White Horse Inn Blog

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Father of Many: An Appreciation for John Stott

Yesterday at 3:15 pm London time, John Stott was welcomed into the presence of Christ, whom he served so faithfully for many decades.  Tim Stafford’s eloquent obituary jibes with my own limited experience with this great man.  In the presence of John Stott, you were palpably aware that you were among one of God’s giants—not in the usual “American” style of big personalities, but sort of how you might imagine being in the room with a godly grandfather.  It’s the humility, graciousness, and intense personal concern that seems most striking to a visitor.

Having met him once before in the States, I visited Dr. Stott at his flat on a couple of occasions years ago while I was studying in England.  Reversing the roles as I had imagined them, he fussed over his guest with a cup of tea and open-ended conversation, surrounded by books and work-in-process.  A lifelong bachelor, he encouraged me to accept my own singleness up to that point as a gift—at least for a time—to focus on study and labor.  Because God did not give him children, he told me, he had spiritual offspring all over the world.  He didn’t say it proudly, as if referring to nameless masses, but I suspected he had actual faces in mind.  It was a great encouragement.  We talked about the state of evangelicalism, which seemed to be a source of encouragement and disappointment.  A few years ago I had the honor of writing a foreword for his new edition of Baptism and Fullness: The Holy Spirit’s Work Today.

John Stott belongs to a generation of British evangelical leaders who worked patiently, prayerfully, persistently, and intelligently within the established church.  They were not known for their own achievements, networks, and influence, but for their exposition of God’s Word with clarity, dependence upon the Spirit, and concern for both the lost and the gathered.

Even when friends and co-laborers (such as Martyn Lloyd-Jones) disagreed with him, they did not impugn his character.  There are so many lessons that we can learn from John Stott’s example, especially in a time and place given so much to self-promotion.  Although his hand in shaping the better streams of global evangelicalism is obvious, he always carried on this ministry as a parish pastor of All Souls in London, where he was raised and spent his entire ministry.  Looking at this whole ministry from the outside, as a mere acquaintance, I admire his concentration on the ministry of the word rather than on his own impact and legacy.

The evangelical cause around the world has reason to mourn John Stott’s death, but even more reason to praise the Triune God for a legacy that others can now reflect upon precisely because he does not seem to have been obsessed with it himself.   In his final hours, according to the obituary, family members gathered around him listening to Handel’s “Messiah.”  A completely fitting end to a wonderfully attractive life.

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Enlightenment Fundamentalist Slays 80 at Norwegian Summer Camp

At least 76 people are dead after Anders Behring Breivik massacred campers on an island off the coast of Oslo, Norway.

Finally, the media has a face and a name for making its heretofor unjustified claim of moral equivalency between conservative Christianity and Islam.  Religion may be fine as long as it’s private, and you don’t really believe the key teachings of any one in particular.  In any case, those who think they need to act on their confessional convictions in daily life—much less encourage other people to embrace them—are on the path to terrorism.  Finally, we can reassure ourselves that Islam is not the problem; it’s “Christian fundamentalism.”

But for anyone interested in the facts of the case, the secularist narrative has lost its poster-boy.  In an on-line manifesto, Breivik makes it clear that he is not a “fundamentalist Christian.”  He prefaces one comment with, “If there is a God…” and says that science should always trump religion.  So in terms of religious convictions, he sounds more like Richard Dawkins than Jerry Falwell.  Yet, unlike Dawkins, Breivik pines for the “good ‘ol days” of Christendom, especially the crusades.  “Regarding my personal relationship with God, I guess I’m not an excessively religious man. I am first and foremost a man of logic. However, I am a supporter of a monocultural Christian Europe…”

The nineteenth century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche shrewdly observed that in his day the bourgeois elites of Europe wanted  the fruit of Christianity (i.e., moral culture) without the tree itself (i.e., the actual doctrine and practice).  Breivik is not a poster-boy for “Christian fundamentalism,” but the fulfillment of Nietzsche’s prophecy.  It’s one thing to confuse the kingdom of Christ with the kingdoms of this age, but we need a new category besides “fundamentalism” for the secular faith in “Christendom” without Christ.

