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Courageous Christianity?

Anthony Parisi is a filmmaker for New Renaissance Pictures and one of the co-founders of WebSerials.com. His website is www.anthonyparisimedia.com


Last weekend saw the release of Courageous, the fourth film produced by the media ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. Opening fourth at the box office with a call to responsible fatherhood, the movie is being trumpeted as the latest culture-transforming hope for some evangelicals. As with Facing the Giants and Fireproof, endorsements are marching out from various churches and para-church organizations across the country.

I’m less concerned with how individual Christians personally choose to interact with the film and more with the troubling trends of American evangelicalism it illustrates. Is Courageous really something to be whole-heartedly embraced? Art being reduced as a vehicle for sermonizing is problematic enough, but even more so is the type of sermon being preached. The emphasis on personal morality and simplistic transformation turn this film into a superficial lecture rather than a robust exploration of life as a Christian father. Our personal piety, our self-improvement, and our “courage” forms the fabric of the story. Christ and his gospel, along with church life and God’s established means of grace, are marginalized.

The story follows a group of four law enforcement officers who seek to become better fathers and live up to God’s calling of leadership in their homes. When tragedy strikes his family, Adam (played by writer/director Alex Kendrick) looks for renewed identity by telling his pastor “I want to know what God expects of me as a father.” Six weeks later he’s typed up a list of resolutions and is on a mission to live up to each and every one of them. “I don’t want to be a good enough father.” His other friends soon join in and they all agree to hold each other accountable. Resolutions are framed and vows are given in a backyard ceremony. They are warned to now be “doubly accountable” and when challenges arise will need “courage, courage, courage.”

The third act attempts to put these vows to the test through a handful of sequences that show the men either failing or persevering. Three of the men encounter few problems at all, appearing to meet the challenge effortlessly. One fails and is convicted of a serious crime. Another faces a test of honesty at work but resists the temptation—finding no consequences or suffering for his integrity and instead receiving instant promotion. Everything culminates in a Sunday morning church scene. The pastor gives up his pulpit to one of the cops, who admonishes the men in the congregation to accept their responsibilities as fathers if they want God’s blessing on their home. Inspiring music crescendos and fists are raised with the repeating cries of “I will, I will, I will!

The film closes and we smash cut to a 3D fly-in of the title “Courageous” as contemporary Christian rock drives it home with anthemic force. “We were made to be courageous / We were made to lead the way / We could be the generation / That finally breaks the chains.” Watching this inspirational ending, one can’t help but hear an echo of the Israelites at the foot of Mt. Sinai, where all of the people swear an oath to keep the law and be faithful to the Mosaic covenant. The credits even display Joshua 24:15, taken from a passage where Joshua leads the people of Israel in covenant renewal at Shechem as they again promise to fulfill their vows. In the context of redemptive history, this story illustrates how Israel’s failure to be faithful and inherit the Promised Land ultimately pointed forward to Christ, who would earn the true Promised Land for his people in spite of their sin. In Courageous, as in many Sherwood productions, texts like this are abstracted and turned into moralistic slogans already on hats and t-shirts. As with much self-proclaimed “Christian art” from the last few decades, the end product ends up replicating many of the worst parts of our consumerist culture. Spin-off resolution books and devotionals become branded accompaniments.

Given the clear sincerity and earnest work put in by the filmmakers, it’s hard to know the best way to respond to all this. The social issues and family challenges it seeks to raise are certainly worth exploring. Small, independent dramas on family life are a rarity in Hollywood’s current obsession with franchise-driven blockbusters and it’s refreshing to see stories of this scale and interest on screen. The importance of fathers in family life and their responsibilities is always an area in need of our attention. Yet it’s hard to muster much enthusiasm when the film fails to engage or embody any of these areas well.

