Yesterday Governor Mike Pence of Indiana signed into law the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The action has drawn sharp criticism by people and politicians who directly oppose religious freedoms and by those who are simply unaware of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the federal model for Indiana’s new law.
Here is what you should know about these types of religious freedom legislation:
What is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act?
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is a federal law passed in 1993 which is intended to prevent other federal laws from substantially burdening a person's free exercise of religion. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on March 11, 1993 and passed by a unanimous U.S. House and a near unanimous U.S. Senate with three dissenting votes. The bill was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
According to the text of the law, the purposes of the RFRA are:
(1) to restore the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963) and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972) and to guarantee its application in all cases where free exercise of religion is substantially burdened; and
(2) to provide a claim or defense to persons whose religious exercise is substantially burdened by government.
Here are the remarks Al Gore and Bill Clinton made on signing the legislation (a transcript can be found here):
Why was the RFRA needed?
As the text of the RFRA notes, the purpose of the legislation was to restore a prior standard of religious exemptions. Legal scholar Eugene Volokh identifies four periods in modern American history that relate to religious freedom exemptions:
Pre 1960s — Statute-by-statute exemptions: Prior to the early 1960s, exemption for religious objections were only allowed if the statute provided an explicit exemption.
1963 to 1990 — Sherbert/Yoder era of Free Exercise Clause law: In the 1963 case Sherbert v. Verner the Court expressly adopted the constitutional exemption model, under which sincere religious objectors had a presumptive constitutional right to an exemption because of the Free Exercise clause. This decision was reaffirmed in the 1972 case, Wisconsin v. Yoder. During this period that Court used what it called “strict scrutiny” when the law imposed a “substantial burden” on people’s religious beliefs. Under this strict scrutiny, religious objectors were to be given an exemption, unless denying the exemption was the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest. But during this period, as Volokh notes, “The government usually won, and religious objectors won only rarely.”
1990-1993 — Return to statute-by-statute exemptions: In Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court returned to the statute-by-statute exemption regime, and rejected the constitutional exemption regime.
1993-Present — Religious Freedom Restoration Act era: In 1993, Congress enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which gave religious objectors a statutory presumptive entitlement to exemption from generally applicable laws (subject to strict scrutiny).
If we have the RFRA, why do we need religious freedom legislation at the state level?
RFRA was intended to apply to all branches of government, and both to federal and state law. But in 1997 in the case of City of Boerne v. Flores, the Supreme Court ruled the RFRA exceeded federal power when applied to state laws. In response to this ruling, some individual states passed state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Acts that apply to state governments and local municipalities.
Which states have state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Acts?
Currently, 19 states have a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (AL, CT, FL, ID, IN, IL, KS, KY, LA, MO, MS, NM, OK, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, and VA). Ten other states have religious liberty protections that state courts have interpreted to provide a similar (strict scrutiny) level of protection (AK, MA, ME, MI, MN, MT, NC, OH, WA, and WI). With some exceptions (such as Mississippi), the state versions are almost exactly the same as the federal version.
What exactly is “strict scrutiny”?
Strict scrutiny is a form of judicial review that courts use to determine the constitutionality of certain laws. To pass strict scrutiny, the legislature must have passed the law to further a “compelling governmental interest,” and must have narrowly tailored the law to achieve that interest. For a court to apply strict scrutiny, the legislature must either have significantly abridged a fundamental right with the law's enactment or have passed a law that involves a suspect classification. Suspect classifications have come to include race, national origin, religion, alienage, and poverty.
Aren’t state RFRA’s about discrimination against homosexuals?
None of the RFRA’s even mention homosexuals, nor are they about discrimination. As University of Notre Dame law professor Rick Garnett explains, regarding the Indiana law:
[T]he act is a moderate measure that tracks a well-established federal law and the laws of several dozen other states. Contrary to what some critics have suggested, it does not give anyone a “license to discriminate,” it would not undermine our important civil-rights commitments, and it would not impose excessive burdens on Indiana’s courts. . . .
The act’s standard is applied in many jurisdictions across the land and it has long enjoyed support from across the political spectrum. This standard is not new; we have plenty of evidence about how it works. We know that courts have not applied it to require excessive accommodations or exemptions from anti-discrimination laws and civil-rights protections. Fighting invidious public discrimination is, American courts agree, a public interest of the highest order. Contrary to the concern quoted in the recent Tribune piece, a business owner or medical professional who invoked the act as a “license” to engage in such discrimination would and should lose. The act creates a balancing test, not a blank check. . . .
Why then do so many people claim it is about discrimination of homosexuals?
Mostly because of biased and incompetent reporting by the media. Last year Mollie Hemingway wrote a blistering critique of reporting on the issue in which she said, “we have a press that loathes and works actively to suppress this religious liberty, as confident in being on the ‘right side of history’ as they are ignorant of natural rights, history, religion and basic civility.”
Not much has changed since last year. Many media outlets identified the Indiana bill as being “anti-gay.” Unfortunately, rather than being outraged at finding they were lied to by politicians and journalists, most Americans will not bother to learn the truth and will remain ignorant about these important laws that protect our “first freedom.”
David Teems is a professional musician and writer. Although his primary livelihood has been music, he majored in psychology in college and has long been drawn to spiritual counseling as an avocation. None of this explains how Teems became a historian and biographer, but that is his story. The backdrop to Teems’s biography of William Tyndale is his earlier book, Majestie: The King Behind the King James Bible, occasioned by the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible in 2011.
I experienced Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice as three separate books. The first is named in the subtitle and occupies the first hundred pages. It is the biography of the first major translator of the Bible into English. To call it a biography actually conceals the brilliance of what Teems has achieved. He tells an adventure story that revolves around Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament and part of the Old Testament. Tyndale (1494–1536) is the protagonist of the story, which is set in many places and is a continuous narrow escape.
There are two dimensions to what Teems has achieved in Book 1 (my designation). The first is the copiousness of his scholarship. The historical documentation is kept out of sight (tiny footnote numbers with actual notes placed unobtrusively at the back of the book). But as one who has himself taken excursions into Tyndale’s career as a Bible translator, I not only enjoyed reconnecting with familiar data but continually found my knowledge base expanded by what Teems has collected. I am powerless to explain how a non-academician found the time to do all that research, but readers of Teems’s book will be grateful.
The second achievement springs from Teems’s way with words. He has a true aphoristic flair. The book is as enjoyable for how Teems expresses the content as for the content itself. In addition to his own stylistic sparkle, Teems admires the aphorisms of others. This yields fruit in numerous epigraphs (catchy quotations) scattered throughout the book in the form of sidebars. Teems’s titles and chapter headings are so evocative and aphoristic that the book can be relished just for them.
Man Without a Country
Teems doesn’t set out to impose an interpretive angle on the life of William Tyndale; he simply collects as much data as exists. Nonetheless, one of two things that emerged most vividly for me was the exile motif in the English scholar’s life. Tyndale became a man without a country and, in view of how he was constantly on the move to keep ahead of his hunters, he was a man without a home. We know that Tyndale left England and never returned, but that generalization can become a lifeless abstraction. As Teems builds up a cumulative picture of Tyndale’s life as a sojourner, the reality of the situation comes alive in our imagination. I was particularly struck by the connection Teems draws between the exilic life of Tyndale and the exilic theme of Scripture—and by the suggestion that Tyndale translated Paul’s epistles so powerfully because of the parallels between their lives.
Book 2 (my label), the middle hundred pages, is the story of Tyndale's career as a polemicist, especially his long printed debate with the Roman Catholic propagandist Thomas More (1478–1535). I do not intend to disparage Teems when I say that I found this part of his book eminently forgettable. I’m inclined to think that the number of people interested in the details of Tyndale’s printed debate with More are statistically insignificant. Nonetheless, Teems deserves credit for bringing the same meticulous research to this part of the book that he brought to the other parts.
I carry away one important discovery from Teems's account of Tyndale’s career as a controversialist. One of the aphorisms most famously associated with him is the statement of a contemporary that Tyndale was “always singing one note.” That note was the translation of the Bible into English. Teems’s account of Tyndale’s career as a polemical writer shows that the “single note” interpretation of Tyndale’s life isn’t completely accurate. Tyndale had more irons in the fire than Bible translation. We all know from experience that in the heat of the moment current debates can seem like the most important thing imaginable, whereas in long-term effect they’re often ephemeral. I left Teems’s account feeling that Tyndale might have better spent more of his time translating the Old Testament and less of it arguing with Thomas More.
In Book 3 (the final hundred pages) Teems returns to Tyndale’s career as a Bible translator. These pages cover the events surrounding his martyrdom. The details are even more heart-rending than I had known. Tyndale did, indeed, become a latter-day apostle Paul in his imprisonment and suffering. The martyrdom motif is the second dominant impression that I carried away from the biography, and this emphasis in the last third of the book cast a retrospective light on Tyndale’s earlier life of exile. Early in his life of a little more than 40 years Tyndale deliberately chose to live as a martyr. He truly denied himself for the sake of the gospel, and Teems’s book does a wonderful job of showing that sacrifice.
Besides the Bible, there are few books I deliberately reread. There are many books in my library that I pull off the shelf frequently to check on some fact, interpretation, or point of theology. There are a number of other books that I like so much I can’t help but take them down from time to time and read through my favorite portions. (Books are, after all, like old friends.)
I remember vividly my first experience with Preaching and Preachers. I was in college and had gotten turned on to Reformed theology, Calvin, and the Puritans. Along the way I stumbled on Martyn Lloyd-Jones. From my first encounter with the Doctor, I was hooked. I read everything I could find. I even chugged through Iain Murray’s massive biography one semester (my bedtime reading!). Of all the books I read in my “Lloyd-Jones on steroids” phase, Preaching and Preachers is the one that sticks out most. I remember sitting at the unkempt kitchen table I shared with the seven other guys in our college housing and pouring over Lloyd-Jones’s homiletics classic (though he would hate me using the word homiletics just now). As I saw his passion, his wisdom, his utter commitment to preaching, and his strong opinions (on everything!), I knew for certain I wanted to be a preacher. I was absolutely mesmerized by this grand vision of the noblest, most important task on earth.
It would be years and hundreds of sermons before I learned how wise his remarks were, and I also learned it was acceptable (and part of my maturation) to disagree with a few of his convictions. The man was of the school of thought that said most opinions are worth sharing are worth sharing forcefully. So I can’t fully agree that announcing your text ahead of time restricts the Holy Spirit or that most of what you learn in a preaching class is bound to be harlotry in some way. But even with the idiosyncrasies, I can’t think of a book I’d rather read on preaching.
Still the Most Urgent Need
Why do I come back to this book every few years? What makes an old book by a dead man on an antiquated form of communication so powerful? The book is powerful because Lloyd-Jones so powerfully believes in the power of preaching. And what he believes is true.
The most-quoted line of Preaching and Preachers may be this one from the first page of the first chapter: “I would say without hesitation that the most urgent need in the Christian church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also.” Whenever I read this first page I find myself crying, “Yes, yes, tell me more!” There are several specific points about application or preparation or humor or preaching method that sharpen my skills as a preacher. But what I love most about the book is that every time I read it, I walk away more in love with what I do. Not always how I do it, but that I get to do it. Preaching and Preachers is one of those rare books that for me—and I know this will sound “aw shucks”—not only instructs but inspires.
For Lloyd-Jones the goal of preaching is to give men and women a sense of the presence of God. That’s what I get from this book. I get the undeniable sense that preaching is a glorious thing, that churches desperately need good preaching, and that the world (though it doesn’t know it) is starving for good preaching. I read this book and believe again that it is a privilege unlike any other to slog through commentaries each week, type up outlines, and preach to several hundred people for one more Sunday. I finish the book and feel like fire can come down from heaven this week. I remember that the seed of God’s Word is never sown in vain. I get a new thrill to do the same thing I’ve already done a thousand times.
There are two audiences that most need to read this book: those who are considering the preaching ministry and those who are tired of it. I can’t lay this down as an absolute rule, but in general I would say that if you are not gripped by Lloyd-Jones’s passion for preaching, then you should really think whether you are called to preach. Again, I admit some may not take to this opinionated Welshman like I have, but I still think it’s a good rule of thumb: if Preaching and Preachers does not ignite a fire in your heart for the romance and glory of preaching, then preaching is probably not for you. There’s no shame in that, but it’s better to see that sooner rather than later.
If a young man is considering the ministry and he loves theology and Greek and Hebrew but says “meh” to this book, I wonder if he has the requisite enthusiasm for the chief task of pastoral ministry (I’m thinking here of those pastors whose main responsibility is to preach). If, however, your heart soars with each chapter and anecdote, make an effort to see if the church confirms what you sense in yourself. Likewise, if you’ve been at this preaching gig for two decades now, and you’re feeling worn out by the grind, the criticism, and the sameness of it all, I believe this book can be a tonic for your weary soul. It won’t solve everything. You’ll still have to work hard. You’ll still preach some lame sermons (I just did, and it hurts). But probably you’ll feel renewed. You’ll feel a little like you did 20 years ago when you first started out. You’ll get some of the zeal back, some of the faith that makes preaching sing, and the lack of which makes preaching clunk.
