ministries, and teaches on the podcast 5 Minutes in Church History.  I added some definitions as well as several links to help expand the historical account.  You can read Dr. Nichols original post here.

 

A single event on a single day changed the world. It was October 31, 1517. Brother Martin [Luther], a monk and a scholar, had struggled for years with his church, the [Roman Catholic] church. He had been greatly disturbed by an unprecedented indulgence sale.  [An indulgence is a payment to the Catholic Church that purchased an exemption from punishment (penance) for some types of sins.]  The story has all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. Let’s meet the cast…

First, there is the young bishop—too young by church laws—Albert of Mainz.  Not only was he bishop over two bishoprics [a district or a diocese], he desired an additional archbishopric over Mainz.  This too was against church laws.  So Albert appealed to the Pope in Rome, Leo X.  From the De Medici family, Leo X greedily allowed his tastes to exceed his financial resources.  Enter the artists and sculptors, Raphaeland Michelangelo.

When Albert of Mainz appealed for a papal dispensation, Leo X was ready to deal.  Albert, with the papal blessing, would sell indulgences for past, present, and future sins.  All of this sickened the monk, Martin Luther.  Can we buy our way into heaven?  Luther had to speak out.

But why October 31?  November 1 held a special place in the church calendar as All Soul’s Day.  On November 1, 1517, a massive exhibit of newly acquired relics would be on display at Wittenberg, Luther’s home city.  Pilgrims would come from all over, genuflect before the relics, and take hundreds, if not thousands, of years off time in purgatory.  Luther’s soul grew even more vexed.  None of this seemed right.

Martin Luther, a scholar, took quill in hand, dipped it in his inkwell and penned his 95 Theses on October 31, 1517.  These were intended to spark a debate, to stir some soul-searching among his fellow brothers in the church.  The 95 Theses sparked far more than a debate.  The 95 Theses also revealed the church was far beyond rehabilitation.  It needed a reformation.  The church, and the world, would never be the same.

One of Luther’s 95 Theses simply declares, “The Church’s true treasure is the gospel of Jesus Christ” [#62].  That alone is the meaning of Reformation Day. The church had lost sight of the gospel because it had long ago papered over the pages of God’s Word with layer upon layer of [dead and greedy] tradition.  Tradition always brings about systems of works, of earning your way back to God.  It was true of the Pharisees, and it was true of medieval Roman Catholicism.  Didn’t Christ Himself say, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light?” [Matthew 11:30].

Reformation Day celebrates the joyful beauty of the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ.

What is Reformation Day?  It is the day the light of the gospel broke forth out of darkness.  It was the day that began the Protestant Reformation.  It was a day that led to Martin LutherJohn CalvinJohn Knox, and may other Reformers helping the church find its way back to God’s Word as the only authority for faith and life and leading the church back to the glorious doctrines of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  It kindled the fires of missionary endeavors, it led to hymn writing and congregational singing, and it led to the centrality of the sermon and preaching for the people of God. It is the celebration of a theological, ecclesiastical [i.e., clergy – pastors, etc.], and cultural transformation.

So we celebrate Reformation Day. This day reminds us to be thankful for our past and to the [Martin the] Monk turned Reformer. What’s more, this day reminds us of our duty, our obligation, to keep the light of the gospel at the center of all we do.

 

The Role of An Elder

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I am currently working with a church that is reconstituting their eldership team.  There has a five-week series and then a three week nomination process.  A few nominees have asked for an overview of what will be required — they’re mostly asking about the time commitment.  Following is my response…

As elder nominees prayerfully consider the role of an elder at [the church] and the time commitment required, here is some basic information to consider:

PRIMARY TASKS

Elders, which includes the Lead Pastor, have three primary tasks that are carried out in the context of mutual prayer, study, authentic biblical relationships, unity, and consensus building:

Doctrine – The [church] elders will be the guardians of the church’s doctrinal stance for both the essentials of the Christian faith as well as non-essential (or secondary) issues of faith.

