White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

The Ministry IS A Gospel Issue

My friend Kevin De Young wrote a helpful post addressing the question, “Who can baptize?” It’s succinct. His position is standard practice for Reformed churches as well as others. Laypeople are not to baptize, he argued.

But what surprised me were some of the comments. Wow, did it open up the floodgates! Kevin’s post was seen as advocating sacerdotalism, denying the priesthood of all believers, majoring on minors, and other notorious evils of our age. It’s hardly a gospel issue, said one brother.

I’ve offered exegetical arguments for the importance of church office—and how it serves rather than undermines the priesthood of all believers. (If you’re interested, it’s in The Christian Faith, 190-221, and People & Place, 872-905.) It is remarkable to me that evangelical pastors and even theologians can regard as “sacerdotal” the view that some believers are called to the public ministry as pastors who administer the Word and sacraments, others as elders who govern the spiritual life of the flock, and others as deacons who serve their temporal needs. It is especially odd that for “Bible Christians,” the culture of egalitarian individualism could trump clear biblical passages.

Sacerdotal? This term refers to the idea that the minister is a priest like the Old Testament priests who continue to offer propitiatory sacrifices on behalf of the people. It is clear in the New Testament that Christ is the only mediator (1 Tim 2:5, for instance). So “sacerdotal” is a pretty serious charge.

Kevin offered some of the relevant passages on church office.  I’ll add my own comment on Ephesians 4, because contemporary translations of verses 5-16 have become the basis for “every-member-a-minister.” While the New Testament affirms that every believer is united to Christ and shares in “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” by “one Spirit” (Eph 4:5-6), it just as clearly teaches that the ascended Christ “gave gifts” and that these gifts are specially-called leaders: “he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” (v. 11). According to newer translations, these leaders have been given for the purpose of equipping everyone for the work of ministry.  Even if one took that view (and there are plenty of solid exegetes who do!), the rejection of special office is hardly justified.  After all, pastor-teachers are still preparing them for service! In my view, older translations are more reliable in translating the following verses (11-16). For example, according to the King James Version, these offices are given “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”  There’s no reason to imagine that these three purpose-clauses have in view someone other than the officers he mentions.

The gift-offices that Christ gives in verse 11 are for the purpose of building up and edifying the whole body by the work of the ministry. When this happens, the whole church is brought into “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” and into maturity—“the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” “no longer children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” Through the ministry that Christ carries out by his Word and Spirit through these ministers, every member has what he or she needs for “speaking the truth in love,” so that “the whole body fitly joined together” will “grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” When we see this passage in the light of others, especially in the Pastoral Epistles, it becomes clear that these officers are special gifts to the whole church. Their calling is not to lord it over the sheep but to shepherd them under Christ so that they will all truly be “a kingdom of priests” (Rev 5:9).

When pastors preach and teach and elders govern, there is no autocratic leadership. It is hardly “clericalism” when the governors of the church are elders rather than pastors. The New Testament teaches a mutual accountability with checks and balances. Ironically, movements and churches that downplay or even denounce biblical teaching and advertise themselves as freewheeling and egalitarian, with an every-member-a-minister philosophy, usually end up being far more totalitarian.

Take just one example. In the past few days, an exposé of Elevation Church in North Carolina revealed that the group’s “spontaneous baptisms” are manipulated by having “plants” in the audience rush forward for baptism even though they are baptized members of the church already. But if you check out their website, you’ll find what the church calls “The Code.”  Number 9 partly explains the Finney-esque methods: “We are all about the numbers.”  But number 4 is even more sinister: “We are united under one vision.  Elevation is built on the vision God gave Pastor Steven. We will aggressively defend our unity and that vision.” Indeed, they do defend it aggressively. One of the Sunday school booklets for youth sports a drawing of Pastor Steven on the cover. The book instructs the children of the church to “support the vision” of Pastor Steven by being “united under the visionary.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout the history of American revivalism (and its historical precedents), the clever and successful evangelist proclaims traditional churches ineffective or apostate. There are the usual declamations against “clericalism”—in other words, a trained and ordained ministry. And then, eventually, the movement becomes a sect and the leader becomes a lord.

Even in “Young, Restless, Reformed” circles, crucial teachings in Scripture are put on the back burner or even silenced by the line, “It’s not a gospel issue.” But in the Great Commission our Lord called the apostles not only to preach the gospel but to baptize and to “teach them everything that I have commanded you.” And that “everything” includes what he taught through the apostles concerning the ordained ministry.There are many things that may not be “gospel issues” that we are nevertheless commanded in Scripture to embrace and practice. Furthermore, how can one say that baptism and the public offices are not gospel issues, when Christ applies his gospel to us in Word and Sacrament?