Courageous rejects nuance and the cross-bearing pilgrimage of the Christian life for artificially neat resolutions to the prayers of its one-dimensional characters. Sherwood continues to make films with God functioning primarily as a tool for our lives—whether he’s helping us win football games, repair our struggling marriages, or helping us find a job within seconds of a cry to the heavens. Brief, passing references to the gospel are only seen useful to convert a skeptic, who in a few tearful seconds somehow embraces the faith. Despite all the sermonizing dialogue—the story’s form and emphatic message has all of its focus on us and our accomplishments, not Christ and his work for us. In what could be page out of a John Elridge book, the “manly” vocation of police officer is used as the icon of fatherhood. Violent shootouts and car chase stunts ensure being a godly dad also looks as glorious as possible. Even the poster image calls to mind the slow-motion hero shot popularized by Michael Bay. As for the women, they are given little to do than look on approvingly.

The result is that Christians and their “good works” become the message, overshadowing Christ and the gospel. The LA Times calls the movie “a particularly clunky, tunnel-visioned vehicle whose overbearing, overlong script nearly smothers the movie’s quibble-free message: Fathers must be responsible.” The AV Club describes it as “essentially about fundamentally good, moral men proudly accepting the mantle of fatherhood” and feels that the film “deifies fatherhood and fathers when it would be better off treating its central striver like a flawed human being instead of a paper saint.” Slant Magazine laments “One must have the courage to ignore this self-righteous pablum’s naïve, truly offensive trivialization of social realities in this country—the complete flipside of Paul Haggis’s cynical representation of the same in Crash.” The New York Times pointedly sums everything up: “Adam is born again into the spiritual obligations of conservative family values.”

While surely produced with good intentions, Courageous is likely to further entrench the misguided culture wars and bring harm to the Christian witness in the world. Alongside the political arena, art is another place where confusion about the institutional church and the way it interacts with culture is common. Churches should always encourage individual members to take up vocations in the arts, but this is to be done out of love for one’s neighbor and needs to embrace the totality of life. Films like this reinforce the unfortunate impulse that anything we create must be explicitly “Christianized” or evangelistic. Churches are to spread the kingdom not by some sort of cultural revival but by the unglamorous life of local ministry God has founded on Word and sacrament. Making movies falls far outside the bounds of what the church has been called to do.

Thankfully, the church has good news that far outpaces the takeaway of this story: an announcement that God has reconciled sinners to himself through Jesus Christ. The gospel pulls us out of our fragile self-worth built on performance and centers our identity on God’s love for us in Christ. As forgiven, yet still sinful sons and daughters, mothers and fathers— we will continually fall short of what God has called us to. In marriage and family life we need to be reminded of the gospel more than ever. Only by continually looking to our standing in grace can we be humbled and motivated to serve others not in prideful self-righteousness but thankful gratitude. Christ was courageous for us when we were not. This is the good news that changes everything.

WHI-1070 | Christianity & the New Liberalism

Is Christianity primarily about what God is doing in your life right now, or what he did one afternoon two-thousand years ago? Is the idea of Jesus “in your heart” more important than Jesus “in the manger” or “on the cross”? Do you value your own personal experience of faith more than what God accomplishes externally through the proclamation of the gospel? In the not-too-distant past, theological liberals were the ones answering yes to questions like these, but increasingly American evangelicals are moving in this direction. On this program, the hosts discuss this troubling trend and offer some challenges to this “new liberalism” of our time (originally broadcast March 23, 2008).

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Yes, Virginia, there is a Holy Spirit

I was intrigued by a recent conversation between Doug Wilson and Mark Driscoll (interview video above).

I’d prefer to keep my thoughts to myself, but I think there’s a crucial piece missing from the “debate.”

As I said in an earlier post ( Reformed and Charismatic?), I’m not willing to die on the hill of cessationism. In fact, I’d fit into the category that Doug Wilson describes as “a cessaionist who believes strange things happen.” A sovereign God is free to fulfill his purposes as he pleases. As God, the Holy Spirit is not on a leash.

