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You Lift Me Up: Overcoming Ministry Challenges

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on October 26, 2013 at 8:04 am

Book Review

You Lift Me Up: Overcoming Ministry Challenges

by Albert N. Martin (Mentor, November 2013)

A website dedicated to serving church leaders observes, “Pastors are in a dangerous occupation! . . . We found that over 70% of pastors are so stressed out and burned out that they regularly consider leaving the ministry.” The statistics are staggering. “Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.”[1]

Albert N. Martin’s pen has brought much needed light to this dark subject. Few men can write with such keen insight and down to earth yet heavenly help.

After an introduction that explains what the author means by “ministerial backsliding and burnout,” chapters deal with topics such as distractions from devotion, trading off a good conscience, and caution about studies confined to sermon preparation, to name a few.

The chapter entitled “Isolation from the Congregation” contains sage advice not commonly found in most books on the ministry: “Though pastors and teachers are given to the church for a specific and prominent function within the body, they are not exempt from an organic connection to the body.” Those who know Albert N. Martin well can testify that this is no mere theory with him. He practices what he preaches.

We highly commend this book to every pastor who desires to run and finish well.

[1] (both quotes, accessed 25 October 2013).

Worship: Evangelical or Reformed?

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on October 18, 2013 at 1:33 pm


W. Robert Godfrey

One of the challenges of being Reformed in America is to figure out the relationship between what is evangelical and what is Reformed. Protestantism in America is dominated by the mainline Protestants, the evangelicals, and the charismatics. After these dominant groups, other major players would include the confessional Lutherans. But where do the Reformed fit in, particularly in relation to the evangelicals, with whom historically we have been most closely linked?

Some observers argue that the confessional Reformed are a subgroup in the broader evangelical movement. Certainly over the centuries in America, the Reformed have often allied themselves with the evangelicals, have shared much in common with the evangelicals, and have often tried to refrain from criticizing the evangelical movement. But are we Reformed really evangelical?

One area in which the differences between evangelical and Reformed can be examined is the matter of worship. At first glance, we may see more similarities than differences. The orders of worship in Reformed and evangelical churches can be almost identical. Certainly, both kinds of churches sing songs, read Scripture, pray, preach, and administer baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But do these similarities reflect only formal agreement, or do they represent a common understanding of the meaning and function of these liturgical acts in worship?

If we look closely, I believe that we will see the substantive differences between evangelicals and Reformed on worship. That difference is clear on two central issues: first, the understanding of the presence of God in the service; and second, the understanding of the ministerial office in worship.

The Presence of God in Worship

The presence of God in worship may seem a strange issue to raise. Do we not both believe that God is present with his people in worship? Indeed we do! But how is God present, and how is he active in our worship?

It seems to me that for evangelicalism, God is present in worship basically to listen. He is not far away; rather, he is intimately and lovingly present to observe and hear the worship of his people. He listens to their praise and their prayers. He sees their obedient observance of the sacraments. He hears their testimonies and sharing. He attends to the teaching of his Word, listening to be sure that the teaching is faithful and accurate.

The effect of this sense of evangelical worship is that the stress is on the horizontal dimension of worship. The sense of warm, personal fellowship, and participation among believers at worship is crucial. Anything that increases a sense of involvement, especially on the level of emotions, is likely to be approved. The service must be inspiring and reviving, and then God will observe and be pleased.

The Reformed faith has a fundamentally different understanding of the presence of God. God is indeed present to hear. He listens to the praise and prayers of his people. But he is also present to speak. God is not only present as an observer; he is an active participant. He speaks in the Word and in the sacraments. As Reformed Christians, we do not believe that he speaks directly and immediately to us in the church. God uses means to speak. But he speaks truly and really to us through the means that he has appointed for his church. In the ministry of the Word—as it is properly preached and ministered in salutation and benediction—it is truly God who speaks. As the Second Helvetic Confession rightly says, “The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.”

God is also actively present and speaking in the sacraments, according to the Reformed understanding. The sacraments are much more about him than about us. He speaks through them the reality of the presence of Jesus to bless his people as he confirms his gospel truth and promises through them.

The effect of this understanding of Reformed worship is that the stress is on the vertical dimension of worship. The horizontal dimension is not absent, but the focus is not on warm feelings and sharing. Rather, it is on the community as a unit meeting their God. Our primary fellowship with one another is in the unified activities of speaking to God in song and prayer and of listening together as God speaks to us. The vertical orientation of our worship service insures that God is the focus of our worship. The first importance of any act of worship is not its value for the inspiration of the people, but its faithfulness to God’s revelation of his will for worship. We must meet with God only in ways that please him. The awe and joy that is ours in coming into the presence of the living God to hear him speak is what shapes and energizes our worship service.

