COVID-19 and the Return of Jesus

The recent threats of the coronavirus have sparked quite the conversation among many believers of whether or not this could be the unknown circumstances to bring about the return of Christ. This virus has invoked believers in questioning biblical prophecy and events that are to unfold before the return of Christ.

So what’s the big deal?

Well, the entire realm of doctrine known as eschatology (the study of end events) is maximally debated because of the Bible’s ambiguity about the subject. Of course, this results in the many different viewpoints held by confessing evangelicals. So, before getting into the bulk of this post, I would like to address a couple of different points here.

First, no one really knows which millennial view is correct. While all of us who hold to a particular view of the millennium, none of us (I am convinced) can hold any view with 100% certainty. The Bible is not clear regarding these issues. So, we must understand from the onset that one specific millennial view does not “top” another. Instead, every view attempts to understand the unfolding of the end of time correctly and biblically sound.

Second, it is vitally important to never attempt to “date” the return of Christ. Jesus is overtly clear in the gospel of Matthew that no one knows the day nor the hour (24:36). Of course, we who know anything of history understand that many have attempted to nail down the date in which Christ will return. Because the Bible is clear that no one knows the date in which Jesus will return, we must halt our attempts of trying.

Eschatology and COVID-19

As most everyone has seen on social media, there are many claiming that COVID-19 is something like the mark of the beast or the introductory “worldwide pandemic” into the great tribulation. I have seen many believers post articles claiming the locust attack in Africa and the coronavirus are both indicators of the worldwide terror to introduce the great tribulation. Also, I have seen posts like this (below) claiming the COVID-19 is the mark of the beast.

In light of these instances, let me give you a few simple points of exhortation (from my millennial view) about how we should be viewing this pandemic and the return of Christ:

  • The Bible is not a book to be taken 100% literally. Before you dismiss this point because it seems as if I am denigrating the infallibility of the Scriptures, hear me out. I am not claiming that the Bible is not 100% true. Instead, I am claiming that the Bible is not to be interpreted, in every case, literally. There are many genres of books contained within the Scriptures that demand a figurative literary interpretation. Some of those genres will include books like Psalms, Proverbs, Daniel, and Revelation. These books are not meant to be interpreted literally for every single verse. Even Jesus’ words in Matthew 17 cannot be taken 100% literally. When he says that as long as your faith is the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains, he is not telling you that you can move mountains. In essence, it is a metaphor to show the power of God regardless of our own feebly amounts of faith.
  • The Kingdom of God is present NOW. This may be a point of disagreement for some folks, and that is ok, but we must be understanding that Jesus came to institute the kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). In other words, Jesus came to earth to show that he is in control right now. His rule and reign as King of Kings is not a futuristic event, but a present reality! One purpose of Jesus’ ministry was to show those in Nazareth and elsewhere that the Kingdom of God has commenced, and they must respond to the King in faith and belief.
  • No one knows the day nor the hour. Matthew 17:36 – “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” What is Jesus saying here? Jesus is merely showing his disciples that even his human limitations he took on (Phil. 2) do not allow him the opportunity to know when his return will commence. Thus, we can conclude that we should not be attempting to make educated guesses on when this will occur also.
  • The world is cursed, but Christ will redeem it when he returns. Isaiah 65 gives believers great encouragement regarding the new heavens and the new earth. Isaiah comforts his readers in exile by showing them that at the end of time, Jesus Christ will return, and he will make all things new. Notice, however, that Isaiah never claims that Christ will be making all new things. Instead, what Christ will be doing is taking what has been cursed in this world and recreating it to which it was initially created. Because Christ will be doing this, we understand that our future is not founded upon the events that will unfold this event, but his redemption becoming our reality in full view. 
  • The Bible is clear that Christ will return, but that is all upon which it is 100% clear. We must not be willing to make definitive claims upon which the Bible does not make its definitive claims. Of course, this is where the main disagreements regarding the end events come into play. However, in my view, the 1,000-year reign, the tribulation, the “rapture,” are all things mentioned in Scripture, but are mentioned from a figurative standpoint rather than literal events. I know this is not everyone’s interpretation of Revelation 19-20 and 1 Thessalonians 4. However, it is the best way I believe those chapters are interpreted through the lens of the entire story of Scripture.

Conclusion

Friends, I understand these are trying times. But we must always remember these truths regarding Christ and his return. Though the Church has endured many different hardships and pandemics throughout its history, the Lord has remained faithful and has never left his Church without a firm foundation, and he never will.

Why Conditional Election?

Ultimately, the main point of disagreement between Calvinists and Arminians comes down to two main theological elements: predestination and election. In fact, Arminius himself declared these were the two points of disagreement between his theology and Calvin’s theology.[1] Arminius made some major claims against the predestinarian nature of Calvin’s theology and specifically, determinism:

“Great is the use of this doctrine as it establishes the grace of God when it ascribes the whole praise of our vocation, justification, adoption, and glorification, to the mercy of God alone, and takes it entirely away from our own strengths, works and merits (Rom 8:29).”

Arminius’ comments above show us that his beliefs regarding predestination actually involve one who has already become regenerate. Much to the dismay of our Calvinist brethren, Arminius claims that Romans 8 is geared toward believers rather than those who have yet to be regenerate. Instead, Arminius argues, in the aforementioned quote above, that Romans 8:28-29 deals with the predestination of the one who has been regenerated rather than the unbeliever.

F. Leroy Forlines has a similar message in his book:

“If God foreknew the elect as being His, it is necessarily inferred that this foreknowledge presupposes this person’s belief in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.”[2]

In other words, Forlines refutes the Calvinistic understanding of predestination to show that God’s foreknowledge is just that – knowledge before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4) of who would believe in Christ and who would not believe in Christ. Instead of there only being a certain group of people whom God will save, Arminius (and Forlines) make the claim that God’s foreknowledge is his eternal decree of those who are found in Christ to be redeemed by His blood and regenerated by His Spirit.