  1. The essentials of the faith most often describe the behaviors and beliefs without which the Bible clearly states we are not saved. For instance, the Deity of Christ, the Trinity, and justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, etc. (These are not requirements we must meet in order to save ourselves and earn God’s favor. Rather these are the essential beliefs and behaviors that will be manifest in the true Christian.)
  2. The non-essentials of the faith most often describe the doctrines in the Bible that while very important, are not essential to salvation. For instance, whether or not someone believes in the baptism of infants or whether or not God still heals today. These are important issues; yet, what someone believes about these are not essential to salvation.
  3. Here is how Augustine stated it succinctly: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”

Direction – With input from the Staff, Ministry Leaders, Members, and Attenders the Elders will be responsible to determine the vision of [the church] and, with the Lead Pastor, identify 3-5 yearly ministry objectives. The Elders will then delegate to the Lead Pastor the authority to oversee all Staff and operations of the church, and then consistently hold the Lead Pastor accountable through monthly reports and regular (yearly) performance reviews. The Elders will also consistently evaluate the progress of the ministry objectives by employing both qualitative and quantitative metrics.

  1. Qualitative Metrics include (but are not limited to) widespread genuine joy and excitement in the gospel, unity, maturity, zeal, faith, hope, love, increased boldness and zeal in evangelism with a winsome and contagious witness among a cross section of people, the aroma of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit, responsive obedience to the Word of God, the fruit of the Spirit, a humble willingness to follow the leadership, eagerness to do works of service, receptivity to non-Christians, seekers, and newcomers, etc.
  2. Quantitative Metrics include (but are not limited to) measuring the numbers of conversions, baptisms, numbers of Bible studies, small groups, those enfolded into groups, weekend worship attendance, general giving, missions giving, numbers of those serving inside and outside the church, numbers of new and consistent givers, involvement in ministries and outreaches, attendance and quality of training events, etc.

Discipline – Broadly speaking, there can be a distinction between formative discipline (referring to instruction to develop the disciplines of the faith) and corrective discipline (referring to correcting sin). Corrective discipline refers to any act of correction, whether privately and informally warning a friend (which all Christians are called to engage in with gentleness and humility) or formally engaging a habitually sinning member in the corrective discipline process outlined in Matthew 18:15-19. The Elders become involved when all the other relational resources of the church have been exhausted. When the formal process gets to the final stage, the word “excommunication” is frequently used. To excommunicate is to “ex-commune” someone. Among Protestants, excommunication does not refer to removing someone from salvation (which the church is incapable doing) it refers to removing someone from membership in the church and participation in the church’s ministries including the Lord’s Supper. This effectively removes the spiritual connections and covering of the church with the hope for a deep and heartfelt repentance.

LEADING LEADERS

There is a difference between a minister and a leader. A minister builds people and a leader builds groups of people. Like wings on a bird every church needs both to fly straight. In a larger church the Elders must be proven leaders capable of leading other leaders. Are leaders born or developed? The answer is YES! Consider Jethro’s counsel to Moses in Exodus 18:21: “Select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.” Every person has a “leadership capacity.” Most people can be trained to be a “leader of ten.” We can think of this as a small group leader, whose primary responsibility is to regularly facilitate thoughtful dialogue, prayer, biblical community, and service. Beyond leaders of tens there are leaders of fifties, hundreds, and thousands. Every person will max out somewhere on that continuum. The larger the church the more essential it is that the Elders (and Management Team Staff) need to be effective and proven leaders of fifties, hundreds, and thousands. It is possible in a growing church that the needs and governance required can outgrow the leadership capacity of an Elder (or a Staff member). (This could become one of the drawbacks of the “elder for life” perspective.)

AN ELDER’S WIFE (IF MARRIED)

This is not directly addressed in Scripture but would come under the eldership qualification of managing his household well — with love and dignity (see 1 Timothy 3:4-5). In addition to being a spiritually mature believer an elder’s wife must also be self-differentiated (as do Elders!). Jesus would be 100% differentiated, the rest of us would land on a scale ranging from low to high. People with a high level of differentiation have their own beliefs, convictions, direction, goals, and values apart from the pressures around them.  They can choose, before God, how they want to be without being controlled by the approval or disapproval of others. Intensity of feelings, high stress, or the anxiety of others around them does not overwhelm their capacity to think and act intelligently and with responsive wisdom. There are times of high stress and anxiety in an elder’s home and marriage (again, if married). During these seasons the elder has the opportunity to regularly process with other elders while his wife may feel the weight of the stress and anxiety (no matter how much she knows about the situation) without the opportunity to process with others. If she is not differentiated she may be given to “leaking” her stress and anxiety in unhealthy ways. The stress and anxiety can lead to defensiveness, triangulation (i.e., unnecessarily involving a third party), or outright gossip.

