Archive for April, 2007

Baptists & Polity (Pt 2)

Pastor John Piper argues that a reading of the historic Baptist Confessions suggests that elders were assumed in most of the early Baptist churches. He provides evidence to support his thesis from a variety of historical Baptist sources: A Short Confession of Faith in Twenty Articles (1609), Propositions and Conclusions Concerning True Christian Religion (1612-1614), The London Confession (1644), Second London Confession (1677 & 1688), Articles of the Baptist Bible Union of America (1923), and Statement of Faith of the Southern Baptist Convention (1925 & 1963) (Biblical Eldership: Shepherd the Flock of God Among You, pp. 47-49).

At the very least, church history proves that it is not oxymoronic to be both Baptist and governed by a plurality of elders. In the words of John Piper, “It is false to say that the eldership is unbaptistic [emphasis his]. On the contrary, the eldership is more baptistic than its absence, and its disappearance is a modern phenomenon that parallels other developmentss in doctrine that makes its disappearance questionable at best” (Biblical Eldership, p. 49).

The Word of God is, of course, the only infallible rule for faith and practice. The Scriptures provide ample evidence that clearly supports the plural-elder model of leadership. The early church appears to have functioned in this way (Acts 14:23, Acts 15:2, Acts 20:28, Titus 1:5, Hebrews 13:7, James 1:1, 1 Peter 5:1-3). Alexander Strauch’s book, Biblical Eldership, does a fine job of highlighting this point from the witness of the New Testament. Baptist churches that are elder-led reflect the polity of the New Testament church and are consistent with what many Baptists have practiced throughout their history.

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Baptists and Church Polity

Church polity was a hotly debated issue in the early Baptist church and it is one that continues to rage to this day. “The early Baptist church emerged in seventeenth-century England as autonomous units. Each church had an ordained leader (minister, pastor, or teacher) and deacons elected by the members. Some churches also had elders while others appointed messengers to organize new churches or minister to those churches lacking a leader” (Baptist Life, p. 47). It is best to admit that there were many different forms of church government within the early Baptist movement. In other words, deacon-led, elder-led, and congregation-led churches probably all existed early in Baptist circles.

It appears that many Baptist churches were in fact governed by elders. Former professor of church history at the Master’s Seminary, James Stitzinger, believes that Baptists had multiple elders in their polity up until Hiscox wrote his New Directory (a church polity manual) in the late 1800s. Pastor Mark Dever notes that, “Throughout seventeenth-century England, Baptists affirmed the office of elder. In 1697, Benjamin Keach wrote of ‘bishops, overseers, or elders,’ clearly implying that these New Testament titles refer to one office” (By Whose Authority? Elders in Baptist Life, p. 18). In 1767, one of the great Baptist theologians, John Gill, wrote the massive systematic theology textbook, Body of Divinity. In his book, this English Baptist leader writes, “These pastors and teachers are the same with bishops, or overseers, whose business it is to feed the flock; they have the episcopacy or oversight of, which is the work pastors are to do; which office of a bishop is a good work, and is the only office in the church distinct from that of deacon.—And these bishops are the same with elders …” Later he adds, “These pastors, teachers, bishops, and elders, are called rulers, guides, and governors. A pastor, or shepherd, is the governor and guide of his flock; a teacher and a ruling elder are the same, 1 Tim. 5:17” (Body of Divinity, Vol. II, p. 575). John Gill clearly taught that there are only two offices in the church: elders and deacons. Elders are responsible for teaching, leading, and shepherding the flock of God, while deacons are more accountable for the physical needs of members within the church.

In his book, By Whose Authority, Mark Dever documents a continuity of belief in elder-governed churches from the first president of the Southern Baptist Convention, W.B Johnson, to William Williams (1874), a member of the founding faculty of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to the renowned Charles Spurgeon (By Whose Authority? pp. 19-21). In 1907, A.H. Strong, author of a popular Reformed Baptist Systematic Theology, summarized his position a little differently: “In certain of the N.T. churches there appears to have been a plurality of elders…There is however, no evidence that the number of elders was uniform, or that the plurality which frequently existed was due to any other cause than the size of the churches for which the elders cared. The N.T. example, while it permits the multiplication of assistant pastors according to need, does not require a plural eldership in every case…There are indications, moreover, that, in certain churches, the pastor was one, while the deacons were more than one, in number” (Systematic Theology, p.916). Suffice it to say, many Baptist preachers and theologians understood that the New Testament model was elder-governed churches. Some differences existed among Baptist theologians as to whether this meant a plurality of elders leading the church (e.g., Benjamin Keach and John Gill) or whether it was acceptable in some instances to have just one (e.g., A.H. Strong).