The Ministerial Office in Worship

The difference between the Reformed faith and evangelicalism on the presence of God in worship is closely tied to their differences on the ministerial office in worship. For evangelicalism, the ministers seem to be seen as talented and educated members of the congregation, called by God to leadership in planning and teaching. The ministers use their talents to facilitate the worship of the congregation and instruct the people. The ministers are not seen as speaking distinctively for God or having a special authority from God. Rather, their authority resides only in the reliability of their teaching, which would be true for any member of the congregation.

The effect of this evangelical view of office is to create a very democratic character to worship, in which the participation of many members of the congregation in leading the service is a good thing. The more who can share, the better. The many gifts that God has given to members of the congregation should be used for mutual edification. Again, the horizontal dimension of worship has prevailed.

The Reformed view of ministerial office is quite different. The minister is called by God through the congregation to lead worship by the authority of his office. He is examined and set apart to represent the congregation before God and to represent God before the congregation. In the great dialogue of worship, he speaks the Word of God to the people and he speaks the words of the people to God, except in those instances when the congregation as a whole raises its voice in unison to God. We who are Reformed do not embrace this arrangement because we are antidemocratic or because we believe that the minister is the only gifted member of the congregation. We follow this pattern because we believe that it is biblical and the divinely appointed pattern of worship.

The effect of this view of office is to reinforce the sense of meeting with God in a reverent and official way. It also insures that those who lead public worship have been called and authorized for that work by God. The Reformed are rightly suspicious of untrained and unauthorized members of the congregation giving longer or shorter messages to the congregation. In worship we gather to hear God, not the opinions of members. The vertical dimension of worship remains central.


The contrast that I have drawn between evangelical and Reformed worship no doubt ought to be nuanced in many ways. I have certainly tried to make my points by painting with a very broad brush. Yet the basic analysis, I believe, is correct.

One great difficulty that we Reformed folk have in thinking about worship is that our worship in many places has unwittingly been accommodated to evangelical ways. If we are to appreciate our Reformed heritage in worship and, equally importantly, if we are to communicate its importance, character, and power to others, we must understand the distinctive character of our worship.

Our purpose in making this contrast so pointed is not to demean evangelicals. They are indeed our brethren and our friends. But we do have real differences with them. If Reformed worship is not to become as extinct as the dinosaurs, we as Reformed people must come to a clear understanding of it and an eager commitment to it. In order to do that, we must see not just formal similarities, but more importantly the profound theological differences that distinguish evangelical worship from Reformed worship.

The author is president of Westminster Theological Seminary in California and a minister in the United Reformed Churches. This article, slightly edited, first appeared in The Outlook. He quotes the RSV. Reprinted from New Horizons, April 2002.

This is why charismatics are simply not Reformed

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on October 18, 2013 at 1:20 pm


One way to summarize the doctrine of divine sovereignty is this: It is God who acts, not man.  How will the lost be saved?  God must act.  How will sinful Christians overcome the “old man”?  God must act.  How will the church grow in both holiness and influence?  Again, God must act.  He is the sovereign; He is the great Actor in every aspect of our spiritual life.

This reflection lies at the heart of the Reformed emphasis on the common means of grace.  If nothing good happens without God acting, we rightly ask the question, “Then how will He act?”   In the same way that those who are thirsty go daily to the well, so those who understand our absolute dependence on divine grace go regularly to those places where God has promised to make Himself known.

It is for this reason that Reformed Christianity has always put a great emphasis on the preaching of the Word of God.  God manifests His presence in the sacraments and in prayer, but He especially makes Himself known in the preached Word.  That is why Paul wrote so forcefully about the necessity of preaching in Romans 10:14-15.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Paul saw gospel preaching as an indispensable part of God’s plan for the redemption of sinners.  Where there is no preaching, there is no knowledge, no faith, no prayer, and no forgiveness.  This has nothing to do with the power of preachers and everything to do with God’s sovereign will.  He makes His grace known in the manner of His choosing, and the manner He has chosen is preaching.

Reformed Christians have therefore consistently affirmed the importance of the preached Word.  As our own Confession puts it, following Westminster,

The Grace of Faith, whereby the Elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the Ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, Prayer and other Means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened.  (Second London Confession, xiv:1)

This conviction is a necessary consequence of any consistent adherence to the principle of sovereignty.  If God is truly sovereign over all gracious work in the soul, then He must control the means by which that work progresses, and further, those means will be the ones identified in His Word.

