Racial Reconciliation and the Cross

Racial Reconciliation and the Cross

This past week (July 3-9, 2016) has, once again, brought the issue of race relations to the forefront of our minds. We have witnessed black men killed by white police officers and white police officers killed by black men. We have seen protests, violence, and a plethora of news headlines recounting the events. Tragically, this is all too familiar.

There has been no shortage of people naming the very real problems we face. And this is good because in order to fix a problem it must be named, called out, and defined. But where there has been a lack of consensus is in naming solutions. It is obviously much easier to name a problem than to solve a problem, but those challenges should not hold us back.

Of course, the main problem we are dealing with at this moment is conflict (sin: hatred, jealously, envy, strife, anger, fear) between human beings. This conflict between human beings manifests itself in many different ways, including drawing up battle lines between the different races. In particular, relationships between whites and blacks living in the United States have been the most tense (though that in no way diminishes the racism experienced by others). This deep seeded conflict (racism) between human beings is as old as human nature.

What I appreciate about the Bible (among many things) is that it doesn’t side step the sins that are rooted in the hearts of each of us. It names them, prods at them, digs them up, and provides a solution. In Ephesians chapter two, after recounting the horrors of sin, its consequences, and the desperate need for God to graciously provide sinful humanity with salvation through Jesus by faith, the Apostle Paul brings racial reconciliation into view. The racial, religious, and cultural tensions between Jews and Gentiles were ripe, but God was at work saving them through Jesus, and now they were living in closer proximity than ever before.

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. The important word here is “alienated.” The Gentiles (all those who were not Jewish) were alienated from God, alienated from his people, and alienated from salvation – with no hope in the world. This alienation led to conflict, hatred, and yes, racism. The Bible names the problem… and then provides the solution.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. The profound reality of what Jesus accomplished at the cross, through the shedding of his blood, has brought near to God those who were once alienated. How? For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. Through Jesus, God has created a people for himself. People from every race and socioeconomic background, through faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, have been (and can be!) brought together as one people. In Christ, there is no longer multiple peoples, but one people – God’s people. It is this community of people who, without diminishing their God given races, allow their union with Christ (i.e. being in Christ) to define first and foremost who they are. It is this union with Christ which takes us from being strangers, hostile, racist, and hate filled towards one another and, through a glorious struggle, brings about friendship, brotherhood, and peace.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Through Jesus, God has taken people from every race and brought them together as one. It is this newly created people that has become a dwelling place for God; we share in the same Spirit who is at work in each of us. We can see clearly Paul’s theology of reconciliation: through faith in Christ’s work on the cross, humans are first reconciled to God and then to one another. 

It is now within the people of God that we Christians are able to live, though imperfectly, within a people that pursues racial reconciliation through Christ. It is within the people of God that we can fight injustice, seek forgiveness for past racism, listen to our brothers and sisters of other races, pray with them, and challenge systemic racism in our country. This is a reality that can be experienced in no other place except the community of God’s people, because it is in and through these people that God is accomplishing his purposes in the world.

My brothers and sisters, as we are once again confronted with the daily reality of racial injustice in our country, we cannot lose sight of this gospel message. It is through the gospel that God has spoken to us the hope of true and lasting racial reconciliation. Because of what Jesus has accomplished through his death and resurrection we can have confidence that in the end every wrong will be made right, every injustice will be overturned, and lasting racial reconciliation will be accomplished. It is this gospel that will fuel the fight for justice and reconciliation here and now, and it is this gospel that gives us hope that all we are fighting for in this life is not in vain. If we lose sight of this message, if we don’t let it guide and shape our words and actions, we have nothing to offer the world that it does not already have. The cross of Jesus is our only hope for true racial reconciliation.

For further reading on this topic I recommend John Piper’s book Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian. 