However, this misses the point. No Calvinist would believe that the Spirit is not free or that he cannot speak directly to people today as he did in the days of the prophets and apostles. Nor are Reformed Christians deists for believing that, as a rule, he doesn’t. In fact, the church was not guided by anti-supernaturalism when it rejected the claims of the Montanists in the late second century. Nor were Luther and Calvin under the spell of the Enlightenment when they challenged the “enthusiasts” for pitting the Word against the Spirit.

The Spirit is not bound by anything, but he freely binds himself to his Word. The question is not where the Spirit may work, but where he has promised to work. If strange things happen—similar to events in the era of the prophets and apostles, praise the Lord! However, one doesn’t have a right to expect the Spirit to work except where he has promised to work and through the means that the Triune God has ordained.

Like older charismatic-cessationist debates in evangelicalism, this newer discussion therefore has the wrong categories. The real issue isn’t whether the sign-gifts have ceased; it’s whether the Spirit works through ordinary means that Christ ordained explicitly or whether he works through extraordinary means that were identified with the extraordinary ministry of the apostles. Even deeper than that, it’s a question of whether we embrace a paradigm in which the Spirit’s work is identified with direct and immediate activity within us apart from ordinary means or through the external Word and sacraments. The history of “enthusiasm” (Protestant or otherwise) trends toward an almost Gnostic dualism between spirit and matter, indirect and inner experience versus mediated and external ministry, the individual heart and the covenant community. This is where the seismic fault is revealed. It’s at this point where the real differences—paradigmatic differences—become evident. And there are plenty of cessationists as well as charismatics who presuppose the “enthusiastic” paradigm.

In this interview, my friend Mark Driscoll expresses his worry that cessationists believe in the “Father, Son, and Holy Bible.” That may well be. In fact, one of the things that I’ve emphasized especially in recent years is the richness of the Spirit’s person and work that is actually far more evident in classic Reformed as well as patristic faith and practice than today. The temptation to celebrate the Spirit over the Word in our day is in part a reaction against a conservative tendency to separate the Word from the Spirit. He has also said elsewhere that where Reformed people attribute God’s work to the gospel, charismatics attribute it to the Spirit. We talk past each other, he says. I’m not so sure. Rather, I think we’re operating with quite different paradigms. When we attribute God’s work to the gospel, it’s actually attributing it to the Spirit who works through the gospel.

The choice between Spirit and Word is a false one that has typically been forced by Protestant enthusiasm. We do speak past each other, but because we have different paradigms—not just because of different views of whether the sign-gifts have ceased. For example, the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “Where does this true faith come from?” Answer: “The Holy Spirit creates it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel and confirms it by the holy sacraments.” Who creates it? The Holy Spirit. How? Through preaching the gospel and by ratifying it through the baptism and the Supper.

When Reformed people (and others) speak of preaching, baptism, Communion, covenantal nurture in the home, church discipline, diaconal ministry and so forth, our charismatic brothers and sisters wonder, “Where is the Holy Spirit?” Why? Because they have come to see the Spirit’s work as separate from—even antithetical to—the external ministry of the church and ordinary means of grace.

Of course, this point doesn’t address the issues, much less pretend to solve them. However, my hope at least is that we could have a better conversation than the usual debate question: “The Sign-Gifts Have Ceased: Pro or Con?”

For and Against Calvinism

We’re very excited to announce a unique opportunity to witness and participate in the kinds of conversation that matter. Mike Horton and Roger Olson have recently written two books: For Calvinism and Against Calvinism, respectively. They will be on stage together at Biola University on Saturday, October 15, 2011, to discuss their differences and why the issue matters.

This isn’t a debate; it’s a conversation. It’s based on twenty years of mutual respect. Sadly, these kinds of conversations don’t happen nearly often enough. Most of the time we’re looking for a fight, for a debate, for an opportunity to score points. But for the church to know and experience a modern Reformation, we need to engage those in and outside of our circles with respect and a willingness to listen.