What the world needs now is preaching, sweet gospel preaching. Don’t give up on God’s appointed means of saving and sanctifying his people. Read Lloyd-Jones again, or for the first time, and you may just discover there’s Spirit-given life left in your dry bones.
Few points of theology have generated more speculation and debate than the notion that God providentially rules over all things. But in the Bible, the doctrine of divine providence is not first a matter for our minds, but for our hearts and lives. One thinks, for instance, of the comfort David finds in God’s penetrating knowledge in Psalm 139; or Jesus’s words “fear not” after his declaration that “the hairs of your head are all numbered“ (Luke 12:7).
To learn more about divine providence and its purpose in our lives, I corresponded with John Frame, J. D. Trimble Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, and author of many books, including Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief.
What is the doctrine of divine providence? Where might one first turn in the Bible to learn about it?
Question 11 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism offers a helpful definition of divine providence: “God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.”
I’ve discussed the biblical basis for the doctrine of providence at length in chapter 14 of my book The Doctrine of God. Some of the most important biblical texts include Romans 8:18-25, 8:28-30; and Ephesians 1:9-11.
Historically, is providence something all Christians have believed in, or is it an exclusively Reformed doctrine?
All Christians believe that God provides for his people, and exhibits a more general kingly rule over his creation. But I think only the Reformed tradition is fully consistent with the implications of this affirmation. The Reformed tradition affirms that in his sovereignty God ordains every event that takes place on in the world, including the actions of morally responsible creatures such as human beings and angels. In many other Christian traditions, God’s sovereignty is perceived in more limited ways, often not applying to the actions that result from “free will.”
How might the doctrine of providence encourage a Christian struggling with joblessness, or a physical ailment, or an enemy?
The first question of the Heidelberg Catechism provides a wonderfully comforting explication of the doctrine of divine providence:
Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Christians struggling because of difficult circumstances can take great comfort in the fact that, no matter what befalls them in this life, nothing happens outside of their heavenly Father’s loving plan for their ultimate salvation.
How will our prayer language and habits be different if God's providence is real to our minds and hearts?
When the doctrine of divine providence is real to us, we will not question whether God has our best interests in heart in the midst of suffering. Rather, we will ask him to show us how his love will work out our suffering for good. The doctrine of divine providence helps us to trust that God’s good purposes cannot be thwarted in our lives, and motivates us to cling to him in obedience even when we are walking in the darkness and cannot see how he is working. “Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light” (Micah 7:8, NIV).
A sound understanding of divine providence will also compel us to ask God to direct our decisions in such a way that we will best appropriate his blessings.
If your non-Christian friend objects to the notion of God's providence as a controlling or threatening idea, how would you respond?
It’s not threatening, because for those who trust in Christ, divine providence is for our good—in every way. It is controlling in a sense, because God does control us and everything else. However, there are several things to consider here:
We really can never escape God’s control, because God is God.
God’s control is a good thing, because it proves that he is always greater than the things that challenge us; so “what can separate us from the love of Christ?”
God’s control doesn’t negate our freedom, because God typically accomplishes his work in our lives by means of our decisions.
The alternative is far more threatening: If God is not in control, then how do we know that some unnamed evil might not frustrate the intentions of God’s love?
What aspects of God's character does divine providence reveal? How does it connect to the larger gospel narrative of the whole Bible?
Divine providence especially reveals God’s power, goodness, love, and kindness. Meditating on God’s providential rule over his creation will motivate us to say both “what a powerful, huge God we worship” as well as “what a loving, tender Savior we have.”
Genesis 22:8 shows the tight connection between divine providence and the gospel narrative. In this passage, God directs Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. But when Isaac asks, “Where is the lamb?” Abraham says, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” God then provides a ram caught in the thicket, which Abraham sacrificed in place of Isaac. Hence the divine name Jehovah Jireh, which means “the Lord will provide.”
The ultimate expression of God’s providential provision for his people came 2,000 years later with the sacrifice of his ownSon for our sins. When we put our faith in Christ’s substitutionary death on our behalf, we are trusting, as Abraham did, that “the Lord will provide.” And as the apostle Paul reasoned, “if he did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).
Editors’ note: Paul exhorts the Thessalonians “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands” (1 Thess. 4:11). In 1983, John Piper preached on this passage (1 Thess. 4:9-12) and highlighted four reasons why God wills work. (To read the sermon in its entirety, see here.)
1. To Glorify God and Increase Our Joy
First, God wills work because when we work in reliance on his power and according to his pattern of excellence, his glory is made known and our joy is increased. Since our being created in God’s image leads directly to our privilege and duty to subdue the earth (Gen. 1:27-18), I take it that human vocation involves exercising a subordinate lordship over creation by which we shape and control it for good purposes.
God takes man on as his deputy and endows him with God-like rights and capacities to subdue the world—to use it and shape it for good purposes. At the heart of the meaning of work is creativity. If you are God, your work is to create out of nothing. If you are human, your work is to take what God has made and shape it and use it for good purposes.
So what is the difference between a human being at work and a beaver or a bee or a hummingbird? They work hard; they subdue their surroundings and shape them into beautiful structures that serve good purposes. The difference is that humans are morally self-conscious and make choices about their work on the basis of motives which may, or may not, honor God.
2. To Provide for Our Needs
The second reason God wills work is that by working we provide for our legitimate needs. Before the fall, man lived in a garden where God provided his food on trees. All Adam and Eve had to do was pick and eat. That's why the essence of work is not sustenance of life—God gave himself as the sustainer.
But when they chose to be self-reliant and rejected God's fatherly guidance and provision, God subjected them to the very thing they chose: self-reliance. From now on, he says, if you eat, it will be because you toil and sweat (Gen. 3:17-19). They are driven from the garden of ease to the ground of sweat. The curse under which we live today is not that we must work. The curse is that in our work we struggle with weariness and frustration and calamities.
But hasn't Christ come to lift the curse (Gal. 3:13)? Doesn't he restore us to our original pre-fallen condition with God? The answer is: Yes, but not all at once. Christ delivered a mortal blow to all evil when he died for sin and rose again. But not every enemy is yet put under his feet.
By necessity we work to provide for our needs. Christ says, “Don't be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, or about your body, what you shall put on . . . Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom” (Matt. 6:25, 32; see also Matt. 11:28; 1 Cor. 15:58). God doesn’t want his children to be burdened with the frustration and futility and depressing weariness of work. That much he aims to lift even in this age.
But the provision of our needs depends on our gainful employment in this age. The coming of Christ does not mean that we can now return to paradise and pick fruit in someone else's garden. That's the mistake made at Thessalonica. So Paul wrote them and said, “Even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If anyone will not work, let him not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living” (2 Thess. 3:10-12). God has not completely removed the curse in this age. He has softened it with a promise. The curse says: If you want to eat, you must sweat (Gen. 3:19). The promise says: If you sweat, you shall eat (Prov. 12:11).
3. To Provide for the Needs of Others
The third reason God wills work is that by working we provide for the needs of those who can't provide for their own. The promise that if you sweat, you shall eat is not absolute. The drought may strike your village in sub-Saharan Africa; thieves may steal what you've earned; disability may cut your earning power. All that is part of the curse that sin brought onto the world. But God in his mercy wills that the work of the able-bodied in prosperous times supplies the needs of the helpless, especially in hard times.
Three passages of Scripture make this plain. Paul speaks to children and grandchildren regarding the aged widows: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). Paul refers to his own manual labor and then says, “In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35). He also doesn’t settle for saying, “Don’t steal; work!” but, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need” (Eph. 4:28).
4. To Build Bridges for the Gospel
Finally, God wills work as a way of building bridges for the gospel. In our work we are usually in the world. We rub shoulders with unbelievers. If we do our work in reliance on God's power, according to his pattern of excellence, and thus for his glory, we will build bridges for the gospel so that people can cross over and be saved. In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, Paul exhorts the believers “to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your own hands as we charged you; so that you may command the respect of outsiders, and be dependent on nobody.”
There is a close connection between the way we do our work and the attitude that unbelievers will have toward the gospel that makes us tick.
Editors' note: TBT (Throwback Thursday) with Every Square Inch: Reading the Classics is a weekly column that publishes past writings on vocation.
When evangelical Christians think about the arrival of the new heaven and new earth, many immediately turn to decoding Bible passages addressing the end times. Prophecies from Daniel, Revelation, and other books of the Bible are examined and obvious questions follow: “What do these prophecies mean? When are these prophecies fulfilled? Could they be happening now?” The answers to these questions often depend on whether you have been convinced by any of the standard postmillennial, amillennial, or premillennial positions.
These questions and answers are not new. We can point to similar responses in nearly every era of the history of the church, and especially during the Reformation. During the 16th century, interest in prophecy and the end times was commonplace among the Protestant Reformers. Beginning with Martin Luther’s break with the Roman Catholic Church, Europe entered a period of great turmoil as the result of intense political rivalries, unprecedented social disruption, and many bloody wars. For Protestants, these events were framed in apocalyptic terms, especially once Luther boldly identified the papacy as the fulfillment of the prophecy of the Antichrist. Consequently, the Reformation was understood as a cosmic struggle between good and evil, or, more precisely, between God and the Devil.
In Zurich, Switzerland, the successor to the great Reformer Ulrich Zwingli was Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575). Well known during his time as “pastor to the Protestant refugees,” Bullinger ministered to many exiled Protestants, especially those arriving from England, fleeing the reign of “Bloody Mary.” Beginning in 1555, Bullinger preached a series of 101 sermons from the book of Revelation. The sermons were later published and dedicated to all the Protestant refugees in Europe.
In his exposition of Revelation 20, the famous passage referring to the reign of Christ for 1,000 years (the millennium), Bullinger introduced a peculiar interpretation. Unlike Augustine and possibly Calvin, he did not interpret the millennium as a non-literal symbolic description of the entire church age. For Bullinger the millennium was not a future event, similar to a premillennial position. Instead, Bullinger believed the millennium was a literal period of 1,000 years that had already passed.
Bullinger’s understanding of the millennium may seem to us like quite a novel interpretation. How could the reign of Christ be over by the 16th century? And if it was indeed over, when did it occur in history? Bullinger gave three possible options for the period of the millennium:
Beginning in AD 34 with the ascension of Christ and ending in 1034 with the reign of Pope Benedict IX.
Beginning in AD 60 with the preaching of the Apostle Paul and ending in 1060 with Pope Nicholas II.
Beginning in AD 73 with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and ending in 1073 with Pope Gregory VII.
In all three of these options, Bullinger was describing the period of the early church when the gospel advanced with phenomenal success. For him, this extraordinary expansion of the gospel fit with the description in Revelation 20:2, where Satan is bound for 1,000 years. The binding of Satan made possible the flourishing work of the gospel in the early church. The end of the 1,000 years was marked by the rise and corruption of the office of the pope in the Roman Catholic Church. Why is the office of the pope significant? Because Bullinger agreed with Luther that the papacy was the Antichrist, and the appearance of the Antichrist marked the end of the millennium.
Revelation 20 describes at the end of the millennium: “Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth.” Bullinger believed that since the millennium had ended, Satan was released to deceive the nations. For Reformers like Luther and Bullinger, Satan’s greatest deception was to introduce a false gospel into the church through the one who is supposed to be the head of the church and Christ’s representative on earth—the pope. Hence the Reformation sought to recover the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and subsequently the true gospel.
With the millennium over and Satan released, Bullinger believed the next event would be the great battle of Gog and Magog and the imminent return of Christ to defeat his enemies (Rev. 20:9-10) and usher in the great day of judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). For 16th-century Protestants, this was a great assurance filled with comfort and hope in a time of fear and uncertainty. This was the message of Bullinger’s sermons dedicated to the Protestant refugees: Jesus Christ is returning soon, and all his enemies finally will be defeated. Bullinger’s interpretation was so persuasive that it was included in the popular Geneva Bible, first published in 1560.
How Then Must We Live?
While I and most other evangelical theologians today do not follow Bullinger’s specific interpretation of the millennium, in many ways, Christians in our day are no different from Bullinger and other 16th-century believers. We diligently try to understand these difficult prophetic passages through careful study and prayer. Many Christians today attempt to make sense of these prophesies in light of current world events such as the onslaught of secularism in North America and Europe, the rise of violent persecution in the Middle East, and the oppression from totalitarian governments in Asia. At the same time, we long for the return of Christ to bring the new heaven and new earth.
How then should Christians today live in light of the new heaven and new earth? Let me offer three simple suggestions.
First, we should follow the example of the Reformers and turn to Scripture. Let us diligently study the whole Bible and not just the passages that contain prophecies. The Bible teaches us more about who we are in Christ and how we should live in Christ, than about what events precede his second coming. I am not suggesting that we ignore the prophecies, but we must understand these difficult and often challenging prophecies in the context of what is more clear. No matter what happens in this world, or when the return of Christ will be, we live as those who belong to Christ, walking by the Spirit in faith (Gal. 5:16-25).
Second, many different interpretations persist about the end times both in the history of the church and today. At the same time, all Christians confess foundational doctrines about the end times. Whether you are a postmillennialist, amillennialist, or premillennialist, we all believe that Jesus Christ will return again, defeat his enemies, bring final judgment, and inaugurate the new heaven and new earth. This is the hope of all Christians in every era of church history, and it should be our hope as well.