Self-differentiation is an emotional health issue. Unfortunately many churches have not done a good job of integrating emotional health into the discipleship process.

TIME COMMITMENT 

Certainly the time commitment will vary. Not every elder will have an equal amount of time per month to serve. However every elder will need to determine during the vetting process if he has sufficient time to devote. The goal during this transition season at [the church] is to show that being an elder at [the church] is (overall) a joyful ministry opportunity! Whether or not a church believes in “elder for life” there does need to be required sabbaticals (TBD, somewhere between 3-5 years). I recommend three meetings a month. The goal of all of these meetings is to balance effectiveness with efficiency.

  1. A monthly board meeting to carryout the legal requirements of a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization by reviewing financial and attendance reports, holding the Lead Pastor accountable through engaging with his Ministry Objective Report, providing counsel and input to the Lead Pastor when asked for, and actively moving toward consensus and unity. The agenda for a board meeting is jointly assembled by the Board Facilitator and Lead Pastor and sent out with monthly reports 3-5 days before the Board Meeting so that every member can come prepared to move quickly and efficiently through the agenda. A board meeting should last no more than two hours, however it will most likely take an additional two hours to properly prepare for the board meeting.
  2. A monthly “work” meeting to engage in extended prayer for the church, the staff, leaders, members, attenders, specific prayer needs, and for God to bless the church with salvations. Additionally, in a work meeting the elders review any current or possible church discipline issues as well as continue to study and refine [the church’s] doctrine. Position papers are often written for effective instruction and communication to the rest of the church (hot topics include women’s roles in leadership, sexuality, and defining marriage). These meetings can last 2-3 hours.
  3. A monthly “check-in” meeting to share and care for one another. Honest sharing about joys, challenges, struggles, marriage, work, etc. and praying for each other individually as needed. I would also encourage, at least once a quarter, for these meetings to include wives for continued relationship building, sharing, and caring. This also helps the wives to be able to engage with their own wisdom and discernment (where appropriate) as well as being an outlet for any pent-up stress and anxiety. These meeting should last 1-2 hours. When the wives are involved it should usually take place over a meal, with plenty of time to interact plus time to pray together.

I would also recommend an elder’s retreat on a regular basis – at least yearly. This could just be for the guys, or for couples (maybe one of each??).

Addendum #1: What About Women Elders?

Think of a continuum with “Complementarian” on one end and “Egalitarian” on the other end. Here’s a concise definition for each:

  1. Complementarian – The theological view that men and women are created equal in their value, being, and personhood through bearing the image of God, displaying physical and functional distinctives and are created to complement one another in biblically prescribed roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, and church leadership. Complementarians view women’s roles in church ministry as distinctive from men, holding to the “mystery” of mutual submission, male headship, and sacrificial love conveyed in Ephesians 5:19-33. Practically, this is expressed through the practice of male lead pastors and elders.

An important theological consideration is, does complementarianism emanate from the Fall or the Trinity? But that’s for another time 🙂

  1. Egalitarian – The theological view that not only are all people equal before God in their personhood, value, and worth but there are no gender-based limitations of what functions or roles each can fulfill in the home, church, or society – viewing Galatians 3:28 as a hinge-verse that changes the historical role of women in the Church.

Complementarianism has it’s own continuum: “Soft,” “Strict,” and “Hyper” (again, for another time). Historically, [the church] has been more complementarian in its theological perspective with male elders and pastors. This is an area that the incoming elders will oversee theological clarification on. (If a nominee tends toward an egalitarian view it will not disqualify him.) Also, many healthy and vital churches have a provision in their governance model to add “gifted men and women” to their board. These men and women would not be considered elders but their wisdom and discernment would be consistently utilized.   

Addendum #2: Can Vocational Staff Be Elders?