I miss the good old days when paedobaptists and Baptists used to hold baptism and the Supper as well as the offices seriously enough to disagree about them. Today it seems that they have become silly trifles. If that’s what unity in the gospel means, then it is a far cry from the gospel according to Jesus.

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God Builds His Church In India

This is the next installment of our senior staff member’s report on his international travel. He has moved out of several closed countries and into India, where the opportunities to help Christians know what they believe and why they believe it are endless! Please continue to pray for us and with us as we continue to work out a long-term international strategy for White Horse Inn.

India. It is a land of contrasting beliefs and mind-numbing contradictions. Claiming birthrights of Hinduism and Buddhism, it also is home to approximately 200 million Muslims and 25-30 million Christians.  Though India enjoys purchasing power ranked third in the world, poverty still stalks millions every day.

How does the church of Jesus Christ serve such a country with the message of salvation found in Christ alone? Colonialism came and went along with hundreds of other approaches, including things as ludicrous as dressing the church in Hindu garb and offering Jesus as the true guru.

If we look to Scriptural examples, we see that Paul and the apostles also faced pluralism and secularism every day in their era. They followed a simple pattern: preach Christ, baptize those God calls to himself, and establish local churches.  There is no end to new ideas tantalizing with the promise of a breakthrough.  But God builds his church. God identifies himself with his people. He is not ashamed of them.  No evil or persecution befalls the church that is not within God’s plan.

I have listened to the stories of local pastors, educators, and evangelists in India for the past 20 years. We have rejoiced together at the triumphs and we have wept together at the cost of individual lives. As I watch them do their work faithfully every day, I am humbled and challenged to see that the God of the nations is building his church.

How can White Horse Inn serve the believers in India? How can we encourage Christians to know what they believe and why? What format best serves pastors and those doing the work of the church here? Our WHI team will tackle these questions as we evaluate the many conversations I have enjoyed during the time here. Pray that God would give us wisdom. He is building his church.

Finally, thank you for your support that allows us me to leave WHI materials with these brothers, a small demonstration of our love and admiration for the work they do.

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God of the Nations

An update from our senior staff member who is on the road for White Horse Inn in several closed countries in the Middle East. Thank you for praying for him. Please continue to do so! We’ll post updates as he is able to send them to us.

Imagine Middle Eastern countries that are closed to the gospel.  Imagine that 25% of each country is comprised of immigrants, often there as laborers and domestic servants.   Imagine also that the Lord uses some of these non-nationals to spread the gospel not only in their country but also in other neighboring countries.

As U.S. citizens, we rarely have the opportunity to work side-by-side with Middle Eastern nationals and talk about Christ in providentially appointed conversations.  But in the two countries I visited a few days ago, this is exactly what happened.  On Friday, the day Christians are allowed to worship, 30,000 non-nationals gathered to hear the Word preached and taught in the Middle East.  Some of the teaching is good and the rest, well, perhaps not so much.

How can White Horse Inn help the pastors and teachers in these countries?  I spent time with several pastors last week, listening to their heart for Christ, for the lost, and for the need to teach people accurately about Christ.  I have listened to international pastors talk about these same concerns for over 25 years.

This week confirmed again that WHI materials can play a crucial role in serving these pastors and their churches by providing free resources that are accurate, accessible and articulated at a level that they can use and appreciate.  We want to do that at WHI.  God has provided almost 25 years of WHI materials, and the WHI team wants to make them available—at no cost—to pastors and churches around the world.

When I return, we will share with you some of the recordings of these pastors talking about their heart for their congregations.  It will warm your heart, as it did mine!  Until then, pray for us at WHI that the God of the nations will show us how we might expand our services.  And pray for me as I go to five more countries in the region and ask these same questions to pastors that are serving Christ, laying down their lives every day so that they might be faithful to the God who called them.  I am very grateful for the time with them and to share their stores of God’s faithfulness.

As an expression of our thanks and because of your support, I am able to leave WHI materials with every pastor I encounter on this trip.  Our prayer is that this is only the start of serving these servants of Christ around the world.

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Calvin on the Christian Life

Our friends at Desiring God have posted an abridged excerpt from Mike Horton’s forthcoming book, Calvin on the Christian Life.  If you missed his small talk at their recent Pastor’s Conference, this is a great recap.

Calvin hits shelves at the end of March–for more information, go to the series page at Crossway.