In contrast to the Reformed consensus on the means of grace, charismaticism has always and inevitably engaged in the belittlement of the ministry of the Word.  What has been observed in charismatic churches for decades continues to hold true; no matter what is said of the importance of preaching, the real moment of communion with God comes when there is a prophetic utterance – no matter how banal.  Wherever the church adopts charismatic doctrine, emotions must increase and thoughts decrease.

This is no accident of history; an un-serious approach to Scripture is a necessary pre-condition for charismaticism.  Consider what would happen if the charismatic were to take the Bible seriously.

First, he would discover the nature of biblical miracles, and he would have to acknowledge that nothing like them has happened anywhere in the church in over nineteen hundred years.  So long as he doesn’t look at the Bible too closely he can pretend that modern babblings are “tongues,” or that psychological palliatives are “healings.”  Any serious study of New Testament miracle puts an end to such nonsense.

Second, he would discover the power of the Holy Spirit and realize that no church is capable of suppressing Him.  The new believers in Acts were not searching for power from on high; no one but Simon Magus did that.  Rather, they were carried away by the unstoppable power of the Spirit.  Modern charismaticism depends on the notion that most churches somehow prevent the Holy Spirit from exercising His power, but that cannot be true of the Almighty Spirit found in Scripture.

Third, he would find that the Bible expressly speaks of the end of charismatic gifts, and at that point he would have a template within which to understand the last nineteen hundred years.  He would realize why it is that the miracles of the Apostolic Age no longer occur, and he would understand that it has nothing to do with proud churches somehow getting the better of the Holy Spirit.

Charismatic doctrine cannot survive sound expository preaching; that is why it inserts a new means of grace.  Instead of preaching – by which mind, heart and will are engaged by the Word of God – the charismatic emphasizes “power” – a quintessentially emotional experience divorced from the actual content of the Word.  This is why charismatics are simply not Reformed.  No matter how much a charismatic might speak about the sovereignty of God, he can never affirm the corresponding and necessary doctrine of the means of grace, and thus his understanding of sovereignty can only be truncated and transient.

Which brings us to Tope Koleoso and his already infamous sermon at Desiring God 2013.  Entitled “Sovereign Grace, Spiritual Gifts, and the Pastor; How Should a Reformed Pastor Be Charismatic?”, Pastor Koleoso’s message is a rather standard example of charismatic boilerplate.  It is hard to recognize anything of sovereign grace outside the title, and it was distinctly anti-Reformed in the end.

Some of Pastor Koleoso’s lapses in logic were obvious.  He equated the power of the Holy Spirit with the charismata, as though the Spirit does not demonstrate power in any other way.  He assumed that those who reject the charismata can only do so from fear, from pragmatism, or from pride, as though he never heard of the extensive exegetical arguments for the cessation of gifts.  He absolutized Christ’s words “the things that I do” in John 12:14, but in an arbitrary manner – we must preach, teach, heal, and deliver; thankfully we are not called upon to redeem, propitiate, create, etc.

What I find more instructive, though, are the more subtle tendencies of his message.   As his sermon progressed, Pastor Koleoso seemed increasingly antagonistic toward the ministry of the Word, and at the same time he drove his listeners toward an emotion-centered view of worship.  In his eyes preachers without the charismata are arrogant and self-centered, longing for the dignity of preaching and unwilling to surrender to the movement of the Spirit.  He panned preaching in general as an unhelpful display of pride from men who are not willing to share their platform with God.  Meanwhile, it is important – critical, even! – that men raise their hands in worship and make a great display of their “openness” to the Spirit.

If this sermon is evaluated from an actually Reformed perspective one must conclude that Pastor Koleoso has replaced preaching as the primary means of grace with something ill-defined – a somewhat existential experience of spiritual fire which might just be doused by a man proclaiming the words of the Bible.  And indeed he is right: the words of the Bible reveal such rank emotionalism to be sub-Christian, a remnant of paganism.

Many are sad this week that such a message came out of Desiring God, but the confessional and Reformed Christian ought not be surprised.  Two lessons should be drawn from this mess.

First, no matter how many “New Calvinists” try to prove otherwise, charismaticism is incompatible with Reformed doctrine.  Desiring God has tried to hold the door open to charismatics without jettisoning divine sovereignty, but this cannot work.  Hold that door open, and sooner or later the charismatic disparagement of the means of grace will charge through, and without the doctrine of means, sovereign grace is rendered unintelligible.