We don’t want you to just listen in; we want you to join the conversation. There will be an opportunity for you to submit questions for both Dr. Olson and Dr. Horton. We’ll have more information about that later, but for now I hope that you’ll make plans to join us on October 15th at Biola University. If you can’t join us at Biola, plan on joining us in Miami, Florida on January 28, 2012, where we’ll host the same conversation for our East Coast friends.

The doors open at 7:00 pm on October 15th at Biola. Visit our bookstore at the event and grab your own copy of For Calvinism  and Against Calvinism. There will be an opportunity for the authors to sign books after the conversation concludes.

Thinking About Pastors Appreciation Month?

Many churches are in the habit of celebrating their pastor’s faithfulness during the month of October. It may be a “Hallmark Holiday” sort of event, but as a pastor who has received several small gifts from my congregation in the fall, I can testify to its place in the life of the local church.

This month, we want to help you honor your pastor’s service to the church. If your church would like to send your pastor and his wife on the White Horse Inn Conference at Sea in January 2012, we’ll provide a special discount code that will take $100 off of the total price.

Here’s a brief video of Mike Horton talking about the cruise:

Be sure to email our office for the discount code. We hope to see you and your pastor in January!

The White Horse Inn is now on Daily Radio in San Diego!

After almost 22 years of being solely a weekly radio show, White Horse Inn is testing itself on daily radio in San Diego on KPRZ (1210 AM) at 10:30am, Monday-Friday!

Be sure to tune in at 10:30am PDST to hear our debut! Click here to listen to KPRZ live

WHI-1069 | An Interview with Mark Galli

On this edition of White Horse Inn, Michael Horton talks with Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today magazine and author of God Wins: Heaven, Hell and Why the Good News is Better than Love Wins. Mike and Mark spend time discussing some of the troubling aspects of American evangelicalism in general and the theology of Rob Bell in particular. They also discuss Mark’s other new book, Chaos & Grace: Discovering the Liberating Work of the Holy Spirit.

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Popes, Populism, or Presbyteries? Evaluating the Multi-Site Church

With the rise of multi-site church planting even among the more discerning evangelical ministries, raising an objection at this point is a little like giving away Cinnabons at a health convention. A real party killer.

So I for one am really glad that Thabiti Anyabwile, a wise and godly pastor-and Council member of The Gospel Coalition-has expressed so clearly what many of us have been thinking for a while now. And hats off to The Gospel Coalition for providing a forum for this healthy conversation. (See Thabiti Anywabwile, “Multi-Site Churches are From the Devil”). It’s well worth the read, regardless of where you stand on the question.

Many are calling multi-site churches a revolution-not so surprising for a movement that prefers revolutions to reformations. As the authors of The Multi-Site Church Revolution (Zondervan, 2006) define it, “A multi-site church is one church meeting in multiple locations…A multi-site church shares a common vision, budget, leadership, and board” (p. 18). Sounds hierarchical, no? In fact, the book’s subtitle is One Church in Many Locations. It would be ridiculous to compare radical Protestantism to the Roman Catholic Church. However, at this point, there is at least a theoretical agreement. According to the latter, there is one supreme pastor and thus, one church, headquartered in Rome, with branch offices, as it were, throughout the world. This polity is explicitly and dogmatically committed to a hierarchical ministry, with a charismatically-gifted head who is accountable only to the Spirit who endows him with at least the potential for infallible interpretations of God’s Word.

One of the many things I appreciate about Pastor Anyabwile is that he is actually a Baptist-a Calvinistic Baptist, to be sure, but a Baptist. He is convinced that Scripture teaches congregational church government (i.e., the independence of local churches) as well as a “gathered church” model of membership that doesn’t admit covenant children through baptism. Personally, I wish he were not a Baptist or a congregationalist, but you know where he stands-it’s not within a movement but within a concrete ecclesiastical tradition. He didn’t invent these ideas, but is persuaded that they’re biblical. Furthermore, despite the age-old debates of significance between us, he and I would agree more with each other than either of us probably would with those in our own traditions who wanted to “go multi-site.”