“If God foreknew the elect as being His, it is necessarily inferred that this foreknowledge presupposes this person’s belief in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.” -Leroy Forlines

Election

Yet, the most important doctrine for the classical Arminian framework of theology is the doctrine of conditional election. Election is the most important doctrine because it coheres with one of the staple beliefs for classical Arminianism – a freedom of the will. Freedom of the will is much different than many Calvinist theologians describe of Arminianism. Instead of this freedom being a human participation in salvation, it is the freedom to think with our minds, feel with our hearts, and act with our wills. Forlines has named this idea the total personality. He explains that the total personality is the way in which human beings bear God’s image.[3]

If human beings are total persons (thinking, feeling, and acting beings), then their wills are acted upon by themselves rather than someone else, and to impose someone else’s will upon another human being’s will to act actually devalues what it means to be a person. And since human beings are total persons, Free Will Baptists (and all classical Arminians) proffer that election has four distinct characteristics[4]:

Election is Christo-Centric. One of the central elements of election, regardless of your theological viewpoint, is that election only takes place in Christ. Ephesians 1:4 shows us this that those whom God chose before the foundation of the world are chosen in Him. Arminius claims this reality in his writings, that the biblical order of salvation is vitally important to the biblical understanding of election (we will come back to this).

Election is personal and individual. In all cases within the storyline of Scripture, election is always based upon individual election rather than corporate. Of course, we know that the children of Israel were an exception in the Old Testament, but we also understand that many of Israel were not saved. In fact, Paul references this problem in Romans 9:7 saying, “nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants.” In other words, Paul shows us here that election is based upon faith in Christ. Even passages like Ephesians 1:4 and Romans 8:29-30, we find individual believers being elected to salvation, not groups. Arminius also argued that you do not see groups named in the Lamb’s Book of Life, only individuals (Rev. 17:8).

Election is eternal. Arminius said, “God does nothing in time, which he has not decreed to do from all eternity…If it were otherwise, God might be charged with mutability.”[5] It might be refreshing to our Calvinists brothers and sisters to hear from us that we believe in eternal election. God is not unsure of who are His children and who are not, He has known from eternity past.

Election is conditional. Of course, this is the main point of disagreement for Calvinists and Arminians – whether election is unconditional or conditional. I will not attempt to explain the Calvinist understanding of unconditional election, but instead will simply flesh out the classical Arminian understanding of conditional election in brevity. Essentially, the disagreement boils down to how one views the order of salvation.

If election to salvation precedes faith (Calvinist thought), then, according to Forlines, human beings are sanctified before they are ever justified, which he asserts is illogical within the parameters of Scripture[6]. Therefore, the biblical order of salvation should go as follows: faith, justification, regeneration, sanctification, glorification. So, then, how can God elect anyone? This, of course, brings us to another definition of a word that is thrown around and abused quite a bit in modern-day Christianity: foreknowledge.

Picirilli defines God’s foreknowledge in this way:

“God eternally and necessarily possesses knowledge of all possibilities.”[7]

So, according to Picirilli and Forlines, God knows (and has known) who will repent and believe in Jesus Christ for salvation , which in now way minimizes his omniscience and foreknowledge, but instead proposes the idea that God’s foreknowledge allows him to see through the corridors of time who will meet the condition of salvation: faith in Christ.

Of course, we must address a couple of talking points. First, classical Arminians believe that salvation is completely and only a work of Jesus Christ. Though we do believer that election is conditioned upon faith in Christ, we do not believe anyone can have faith in Christ unless the Holy Spirit draws them to himself and convicts them of sin and convinces them of the truth. Second, we understand that faith is not a “work” of salvation. Instead of faith being a “work” on man’s part, it is simply a response to the drawing power and conviction of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is adamantly clear that the way to salvation is two things: repentance AND belief.

Conclusion

So, why conditional election? Ultimately, we believe in conditional election because it seems to fit with the theology of Scripture as a whole. However, we also see that God has created us with minds, hearts, and wills that allow human beings to respond to his influencing and convicting power and Spirit. Conditional election does not minimize a person’s “personhood,” but instead works alongside it to allow for a response.

“For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace.”

Romans 4:13-16a


[1] Pinson makes this claim in his work, Arminian and Baptist: Explorations in a Theological Tradition (Nashville: Randall House, 2015).

[2] F. Leroy Forlines, “Romans” in The Randall House Bible Commentary (Nashville: Randall House, 1987), 236.

[3] F. Leroy Forlines. The Quest for Truth: Theology for Postmodern Times (Nashville: Randall House, 2001), 139.

[4] These four characteristics of Election are taken from, Robert E. Picirilli. Grace, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism (Nashville: Randall House, 2002).

[5] Picirilli, Grace, Faith, Free Will, 26.

[6] Forlines, Quest, 236.

[7] Ibid., 52.

Reading the Bible’s Prepositional Phrases

Most of the time, preachers and Bible scholars will encourage their people or audience to study the Bible by looking at key themes and key words. Now, before you quit reading this post, please understand that I am not belittling this type of Bible study method; I think it absolutely necessary for one’s own study of the Bible. However, I do also believe that many people miss the point of passages whenever they find the incorrect key words or key themes (which is very likely). So what do we do?

Well, of course, the obvious answer to this question is to continue in learning how to do correct exegesis and homiletics. Exegesis is simply the act of explaining the meaning of a text. So, the task of exegesis aims to find the one specific meaning from the biblical author to his original audience. Homiletics, however, is the task of taking that information from your exegesis and applying it to yourself. These two tasks of exegesis and homiletics should be a continual goal for every believer as they study their Bibles, because these two tasks illuminate the meaning of the text and apply that meaning to the student’s life.