Finally, as the apostle John teaches us in Revelation 22:20, we should pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!” We earnestly pray for the return of Christ. It is easy to get caught up in things of the world. But to see our Lord and Savior is the greatest longing of our hearts. The new heaven and new earth is our ultimate home, and what a joy it will be when we arrive there.
Editors’ note: Jeffrey K. Jue, G. K. Beale, Lane Tipton, and Ligon Duncan will participate in a panel discussion on “The Gospel & Eschatology: Why Heaven Matters Now” at 3 p.m., Tuesday, April 14, at The Gospel Coalition 2015 National Conference in Orlando, Florida.
I had the great privilege of pastoring one church for more than four decades. I began to preach for them when they were a mission work and today sit in the same congregation as the pastor emeritus. Thankfully, my tenure was mostly peaceful, but I don’t know of any pastor who can remain long in one place and not face conflict. Some conflicts are well worth having, and some you cannot avoid. I have also learned that the way you fight is as important as whether you win or lose.
In fact, a pastor might win a fight and eventually lose his church, or his reputation, or even lose his own spiritual battle.
There are certain issues for which a pastor should be willing to lose his job, if his conscience and integrity mean anything. Unfortunately, some pastors seem ready to fight over the most obscure and insignificant matters, “making mountains out of molehills.” All of us in the ministry need to be careful that we are not at either extreme of the “conflict scale,” from being contentious to being a flatterer. If by personality we have a “contentious spirit” we probably should not be in any kind of spiritual leadership. Paul makes this clear in 2 Timothy 2:23-26 (NIV):
Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
The other end of the scale is the “people pleaser,” the glad-hander, the pastor with the plastic smile who is always testing to see which way the wind is blowing and works to make sure the boat is never rocked. This is the pastor who avoids all conflict and inevitably backs into them, usually angering people because he simply won’t take a stand on anything. Some people might think you are holy for not fighting; others will think you a coward. Again the apostle Paul has something to say about this in 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6 (NIV):
We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.
Fear God, Not Sheep
As a pastor you are an under-shepherd of Jesus Christ, but you must actively shepherd. We have to fear God more than sheep; if you live in fear of sheep, you don’t know your mission or calling. Some sheep have more “fleece” than others, as in wealthy tithers and donors. Some people have influence and they know it, and God help you if you make them angry. Loving sheep means you have to lead them through rough places to get them where they need to be, and they might not like it. For the sake of the flock, you have to be willing to lose some people, and you will lose some no matter what you do.
Choose your fights carefully and look to your own soul and behavior. You should seek to honor Christ as you stand on issues; make sure you always fight according to biblical principles. We can be angry, and sometimes things are so bad and evil that we have a right to be angry. But we never have a right to sin.
If you preach the Bible honestly and faithfully, it is going to cut to the heart of some of your listeners. If they have been comforted in their sin, then expect some reaction. The reaction we all want is repentance, but sometimes it seems they want to kill the messenger. If you have not read into the text, if you are not preaching out of grievance or being manipulative so as to attack individuals, then you can stand with integrity behind the Word of God. Your sincerity might not matter to the person who is angry with you, but it should matter to you.
Gameplan for Conflict
Some people will be angry with you for no reason other than the fact you represent authority, and they will transfer their struggles against their parents to you. Some people in our congregations have mental problems, and there is almost nothing you can do to prevent them from bringing drama into your counseling office. They will want to make their problems personal with you and even create conflict to make you out as the problem. If you tend to be a co-dependent personality this will be difficult for you, but none of us can help everybody, and all of us need to remember there is only one Jesus who can save people. You aren’t him.
Here are some suggestions for dealing with church conflict:
Remember, we are always in a spiritual battle. Make sure you are wearing God’s armor and using spiritual weapons, not fleshly ones.
Make sure you fight to love God’s people.
Build your leaders and your relationships with them so they will have your back.
Be humble before them and admit when you blow it or fail.
Confront gossip quickly. Don’t allow an atmosphere of backbiting and slander, and take no part in it.
Keep your conflicts off email and social media. Deal personally and up front with individuals.
Try to protect your wife by not bringing every issue home with you. Don’t let her feel she has to defend or protect you.
Ultimately, we all need to dwell in the shelter of the Most High so we can rest in the shadow of the Almighty (Ps. 91:1).
It’s never been easy to be an evangelical believer in Spain. From the Inquisition of the 16th century to the secularism of the 21st, to believe in Protestant truths has always put evangelicals in Spain at odds with their surrounding culture. Spanish philologist Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo (1856–1912), when writing of the Protestants of the 16th century, made this passing, but telling, remark about the Spanish language: “the language of Castilla was not forged to utter heresies.” For many centuries, to be a Spaniard was to be Roman Catholic. For many today in Spain, mirroring European trends, to be a Spaniard is to be secular.
Today there is no fear of the Inquisition, and we can thank the Lord for open doors to preach the gospel and for the healthy churches that have been established. But even in the midst of these encouragements there are great challenges for the Spanish church. As we continue our series on how the gospel is at work in Latin America, I corresponded with Andrew (or Andrés) Birch, contributor to the Spanish TGC site and pastor of the Iglesia Bautista Reformada (Reformed Baptist Church) in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Andrew, from the U.K., has been a missionary in Spain since 1983.
Even though Spain is not a Latin American nation per se, it still shares many traits, not least the language and cultural dynamics, with the Western hemisphere. In this interview we learn about the history of Protestantism in Spain, the idols of the Spanish people, how to reach a secular culture, and more.
How would you describe the state of the church in Spain?
The religious history of Spain has been dominated by Islam and Roman Catholicism. The 16th-century Reformation did reach Spain, but it suffered at the hands of the Inquisition. Then there was a second reformation in the second half of the 19th century. And in the 20th century there were three significant dates for evangelicals in Spain: (1) 1967: a law of religious liberty was passed; (2) 1975: the death of the dictator Francisco Franco; and (3) 1992: a cooperation agreement between the Spanish state and the evangelical churches.
The evangelical churches in Spain have grown numerically, but they are weaker spiritually. That weakness can be seen especially in three symptoms: (1) lack of doctrinal clarity; (2) low level of holiness; and: (3) fairly aggressive denominationalism. And if there are as many of us evangelicals as there are supposed to be now, why are we having so little effect on society?
Furthermore, most of the numerical growth in recent years has not been due to conversions of Spaniards, but to the arrival of believers from all over the world. Now, as a result of the current economic recession, many of those people have returned to their home countries.
What do you find most encouraging about the evangelical church in your country today?
What I find most encouraging is a movement—across the different denominations—of reformation and the recovery of a vision for sound doctrine and real passion for the true gospel. At the moment it’s still a humble movement, but the signs of life are encouraging. Precisely the kind of vision represented by The Gospel Coalition is gradually spreading all over Spain, which is really hopeful as we face the future.
What is the main challenge facing the Spanish church?
Just as in other Spanish-speaking countries (and not only in Spanish-speaking countries), the influence of the false “prosperity gospel” has done—and is doing—a great deal of harm. I would say that most of the new churches springing up all over Spain, especially in the big cities, are characterized by some or other version of that “prosperity gospel.” There’s no doubt that the heresy of the prosperity gospel has become the new orthodoxy.
The other big challenge is how to evangelize Spaniards in a context in which both Roman Catholicism and growing secularism have erected walls against the true gospel of Christ.
What would you identify as Spaniards’ idols? Does that reality affect your preaching?
I don’t think Spaniards’ idols are that different from those in any other country. I would divide them into two big blocks that reflect “the two Spains”: Catholic Spain and secular Spain. There is still a lot of idolatry associated with popular religiosity: “virgins,” “saints,” and so on. But I would say that, even among Catholics, the most prominent idols are money (and all that it can buy), hedonism, sex, football (soccer), and the cell-phone!
Idolatry, in all its many forms, is the essence of sin. So it should inform how we reach the unconverted. The bad news prepares people for the good news of the gospel. Awareness of idolatry informs our preaching to believers with the specific implications of sanctification.
In the United States, as also in Latin American countries (like Uruguay), the evangelical church is facing more and more opposition from an increasing secularization. This is nothing new for you in Spain. What would be your word of encouragement to believers in the United States?
It’s quite a complex subject, one that would require not just a few lines, but a whole book! But I’ll just offer four thoughts:
We need to make a real effort to understand “post-Christian” people. We need to know and understand the people we want to evangelize.
We need to fight for our Christian values. If we believe that they are the best values for everybody, which we do, then we mustn’t withdraw from the world or accept the limitation of our faith to the private sphere.
We need to preach the gospel and refuse to allow ourselves to be distracted from the church’s main mission. I don’t mean by that that we don’t do other things, but that we be careful to keep the main thing as the main thing.
We need to trust in God’s sovereignty. God is in control of everything! Christ has already won the decisive battle! We know how this is all going to finish! We don’t see it, but we believe it!
How can we pray for God’s work in Spain?
Pray for a new generation of godly leaders who know God, who are committed to the cause of the gospel, and who are truly gospel-centred.
Pray for more faithful workers; the door is still open, and we need to make the most of the day of opportunity.
Pray for more conversions of Spaniards (as well as for more conversions of people from other countries).
Pray for revival! Spain has never had a real revival.
Other articles in the the Gospel in Latin America series:
Editors’ note: The Gospel Coalition National Conference returns this year to Orlando, Florida, from April 12 to 15. We're delighted to partner with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for a special pre-conference for Spanish speakers on April 12 and 13. TGC Council members Sugel Michelén, Miguel Núñez, Don Carson, and Albert Mohler will deliver keynote addresses, while Juan Sánchez and Felix Cabrera will join them on panels about gospel partnerships, church planting, and evangelism methods in the 21st century. Spanish speakers who stay for the full National Conference receive a 30 percent discount on the subsequent event, which features workshops and simultaneous Spanish translation.
The better known a passage of Scripture is, the more likely it is that most Christians will fail to appreciate the larger context that informs it. We may all be familiar with Jesus’s teaching that “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), but we may not understand what it has to do with Nicodemus (John 3:1ff) or the snake being lifted up in the wilderness (John 3:14–15). Believers teach their children the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:3–17), but do those children know what those instructions have to do with God’s mighty deliverance of Israel (Ex. 20:2)?
Perhaps no passage in Scripture suffers from this kind of contextual excision as does the so-called Great Commission in Matthew 28. If you ask most Christians what the Great Commission says, they’ll begin with Jesus’s commandment that believers should go and make disciples, baptizing and teaching them. But look at what Jesus says immediately before and after the parts we typically trot out during “Missions Week” at church:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18–20)
The context here is one of Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances to his disciples. At the risk of stating the obvious, everything Jesus says here depends on the fact he’s very much alive. A dead teacher cannot send his disciples, but these words coming from a living Lord. And so as he commissions them to disciple the nations, he tells them two important things.
First, the risen Christ declares that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. Back in the book of Daniel, the prophet had seen a vision of the Son of Man coming before the Ancient of Days:
And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Dan. 7:14)
You can hardly imagine a more direct and striking claim for Jesus. He’s telling his disciples that what Daniel saw centuries ago has now come to pass. This is the reality that stands behind the familiar “therefore” at beginning of the charge; Jesus has all authority; therefore, the disciples should make new disciples as they go out into the world.
Second, Jesus completes his commission with the promise of his presence. He assures his disciples that as they go, he will be with them in every place and every time and every circumstance. Imagine how the disciples were feeling at this moment: Jesus had returned from the dead, but he would soon leave them again. The thought of going out into the world without their teacher and friend would have been devastating. How sweet Jesus’s promise would have been in their ears: he would not be with them physically, but they would not be alone! He would go with them always, until the work is completed and they’re physically reunited at the end of the age.
The authority and presence of Jesus has tremendous implications for the way that we think about going through our world and making disciples:
The world we enter is a place where every person, location, and thing is under the authority of the risen Christ. We will never step on a speck of dust or speak to a human being over whom Jesus does not claim to have authority. As his disciples, our task is simply to call people to acknowledge the authority Jesus has been given by his Father.
It is Jesus’s idea that we go. We live in a world where polite people don’t impose their private beliefs on others. So few things seem more offensive than the idea of a systematic effort to convince others to conform to our religious convictions. But there is nothing private about Christianity. When Jesus declares he has all authority, he is saying everyone everywhere is accountable to him. This is why we teach others to obey all that Jesus commanded! We aren’t acting on our own authority or spreading personal opinions; we are acting as appointed mouthpieces for the ruler of the universe.
As we go, we have confidence that the mission will succeed. Jesus isn’t in heaven hoping we do a really good job so things might work out well in the end. No, Jesus has all authority in heaven and earth and therefore can and will ensure his salvation spreads over the entire world.
You can see how this well-known Great Commission must be carried out in light of its immediate textual context. Jesus doesn’t just tell us to go and make disciples; he reminds us first of his power and his presence. How anemic and feeble our witness will be if we don’t understand that our King has all authority in heaven and on earth. And how tentative and timid our discipling will be if we fail to go in confidence that he will always be with us.