Secondly, Desiring God suffers from the non-confessionalism of the entire “New Calvinist” movement.  Where there is no established doctrinal standard beyond a one-page recitation of orthodoxy, there can be no consistency from one generation to the next.  Today’s leaders may espouse a mild charismaticism joined with Reformed literature and ethos, but today’s leaders must retire from the scene, and when they do, who can say what is coming?  This is precisely why Reformed churches have always been confessional.  When pastors are bound by confessional oath to uphold such statements as “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience…” (Second London Confession, i:1) each generation has a solid defense against the encroaching fads of its day.

That “Reformed Charismaticism” should eventually go down this path – dragging the rest of the “New Calvinism” with it – was predictable.  Such a doctrine has no solid confession.  It pays scant attention to the means of grace.  It is not actually Reformed in any meaningful sense.

Tom Chantry, Pastor
Christ Reformed Baptist Church

Book Review: Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical and Balanced Perspective

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on October 15, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Biblical Warfare

In the subtitle of their book on spiritual warfare, authors Brian Borgman and Rob Ventura promise to provide a perspective that is both biblical and balanced. The prospect of a balanced approach is immediately appealing, given widespread excesses in various branches of modern Christianity on the subject; and I thought it a successful endeavor in that regard. But what I found more striking, when I dived in, was the “biblical” part of the equation. I say this by way of confession: spiritual warfare is not among my list of favorite theological topics to think about. In fact, whether it’s because of the very common imbalanced perspectives a modern reader is apt to encounter, or whether it’s simply because I have no military experience, and so the analogy of warfare is a little foreign to my own history, I have to admit a little distaste for the subject. However, by the time I finished the introduction alone, I had to acknowledge that this is no small theme in the New Testament, and that it has roots reaching clear back to Eden. Which means that it allows for a biblical treatment, because it is, in fact, a pervasive biblical motif. And this, further, means that such a study as this book undertakes really is necessary if we are to have a thoroughly biblical perspective on the Christian life at all.

Clearly, then, there is a need for biblical treatment of spiritual warfare; so is this the book to fill that need? Well, a book on spiritual warfare taken primarily from Ephesians 6:10-20 immediately begs a comparison to William Gurnall’s classic, The Christian in Complete Armour, which attempts the same thing. I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about this classic treatment of Christian warfare, and I’ve heard a lot of good; nevertheless, this review will not give any sort of comparison of the two works because, as long as I’m confessing things, I have to confess that I’ve never read it. I’ve frequently thought that I should read it; but there’s something daunting about it’s sheer length and outdated modes of expression. So, while I can’t tell anyone how it compares to the classic, I can at least surmise that a book like this one really is needed, Gurnall notwithstanding, because I can’t help but think that there are others out there like me, who have never gotten up the resolve to conquer the formidable classic.

There are several things about this book that will make it useful for individual or group study. It’s not intimidating, for one thing – it’s brief, easy to read, uses real-life examples for application, and has a very straightforward approach: taking one element at a time, it simply explains the text of Ephesians 6:10-20, looking back to the customs of Paul’s time to clarify understanding and forward to the circumstances of our time to facilitate better assimilation and application.

In addition, it makes good on its pledge to be balanced and biblical. There’s nothing flashy about it. It doesn’t tease out complicated tactics for binding the devil or exorcising demons. Rather, it gives the undramatic but scriptural portrayal of the hard, faithful discipline of a soldier holding his ground against spiritual forces that look a lot less like Hollywood than like the mundane troubles and temptations we’re all too familiar with. I appreciate the authors’ faithfulness to their statement of intent: “Our primary focus will not be Satan, but Christ, who is the Victor over all”.

In short, here is the structure of the book: the first chapter, “Be strong in the Lord,” places the warfare in the midst of the already/not yet realities ushered in by the accomplishment of the risen and reigning Christ. Spiritual warfare is, of course, a predominantly practical theme, but it’s helpful to remember that this practical struggle can’t be engaged effectively without understanding the doctrinal context in which the fight is waged. If this doctrinal grounding guards against rashly jumping into a struggle that’s misunderstood, then the second chapter, on putting on the full armor of God, guards against the opposite temptation of passivity, or emphasizing doctrine to the exclusion of earnestly fighting. The third chapter I found particularly insightful and applicational, as it discussed the real ways Satan wages his war on Christians, with subtlety, deception, and twisting the scriptures. After a fourth chapter, providing a balanced treatment of the nature and reality of the conflict, the central portion of the book, chapters five through ten, explains each item of the Christian’s armor in light of the historical function of Roman armor. These chapters briefly provide an explanation of the text of Ephesians six, and suggest practical strategies for putting the teaching to use. Chapters eleven and twelve bring up the place of prayer in the warfare, with some more insightful and applicational thought in the former chapter, especially. And the final chapter provides a “debriefing,” or concluding summary of the whole.