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Tim Keller’s Case for Expository Preaching

Tim Keller’s Case for Expository Preaching

When I came across Tim Keller’s discussion on expository preaching in his recent book Preaching, I wanted to stand and cheer.(1) I am passionate about this particular method of preaching and I am convinced that it is the most effective and theologically robust way to preach the Bible. In what follows, I will use Keller’s book Preaching to define expository preaching and then present Keller’s case for why we need to preach this way. It is my hope that if you are a pastor you will be convinced of the need to preach expository sermons, and if you are a lay person that you will hold your pastor(s) accountable to preaching the Bible in this manner.

What is Expository Preaching?

Keller defines expository preaching as preaching which “grounds the message in the text so that all the sermon’s points are points in the text, and it majors in the text’s major ideas. It aligns the interpretation of the text with doctrinal truths of the rest of the Bible (being sensitive to systematic theology). And it always situates the passage within the Bible’s narrative, showing how Christ is the final fulfillment of the text’s theme (being sensitive to biblical theology).”(2)

In other words, expository preaching is preaching which teaches the Bible verse-by-verse, book-by-book, explaining each verse and teaching on the main ideas of each passage of Scripture. The flip side of an expository sermon would be a sermon that does not engage with (i.e. teach) the biblical text, does not teach the main ideas of the text, is rooted in the opinions of the preacher – rather than the Bible, and includes ideas that are not contained in the passage at hand. Additionally, expository preaching is not simply teaching only the main idea(s) of the passage, but rather teaching through the entire passage and clearly explaining (showing) the listener where that idea(s) has come from.

Keller’s Case for Expository Preaching

In chapter one of Preaching, Keller presents six arguments in his case for expository preaching.(3)

1. Expository preaching is the best method for displaying and conveying your conviction that the whole Bible is true.

When we preach expository sermons we are putting the Bible in front of our congregation as the Word of God, and as the Word of God we have confidence that it is true. Expository preaching does not hide the words of Scripture, but rather it exposes them for all to see. If we firmly trust that the whole Bible is true, expository preaching is the best way to demonstrate that truth and instill within our hearers the same conviction.

2. Expository preaching makes it easier for the hearers to recognize that the authority rests not in the speaker’s opinions or reasoning but in God, in his revelation though the text itself.

This is the case because through expository preaching we are presenting the ideas, indicatives, imperatives, and thoughts of the Bible rather than our own. Expository preaching seeks to allow God’s words to drive the sermon and his authority to be clearly seen.

3. Expository preaching enables God to set the agenda for your community.

When we preach expository sermons, we allow God to speak to us through his word and set in motion what he wants to do among us. The Holy Spirit always works in conjunction with the preached Word. If we desire to know God’s agenda for our community (church), then we must commit ourselves to expository preaching and allow him to work through his Word and Holy Spirit.

4. Expository preaching lets the text set the agenda for the preacher.

Rather than a preacher standing up each week and presenting his own thoughts, expository preaching drives a preacher to teach what is contained in the passage for that week. If a preacher is faithful to teach that week’s passage, he will allow it to shape what he preaches. In this way God’s words are setting the agenda of the sermon, not our own.

5. Expository preaching teaches your audience how to read their own Bibles, how to think though a passage and figure it out.

I have experienced this working itself out in my own life. When I began consistently listening to expository preaching in my early twenties, I began to (almost subconsciously) read and study the Bible more faithfully. This is because when we listen to an expository sermon, we are listening to someone explain a passage of Scripture and show us how to engage with the Bible on its own terms. Expository preaching will inevitably lead a congregation towards biblical literacy.

6. Expository preaching leads people to see more clearly the one main biblical theme.

Tim Keller has spent much of his career, if not all of it, trying to show Christians that the main theme of the Bible is the gospel of Jesus Christ; more specifically, Christ himself. From beginning to end the Bible bears witness to Jesus and the salvation that can only be found in him. Expository preaching will bring out this main theme week after week through the clear proclamation of the biblical text.

These are only six arguments for why we need expository sermons; there are many more. I would be interested to hear from you on this important issue.

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1. Timothy Keller. Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (Viking: New York, NY, 2015).
2. Keller, Preaching, 32.
3. Keller, Preaching, 32-39. The main ideas in this section are Kellers, but what follows them are my reflections on what he has argued in his book.