However, there is one element of these two tasks that I have developed over the years which has helped me tremendously in understanding the meaning and applications of texts: taking special notice of the prepositional phrases. You miss the point of many passages of Scripture without these prepositional phrases. Think about it with this example:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NASB)

As you notice, I have bolded the prepositional phrases within this common passage of Scripture. When you remove phrases like “by grace,” “through faith,” “of yourselves,” and “of works” you will actually miss the point of this passage. You miss grace, faith, yourselves, and works as an intricate part of the passage speaking to our salvation that only comes from God alone and nothing we have to contribute.

The prepositional phrases cannot be ignored. Otherwise, we might just miss the entire point of the passage!

Actually, Christianity IS Religion.

It is easy for Christians to herald the ever-so-popular phrase, “It’s not religion; it’s relationship.” And, to be honest, I understand the nature of this motto and affirm that you cannot simply have pharisaical tendencies, be a legalist, and still go to heaven. Why? Because Jesus makes it very clear that our righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:20). So, yes, you must have a relationship with Christ in order to be a Christian – believing this is of utmost importance.

However, a consequence of such sayings is the opposite extreme – neglecting Christian living altogether because one has a relationship with Jesus. In other words, I fear that people use this phrase to avoid the “religious” aspect of Christianity. The Bible has things to say about “religion” that many people tend to avoid. So, if we are going to be Christians who are committed to the inerrancy and infallibility of the Word, we must understand that religion IS a part of the Christian faith. The apostle James makes this very clear in chapter one of his epistle:

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 1:27

So, here are a few observations I’ve found from James 1 that really enhance the argument that Christianity is much MORE than a relationship with Jesus.

James 1 – Religion Exposed

First, we see James exhorting his audience to be steadfast, even during persecution. Most, if not all, scholars believe James was written to a believing audience who were mainly of Jewish descent (James 1:1). I believe this is the case, as well. So, because James’ audience is Jewish, we know that they were experiencing great persecution under the reign of Nero (most scholars contend that James wrote his epistle some time around 62 A.D.). However, we find this also in James first discourse with his audience – verses 2-11. James exhorts his readers to “count it all joy” when they encounter trials and tribulation. Why? Because God works these things within our lives to produce endurance! The greek word for endurance is hypomonēn, which literally translates at steadfast endurance.

So, James here shows his readers that trials are a part of the normal Christian life. Paul echoes this same thought in 2 Timothy 3:12 – “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Throughout this discourse on persecution, James shows his readers that though they may experience persecution, their faith does not have to waver. Though you are tested, ask God for wisdom because he gives to all generously, but do not doubt he will give it (1:5-8). He also calls those blessed who do not waver under trials because they understand their sanctifying nature. These trials are not from God; instead, we give into them by our own fleshly desires (1:13-14). Knowing this truth helps us to understand how the Christian is supposed to be lived – in utter devotion to God, regardless of circumstance.

Second, James exhorts his readers to live our their beliefs. If there is one thing I wish all believers understood, it is that right belief informs right living. James seems to echo this type of understanding of the Christian life. Verse 22 – “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” The word delude, here, denotes a fraudulent reasoning. In other words, James is conveying that if you convince yourself that hearing is satisfactory, you actually deceive yourself into believing you’re living the Christian life at all. He is essentially saying, “If your hearing doesn’t inform your doing, you are doing it all wrong.”

He is essentially saying, “If your hearing doesn’t inform your doing, you are doing it all wrong.”

Then we come to the verses considering religion. What does James have to say regarding religion?

Third, James conveys that religion comes from your theology. Once again, the mantra shows itself – right belief informs right living. James puts it this way:

“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.”

James 1:26

What does James mean here? I think it is rather obvious – he means that religion is the offshoot of what you believe! If you have a religion that only informs your mind but not your actions, you have a religion that is devoid of significance (GK – worthless).

Conclusion

So, what do we do with religion? Is Christianity more than a relationship?

Well, first, we must understand that religion is the consequence of theological belief. If you have no beliefs about anything, then you have no religion because religion is contingent upon belief. Beliefs are what inform your actions. Therefore, religion is the result of your theology. However, we must secondly understand that Christianity is also a religion. We, as Christians, often forget this reality. Often, Christians focus solely on the relational aspect of their faith without allowing that relationship to inform the way they live – this is not the Christian life Jesus calls us to.

Instead, Jesus calls us to a life of obedience: knowledge that informs action.

On This Day: Spurgeon Dies.

What can we learn from the death of the prince of preachers?

Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers since Christ or the Apostle Paul, is unlike any other Christian figure in history. But what made him this way? What employed his unending courage to stand up for truth? Are you ready for the answer? He believed what he preached. He believed what he read in Holy Scripture. He lived out what he believed. He never compromised the truth contained within the Word of God.

Spurgeon’s Funeral Procession on this day, 1892.

1) Devotion

Charles Spurgeon was much more than a great preacher, though this might be his most famous characteristic. Yet, Spurgeon was committed to sound, biblical truth and its proclamation more than his own influence and popularity. Spurgeon’s popularity came from his commitment to the Lord and his Word. Spurgeon never wavered from the clear, understandable exposition of the Bible on a weekly basis. He never backed down when specific difficulty and controversies arose in his life. He simply stood on the Bible and never moved. Like the psalmist writes, “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season” (Ps. 1:3).

Spurgeon’s devotion to the Lord was founded upon the promises in the Bible. Spurgeon stood upon the truths on the Bible because it is the Scriptures themselves that provide faith to those who hear it.

