7 Reasons Christians Should STAY On Facebook

FacebookI read a lot of messages encouraging people to leave Facebook (and other social networks) these days and in partial answer to those calls, I wanted to outline 7 Reasons I believe Christians should STAY on Facebook. I hope this may also encourage you to see ways in which Facebook can be used for Kingdom purposes (and not just Candy Crush Saga) :

1) FELLOWSHIP: Christian fellowship is usually limited to specific settings and relatively small gatherings, and the ability of Christians to meet and fellowship with other Christians outside of their area can usually only occur during conferences and mission trips. But Facebook creates a setting in which fellowship can occur at any time amongst Christians from around the world. It also affords an opportunity to keep in touch with brothers and sisters in Christ who have moved away that would only otherwise occur very intermittently. While it can’t replace the actual assembling together of the saints that occurs in corporate worship (Heb. 10:25), and should never be thought of as a replacement for bible studies or prayer meetings, when rightly used Facebook can provide a healthy supplement to that fellowship and is especially important to believers who are separated from their brothers and sisters in Christ by great distances.

2) ENCOURAGEMENT: The media, and that includes Christian media, tends to focus on negative stories, but Facebook provides a setting where Christians can encourage one another with good reports, lift up the disheartened and do what they can “to stir up love and good works” in their fellow believers (Heb. 10:24). There have been many occasions when I have received words that have encouraged me to press on in difficult times or which have lifted my spirits in a time of sorrow or trial. As Proverbs 10:23 puts it, “a word spoken in due season, how good it is!”

3) REJOICING AND GRIEVING: Paul counseled the Roman Christians to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) There are so many occasions for rejoicing and grieving with fellow Christians that might be lost if you did not hear about them via Facebook. One of my great joys is being able to hear good news from friends who are far away and be able to share in their joy, or to be able to sympathize with them when they are afflicted.

4) PRAYER: James encourages the saints to “pray for one another” (James 5:16) Facebook provides a wonderful platform for both speedily sending and receiving prayer requests, especially for urgent requests. It also provides us an opportunity to pray with and for saints from other countries and congregations whom we would never know apart from Facebook. It’s been my privilege to see many of these Facebook prayer requests wonderfully blessed by the Lord over the years. 

5) ACCOUNTABILITY: Facebook is often a place where people publicly share things they probably wouldn’t share in a church setting. I know of many instances in which pastors and elders have learned of serious problems in their congregation via the medium of Facebook that might otherwise never have come to their attention, and have been enabled to deal with them pastorally because of this medium. I know of at least one marriage that was saved, and one suicide attempt that was averted in this way.

6) EDIFICATION: We are often grieved when social media becomes the setting for angry or obscene exchanges, but for Christians there are wonderful opportunities to share articles, scripture, anecdotes, stories, and videos that are intended to teach, strengthen, and build up the people who read, watch, or listen to them. When wisely used, Facebook can massively extend the reach of what would otherwise be a small and very local fellowship. When using Facebook we would all do well to heed Paul’s exhortation to, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” (Eph. 4:29)

7) EVANGELISM: In the parable of the wedding feast the King (God) tells his servants,  “’The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’” (Matthew 22:8-9) While it is increasingly uncommon to see people speaking or gathering on the streets, social networks have become the highways and gathering places of our age, and good places for evangelism. If we were to spend a day knocking on doors or speaking to people about the gospel we might reach a score of people at best, but one gospel-centered post on a social network can easily reach hundreds if not thousands of people. Never before in history has it been possible to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:18) from your own house or office, and it strikes me as wrongheaded to be turning away from such a wonderful opportunity just when it has been given to us.

Posted in Encouragement, Evangelism and Church Growth, Friendship, Pastoral Theology, Prayer, Social Networking | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Was Eric Liddell a Legalist?