I’m not at all saying that defenders of the multi-site model do not appeal to Scripture. For example, Gregg Allison notes that “the house-churches in that city [like Corinth] would come together as the ‘church in Corinth’ to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.” ["Theological Defense of Multi-Site," IX Marks Ejournal (May-June 2009), 11.] Similarly, J.D. Greear points out that the church in Jerusalem was one church meeting in multiple locations. ["A Pastor Defends His Multi-Site Church," IX Marks Ejournal (May-June, 2009), 21.] In fact, I agree with these specific interpretations.

So I share Thabiti Anyabwile’s concerns about the multi-site model. I especially concur with his statement that you can’t have elders in a particular church without a pastor (and deacons). If you do, it’s basically (though imprecisely a “papal” model), where the local church’s main under-shepherd is not the local pastor (or teaching elder) but a minister who is known and loved by the congregation only as an exalted icon. He is not the servant of Christ who feeds you regularly with the Word and sacraments and leads you in corporate worship; who visits your home, catechizes your teenagers, and drops by the hospital to see how you’re coming along after surgery. If not papal, the multi-site ecclesiology is at least quasi-episcopal, with the cathedral (seat of the bishop) and its satellite churches (diocese). One way to know whether your church is following the New Testament pattern is to ask yourself the practical question: If I were struggling, could I call the pastor? Does he actually look after his local flock, beyond public appearances to preach and teach? That’s a good question to ask whether you’re in a multi-site situation with live video feeds or in a traditional church with a pastor who says, “I don’t do visitations.”

Yet I also agree with the model’s proponents that the apostolic church was organized as a constellation of local congregations in larger cities or regions. They were not planted by a single megachurch with a single pastor, but by the presbyters (pastors and elders). Once “particularized” (i.e., properly organized as local churches), these congregations had equal rank with every other church, as well as equal responsibilities and accountability. This covenantal connectionalism spread out in concentric circles from the local church (with its three offices) to the presbytery (representative ministers and elders from all the local churches) to broader synods and assemblies.

The main outlines of a presbyterian polity can be seen in the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, where a local church dispute was taken to the broader assembly of the church. It is striking that several times the report refers to “the apostles and the elders” as the decision-making body. Commissioners (including Paul and Barnabus) were sent from the local church in Antioch to the wider assembly, convened at Jerusalem. In fact, it was James rather than Peter who said, for his part, “Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God…” (v 19). Still, the final verdict awaited the assent of the full assembly. “Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabus,” to relate the written decision to that local church (vv 22-29). Clearly, “the whole church” wasn’t present exhaustively in terms of every believer, but it was present representatively (covenantally) through the pastors (in this case, the apostles) and elders who were sent from various churches.

At the Jerusalem Council, the unity that the Spirit had established at Pentecost was preserved visibly not by the sacrifice of the one to the many or the many to the one, but by the consent of the many as one. The covenant community functioned covenantally in its outward and interpersonal government, in mutual submission rather than hierarchical unity or independent plurality. Already in the following chapter we see the salutary practical effects of this Council in the mission to the Gentiles, when Timothy joined Paul and Silas. “As they went from city to city, they delivered to them for observance the decisions [dogmata] that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily” (Ac 16:4-5). Not merely godly advice that churches could either accept or reject, these emissaries were delivering decisions to be observed by the whole body. At the same time, they were not imposed hierarchically, but arrived at ecumenically by representatives of the broader church. The whole visible church was present federally (covenantally) at the Jerusalem Council.

Interestingly, even Eastern Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas and Pope Benedict XVI concur that presbyterian polity was the earliest. [1] Similar to the third-century Eastern father Cyprian, the Western father Jerome explained less than a century later, “Before attachment to persons in religion was begun at the instigation of the devil, the churches were governed by the common consultation of the elders,” and Jerome goes so far as to suggest that the introduction of bishops as a separate order above the elders and ministers was “more from custom than from the truth of an arrangement by the Lord.” [2] The significance of Peter in the apostolic college was never denied by the evangelical confessions, yet it was pointed out that Christ gave the keys of the kingdom to all of the apostles equally, and it pertained to the confession of Christ as the Son of God (Mt 16:19 with 18:18-20).