2) Unashamed Commitment

Though I would disagree with Spurgeon on his Calvinism (and his treatment of Arminianism), his devotion to the Scriptures is what fueled his fight against Pelagianism (a view which I would deem as unbiblical) – specifically in the Downgrade Controversy. His fight against the departing from orthodox Christianity by those in the Baptist Union in England was one that every pastor and Christian ought to study. Spurgeon resigned and departed the Baptist Union because of their departure from biblical orthodoxy. Yet, he never resolved to compromise biblical truth for cultural acceptance. He wrote in his own magazine publication, The Sword and Trowel, “I would like all Christendom to know that all I asked of the Union is that it be formed on a Scriptural basis.”[1]

3) Unreserved Proclamation

Spurgeon was simply another breed of a preacher. I’m not sure there has ever been any other preacher like him other than Jesus or the Paul. He simply believed that God’s Word would do the work it would set out to do! My, oh my! We can learn from this as preachers and believers.

Reading his sermons, you find this truth to be made manifest – Spurgeon never compromised the content of his sermons. And though his ministry was given to thousands weekly (yes, thousands!), his entire goal for his preaching ministry was to preach the Word. Murray describes it this way: “He did not claim attention to his message because of its success but because of its divine authority.”[2]

Conclusion

The prince of preachers was more than a great preacher with millions reached; he was an ordinary person like you and me. If we can learn these three things from him, we will see the Lord work in great ways because we are dependent upon Him and his Word to do the work – not ourselves!


[1] Iain H. Murray. The Forgotten Spurgeon (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1973), 155.

[2] Ibid., 18.

Why is Pastoral Preparation Necessary?

Though the spiritual disciplines are the means by which one grows into a state of maturity in holiness, all believers must ascribe themselves to these disciplines and especially pastors. Peter expressed the necessity for spiritual growth when he commanded those under his leadership to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18); Likewise, Paul instructed Timothy to “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1). These commands – indicate that their readers are to be in continuous growth and strengthening in the knowledge and grace that comes from Jesus Christ. Such strengthening and growth for the believer comes from the spiritual disciplines, and the pastor who sees the disciplines as important will see growth in his spirituality. 

Pastoral Growth by Discipline

As the pastor’s growth ultimately is contingent upon his participation in the spiritual disciplines, he must be habitually involved in the disciplines of Bible intake, prayer, meditation, service, and evangelism. Though the disciplines are the foundation upon all of the pastor’s ministry, it is primarily the foundation upon which pastors can preach faithfully the Word of God. Faithful biblical preaching flows from the pastor’s soul and reaches the hearts of those to whom he is preaching. Since the disciplines prepare the pastor’s heart to engage exegetically and homiletically with the Word of God when the pastor neglects the spiritual disciplines, his sermon preparation becomes lacking. 

For this reason, the disciplines should be the primary in the pastor’s life, because the disciplines are the means by which pastors are to grow in holiness. Growth in holiness is a biblically warranted necessity for all who profess their loyalty to Jesus Christ, so this includes the pastor as his life as a believer. However, it also includes the pastor’s different activities in which he pursues to prepare his sermons. Thus, the spiritual disciplines necessitate the pastor to address his own soul before he ever constructs a sermon.

The pastor’s soul is cared for in four specific areas: his devotional life, prayer life, study habits, and leisure time. The pastor’s devotional life is necessary, because in it the pastor immerses himself in the Word of God. Like every other believer, the pastor must engage his mind and heart with the biblical text through intake, prayer, and meditation. Each of these methods of devotion to God are for the purpose of knowing (mind) the Word and internalizing (heart) the Word. Furthermore, the knowledge of God through the Word and the internalization of such truths in the Word are what affect the wills of all believers, especially those who lead God’s church through the pastoral office.

Nonetheless, the disciplines are not the only avenue through which pastors should prepare their soul to preach. A pastor’s study habits, and leisure time are a necessity throughout the weekly tasks of pastoral ministry. Studying for sermons entails more than simply thumbing through the biblical text and/or a few commentaries. Studying for sermons takes time so the pastor can determine the meaning of certain discourses in Scripture while also aiming to apply the propositions of these passages to those who will hear them proclaimed. Applying pericopes to a specific congregation takes devotion and diligence in the study. Studying is also necessary for the construction of one’s own sermons. If a pastor is to preach at all, he must aim to preach his own sermons which result from his personal devotion to Jesus Christ.

So, for a pastor to correctly prepare his own heart to preach, he must do so by the disciplines of expository preparation. The first way in which the pastor disciplines himself to prepare his own heart to preach is by his own submission to Christ. Right belief always informs right living, and this method of living is the foundation upon which all growth in holiness builds itself. The way to holy living is through one’s commitment to the Lord Jesus himself, which entails a relationship with him. 

The second way pastors discipline their hearts is through prayer. Prayer is the dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ for the power to live the Christian life. However, it is also the dependence upon the Lord Jesus for the power to prepare sermons through the power of the Spirit. These first two disciplines are the bedrock of all other disciplines. However, they are also the underpinning of the pastor’s sermon preparation as he disciplines his heart to preach.

A third discipline for pastors to prepare his heart to preach is through the act of biblical meditation. Biblical meditation is the internalization of biblical truths to morph one’s life into the image of Jesus Christ. Meditation assists a pastor to think like one and to form habits of spiritual maturity to grow in the Christian life. Fourth, the discipline of Bible intake allows the pastor to meditate on such dialogue from Scripture. Without a consistent intake of God’s Word, the pastor has no message to proclaim to a congregation. Therefore, a consistent intake of God’s Word entrusts the pastor with a consistent message of truth each week.

A fifth discipline in the preparation of sermons is the pastor’s own sanctification. A pastor’s becoming like Christ must be his foremost activity for his lifetime. It is the pastor who will be the model of godliness for those under his leadership. The pulpit is one way in which the pastor can emulate a sanctified lifestyle to those in his congregation. Thus, the discipline of sanctification is modeled through the pastor’s preaching. Therefore, a sixth discipline for expository preparation is biblical interpretation. Biblical interpretation is not simple task, but it is a necessary one, nonetheless. It is through biblical interpretation that true application can be extrapolated. Therefore, it must be done with integrity and precision. A seventh discipline is the theological instruction for pastors as they prepare to preach. Preaching is theological and therefore, it compels the pastor to become a theologian. Preaching communicates the truths of God through the intense study and interpretation. However, it does not require a formal degree, but a devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. Then can the eighth discipline of application be formed by the pastor. Yes, biblical interpretation and theological instruction are, in fact, necessary for a sermon.