“Old” Preaching

Derek Thomas has reviewed the sixth volume of Hughes Oliphant Old’s The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church.Old’s series is a goldmine for those wishing to explore the history of the Word preached. He starts with the biblical period of the OT and works to the present in a systematic and exhaustive fashion. In any work like this there will be gaps and oversights, which Thomas takes note of, but there is not another work that comes close to Old’s magnum opus.

Lunch Meeting with John Piper

I had the privilege to attend a Pastor’s lunch today where John Piper was the guest speaker.  I think their were about 100 pastors gathered together in Indianapolis so it was a relatively intimate setting.  Dr. Piper is a great preacher and a gift to the universal church.  His preaching and writing ministries have positively impacted thousands and thousands of pastors.  I am not a “Piper-ite” but I definitely appreciate this man’s unalterable commitment to the gospel and to sound theology.  We should all really pray for him this next month as he begins two important writing projects (one on the New Perspective and another on Christian marriage).  Pastor John said he is exhausted after a very busy Spring (go figure).  Please pray for him and his family.

 

In most areas I believe Piper’s “Christian Hedonism” campaign is very biblical.  I sometimes wonder though if he imposes this life long theological pursuit on too many passages of Scripture?  I know he (and his supporters) would argue otherwise.  They see God’s passion for His glory and the theology behind the slogan, ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him’ as two of the most central doctrines in all of Scripture.  (I believe the first statement is entirely correct and that the second with qualifications is also a valuable statement).  I think Piper’s error is similar to what happens with some Covenant theologians/preachers.  Sometimes Covenant theologians in their noble effort to find/preach Christ in every verse of Scripture do a little hermeneutical esogesis.  In my humble opinion, this happens with John Piper in some of his lectures and sermons as well.

 

Dr. Piper spoke briefly on John 11:1-6 and showed the connection between God’s passion for His glory (v. 4) and the greater joy that is experienced by man when they too find their satisfaction in God’s love/power/glory.  He pointed out how important the Greek word translated in V. 6 as “so” or “therefore” is to the entire passage.  Jesus stayed for two extra days so that all these things could take place:  He was able to glorify himself and demonstrate His great love towards Martha’s family in and through this wonderful demonstration of His power/love/glory found in v. 11.  Dr. Piper than went to Philippians 1:20-26 and showed much of the same. 

One of the other major points John Piper tried to make was that God could be considered an egomaniac if He’s only concerned about His glory/fame/name.  Piper noted that because our joy is bound up in this very thing (namely that God is most glorified in us when we’re most satisfied in Him) that God therefore is not unattractive nor an egomaniac, etc, etc.  This is true because our supreme JOY is bound up in God’s glory.  To a certain degree I see what John Piper is saying here but I’m still trying to process it out more fully in my mind.  I guess I don’t know if God would be unlovable, unjust, unattractive or what have you if He existed for His own glory apart from the part that we find our greatest joy in this very thing.  Read on and perhaps my dilemma here will make more sense.

 

During the Q & A session I was able to ask John Piper this question.  “Please help me understand the following:  Where does God’s unconditional election (in that He only chooses some unto salvation) and the doctrine/reality of endless punishment (hell) fit into your two major statements (That God exists to bring glory to Himself and that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him).” 

 

In other words, If God’s sovereign plan throughout redemptive history was/is to bring the most glory unto His own name (which it is); and IF ‘God is MOST glorified in us when we’re most satisfied in Him’, than how come God did not choose everyone?  Obviously the non-elect will never find their satisfaction in God like we believers do. 

 

Now don’t misunderstand me here. I believe God’s plan of redemptive history does and will bring Him all the glory He rightly deserves!  In my estimation this includes His sovereign election of unworthy sinners like you and I (the elect); AND His eternal damnation of unrepentant sinners (the non-elect).