Anders Breivik.  Here is someone who thinks of himself as a general in “a culture war”—a defense of Christendom without Christ. “As this is a cultural war, our definition of being a Christian does not necessarily constitute that you are required to have a personal relationship with God or Jesus.”  In fact, “Being a Christian can mean many things,” he says, but mainly it’s about protecting “the European cultural heritage” with “reason [as] the primary source and legitimacy for authority.”

It is not required that you have a personal relationship with God or Jesus in order to fight for our Christian cultural heritage and the European way. In many ways, our modern societies and European secularism is a result of European Christendom and the enlightenment. It is therefore essential to understand the difference between a ‘Christian fundamentalist theocracy’ (everything we do not want) and a secular European society based on our Christian cultural heritage (what we do want) (emphasis added).

At least in religious terms, it sounds like the average European or North American: “It is enough that you are a Christian-agnostic or a Christian atheist (an atheist who wants to preserve at least the basics of the European Christian cultural legacy (Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter). The PCCTS, Knights Templar is therefore not a religious organization but rather a Christian ‘culturalist’ military order.”  It’s hatred of the cultural “other,” not faith in Christ, that drives groups like Breivik’s.

In another irony, Breivik’s portrait of the reinvigorated crusader invokes the “die-a-martyr-and-go-straight-to-Paradise” doctrine of Islamic terrorists.  “We are not only automatically granted access to heaven in light of our selfless acts; our good deeds and final sacrifice will be added to the divine storehouse of merit and will therefore help other less virtuous individuals…”

One thing Breivik clearly is not: a Protestant.  In fact, he hopes that all Protestants will return to Rome under a unified papal system that (he hopes) will recover its old crusader nerve.  “I usually refer to Protestantism as the Marxism of Christianity. As long as you ask forgiveness before you die you can literally live a life as the most despicable character imaginable.”  Interesting thing to say after you’ve massacred 80 Norwegian campers.

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Whom does Jesus love?

This gem is from William Still’s The Work of the Pastor (Rutherford House, 2001) and can be found on pages 54 and 55 of that edition of this invaluable work.

On one occasion I had a hint from one of our senior boys that a certain young student had been floored, humbled, and at last would be coming to see me. I was glad because he had been with us eighteen months and although he had not got on very well academically, any time we had been in conversation, even in my home he always said–sitting primly on the edge of a chair–that he was getting on well.  He was such a pious little fellow, cocky, bouncy and facile: I found him a bit of a humbug and used to long for him to go. Well, my senior boy, who is near his age, cracked him open one day, and he collapsed in a heap and admitted how miserable he was, and how afraid he was that he would be cast off if he admitted it. I said to him, ‘This cocky act of yours did not deceive. I don’t assume that everybody on the face of the earth is “Getting on fine, thank you”, and all they have to do in life is to put other people right. So that the more you gave yourself airs, the more sure I was that you were a fraud, acting a part. And you were so unattractive like that. Don’t you know that sinners are the only kind of men Jesus can love? Remember how he sent the Pharisees packing until only the woman taken in adultery was left standing with him? I don’t believe you thought you would be cast off if you admitted you were a nasty little mess inside. You were just trying to make yourself believe that you were that rather wonderful image you tried to project.’

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Being under the Word with Carson, Keller, and Piper

The fine folks over at The Gospel Coalition have released another video discussing various aspects of ministry and the church. In this video D.A. Carson, John Piper, and Tim Keller discuss the Christian’s relationship to God’s Word, especially pastors.

Biblical Authority in an Age of Uncertainty from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

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Christianity and Politics, Progressive Style

Guest-Post by Brian Lee, pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Washington, DC (which worships in Teddy Roosevelts church).

It is amazing how quickly we forget that the confusion of Christianity with politics has happened on both sides of the political spectrum.

