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What God Requires of the Church: Individualism vs. Christ

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on January 24, 2015 at 7:50 pm

We live in a time when God’s people are often very confused about what the church is and what it is supposed to do. What does it mean to be a devoted church member? What’s the role of the church in my walk with Christ? What should the church be doing? How do we know the answers to these questions? In today’s culture, many Christians have sought to give answers to the questions above based on personal ideals and preferences.

American Individualism and Consumerism

McDonaldsWhen Christians in our culture look for churches, they sometimes ask, “Does this church satisfy the needs of my life and family?,” “Do I feel like I’ve encountered God at this church?,” “Will this church help me achieve my goals?,” “Do I like the people at the church?,” “Does the church’s schedule fit with my personal schedule?,” “Did I feel moved by the worship music?,” and so on. Notice how each of these questions is centered on the individual, not on the Bible, or the community of faith.

Even more inexcusably, church leaders often design church ministries and programs with questions in mind that cater to this same Western individualistic mindset: “Will this program meet the felt needs of the people?,” “Have we successfully avoided things people don’t want?,” “What innovative methods can we design to keep people interested?,” “How many people will be attracted to this ministry?,” “Will this help us attract more people?,” and so on. By asking such questions, church leaders have perpetuated the problem of American individualism. They have fostered the idea that individual preferences should determine what is done in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, rather than Christ speaking through His Word.

Clearly, many Christians are asking the wrong questions about church. All of the above questions are about what people want, not what God wants. The questions of individualism and American consumerism make people the reigning authority in the church, rather than God Himself. The most important question we should all be asking is “What does God require of His churches in His Word?”

Paul wrote to Timothy in order to teach him what God requires in the church. Paul said, “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:15, emphasis added). God wants us to consult His Word for answers about how the church is to conduct itself.

Christ’s Authority Over the Church

Morningview-Baptist-Church1The church is not a democracy. It is a monarchy, ruled by the King (Rev 19:16). He divides His rule with no one. “None can stay His hand or say to Him ‘What have you done?’” (Dan 4:35) The Lord Jesus Christ is the church’s Sovereign, and He requires those in His kingdom to submit themselves to His revealed will in the Bible.

Ephesians 1:22-23 says, “And He put all things under [Christ’s] feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

Philippians 2:9-11 says, “God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Colossians 1:1-17 says, “And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.”

This isn’t to say that people’s thoughts and feelings don’t matter. Christ’s good kingdom is also a family. Our thoughts and feelings matter because God is not only a King, but He’s also a Father. God the Father wants to persuade, comfort, and encourage all of His children by His promises of life in Christ. Our Father never runs roughshod over His children. Jesus says, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). But the thoughts and feelings of God’s children have no final ruling authority in Christ’s kingdom. Jesus alone is King. The Father alone has final authority. Church members, deacons, and pastors are all Christ’s subjects, bound to obey Him in faith, love, joy, and gratitude. The church, therefore, has no right authoritatively to require things Christ has not commanded or to neglect things that Christ has commanded.

In future posts, we’ll consider some of the things the Lord Jesus Christ clearly teaches the church should do.

Pastor Tom Hicks

Morningview Baptist Church


A Brief Statement on Divine Impassibility

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on January 17, 2015 at 6:05 pm

1689 Chapter 2


A standard definition of the doctrine of divine impassibility (DDI) asserts that God does not experience emotional changes either from within or effected by his relationship to creation. He is not changed from within or without; he remains unchanged and unchanging both prior to and subsequent to creation. The doctrine of divine impassibility is generally treated under the doctrine of immutability in the standard books on systematic theology. Immutability means that God is without change. The Scripture is clear on the doctrine of immutability (see Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17) and the logic regarding impassibility should be clear: if God is unchangeable, then He is impassible. If God did in fact experience inner emotional changes, He would be mutable. To suggest otherwise would be to affirm that God was less than perfect to begin with: if He changes it is either for the better or for the worse, neither of which is consistent with the biblical data concerning God.

What the Doctrine Does Not Mean

The doctrine of divine impassibility does not mean that God is without affections. The Bible is clear: God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). The Bible consistently teaches that God does relate to His creatures in terms of love, goodness, mercy, kindness, justice and wrath. An affirmation of divine impassibility does not mean a denial of true affections in God. However, these descriptions of God’s character are not to be understood as changing or fluctuating things. For example, the 2 London Confession of Faith of 1677/1689 affirms impassibility (God is “without passions”) and then goes on to describe God as “most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute…most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth…” The affirmation of impassibility does not result in removing affections from God; rather, the affirmation of impassibility upholds the fact that God is most loving because He cannot decrease nor increase; He is love! The doctrine of divine impassibility actually stresses the absolute-ness of affections in God.