Chariots of Fire is undoubtedly one of my favorite movies. It tells the story of two runners who competed in the 19liddell-chariots-daughter24 Paris Olympics. One of those runners was a man by the name of Eric Liddell, a man dubbed the “Flying Scotsman” because of his nationality and astounding speed. But in addition to being a superlative runner and all around athlete, Eric Liddell was a man of deep Christian convictions. The son of missionaries, born in China, Eric’s vision was always to return to the mission field to do the essential work of spreading the gospel. But Eric also felt that God had given him a great gift in his athletic abilities and he was determined to put these gifts to good use. To that end he trained hard for the Olympics in the event in which he had already set a record in Britain – the 100-meter dash. But when he arrived in Paris, he found to his dismay that the race he had been preparing to compete in, the 100-meter dash had been set for Sunday, the Christian Sabbath. Eric quietly but firmly informed his country and his teammates that he would not run on Sunday and thus break the Sabbath.

His stand brought outrage throughout Britain. His countrymen widely believed that by refusing to run he was betraying his country and eliminating their best chance to win the Gold medal in this event. Eric tenaciously weathered the condemnation of both the press and his countrymen, and stuck to his guns. Even when the Prince of Wales, his earthly sovereign, appealed to him to run for king and country he pointed out that if serving king and country meant disobeying God, he could not do so. The Sunday of the race, in keeping with his convictions Eric was not on the track, he was in Church and not surprisingly it was the Americans and not the British who took the medal in the 100-meter dash.

A few days later, Eric competed in the 400-meter dash, a race he had not prepared for, and which was 4 times the distance of his best event. Just prior to the race, an America runner by the name of Charlie Paddock handed Eric a scrap of paper. On it he had written a paraphrase of 1 Sam. 2:30, it read “The Good Book says ‘He who honors me, I will honor’.” Clutching that piece of paper, Eric Liddell went on to win the 400 meter dash, and set a new world record in the process.

So, was Eric Liddell what Christians today would call a legalist? Someone similar in convictions to the Pharisees who persecuted Christ and misused the law of God? In order to find the answer to that question, let’s take a close look at the first 8 verses of Matthew chapter 12.

1At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them.
2When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
3He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?
4He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread–which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.
5Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent?
6I tell you that one greater than the temple is here.
7If you had known what these words mean, `I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.
8For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

In the first verse of Chapter 12 we see Christ and his disciples passing through the grain fields. The Season was probably the late spring just prior to the harvest when the grain was ripe. The disciples were hungry, and because they had no food as they passed through the long rows of grain they broke off a few heads and after rubbing the grain from the husk, they ate it. In doing so, they were not stealing from the owner of the field. Deuteronomy 23:25 had made provision for the poor saying “If you enter your neighbor’s grain field, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to his standing grain.” Any of you who have ever seen a grain field will know that allowing the poor to break off a few heads of grain is not going to lead to any monetary loss. The disciples were poor and hungry, and although Christ could have used his miraculous powers to provide food for his disciples he did not do so. As Spurgeon points out, Christ was not going to bribe anyone to become his disciple, to serve Christ was not then, nor has it ever been an easy thing.

But it was not the fact that the disciples were taking from the standing grain that offended the Pharisees, it was the day on which they were doing it. The Pharisees considered what the disciples were doing to be unlawful on the Sabbath. This was because the Pharisees had developed a precise code of regulations that set out no less than 39 different kinds of “work” that they felt constituted a violation of the Sabbath. These restrictions were so detailed that they governed exactly how much a man might put in his pocket before he broke the Sabbath by carrying a burden. The intent of the Pharisaic restrictions was to create a “hedge” around the Sabbath so that men would be dissuaded from breaking it. These restrictions made the disciples picking of grain “reaping”, and the rubbing of the grain from the husk “threshing”. Thus in their eyes the disciples were breaking the Sabbath by working.

But the rank hypocrisy of the Pharisees should be readily apparent. How were these super-pious servants of God observing the Sabbath? By keeping a watch over Christ and His Apostles to see if they might find something to accuse Him with! And once they had observed a violation of their rules, they wasted no time in laying the crimes of the disciples at the feet of their teacher.
How then does Christ answer the accusations of the Pharisees? Does Jesus tell the Pharisees that the observance of the Sabbath day has been done away with, and thus His disciples are no longer constrained to abide by it? No. Christ does not do that here or anywhere else in the gospels. Instead our Lord proves from the Scriptures that his disciples were not violating the Sabbath by their actions, but only the false restrictions of the Pharisees regarding it.