I think this book will find a niche and be put to good use in that niche. It’s brief, which is a positive for those who do not want an exhaustive or closely reasoned study, or a technical commentary on Ephesians six. It also has several questions “for reflection and discussion” at the end of each chapter, which further adapts it to group study. And, even though it may not be as thorough as Gurnall or as detailed as an exegetical commentary, it still takes the scripture seriously, doesn’t overlook any part of the passage under consideration, and gives considerable effort to practical application.



A Dispatch from the Realm of Non-Existence

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on October 5, 2013 at 4:34 pm

I had the great privilege yesterday of being reminded once again that I do not exist.  I listened again to the Mortification of Spin podcast – I actually like the podcast, you see – and I discovered that Baptists – all Baptists – have an ecclesiology which is entirely unknown to me.  Apparently my type of Baptist simply does not exist.  This does not surprise me at all; the Reformed have been denying our existence for at least a decade now.

In this particular podcast Todd Pruitt and Carl Trueman discuss Baptist and Presbyterian ecclesiology.  Rev. Pruitt’s ordination in a Southern Baptist mega-church and his

We’re all alike, see?

We’re all alike, see?

five years of service in a “non-denominational” congregation have apparently rendered him an expert on all things Baptist.  Meanwhile Dr. Trueman, while a favorite among Reformed and Particular Baptists for his scathing critique of contemporary evangelicalism, continues to pretend that the moniker “Baptist” simply means “contemporary evangelical.”  Evidently it has meant that ever since the first Baptists formed their congregations in Seventeenth Century England and immediately uploaded links to the Gospel Coalition on their websites.  Dr. Trueman is, after all, an historian, so we can only presume that he knows what he knows.

While a few moments of this podcast addressed the question of baptism (in of course a superficial and unserious way; the wait goes on for some ex-Baptist Presbyterian to actually explain why he made the change – my favorite to date was Derick Thomas’ explanation: “It was sort of a gestalt thing!”), the bulk of the time was spent in a discussion of Baptist ecclesiology – a subject of which it is evident that neither Trueman nor Pruitt know much.  The syllogism of the podcast went something like this:

  • There are some truly awful things that have happened at the lunatic fringe of the Southern Baptist Convention
  • All Baptists ever are exactly like this.
  • It’s too bad they aren’t Presbyterians, because then nothing could ever go wrong.

While Messrs. Trueman & Pruitt talked a lot about “congregationalism,” they don’t seem to understand exactly what it is.  Aside from the failure to differentiate “congregational” from “independent,” they fail to fully appreciate what it means that Baptists, like all independents, relate to their denominations differently than do Presbyterians.  The congregation participates by supporting common missions, not necessarily by adopting the identity of the whole.  The point here is not to argue which approach is more biblical, but instead to make a simple observation: in the loosest of Baptist associations (the convention model) it is wrong to assume that the ecclesiology of one church is that of another.  All Southern Baptists do not operate as loosely as some.  I was also ordained in a Southern Baptist church; my experience was nothing at all like Rev. Pruitt’s.

This determination to flatten out all of Baptist experience leads the mortifying duo up to the very edge of slander.  Dr. Trueman actually names Mark Dever at one point.  If indeed – as he says – Mark is his friend, then he must know that Dr. Dever’s entire career has been dedicated to the recovery of sane ecclesiology within the Convention.  His ecclesiology is not that of the Presbyterians – in fact it is not quite identical to my own, but it is so far removed from the undisciplined chaos which Dr. Trueman ascribes to all Baptist life as to make the implied association a somewhat scandalous misstatement.

And then there are the Non-Existent Ones, those historical Baptists who trace not only our soteriology but also our ecclesiology to a Seventeenth Century Particular Baptist root.  If the smug charges of Pruitt & Trueman don’t really apply to the likes of Dever, they certainly do not apply to us.  I don’t know whether or not Rev. Pruitt has heard of us, but I am quite certain that Dr. Trueman has.  His refusal to admit any variation in Baptist experience is therefore beyond disappointing.

It is difficult not to judge the motives of highly-visible Presbyterians who refuse to admit the existence of Particular Baptists even while they mock the idea of any sort of reformational heritage among Baptists.  One would think that the likes of Darryl Hart or Scott Clark might at least point at us and say, “And then there’s those guys; they’re wrong too, although obviously in different ways and for different reasons.  But wrong as they are, at least they aren’t the same sort of Baptists as Franklin Graham or Mark Driscoll.”  But no.  The admission of our existence seems to be beyond the Presbyterian apologists.  It is as though they fear that if they were to admit that every Baptist is not Andy Stanley, someone might actually ask them to address the question of baptism again – thoroughly, biblically, and without reference to needlessly vapid philosophical terms.