This is an area that is not clearly defined in Scripture. Many healthy and vital churches have differing views on this question. When a church is in transition with the aim of calling a “Permanent Pastor” it’s generally wise to not have any vocational staff as elders. When a permanent pastor comes on the scene it can be awkward and confusing for the permanent pastor to be the (new) supervisor of the staff member/s at work but be a co-equal in an elder’s meeting. In the governance model expressed above the Lead Pastor can bring one of his staff (often the Executive pastor) to a Board Meeting as a non-voting member to give input as well as helping the Lead Pastor communicate with the rest of the staff.

12-Point Spiritual Audit

Audit

As we begin a new school year (which, most churches orient their calendars around) I am reminded of Paul’s words to Timothy, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:16). Consider the following questions in order to be proactive and intentional about becoming all that God has called you to be.

  1. Is responsive obedience the fruit of genuine joy in the gospel?  We can obey God out of fear or from love. God prefers love.
  1. Have I maintained a genuine awe of God?  Awe inspires, it overwhelms, it intimidates our humanness, it inspires worship. Awe isn’t learned; it is realized.
  1. Am I content with who I am becoming?  Every day we get one day closer to who we will ultimately be. Am I satisfied with who this will be?
  1. Am I becoming less religious and more spiritual?  The Pharisees were religious; Christ is spiritual. Much tradition is religious, while relationship with Christ is spiritual.
  1. Does my family recognize the authenticity of my spirituality?  They see us whole. We would like to believe, and must believe, that if we are growing spiritually, our family will recognize it.
  1. Do I give-to-get-to-give-again?  John Wimber used to remind audiences that the reason we give is not just to “get,” but to “get” so we can give again, and again, and again… Are we giving away that which God blesses us with?
  1. Do I have a quiet center to my life?  Peace is not just the absence of conflict, but the absence of anxiety in the midst of conflict.
  1. Have I defined my unique contribution?  Do we know what we can do effectively? The need is always bigger than any person can satisfy, and so our call is simply to handle the part of the need that is ours to do.
  1. Is my prayer life improving?  One test of our prayer life is this: Do our decisions have prayer as an integral part, or do we make decisions out of our desires and then immerse them in a sanctimonious sauce we call prayer?
  1. Is my humility genuine?  Humility is not denying the gifts and power that we have but admitting that the power comes through us, not from us.
  1. Is my soul being fed?  We have different personality and character traits that need developing or dwarfing. That means we must search out the spiritual food that feeds our soul.
  1. Do I have joy?  God doesn’t need us, God loves us; and we don’t work for Him to earn His love, we work for Him as a result of His love. He lets us work in order to mature us. That brings joy.

A spiritual audit is more than a statement of condition. It is also an indication of spiritual potential. May the coming school year be a season growth toward your destiny in Christ.

This post was adapted from an article originally published in 1998 by the (late) Fred Smith in Christianity Today/Leadership Journal. I have continued to adapt it over the years as I think, plan, pray, and grow.  You can read the original article here.

The Christian Contribution To Our Current Moral Crisis


I didn’t vote for President Donald Trump but I can understand why people did.Many Americans are fed up with the partisan politics in which both sides of the aisle pursue political agendas with the (seemingly) underlying goals of personal enrichment and, therefore, re-election. (For instance, how many of our representatives would vote for us to have the same health-care plan they do? Or the same retirement benefits?)

People took a chance on someone they thought could “drain the swamp.” I get that. And I get that Christians were hoping for more of a voice in determining public policy. But Trump is who we thought he was — and we (all) need to own that.

It’s also been demoralizing to listen to many of the “Evangelicals” who are backing him. The vast majority of them certainly don’t speak for me. And the levels of incompetency many of them bring to the table are baffling to me — whether it’s theologically or professionally, and in some cases, both. Sometimes it’s hilarious, but usually it’s quite sad.

Also, thinking of last weekend in Charlottesville, Va., it doesn’t take a graduate degree in theology to know that the actions and activities of “alt-right” groups are antithetical to biblical Christianity — and neither does it make anyone who disagrees with them “leftist.”

Here’s what I see the Bible plainly saying: God sent His Son — a brown, Jewish Middle Eastern man — to live a perfect life and die a sinner’s death so that we could enjoy a relationship with a perfectly holy, just, loving and righteous God.