 

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On The Road With White Horse Inn

If you have some time today and over the next week, please pray for one of our senior staff members who is traveling through several closed countries in the Middle East taking White Horse Inn resources to evangelical pastors. We hope to provide more detailed information after he returns, but we’ll refrain for now to protect him and the Christians he will be meeting with over the next few days.

For those of you who received our 2013 year-end fundraising appeal, this is the first step of what we called our “international strategy” in the letter. Your gifts are being put to immediate use to get almost 25 years of solid Reformational content into the hands of people all across the world. Thank you for your generosity!

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So Many Popes!

A recent article today in Charisma News by Brooklyn minister, Joseph Mattera, raises some important questions with extraordinary ramifications.

The author is concerned with the proliferation of evangelical and Pentecostal megachurches that reflect a Roman Catholic model of church leadership, especially in Latin America.  Churches become empires with numerous departments and programs staffed by an army of “professional” Christians under the command of the CEO.

The fact that these questions are raised by an overseeing bishop of a church within a coalition that affirms the ongoing office of apostles, and in an article published in a charismatic magazine, is especially significant.  It’s a hopeful sign that leaders like Mattera argue for a more biblical view of the church and ministry, with officers mutually accountable instead of making unilateral decisions.

 

The Lure of Unaccountable Power

Joseph Mattera puts his finger on a very big problem in the global church today.  It’s not only in countries with a Roman Catholic history where “papal” models proliferate.  They are well known features of U.S. church life.   Perhaps “papal” isn’t the right analogy.  The pope today has little authority over renegade teachers and bishops. The communion that he leads at least in theory is as internally divided by countless factions, schools, and personalities as Protestantism is more visibly.  A better analogy might be the founder and CEO.  After all, popes at least are elected by the college of cardinals.

Even in our circles, there is a tendency to create stars whose models of “doing church” divide the ordered life of local and wider assemblies of mutual accountability.  Few actually set out with that purpose.

It begins as an experiment; then, if it’s successful, it becomes a model.  To preserve its success and the ongoing creativity and innovative potential of the leader/model, the church tends to isolate itself from the wider assemblies of the church (presbytery, general assemblies or synods, etc.).  A network emerges with ties to the leader/model that are stronger than the bonds between ministers and elders who have taken oaths to a common confession and church order.

Before you know it, factions arise in opposition to and in defense of a particular model and spokesmen and the court of public opinion (especially blogs) replaces the courts of the church for fraternal discussion, debate, encouragement, and correction.  Churches that needed the visionary insights are able to reinforce their prejudices unhindered by face-to-face engagement and the more experimental churches that needed wisdom and correction are able to pursue their agenda without interruption.  Instead of listening to the multiplicity of voices (“wisdom in many counselors”), churches actually become more narrow, insular, and independent.  We may belong formally to the same denomination, but our deeper affinity is the tribe—the church-within-a-church to which we belong.  Eventually, the church-within-a-church becomes its own denomination, and so on.

This is the legacy of pietism, reinforced by a few centuries of revivalism.  If Reformation churches were too closely tied to the state, the danger is that evangelicalism is too closely identified with the democratic egalitarianism at the heart of modernity.  It’s the danger of looking upon the world as a market instead of a mission-field and upon the church as a sales force rather than sheep to be looked after.

I’m not suggesting at all that the pietist-revivalist tradition of Protestantism encourages the lure of unaccountable power.  That is already in us, part of our sinful condition.  Much less am I saying that a biblical form of church government (presbyterian, I’m bound to say!) saves us from arrogant self-assertion.  What I do believe, however, is that the system of checks and balances that it sets up can at least make it more difficult for us to have our way in that regard.

 

Calvin: No Fiefdoms!

One of the striking take-aways from Scott Manetsch’s Calvin’s Company of Pastors is the extent to which the Genevan reformer resisted the cult of personality.  Insisting on a plurality of ministers and elders, with decisions falling to the mutual consent of officers in local and broader assemblies, Calvin never saw St. Pierre’s as a personal fiefdom.  He never spoke the way we often do today about his church or his pulpit or his ministry.  In fact, ministers rotated to the various parish churches each week, so that the people would be attached to Christ rather than to men, to the ministry rather than the minister.  Pastors have to remember, Calvin said, that they are friends of the bridegroom, not the groom.  It’s their job to lead them to Christ, not to themselves.