Christ gave the keys to the church, to be administered by lawfully called and ordained servants, for the express purpose of both preserving the corporate body and its individual members against the ravaging effects of false teaching and practice, as well as false accusations. Members and officers must have access to due process in church courts. The point of a presbyterian polity is to spread the ministerial authority of the church out to the many, at the local level and with recourse to broader assemblies, rather than to place it in the hands of one pastor or circle of power. The ordinary ministers do not receive their gift and commission directly from God alone, but through “the laying on of the hands of the eldership [presbuteriou]” (1 Tim 4:14).

If Reformed ecclesiology is designated “Church as Covenant,” it is not surprising that the form of its outward organization is connectional. This is to say that “the church” refers not only to particular (local) churches, nor to the clerical hierarchy, but to local congregations, broader assemblies (regional and ecumenical), and to the whole communion of professing believers and their children in all times and places. The unity of the Spirit that were are called to preserve is not merely that of the invisible church, but of the visible church. It’s not coalitions, alliances, and other parachurch associations that bind us together, but the ministry of Word, sacrament, and discipline spelled out in the New Testament. It’s churches, not movements, that are ordained by Christ to make disciples and exhibit this unity in the Word and Spirit.

The New Testament refers to the church as wider than a local congregation (Ac 9:31; 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:4-16) and the churches addressed in the epistles (though in the singular) consisted of more than one local congregation (Ac 20:20; Rom 16:5; Philem 2). On one hand, I think it’s over-stretching to say that this connectional polity is essential to the very being of the church; on the other hand, we cannot say that we are planting and nurturing churches on the basis of our constitution if we don’t even wrestle with the clear principles spelled out in the New Testament itself.

A covenantal ecclesiology suggests a concrete praxis, which is neither hierarchical nor democratic. “Presbyterian” comes from the word presbyteros (elder), with the New Testament term for a broader assembly of elders as a presbyteriou (presbytery). So it’s always ironic to me when pioneers of evangelical revolutions appeal to Moses as the model (since, after all, he was Moses-and even he led together with the elders of Israel). Or when they act, at least implicitly, as if they were apostles instead of ordinary ministers who receive the apostolic Word. Or when ministries led by a super-preacher characterize presbyterian polity as “hierarchical.” Actually, presbyterian government is neither hierarchical nor democratic, but representative.

A covenantal conception of apostolicity-seems to me at least to imply a connectional yet non-hierarchical polity: something like a presbyterian polity. Elders are to be “worthy of double honor,” although for this reason, “Do not ordain anyone hastily…” (1 Tim 5:17, 22). Qualifications for ministers and elders are clearly laid out in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, distinct from the office of deacon (vv 8-13). It is not because of his charisma, personality, communicative skills, or any other characteristics of his person, but in virtue of his office that Timothy is told by Paul, “Command and teach these things,” in spite of his youth. “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders [presbyteriou] laid their hands on you” (1 Tim 4:11, 13-14). So Paul can also remind Titus that he left him “behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you,” again listing the qualifications (Tit 1:5-9). Although there is a distinction in office, this in no way implies a distinction in standing or quality before God.

Even Peter can identify himself as an apostle in his salutation and yet immediately add, “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 1:1). In his first letter, Peter says,

Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it-not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away (1 Pet 5:1-4).