And I get that many people struggle to connect perfect holiness with love, or perfect justice with love. The place where they intersect, however, is at the cross. This is what makes biblical Christianity distinctive from every other religion or philosophy of life. It’s about what God has done, not what we must do. That’s why we call it “good news.”

The result of this gospel grace is that sinners like me from every race, tribe and tongue will celebrate God’s goodness together, as a family, for all eternity (see Revelation 7:9). My belief is that the gospel alone has the power to overcome social, ethnic and gender barriers (see Galatians 3:26, 28).

I am saddened to think that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be shocked to learn that many of the beliefs and practices that the current “Evangelical Church” clings to will be just as baffling to them as us looking back and wondering how anyone, ever, could have believed and taught that slavery of any kind was God-ordained, or that any other human being did not/does not inherently possess equal value, dignity and worth.

What’s the way forward? Three things come to mind.

  1. Humble, respectful and convictional dialogue. This is especially essential for those of us who identify as Christ followers. It is very confusing to people when so-called Christians who profess to know God and practice the Bible behave in ways that do not reflect the demeanor of Jesus. And we must acknowledge that when Jesus did speak and act in anger it was in legit response to the hypocrisy and greed of the religious leaders. There are many excellent resources available, in addition to the Bible. One that I have enjoyed is the book, Convictional Civility, with the subtitle of “Engaging the Culture in the 21st Century, Essays in Honor of David S. Dockery,” who is president of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill.
  2. We (white folks, especially) need to speak out on behalf of — and serve — the marginalized, the poor, the weak and the alien. Period. It is clearly stated in the Bible. There is simply no way around it. New life in Jesus Christ will place new motives, capacity, desires — and trust in our hearts.
  3. Participate in the political process, and support civic education. It’s been said that we get the leaders we deserve. There is truth to that. The “they” needs to become the “us.” In 2012, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter was interviewed at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, where he said, in essence, that democracy will fail if we continue our decline into “civic ignorance.” You can watch the (impressive) clip here.

The Heart of A Leader (Acts 20:17-38)

The Heart Of A Leader

Sermon Notes from Aug 5-6, 2017

INTRO

I’ve noticed that there are quite a few cemeteries in the area. There was a time when I collected epitaphs (what’s written on the tombstone). It’s interesting to think that our lives can be summed up in a few words. Here are a few of my favorites…

  1. Uniontown, Pennsylvania: Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake – [He] Stepped on the gas instead of the brake.
  2. Silver City, Nevada: Here lays Butch, He was quick on the trigger, but slow on the draw.
  3. In Ribbesford England: Anna Wallace — The children of Israel wanted bread and the Lord sent them manna, Old clerk Wallace wanted a wife, And the Devil sent him Anna.
  4. From Albany, New York: Harry Edsel Smith – [He] Looked up the elevator shaft to see if the car was on the way down. It was.
  5. From Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Canada: A victim of fast women and slow horses.

I know those are humorous, but on a serious note, what would you like to see written on your tombstone?

I had the privilege of studying under a professor named Bobby Clinton during my time in grad school (The Making of A Leader). Clinton spent most of his career studying leadership in the Bible. Here’s what Clinton found…

  1. 500 leaders in the Bible
  2. 100 leaders with information on their lives
  3. 49 with information on how they finished
  4. 13 finished well (26%!)

The point about pointing this out is: If you and I are not intentional [focused living] about finishing well, we probably won’t. Clinton developed six criteria for what it means to finish well. I will post them on the Pastor’s Blog this coming week. I’d like for us to take the thought of what it means to finish well into our passage for today…

Last week we considered what effective leaders DO, today I would like for us to consider the heart of an effective leader who, by-the-way finished VERY well!

Remember our commitment to look at leadership on two parallel tracks.