“How can you justify supporting ballet when there are children dying every day from starvation, disease, and neglect?” J. T. asked, filling the car with tension. Since I was sitting in the back seat and he was driving, I couldn’t see his face, but I didn’t need to in order to know that this was not an idle inquiry.
After several agonizing years, and at great personal expense, he and his wife had recently adopted two boys from Ethiopia. He knew the global need and the gospel call to care for orphans, and he didn’t want to see our church reduce our contribution to that cause one bit. And that made our church’s decision to invest in a faith-and-work initiative seem problematic.
It would be tempting to write off his dismissal of the arts as the result of clashing contexts. J. T. is a project manager for a mid-sized construction company in central Pennsylvania. He’s a former football player and still walks with a bit of an athletic swagger. Admittedly, ballet is not his thing.
But to reject his question as merely a failure to appreciate art wouldn’t be fair to him or the issue he raised. He is driven by his aching burden for suffering children—kids who, he reminded us, are dying right now. “Out of all the good things our church could give our resources to, why are we starting a faith-and-work initiative?” is an eminently fair question.
Ministry Priorities and Non-Negotiables
Helping children in suffering is a non-negotiable priority. But what else makes the list? Some are burdened to care for orphans and widows (Jms 1:27). Others eagerly fight disease and sex trafficking. Peter tells Paul to remember the poor (Gal. 2:20). These are just a few of the most pressing humanitarian issues.
But that’s not all. We must evangelize the lost and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20). Some plant churches, while others give their lives to theological education. Still others are moved by the plight of the persecuted church in countries where religious liberty is just a rumor.
These priorities are just the tip of the iceberg. No one person can do all of them. Clearly, we need the diversity of gifts and callings in the body of Christ to fulfill these mandates. So how do we, as leaders, choose what to do as a particular local church? What criteria do we use? Must we pit orphan care against church planting or human trafficking against evangelism? When we allocate resources—people, time, and money—are we doomed to a zero-sum game?
When it comes to stewarding our resources, even visionary leaders can operate from a scarcity mindset. We look at our little pie of resources and divide it in to smaller and smaller pieces, trying to manage our priorities while (somehow) keeping our congregants happy. When resources are limited (and when aren’t they?), there are always winners and losers. Some things will get funded; others won’t. We may not like it, but that’s the realpolitik of church work. Or is it?
Scarcity is not a problem to God. He owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps. 50:10). In God’s economy, the only “scarcity” he faces, if we may frame it this way, is hearts not yet fully devoted to him. This is why discipling people at the integration of faith and work is important. By celebrating the wide array of work that can be done to glorify God and bear his image, we invite more people—and more time, energy, and resources—to engage actively in kingdom work. When we disciple people to connect their work and their faith, they live out that faith in deeper and wider dimensions than every before—business, teaching, engineering, the arts, and in so many other spheres. More, not less, kingdom work gets done.
People often come to church leaders with a burden for a particular ministry, saying, “I really care about X. The church needs to focus on that.” The kingdom-expanding response is to say, “Great! You are the church. Go and do it—and how can we help you?” In their everyday work, Christians are the scattered church. They can go places and do things the institutional church never can. Discipling our congregants at the intersection of faith and work, then, is a way out of the zero-sum game.
When Each Part Does Its Work
This vision doesn’t exempt church leaders from making hard decisions and setting priorities. But we must affirm that all work matters: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17, emphasis added). This “whatever” may mean people living out their faith in surprising ways. But it’s the role of the pastor and leader to equip people to use their gifts in that multi-faceted, God-glorifying, wondrous way that only the body of Christ can do when “each part does its work” (Eph. 4:16).
When we disciple the whole body, in all the work God has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10), we unleash more of the fullness of Christ’s redemptive presence throughout “every square inch” of creation. Discipling people in faith and work is not a vanity project; it’s integral to the expansion of the kingdom of God.
Grow the Pie
J. T.’s question about starving children led to a passionate debate that occupied a good part of our road trip. Eventually, we landed on the “grow the pie” conclusion I’ve just described.
He is still a passionate advocate for adoption and orphan care, and I’m glad he is. Our churches need more people like him, just like we need more people to advocate for church planting, to care for the homeless, to theologically train Christians in persecuted countries, and to lead dozens of other initiatives. To do all this, we’ll need more people passionately engaged in doing their work for the kingdom of God. We’ll need to help them connect their everyday work to God’s call on their lives. Together, we’ll grow up into the fullness of what God has called us to do in Christ.
Brian Croft has been the senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, since 2003. He is also the founder of Practical Shepherding, a website dedicated to being “a gospel-driven resource center for pastors and church leaders to equip them in the practical matters of pastoral ministry,” and is the author of numerous books in the Ministering the Master’s Way series. Brian and Cara have four children. Cara serves alongside Brian by teaching and discipling the women of Auburndale.
Their book is divided into three parts that encourage pastors and church leaders to faithfully serve the church while faithfully serving their families. Brian and Cara’s 20 years of ministry qualify them to address balancing the demands of the ministry with the demands of being a father and a husband, a wife and a mother (13).
In part one, Brian offers practical solutions for the pressures of pastoral ministry that might lead to family neglect. Church and home are a constant swirl of expectations and scheduling demands, many of which expose fears (and weaknesses) that tempt a pastor to neglect shepherding his home. Brian accurately writes:
A pastor’s heart is no different from any other heart (in desiring significance, or success). A pastor’s neglect of his family cannot simply be blamed on the pressures, demands, and unrealistic expectations that have been placed on him. In the end, the struggle he faces—and the neglect of the family—has one root cause: a sinful heart. (45)
In part two, Cara becomes the dominant voice as she explains the struggles of a pastor’s wife. With refreshing openness, Cara—who distinctly remembers not saying “I do” to becoming a pastor’s wife at their wedding—reveals the struggles she has faced, both personal and as “the pastor’s wife.” She describes how she’s maneuvered her way through the loneliness and invisibility of being a pastor’s wife, and she discusses the demanding schedules that often crowd out family time. Through all these challenges, however, Cara has discovered the “joys of being a pastor’s wife.”
I am grateful to Cara for her helpful candor. For instance, she relieves pastors’ wives of the notion that they need to be theological giants. If someone were to ask, “How is your soteriology formed by your convictions about the doctrine of predestination?” Cara would reply, “No hablo seminary.” She likes Austen (Jane); Brian likes Carson (Don). Please don’t misunderstand her motives or attitude. She is not being cavalier; she’s just asking that pastors’ wives be received for their gifts rather than being expected to be clones of their husbands. “It’s important for women to be in the Bible,” she insists. “Learn the overall picture of the Bible. Know the gospel.” But a pastor’s wife should never be afraid to say, “I don’t know. Let’s go talk to my husband” (85).
In part three, Brian returns to address the needs of children. Here is a treasure trove of down-to-earth suggestions for fathers who serve as pastors to enrich how they pastor their families.
Each of the three parts concludes with a reflection from a close friend on the theme of that section. Pay close attention to these, especially the anonymous “Thoughts from a PK” who also became a pastor (149–50). My wife and I intend to ask our own to children to read that reflection and offer their feedback.
The Pastor’s Family is creatively laid out and deeply encouraging. Brian writes a section and Cara “graciously interrupts,” offering a complementary perspective to Brian’s. Cara writes a section and Brian interjects some thoughts for a pastor about his wife’s needs. The whole tone of the book is easy and conversational, as if you were at their kitchen table talking over how to respond to ministry and family demands.
Two Great Strengths
The book has two great strengths. First, it is honest and clear about the problems, pressures, and joys pastors and their families encounter in the work. As the Crofts write, “This book is meant to equip pastors to shepherd their family through the difficulties and sufferings they will encounter in ministry, not try to avoid them” (15).
Second, Cara. Cara’s honest and sometimes blunt—but never harsh—explanations will do good for a pastor and especially his wife. I asked my wife, a pastor’s wife for 30-plus years, her thoughts on the book, and here’s what she said: “A breath of fresh air, and a must-read for every young woman called to be a pastor’s wife. This book will help you to embrace your role for God’s purposes and glory.” This comes from a woman who has faced the same challenges that Cara and every other pastor’s wife face. (Like the time a man working on the crew for our new building came over to our house to use the shower before he went home for the night. He brought his own towel! He thought the home we lived in belonged to the church, and someone told him to consider our shower his shower. My wife handled the situation skillfully.)
Who Should Read It?
If you are considering the pastorate, are already in seminary, just received a call to a church, or have been there a few years, read this book. If you have friends new to the pastorate, give them this book. (I’m giving a copy to my associate who is relatively new to the ministry.) They will thank you for your foresight.
If you aren’t married but hope to be, and you want a great gift for your wife long before your wedding day, wrap up this book and give it to her when she comes along. Re-read it every five years until your children are grown, out the door, and married with children of their own. Then read it again.
It occurs to me that there is one more audience who should read this book. I suggest giving this book as a gift to your church members. The pastor’s home shouldn’t be like a mystery novel riddle to our churches. I believe many of them would appreciate knowing these things, because they care for us.
I have anecdotal evidence to support this statement. At a recent one-day conference on prayer in the local church, a few of our members accompanied the staff. One of the speakers urged the audience to pray for their pastors, since studies show they are the loneliest people in the church. (Imagine their wives!) Pastors, the speaker went on to say, have very few, if any, close friends. One of our church’s dearest praying saints was sitting next to me. She turned to ask if that was true for me. I took a while to answer, weighing my options. I didn’t want her to feel the sting of regret or remorse that didn’t belong to her. So I simply said, “Yes, that is often true.”
She thought about it. She patted my hand with a knowing smile and returned her attention to the speaker. I suspect she has been praying for us more urgently than she was before.
A recent newspaper profile of Elevation Church, a megachurch located in Charlotte, North Carolina, led some readers to ask why the church uses an orange inverted-V logo instead of the traditional cross (the church responded by saying, “Our logo represents the resurrection of Christ”).
Elevation isn’t alone in making such radical changes. Many modern congregations have abandoned or modified design features that have historically been associated with churches. Here are nine things you should know about traditional (mostly Protestant) church architecture:
1. Steeple — The addition of a steeple to a church often had three functions. First, vertical lines of the steeple helped to visually enhance the lines of the church, directing the viewers' eyes vertically to the heavens. Second, steeples gave church buildings—which were usually short and squat—an aesthetically pleasing feature that enhanced the harmony of the design. Third, steeples were often the highest architectural feature in an area, which provided a landmark for people to find the church from any part of town.
2. Church bells — Located within the steeple, church bells of often served as a communication device for the local townspeople. The primary purpose of ringing church bells was to signify the time for worshippers to gather for a church service. However, the bells could also used for secular purposes, such as warning people of a fire or an approaching army.
3. Nave – The nave is the central and principal part of a Christian church, extending from the entrance, sometimes called the narthex, to the pulpit area, sometimes called a chancel or presbytery.
4. Chancel — In some church designs, the chancel is the front part of the church from which the service is conducted. The pastor(s) and choir are often located in this areas, usually on a raised dais. In some churches, however, the chancel and the nave area are not architecturally distinct.
5. Baptistry — Until about the 6th century, baptisms were administered in a hall or chapel called a baptistery that was situated close to, or connected with, a church. By the 10th century baptism by affusion (pouring liquid over the head) became a common practice so baptismal fonts often replaced baptisteries. Many churches that practice immersion baptism, such as Baptist churches, have a special baptistry pool that is built into the floor or wall of the chancel area.
6. Altar/Communion Table — The altar is the table in the chancel that the clergy use for Communion. During the Reformation, some people felt that the term “altar” was theologically misleading and began to refer to it as a Communion table. Anglicans decided that both terms were correct, because it is the altar from which we receive the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and because it is the table on which we celebrate Communion. Today, Anglicans and Lutherans generally call it the altar, while churches in other Protestant traditions tend to call it a Communion table.
7. Stained glass windows - The term “stained glass” applies to colored glass made with metallic oxides as well as glass on which colors have been painted and then fused in a kiln. The use of stained glass windows in churches gained popularity during the mid-12th century. The two-fold purpose was to create a “heavenly light” that symbolized the presence of God in the church and to serve as a “Poor man’s Bible,” to teach Biblical stories to those who were illiterate. The use of stained glass fell out of favor during the Reformation, but was revived in the mid-19thcentury when the Gothic style once again became popular in Europe and in the United States.
8. Pulpit – The pulpit is a raised platform or lectern in a church or chapel from which the preacher delivers a sermon. The first reference to a pulpit is found in a letter of Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, in the mid-3rd century. Until the Reformation, most pulpits were located on the left (as viewed by the congregation) and referred to as the gospel side. During and after the Reformation, the pulpit was repositioned to the center of the sanctuary to emphasize the centrality of God’s Word
9. Cross/Crucifix — Catholic churches use a depiction of the cross (called a crucifix) with an image of the suffering Jesus. In contrast, most Protestant churches tend to use a bare cross to reflect the fact that Jesus overcame his suffering and death and is risen. (Lutheran chuches, which sometimes display a crucifix, are a historical exception to this general rule.)