 However, a sermon is not complete without application. Unless the listeners are hearing how theology and biblical truth can change their hearts toward Christ Jesus, there is no sermon. However, application can only come to fruition through a ninth discipline of observing life with one’s congregation. Observing life is Murray Capill’s term for building relationships with one’s congregation. Thus, the pastor can only know the situations of those in his congregation if her is to spend time with them building relationships. These disciplines allow the pastor the opportunity to sit in his office and consider the weight of preparing a sermon that is biblically centered and worshipful to the Lord. Though biblical teaching is good, teaching is informational. Preaching, however, should be transformational. It must transform the heart of the pastor, and as the pastor preaches those same truths will transform the hearts of those who hear.

The Necessity of Expository Preparation

Therefore, the spiritual disciplines do matter to the pastor for not only his own soul, but also for his heart as he prepares to preach. It is the application of the disciplines that will navigate the pastor toward holiness in order that his sermon preparation is done with integrity and devotion rather than out of obligation. Thus, expository preparation focuses on the preacher because all holiness, godly living, soul care, sermon construction, and sermon delivery begin with the pastor and his heart. If the pastor is focusing on his own heart during preparation, the sermon will come from a heart submitted to God and devoted to proclaiming Christ and him crucified. However, if there is not expository preparation, there can be no expository preaching. Therefore, the pastor must endeavor to prepare his own heart to preach so he can preach Christ. Expository preparation manifests itself in this mission – preparing a pastor’s heart to preach for the glory of God. May all who preach love the God which they proclaim.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Preaching as Worship – Part 3

Preaching as Worship

Since preaching is an act of worship, the pastor stepping up to the sacred desk to preach must be reverent and serious, because preaching hangs eternity in the balance for all who hear. The task of preaching alone brings its own difficulties to overcome. However, another task of the pastor is to be the worship leader for each service, because the Word of God directs our worship. Thus, if the pastor tries to make worship an effect rather than a lifestyle of glory and honor to God, he loses the centrality of the Word of God in worship. But it could possibly cause the pastor to lose biblical centrality in his preaching and preparation. Thus, here are four reasons why the pastor can never lose the Bible as his central component to preaching in worship

The Gospel is Good News

Paul David Tripp explains that one of the most crucial elements to understanding the gospel is understanding that the gospel is for all people when he writes “No one gives grace better than a person who is deeply persuaded that he needs it himself and is being given it in Christ.” Hence, the pastor preparing himself to preach by allowing himself to come under the authority of the text will then give the best presentation of the gospel because he has first had his affections transformed by the Lord Jesus Christ himself. The gospel has several components to its makeup, and they are the following.

First, man is fallen and without Christ. It is not secret that mankind is in a predicament spiritually. This predicament comes from the fall in Genesis 3 where Adam and Eve disobeyed the commands of God and placed their fleshly priorities above God’s standard of living. This disobedience thereby affected all their posterity (Rom. 3:23) and has left each human being in a state of sinfulness separated from God.

Second, in the person of Jesus Christ, God came down to humanity to save them from their sins. Jesus Christ, the Son of God who is truly God and truly man, came to earth, lived a perfect life, and died the death for human beings in their place which does two things that manifests themselves in the next two components.

Third, those who believe in Christ are justified. Justification by faith alone is the doctrine upon which Christianity stands or falls. If justification is denied or ignored, Christianity is demarcated to mere moralism. Mankind is innately sinful and the only remedy for such sinfulness is a perfectly divine being who can pay humanity’s debt in their place. Because humanity is sinful, they cannot make their way toward God in any fashion (John 6:44). Yet, because God is holy, he must judge all sinfulness. However, God in his kindness sent his Son to pay the penalty for human beings so they can know him. In other words, Jesus Christ’s death justifies sinful humanity before God (2 Cor. 5:21). 

Fourth, those who are justified are so because of substitutionary atonement. Substitutionary atonement is the only viable belief for a follower of Jesus Christ; it is the only biblical option to satisfy the wrath of God for the sins of humankind. This component of the gospel is also an important factor to note because it understands the death of Christ to be a literal death for sin, not a mere example of God’s hatred of sin. Instead, the wrath of God due human beings was poured out on Christ through his death on the cross in order that humanity might gain access to the Father through Him. 

The gospel is good news because it has nothing to do with human beings, but only is possible by the work of God in the lives of human beings through His Spirit. This gospel is the only message worth proclaiming, and pastors must get it right as they preach.

Preaching is Proclamation

In the grand scheme of preaching, a vitally important aspect is proclamation. To proclaim the message of the gospel is the evangelize. “‘Proclaim’ is complementary to the more specific term ‘evangelize’ (euangelizomai) or the phrase ‘announce the good news,’ which contains within its meaning the object that is announced or proclaimed—the good news.” Since the purpose of all Christian life is to be witness for the Lord Jesus (Acts 1:8), the pastor witnesses to the Lord  through Christian proclamation. Though there is a difference between preaching and evangelism, the two cannot be separated in the life of the pastor. The pastor must be adamant to never lose the priority of his own personal evangelism because of his life in Christ as a believer himself. However, the proclamation to those under his preaching every week must be a bit different. 

Preaching, unlike evangelism, is geared toward believers (for the most part). The purpose of preaching is to proclaim the gospel to those gathered as the body of Christ. Therefore, most (if not all) of the audience of which the pastor is preaching will be believers. Hence, there is a necessity for the gospel to shape how one lives. However, if unbelievers are present – which is a likely possibility – pastors must always aim to preach Christ crucified and risen for our salvation. 