  1. If the lowest common denominator of effective leadership is influence then the Bible can inform us all about how we might influence the sphere of our relationships. (As I mentioned last week, it’s time for the Church of Jesus Christ to start leading in our culture again…)
  2. The second track is that we want to learn about leadership in and for this church. In a few weeks we will have the opportunity to nominate elders and we don’t want it to be a popularity contest…

We will look at a passage that Dr. Luke [medical dr, historian, and collegue of Paul] records in Acts 20 as Paul, who is on his way, back to Jerusalem stops in Miletus, which is a town that is 36 miles dead-south of Ephesus. Paul likely stayed in Miletus for about a week. As he landed Paul likely sent word to the Ephesian elders to come and meet him there. It’s thought that he wanted to meet specifically with the elders.

I will read the passage, then pray and we will see what we can learn about the heart of a leader [pg. 1182]. As I read I’d like for you to notice the two “Therefore’s.” Each “therefore” is an intensifier and provides us with a segue into a new section…“From Miletus [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them, ‘You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21 solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry, which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face.

26 Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. 28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.

31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. 35 In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

36 When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, 38 grieving especially over the word, which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship.” Acts 20:17-38

BODY

We can understand this passage better if we break it into four pieces, which are listed in the bulletin…

  1. Paul CHRONICLES his ministry among them ( 18-25) [the real meaty portion is here as Paul reviews, or identifies, the personal integrity of a leader]
  2. Paul CAUTIONS them about coming dangers ( 26-30)
  3. Paul COMMENDS them to God and His word ( 32-35)
  4. Paul CONCLUDES his time with them (vs. 36-38)

We’ll look quickly look at them one at a time…

  1. Paul CHRONICALS his ministry among them ( 18-25)

I was with you (v. 18) [Paul wasn’t with everyone; he speaking to the elders. Remember Jethro’s counsel to Moses – “leaders of thousand, hundreds, fifties, and tens.”]

Paul served the Lord with humility, tears, and trials. (v. 19)

Definition of humility: Humility is coming to know the grace, majesty, and beauty of God and viewing ourselves from that perspective.

Paul did not shrink from declaring all that was profitable (v. 20) [remember this verse]

Paul taught them (v. 20)

Paul solemnly testified of repentance and faith (v. 21)

Paul was “bound in the Spirit” (v. 22) [he couldn’t get out if he wanted to]

Paul did not consider his life as dear to himself (v. 24)

Paul testified of the gospel of the grace of God (v. 24)

Paul preached the Kingdom (v. 25) [summary statement of the gospel]

Paul declared the whole purpose of God (v. 27)

Q-1 of the Westminster Confession of faith: What is the chief end of mankind? “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” [God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. –John Piper]

  1. Paul CAUTIONS them about coming dangers ( 26-30)

Be on guard for yourselves (v. 28) [Paul served the Lord with humility, tears, and trials. (v. 19)]

Be on guard for the flock (v. 28) [Conflict, Control (micro-managing), Idolatry (when good thing become ultimate things), Theology]

The Holy Spirit has made you overseers (v. 28) [not man]

Shepherd the church (v. 28) [Psalm 23:4 “your rod and your staff- they comfort me.” The rod is for correction and the staff is for direction. Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines. Pro 3:12 & Heb 12:6]

  1. Paul COMMENDS them to God and His word ( 32-35)

Be on the alert (v. 31) i.e, watchful, awake, discerning

Admonish each one with tears (v. 31) [invest emotionally and be willing to say the hard thing]

Be commended [entrusted] to God and the word of His grace (v. 32)

Minister to needs (v. 34) [So heavenly minded you’re no earthly good??]

Covet no one’s silver, gold, or clothes (v. 33)

Help the weak (v. 35)

Remember the words of Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (v. 35) [Jesus gave it all…]

The REAL leader is the first one to the cross. –Gordon Dalbey

  1. Paul CONCLUDES his time with them (vs. 36-38)“When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, 38 grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship.” [They loved Paul]

CONCLUSION

Now, as we move into a time of response and taking the Lord’s Supper together I’d like for us to look at the takeaway that’s printed in the bulletin. What I attempted to do is reduce Acts 20:17-38 into one sentence to make it as practical as I can. Paul was one of the greatest leaders who have ever lived. (The greatest was Jesus but Paul may have been second…)

So, let’s look at the takeaway: All leaders inspire beliefs. Great leaders inspire great beliefs that are rooted in both deep humility and courageous communication.