A New York Timesarticle recently described the Islamic State’s persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria as “a slow-motion genocide.” Atrocities such as beheadings, burnings, crucifixions, and mass burials (sometime of live victims) defy human comprehension. Islamic mujahideen (holy warriors) smile at the camera, waving flags and holding up AK-47s, proud of their brutal accomplishments. One does not have to be a Christian to be sickened by such horrors.
In this cultural moment, with daily reports of genocide throughout the world, the question of Canaan’s destruction under the ministry of Joshua occasionally enters the conversation: “How could the God of Scripture command the violent slaughter of an entire society?” In other words, doesn’t the Old Testament practice of ḥerem (Hebrew word meaning “to place under a ban” or “devote to destruction”) amount to genocide? How can we reconcile this history with our belief that “God is love”?
Destruction of Canaan
The Hebrew term ḥerem, Walter Brueggemann notes, “refers to the religious requirement that everything that Israel captures or gains in war—booty as well as people—is to be ‘utterly destroyed,’ offered up to YHWH in conflagration [destruction by fire] or some other mode of killing (thus acknowledging YHWH to be the real victory in a war).” In this way, the practice of ḥerem sought to ensure the Lord’s complete sovereignty (Deut. 20:16-18). For the current inhabitants of the Promised Land (i.e., Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites) the options of enslavement or treaty were not available. Men, women, children, and cattle—everything that breathed, was to be destroyed.
Why did God give this command? As the text explains, it was so that “they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God” (Deut. 20:18).
Do you find this command disturbing? If so, you’re not alone. While there are historical and theological differences between the Lord’s command for Israel to enact ḥerem and the Sharia-like violence of Islamic mujahideen, we recognize some similarity: an effort to exterminate other humans who think and behave differently from one’s own sacred tradition. How can believers in the God of Abraham—Christians and Jews alike—possibly explain, much less vindicate, what appears to be wanton violence motivated by religious xenophobia (fear and/or disdain for other ethnicities)? There are no simple explanations. However, features of the narrative and wider redemptive history must be considered before reaching a conclusion that questions the moral character of God.
First, the Lord’s command to enact ḥerem was preceded by a long period of divine patience and longsuffering in the face of Canaanite wickedness (gross forms of idolatry, immorality, and injustice, including the sacrifice of children). Thus, the Lord said to Abraham in Genesis 15:16, “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” According to Leviticus 18:24ff. and 20:22, Canaanite iniquity had defiled the land to the extent that it “vomited out its inhabitants” and “punished it for its sin” (18:25). Therefore, “on account of the wickedness of the nations” (Deut. 9:4), the Lord would finally extend his hand of judgment.
In addition to restraining his judgment over the course of many centuries (from the time of Abraham to Joshua), the Lord initiated Israel’s campaign of ḥerem with a striking example of his redemptive grace for the Canaanites: the story of Rahab. This woman, arguably furthest from the Lord (a Canaanite prostitute), is not only saved from judgment, but even drawn into the family of God to such a degree that she becomes a great-grandmother of King David, the Jewish monarch through whom Messiah Jesus would eventually come. Right up to the end, God displays his desire to lovingly embrace Canaanites who turn toward him in faith.
In view of the wider theological and historical context, we find that the conquest of Canaan was in fact not motivated by xenophobia. It was, rather, driven by the necessity of God’s holiness. Because the Promised Land was intended to showcase the beauty of this holiness—a place where the world would find purity, wholeness, and truth (“shalom”)—it was necessary to eliminate every form of paganism that would threaten such life. This, once again, is the reason given in Deuteronomy 20:18, that “[the Canaanites] may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God.”
Meaning of Israel’s Conquest
These observations help us to see that ḥerem was fundamentally concerned with consecrating the land for God’s purposes. You might say that it constituted Israel’s worship. A cursory reading of Joshua’s early chapters makes this point, where, for instance, we see the Israelites setting themselves apart in religious purity (3:5), joining the priests in faithful procession behind the Ark of the Covenant (3:3-4), undergoing circumcision (5:2-9), celebrating the Passover (5:10-12), and following the “commander of the army of the LORD” (5:13-15). Such activity defines Israel as worshipers devoted to preparing the Promised Land for God’s glory.
At this point of our explanation, readers will likely divide based on their theological convictions. Among Christians and Jews who accept the biblical portrait of a holy and sovereign God (with the prerogative to stand in judgment upon his rebellious creatures), there is the capacity to understand why the Lord eventually executed ḥerem (while no doubt still remaining uncomfortable with the thought). All sinful behavior provokes divine judgment (for God’s holiness requires him to address rebellion; see Nahum 1:3). Such judgment is often a long time coming (what theologians call “common grace”) but come it must (2 Cor. 5:10). If someone cannot accept the notion of judgment or hell, he will likely have a problem with God’s judgment of Canaan.
To understand why God commanded Joshua to destroy the Canaanites, you might think of it this way: the divine justice awaiting humanity on the last day effectively confronted the Canaanites in a particular moment of history, an extraordinary moment (not to be repeated) that foreshadows the final day of reckoning of all humanity (1 Cor. 10:11). This is where Jesus enters the picture.
Role of Jesus
So how do Christians—men and women whose lives are defined by the person of Jesus Christ—apply the biblical teaching of ḥerem? One option is to drive a wedge between the wrathful deity of the Old Testament and the Prince of Peace who walks through the pages of the New Testament. This option, however, will not suffice, since we understand God’s character to be the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). Ironically, it is here, in what appears to be the point of disconnect (the love and peace of our Savior Jesus), that we find the reason why ḥerem is relevant for today.
The final word of the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible (and the last word of the English Old Testament) is the word ḥerem: “lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction” (Mal. 4:6). The Old Covenant record concludes by anticipating destruction, the so-called “Day of the LORD” (Mal. 4:5) when God enters human history to powerfully save and judge (Is. 13:6; Ezek. 13:5). Various images are used to describe this Day of the Lord, including shaking of the heavens and the earth (Is. 13:13; Ezek. 38:19; Hag. 2:21-22; Joel 3:16), darkening of the sky (Is. 5:30; Ezek. 32:7-8; Zeph. 1:15), and the day of the Lord’s sacrifice (Zeph. 1:8).
This is where we find the good news. Jesus came in fulfillment of Israel’s end-time hope: “The kingdom of God has come near,” he proclaimed (Mark 1:15). And as his life took shape, Jesus—the ultimate Joshua—would destroy the ultimate enemy of God—Satan and his minions—in a new ḥerem. No longer limited to the soil of Palestine, however, King Jesus would reign over all the earth in true righteousness and justice.
But how did Jesus win this victory? Unlike Joshua, not by putting wicked people to the sword. The one to feel the point of a sword was a Jewish woman named Mary, Jesus’s mother, whose soul was pierced at the sight of her son’s crucifixion (Luke 2:35). What exactly did she observe? She watched the sinless Savior die, perfect spotless righteousness, the great unchangeable I AM, the King of glory and of grace. Yes, amid a darkened sky (Matt. 27:45), and trembling earth (Matt. 27:51) the Lord’s sacrifice was completed (John 19:30).
Through his death and resurrection, Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Col. 2:15). Christ’s death secured our pardon, enabling us to face the final day of judgment with confidence. We realize that while we were enemies of God on account of sin, no better than the morally bankrupt Canaanites, we were reconciled by the death of his Son (Rom. 5:10). Yes, like Rahab of old, dead in our trespasses and sins, we became alive in Christ by grace. There is therefore no room for boasting. None of us can feel proud of ourselves. All we can do is acknowledge the One who has saved us, worshiping him and proclaiming God’s foreign policy to the world: “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).
On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scences glimpse into their lives as readers. I corresponded with Darrin Patrick, lead pastor of The Journey in St. Louis and a Council member for The Gospel Coalition, about what’s on his nightstand, books he re-reads, and biographies that have shaped him.
If you’re trying to visualize that stack, know that I have most of these on Kindle.
What books do you regularly re-read and why?
Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Tim Keller. It’s really easy for us to pit things against each other that God holds together, like evangelism and social justice. This book is a constant reminder that God shows his holiness by defending the cause of the orphans and widows. A church for the city is going to care for the vulnerable and marginalized.
The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. So many times I find myself in a depleted state in my life and ministry. This book reminds me that my problem is not external circumstances or even internal emotions, but that my affections for Christ need to be rekindled.
Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper. At times, it feels like the size and complexity of our church requires me to function like a CEO. This book recalls my need for a shepherd’s heart.
What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you and why?
George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father by Thomas Kidd and Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden. I am so inspired by Whitefield’s passion for the lost. He met people where they were and spoke to the common man. I love Marsden’s focus on Edwards as a family man, a pastor, a writer, and a participant in a major move of God. I identify with all of these spheres (hoping for a major move of God) and so appreciate the way Marsden shows us how Edwards navigated through them.
Over the past several years I’ve assessed potential church planting candidates in both Acts 29 and Sojourn Network. I’ve interacted with scores of young, passionate men ready to start churches that are gospel-centered, Reformed, and missional. While for the most part they could pass any confessional test, many of them don’t know how to do theology. They have a theological confession but not theological vision. They lack the vision and ability to connect what they know with how they plan to creatively and constructively advance the mission of God in the world.
Theological confession is, by definition, defensive and classically expressed in series of affirmations and denials. This is good and necessary. But successful church planting, ministry, and even the Christian life needs more than confession; it needs theological vision. This concept of theological vision explains how so many churches have similar confessions and yet radically different and even competing expressions of ministry. Without the clarity of a comprehensive theological vision, we succumb to emphatic theology with no connection between all the different fragments of theology and the arenas of our lives.1 As Tim Keller argues, if theological confession is our hardware and methodological strategy our software, we desperately need the theological “middleware” of vision to bring our confession to life and inform our methodology.This is an extension of Richard Lints’s siren call in The Fabric of Theology. Reflecting on the necessity of having a coherent theological vision, Lints writes:
The Christian gospel calls us not only to a well-formed theistic matrix but also to make conscious connections between that matrix and the other matrices of our lives. What I believe about God ought to influence how I view my own identity, my vocation, my family, my leisure pursuits, and so on. It is this matrix of matrices that I have been calling the theological vision. It is composed more narrowly of the theistic matrix (what I will be calling a theological framework) and more broadly of the interconnections between the theistic matrix and all other matrices in one’s noetic structures. Theology involves not just the study of God (theistic matrix) but also the influence of that study on the rest of one’s life (theological vision). It is possible to distinguish these two levels, but they are never separable in practice. (124)
Every Christian and church has theological vision—however much it may be distorted, malnourished, or neglected by certain vices (e.g., letting methodology rather than theology drive vision; poor understanding of biblical and systematic theology; unhealthy accommodation to culture over proper contextualization; lacking the maturity to embrace paradox or hold tensions together).2 We embody our theological vision.And too often our theology of grace is robust in our hearts and minds, but it never finds a way to our hands and lives.
This is the heart of PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace(Zondervan, 2014) [interview | review]—the doctrines of grace as vision for life, ministry, and especially mission. In the wake of the waves sweeping American Christianity—including the gospel-centered, missional, network-church planting, and “Young, Restless, Reformed” movements (some of which overlap)—the Reformed crowd seems to assume they’ve now mastered mission and missional living. This reveals deep lack of self-awareness. If you were to seek out stereotypes about Calvinism, you’d discover some painfully honest feedback. Google relies on an algorithm to suggest the most popular queries, so when users type questions about churches or denominations, Google’s auto-complete feature fills in the rest. When someone typed, “Why are Calvinists . . .” this is what came up:
Why are Calvinists so mean?
Why are Calvinists so arrogant?
Why are Calvinists so smug?
Why are Calvinists so negative?
The trouble is that these perceptions are often true. John Piper explains one reason why:
There is an attractiveness about [the doctrines of grace] to some people, in large matter, because of their intellectual rigor. They are powerfully coherent doctrines, and certain kinds of minds are drawn to that. And those kinds of minds tend to be argumentative. So the intellectual appeal of the system of Calvinism draws a certain kind of intellectual person, and that type of person doesn’t tend to be the most warm, fuzzy, and tender. Therefore this type of person has a greater danger of being hostile, gruff, abrupt, insensitive, or intellectualistic. I’ll just confess that. It’s a sad and terrible thing that that’s the case. Some of this type aren’t even Christians, I think. You can embrace a system of theology and not even be born again.
There are many exceptions, of course. But before we dismiss the “frozen chosen” charge as “some other Calvinist but not me,” we’d be wise to take a sober look at our life and doctrine (1Tim. 4:16). I fear too many pastors and churches aren’t seeing the beautiful connections between the doctrines of God’s grace we treasure and the adventure of God’s mission we’re called to pursue. As one pastor recently admitted to me, “I have my theology over here and my ministry over here—with only pixie dust in between.”
TULIP –> MISSION
I’m excited to lead a workshop for The Gospel Coalition 2015 National Conference titled “TULIP Transformed for Mission.” I’ll attempt to ensure there’s more than pixie dust between Calvin’s Institutes on our shelves and the lost on our streets. Theological vision returns us to a rallying cry from the 17th-century heirs of the Reformation: ecclesia semper reformans, semper reformanda. The church is always reforming, and always in need of reform.