With their accretions and additions the Pharisees had taken a day that was intended to be a blessing to men and had made it into a burden. The Disciples had picked grain because they were hungry and had nothing to eat, and Jesus immediately draws a parallel between their actions and those of David when he and his men were in similar straits. He asks the Pharisees in Matthew 12:3 if they have read what David and his men did when they too were hungry. They entered into the Temple and ate the shew bread which was not normally lawful for them to do as only the Priests could eat this bread after a new set of loaves had been set out. What Christ is emphasizing with this example is that God never intended His law to be used as excuse for not doing deeds of necessity or mercy. Had David and his men eaten the consecrated bread out of bravado, or levity, or simply to thumb their noses at God, that would have been a grave sin, but that was not their intention. David and his men had an urgent need, and the law of God was never intended to be construed as compelling men to starve. In the same way, the Sabbath should not be construed as requiring that the disciples go hungry and become faint in order to abide by the made-up rules of the Pharisees. The Pharisees did not stop to consider, and it is doubtful whether they cared, how well an extremely hungry man could concentrate on keeping the Sabbath “Holy Unto the Lord.”

But the observance of minutia and the neglect of that which is truly important has always been the emphasis of religious hypocrites. The Pharisees were constantly guilty of observing the tiniest portions of the law in great detail, while ignoring that which the Lord truly wanted. This was the point Christ was making when he quoted a verse from Malachi to them, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” No law or commandment of God is to be so twisted that it makes us neglect our clear duties of charity and necessity. We are never to interpret our duties to God expressed in the first table of the Ten Commandments in such a way that we end up breaking our duties to man expressed in the second table. The fourth commandment which tells us to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” is never to be interpreted in such a way that we are made unkind and unmerciful to our neighbors. The Pharisees and religious hypocrites were constantly guilty of perverting the law of God in this fashion, for instance, by declaring that their property was dedicated to God they found an excuse for not providing for their parents and by not wishing to expose themselves to the possibility of becoming ceremonially unclean by touching a dead man, the Levite and the Priest were able to pass by on the other side road and ignore their duty to the man who had been beaten and left for dead by robbers in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).

Now if the problems of the Pharisees were the problems of the Christian community today, then the rest of this essay would be markedly different. I would go on to emphasize the foolishness of placing man-made rules over our God-given duties, or of interpreting the law of God in such a way that by keeping the letter of the law we end up violating the spirit of it. But, by and large, our problems with the Sabbath are not those of the Pharisees, we have not forgotten that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Instead we are generally guilty of dismissing the importance of the Lord’s day altogether! Thousands of Christians have come to the conclusion that the fourth commandment has been abrogated – done away with entirely – when nothing that we read in the New Testament justifies that conclusion. Certainly Christ did not tear the fourth commandment out of the Decalogue and announce that we now only have nine commandments to abide by.

Jesus did not abolish the law of the weekly Sabbath; he purified it from man-made additions and sinful interpretations. Christ put the Sabbath where it belonged – subordinate to His Lordship.

There are some who try to eliminate the Sabbath by saying that it was specifically Jewish, and merely part of the Ceremonial law, consequently, they maintain that the Sabbath passed away when the ceremonial law was fulfilled by Christ. But the Sabbath is a CREATION ordinance; God instituted it long before the ceremonial laws came into existence. To quote John Murray: “The sequence for man of six days of labour and one day of rest is patterned after the sequence that God followed in the grand scheme of His creative work.” The fact that this scheme is part of the Moral law and not the Ceremonial law is further reinforced by the fact that it was included by God in the Ten Commandments. God is not the author of confusion, he did not include one Ceremonial law destined to pass away in the midst of a group of moral laws that never expire.

The Ceremonial and Judicial laws that passed away are those which have reached fruition. They were shadows that were fulfilled when the reality they pointed to – Jesus Christ – appeared, or when the state for whose governance they were intended – Israel – passed away. They were akin to the photographs of families and loved ones that we take with us when we are far away from them. We may contemplate or even lovingly hold these images, but when the reality of those loved ones is present we no longer retire to our rooms to contemplate the images. Calvin compared these ceremonial laws to candles – dim lights – while Christ is like the Sun. A man does not light a candle at midday.