Objections to the Doctrine

Some modern authors have challenged the classical doctrine of impassibility. While there are several reasons for this, two of the most persuasive ones seem to be (1) the biblical descriptions of change occurring in God and (2) the fact that Jesus Christ suffered.

In the first place, when Scripture speaks of change occurring in God, these passages do not describe actual inner emotional changes in God, but rather these passages are a means whereby God communicates “in the manner of men” so that He can effectively reveal His unchanging character to man. For instance, when Scripture speaks of God “repenting” (Genesis 6:6; Judges 2:18; 10:16; etc.), these are called anthropopathic statements. An anthropopathism is when the biblical author ascribes human emotion to God. While this may be a new word to many, most Christians are familiar with the word anthropomorphism. An anthropomorphism is used by the biblical authors when they ascribe human characteristics to God; i.e. when the Scripture says God has eyes, or a mighty right arm, or that He comes down to dwell on Mount Sinai (2 Chronicles 16:9; Isaiah 62:8; Exodus 19:20). Such descriptions are accommodations to man that are designed to communicate certain truths to man. In the same way, anthropopathisms are not descriptions of actual change in God, but are a means to communicate something concerning the character of the infinite God to man in language designed to be comprehended by man who is limited by his finite capacities.

Secondly, the sufferings that Jesus Christ went through were real. He was despised and rejected by men, He was betrayed by Judas, delivered into the hands of the Romans, and at the request of the unbelieving Jews, He was crucified. It is important to remember that Jesus Christ was unique: He is one glorious Person with two natures, human and divine. Christianity from the New Testament period on always predicated the suffering of Christ to His human nature. In other words, Christ as God did not suffer and die, but Christ as Man. There are not two Christs, but one Christ who has two natures. To confine the suffering and death of Christ to His humanity protects divine impassibility. Conversely, impassibility protects from the notion of a God who suffers and dies.


In conclusion, there is much more that can be said. The goal with this post is simply to provide a basic definition, explanation, and to highlight why the doctrine is essential. It is crucial to understand that it is the doctrine of impassibility that secures God’s relational character to His creatures; it alone provides the foundation for the confession’s declaration that God is “most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute…most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth…”

Jim Butler, Pastor
Free Grace Baptist Church of Chilliwack

Calvin on the Incarnation

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on December 23, 2014 at 10:30 am

Calvin on the Incarnation

IT deeply concerned us, that he who was to be our Mediator should be very God and very man. If the necessity be inquired into, it was not what is commonly termed simple or absolute, but flowed from the divine decree on which the salvation of man depended. What was best for us, our most merciful Father determined. Our iniquities, like a cloud intervening between Him and us, having utterly alienated us from the kingdom of heaven, none but a person reaching to him could be the medium of restoring peace. But who could thus reach to him? Could any of the sons of Adam? All of them, with their parents, shuddered at the sight of God. Could any of the angels? They had need of a head, by connection with which they might adhere to their God entirely and inseparably. What then? The case was certainly desperate, if the Godhead itself did not descend to us, it being impossible for us to ascend. Thus the Son of God behoved to become our Emmanuel, the God with us; and in such a way, that by mutual union his divinity and our nature might be combined; otherwise, neither was the proximity near enough, nor the affinity strong enough, to give us hope that God would dwell with us; so great was the repugnance between our pollution and the spotless purity of God. Had man remained free from all taint, he was of too humble a condition to penetrate to God without a Mediator. What, then, must it have been, when by fatal ruin he was plunged into death and hell, defiled by so many stains, made loathsome by corruption; in fine, overwhelmed with every curse? It is not without cause, therefore, that Paul, when he would set forth Christ as the Mediator, distinctly declares him to be man. There is, says he, “one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Tim. 2:5). He might have called him God, or at least, omitting to call him God he might also have omitted to call him man; but because the Spirit, speaking by his mouth, knew our infirmity, he opportunely provides for it by the most appropriate remedy, setting the Son of God familiarly before us as one of ourselves. That no one, therefore, may feel perplexed where to seek the Mediator, or by what means to reach him, the Spirit, by calling him man, reminds us that he is near, nay, contiguous to us, inasmuch as he is our flesh. And, indeed, he intimates the same thing in another place, where he explains at greater length that he is not a high priest who “cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin,” (Heb. 4:15).