 

Dr. Piper graciously answered my question by going to Romans 9:20-23.  He agreed with me that God’s grace is magnified in His wrath and His wrath is magnified in looking at His grace.  Dr. Piper believes that God is MORE glorified in His grace than He is through His wrath.  Which is probably why he says God is MOST glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.  On this point I don’t know if I wholly agree with him…Anyways, John Piper thanked me for my question and told me that his popular statement “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him” definitely needs to be qualified.  Is God more glorified in the salvation of sinners than he is his punishment of evildoers?  Or is he equally glorified in both aspects in that they perfectly complement/magnify one another?  Clearly his statement is correct if we’re only talking about Christians.

 

Friends these are very small disagreements that I think I have with a Christian brother whom I hold in very high regard.  My thinking may be wrong here.  Feel free to express your biblical perspectives on this post but do not take this as a free for all to smash this dear saint.  This is not my point in posting this blog nor will I allow comments to remain posted that miss the spirit of this post.  All biblical teaching is subject to further examination, even the preaching of great teachers like Piper, MacArthur, & Sproul.  Any helpful thoughts here?  I will link the audio of this event when it is available.

Baptist History

While we wait for our other authors to complete their posts on the Atonement I figured I might as well post something over the weekend.  I pastor a reformed baptist church near Indianapolis.   Here is a brief research paper i recently wrote…

I open this brief essay by concurring with the words of Dr. Thomas Nettles, “It is with difficulty that men strive to define ‘Baptists.’” (By His Grace and for His Glory, p. 13). It is easier to list some of the influential leaders who have been part of the Baptist movement (Smyth, Bunyan, Carey, Gill, Broadus, Spurgeon, Strong, Henry, Nicole, Mohler, Piper) than to define what a “Baptist” is or is not. Any attempted definition must include a discussion of history, church polity, and doctrine. The primary goal of this short work, therefore, is to answer the following questions: When did the Baptist denomination originate? Have Baptists historically supported the concept of a plurality of elders leading and governing the church? For how long have Baptists taught the “Doctrines of Grace,” also called by some, “biblical Calvinism”?

We begin with the origin of the Baptist denomination. Some argue that Baptists reach back to the apostolic era (the Successionist theory and/or Landmarkism). People holding this view typically believe that only Landmark Baptists have followed the New Testament pattern of church life. They would also argue that they have always remained separate from the Catholic Church while tracing their lineage directly back to John the Baptist. This view cannot be substantiated historically (contra J. M. Caroll’s 1930s book, The Trail of Blood).

Others argue that Baptists belong to the Congregational branch of Protestantism from post-Elizabethan England. This theory believes modern Baptists originated with certain English Separatists who left or were simply forced out of the Church of England. This is a plausible explanation with some good historical support (see Joe Flatt’s, What is a Regular Baptist, p. 2). A third view contends that early Baptists were an offshoot of the Anabaptist movement. Proponents of this view reason that contact with Dutch Mennonites in the early seventeenth century led to the Baptist movement. Dr. William Brackney points out that “[d]ocumentation of the Baptist tradition commences when the first ‘baptizing,’ congregations, so-called, began to appear about 1608 [emphasis mine]. Through John Smyth and Thomas Helwys a connection with the heirs of the Radical Reformation can be established” (Baptist Life and Thought: A Source Book, p. 15). It appears that Baptists originated around 1608 or 1609. The first Baptist congregation to organize in America was founded by Roger Williams in Rhode Island in 1638 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baptists). A common thread running through this movement is the Baptist commitment to orthodox biblical theology, congregational autonomy, and believer’s baptism by immersion.

Spong’s god of “nontheism”

Nationals Review’s Jason Lee Steorts reviews the latest book from retired bishop John Shelby Spong entitled Jesus for the Non-Religious.

Steorts writes of Spong, “The ‘theistic definition of God’ is dead, he says. What he means is that he does not believe — and does not think anyone else should believe — in ‘a being, supernatural in power, dwelling outside this world and able to invade the world in miraculous ways to bless, to punish, to accomplish the divine will, to answer prayers and to come to the aid of frail, powerless human beings.’ Our goal should be to ‘separate God understood theistically from the experience of God that we claim for Jesus.'”

Boice/Ryken’s “Doctrines of Grace”

Here is my outline of Boice and Ryken’s The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel that I used for leading a small group discussion. Click here for a PDF copy.

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