Lind,_Charles_Walker,_Samuel_Finley_(1715–1766),_President_(1761–66),_1870

Gilbert Tennent was a leader of the Great Awakening, along with George Whitefield.

In his sermon “The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry” he (presciently) warned that failure to examine those who enter pastoral ministry regarding personal piety and a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ would endanger the effectiveness of the church.

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And Jesus, when He came out, saw many people and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd (Mark 6:34 KJV).

The ministry of natural men is for the most part unprofitable; which is confirmed by a threefold evidence of Scripture, reason, and experience. Such as the Lord send not, He Himself assures us, shall not profit the people at all. Mr. Pool justly glosseth upon this passage of Scared Scripture, thusly, “That none can expect God’s blessing upon their ministry, that are not called and sent of God into the ministry.” And right reason will inform us, how unfit instruments they are to negotiate that work they pretend to. Is a blind man fit to be a guide in a very dangerous place? Is a dead man fit to bring others to life? A mad man fit to give counsel in a matter of life and death? Is a possessed man fit to cast out devils? A rebel, an enemy to God, fit to be sent on an embassy of peace, to bring rebels into a state of friendship with God? A captive bound in the massy chains of darkness and guilt, a proper person to set others at liberty? A leper, or one that has plague-sores upon him, fit to be a good physician? Is an ignorant rustick, that has never been at sea in his life, fit to be a pilot, to keep vessels from being dashed to pieces upon rocks and sandbanks.

Isn’t an unconverted minister like a man who would teach others to swim before he has learned himself, and so is drowned in the act, and dies like a fool?

What if some instances could be shown of unconverted ministers being instrumental in convincing persons of their lost state? The thing is very rare and extraordinary. And for what I know as many instances may be given of Satan’s convincing persons by his temptations. Indeed it’s a kind of chance-medley, both in respect of the Father and His children, when any such event happens. And isn’t this the reason why a work of conviction and conversion has been so rarely heard of for a long time in the churches till of late—that the bulk of her spiritual guides, were stone-blind and stone-dead?

The ministry of natural men is dangerous both in respect of the doctrines and practice of piety. The doctrines of original sin, justification by faith alone, and the other points of Calvinism are very cross to the grain of unrenewed nature. And though men, by the influence of a good education, and hopes of preferment, may have the edge of their natural enmity against them blunted; yet it’s far from being broken or removed. It’s only the saving grace of God that can give us a true relish for those nature-humbling doctrines; and so effectually secure us from being infected by the contrary. Is not the carnality of the ministry one great cause of the general spread of Arminianism, Socinianism, Arianism, and deism at this day through the world?

And alas! what poor guides are natural ministers to those who are under spiritual trouble? They either slight such distress altogether and call it melancholy, or madness, or dawb those that are under it with untempered mortar. Our Lord assures us that the salt which hath lost its savour is good for nothing; some say, “It genders worms and vermine.” Now, what savour have pharisee-ministers? In truth, a very stinking one both in the nostrils of God and good men. They hinder instead of helping others in at the strait gate. Hence is that threatening of our Lord against them. “Woe unto you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites; for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, nor suffer those that are entering to go in” (Matthew 23:13 KJV). Pharisee teachers will with the utmost hate oppose the very work of God’s Spirit upon the souls of men; and labour by all means to blacken it, as well as the instruments, which the Almighty improves to promote the same; if it comes near their borders, and interferes with their credit or interest. Thus did the pharisees deal with with our Saviour.

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No_Pain_No_Gain

In their book The Power of Full Engagement Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz talk about “strategic disengagement.”

Strategic disengagement an intentional period of recovery that paves the way for re-engagement at a higher level.

As in our muscles so in every area of life, growth occurs through periods of stress and recovery.

The mantra “no pain, no gain” is actually true. Virtually every gain in life takes place through effort, stress, or even pain.

There is, however, a tipping point. It’s possible to over-tax muscles, which leads to injury or even permanent disability.

It’s also possible to subject yourself to a prolonged, uninterrupted period of high stress, which leads to what’s popularly called burnout. 