Baptists they are, are they?

Baptists they are, are they?

So it is more convenient for them to return Baptists like me to the realm of non-existence.  As a Baptist whose ordination exam lasted more than fifteen minutes, who knew the pastors who laid hands on me, and above all who is answerable to a confessional standard which has been around longer than the last ten minutes – as such a man I clearly must not be permitted to exist.  But if they will allow me, perhaps I might address the two spinners from within my disembodied, dis-en-souled, non-personhood for a moment:  Be careful of consigning your critics to the ether through a Yoda-esque wave of the hand.  When you lack critics, you lack criticism, and you may stumble through various embarrassing lapses of self-awareness.

I know that you think that you are responding to Baptist critiques, such as that one in which we all mistake you for Episcopalians.  Honestly, in my life I have yet to meet a single Baptist who has expressed such a silly idea.  It is bad enough that you misunderstand us; must you also misrepresent our misunderstandings of you?  And if you do not know our critiques, how can you grow from them?

Men who admit no criticism tend to look more foolish then they actually are.  As, for instance, this statement: “…groups like the Gospel Coalition find it so hard to understand why people like us are skeptical of their project.  Structurally, I have a problem, because if you’re Southern Baptist you have to sacrifice nothing in throwing your energy into something like the Gospel Coalition.  If you’re a Presbyterian and want to throw your energy into the Gospel Coalition, you have to sacrifice everything that makes you a Presbyterian.”  Gentlemen, you do know who the co-leader of the Coalition is, don’t you?

And then there’s this: “We have by and large avoided personality cults.  There are one or two big names in the PCA, but what strikes me about things like the Southern Baptist Convention is that for all of the fact that they repudiate Presbyterianism and they repudiate Episcopalianism, they are functionally Episcopalian, because they vest great power in significant individuals…What I like about Presbyterianism is that that power which you have outside your congregation is regulated by rules and procedures and other people.  It isn’t just rooted in the charismatic personality.”

Gentlemen, let me close with a story.  A few years back I got word that a seminary classmate of mine had taken up the pulpit in a new church not far from mine.  I had lost track of him, and I wanted to know what he was up to, and so I went to his church’s website.  On their front page I found the following statement: “We are a church founded on the ministerial philosophy of Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York.”  And after I dug through every sub-page on their site I eventually found an acknowledgement that they were indeed a part of the Presbyterian Church in America.

I see Particular Baptists. All the time. They’re everywhere.

I see Particular Baptists. All the time. They’re everywhere.

But no, you don’t have Presbyterian bishops.  Of course not.  You have been spared from the contemporary idolatry of the Big Name through your superior polity.  And of course you don’t need to worry about this criticism, because it is coming from no one.  Remember, I don’t exist.  Carry on, and please – take care of the real world; I have friends who live there.

Tom Chantry, Pastor
Christ Reformed Baptist Church

The Scope of Scripture (scopus Scripturae):

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on October 4, 2013 at 8:57 am


Scope, in this sense, refers to the center or target of the entire canonical revelation; it is that to which the entire Bible points. And whatever that is, it must condition our interpretation of any and every part of Scripture. For the covenant theologians of the seventeenth century, the scope of Scripture was the glory of God in the redemptive work of the incarnate Son of God. Their view of the scope of Scripture was itself a conclusion from Scripture, not a presupposition brought to Scripture and it conditioned all subsequent interpretation.

William Ames: “The Old and New Testaments are reducible to these two primary heads. The Old promises Christ to come and the New testifies that he has come” (Ames, Marrow, 202).

John Owen: “Christ is…the principal end of the whole of Scripture…” (Owen, I:74). “This principle is always to be retained in our minds in reading of the Scripture,–namely, that the revelation and doctrine of the person of Christ and his office, is the foundation whereon all other instructions of the prophets and apostles for the edification of the church are built, and whereunto they are resolved… So our Lord Jesus Christ himself at large makes it manifest, Luke xxiv. 26, 27, 45, 46. Lay aside the consideration hereof, and the Scriptures are no such thing as they pretend unto,–namely, a revelation of the glory of God in the salvation of the church…” (Owen, I:314-15).

Nehemiah Coxe: “…in all our search after the mind of God in the Holy Scriptures we are to manage our inquiries with reference to Christ” (Coxe/Owen, 33).

In conclusion, their Christocentric interpretation of the Bible was a principle derived from the Bible itself and an application of sola Scripturae to the issue of hermeneutics. The Bible’s authority extends to how we interpret the Bible. In other words, they saw the authority of Scripture applicable to the interpretation of Scripture.