The pattern of one day in six set apart to the Lord has not expired, however. The writer of Hebrews tells us “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” Please turn with me to (Hebrews 4:9-11.) Here and elsewhere Hebrews teaches us that the weekly Sabbath points to the final rest anticipated by God at Creation, and secured by the redemptive work of Christ. This final or eschatological rest-order will not be finally entered into by the people of God until Christ’s return.

We’ve seen in the example of the Pharisees, how the Sabbath can be abused under the pretense of sanctifying it. But how then should Christians keep the Lord’s Day holy? To begin with, we should note well that Christ proves that certain types of work are permissible on the Sabbath:

First, we have works of piety – those works that must be done in order for God to be worshipped.

Christ tells us in verse 5 of Matthew 12 that the priests who worked in the Temple on the Sabbath day were not breaking the Sabbath. In the same way those involved in the ministry are not guilty of violating the Sabbath even though they work on the Sabbath and receive payment for doing so.

Secondly, we have works of necessity – those works that cannot be delayed without harm to life or property, this would include things like rescuing a sheep from a pit, feeding livestock, putting out a fire, stopping a crime, or even defending a nation.

Thirdly, we have works of Mercy – these are acts of mercy or kindness to a person who is sick, distressed, hungry or in need. They would include ministering to someone who was injured, or feeding someone who was hungry, or even consoling those who mourn.

Christians are never to rest from doing GOOD. We should never use the fourth commandment as an excuse for neglecting our Christian duties and in this we are given the supreme example of Christ. God’s Sabbath rest began when creation was finished, but man’s sin and misery required that this Sabbath be interrupted in order to redeem man from this condition. Christ then performed that awesome work of redemption – which was the ultimate deed of necessity and mercy – during the Sabbath rest of God.

But given that the basic meaning of the word Sabbath is cessation it is clear that there are some things that Christians should cease from doing on the Sabbath. What then should we cease from doing on the Sabbath? Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession answers this question by summarizing the teaching of scripture on the subject:

VIII. This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.

On the Lord’s Day we cease from performing our work, but we do not merely cease from performing our work so that we might continue our favorite recreations unencumbered by employment. It means we rest from all the things that engross us during the other days of the week whether it is employment OR recreation. We do not set these enjoyments aside because they are not proper to the Christian life, we set them aside because the Sabbath is to be devoted to exclusively to the worship of God, the reading of God’s word, and for other works of piety, necessity, and mercy.

Please do not confuse works of necessity with works of convenience. It is a work of necessity for a Doctor to attend to a patient on Sunday, or for a fire fighter to put out a fire, or for a policeman to respond to an emergency call. It is not a work of necessity to work on Sunday because otherwise you won’t get a promotion, or receive a raise, or even if your job requires that you work on Sunday simply because all the other stores are open on Sunday. Unless the work itself is a necessity, then working on that day is not a deed of necessity. The vast majority of stores and business that stay open on Sunday are flagrantly violating the Sabbath, if Christians choose to work for them on the Lord’s day, then they join them in breaking the Sabbath, and for this there is simply no excuse.

Some people consider this to be an unfair imposition on their time, but consider well: God, your Creator, your Sustainer, and — if you have faith in Christ — your Merciful Redeemer gives you 144 hours each week to do with as you will. He only commands that 1/7th of your week be devoted exclusively to Him. What man can honestly say that 1/7th is too much to ask, especially when we are the ones who benefit so greatly from observing a Sabbath rest? It is not God who will grow in grace, truth, and peace and rest in mind and body on the Sabbath, but His worshipers! If, on the other hand, you truly consider playing sports or doing business to be of greater importance than honoring God, then consider what or who it is you really serve.

So let us now turn our attention once again to Eric Liddell, how shall we answer the question that was originally posed? Was Liddell just a legalist, some sort of modern-day Pharisee? The Bible’s answer is a resounding NO.

Even though it was the Olympics, the pinnacle of human athletic achievement, Eric Liddell understood that running that race was less important than running THE RACE (Hebrews 12:1, 1 Cor. 9:24). He understood that obeying the Lord of his nation must come second if it meant disobeying the Lord of all nations. Eric Liddell described the Christian life as, “complete surrender.” In fact, years later, as Eric Liddell lay dying in a Japanese concentration camp in China, those were his last words to his nurse, “It’s complete surrender.” Eric Liddell understood that complete surrender to Christ is total victory.