Salvation is brought about by proclamation (Romans 10:17). Preaching is the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ to those gathered as a body of believers (1 Cor. 2:13). Both methods of proclamation ascribe the Lord glory because they are both warranted practices of Scripture. But most importantly, preaching is worship because it exults God as the sovereign Being who does everything for his own glory and our good.

Preaching is Exultation

The ultimate goal of all things done in the church is the glory of God. Even creation itself ascribes to this purpose. The psalmist exclaims, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). Piper gets it right in declaring that God delights in all he does. He writes, “If God is not under constraint by forces outside himself to act contrary to his good pleasure, but rather acts only out of the overflow of the joy of his boundless self-sufficiency, then all his acts are the expression of joy and he has pleasure in all that he does.” Piper’s comments on God taking pleasure in all he does helps his readers understand the magnitude of God delighting in himself in all of his glory. Therefore, preaching is done for God’s glory because it is God’s Word in which God delights. This is the heart of exultation – understanding the purpose of corporate worship as the “visible, unified knowing, treasuring, and showing of the supreme worth and beauty of God.”

Conclusion

In summary, worship is the goal of all that is done within the local church and within the lives of believers. Our lives, according to the apostle Paul, are living sacrifices to God as our act of worship (Rom. 12:1-2). However, to truly understand what it means to worship, one must begin with the Scriptures. It is the Bible itself that is the foundation of the truth that is communicated. The Bible is true because it is God’s revealed Word to humanity, but also because it coheres with reality; it is rational. To worship God in Spirit and truth is to worship him as the Creator and Sustainer of all things. This also will fill the sermon’s content which alone is worship to God because it is a regurgitation of his Word to his people so they will live for his glory in worship to him.

However, for a pastor to truly understand and lead a worship service, this process must begin in his own heart. The worship leader (that is, the pastor) should be immersed in the Bible to apply to himself first, then he can effectively apply it to his hearers. The application spans itself into many different areas to include the way he studies, why he studies, and the sermons he preaches. Then, once the pastor understands the weight of preparation, he can then proclaim the good news of the gospel in a worship service for the glory of God.

Preaching as Worship – Part 2

Worship Begins in the Pastor’s Study

While worship is the aim of preaching, The Holy Scriptures is the essence of biblical preaching, therefore, all that that Bible sets out to do is what preaching will accomplish.[1] The Scriptures testify to the authority of God’s Word when one preaches them faithfully and correctly. However, the preparation for preaching begins much earlier than when the pastor stands in the pulpit on Sunday as must prepare himself through soul care and spirituality. He must also prepare and construct his sermon according to biblical standards of expository preaching. Furthermore, all of these steps are acts of worship to God made manifest through the pastor’s personal life. Thus, a pastor must take explicit and intentional action to prepare sermons, while regarding all that is done as worship to the Lord.

A Reformed View of Preaching

Preaching cannot be seen as a weekly task to be taken lightly but it must be approached with much caution and humility. However, in many evangelical pulpits, preaching has lost its importance. Sad to say, many churches focus more upon music and the “culture” of the church rather than aiming to be guided by the Word of God in all areas of life (which would include such things as culture and music). Nonetheless, preaching is where all of this begins, for it is the proclamation of God’s Word, and God’s Word is what governs the doctrine and practice of the local church. Thus, preaching must aim for the following elements.

First, preaching must aim to communicate the knowledge of God in regard to salvation. The Bible repeatedly speaks of salvation as the “knowledge” of God (Is. 33:6; Jer. 3:15; Luke 1:77; Rom. 2:20; 1 Cor. 12:8; 2 Cor. 4:6; Eph. 4:13; 1 Tim. 2:4; Titus 1:1), therefore, it is necessary that those who are under the instruction and proclamation of the Word of God to not only hear, but to understand what is being proclaimed. Otherwise, salvation is not possible because knowledge of God involves understanding. It is the task of preaching that affords a pastor the opportunity to convey the truth of the Bible as understandable so those hearing the proclamation can be understood and understanding will lead to salvation.[2] Nothing ascribes worship to God more than the saving of those who are lost (Luke 15:10).

Second, preaching must implore the congregation to think biblically with the desire of worshipping God. Once salvation has occurred, the purpose of preaching is to entreat the congregation to think biblically about the way in which they live. Genuine spirituality that is born out of love for God expands to all of life. Thus, to think biblically is to immerse one’s self in the Word of God so much that it affects the way they live their lives. This is not only the calling of pastors but is the calling of all Christians.[3] Therefore, Christians must think biblically – this is a must! In a world of constant relativity and indigenous disgust for Christianity, it is absolutely essential for Christians to make the center of life God rather than themselves.[4] In other words, living and thinking biblically is living with Christ and his cross at the center of our lives.[5] This, of course, does not imply that life will be prosperous with large bank accounts or massive amounts of property. Instead, it infers that the lives of believers, who are faithful and committed to Christ, will be lives of leisure and freedom because the believer is honoring God’s pursuit of him through Jesus Christ.

Third, preaching must invoke theologizing. Theologizing, essentially, is the act of doing theology for one’s self. All believers are not called to glean their doctrine from others who have done the work for them. Paul says believers should “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). McGrath shows the importance of theology: “Pelagianism is the natural heresy of zealous Christians who are not interested in theology.”[6] Those who are not interested in theology (pastors included!) must understand that Christianity is a religion of the heart, will, and mind. Therefore, the Christian mind is necessary for the pastor standing in the pulpit each week, and for his hearers. Theologizing, especially in preaching, is to instruct the congregation to apply the deep truths of Scripture to all of life for the glory of God.[7]

Each of these steps for pastors do not come without hard work. It takes rigorous activity and devotion to develop and deliver Christ-centered, God-honoring, and Spirit-filled messages that glorify God and edify the believer. For this reason, the pastor must take time out of his week to develop and deliver his sermons.