We have found, in our experience and practice at Sojourn Community Church, five pathways to ongoing reform. These “solas” were the rallying cries that summarized the Reformation project. We want to continue those rally cries today, while also contending for new ones: more mystery, beauty, paradox, community, and mission. Indeed, these new solas are essential for what we believe and for answering what many critics both inside and outside Calvinism rightly see as blind spots.
May we do better theology and mission together as as passionate theologians and vibrant witnesses to the God of grace.
Editors’ note: Daniel Montgomery’s workshop at The Gospel Coalition 2015 National Conference next month will focus on taking TULIP out of a defensive framework and putting into a declaration framework, inviting our churches to explore, experience, and declare the doctrines of grace.
Many who reflect on issues related to faith and work have become accustomed to describing God as a worker. We say that he’s the Great Architect who designed the world, the Great Artist who carefully crafted each leaf, and the Great Physician who heals our wounds. How often, though, have you heard him described as the Great Janitor?
Some of my friends tell me that comparing God to a janitor feels irreverent. But why? Could it be that our view of work is shaped more by our cultural idols than by the gospel of the Suffering Servant? Could it be that we lack respect for the work of janitors or the ability to see their good work as an act of image-bearing? Can a biblical vision of work reframe the way we view vocations that care for place, like janitors, maintenance staff, housekeepers, custodians, and others?
When I was in my early 20s, I worked as a janitor a few times. One time was for a Christian nonprofit, and I took the job as a way to move up the ranks—hoping to land in “ministry” eventually. Although I now lament the dualistic, discontented, and dismissive way that I approached my work, I am grateful that I met Len.
Len was also a janitor, and his life was a living sermon about a theology of work. He had a profound effect on my view of vocation long before I had the vocabulary to describe what I was seeing. Captured by the beauty of the gospel, he was a joyful steward of every inch of the facility. As I observed his life, I became convinced that janitorial work reflects the glory of God.
Here are just four of the main ways that janitors, and people with similar occupations, display the actions and attributes of God through their work.
1. Protecting Humanity Through Micro-Biological Warfare
Scripture speaks of God as our great protector (Ps. 91), and God uses janitors to shield us from many things that would otherwise harm us. In each room, especially places like bathrooms, there are viruses and bacteria that could greatly harm us, even kill us. When janitors pull the trigger on a spray bottle of bleach, they are embarking on chemical warfare against the germs that would make us sick and take our lives. By keeping us from getting sick, janitors contribute to the work of every industry, and the flourishing of all aspects of life.
A doctor cannot diagnose, a teacher cannot teach, and an architect cannot design when they curled up at home, under the attack of Salmonella or E.Coli.
2. Maintaining, Sustaining, and Serving in Humble Obscurity
Each day God sustains and maintains each aspect of the world (Heb. 1:3), and most of the time, we never even notice. He sweeps the streets through the wind and the rain, mops up our spills through the warmth of the sun, and fills the halls of the earth with air fresheners like Ponderosa Pines and Magnolias. As his janitorial staff, he employs plants, animals, chemicals, and image-bearing humans to each play a role in maintaining and sustaining the earth.
In the midst of all of this grace, God rarely gets noticed. Our every breath can be a “thank you” to God because we, the creation, have been served by our Creator. Even though our hearts are often ungrateful, and we don’t notice the faithful service of God, he continues to be the true and great janitor each day, for each of us.
When janitors pick up a mop and begin to serve the world in obscurity, they are imitating the Great Sustainer of all things. They are reflecting the image of God, and even if nobody notices, they are seen by their God as they reflect the true greatness of the kingdom of God (Matt. 20:25-28).
3. Stewardship of God’s Property
Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch theologian, politician, and journalist, once said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'” Janitors are stewards of places created and owned by God. Every fabric in a carpet, tile on a counter, and light bulb above our heads belongs to Christ. Regardless of who owns the deed to the property that janitors are called to steward, they should know that the property ultimately belongs to Christ (Ps. 24:1). And regardless of the name of the person who cuts their paycheck, they ultimately work for the sovereign Lord (Col. 3:23). Our God cares about places, and each janitor who reverently, thoughtfully, and intentionally tends to a particular part of God’s world is reflecting God’s image.
4. Work of Restoration
The trash cans are full, the water cooler has dwindled down to the last few sips, the carpet is stained, and somehow people have handled the paper towels like a raccoon rummages through a trashcan, leaving strips of paper all around the bathroom. It’s 4:59 p.m. and our workday is finished, but the janitors’ work has just begun. Working in the night, they restore and renew the office, so that by the next morning, it looks as good as new.
This daily work of restoration is a sign, preview, and foretaste of the coming restoration when Christ will return and “makes all things new” (Rev. 21:5). The restored facility is a foreshadow of the coming restoration of all things, and janitors reflect the image of God when they engage in this work of restoration.
Let Us Give Thanks
All of us who benefit from the work of janitors should be intentional about expressing gratitude for their good work. Let our imaginations about this occupation be shaped by the gospel, rather than the pattern of this world, which values status over service.
To those who work as janitors, or in a similar field, please be encouraged by these words from Martin Luther King Jr., who said,
If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
We see your good work, and we give thanks for it. And even when it’s overlooked, your work is seen by Christ, the Lord over every clean counter and mopped tile.
Editors’ note: Join us for a panel discussion at The Gospel Coalition 2015 National Conference about faith and work. Bethany Jenkins, Director of Every Square Inch—TGC’s faith and work initiative—will join TGC Council Members Harry Reeder III and Dan Doriani to consider the question, “Do Executive Jobs Have More Kingdom Value than Dirty Jobs?”
People usually think of “Heaven” as the place Christians go when they die. A better definition explains that Heaven is God’s central dwelling place, the location of his throne from which he rules the universe.
Many don’t realize that the present pre-resurrection Heaven and future post-resurrection Heaven are located in different places. The exact location of the present Heaven is unknown, but we’re told the future Heaven will be located on the New Earth. The present Heaven is a place of transition between believers’ past lives on Earth and future resurrection lives on the New Earth.
Life in the present Heaven (which theologians call the “intermediate” Heaven) is “better by far” than living here on Earth under the curse (Phil. 1:23). But it’s not our final destination.
Will We Live in Heaven Forever?
The answer depends on our definition of Heaven. Will we be with the Lord forever? Absolutely. Will we always be with God in the same place Heaven is now? No. In the present Heaven, God’s people are in Christ’s presence, free of sin and suffering and enjoying great happiness: “in your presence there is fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11). But they’re still looking forward to their bodily resurrection and permanent relocation to the New Earth. So, yes, after death we’ll always be in Heaven, but not in the same place or the same condition.
To illustrate, imagine you lived in a homeless shelter in Miami. One day you inherit a beautiful house overlooking Santa Barbara, California, and are given a wonderful job doing something you’ve always wanted to do. Many friends and family will live nearby.
As you fly toward Santa Barbara, you stop at the Dallas airport for a layover. Other family members you haven’t seen in years meet you. They will board the plane with you to Santa Barbara. Naturally you look forward to seeing them in Dallas, your first stop.
But if someone asks where you’re going, would you say “Dallas”? No. You would say Santa Barbara, because that’s your final destination. Dallas is just a temporary stop. At most you might say “I’m going to Santa Barbara, with a brief stop in Dallas.”
Similarly, the present Heaven is a temporary dwelling place, a stop along the way to our final destination: the New Earth. (Granted, the Dallas analogy isn’t perfect—being with Jesus and reunited with loved ones will be immeasurably better than a layover in Dallas!)
In the Present Heaven Do People Have Physical Forms?
Unlike angels, who are in essence spirits (John 4:24; Heb. 1:14), human beings are by nature both spiritual and physical. We don’t occupy our bodies as a hermit crab occupies a shell. We can’t be fully human without both a spirit and a body.
Given the consistent physical descriptions of the intermediate heaven and its inhabitants, it seems possible—though debatable—that between our earthly lives and bodily resurrection, God may grant us temporary physical forms. If so, that would account for the repeated depictions of people now in Heaven occupying physical space, wearing clothes and crowns, talking, holding palm branches in their hands, and having body parts (e.g. Luke 16:24, Rev. 7:9).
Certainly we do not receive resurrection bodies immediately after death. If we have intermediate forms in the intermediate heaven (and we may not), they will be temps, not our true bodies, which remain dead until the final resurrection.
Will We Recognize Each Other in the Present Heaven?
When asked if we would recognize friends in Heaven, George MacDonald responded, “Shall we be greater fools in Paradise than we are here?”
Scripture gives no indication of a memory wipe causing us to forget family and friends. On the contrary, if we wouldn’t know our loved ones in Heaven, the “comfort” of an afterlife reunion, taught in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18, would be no comfort at all.
In Christ’s transfiguration, his disciples recognized Moses and Elijah, even though they couldn’t have known what they looked like (Luke 9:29-33). This suggests that personality will emanate through whatever forms we take. If we can recognize those we’ve never seen, how much more will we recognize our family and friends?
After we die, we will give a detailed account of our lives on Earth (2 Cor. 5:10; Matt. 12:36). This will require better memories, not worse. Those memories will surely include our families and friends!
Are You Looking Forward to Your Forever Home?
Though life in the intermediate Heaven will be wonderful, it’s not the place we’re made for, our true eternal home. The Bible promises that we’ll live with Christ and each other forever on the New Earth, where God—Father, Son (eternally incarnate), and Holy Spirit—will be at home with his people:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. . . . I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. . . . And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (Rev. 21:1-3)
This passage clearly indicates that ultimately God’s central dwelling place—Heaven—is on Earth. Some, including N. T. Wright, argue that the New Earth shouldn’t be called Heaven. But if Heaven, by definition, is God’s special dwelling place, and “the dwelling of God” will be with humankind on Earth, then Heaven and the New Earth will essentially be the same place. Heaven is also where we see God’s throne, and we’re told that “the throne of God and of the Lamb” will be in the New Jerusalem, on the New Earth (Rev. 22:1).
Instead of us going up to God’s place to live forever, God will come down to live with us in our place, literally bringing Heaven to Earth! God’s children are destined for life as resurrected beings on a resurrected Earth. We should daily keep in mind our true destination, our ultimate home. Let’s be like Peter and the early Christians: “according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).
It’s Monday morning (a little more than a week ago) and 43 people are locked inside a gate that surrounds and protects SARA Church and New Missionary Bible School in Kathmandu, Nepal—just 100 miles from Mount Everest. Surrounded by towering mountain peaks, we are in the bowl of the Kathmandu Valley, only 4,600 feet above sea level. Heaven is coming near.
Tej Rokka, a handsome Nepali pastor, is standing waist deep in a pool; his youthful face betrays his 42 years only in the deep wrinkles around his laughing eyes. Six young Nepalis—all in their teens and 20s—stand in line while the rest of us lift our voices in song. One by one, Rokka receives six new believers into the pool, prays, and baptizes each by immersion the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Just 50 short years ago, Prem Pradhan (1924–1998) did the exact same thing in Nepal—and was locked against his will inside a quite different gate.
Legacy of Prem Pradhan
Since 1970, Christianity in Nepal has been growing faster per capita than anywhere else—not only South Central Asia (see graph), but in the world. Pradhan is part of the reason why.
Christianity is growing in Nepal at nearly 11 percent per year. From just 7,400 in 1970 to more than 1 million today, the projected number of Christians by 2020 is 1,324,000.
Born into a Hindu family, Pradhan served as a Gurkha warrior in the British Air Force until a gun wound left him with a lifelong limp. In 1951, he encountered an Indian street evangelist and trusted Christ. At the evangelist’s recommendation he read the New Testament six times, eventually becoming a full-time evangelist himself.
Pradhan was imprisoned 14 times in Nepal between 1960 and 1975 for openly baptizing Hindu converts. While in jail he preached Christ to his cellmates and jailors, and saw dozens come to faith. He never wavered in his call to evangelism.
Prem Pradhan (center), along with Bir Bahadur Rai (left) and Dil Bahadur Thakuri (right) held in Tansen prison for their Christian faith (1961).
Pradhan’s lasting legacy includes three Christian schools: the first, in Kathmandu, was brutally shut down by a police raid in 1972. The second, New Life School in southern Nepal, continues to serve many orphans in rural villages today. The third is Glenhill School in Darjeeling, India.
Pradhan died on November 15, 1998, and is buried in Sarlai, Nepal.
Legacy of Faithfulness—Up Close and Personal
Many graduates from Pradhan’s schools have entered Christian ministry in Nepal. Pastor Tej Rokka is one of them. Growing up in a poor Hindu family in a village near Everest, Rokka experienced tragedy early on. “When I was just 5 and my brother was 2,” he says, “our mother died.” Living in desperate conditions, a friend recommended to the boys’ father that he send them hundreds of miles away to Pradham’s New Life School. So they went.
“It was a home for us, not just a school,” Rokka recalls. “That was where we both came to the Lord, and where God grew in us a heart for this ministry.” He speaks fondly of Pradhan, the schooling he received, and his conversion to Christ as a youth. Now Rokka has a son attending Glenhill in Darjeeling, India.