Does complete surrender describe your Christian walk? Have you surrendered your Sunday to the Lord of the Sabbath, or are you still holding on to it? If so, I beg you to let it go. You will find that in giving it up to him, you receive back a day made infinitely more precious, and of far greater value to you than it ever had when it was yours. And if you haven’t yet seen Chariots of Fire, it’s high time you did!

Posted in Old School Presbyterian Churches, Sports, The Lord's Day, The Means of Grace, The Sabbath, Worship | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Counting the Cost Poll: Would You Be Willing to Forsake All That You Have?

A question for Christian friends who are currently opposed to homosexual marriage:

If the cost of remaining opposed to homosexual marriage becomes losing your ability to work for the government* or company you work for, lose your tax exempt status, and lose your ability to adopt or foster children, will you change your views about homosexual marriage or accept the consequences?

* keep in mind that members of the military, firefighters, public school teachers, and policemen are also government employees

Posted in Homosexual Marriage, Homosexuality, Persecution, Politics and The Civil Magistate, Polls, Theological Declension | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Counting the Cost For Christians of the Nationwide Legalization of Homosexual Marriage

Dr. Al Mohler, the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written an article that all Christians who are religiously opposed to same firedsex marriage need to read.  But before I discuss some of the issues Dr. Mohler raises, I need first to address anyone reading this who might be a supporter of same sex marriage; The issue here is no longer opposition to same sex marriage. That battle against the legal imposition of the Gay Agenda and nationwide Homosexual marriage  is, without a miraculous intervention or a successful rebellion, irretrievably lost and most sensible Christians understand that. Regardless of how we feel about it, we accept that The Supreme Court of the United States of America (SCOTUS) will soon rule, by at least a 5-4 majority, to make homosexual marriage a civil right nationwide. What Christians are preparing for are the profound consequences of that ruling for our faith, life, and practice. We were initially told that allowing homosexual marriage would not affect us, that we weren’t being asked to be involved, and that we could go on believing as we always had. Now subsequent developments and even constitutional lawyers (on both sides of the issue) are saying that won’t be the case. Some of the effects will include:

1) Tax Exempt Status: Religious institutions such as schools, universities, seminaries, and even potentially churches that don’t recognize homosexual marriages or make accommodation for them in hiring, benefits, housing, etc. will likely lose their tax-exempt, non-profit status. This would bankrupt most of them.

2) Adoption and Fostering: All agencies that place children in families will be required to be willing to place children in homosexual marriages and Christian organizations that refuse to do so will have to close down. This is already the case in Europe and US states like Massachusetts. Also, it is highly likely that as is the case in the UK, families opposed to homosexuality will not be allowed to foster or adopt.

3) Employment – Public: Government employees and employees of companies and institutions that receive Federal funds simply cannot be functionally opposed to a civil right guaranteed by the Supreme Court. After the SCOTUS rules, same sex marriages will be the equivalent of interracial marriages, and no government employee can refuse to recognize them. This will have profound consequences for all employees, including government chaplains. As an example, the Fire Chief of Atlanta was fired simply on the basis of his Christian beliefs about homosexuality even though he was found never to have discriminated on that basis. Those who do actually discriminate will be gone in a heartbeat, and the courts will agree with those who fired them.

4) Employment – Private: Most private employers will be legally required to treat homosexual marriages in exactly the same way they treat heterosexual ones, this includes hiring, benefits, insurance, housing, etc. Additionally, employees who remain opposed to homosexual marriage will be subject to not being hired because of their views or being fired without much legal recourse at all. We are already seeing high profile cases of beliefs-based firings in the private sector such as the forced resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, and the lightning fast firing of Fox Sports commentator Craig James.

In other words, the legal message being sent is, “Sure, you Christians can hold on to your “bigoted” views of homosexual marriage, but you can’t also have your own schools, adopt children, or work.”