Because the majority of the elders are not ministers of Word and sacrament, the distinction between those who exercise spiritual oversight and those who are served is not the same as that between clergy and laity in the usual sense. Just as the Jerusalem Council consisted of “the apostles and the elders,” broader and local assemblies are composed of ministers (teaching elders) and ruling elders together. [3]

As is evident in Peter’s example, all ministers are elders but not all elders are ministers. Together, they are “overseers” (episkopois), which is often translated “bishops.” This is evident from Acts 20, where the Ephesian elders are called episkopous (v 28), as also in Philippians 1:1. In calling Titus to “appoint elders in every town,” Paul uses presbyterous and episkopous interchangeably (Tit 1:5-7). Significantly, it is Peter who says that Christ is “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Pet 2:25). Together with other elders, the apostles oversaw the flock under Christ as its only Chief Shepherd, but they gradually widened this pastoral ministry to the ordinary ministers who were trained and ordained for the specific office of preaching, prayer and teaching (Eph 4:7-16).

Whereas a hierarchical model directs the focus of unity and catholicity upward and inward from the lower rungs of the ecclesiastical ladder to a single earthly head or to a college of bishops, a presbyterian model directs the focus downward and outward from the Ascended Christ to the church and the ends of the earth. At the same time, individual believers and local churches are not left to themselves, nor merely open to other Christians and churches, but are gathered together as one flock under one shepherd, mutually encouraging and correcting each other, and bringing all of their resources to bear on evangelism, mission, and service. The church’s unity, catholicity, holiness, and apostolicity are expressed in the diversity of gifts bestowed on the church as an irreducible plurality, and yet within a connectional polity. Hence, Paul can move back and forth between the unity of the one body and its irreducible plurality. “For in fact the body is not one member but many” (1 Cor 12:14).

If this interpretation is correct, the New Testament knows nothing of multi-site congregations, but only of congregations in the fullest sense (led by pastors, elders, and deacons). These congregations are not independent, but they are also not hierarchically governed even by one pastor on-site, but by pastors and elders together. And each of these local churches is accountable not hierarchically to the pastor-bishop of another church, but mutually and covenantally to each other.

There are many other important issues that Thabiti Anyabwile and others raise with respect to technology. As analysis of media culture remind us, the technologies we use also use us and we dare not be naïve about how they change who we are, individually and corporately. According to marketing analyst Michael Sack, younger generations no longer trust video images, given their association with relentless marketing, sound-bites, and spin. They only trust news that is personally delivered, he says.

More basically, Martin Luther said “The church is not a pen-house, but a mouth-house,” because, as Paul reminds us in Romans 10, “faith comes by hearing the word of Christ.” Slick video feeds create excitement and interest, but the personal proclamation of the Word by ordained ambassadors is the means Christ has ordained for delivering himself and all of his benefits. “How shall they hear without a preacher and how shall they preach unless they are sent?”, Paul asks. The Westminster Larger Catechism adds that the Spirit blesses especially the preaching of the Word because it is by this means that he “draws us out of ourselves” to cling to Christ-and to embrace each other. From the pulpit, the baptismal font, and the Lord’s Table-in every local church-Christ himself is present to give himself to sinners. It’s not about the ministers, but about the ministry. Christ is our Prophet, Priest, and King.


1 Interestingly, Cardinal Ratzinger acknowledges that presbyter and episcopoi are used interchangeably in the New Testament.. See Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Called to Communion, 122-123 Back

2 Second Helvetic Confession in The Book of Confessions (Louisville: PCUSA General Assembly, 1991), Chapter 18 (5.160-162) Back

3 Differing largely in nothing more than terminology, Presbyterian churches refer to the local session, a regional presbytery, and a national General Assembly while for Reformed churches these bodies are referred to as consistory, classis, and synod, respectively. Back

Christianity.com Video 14 – Sinners Being Sent to Hell by God

Mike takes up the theme of earlier videos concerning hell and why God sends people there in this video from Christianity.com. Today is the day of salvation and that is the message that needs to be proclaimed to a world condemned because of its sin and its deserving of God’s just wrath.

Christianity.com Video 13 – The Importance of Studying Theology

Christianity.com asked Mike about the importance of studying theology for Christians. Mike discusses this by comparing our desire to gain knowledge in our other relationships… or even our iPhones.

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