A Plea to Study

Since preaching is the focal point of every worship service, preparing for each service accordingly must be a vital element of the pastor’s weekly activities. Though the pastor coming under the Word of God is a necessity for faithful preaching, there is a distinct difference between a pastor’s personal life as a believer and his task as a pastor of a local congregated body. Hence, the pastor must engage in the spiritual disciplines through a personal activity in the Word, but the question deals with how this aspect of instruction and conviction bleed into the construction of sermons.

Every pastor must aim to be a biblical theologian – that is, they must aim to discover how each text they preach fits into the grand narrative of Scripture.[8] The task of biblical theology seeks to make sense of the entire Bible as one comprehensive story, which entails exegeting specific passages in light of the story of Scripture.[9] Therefore, as the pastor aims to interpret the biblical text, he must also continue to keep forefront the story of redemption as Scripture unfolds for him through a specific passage. Interpretation through the process of exegesis is rigorous and takes time to think through the difficulties of biblical truth. There are times when the Bible does not make sense to the human mind. Thus, the pastor must work through these issues to exhort his congregation to salvation, thinking biblically, and to do their own theology.

If the truths one preaches never first apply to the one preaching, it will be difficult to effectively apply the same truths to those who are listening. Therefore, a rigorous study schedule is of the utmost priority. Pastors must study to perform faithful exegesis. Pastors must study to settle the confusion between biblical passages. Pastors must study to apply the truth in Scripture to themselves first. Pastors must study to see how Scripture can mold them into the person of Jesus Christ. Pastors must study to exhort those in the congregation to such a standard of living that is conveyed from God’s authoritative and infallible Word. The purpose of studying is to show how even the pastor’s life when he is not at church is an act of worship to God. Therefore, the pastor must emulate this worshipful attitude and persona within the study each week.

A Plea to Preach Your Own Sermons

Because the purpose of studying is such a personal act of worship, the way in which one prepares and constructs a sermon is important for pastoral study. The importance of preaching your own sermons and not copying from another is a direct result of one’s belief about the preeminence of preaching as worship to God.[10] The simple fact that a pastor would preach someone else’s sermon to the congregation shows the uncertainty of calling within their own life. Otherwise, they would preach and aim to do it with faithfulness and courage, and, most importantly, through their own words. This act, however, is often an intentional act from pastors.[11] One author declares, “There can be no accidental plagiarism any more than there can be accidental bank robbery!”[12]

One specific way in which pastors tend to overlook the necessity of preaching one’s sermons is a lack of applying the biblical truths of their sermons to themselves first. Ignoring such an act is the final stroke before a pastor resorts to someone else’s material. The Puritans expressed such importance in application.[13] Pastors must return to such practice of prioritizing self-examination! The days are evil, Paul says in Ephesians 5:16, so we should “make the best use of [our] time.” Making the best use of our time does not allow for pre-written sermons from other pastors because of misguided priorities (that is, prioritizing other things over study and self-examination). It is a disloyal, unfaithful injustice to the Lord Jesus when pastors make excuses to avoid sermon construction and preparation.[14]

Yet, the most important aspect to this plea is understanding the limit placed on worship when one is preparing to preach. True biblical worship is not brought about by pious actions and behavior. Instead, biblical worship is brought about through the heart.[15] Worship involves the affections and so must our preaching. As it was defined in chapter 3, this is the essence of experiential preaching that was emulated by the Puritan preachers. The pastor must align his own affections to the biblical warrants of which he will proclaim, then implore those under his preaching to do the same with their affections, as well.[16]

As pastors are they must prepare for this task by understanding the worshipful nature of sermon construction and sermon delivery.


[1] Piper, Expository Exultation, 160.

[2] Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 39-40.

[3] Beeke, Reformed Preaching, 71.

[4] David Wells does a wonderful job explaining the necessity of what it means to think biblically in a world that is post-Christian. To study the problem of postmodern thought in Wells, see David F. Well. The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).

[5] Peterson, Long Obedience, 57.

[6] McGrath, Mere Discipleship, 112.

[7] Beeke, Reformed Preaching, 70.

[8] Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, 92.

[9] “The Place of Biblical Theology” The Old Testament Student, Vol. 3, no. 6 (Feb. 1884), 200.

[10] For a short, but fruitful discourse regarding preaching your own sermons, see Scott M. Gibson. Should We Use Someone Else’s Sermon?: Preaching in a Cut-and-Paste World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008).

[11] I would be amiss to claim that every pastor does such a thing intentionally, for young ministers with no experience may have not been taught proper ways to construct a sermon. However, most pastors who commit such an act, I believe, are one’s who do so intentionally because our age in immediacy has brought about laziness in the processes of study and sermon preparation.

[12] Randy Corn, “A Few Borrowed Words About Plagiarism” Free Will Baptist Theology, accessed December 9, 2019, https://www.fwbtheology.com/a-few-borrowed-words-about-plagiarism/.

[13] Gibson, Should We Preach Someone Else’s Sermon?, 65.

[14] To read on about excuses preachers make, Gibson’s book, Should We Preach Someone Else’s Sermon?, lists a few. See, Gibson, Should We Preach Someone Else’s Sermon?, 61-63.

[15] Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, 257.

[16] Ferguson, “Preaching as Worship,” 99.

New Year’s Resolutions: Yay or Nay?

I don’t know about you, but New Year’s resolutions often creep up in my thoughts and mind every year around mid-December. Weight loss plans often flood my mind after eating the kitchen clean and vacationing with my in-laws. Often, as well, I find myself looking for ways to improve my spiritual habits as a believer in Jesus Christ. There are so many thoughts that run through anyone’s mind (especially mine) as a new year approaches and begins. So, with those thoughts, I though it would be fitting to share a blog post regarding my past year and how I believe I will aim to improve in 2020.