John Calvin’s Institutes, Book II, chapter 12, section 1

Back to the good ol’ days? – Thoughts on this world and the means of grace

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on December 20, 2014 at 11:13 am

Means of Grace

Should believers try to bring back the good ol’ days in order to combat worldliness in our own day and make it easier to live in this world? I do not think there are any good ol’ days to bring back. There are no good ol’ days, except prior to the fall and even those days were not the best of days (Adam could, and did, fall into sin.). The best of days are yet to come. The end is, after all, better than the beginning (and the middle). As bad as our day may appear to be and actually be, in essence, it is the same as always, since the fall into sin.

The hope (i.e., confident expectation of something in the future based on what God has said) of the Christian is that better days, way better, are coming. But there’s more. We do not have to wait for help to come in the form of the eternal state of affairs after Christ’s second coming. There is help in the now. Our Lord Jesus entered into His glory at His resurrection. Human nature in a sinless representative Person was exalted to a status it had never experienced before. The virtue, the power, the glory of Christ becomes Christ’s people’s in installments. We receive some of the benefits of redemption – the forgiveness of sins, justification, adoption, and sanctification – now. We get consummated glory in our own persons when He comes again. In the mean time, grace from our exalted Mediator comes to souls via the means of grace (I am thinking primarily of the Word of God, prayer, baptism and the Lord’s Supper) instituted by God. The means of grace are conduits through which world-to-come blessings are delivered by the Holy Spirit from the exalted, glorified Mediator to elect souls now.

Should believers try to bring back the good ol’ days in order to combat worldliness in our own day and make it easier to live in this world? No. Easy living as a believer now is a myth. So what should we do? On the private level, we should read our Bibles and pray, then obey God in all spheres of life. On the public level, we should go to church (and join one), where the Word of God is sung, read, and preached, prayer is offered, and the sacraments are employed, then obey God in all spheres of life. The grace that comes through the ordained means is able to keep us from being consumed by consumerism, no matter how consumeristic our surroundings might be.  The more grace we have, the more clearly we are able to see the world (and its trappings) for what it is and the more clearly we are able to see that the real problem is within not without. Growth in grace in the midst of this world is a slow but sure (and often painful) process. It is only possible with the due use of means. Our only hope for godly living now is God’s blessing upon the means of grace. The end (i.e., growth in grace) is God’s to give; the means (i.e., the Word of God, prayer, etc.) are ours to use.

In conclusion, 1) there are no good ol’ days, 2) this world (in the Rom. 12:2 and 1 John 2:15-17 sense) is essentially the same in all places and times since the fall into sin, and 3) believers, use the means of grace, praying God’s blessings upon them. In light of this, we urge any unbelievers to believe the good news of the gospel (i.e., that God has provided the way back into His favor through Jesus Christ) and join yourself to a faithful church.

Richard Barcellos

Grace Reformed Baptist Church

Palmdale, CA


Direction for Church Prayer

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on December 19, 2014 at 11:16 am


2 Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; 3 Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: 4 That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. (Col 4.2-4)

Paul’s next to last piece of advice in his letter to the church in Colosse regards the ministry of prayer, the last being the way Christians should relate to unbelievers (4.5-6). The rest of the letter contains personal greetings and an exhortation to Archippus who may have been a pastor to them.

While couched in a specific personal and historical setting, Paul’s sentiment still conveys considerable implications which remain relevant for all churches today. All are called to pray as Paul describes, and to pray for preachers, and to pray for the gospel.

Pray (v. 2)

This direction is addressed to the whole congregation, not just its leadership.

A very strict rendering reads, “(untranslated article) / in prayer / steadfastly continue, / watching / in / it / with / thanksgiving” (ILTGNT, Greek words separated by /). The main subject is a noun, “prayer,” the main word for prayer in the New Testament (TDNT), which means “to speak to or to make requests of God” (LN 33.178). The first verb exhorts to persistence; the second, to alertness. This implies that we are prone to neglect prayer, or to become weary in it. Our experience sadly confirms this. We are just like Jesus’ first disciples (Matt 26.40-41).

Paul adds that dutiful, persistent, alert prayer must include “thanksgiving,” the expression of gratitude for benefits or blessings (BDAG; LN 33.349). We also need this reminder as we are more prone to pour out our hearts about our problems and to ask for deliverance from them, than to rehearse in prayer what the Lord has done for us to His praise. Remember the ten lepers (Luke 17.11-19). Matthew Henry devotes a whole chapter to biblical thanksgiving language in his classic, A Method for Prayer, saying, “We must be particular in our thanksgivings to God,” and giving specifics from literally hundreds of Scripture texts.