Given that situation, most Christians are going change their religious views at lightning speed, and denominations are going to be scrambling for theological excuses to change theirs about as quickly as the Mormons suddenly discovered that polygamy wasn’t an article of their faith in 1890 when the US government explained Utah couldn’t be a state and allow polygamy (ironically, the Mormons just needed to weather the storm and wait a century or so for America to catch up to them!) It’s no understatement to say that Christians who choose NOT to change their beliefs about homosexual marriage are going to find themselves quickly isolated and consigned to the same kind of cultural ghetto historically reserved for the most extreme kinds of racists. Many will also be appalled at how quickly the previously steadfast views of their Christian denominations and friends change in the wake of these legal challenges. As has already happened, many Christians who do change their views to conform to the new cultural norms will also end up attacking their former friends who refuse to change.

Given all of this, it is well past time that American Christians sat down and began seriously counting the cost of discipleship in the present age (Luke 14:28) we may well find out that it’s much more expensive than we were initially led to believe.

Posted in Homosexual Marriage, Homosexuality, Marriage, Persecution, Politics and The Civil Magistate, Theological Declension | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Why Do Pastors Get Depressed?

The faithful preacher lives a life filled with melancholy – one cannot read the writings of Jeremiah or Paul, or the biographies of men like Luther and Calvin and Edwards and not recognize that they were often struggling with Depression.

 We should not think this is odd or sinful, even Jesus had his times of sorrow and depression, for instance in the garden on the eve of his crucifixion he confessed to his disciples:

Matthew 26:38 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” 

Now while no merely human preacher will have to endure anything like the struggle that Christ did in the garden, all pastors are called to take up their cross and follow CSpurgeongravehrist and endure the same kinds of sufferings. The great evangelist Charles Haddon Spurgeon confessed to his ministerial students that he knew, “by most painful experience what deep depression of spirit means, being visited there-with at seasons by no means few or far between” and went on to explain to them why that must be the case:

Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. To see the hopeful turn aside, the godly grow cold, professors abusing their privileges, and sinners waxing more bold in sin—are not these sights enough to crush us to the earth? The kingdom comes not as we would, the reverend name is not hallowed as we desire, and for this we must weep. How can we be otherwise than sorrowful, while men believe not our report, and the divine arm is not revealed? All mental work tends to weary and to depress, for much study is a weariness of the flesh; but ours is more than mental work—it is heart work, the labour of our inmost soul. How often, on Lord’s-day evenings, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us! After pouring out our souls over our congregations, we feel like empty earthen pitchers which a child might break. … It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed; we are to spend and to be spent, not to lay ourselves up in lavender, and nurse our flesh. Such soul-travail as that of a faithful minister will bring on occasional seasons of exhaustion, when heart and flesh will fail. Moses’ hands grew heavy in intercession, and Paul cried out, “Who is sufficient for these things?”” [Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Ministers Fainting Fits” in Lectures to My Students]

Posted in Pastoral Theology | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Samuel Miller’s Pastoral Theology

My own first contact with Samuel Miller, Old Princeton’s Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government, came many years ago when I read an essay that had a quote from his “Presbyterianism The Truly Primitive and Apostolical Constitution of the Church of Jesus Christ.” The quote was just a paragraph or two from one of the chapters on worship entitled bluntly “Presbyterians do not observe Holy Days” and after reading it I remember being convinced of his position and thinking I MUST find the rest of this! Eventually, I found a copy of the book from 1840 in the library at Westminster Theological Seminary, and I have to admit I probably damaged the spine in the process of photocopying the entire work. It was that book, more than anything else I’d read to date, that convinced me of the truth of Old School Presbyterianism. It brought together church history with biblical exposition and a fervent piety in a way that few men other than Miller have ever been able to. 

Those who are familiar with the works of Samuel Miller, will probably have noticed that while his works are all very biblical there is a pronounced bent towards the historical and towards facts rather than speculation, as John De Witt put it “he lived intellectually in the sphere of the concrete.”[1] While he understood Reformed theology better than most and could defend it admirably, he was not a Systematic Theologian like Alexander or Hodge. You can’t read most of his works and even sermons without very quickly beginning to encounter references to Eusebius or Tertullian or Clement, and his ability to recall those facts of history and apply them practically to the issues of his own day made him perfectly suited to teach Church History and Church Government at Princeton. It’s my own private opinion that the church desperately needs men of Miller’s historic bent today, because as Ecclesiastes 1:9 reminds us there really is nothing new under the sun and the errors of the present are inevitably the errors of the past.