SARA Ministries—Reaching South Central Asians for Christ
In 1997, when pastor Rokka was just 24, he founded SARA Ministries. The name means “Savior Alone Reaches Asians.” Today, 250 Nepalis are part of SARA Church, including the 35 orphans in SARA Children’s Home and School. Moreover, the New Missionary Bible School (started in 2008) has 50 graduates and will soon have many more. It is filling a strategic leadership gap in the Nepali church. “There are probably 500 or more churches in Kathmandu alone,” Rokka explains, “but most are led by pastors who have not been to seminary.”
SARA Ministries partners with organizations like Equipping Saints for Ministry (ES4M) and The Gospel Coalition to help address the growing need for solid biblical resources and theological training. “The gospel in Nepal will be spread through Nepalis, not Westerners,” ES4M president Michael Heitland explains. “Our work is equipping and resourcing Nepali saints doing ministry.”
Rokka mentions that 50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die is a favorite evangelism tool with students and many pastors in Nepal. “These books, and ES4M’s biblical coursework, are so helpful for our students,” he tells us.
A wonderful example of a next generation leader is Manoj. Just as Rokka was trained by Pradhan, Manoj is being trained by Rokka. He arrived at the orphanage at age 6 and now serves on staff and teaches at the SARA Children’s Home. He’s also a student in the New Missionary Bible School.
“I love to learn and teach the Word of God,” Manoj says with a smile through a translater. He daily teaches his students using ES4M’s adaptation of Walk Through the Bible, and also helps lead worship in SARA Church. Manoj is a future leader of the church in Nepal.
Carrying the Torch
The gospel flame ignited at Pentecost is now burning bright near the top of the world. While Western Christians partner in the work, native Nepali leaders like Rokka, Gurush, and so many more are carrying the torch—a torch they received from trailblazers like Pradham. [Note: The charge of financial mismanagement has often been made against certain ministries in Nepal. See here for one such article.]
Watch this three-minute video to see how TGC is partnering in the cause of Theological Famine Relief in places like Nepal:
The centuries-old, universal consensus among Christians, Jews, and Muslims—that God gave sex for marriage between one man and one woman—is being questioned not only by secular society, but within Christianity itself. Individuals, churches, and even whole denominations are shifting in their views and practices. Many contest the long-held belief that porneia—the New Testament Greek term for all sexual activity outside of marriage between one man and one woman—is synonymous with “immorality.” Ours is a different age, the Western (and mostly white and well-educated) “progressive Christian” says. Biblical prohibitions against divorce, unmarried cohabitation, and same-sex relationships, they say, were written for situations unique to the first century but shouldn’t apply to our modern context. Indeed, those who are unpersuaded by the new interpretations are increasingly viewed as unenlightened at best and bigoted at worst.
So what do we make of this new cultural landscape? How do we understand the Scriptures on this matter? And what should we do with that understanding?
Have We Misunderstood Scripture?
Expressions of sexuality that were once seen as taboo have now become mainstream. As friends and family “come out” with news of a pending divorce or a same-sex or cohabiting hetero relationship, Christians—especially when friendships and family ties hang in the balance—feel pressed to sympathize instead of condemn, to support instead of separate, to affirm instead of deny. To reinforce this instinct, sexual minorities are often compared to victims of slavery. Christians eventually shifted on slavery because they finally saw slavery was biblically wrong, the thinking goes. This is no different. Sexual minorities are the new oppressed minority.
This is a difficult leap, however, since every reference in Scripture to sex outside of heterosexual marriage is negative. The pro-slavery mindset is repudiated by Paul’s letter to Philemon, a slaveowner commanded to stop treating Onesimus like a slave and instead as a brother. No such parallel pushes against the historic Christian view of sexuality.
As Scripture unfolds from Old Testament to New, we see a progressive tone in the way it dignifies and empowers women, ethnic minorities, the enslaved, the infirm, and the oppressed. But when it comes to sex and marriage, we actually see a more conservative tone. Jesus reaffirms the male-female, one-flesh union in marriage. Qualified elders must either be single and chaste like Paul and Jesus or be the “husband of one wife” (that is, one-woman men). Jesus restores dignity to an adulteress and then tells her that if she’s going to identify as his follower she must stop committing adultery. Unlike Philemon and the slave issue, then, there is no hint in Scripture of “emancipation” for sexual relationships—including committed and monogamous ones—outside the male-female marital union.
This teaching is admittedly unpopular in our late modern times. Yet Scripture shows no interest in being popular or relevant—that is, in being adapted, revised, or censored to align with ever-shifting times. We must remain countercultural wherever the culture and the truth are at odds. It is this posture that makes Christians truly relevant in the culture.
Counterculture for the Healing of Culture
What’s the way forward, then, for Christians? I believe the way of grace and truth avoids the polar extremes of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
First, we must resist the inner Pharisee, whose instinct is to scornfully separate from a sexually damaged world. Compelled by the love of Christ, we must extend kindness and friendship to those who don’t embrace a biblical sex ethic, and we must never engage in negative posturing and caricature. This in itself is countercultural, as evidenced by Slate identifying 2014 as “the year of outrage.” Christians, then, have an opportunity to stand out as a gracious, life-giving minority in this regard. This entails staying true to the biblical text and alsogenuinely loving, listening to, and serving those who don’t share our beliefs. Jesus, who welcomed and ate with sinners, and who never once had a harsh word to say to a sexually damaged image-bearer, beckons us to follow in his footsteps.
But we also need to resist the inner Sadducee, whose instinct is to follow—and even be discipled by—the world. We must honor, champion, and obey the Creator’s design, at all times in a spirit of gentleness and respect, even if we lose friends and influence fewer people. We must be okay with living in light of thoughts and ways higher than our own (Isa. 55:8–9). In the end, capitulation to culture is neither faithful nor fruitful as a missionary method.
Pharisees scorn the world.
Sadducees follow the world.
Jesus, who both affirmed sex and kept it within its protective moral boundaries, was countercultural for the healing of the world.
Affirming Sex (and Chastity)
As a lifelong unmarried celibate man tempted in every way we are, Jesus affirmed sex within the male-female marital union. He created sex. Sex is not a “no-no.” It’s not taboo. It is a gift that welcomes husbands and wives to taste Eden together—naked and unashamed, known and embraced, exposed and not rejected. Proverbs invites a husband to enjoy his wife’s breasts. Song of Solomon pictures a husband and wife admiring and adventurously enjoying one another’s naked bodies. Paul, also unmarried and celibate, says that except for short seasons dedicated to prayer, able-bodied husbands and wives should have sex, and have it often.
Scripture also warns against sex being distorted, abused, turned into a pseudo-savior, or made into an identity. As one church historian has observed, the early Christians were promiscuous with their money (financially generous) but guarded with their bodies (sexually chaste). The surrounding Greco-Roman culture was the reverse.
Why is our Creator’s design so liberating for sex inside the male-female marital union, yet so limiting for every other setting? Tim Keller says it’s because sex is the most delightful—and also the most dangerous—of all human capacities. It is a transcendent, otherworldly experience. Sex works a lot like fire. Though it can warm and purify, if not properly contained and handled with care it can burn, scar, infect, and destroy. I’ve seen this play out in scores of pastoral situations over the years. “There is a way that seems right to a man,” the proverb puts it, “but in the end it leads to death” (Prov. 14:12).
You Are the Light of the World
The more I engage with these issues, the more I’m convinced that the church’s best opportunity to encourage a biblical ethic of sex and marriage is by living outa biblical ethic of sex and marriage. As Madeleine L’Engle reminds us, we draw people to Christ by showingthem a light so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know its source.
In other words, in the eyes of a watching world, showing the light makes the telling about the light palpable and credible. The Christian witness cannot be in word alone. It must also be in deed.
Rather than condemning “sex and the city,” then, what if we made it our chief task to simply be the “city on a hill” Jesus intended?
To start we must remove the planks in our own eyes, wherever they may exist. We must forsake hard-core and soft-core porn habits, take captive thoughts and fantasies that objectify God’s image, and reduce unbiblical divorces. We must also nurture fidelity and forgiveness, hand-holding and lingering conversation—living face to face (in intimacy) and side by side (on mission) within Christian marriages.
Additionally, becoming L’Engle’s “light so lovely” amid a sexually damaged culture will require a renewed and robust vision for marriage and singleness. What if we reaffirmed that being unmarried and chaste (like Paul and Jesus) is a noble and fruitful calling, not a curse? What if we reaffirmed that the call to singleness is “far better,” since it frees people to devote themselves fully to God’s concerns? What if we embraced a renewed vision for the church as a surrogate family where everyone—single and married and divorced, hetero attracted and same-sex attracted—finds opportunity for spiritual friendships as deep as David and Jonathan, with long-term love and loyalty rivaling that of a man and a woman?
Most significantly, what if we renewed our emphasis on The Marriage of which all others are a shadow—the mystical union between Jesus and his bride, the church? No matter your temporary marital status on earth, union with him through faith makes you as married and complete as you’ll ever be. From the moment we believe, Jesus is our bridegroom, and we are his bride.
Many probably think of Lloyd-Jones as a pastor/shepherd for three decades at Westminster Chapel, his advocacy for the recovery of a robust doctrine of the Holy Spirit, or his warnings against dangers he saw in ecumenism.
But two areas seem to receive much less attention when it comes to Lloyd-Jones, though they were major themes in his preaching ministry: evangelism and revival.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones regarded himself primarily as an evangelist. Those who knew him best also saw him in the same way. Mrs. Lloyd-Jones was once present with a group of men who, in her husband’s absence, were paying compliments to his abilities. As she listened to them she evidently thought that they were missing the main thing and surprised them by quietly remarking, “No one will ever understand my husband until they realize that he is first of all a man of prayer and then, an evangelist.”
Westminster Chapel set aside each Sunday evening for evangelistic preaching. Lloyd-Jones believed there is a difference between how a preacher addresses his sermons to the converted and the unconverted. He viewed preaching and teaching as somewhat different. Murray writes, “All preaching ought to be more than teaching, but in the case of evangelistic preaching it is imperative. It must reach the heart and the conscience or it will fail. It has got to be personal and pointed, and awakening. It will need to have something alarming about it.”
One of the least-known, but deeply intriguing Lloyd-Jones works was published by Banner of Truth Trust in 1995, Old Testament Evangelistic Sermons. With titles such as “When the Gods Fall” from 1 Samuel 5:1-4, “What Is Sin?” from 2 Samuel 12:13, “The Disease Man Cannot Cure” from 2 Kings 5:1, and “From the Mirage to Christ” from Isaiah 35:7, each sermon is, like all of Lloyd-Jones’ preaching, expository in nature, but proclaimed pointedly as a call to the unconverted.
In an age where it sometimes seems that John 3:16 is the earliest verse in the canon that ought to be marshalled for winning lost souls, Lloyd-Jones’s approach to evangelism might seem curious. But Murray lists three primary reasons why the Doctor chose to use the Old Testament so often in seeking the conversion of sinners:
It reveals sin in its true nature. Murray writes, “Lloyd-Jones believed that the true difference between moralizing preaching on the Old Testament and true evangelistic preaching is that moralizing deals only with sin in terms of symptoms and secondary features. The essence of sin, the true seriousness of sin, can only begin to be understood when it is seen in terms of a wrong relationship and attitude to God himself.”
It reveals the absolute futility of life without God.
Above all else, the Old Testament is a book about God.
Tim Keller, whose preaching and ministry have been deeply affected by Lloyd-Jones, told me the Doctor’s evangelistic sermons have helped him to preach the gospel to skeptics in his ministry setting in New York City. Keller said:
The Doctor often preached out of the Old Testament to convey gospel truths of sin and grace because he knew that people could often grasp narratives faster than abstract propositions, and the narratives of the Old Testament were matchless at conveying human inability and divine grace. They depicted in concrete ways the theological themes made explicit in the New Testament epistles. Lloyd-Jones’s series on Genesis 3, for example, preached Sunday evenings in 1955, is a masterful, vivid depiction of the character of sin. It shows how sin depends on believing false, unfair things about the character of God, and how it leads to hiding and deception. He didn’t try to argue with secular people in an abstract way that yes, sin exists. He described sin’s contours and effects so well that you just couldn’t deny that it is a force in the world and in your life.
I listened to that series in the early days of my ministry in New York City, and it gave me a vision of how to preach about sin and grace to secular people. I learned there’s no use telling people about grace—about how much God loves them—until they first come to see the depth and seriousness of their sin. Similarly there is no use going to the other end of the spectrum and simply telling people that God is angry at them—unless you first give them some inkling about why he would be so, namely over their sin. I owe the Doctor a great, great debt for giving me a vision for preaching sin and grace to skeptical people in the heart of a great city.
Pleading for Revival
In 1859, one of the great revivals of the past 150 years came to Wales. God poured out his Spirit upon thousands in Wales, but the impact was seismic with tremors felt throughout Britain and the United States. Revival was especially profound among the Calvinistic Methodists of Wales, the spiritual and theological forebears of Lloyd-Jones. Thomas Philips wrote in 1860 of the revival, “The whole heathen world is being rapidly opened to the gospel.”
