Brooks: Safety in Unity

If you’re going to be preaching or teaching on the communion of saints, here’s a great illustration from Thomas Brooks:

Unity is the best bond of safety in every church and commonwealth.  We shall be invincible, if we be inseparable.  And this did the Scythian king in Plutarch represent livelily to this eighty sons.  He, being ready to die, commanded a bundle of arrows fast bound together to given to his sons to break; they all tried to break them, but being bound fast together, they could not; then he caused the band to be cut, and then they broke them with ease.  He applied it thus: ‘My sons, so long as you keep together, you will be invincible; but if the band of union be broken betwixt you, you will easily be broken in pieces.  (Smooth Stones Taken From Ancient Brooks, p.47)


Pastoral Q & A: Should We Call Unbelievers “Pre-Christians”?

While it’s not overwhelming or huge, there seems to be a bit of a trend to refer to unbelievers as “pre-Christians.”  A parishioner attended another church in our state recently and came across this way of speaking and asked me about it.  Is it acceptable to substitute “pre-Christian” for “non-Christian” or “unbeliever”?

If we turn to Scripture, the word “unbeliever” is used 14 times in the New Testament.  It’s used to translate the Greek word apistos.  Sometimes the word “Gentile” (Gr. ethnos) is used to refer to those who aren’t Christians, extending the Old Testament idea of the pagan nations surrounding Israel.  In Ephesians 2:3, non-Christians are referred to as “children of wrath.”  Later in the same chapter, they are “strangers to the covenants of promise” (2:12) and “aliens” (2:19).  However, the standard word in Scripture is simply “unbeliever.”  The word “pre-Christian” is not used at all.

Nevertheless, there is no issue with using a non-scriptural word if it captures a biblical concept.  The classic example is the word “Trinity” – it’s not used in the Bible, but the concept is definitely there.  So, can a biblical case be made for referring to unbelievers as “pre-Christians”?

I can appreciate the positive attitude this term is meant to convey.  When we give a Christian witness to someone, we certainly hope that the Holy Spirit will use our witness to bring someone to faith in Christ.  We pray in that way and perhaps we should pray more expectantly than we often do.

Yet the fact of the matter is that we don’t know God’s plans for the salvation of any given person.  Scripture reveals a doctrine of election:  God has chosen some to eternal life before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).  But we don’t know who they are and neither should we presume to know.   Instead, we address each person with the thought that only God knows whether or not that person is going to be a Christian.  Our calling is not to guess or assume an outcome, but simply to present the gospel.

There is another aspect to this.  From the point of view of a non-Christian, adopting the language “pre-Christian” could also be offensive.  When I was in seminary, I attended a book club once or twice.  Some of the other attendees were Reformed Baptists.  One of them jokingly referred to me as a “Reformed-Baptist-in-training.”  I knew he was just kidding around and so it didn’t bother me.  Friends can banter like that.  But couldn’t this language of “pre-Christian” be unnecessarily offensive to an unbeliever just off the street?  If I put myself in those shoes, I would think:  “What arrogance!  They think they’re definitely going to make me a Christian.”  The gospel is offensive enough on its own; we don’t need to add offense with unnecessary and presumptuous terminology.

So in the interests of humble modesty about God’s plans, and in the interests of avoiding unnecessary offense in our witness, it’s best just to use the standard biblical terminology.  If someone isn’t a Christian, then we ought to just say they’re an unbeliever or a non-Christian.  Keep it simple.


Reeves: The Triune God vs. Allah

One of the things I appreciate about Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity is how he interacts with Islamic theology.  In a number of places in the book he demonstrates the poverty of the Islamic Allah.  The single-person Islamic god simply does not measure up to the Triune God revealed in the Bible.  Here’s a sample:

Onenness for the single-person God would mean sameness.  Alone for eternity without any beside him, why would he value others and their differences?  Think how it works out for Allah: under his influence, the once-diverse cultures of Nigeria, Persia, and Indonesia are made, deliberately and increasingly, the same.  Islam presents a complete way of life for individuals, nations, and cultures, binding them into one way of praying, one way of marrying, buying, fighting, relating — even, some would say, one way of eating and dressing.

Oneness for the triune God means unity.  As the Father is absolutely one with his Son, and yet is not his Son, so Jesus prays that believers might be one, but not that they might all be the same.  Created male and female, in the image of this God, and with many other good differences between us, we come together valuing the way the triune God has made us each unique.