In my opinion your unwillingness to engage in courageous communication is the greatest failure of CCC over the last few years…

If you have been a leader in this church over the past 5-years I would call on you to repent. We can call it conflict avoidance, peacekeeping instead of peacemaking…

Gospel Centered Preaching & Teaching

gospel-centered2

Gospel Centered

What do we mean when we say a church is gospel-centered? The word gospel means good news and is not simply the entry point into the Christian life but it is also the foundation and power that shapes all we do as followers of Jesus Christ, both in our daily lives and in our experience as a community of Christ-followers.

The Good News of Jesus Christ is not only the fire that ignites the Christian life, it’s the fuel that keeps Christians going and growing each day.

The gospel is the gloriously great announcement of what God has done through the birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ to satisfy (or settle) the opposition against sin which God’s holy nature requires and to secure unrestricted access to God that includes the free gift of eternal life, a free and perfect righteousness for all who trust in Christ alone for salvation, the empowering gift of the Holy Spirit, and a coming new creation free from decay, disasters, disease, evil, sin, and death.

Therefore, the gospel is central because it is not what God requires it is what God provides. The gospel is not an imperative, demanding things we must do. The gospel is an indicative, declaring what God has done. The gospel is not about human activity; it’s about divine achievement.  The gospel is not a moralistic “Do!” The gospel is a merciful “Done!” The gospel is not good advice – it’s good news!  We want the gospel of Christ to inform and empower all that we do to the glory of God.

The Basics of Gospel Centered Preaching and Teaching

Jesus is the climax of the Bible’s storyline.  Here is the way to understand the narrative arc of the Bible’s story:

Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration 

  • Creation (Gen. 1-2): “It was good” (SHALOM* initiated)
  • Fall (Gen. 3): Sin and destruction enter the world
  • Redemption (Gen 3.15 – Revelation): God’s pursuit to redeem a people
  • Restoration (Revelation 21-22): Final redemption and restoration of all things (SHALOM* restored)

(*For a further explanation of SHALOM see the previous blog post or listen to the CCC sermon The Gospel of Grace: From Genesis To Revelation.)

The main idea of gospel-centered preaching and teaching is to interpret the biblical text in its redemptive historical context (see above), the sermon must also aim for change, must proclaim the doctrinal center of the Reformation – grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for God’s glory alone — with passion and personal application. Gospel-centered preaching and teaching seeks to speak in a language that connects with the unchurched in our culture with an aim to shatter their stereotypes of Christianity and bringing them face to face with Jesus Christ who meets sinners real needs, felt and unfelt. The approach then is a blend of the Protestant heritage of preaching, evangelism, and pastoral care — with a concern to make real the Biblical aspects of our heritage in the midst of contemporary (increasingly) post-Christian culture.[1]

The Underpinnings of A Sermon

Sermons seek to be be rooted deeply in God’s word. Our call is to move people into the word through asking (at least) six questions of every Biblical text that we preach:[2]

  1. What is the “takeaway” (or, big idea) in the assigned text?
  2. What does God want people to know? (Knowledge question)
  3. What does God want people to do? (Action question)
  4. What does this text teach about God, His character, and ways?
  5. What does this text teach about fallen humankind? (Unfold the grand redemptive context.)
  6. How does this text teach about Jesus Christ?

“Help people to worship Christ in the text.”

We want to do solid exegesis and spend adequate prayer time to get ready. We don’t want to preach a sermon that we aren’t ready to preach. We seek to take the time to do the hard work of being before God, doing the study, and spending time in prayer to prepare.

We want to apply the sermon to your life before we preach it. Asking, “How will this apply to my life?” Then we want to tell people how it applies to their lives, which can be challenging.  We can’t be telling people how God wants them to be unless we are willing to go there ourselves.  We want to be vulnerable without TMI.  Note, “For me this means…” or “This has been a real challenge for me. I’ve been trying to make this real in my life this week but I am struggling with…”

Walk in brokenness and vulnerability before the congregation. Don’t get weird about it but do it.  Each sermon should move towards Christ – or as (the late) Ed Clowney said: “Help people to worship Christ in the text.”  This may take some time to figure out how to do but try to do it.

[1] Dennis Johnson. Him We Proclaim. P & R Publishing: 2007:54.

[2] Adapted from Danny Aken.