On the 100th anniversary of that great effusion of the Spirit of God, Lloyd-Jones, a Welshman by birth, commemorated the revival with a series of sermons at Westminster Chapel. In 1987, Crossway published the 24 sermons in a volume simply titled Revival. For Lloyd-Jones, the choice of topic was not merely a historical marker, but a renewed call for God to repeat his outpouring of the Spirit in 20th-century England.
This work is one of the best and most underrated volumes in the Lloyd-Jones canon. He began the sermons with a plea for revival from Mark 9:28-29, “The Urgent Need for Revival Today,” a mantle 21st-century evangelicals would do well to take up. “I do not hesitate to go so far as to say that unless we, as individual Christians are feeling a grave concern about the state of the Church and the world today,” Lloyd-Jones said, “then we are very poor Christians indeed.”
Before setting forth important revival-related topics such as expecting revival, characteristics of revival, the effects of revival, how revival comes, and praying for revival, Lloyd-Jones established, in six sermons, five hindrances to revival: unbelief, doctrinal impurity, defective orthodoxy, dead orthodoxy, and spiritual inertia. In the book’s next-to-last sermon from Isaiah 63:15-19, “The Heartfelt Fervor of Revival Prayer,” Lloyd-Jones commended Isaiah’s prayer for spiritual awakening in Israel as a model of both pleading and reasoning with God:
He (Isaiah) is in the grip of a strong emotion, and so he prays from the depth of his heart. And whenever the church is in a state of revival, you find the same thing. Whenever the Spirit of God comes down upon the church, forms are forgotten, liturgies are put at abeyance, and the Spirit moves in men’s hearts. And out of the hearts of praying people come their expressions of worship, their pleas, and their petitions—exactly what you have here, and in every other great prayer in the Bible.
Pleading for Us
These two emphases of Lloyd-Jones instruct evangelicals today in at least three ways.
1. Our preaching should always aim to edify the saints, but if it is gospel-centered as was Lloyd-Jones’s, it will also speak clearly to the dangerous footing of the unconverted.
2. We should not hesitate to preach the gospel from the Old Testament or use it in our evangelism efforts. The whole Bible tells the story of a holy God rescuing a people from sin and death through the redemptive work of his Son.
3. In every age, we ought to pray for revival. As Lloyd-Jones called England to petition God for revival in the 1950s, so we must call our churches today across the globe to pray for an outpouring of God’s overwhelming, effectual grace. As Lloyd-Jones told his congregation, that is our only true hope.
Pat Hood explains what it is like to pastor a "sending church."
Tell me about some unique things your church is doing in outreach.
I don't know if we do anything that's really "unique." I would describe our outreach as "simple." I think Jesus' was too. He simply told his disciples, to "Go, make disciples." That's what we teach our people. We challenge them to live sent lives in every domain of their life. We tell our people that we have no marketing campaign. We don't blanket the community with fliers. We don't rent billboards. We tell our people they are the outreach plan.
How did LifePoint transition from a traditional First Baptist to an international, multi-ethnic "sending church?"
In 2004, I felt a clear direction from the Lord to lead our church to a time of prayer, fasting and worship. We would fast for three days and then meet together at night for a time of intense worship: no preaching, just fasting and meeting together to pray and worship.
We had already begun to transition some external things like our music style and dress, and, as a result, had seen lots growth. As a result, we were in the middle of a building program to build a new auditorium. We thought this time of prayer and fasting was to prepare us for what God was going to do when we opened our new auditorium. However, during those three days of prayer & fasting, we realized that God had called us together because He wanted to open our eyes to His heart for the nation. So, our focus changed from bringing more people in to sending more people out.
How did you measure success in the past?
I've always been a pastor who loved people and love seeing their lives transformed by Jesus. But, admittedly, there was a time when I was more ...
Each year at LifeWay Research, we work together with Outreach Magazine to create the Outreach 100 listings of the country's Fastest-Growing and Largest Churches. On one hand, these lists are one of the most anticipated things we do each year. People seem to eagerly await the lists so they can learn from these churches about what God is doing to build his kingdom across the United States. On the other hand, there are those who complain about the lists. They seem to think this is a way of exalting "big churches" in an effort to make them look better than the churches that are not on the list, when nothing could be further from the truth.
Remember folks: facts are our friends.
I love to learn. I have spent a significant portion of my adult life in the classroom, either as a student or as a professor. These lists feed our hunger to learn as we evaluate the temperature of the churches we study in an effort to learn more about the ways God is working. I hope these lists encourage you and challenge you. I hope, like me, you read them and celebrate the ways God is working. I hope they challenge you to think through your own strategy to reach your community with the gospel.
On this year's lists, we noticed many of the same trends we've seen in the past. Among the recent trends, we continue to see multisite churches becoming more and ...
I appreciated Ronnie Floyd's words here. At our church, we don't do a "come forward" invitation-- that does not work in a movie theater-- but we always invite people to Christ at the end of every message. I found his comments helpful.
How church partnerships can help foster multiplication.
Denominations and networks of churches were and still are created for the purpose of partnership in mission. At times, these organizations have successfully unified churches around their common goals and accomplished much. But sometimes the very institutions meant to unify and encourage the mission have inadvertently hindered their own ability to multiply efforts through partnership.
Without a clear avenue to foster partnership for multiplication, the need for these organizations becomes less clear. If denominations and networks do not exist-- at least in part-- to multiply churches, then they have lost a big part of their purpose.
Denominations, networks, and other such partnerships (referred to occasionally as simply "partnerships" for sake of space), when functioning correctly, should help foster multiplication.
I regularly work with a variety of denominational leaders to help them chart a course toward unified missional engagement. There are several points of weakness common to many of the organizations I have seen.
Since these blind spots seem to be somewhat universal, it makes sense to give broad consideration to the ways of overcoming them. So, I have taken a talk I gave to the Evangelical Free Church leadership and modified it a bit to share here.
Hopefully this information can serve other groups as well. Here are six key steps toward creating the type of unity among churches in denominations/networks that leads to sustainable multiplication of a movement.
1. Recognize that Multiplication is Part of Health.
First, your partnership must understand that multiplication is a sign of health.
Healthy churches multiply disciples, groups, ministries, and churches-- and healthy partnerships cultivate ...
<p><span class="caps">NASHVILLE</span>, Tenn., March 26, 2015—The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention announced its plan today to publish the Gospel for Life book series through a partnership with B&H Publishing Group.</p>
<p>The Gospel for Life book series will feature issue-specific volumes from noted leaders that address hot-button ethical issues facing Christians in today’s culture. The goal of the series is to produce gospel-centered resources that equip Christians and local churches to engage ethical issues with convictional kindness.</p>
<p>The announcement was made in conjunction with the start of the ERLC’s 2015 Leadership Summit on “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation,” March 26-27 in Nashville, Tenn.</p>
<p><span class="caps">ERLC</span> President Russell Moore and <span class="caps">ERLC</span> Director of Policy Studies Andrew Walker will serve as editors for the series.</p>
<p>Commenting on the series, Moore said:</p>
<p>“Our goal with this series is to help connect the agenda of the gospel to the complex questions of the day in a way that is accessible to and helpful for Christians and churches. I am thrilled to get to partner with this team of talented scholars and pastors to produce these volumes, and we pray the Lord would use them to equip the saints to face the tough questions of twenty-first century life from a kingdom perspective.”</p>
<p>Devin Maddox, Christian Living and Leadership Publisher at B&H Publishing Group, also expressed enthusiasm about the book.</p>
<p>“The time has long past for churches to begin preparing to engage a rapidly changing culture. I couldn’t be more excited for B&H to partner with the <span class="caps">ERLC</span> in a shared mission to serve churches in this way.”</p>
<p>There will be a total of nine books released in the series. The first three books, tentatively scheduled to release in spring 2016, will focus on racial reconciliation, same-sex marriage and religious liberty. </p>
<p>Authors for the first round of books include: <br />
R. Albert Mohler Jr.- President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary <br />
John Piper- Founder and Teacher, DesiringGod.org<br />
J.D. Greear- Pastor, The Summit Church<br />
Russell Moore- President, <span class="caps">ERLC</span><br />
Trillia Newbell- Director of Community Outreach, <span class="caps">ERLC</span><br />
Eric Mason- Founder and Pastor, Epiphany Fellowship</p>
<p>The books will be written in an accessible manner for laypersons in the church and will include discussion questions at the end of each chapter to be used for small group discussion.</p>
<p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.</p>
<p>- <span class="caps">END</span> – </p>
<p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br />
contact Elizabeth Bristow at 202-547-0209<br />
Nashville, Tenn., March 19, 2015—The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention approved a recommendation to recognize the second Sunday in October as Global Hunger Sunday—a day many churches draw attention to the hunger crisis affecting nearly 1 billion people around the world—at its annual meeting last month.
Global Hunger Sunday will replace what was previously known as World Hunger Sunday on the SBC Event calendar approved by messengers each year. The name change is the final step of the recent launch of the cooperative Southern Baptist initiative, Global Hunger Relief (GHR). In June 2014, Southern Baptists voted to “embrace and support” GHR during its annual meeting in Baltimore, Md.
“The launch of Global Hunger Relief and the change to Global Hunger Sunday help us better tell the story of the global hunger crisis, as well as the myriad of ways Southern Baptists are providing solutions,” said Jill Waggoner, lead brand strategist for Global Hunger Relief.
GHR-funded projects combat hunger in North America and around the world in a variety of ways, from participating in disaster relief to resourcing food kitchens, from eliminating urban food deserts to creating sustainable solutions for the chronically hungry.
Formerly known as the World Hunger Fund, GHR is a partnership of the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, LifeWay Christian Resources, Woman’s Missionary Union, Baptist Global Response and the Executive Committee.
The recommendation, put forth by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, will be presented at the Southern Baptist Convention in Columbus, Ohio, for messenger approval.
The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., March 17, 2015—The U. S. Senate blocked an anti-trafficking bill today over language to which Senate Democrats objected that would have prevented funds made available by the act from being used to pay for abortions.</p>
<p>Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, commented on the blocking of this bill:</p>
<p>“Stopping human trafficking is too important a priority to be held hostage by the abortion lobby’s culture-warring. I urge the Senate to think about vulnerable women and children in peril, rather than about the political maneuvers of the abortion-industrial complex.”</p>
<p>Two weeks ago, the bill had bipartisan support. Today, however, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act fell five votes short in reaching the 60-vote threshold needed to advance the bill. All Democrats voted with the abortion lobby with the exception of Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.</p>
<p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.</p>
<p>- <span class="caps">END</span> – </p>
<p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br />
contact Elizabeth Bristow at 202-547-0209<br />
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., March 9, 2015—The U.S. Supreme Court threw out a lower court decision that originally favored the federal government today. This action revives the University of Notre Dame’s religious objection to the requirement for contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act.</p>
<p>“The Supreme Court took a big step in the direction of liberty and justice,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, commenting on <i>Notre Dame v. Burwell</i>. “I pray that the present Administration will stop its reckless disregard of soul freedom and liberty of conscience.” </p>
<p>The justices asked the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its decision against the Roman Catholic university in light of the June 2014 Supreme Court ruling that allowed certain privately owned corporations to seek exemptions from the provision. The <span class="caps">ERLC</span> filed a <a href="http://erlc.com/documents/pdf/20140128-amicus-hobbylobby-conestoga.pdf">friend-of-the-court brief</a> in January 2014 in that case, calling for the Supreme Court to rule in favor of Hobby Lobby and other family-owned businesses that have conscientious objections to a regulation that requires employers to provide abortion-causing drugs for their employees.</p>
<p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.</p>
<p>- <span class="caps">END</span> – </p>
<p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br />
contact Elizabeth Bristow at 202-547-0209<br />
Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, sent a letter March 2 to Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) expressing "strong support for HB 0962, a bill that would increase the deterrents for animal fighting," and requesting that the legislation "be assigned to the Criminal Justice Committee."
On behalf of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention, I am writing to express our strong support for HB 0962, a bill that will increase the deterrents for animal fighting. We respectfully request that HB 0962 be assigned to the Criminal Justice Committee.
The ERLC holds the family as the foundation of culture and society. With each passing year that the increased penalties fail to pass, we witness the incestuous relationship between animal fighting, gambling, and organized crime continues to grow. This is detrimental to many of our communities and the families that call them home. Unfortunately, Tennessee plays host to these conferences of nefarious activities because the punishment for dogfighting and cockfighting is a slap on the wrist in comparison to the payouts.
Gambling and animal fighting are societal ills that are each harmful to our communities on their own. However, when the two are combined, the result is individuals betting on the outcome of undeniable cruelty, and that is simply unacceptable. HB 0962 increases the penalty for a second or subsequent conviction for involvement in cockfighting to a Class E felony; increases the penalty for the offense of being a spectator at an animal fight to a Class A misdemeanor; and criminalizes bringing children to a fight. This bill is a step in the right direction in terms of protecting our communities, in particularly our young people, from unnecessary violence.
The ERLC greatly appreciates your ongoing leadership in protecting children and families. We are pleased to support this legislation and look forward to working with you to advance our mutual goals of creating stronger communities and families.