Theodore Roosevelt broke from the Republican Party in 1912 to form a third, Progressive Party for his presidential run — the so-called “Bull Moose Party,” so named because Roosevelt said he felt like a “bull moose” after bolting the Republicans. Sporting red bandanas (symbolizing the rise of the proletariat) and viewed as radicals by establishment Democrats and Republicans, the Progressives gathered for their nominating convention in Chicago in August 1912.

The convention was a historic event in American politics, marking the first time a candidate appeared at his own nominating convention. But perhaps most remarkable was its religious fervor, well detailed in Edmund Morris’s Colonel Roosevelt. The New York Times reporter wrote, “It was not a convention at all; it was an assemblage of religious enthusiasts.”

As Roosevelt mounted the stage preparing to speak, he led the assembly in the singing of “Onward, Christian Soldiers” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Roosevelt’s address was entitled, “A Confession of Faith,” and it closed with a motto he had already invoked at the Republican convention weeks earlier, “We stand at Armaggedon, and we battle for the Lord.” As Morris notes, “If Progressivism was, as more and more critics were suggesting, a religion, it needed its mantras.” A tumult ensued — “enthusiasm turned to ecstasy” — and ten thousand voices sang Roosevelt’s name to the tune of “Maryland, my Maryland.”

The convention closed with the singing of the Doxology.

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Cate-what? Horton on Recovering Catechesis

Mike Horton was recently a guest on Issues, Etc. to discuss his recent Modern Reformation article “Trees or Tumbleweeds” which stresses the need for churches to recover the neglected practice of catechesis.

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Chandler, Horton, and Keller on How to Disagree

Our friends at the Gospel Coalition are releasing videos they shot at their recent conference. Mike Horton was a guest for a few of these discussions. In this video, Mike talks with Matt Chandler (pastor of the Village Church) and Tim Keller (pastor of Redeemer PCA) about godly disagreement. Whether you are a scholar whose work has been savaged by an unscrupulous critic or just a normal Joe who is at loggerheads with a brother or sister in Christ, you’ll benefit from the wisdom here.

Chandler, Horton, Keller on How to Disagree from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

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How Jesus fulfills the Ten Commandments

From Pastor Wade Butler’s The Procession of God, a resource from our friends at New Reformation Press.

The Jews call the 10 Commandments the 10 Words. The 10 Words reflect the future tense. You shall not. You SHALL not. If we put the right emphasis on the words, we see the 10 Words which God wrote on stone to Moses were also predictions of how Jesus would act.

That is why Jesus said He came to fulfill the Law. One fulfills a prediction, one keeps a Law. And although Jesus kept the Laws, He also fulfilled them. When God wrote the 10 Words, the people were at the base of Mount Sinai worshiping a golden calf. Despite that, God wrote a description of Jesus, the child of Abraham. He said of Jesus:

  • You shall have no other Gods – and Jesus didn’t. He insisted that He and the Father were one.
  • And you shall not make any graven images – Jesus didn’t need to. He was the image of the invisible Creator.
  • You shall remember the Sabbath Day – Jesus was dead over the Sabbath and didn’t move a muscle. His heart didn’t beat. He did no work. He didn’t decay for the Father would not allow Him to see corruption.
  • You shall honor your Father and Mother – He honored them both by dying for the Father and taking care of His mother, even while on the cross.
  • You shall not murder – Instead, He gave His life a ransom for many to stop the murderer Satan.
  • You shall not commit adultery – Instead He created a Bride from the blood and water from His side.
  • You shall not steal – He had no place to lay His head and constantly gave all He had to those lost and wandering.
  • You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor – No, He told the truth, but His neighbors all managed to bear false witness against Him.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor’s house – He owned the whole creation, yet did not covet it. He loved it and was willing to die to set it free. He did not want it as His own; he wanted it free to want Him and Him alone.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife – He didn’t need a neighbor’s wife. He created a new wife for Himself from the blood and water from his side. The whole creation was to be the Bride of Christ with which He would and did become one flesh through the miracle of becoming flesh and the marvel of Theosis…

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Basic Apologetics: How can I know that the Bible is true?

