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Evangelism – Asking Simple Questions

Assistant Pastor Chris Diebold

In this third of four installments on evangelism, we turn to an important word: ask. As a reminder, the four key words we’re reflecting on to frame our evangelism are celebrate, serve, ask, and exit. So let’s think about what it looks like to move from serving fellow image bearers to asking simple questions.

In order to highlight the importance of asking in relationship to serving, we need to return to those biting words of Senator Cory Booker from last week. His summary statement was this: “In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as in how you choose to live and give.” Now, the idea is not new; maybe you heard it like this: actions speak louder than words.

But there is a fatal flaw in this argument, and I think the doctrine of revelation helps us here. The doctrine of revelation tells us that God has revealed himself in a general way through creation, but also in a special way through his Word. General revelation is analogous to communication via actions. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps 19:1) because they communicate what God has done. Special revelation is analogous to communication via words. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:1-2a). Now, which speaks louder, general or special revelation? Can anyone be saved by general revelation? To borrow a phrase from the Apostle Paul, by no means!

Why is that? Because humanity in its fallen state misunderstands God’s actions (general revelation) apart from God’s words (special revelation). God certainly “speaks” when he acts, but we misunderstand the message apart from the proper context. So, God’s Word is the proper context by which we properly understand God’s “speech” through action. So, Calvin says,

For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any book, however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of the Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly.[1]

With the spectacles of Scripture, God’s words, we see God’s actions clearly. So, in reality actions can’t speak louder than words because they need the words to bring things into focus.

Returning to Senator Booker’s words, let’s consider the ramifications of words without action as well as action without words. If somebody proclaims, “Jesus is my Lord,” while at the same time their actions are not consistent with the Lordship of Jesus Christ, then that person is a hypocrite. Anyone who encounters such a person can identify clearly the problem.

But if another person cares for the widow and orphan, feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, visits the imprisoned, and gives drink to the thirsty, while at the same time never proclaiming that these things are done out of thankful acknowledge for God’s mercy found in Jesus Christ, then that person is a moralist. The real problem is that nobody can identify clearly the problem. The outward actions will be interpreted variously, but if they are not interpreted correctly, then they will have no eternal impact.

One final example before getting to the actual topic of this reflection. Suppose that your lesbian friend invites you to her wedding; maybe she asks you to be a bridesmaid. If actions speak louder than words, then all you need to do is decline the invitation. Your friend will understand what you mean to communicate without the need to explain yourself with words, right? Wrong. Why did you decline? Apart from words, will your friend know that you believe that saying hard things with love now is the way to win your friend to true faith in Jesus Christ?

So we must urgently talk to family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers about spiritual things, because the plain fact of Scripture is that people who don’t know Jesus go to hell. And because words more clearly communicate our love for our neighbor, we need to use words. One way to do this is to extend invitations. Ask your family or friends if they ever think about what will happen to them when they die. Ask your neighbors or coworkers where they get their code of conduct. Ask your family or friends if they want to read the Bible with you. Ask your neighbors or coworkers if they want to go through the Life Explored series with you.

Asking a simple question has the potential to open the door to conversations you never thought possible. Just think about how you feel when you receive invitations. Being invited into a conversation is much more pleasant than being dragged into one. So, ask your coworker where she goes to church. Ask your neighbor if he has a Bible at home. Ask your friend if he’s interested in doing something really weird like going to church. Ask your family member why she stopped going to church.

What happens if you extend an invitation to someone and they shove it back in your face? Let’s chat about that next week.

[1] Calvin, Instit. 1.6.1

Evangelism – Serving Fellow Image Bearers

Last week, we considered the fact that every man, woman, and child is made in the image of God. That is a fact worth celebrating because it reminds us that every individual possesses inherent dignity. When we understand the surpassing worth of an image bearer, we celebrate.

We also serve. For one way in which we celebrate our image-of-God-bearing neighbor is by loving, and one way we love our neighbor is by serving. Thus, our second of four installments on evangelism will focus on serving fellow image bearers.

Not too long along, a friend of mine reminded me of a statement made by Cory Booker, U.S. Senator from New Jersey:

Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people. Before you tell me how much you love your God, show me how much you love all His children. Before you preach to me of your passion for your faith, teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as in how you choose to live and give.

If nothing else, Senator Booker’s words remind us that the world is watching. Though I’ll take issue with his statement next week, he nevertheless puts his finger on the way that much of the world views Christians.

Turning to Scripture, though, the letter of James has strong words of warning for anyone who might think that celebrating fellow image bearers doesn’t include serving them. In the context of describing living faith, James says, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16).