Richard Barcellos
Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Palmdale, CA

Sola Cultura?

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on October 2, 2013 at 8:03 pm

On every hand we hear the clamor for changing the church and its ministry. Nobody denies that the church needs to change, but the question is, “How?”

Many counsel change by appealing to essentially “horizontal” considerations. “Look to your left, look to your right, look all around us. See what they are doing? See what the polls say? See what works in the churches that are growing larger?” We may fairly dub this perspective sola Cultura. Culture is “the distinctive customs, achievements, products, outlook, etc., of a society or group; the way of life of a society or group.”[1] To look at the merely human and cultural for direction in changing the church is essentially a horizontal gaze. When sheep look to other sheep for guidance, the whole flock gets lost. It is even worse if they follow the wolves. None of our local churches are perfect, and so none are the reliable standard for all the others. And who can adequately express the profound insanity of polling the unchurched, as Barna and others have done, for direction in church ministry? They turn Romans 12:2 on its head, twisting it into this: “And be conformed to this world, remaining as you are in your thoughts, so that you may prove what is the godless, accepted, and pragmatic will of the people.”

The battle cry of the Reformation that turned the world upside down was sola Scriptura. This was the faith-filled, steadfast, vertical gaze of wise believers for direction in everything, including the church’s doctrine and ministry. Without repudiating what was true and good and right in the church’s ancient tradition,[2] this spiritual posture and practice constantly looked upward to the sole Head of the church, Jesus Christ, the Chief Shepherd, with implicit faith listening obediently to His voice. A principled commitment to follow His Word in Scripture led the Reformers, with God’s blessing, to recover the true gospel and restore the church’s worship and ministry to a level of purity and power rarely seen before or since.

Opponents of sola Scriptura insisted they were still taking Scripture into account. They claimed to argue only that Tradition has a place alongside Scripture as an equal consideration. The Reformers saw through this. They realized that as a matter of fact, Tradition was usurping Scripture’s unique authority over the church, and she had drifted afar from God’s true and righteous standard.

The same old excuses are heard today from advocates of sola Cultura. They insist they are not denying Scripture its place and that we who only regard Scripture’s determinative authority lack compassion for reaching people. But we know that no counsel is more compassionate than God’s. Besides, an equal place alongside Scripture for cultural considerations is quite impossible anyway. No church can serve two masters. Their counsel is tantamount to rebellion against Christ the Lord.

Truth is not determined by a poll. Policy by the people is perilous. The rabble around the cross cried “Crucify Him!”, and they had their way without resistance from protesters standing on Scripture alone. A horizontal awareness of the great need in our world today is a good thing, to be sure. But when it comes to the way forward for Christ’s church, we must keep looking to the Lord, and listening to His Word alone.

–D. Scott Meadows, Pastor
Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed)
Exeter, New Hampshire USA

[1] Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (sixth edition), in loc.

[2] “sola Scriptura: Scripture alone; the watchword of the Reformation in its establishment of the basis for a renewed and reformed statement of Christian doctrine. We find the concept of sola Scriptura, Scripture alone as the primary and absolute norm of doctrine, at the foundation of the early Protestant attempts at theological system. . . . Scripture was identified as the principium cognoscendi, the principle of knowing or cognitive foundation of theology, and described doctrinally in terms of its authority, clarity, and sufficiency in all matters of faith and morals. Finally, it ought to be noted that sola Scriptura was never meant as a denial of the usefulness of the Christian tradition as a subordinate norm in theology. The views of the Reformers developed out of a debate in the late medieval theology over the relation of Scripture and tradition, one party viewing the two as coequal norms, the other party viewing Scripture as the absolute and therefore prior norm, but allowing tradition a derivative but important secondary role in doctrinal statement. The Reformers and the Protestant orthodox held the latter view” (Muller, R. A. (1985). Dictionary of Latin and Greek theological terms : drawn principally from Protestant scholastic theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House).[2]


Facts as to Adam’s Descendants

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on September 30, 2013 at 1:36 pm