From this we gather that our church must strive toward faithfulness in our corporate ministry of prayer. We must practice it, and that requires faithful attendance upon prayer meetings. We must offer prayer conscientiously, and we must keep at it. Let us also purposefully focus on the prayers being offered, resisting wandering thoughts, or napping because eyes are closed. We must never imagine that saying thanks to God, even with protracted examples of His mercies to us, is a waste of our time together. Pleasing God must be our aim, and Paul’s direction is a revelation of His will for us.

Pray for Preachers (v. 3)

“Withal” has the sense of, “together with this: besides” (MWCD). Here Paul moves from general counsel about prayer to its matter. Many other legitimate prayer requests can and ought to be made by the gathered church, but this cannot be omitted. We must pray for preachers, of whom Paul and his associates are representative here. “Pray for us” was a frequent request of the apostle (1 Thess 5.25; 2 Thess 3.1; Heb 13.18).

Paul writes as one bound in prison seeking opportunities for the proclamation of the Word. The prayer request very subtly implies that it is not his own liberty that concerns Paul, so much as the liberty of the Christian message. “I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound” (2 Tim 2.9). Paul desired release himself especially for the freedom to spread the word of God to more people. “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith” (2 Thess 3.1-2).

Preachers still are, and will remain until Christ returns, a major and indispensable means of God for the propagation of His biblical truth. They face all kinds of hindrances, not just imprisonment, in doing their work, both physical and spiritual. Faithful preachers are kept active in their ministry by the church’s intercessory prayers. Let the names of many trustworthy ministers of Christ be conspicuous in our gatherings for prayer.

Pray for the Gospel (v. 4)

“The mystery of Christ” is an exalted reference to the gospel as most clearly revealed by Christ Himself and His apostles in the NT age (cf. Rom 16.25-26). Paul asks the churches to pray “that I may make it [the mystery = the gospel] manifest, as I ought to speak.” This rich expression behind the word “manifest” has been understood variously, as to make it known, to show people what they could not see or did not know before, to declare fearlessly, openly, boldly, clearly, and fully, and to explain the deeper implications (An Exegetical Summary of Colossians, M. King). Whichever was the specifically intended sense, all these are valid concerns of our intercessions for gospel preachers.

It is not an easy or natural thing to preach the gospel as it ought to be preached. Unbelievers are generally hostile or apathetic to it. Even Christians may foolishly fail to appreciate gospel preaching, imagining it is superfluous in the church of believers, when it is really central and vital to our spiritual life and a sound ministry. While the basics of gospel history and interpretation are plain, it is very challenging to present the whole counsel of God clearly so that most will be able to hear it profitably. Then there is the matter of the Spirit’s blessing even upon the delivery of the most faithful content, so that saints will be edified and sinners captured for the Savior. The prayers of the gathered church must be harnessed to these great ends of the ministry. Ω

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


How Can We Know If Our Children Are Christians?

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on December 18, 2014 at 4:18 pm


Christian parents want our children to know Christ because we want what is best for them. Many parents, however, struggle with how to know whether their children have come to a saving knowledge of Christ. While there’s no way to give a complete answer in a short blog post like this, I’ll try to offer you a handful of basic principles. No child gives evidence of salvation in a vacuum. These are things a child has to learn from faithful parents who teach him the Word of God. And these are lessons of the heart that only the Holy Spirit can truly teach. A child may certainly be saved before his parents can see it, but there are some evidences that point to our child’s salvation.