Calvin’s Four Church Offices (Pastor)

Calvin’s Four Church Offices (Pastor)

This is part 3 in a 4 part series on Calvin’s Church Offices. (Doctors, Elders, Pastors, Deacons.)

John Calvin taught that there are four offices (or orders) within the government of a local church. The opening lines of the Ecclesiastical Ordinances of 1541 read “There are four orders of office instituted by our Lord for the government of his church. First, pastors; then doctors; next elders; and fourth deacons. Hence if we will have a church well-ordered and maintained we ought to observe this form of government.”[1]Further, “A well-ordered church lives under the supervision of the four orders of pastors, doctors, elders, and deacons.”[2] In addition to the Ecclesiastical Ordinances,Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, as well as his commentaries and sermons, all bear continued witness to this fourfold division within the government of a local church.

Pastors

Calvin leaves no question as to the importance of the role of the pastor within the local church. “It is a point which ought to be carefully observed, that a church cannot safely exist without the ministry of pastors, and that consequently, wherever there is a considerable body of people, a pastor should be appointed over it… no towns shall be destitute of pastors.”[3] “For neither the light and heat of the sun, nor food and drink, are so necessary to nourish and sustain the present life as the pastoral office is necessary to preserve the church on earth.”[4]

Calvin took to expounding the office of pastor with great seriousness and care. He believed that the health and survival of the universal Church, and each local church, was greatly dependent on the quality of, and responsibilities carried out, by its pastors. “It is no light matter to be a representative of the Son of God, in discharging an office of such magnitude, the object of which is to erect and extend the kingdom of God, to procure salvation of souls which the Lord himself hath purchased with his own blood, and to govern the church, which is God’s inheritance.”[5]

I must address Calvin’s understanding of the titles he used to speak of this office. Throughout his engagement with the Pastoral Epistles, Calvin often uses the word “bishop” to refer to the office of pastor. In his commentary on 1Timothy, he addresses the use of this word in detail when he writes,”At the same time, it is necessary to observe what it is that Paul calls ‘the office of bishop;’ and so much the more, because the ancients were led away, by the custom of their times, from the true meaning; for, while Paul includes generally all pastors, they understand a bishop to be one who was elected out of each college to preside over his brethren. Let us remember, therefore, that this word is of the same import as if he had called them ministers, or pastors, or presbyters.” Further, in a sermon on Titus 1:7-9 Calvin states, “We see from St. Paul’s writings, in the verses preceding the text, that those whom he called elders, he now calls bishops; which signifies watchmen or overseers. He gives this name to all who are called to preach the word of God.”[6] And finally, in his Institutes he summarizes, “But in indiscriminately calling those who rule the church ‘bishops,’ ‘presbyters,’ ‘pastors,’ and ‘ministers,’ I did so according to Scriptural usage, which interchanges these terms. For to all who carry out the ministry of the Word it accords the title of ‘bishops’. So in Paul, when he has bidden Titus to appoint presbyters for each town [Titus 1:5], there follows immediately, ‘for a bishop… must be blameless’ [Titus 1:7; cf. 1 Tim. 3:1], etc. Elsewhere he greets a number of bishops in one church [Phil. 1:1]. And in The Acts it is related that he convened the Ephesian presbyters [Acts 20:17], whom he calls ‘bishops’ in his speech [Acts 20:28].”[7]

Thus, we can conclude that where Calvin engages with the previous titles (bishop, presbyter, and minister) we can understand him to be referring to the office of pastor.