William Cwirla (LCMS): There is sufficient evidence from the field of archaeology to show that the Bible is historically quite accurate. Even skeptical archaeologists have learned to take the biblical narrative at face value. Of course, this doesn’t prove the Bible to be “true,” only accurate in historic details. But that’s a good place to begin.

The New Testament documents are reliable, first-source historic documents written by eyewitnesses to a unique event history-the incarnation of the Son of God culminating in his death and resurrection. The manuscript evidence gives us a reliable text, far more reliable than any other text from antiquity.

The Gospels are a form of historical narrative. Luke mentions the fact that he did historical research prior to writing his account (Luke 1:1-4). The claim of all these writers is that Jesus died on a cross and rose bodily from the dead three days later. Paul mentions that Jesus was seen risen from the dead by more than five hundred eyewitnesses (1 Cor. 15:6) in addition to the apostles, many of whom went to their death insisting they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. These eyewitnesses had everything to lose and nothing to gain for claiming Jesus was risen. In fact, the religious and political authorities had a vested interest in the contrary, so their testimony was given in view of hostile cross-examination.

This same dead and risen Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection three times before it happened. As baseball pitcher Dizzy Dean once said, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.” Jesus did it. For that reason, we need to take seriously what Jesus says. He says that the Old Testament Scriptures speak of him and teach the way of eternal life (John 5:39). He says that the Scriptures teach his death and resurrection and of repentance and forgiveness in his name (Luke 24:45-47). He promised that his apostles would receive the Holy Spirit who would bring to mind all that he had taught and would guide them into all truth (John 14:26; 16;13). The Apostle Paul writes that the Old Testament Scriptures are the very “breath of God” (2 Tim. 3:16), and Peter similarly writes that the prophets spoke not on their own initiative but as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21).

The lynchpin for the veracity of the Scriptures is the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is not only the central teaching, it is also the foundation to the truth claims of the Scriptures. If Christ is not raised, then everything that is written in the Bible is suspect. But Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate who died and rose from the dead, points us to the Scriptures which he claims reliably speak concerning himself.

Jason Stellman (PCA): The Westminster Confession of Faith I.4 states that the authority of Scripture does not depend on the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God. In both the Old and New Testaments the Bible declares itself to be the very Word of God: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether” (Ps. 19:7-9); “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

But accepting Scripture’s self-testimony is not simply random, circular reasoning; it’s not something we do in spite of manifold evidence to the contrary (like believing that the Book of Mormon is true because we get a “burning in our bosom” when we read it). Rather, the Bible’s own internal evidence-such as “the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof” (WCF I.5)-bears witness to its truthfulness and authority.

But as with the existence of God, believing the Bible’s message is not something we can do without the work of the Holy Spirit within us. We are not passive, neutral observers who weigh the evidence in some objective, disinterested way. Rather, we are, by nature, inclined to evil and hostile to divine things. That’s why all the rational arguments in the world will not convince us to bow before our Creator and submit to his message. Only the power of the Spirit working through the Word can accomplish that.

Next in the series: How can God exist when there is so much evil and pain in the world?

From Modern Reformation (March/April 2006): Does God Believe in Atheists?

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Succession: Ministers or Ministry?

There have been some interesting discussions lately on the blogs about “pastoral succession.” Don Carson discusses this issue with Tim Keller and John Piper at The Gospel Coalition site. Anyone in the middle of this process—or anticipating it—will benefit from their sage advice. Over at Reformation 21, Carl Trueman offered some wise thoughts of his own on the conversation.

Eventually, every church has to think through the connection between faith and practice when it comes time to call a new pastor. I’d like to tweak the conversation a little bit by raising the question of paradigms.  Are we looking for a certain kind of minister or, first and foremost, for a certain kind of ministry?  Is our “job description” determined by the charisma, style, accomplishments—and genuine gifts—of the minister or by the qualifications that Paul lays out in the pastoral epistles?

On one hand, pastoral succession can be a time of crisis.  Sometimes the crisis results from poor leadership.  The natural assets that make someone a great leader in business, entertainment, or politics may also become liabilities in ministry.  In the church, poor leadership doesn’t necessarily mean a failure to instill the confidence of others; it can actually be just such confidence that weighs a minister down and makes it really hard on the next guy.  In the church at least, poor leadership means creating a situation in which the minister, not the ministry, becomes the means of grace.