  1. Growing awareness of God’s goodness. Even before they begin to trust in God personally, our children will start to express that God is good, that He loves us, and that we should love Him back. They know that the Ten Commandments are God’s good standard, which we should all obey. While by itself, this isn’t proof of their salvation, it is the foundation of all the other evidences of salvation in our children. “This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 Jn 1:5-6).
  1. Increasing sense of personal sin. Your child may notice when another person does something wrong, and say, “That’s a sin.” That shows that your child is thinking about God’s standards. But there’s evidence of personal conviction when your child himself does something wrong and freely admits that “God does not approve of what I did.” The tenderest of consciences will agree with God: “What I did was wrong. I should not have done that. I disobeyed Jesus and did not show love for Him.” The Bible tells us, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God . . . through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:19-20).
  1. Leaning on Jesus for forgiveness and salvation. Leaning on Jesus is the very basis of assurance of salvation. A child who leans on Jesus doesn’t just change his behavior after he sins. He doesn’t just say, “What I did was wrong. I’ll try to do better next time.” Instead, he might say, “What I did was wrong, and I need Jesus to forgive me of that sin. Jesus had to die to pay the price for my sin.” I hesitate to describe the exact words of a child because different children will express things differently. But he leans on Christ. He’s not just trying to do better to please his parents or to avoid discipline. He recognizes that he has no hope but Jesus, no way to fix things himself. His only hope of mercy is Christ, His death and resurrection. Scripture says, “For we who have believed enter that rest . . . whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works” (Heb 4:3, 10). Paul said, “I [the old unbelieving Saul] have been crucified with Christ. It is not longer I [Saul] who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I [believing Paul] now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:19-20).
  1. Growing desire to know the Bible and pray. When God saves a child, that child wants to know the One who saved him. When God rescues a child from the guilt and shame of sin, that child will have an increasing, sincere desire to know what the Bible says about God and to talk to God in prayer. He’ll want to read the Bible so that he can know who God is. He’ll want to pray to express his heart to God. Parents should set an example in these things and encourage their children in them. 1 Peter 2:2 says believers “long for the pure milk of the Word,” and according to Acts 9:11, one of the proofs of Saul’s conversion was “behold, he is praying.”
  1. Faithful repentance of sin and increasing obedience to Christ’s commands. While #3, “leaning on Jesus for forgiveness and salvation,” is the basis of assurance of salvation, faithful repentance and growing obedience strengthens that assurance. When children begin to turn from their habits of sin to Jesus, and when they start obeying Christ in ways they didn’t used to obey Him, they grow up into full assurance of salvation. They honor and obey their parents more faithfully out of love for Jesus. They turn away from idols in their lives, and they sincerely want to be with God’s people, the church. All of these are signs of salvation. The Apostle writes, “By this we may be sure that we are in Him, whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked” (1 Jn 2:5-6).

No child (or adult for that matter!) does any of these things perfectly. But if your child has a pattern of these evidences of salvation, you should bring him to the pastors of your church for baptism and church membership.


Pastor Tom Hicks

Morningview Baptist Church


Means of Grace

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on December 9, 2014 at 4:51 pm


.The means of grace are means of sanctification. They suppose the existence of the principle of divine life in the soul: “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation are all his ordinances; especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all of which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation” (Westminster Larger Catechism 154). The means of grace are administered within the visible church and to its members.1 Consequently, church membership is requisite to obtaining the benefits of the means of grace and sanctification. Some of these benefits cannot be enjoyed at all outside of the visible church: those, namely, connected with the administration of the sacraments and the fellowship and watch of Christians; and none of them can be enjoyed in their fullness by one who has not separated himself from the world by confessing Christ before men.2[1]


1 WS: When the world of unregenerate men are said to have the means of grace, the means of conviction under common grace, not of sanctification under special grace, are intended: “The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners, of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ” (Westminster Larger Catechism 155).

2 WS: Respecting the nature of the church, Calvin (dedication to the Institutes) presents the Protestant view in two fundamental positions: (a) That the church may exist without a visible form, because it is both invisible and visible. The former is composed of all who are really united to Christ; the latter, of all who profess to be united to Christ. The former has no false members; the latter has, as the parables of the tares and the net show. (b) That the visible form of the church is not distinguished by external splendor, but by the pure preaching of God’s word and the legitimate administration of the sacraments. The Romanist contends that the church exists only in a visible form and that this form is in the see of Rome and her order of prelates alone. Rome makes the invisible and visible churches identical and coterminous. For a concise and able statement of the prelatical theory of the church, see Jeremy Taylor’s consecration sermon.

[1] Shedd, William Greenough Thayer. Dogmatic Theology. Ed. Alan W. Gomes. 3rd ed. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003.

Whither Reformed Baptists? Part One

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on December 9, 2014 at 1:13 pm


It has often been stated that the Lord Jesus referenced only the church twice in His earthly ministry. The first time is in Matthew 16 wherein he stated that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church and the secondly in Matthew 18 wherein He envisions the necessity of church discipline against an impenitent member. In these two statements, it has been said, we have the church triumphant and the church militant (struggling). The history of the Church bears both these marks. There are glorious stories of triumph and grievous stories of shame, infidelity, and retreat.

For over thirty years I have been part of Reformed Baptist Churches. I have pastored one church for nearly 25 years and have sought to help other churches get planted. I have been involved in ministerial training in the US, Africa and the Far East. In recent months I have been thinking through the trajectory we, as churches, seem to be on. I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet. My plan, in these blogs, is to identify four areas of concern and articulate some course of action.