Lastly, Calvin found the order of pastor to be firmly rooted in the Scriptures and instituted by Christ himself. Calvin believed that it is Christ our Lord who is to be the primary agent in rising up and appointing pastors and this is done in accord with the “ministry of the word.” In addition to that, Calvin taught that it was Jesus Christ who gave pastors to the church.”The government of the church, by the preaching of the word, is first of all declared to be no human contrivance, but a most sacred ordinance of Christ. The apostles did not appoint themselves, but were chosen by Christ; and, at the present day, true pastors do not rashly thrust themselves forward by their own judgement, but are raised up by the Lord. In short, the government of the church, by the ministry of the word, is not a contrivance of men, but an appointment made by the Son of God.”[8]

It was Christ who “instituted ‘pastors and teachers’ through whose lips he might teach his own; he furnished them with authority… he omitted nothing that might make for holy agreement of faith and for right order.”[9] This office finds its beginning in Christ. Calvin also taught that those who rebel against “this ministry,” that is the office of pastor laid forth through the Word of God, “offer insult and rebellion to Christ its Author. It is himself who gave them; for, if he does not raise them up, there will be none.”[10]

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[1] John Calvin, Calvin: Theological Treaties, ed. Tran. J.K.S Reid, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954), 58.

[2] T.H.L, Parker, John Calvin: A Biography (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 108.

[3] John Calvin, Commentaries on The Epistle to Titus, Tran. Rev. William Pringle, vol. xxi (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, Reprinted 2009), 290.

[4] Calvin, Institutes, 4.1.2.

[5] Calvin, Commentaries on the First Epistle to Timothy, 74.

[6] John Calvin, Sermons on 1&2 Timothy and Titus. No further publishing information is available. Downloaded electronically from Amazon.com on 10-25-16.

[7] Calvin, Institutes, 4.3.8. Emphasis mine.

[8] Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle to the Ephesians, 277-278.

[9] Calvin, Institutes, 4.1.1.

[10] Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle to the Ephesians, 278. Author’s emphasis.

Calvin’s Four Church Offices (Elder)

Calvin’s Four Church Offices (Elder)

This is part 2 in a 4 part series on Calvin’s Church Offices. (Doctors, Elders, Pastors, Deacons.)

John Calvin taught that there are four offices (or orders) within the government of a local church. The opening lines of the Ecclesiastical Ordinances of 1541 read “There are four orders of office instituted by our Lord for the government of his church. First, pastors; then doctors; next elders; and fourth deacons. Hence if we will have a church well-ordered and maintained we ought to observe this form of government.”[1]Further, “A well-ordered church lives under the supervision of the four orders of pastors, doctors, elders, and deacons.”[2] In addition to the Ecclesiastical Ordinances,Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, as well as his commentaries and sermons, all bear continued witness to this fourfold division within the government of a local church.

Elders

According to Calvin, there are two kinds of elders who are to be present in every church. There are those who labor in preaching and teaching (along with the pastors) and those whose responsibility it is to “rule”.  Commenting on 1Timothy 5:17, Calvin writes,”We may learn from this, that there were at that time two kinds of elders; for all were not ordained to teach. The words plainly mean, that there are some who “ruled well” and honorably, but who did not hold the office of teacher. And, indeed, there were chosen from among the people men of worth and good character, who, united with the pastors in a common council and authority, administered the discipline of the Church, and were a kind of censors for the correction of morals.”[3]

The elders are “to have oversight of the life of everyone, to admonish amicably those whom they see to be erring or to be living a disordered life, and, where it is required, to enjoin fraternal corrections themselves and among others.” The elders are to be “men of good and honest life, without reproach and beyond suspicion, and above all fearing God and possessing spiritual prudence.”[4] It is the responsibility of the elders to “assemble once a week with the ministers … to see that there be no disorder in the Church and to discuss together remedies as they are required.”[5]

Calvin understood the office of elder to be a direct command, as well as an example, set forth in the Scriptures. “Each church, therefore, had from its beginning a senate, chosen from godly, grace, and holy men, which has jurisdiction over the correcting of faults.”[6] In addition, it is evident from the language used here that an “…important aspect of Calvin’s ecclesiology was its commitment to a plurality of church ministries. For Calvin, church governance was never intended to be the prerogative of one person nor even the responsibility of the pastors alone. Rather, the Ecclesiastical Ordinances make clear, authority in the church was to be shared by duly appointed ministers and doctors, as well as lay elders and deacons, each using his own gifts according to the dictates of Scripture for the benefit of the Christian community.”[7]

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[1] John Calvin, Calvin: Theological Treaties, ed. Tran. J.K.S Reid, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954), 58.