New Pastorate

Most of our friends know this, but 2019 was my first full year as a senior/lead/whatever else you call them pastor. In other words, I transitioned out of student ministry in September 2018 – you can read about that here. With that being said, January 1, 2019, began my first full year in the pastorate and, to be completely honest with you, I was scared out of my mind. I have never been the one to preach three to four times per week in my entire years of ministry before September 2018 (6 1/2 years in youth ministry), so I had some questions and insecurities (still do!) when it came to preaching every week and managing my time.

At every other church at which we’ve served, I have always worked with other staff members. However, at Arbor Grove – our current church, I am the only paid staff member in the church. So, being the only staff member has really challenged me on the everyday challenges of time, scheduling, productivity, and sermon preparation. Not to mention, I have never preached in front of a congregation every single week. Though I did study theological studies and pastoral ministry in college, my confidence in my preaching abilities tends to scale downward rather than upward. So, there was quite a bit of challenging times for me because I was the guy who must be prepared every week to speak to God’s people gathered together to worship.

Continuing Education

Not only was I entering the first full year of the pastorate, but I was also entering the final year of my first Masters degree. Continuing my education has been a constant goal of mine since I graduated college with my undergraduate degree. So, in December 2019, I finished my first Masters degree from Welch College with a 93 page thesis on applying the Spiritual Disciplines to sermon preparation. If you would like to see a copy of this thesis, you can download it here (please do not feel obligated to read it!).

Also, I will begin pursuing my Master of Divinity at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary this year! I am excited because this degree was the first goal I had in college when I knew I wanted to continue my education.

A New Year, A New Goal

So, my goal/resolution/aim is to know God. Knowing God is not a goal for one year, it is a goal for a lifetime. To be a better preacher, I must to know God. To be a better pastor, I must know God. To be a better student, I must know God. To be a better husband and father, I must know God. To be a better friend, I must know God. To be the Christian God has revealed for me to be through his Word, I must know Him. A goal for all believers this must be!

New Goal

So, dear friends, may this be our goal!

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Matthew 6:33, ESV

Blessings to you and yours in 2020,

Ben

3 Necessities of Christmas

As Christmas seasons come and go, no season goes by without a bit of personal reflection. The food, fun, family, friends, and, of course, the presents are all wonderful additions to the season, however, sometimes even Christians forget the real reason for celebration.

Now, I want to be clear. The statement above is not meant to be a repetitious run amok of the season itself. Though it is possible for people to forget the true meaning of Christmas, it seems also that many evangelicals have re-embraced the season of Advent so they can continue to honor the reason for the season, so they say.

A Back Story

To be a bit vulnerable with you as a reader, one of the things I struggle with as a pastor is “special day” sermons, i.e. Christmas, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, etc. For lack of better terms, it seems as though you can only say so many things about Fathers, Mothers, and so on. Yet, the other day my wife and I were sitting in the living room talking and she asked me if I was going to be preaching a Christmas sermon, to which I replied, “No.”

She continued to ask why I was not going to preach a sermon as such and exclaimed, “It’s not Christmas without a Christmas sermon!” I replied that I was just going to continue my series in the Sermon on the Mount, because like any good preacher, I wanted to continue my sequential exposition of the Matthew 5-7.

But then came the day for sermon preparation, and guess what? The Lord led me to Matthew 1:21:

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

This verse was my text for this past Lord’s Day, which was titled, “3 Necessities for Christmas,” and they are as follows:

The virgin birth

“She will bear a son.”

The first necessity of Christmas begins with the virgin birth of Christ. Isaiah prophesied that God is going to give a sign – which means pledge or covenant (interesting!) – and that sign will be the virgin-born baby. God is a covenant making God, and the sign of Christmas is yet another instance of God’s pursuit of humanity through pledging his grace and love to us through revelation.

The virgin birth is a necessity because it shows us that Jesus is the Messiah. There have been many different heresies throughout the history of the Church regarding the person of Jesus Christ and all have been given a fair treatment by councils and synods to reclaim and repeat that Jesus Christ is the Messiah whom God has sent to save the world. In other words, he is not only the Messiah who saves, but he is also the self revelation of God himself. Al Mohler posits,

The virgin birth does not stand alone as a biblical doctrine, it is an irreducible part of the biblical revelation about the person and work of Jesus Christ.”

The virgin birth is necessary because it not only solidifies the Messiahship of Christ, but also the authority of the revelation of God.

Incarnation

“…and you shall call his name Jesus.”

Not only is the virgin birth a necessity for Christmas, but so is the incarnation – that God came in flesh to ransom humanity for his glory. This concept is portrayed in the name often given to Jesus – Immanuel: with us is God!

While taking a church history class in seminary, I was driven to a love for the scholastic theologian, Anselm of Canterbury, and specifically his work, Cur Deus Homo. The purpose of Anselm’s work was essentially to prove the necessity for Jesus Christ, the Godman, as the only being able to pay for the sins of humanity and deliver them from sin’s bondage. So, Anselm argues that the person to redeem humankind must be truly God and truly human. He says,

“…man owes to God for his sin something which he is incapable of paying back, and cannot be saved unless he repays it.”

Essentially, then, Anselm argues that the only true way to redeem humanity is through someone who has no sin and must give his life up for those who do possess the disease of sinfulness.

Redemption

“…for he will save his people from their sins.”

The result of the coming of our Messiah through the virgin Mary? Redemption. I shouldn’t have to say much here. So here is what I will say:

It is Christ and Christ alone who can save!

Conclusion

To conclude, here is a quote from Charles Spurgeon from a sermon called “The Incarnation and the Birth of Christ”:

“He has not been a secret and a silent person up to this moment. That new-born child there has worked long ere now; that infant slumbering in its mother’s arms is the infant of to-day, but it is the ancient of eternity; that child who is there hath not made its appearance on the stage of this world; his name is not yet written in the calendar of the circumcised, but still though you wist it not, ‘his goings forth have been of old, from everlasting.”

Merry Christmas from the Campbells