The first area of concern is that of future leadership. While there are numerous Calvinistic Baptist movements marked by vigorous and youthful leadership, our churches are not yet among their number. There are many of our churches where there are sole pastors and some of those churches are pastored by men of advancing years. Not only can they not find a fellow elder to bring about a biblical plurality, they do not know who will lead their flock in the decades to come. No pastor I know wants their churches to fade away when they are gone. They desire that God will replace them with robustly confessional men who love the Lord and His people and who will lead them to the green grass and cool waters of His Word for decades till they themselves are replaced.

What kind of men? We desire biblically qualified men who have a passion to selflessly shepherd Christ’s flock. We desire men of giftedness who will be able to feed the flock. We desire men of confessional conviction. That means, for us, men who embrace the truths of historic confessional Christianity with firmness, conviction, knowledge and joy. Men who embrace Baptist Covenant Theology. Men who love the Lord’s Day and are not ashamed of its place in the Moral Law. Men who believe in the centrality of the church and the commitment of members to it’s life together. If our churches are to remain committed not only to Orthodox and Reformed Christianity but to 1689 Confessionalism then we must do at least three things.

The first we must do is pray that the Lord of the Harvest will raise up laborers (Matt 9:38). As one has well said, only the God who made the world can make a gospel minister. Secondly we must invest in our youth. We must lay bare afresh what we believe and why we believe it and pray that the Lord will instill in them a passion for these truths they have grown up with in a way that does not lead to pride, judgmentalism towards brethren who differ, and isolation. We can and must be a people of narrow convictions and broad affections and associations. Thirdly we must act. Encourage young men to consider the ministry. Pastors need to look for men to mentor and invest time and resources in. Look to give younger men opportunities for ministry—prison ministries, nursing homes, homeless shelters, youth gatherings, Sunday School classes, and eventually morning or evening worship services. Lead the people of God in prayer for the rising generation with hope that God will own and bless His truth till His Son returns in glory.

Jim Savastio, Pastor
Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville

Fatal Sincerity

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on November 22, 2014 at 2:35 pm


Sincerity is a popular god. Intentions are all that matter, not the objective truth, rightness, or goodness of what is done. Except Sincerity-worshipers repent, they will suffer disastrous consequences on the Day of Reckoning.

1 Chronicles 13 is the perfect Bible chapter to illustrate and vindicate my pastoral concern about this. It recounts a dark day in Israel’s history, when God’s holy people were very sincerely wrong and suffered for it. The shocking death of Uzzah stands in the sacred record as a neon warning sign about fatal sincerity.

One test of our own perspective on this matter is our internal response to the story. Idolatrous devotees of Sincerity are bound to be deeply offended—even enraged—by the story and the way it portrays God’s startling act. One example of offense taken is this profoundly blasphemous paragraph:

Well, well, well, look at how gracious God was for Uzzah’s loving attempt to keep the ark from falling to the ground. Does it surprise you that God killed Uzzah for trying to do a good dead [sic]? It doesn’t surprise me one bit because I’ve come to see God for what he really is; a hateful, unforgiving tyrant with no appreciation for his own creation. (accessed 19 Nov 2014)

See how this blasphemer characterizes the sinful act as “Uzzah’s loving attempt” and then arrogantly condemns God’s holy indignation and righteous judgment as evil! Good intention combined with effort are supposed to be good enough for God, and if not, then He’s at serious fault. Also notice the subtle suggestion that God is obligated to be perpetually “gracious,” failing to appreciate that grace is always given or withheld according to God’s sovereign pleasure. Every single instance of divine forbearance, forgiveness, and delight toward sinful people ought to be a matter of perpetual amazement to us. Uzzah’s death was just, and that is enough. Instead of changing his mind, this God-hating blogger just digs in because his warped perspective does not accord with God’s true nature and His ways with men.

On the other hand, if we approach this story in the fear of God, we must be deeply impressed with His holiness, Word, and true worship.

We would not for a moment denigrate sincerity, as far as it goes. Scripture emphasizes its importance, especially in divine worship (e.g., Josh 24.14; 2 Cor 1.12; Eph 6.24). Of course insincere worship is an affront to God who knows our inner motives better than we do.

But the Uzzah story makes the point with a vengeance that sincerity is not enough. For one thing, the record says they were careful to transport the ark in “a new cart” (v. 7) made just for this sacred service. Further, “David and all Israel played [were celebrating, ESV] before God with all their might, and with singing, and with harps, and with psalteries, and with timbrels, and with cymbals, and with trumpets” (v. 8). Their intention was to honor God, and they went at it with much zeal and holy boldness. And even Uzzah, by extending his hand to steady the Ark (v. 10), surely purposed in his heart to please God and promote His glory. All this is granted, and emphasized here.