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit…If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?  If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But in fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” (1 Cor. 12:4, 17-20)

So it is not just that the Father, Son, and Spirit call us into fellowship with themselves; they share their heavenly harmony that there might be harmony on earth, that people of different genders, languages, hobbies and gifts might be one in peace and love; and that one day, with one heart and voice, we might cry: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev. 7:10).  And that is what the family of God — by its very existence — makes known to the world: that the God of harmony is the hope for world peace; that he can and will unite enemies, rivals, and strangers into one loving family under his fatherly care.  (pp.103-104)


Sproul: Infallibility and Inerrancy

In his little booklet Can I Trust the Bible? R.C. Sproul discusses the terms “infallibility” and “inerrancy.”  I appreciate the way he describes the difference and the need to maintain both:

The church historically has seen that the Bible alone, of all the written literature in history, is uniquely infallible.  The word infallible may be defined as “that which cannot fail”; it means something is incapable of making a mistake.  From a linguistic standpoint, the term infallible is higher than the term inerrant.  Though the words have often been used virtually as synonyms in the English language, there remains a historic technical definition between the two.  The distinction is that of the potential and the actual, the hypothetical and the real.  Infallibility has to do with the question of ability or potential; that which is infallible is said to be unable to make mistakes or to err.  By contrast, that which is inerrant is that which, in fact, does not err.  As an illustration: a student can take a test made up of twenty questions and get twenty correct answers, giving him an inerrant test.  However, the student’s inerrancy in this restricted arena does not make him infallible, as mistakes on subsequent tests would verify. (pp.26-27)

This is a good illustration of what medieval theologian John Duns Scotus called a formal distinction.  Infallibility and inerrancy are both characteristics of Scripture.  They can be distinguished, as Sproul did above, but they cannot be separated.  They belong together.


Pastoral Q & A: How Do I Indicate My Aspiration to Serve as an Elder or Deacon?

Wanting to be an office bearer is a great thing – Scripture says so in 1 Timothy 3:1, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”  We certainly want to encourage men in our churches to have such aspirations.  For those who aspire to the ministry it’s relatively easy to indicate your aspirations.  You do pre-seminary studies and then go to seminary.  However, how do you let people know if you have an aspiration to be an elder or deacon?  Perhaps you could say it directly, or you might wait until your elder asks you on a home visit.  But what if verbally indicating your aspiration might be frowned upon or even seen as somewhat arrogant?

As it turns out, there are more ways to indicate the aspiration to serve as an elder or deacon.  Let’s look at three ways in particular.

Christian Maturity

Scripture speaks about the qualifications of office bearers in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  One should certainly go to those qualifications and use them as targets to aim for in a thankful Christian life.  However, they can all be summed up with one word:  maturity.  An office bearer has to consistently demonstrate Christian maturity.  There has to be evidence of a life lived in union with Jesus Christ.  That’s going to be seen first and foremost in a love for Christ and for the gospel.  If the gospel doesn’t personally excite you, if you don’t feel love for Christ in your heart, how would you lead others in that direction?  If you don’t love reading and studying the Bible, how would you guide others to do it?

If you aspire to be an office bearer, Christian maturity also has to be seen in the home:  “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will be care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:4-5).  As an outworking of that, an aspiring office bearer ought to be leading his children in daily family worship.  You have to be discipling your own children before you can be discipling others.

If someone aspires to office, there also has to be maturity evidenced in regards to the church and his involvement with it.  For example, an aspiring office bearer makes public worship twice on the Lord’s Day a priority.  Titus 1:9 says, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught…”  That implies being under the Word as often as it is taught.  An office bearer has to set an example in this regard and so an aspiring office bearer is going to aim for this too.

A Desire to Learn

In Hosea 4:6, God said “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…”  Learning is essential for all Christians.  This is why 2 Peter 3:18 says, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”  But this imperative to grow in our understanding of the Christian faith is sharper for those who are leaders in Christ’s church.  The young pastor Timothy was called to do his best to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:14).  He was to immerse himself in studying and teaching the Scriptures so that everyone could see his progress (1 Tim. 4:13-15).

So what about those aspiring to the office of elder?  An elder is called to first exemplify the learning and growing Christian.  Moreover, he’s also called to oversee the teaching and preaching in the church.  How is he going to be equipped for that if he’s not reading and learning more?  Even deacons are called to “hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Tim. 3:9).  They have to have a good (and growing) grasp on the doctrines of the Christian faith.  After all, they’re also leaders in the church – governing the ministry of mercy.

If you aspire to be an office bearer, one of the best things you can do is go to your pastor or ward elder and say:  “I want to read a good book.  Can you recommend something?”  Readers are leaders – and serious readers in the congregation are going to get noticed.

A Desire to Serve

Last of all, being an office bearer is all about service.  Being a shepherd is about serving the flock.  What about the deacons?  The very word “deacon” means “servant” or “minister.”  Those who aspire to this noble task should strive for a track record of service in other capacities.  When the opportunity arises to volunteer, the man who aspires to office should be the first one to put up his hand.  Those who are keeping busy with non-office bearer work in the church community will often find themselves being noticed when it comes time to nominate for elders and deacons.

To sum up, perhaps you’ve noticed that these three ways have one thing in common:  they’re all things we ought to be striving for as Christians at any rate.  Every Christian ought to aim for growing levels of maturity.  Every Christian ought to desire to learn and serve.  So, basically, if you aspire to be an office bearer, live like a Christian.