Many in the orbit of the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” today seem to be drawn to extremes: either the independent egalitarianism that ends up creating many popes or the older top-down hierarchy of Rome.  In case after case that I’ve witnessed, the moves have been made by leaping over biblical models of church government.   There are of course many in the past and today who have given careful consideration to the case for this covenantal ecclesiology.  Yet the greater tendency, I suspect, is rash (restless) hastiness.  Those looking for a visible pope on earth dismiss it as too democratic, while those who want to build their own fiefdoms dismiss it as too stifling and, ironically, “hierarchical.”

Christ is still fulfilling his pledge to build his Church regardless.  As we look at the actual state of the particular churches and denominations to which we belong, we may feel compelled to make that choice between a “wild west” evangelicalism and an ahistorical idea of “Camelot” that the longing for Rome and Constantinople represent.  No form of government will guarantee the existence of the true Church; that is lodged in the true preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments.  Yet the form of discipline is not thereby made unimportant, when after all our only Head and King mandates not only the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments, but “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  And whether it always looks like it or not, we have his promise: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mat 28:19-21).

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You’re Invited to the 2nd Annual WHI Weekend

For more information or to register please visit the White Horse Inn Weekend homepage.

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Defend the Faith – “How can anyone know about life after death?”

Michael Horton recently sat down and answered five of the most common apologetics questions people get when they share their faith with their friends and family. We’ll be posting one each week through the end of the year. For more information on our Defend the Faith campaign and for additional resources to help you “know and share what you believe and why you believe it,” please visit the homepage of our year end appeal.

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Defend the Faith – “Why is there so much evil and suffering?”

Michael Horton recently sat down and answered five of the most common apologetics questions people get when they share their faith with their friends and family. We’ll be posting one each week through the end of the year. For more information on our Defend the Faith campaign and for additional resources to help you “know and share what you believe and why you believe it,” please visit the homepage of our year end appeal.

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Who’s Who at the 2014 White Horse Inn Weekend

One of the most exciting things about our 2014 White Horse Inn Weekend is our special guest speakers who literally come to us from around the world! In addition to Mike, Rod, Kim, and Ken—our regular “cast of characters” from the White Horse Inn—we’re pleased to welcome Greg Koukl, Isaac Shaw, and Hicham Chehab. We hope that these brief introductions to our special guests encourage you to register to attend before the end of the early bird promotional rate on January 31, 2014.

 

Greg Koukl is the host of the syndicated radio program, Stand to Reason. He’s a frequent guest on the White Horse Inn, and we’re proud to work with him in the important areas of apologetics and Christian witness. He’s been featured on many secular and religious news outlets across the country, especially when important religious and ethical issues are at stake. His most recent book, Tactics, is the kind of hands-on guide that Christians need to discuss their faith in the public square. Greg has lectured around the world, and we’re honored to have him join us. His keynote address on Thursday night, “Is God a Religious Pluralist?,” will demonstrate the kind of careful thinking and engaging presentation that has made Greg a trusted voice on issues of Christian theology and apologetics.

  • Thursday night keynote dinner address
  • Friday morning panel discussion

 

Isaac Shaw is a busy man! He is both the executive director of the New Delhi Bible Institute and the senior pastor of the Bible Bhavan Christian Fellowship churches—a family of churches across North India. Isaac is responsible for giving leadership to many young pastors, missionaries, and evangelists who are taking the gospel into areas of North India dominated by Hinduism and Islam. He has overseen the establishment of more than seventy churches. We’re blessed to have a man like Isaac who is serving on the front lines of the Kingdom’s expansion to teach us how to engage our unbelieving family and friends with the unique message of the Christian faith. His keynote address on Friday night, “The False Hope of Hinduism,” will introduce many of us to one of the fastest growing religions in the world.

  • Friday night keynote dinner address
  • Saturday morning seminar
  • Saturday afternoon panel discussion

 

Hicham Chehab’s story of his conversion to Christ is an exciting account of God’s faithfulness in the midst of great conflict. Hicham grew up in Lebanon during that country’s bloody civil war. Raised in a Muslim family and drawn to some of the extremist groups that fought during the war, Hicham’s world was turned upside down when a Christian killed his brother. By the grace of God, Hicham was saved from both his rage and his sin and became a pastor in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. He immigrated to the United States where he now serves as a missionary to Muslim immigrants across the Midwest. His seminar on Saturday morning, “The Mission Field Next Door,” will equip you to understand and witness to your Muslim neighbors and friends.

  • Saturday morning seminar
  • Saturday afternoon panel discussion

 

We can’t wait to learn from these men along with you. To register for the Weekend, click here. We hope to see you in Vail, Colorado, next July!

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