[2] T.H.L, Parker, John Calvin: A Biography (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 108.

[3] John, Calvin. Commentaries on the First Epistle to Timothy, Tran. Rev. William Pringle (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, Reprinted 2009), 138-139.

[4] Calvin, Theological Treaties, 63.

[5] Calvin, Theological Treaties, 70.

[6] Calvin, Institutes, 4.3.8.

[7] Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors, 31.

Calvin’s Four Church Offices (Deacon)

Calvin’s Four Church Offices (Deacon)

This is part 4 in a 4 part series on Calvin’s Church Offices. (Doctors, Elders, Pastors, Deacons.)

John Calvin taught that there are four offices (or orders) within the government of a local church. The opening lines of the Ecclesiastical Ordinances of 1541 read “There are four orders of office instituted by our Lord for the government of his church. First, pastors; then doctors; next elders; and fourth deacons. Hence if we will have a church well-ordered and maintained we ought to observe this form of government.”[1] Further, “A well-ordered church lives under the supervision of the four orders of pastors, doctors, elders, and deacons.”[2] In addition to the Ecclesiastical Ordinances, Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, as well as his commentaries and sermons, all bear continued witness to this fourfold division within the government of a local church.

Deacons

The final order within Calvin’s theology is that of the office of deacon. He understood this word deacon to mean “stewards of the poor.”[1]As with the elders, there are also two degrees of deacons. In their most basic duty, the deacons were to take care of the poor and the sick. However, it was the responsibility of the first degree of deacon to “distribute the alms” and of the second degree to “devote themselves to the care of the poor and sick” for we “know what a holy thing it is to be careful for the poor.” [2]  T.H.L Parker writes, “The fourth order… was divided into the finance group receiving and administering funds for the hospital, the workhouse, the isolated plague-house and the hospice for travelers, and those who actually cared for the sick and needy.”[3] It is the responsibility of the deacons to take care of the poor in order that the pastors may be able to devote more of their time to the ministry of the Word and to prayer. The deacons must be qualified, full of the Spirit and wisdom. Along with their qualifications, their ordination must include the laying on of hands and prayers.[4]

In Calvin’s Geneva, the order of deacon was put into action mainly through the city’s public hospital, which was established before Calvin arrived. The Ecclesiastical Ordinances explains, “There were always two kinds in the ancient Church, the one deputed to receive, dispense and hold goods for the power, not only daily alms, but also possessions, rents and pensions; the other to tend and care for the sick and administer allowances to the poor. This custom we follow again now for we have procurators and hospitallers.”[5] Scott Manetsch addresses the order of deacon in Geneva within its historical context, particularly the responsibilities of the procurators (procureurs) and the hospitallers (hospitalliers).

Geneva’s public hospital served as an all-purpose social-welfare institution, offering lodging for people passing through the city; providing medical care for the ill; and offering food and shelter to orphans and widows, the crippled and the elderly. The procureurs were responsible for soliciting financial support and overseeing bequests, and administering the hospital. The hospitalliers lived at the hospital and were charged with the daily care of the sick and indigent, as well as the weekly distribution of bread to poor households. In the church order of 1541, this program of social welfare was incorporated loosely into the structure of the Genevan church: procureurs and hospitalliers were together given the title “deacons”.[6] Thus, Calvin brought his theology to bear on Geneva’s already existing public-welfare system.

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[1] John Calvin, Commentaries upon the Acts of the Apostles, Tran. Rev. William Pringle, vol. xix  (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, Reprinted 2009), 234.

[2] Calvin, Institutes, 4.3.9.; John Calvin, Commentaries upon the Acts of the Apostles, 234.

[3] T.H. L Parker, Calvin: An Introduction to his Thought (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), 140.

[4] John Calvin, Commentaries upon the Acts of the Apostles, 229-238.

[5] Calvin, Theological Treaties, 64.

[6] Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors, 30.