The key to taking advantage of the huge opportunities for personal growth during high stress periods, it’s critical to embrace and practice strategic disengagement.

The last year has been the single most stressful period of my life professionally. Our church is going through some major changes both–a change both of senior leadership, and denominational affiliation.

Change is hard for all of us, and it’s especially difficult in the absence of a senior leader who is the “face” of the organization, in our case without a Senior Pastor.

The key to surviving and thriving in this kind of stressful situation is choosing each day and each week to create ways to strategically disengage–to create a break and some psychological distance from situation.

As you look at your own life, with all of its stress, how are you making space to unplug and disengage?

 

I have a high view of the sacraments when compared with many who call themselves evangelical. So when I read Alan Jacobs reflection on Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia I found much with which I agree while still considering myself thoroughly reformed.

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Jacobs quotes Francis:

Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.

I’m convinced that the church ought not to lightly deprive anyone of its help in moving toward God in and through Jesus Christ our Lord.

How does this relate to the Sacraments, especially to Holy Communion? It means that we have to hold two realities in tension:

  1. The Eucharist should not be received lightly, flippantly, or without the intention to turn once more from sin and to God in Jesus Christ.
  2. The Eucharist should be offered to as many as possible (with appropriate warnings), especially those whose lives are difficult or wrestle in particular ways with sin.

Jacobs writes:

My understanding of the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, which I take to be a standard (if not the only standard) Anglican understanding, is that they are not just signs but means of grace: “spiritual food and drink,” as is said in the prayer book. It is by and through the sacraments that we are enlightened and empowered to be the body of Christ in and for the world. And of course it is only through the sacrament of Baptism, in which we die along with Christ, paying the due penalty for our sin, and are raised to new life in Him, that we are so reconciled with Him that we may participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

And as John Wesley wrote, “The chief of these means [of God’s grace to us] are prayer, whether in secret or with the great congregation; searching the Scriptures; (which implies reading, hearing, and meditating thereon;) and receiving the Lord’s Supper, eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of Him: And these we believe to be ordained of God, as the ordinary channels of conveying his grace to the souls of men.”

I disagree that we necessarily “die along with Christ” at the moment of baptism. This implies baptismal regeneration, and classic Reformed Orthodoxy has tended to avoid position.

Rather, there are times when the sign (the administration of the water) and the reality signified (death to sin and new life in Christ) correspond. In baptism, most of the time they do not. The sign of water points to a future reality.

When it comes to the Lord’s Supper though, what Jacobs presents fits well with the Westminster Standards. The sacraments *are* means of grace not just *signs* of grace. Grace is conferred in the bread and the wine in the same way that grace is conferred through fellowship with God in prayer and in the Word.

Where I differ is that he seems to view the sacraments are necessary and sufficient to Christian maturity. They’re not. This is one of the errors of the ecumenical movement. Since all Christians celebrate the Lord’s Supper the Supper has been placed as our locus of commonality.

Sacraments unify while the Bible divides. We elevate Communion as the source of our unity and downplay preaching and doctrine as the source of our division. As a result, the church is diminished.

What we see in Wesley and in the Reformed Confessions, on the other hand, is that the sacraments are subset of the means of grace more broadly applied.

Christian growth happens through use of the means of grace that Christ has ordained: the Word, the Sacraments, and prayer.

Q. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q/A 88

The Word (i.e., the Bible) provides the context in which we receive and apprehend the the sacraments and so there is a necessary pairing of preaching/teaching and the administration of the sacraments.

Simply sharing the communion meal in the absence of Biblical teaching leads us to invest the Lord’s Supper with meanings and significance that are foreign to the Bible.

In my own reflection this leads me to conclude that the Word and Sacraments demand equal attention in the life of the church.

Sermons and teaching need to be more doctrinal, more focused on Scripture and less oratorical performances designed to “inspire” the congregation. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper needs to be celebrated weekly as an acknowledgment of our Lord’s commandment and of its theological and spiritual reality as a means of grace.

 

Grace in 90 seconds…

March 30, 2016

“Movements suffer when leaders are unwilling to hold the group accountable.”

Max Depree