That is what makes the insufficiency of sincerity and God’s severe judgment stand out in bold relief. The sin that provoked God was a lack of faith, and perhaps of knowledge, and certainly of reverence. One writer aptly calls it “pious disobedience,” and explains,

The Levites, or, more particularly, the Kohathites, were expressly commanded to bear the ark. The manner of bearing it was also commanded. Rings were appended, through which staves were run. These poles, covered with gold, were to be supported on the shoulders of the bearers. They were forbidden to touch the ark upon pain of death (Num 4.15). Such was God’s command. In transporting it from the house of Abinadab, David infringed the divine command by directing the ark to be borne on a cart drawn by oxen (John Girardeau, Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church, 1888).

Incidentally, God was gracious to His people on this occasion. Though the guilt of the sin was shared by all, only one man was struck dead. Then the Lord blessed them in their reformed worship (cf. 1 Chron 15.12-15).

Religious zeal without a spiritual knowledge of God’s Word is characteristic of the unconverted who are lost in their sins, like apostate Israel in Paul’s day (Rom 10.1-2). They persisted in an impossible ambition—to be righteous enough by themselves, without Christ, to earn God’s favor and blessing (Rom 10.3-4).

When it comes to religion, that just is what the fallen human nature is still inclined to do. It seems that the masses today tenaciously cling to the illusion that it does not really matter what you believe, as long as you’re sincere in it. It does not matter how you worship, as long as you worship in your own way. All the religions of the world are “faiths,” rather than massive systems of idolatry and immorality resisting the one true faith of biblical Christianity (Eph 4.5). Just like the Jews of old, they are “ignorant of God’s righteousness,” the only righteousness that can justify a sinner, even Jesus Christ, given by grace alone and received by faith alone, plus absolutely nothing.

The Lord must be worshipped, then, “in sincerity and in truth” (Josh 24.14). If this phrase is not mere hendiadys, it may be adding biblical conformity to sincerity as a description of what the Lord requires of us—a conformity that is explicitly required in many other passages. Even as Reformed churches have confessed for centuries:

The acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures (1689 LBCF XXII.1).

The world hates this truth, but humble believers are grateful to escape the eternal punishment due to sincere but unscriptural worshipers. Ω

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


Some Hermeneutical Principles of Seventeenth-Century Federal Theology

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on November 22, 2014 at 2:07 pm


We will now identify and discuss four principles utilized by the federal theologians.[1]

1. The Holy Spirit is the Only Infallible Interpreter of Holy Scripture.

As an example of this principle, John Owen says, “The only unique, public, authentic, and infallible interpreter of Scripture is none other than the Author of Scripture Himself…that is, God the Holy Spirit.”[2] Nehemiah Coxe says, “…the best interpreter of the Old Testament is the Holy Spirit speaking to us in the new.”[3] This meant that they saw the Bible’s interpretation and use of itself as infallible and with interpretive principles embedded in it. When the Bible comments upon or utilizes itself in any fashion (e.g., direct quotation, fulfillment, allusion, or echo in the OT or NT), it is God’s interpretation and God’s understanding of how texts should be understood. This often means that later texts shed interpretive light on earlier texts. Or, we could put it this way, subsequent revelation often makes explicit what is implicit in antecedent revelation. This principle led to three more related concepts.

 2. The Analogy of Scripture (Analogia Scripturae)

Here is Richard A. Muller’s definition of analogia Scripturae: “the interpretation of unclear, difficult, or ambiguous passages of Scripture by comparison with clear and unambiguous passages that refer to the same teaching or event.”[4] An example of this would be utilizing a passage in Matthew to help understand a passage dealing with the same subject in Mark. This principle obviously presupposes the divine inspiration of Scripture.

The principle of analogia Scripturae gained confessional status as follows: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself…” (2LCF 1.9).

 3. The Analogy of Faith (Analogia Fidei)

Muller defines analogia fidei as follows:

the use of a general sense of the meaning of Scripture, constructed from the clear or unambiguous loci…, as the basis for interpreting unclear or ambiguous texts. As distinct from the more basic analogia Scripturae…, the analogia fidei presupposes a sense of the theological meaning of Scripture.[5]

An example of this would be interpreting texts that speak of the humanity of Christ in the wider textual-theological context of the incarnation of the eternal Son of God. For example, in Acts 20:28, God is said to have purchased the church “with His own blood.” “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” From other texts of Scripture, according to the principle of analogia fidei, we learn that Christ, according to his divine nature, is invisible (John 1:1, 18). So, according to the analogy of faith, we can affirm that God has blood, in so far as the person of the Son has blood, according to his human nature.