James Petrigu Boyce

The facts as to the descendants of Adam show that they have universally partaken of his corrupted nature, and that, not even in their earliest years, have any had the innocent nature, with its strong proclivities to holiness, which constituted his original condition. 1. They are born with the corrupted nature which he acquired, together with all the other evils set forth as the penalties of his sin. This was true even of his first children, Cain and Abel, as it has been also equally true of all others even to the present time. 2. No one of these descendants has been able to recover the nature possessed by Adam before the fall. In each of them the same inability has existed which fell upon him. 3. No one has been able to escape the complete fulfilment of the penalty of death, in all its meanings, except through the work of Christ. 4. No other reason for this universal condition has been assigned than the one sin by which Adam fell, and it has, consequently, been generally recognized as, in some way, the result of that one transgression. 5. The conscience of mankind has universally taught that this condition of their natures is sinful, and is as fully worthy of punishment as the personal transgressions which proceed from it. 6. The Scriptures plainly assume and declare that God righteously punishes all men, not only for what they do, but for what they are. Men are indeed represented as more guilty and sinful than they know themselves to be, because, through the restraints with which God surrounds them, their natures have not been fully developed into all the sin towards which they tend. This is the argument of the first part of the Epistle to the Romans, the turning point of which is Rom. 2:1. It is also illustrated in the case of Hazael. 2 Kings 8:12, 13. 7. It follows from the facts in these last two statements, that a corrupt nature makes a condition as truly sinful, and guilty, and liable to punishment, as actual transgressions. Consequently, at the very moment of birth, the presence and possession of such a nature shows that even the infant sons of Adam are born under all the penalties which befell their ancestor in the day of his sin. Actual transgression subsequently adds new guilt to guilt already existing, but does not substitute a state of guilt for one of innocence. 8. Not the judgement of God only, but that of man also, regards a sinful nature as deserving punishment equally with a sinful act. The law of man is necessarily confined to the punishment of the acts, because these alone give such testimony to the condition of the heart as man can correctly apprehend; but the character of any act is regarded as alleviated, or aggravated, by the character of the actor; and men are shunned or courted as they are deemed to be good or bad, without any other reference to their acts than as they testify to character. From the above points it will be seen that men, as descendants of Adam, are invariably born, not with his original, but with his fallen nature, and, more than this, not only receive that corrupted nature which was a part of the penalty of his sin, but with it, all the other penalties inflicted because of that sin. It is also plain, that a condition of sinfulness is regarded worthy of punishment, not only by the Scriptures, and by personal conviction of conscience, but by the universal sense of mankind; and consequently that men may be punished for the corrupt nature thus inherited, although they may not have been personally guilty of a single transgression. This naturally leads to the inquiry into the nature of the connection between Adam and his posterity through which such sad and serious results have occurred.[1]

[1] James Petigru Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology, 249–250.

2013 Keach Conference Audio

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on September 30, 2013 at 1:33 pm
Here are the audio links to the 2013 Keach Conference messages by Richard Barcellos on the theme “Of God’s Covenants” (chapters seven, Second London Baptist Confession 1689) which focused on the Covenant of Works:
And here is the link to Pastor Ron Young’s Exhortation:
And to the final Question and Answer session:
Grace and peace,
Pastor Jeff Riddle
Christ Reformed Baptist Church
Charlottesville, Virginia

Originally posted on the Stylos Blog


2013 Keach Conference

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on September 24, 2013 at 2:07 pm
Richard Barcellos
Dear friends,
Just a reminder that the 2013 Keach Conference is less than a week away.  This conference is sponsored by the Reformed Baptist Fellowship of Virginia and will be held on Friday evening-Saturday morning, September 27-28, 2013.  It is hosted this year by Christ Reformed Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia (directions here).
This annual theology and ministry conference is free (though an offering will be collected in the meetings) and is open to anyone.  You can pre-register at Keach Conference 2013 or register onsite at the conference.
This year’s theme will be “Of God’s Covenant” from chapter seven of the London Confession.
Our speakers:  Pastor Ron Young, Sr. of Fincastle, Virginia will give an exhortation on ministry on Saturday morning.  Dr. Richard Barcellos will give a series of four messages on this year’s theme on Friday and Saturday.
The schedule:

Friday (September 27):

6:30 PM  Arrival, registration, fellowship
7:00 PM  Session I
Dr. Barcellos message one:  Part I:  Historical-Confessional, A Brief Overview of Chapter Seven:  “Of God’s Covenant”
Dr. Barcellos message two:  Part II:  Biblical Theological, Getting the Garden Right:  Hermeneutics and the Covenant of Works
Evening Fellowship, book tables

Saturday (September 28):

8:15-9:15 am  Complimentary Coffee Fellowship (doughnuts and bagels)
9:30 am  Session II
Exhortation:  Ron Young, Sr.:  Occupy Till I Come (Luke 19:13)
Dr. Barcellos message three:  Getting the Garden Right:  Eschatology and the Covenant of Works
Dr. Barcellos message four:  Getting the Garden Right:  Typology and the Covenant of Works
11:30 am  Session III
Question and Answer with the speakers
We hope you will consider joining us for one or both days of the conference.
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