On the other hand, pastoral succession problems can also indicate a healthy church.  In my circles, we care about who follows famously faithful pastors, but we should care as much about who follows a faithful pastor down the street.  We care about “succession” because we care about God’s covenant faithfulness “to a thousand generations.”

Healthy churches may hit some rough water in the interim between pastors.  Even when the ministry has been faithful over many years, alas, the fruit of the flesh that the apostles diagnosed in their own church plants blossoms from a conquered but sturdy weed.  After years of keeping everyone’s eye on the Word, loss of godly leadership can often disintegrate quickly into squabbles over secondary issues.

However, when discussing pastoral succession, we have to beware of following a paradigm of leadership that is not consistent with our place in redemptive history.  Born in the “Jesus Movement” of the 1970s, one non-denominational denomination with which many of us southern Californians are familiar adopted the “Moses Leadership” model, which places all the power in the church in the hands of the pastor, who (like Moses) was directly accountable to God. Understandably, this rather “papal” form of government raises questions of succession to a new level.

At the same time, I wonder if we all obsess too much over pastoral succession these days.  We remember Calvin more than Beza because, among other things, the former turned the church in Geneva around; yet Beza had more direct influence in the international reformation in some ways than his predecessor.  There is a danger in looking for successors to a minister; what we should really be looking for is the succession of the ministry: the Word rightly preached, the sacraments rightly administered, and the church’s doctrine, worship, government, and life regulated by Scripture.

Once upon a time there were no church marquees.  You just walked to your neighborhood parish church.  But even marquees used to have the name of the church and the text for the sermon that week.  Now it’s pretty universal to have the name of the pastor—and the name of the minister who is preaching that week.  Even in good churches, one sometimes hears people say, “Did you know So-and-So is preaching this week?”  In some cases, people even visit another church to hear the famous preacher.

When it comes to pastoral succession, I can’t help but let my presbyterian colors show.  At the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), even when the apostles were still living, it was “the apostles and elders” who made the decision that all the churches were to receive.  I’m always baffled when brothers and sisters say that presbyterian polity is “hierarchical” or “clerical.”  Actually, it’s just the opposite.  Spreading out the authority among ministers (teaching elders) and ruling elders, equally, both locally and in wider assemblies, means that no church or minister is more important than another.  It also means that the majority of each local session or consistory consists of laypeople rather than clerics.  Although ordained for their service, ruling elders are not full-time ministers.  They do not preach and teach.  Nevertheless, pastors do not rule and they definitely don’t run the temporal affairs of the church (the proper province of deacons).

In calling a pastor, the local session or consistory calls a congregational election to form a pulpit search committee and recommends a candidate.  After congregational approval, the candidate is examined by the presbytery or classis and upon successful examination is installed as pastor.  Following this covenantal logic, it has usually been the practice in Reformed and Presbyterian churches for the incumbent minister to recuse himself from the process entirely.

The apostolic ministry was extraordinary: the foundation-laying era of the new covenant church (1 Cor 3:10-11).  Although Paul could appeal to no human authority higher than his own office, he encouraged Timothy to recall the gift he received at his ordination, “when the council of elders [presbyteriou] laid their hands on you” (1 Tim 4:14).  None of us is a Moses.  None is a Paul or a Peter.  We are all “Timothys,” not adding to the apostolic deposit, but guarding and proclaiming it (1 Tim 6:20).

Carl Trueman wisely reminds us: “The elite watchmaker Patek Philippe had a slogan at one time that was something like this: `You never really own a Patek Philippe; you merely look after it for the next generation.’”  Thus it is with churches, in terms of the vibrancy of their life and their orthodoxy.  Those privileged enough to be involved in the appointment of their own successors, or those who can merely shape the nature of the session which will oversee the search, need to make sure they make the right choices. They do not own the church; they are merely looking after her for the next generation.

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