The inspired and infallible rule of faith is the whole of Scripture whose textual parts must be understood in light of its theological whole. This insures that the theological forest is not lost for the textual trees.

The principle of analogia fidei gained confessional status as follows: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself…” (2LCF 1.9).

 4. The Scope of Scripture (Scopus Scripturae)

Terms such as Christ-centered and Christocentric are used often in our day. But what do they mean? The older way of describing the concept these terms point to, the target or end to which the entirety of the Bible tends, is encapsulated by the Latin phrase scopus Scripturae (i.e., the scope of the Scriptures). This concept gained confessional status in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Savoy Declaration, and the Second London Confession of Faith in 1.5, which, speaking of Holy Scripture, says, “…the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God)…”

Reformation and post-Reformation Reformed theologians understood scope in two senses. It had a narrow sense–i.e., the scope of a given text or passage, its basic thrust; but it also had a wider sense–i.e., the target or bull’s eye to which all of Scripture tends.[6] It is to this second sense that we will give our attention.

Scope, in the sense intended here, 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.[7] 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 said, “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.”[8] Likewise, John Owen said, “Christ is…the principal end of the whole of Scripture…”[9] He continues elsewhere:

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…[10]

Nehemiah Coxe said, “…in all our search after the mind of God in the Holy Scriptures we are to manage our inquiries with reference to Christ.”[11]

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. In other words, they viewed the Bible’s authority as extending to how we interpret the Bible. Or it could be stated this way: they saw the authority of Scripture applicable to the interpretation of Scripture.

Richard Barcellos
Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Palmdale, CA

[1] This is taken from a lecture to be delivered at the Southern California Reformed Baptist Pastors’ Conference 2014.

[2] John Owen, Biblical Theology or The Nature, Origin, Development, and Study of Theological Truth in Six Books (Pittsburgh, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1994), 797, referenced as BTO here on out.

[3] Coxe and Owen, Covenant Theology, 36.

[4] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985, Second printing, September 1986), 33, emphasis added.

[5] Muller, Dictionary, 33. Cf. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward An Exegetical Theology (1981; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, Sixth printing, January 1987), 134ff., where Kaiser fails to distinguish properly between analogia Scripturae and analogia fidei and advocates what he calls “The Analogy of (Antecedent) Scripture.” In the conclusion to his discussion (140), he says, “However, in no case must that later teaching be used exegetically (or in any other way) to unpack the meaning or to enhance the usability of the individual text which is the object of our study,” emphasis Kaiser’s. This is, at worst, a denial of the historic understanding of analogia fidei and, at best, a very unhelpful and dangerous modification of the doctrine. It seems to me that this would mean, for example, that we cannot utilize anything in the Bible outside of Gen. 1-3 to help us interpret it. Since there is nothing in the Bible antecedent to Gen. 1-3, interpreters are left with no subsequent divine use, no subsequent divine explanation of how to understand that passage. This method ends up defeating itself when we consider that Genesis (and all other books of the Bible) was never intended to stand on its own and that the Bible itself comments on antecedent texts, helping its readers understand the divine intention of those texts. Kaiser’s method seems to imply that the exegesis of a given biblical text is to be conducted as if no subsequent biblical texts exist. We must realize that, in one sense, we have an advantage that the biblical writers did not have–we have a completed canon. But we must also realize that the Bible’s use of itself (whenever and wherever this occurs) is infallible. If this is so, then the exegete, using tools outside of the biblical text under consideration, ought to consult all possible tools, which includes how the Bible comments upon itself no matter where or when it does so. If the Holy Spirit is the only infallible interpreter of the Bible, then certainly exegetes ought to utilize biblical texts outside of Genesis to aid in the understanding of Genesis. It seems to me that Kaiser’s proposal would give warrant for exegetes to consult commentaries on Genesis to aid in its interpretation, but deny the use of the Bible itself (which contains inspired and infallible commentary) to that same end.

[6] See the discussion in Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725, Volume Two – Holy Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003 [Second Edition]), 206-23, where he discusses these distinctions.

[7] See my forthcoming The Doxological Trajectory of Scripture: God Getting Glory for Himself through what He does in His Son – An Exegetical and Theological Case Study, chapter 5, “Christ as Scopus Scripturae – John Owen and Nehemiah Coxe on Christ as the Scope of Scripture for the Glory of God.”

[8] William Ames, The Marrow of Theology (Durham, NC: The Labyrinth Press, 1983), 202 (XXXVIII:5).

[9] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, 23 vols., ed. William H. Goold (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987 edition), 1:74.

[10] Owen, Works, 1.314-15.

[11] Coxe and Owen, Covenant Theology, 33.


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