For instance, modern Presbyterian quarrels over Confessional subscription have obvious parallels to the quarrels of the English Presbyterians in the 17th century, the Scottish Presbyterians in the 18th century, and the American Presbyterians in the 19th and early 20th century. Competent Systematic theologians might miss those parallels, but able Church Historians like Miller wouldn’t, and I think you will find that as you read Miller, you’ll be struck by his amazing historical insights into issues like the office of Ruling Elder and the nature of Baptism. My great hope is that as a result of reading this, someone who hasn’t yet read anything by Miller might decide to pick up one of his volumes, and perhaps even come to embrace Miller’s Old School Presbyterianism as a result. Continue reading

Posted in Church Planting, Ecclesiology, History, Officer Training, Old School Presbyterian Churches, Ordination, Pastoral Theology, Pastoral Visitation, Seminary Education, Spiritual Declension, Spiritual Gifts, Worship | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Charles Haddon Spurgeon on How Ministers Should Dress

The question is often raised about how Reformed ministers should dress in the pulpit. We have “Missional” pastors who will spend a fortune to affect a carefully arranged “grunge preacher” look, and then we have “high-church” reverends who prefer to look like the Reformed version of an Anglican Archbishop in the Pulpit. For myself, I tend to agree with Charles Spurgeon about dress. Incidentally you’ll find that although he was writing over a 100 years ago, he still managed to describe both the “Missional” and “High-Church” approaches to pastoral garb:

fashion“When a man is proud as a peacock, all strut and show, he needs converting himself before he sets up to preach to others. The preacher who measures himself by his mirror may please a few silly girls, but neither God nor man will long put up with him. The man who owes his greatness to his tailor will find that needle and thread cannot long hold a fool in a pulpit. A gentleman should have more in his pocket than on his back, and a minister should have more in his inner man than on his outer man. I would say, if I might, to young ministers, do not preach in gloves, for cats in mittens catch no mice; don’t curl and oil your hair like dandies, for nobody cares to hear a peacock’s voice; don’t have your own pretty self in your mind at all, or nobody else will mind you. Away with gold rings, and chains, and jewelry; why should the pulpit become a goldsmith’s shop? Forever away with surplices and gowns and all those nursery doll dresses—men should put away childish things. A cross on the back is the sign of a devil in the heart; those who do as Rome does should go to Rome and show their colors. If priests suppose that they get the respect of honest men by their fine ornamental dresses, they are much mistaken, for it is commonly said, “Fine feathers make fine birds,” and

“An ape is never so like an ape

As when he wears a Popish cape.”

  Among us dissenters the preacher claims no priestly power, and therefore should never wear a peculiar dress. Let fools wear fools’ caps and fools’ dresses, but men who make no claim to be fools should not put on fools’ clothes. None but a very silly sheep would wear wolf’s clothing. It is a singular taste which makes honest men covet the rags of thieves. Besides, where’s the good of such finery? Except a duck in pattens, no creature looks more stupid than a dissenting preacher in a gown which is of no manner of use to him. I could laugh till I held my sides when I see our doctors in gowns and bands, puffed out with their silks, and touched up with their little bibs, for they put me so much in mind of our old turkey when his temper is up, and he swells to his biggest. They must be weak folks indeed who want a man to dress like a woman before they can enjoy his sermon, and he who cannot preach without such milliner’s tawdry finery may be a man among geese, but he is a goose among men.

At the same time, the preacher should endeavor, according to his means, to dress himself respectably; and, as to neatness, he should be without spot, for kings should not have dirty footmen to wait at their table, and they who teach godliness should practice cleanliness. I should like white neckties better if they were always white, but dirty brown is neither here nor there. From a slovenly, smoking, snuff–taking, beer–drinking parson may the church be delivered. Some that I meet with may, perhaps, have very good manners, but they did not happen to have them about them at the time. Like the Dutch captain with his anchors, they had left them at home; this should never be the case, for, if there be a well–behaved man in the parish, it should he the minister. A worn coat is no discredit, but the poorest may be neat, and men should be scholars rather than teachers till they are so. You cannot judge a horse by its harness; but a modest, gentle–manly appearance, in which the dress is just such as nobody could make a remark upon, seems to me to be the right sort of thing.


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