From this example, we can draw two principles. First, celebrating fellow image bearers must include your hands in addition to your head and heart. There is no profit reveling in the magnificent truth that God created you and me and every other person in his image if it never overflows into service. No doctrine, no matter how glorious, is worthwhile unless it results in action. Theology apart from doxology, doctrine apart from worship, celebration apart from service is but a counterfeit of the truth. Our celebration must include service.

Second, and related, serving fellow image bearers is not extraordinary. James’ example of service toward fellow image bearers is not drawn from a dramatic missionary endeavor. He does not appeal to anything spectacular. Instead, he points us to simple service. Service looks like helping our neighbor meet his basic needs throughout the course of our everyday lives. Service doesn’t have to look like moving heaven and earth each and every day.

Dr. Dan Doriani picks up on this idea and applies it to work:

We know we should consecrate our work to God, but we think we love our neighbors outside of work. … [W]e may think, “I love my neighbor by bringing meals to the sick, by collecting for food pantries, and by serving in a homeless shelter.” Fair enough, but far more people love their neighbors by working on farms, in grocery stores, and in restaurants. When we grow good food, transport and package it well, preventing waste and decay, when we sell grain, meat, vegetables, and fruit at fair prices, we also love our neighbor.[1]

When we serve fellow image bearers throughout the course of our everyday lives at work, in our neighborhoods, or as we run errands, we make the most of the divine appointments scheduled for us. When our celebration of the image of God in man overflows into serving fellow image bearers, we avoid James’ charge of a counterfeit faith.

So what does this mean for us, particularly in relation to evangelism? It means that faithful service towards others is an ingredient in preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t mean you have to labor serving your neighbor for six months until maybe you then have earned the right to tell that person about Jesus. Such thinking would be wrongheaded. If someone asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, then by all means make a defense!

But consider this: if you set out to make chocolate chip cookies and during preparation you don’t add sugar, then the end product will be something other than chocolate chip cookies. Those who eat your cookies won’t know the full delight of chocolate chip cookies. Those who learn how to make chocolate chip cookies from you will never actually make the right cookie.

If we evangelize the nations apart from serving/loving our neighbor, then we end up doing something other than evangelism. If the mind is converted to the right way of thinking about God but the heart and the hands remain dead, then what has happened is not evangelism. An ingredient is missing, and the end product is not actually true conversion. There is no profit in bringing your neighbor to a dead orthodoxy.

So let’s celebrate image bearers by serving them so that we can show forth the love of Christ that has transformed our minds, hearts, and our hands.

[1] Dan Doriani, “A Short Theology of Social Reform,” Place for Truth, 10 July 2018, http://www.placefortruth.org/blog/short-theology-social-reform.

 

Assistant Pastor Christopher Diebold

Evangelism – Celebrating the Image of God

Assistant Pastor Chris Diebold

For the next four weeks, we will build on Pastor Donny’s presentation of evangelism from the biblical-theological, systematic, and practical perspectives. The framework we’ll use comes from Rico Tice, one of the co-producers of Life Explored: Celebrate, Serve, Ask, Exit. This week, we begin with Celebrating the Image of God.

In the last book of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins and his faithful servant Samwise Gamgee discover that their guide through the dark land of Mordor, Gollum, has always had evil intentions against them. Though they’ve suspected it for some time, the revelation of their guide’s depravity is too much for Sam. Nevertheless he cannot take the life of this wretched creature. In part, this is because Sam knows something of the evil that has infected Gollum after travelling through dark places himself. But there is also a theme throughout The Lord of the Rings that points to the mercy and pity that Gollum repeatedly receives on account of an inherent dignity that he hasn’t yet lost amid all his evil. At the point of decision, Sam spares Gollum’s life because he takes pity on Gollum.

When we translate this into theological terms in the real world, this points to the fact that every man, woman, and child is made in the image of God and thus deserving of dignity. For a brief proof of this truth, remember that mankind was made in the image of God at creation (Gen 1:26). That man did not lose the image of God after the Fall was confirmed in the time of Noah (Gen 9:6). Finally, this truth was carried into the New Testament as a foundational truth (1 Cor 11:7; James 3:9). Humanity was, is, and will be made in the image of God.

But when we’re honest, we can admit that we’re prone to deny certain people the status of image bearer. Adolf Hitler is a good, if not extreme, example. For all the terrible and inexcusable death and destruction that he caused, he was no less made in the image of God than you are. But it doesn’t take much to view Hitler as less than an image bearer, does it?

The reality is that all of humanity, even the worst of it, possesses inherent dignity simply for the fact that all of humanity was, is, and will be made in the image of God. That is something to celebrate. Your family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers are made in the image of God, and at least for that reason you need to take an interest in them. One way we take interest in people is to concern ourselves with their physical and spiritual health. We’ll develop this point next week when we consider what it looks like to serve fellow image bearers.

But we can extend our understanding of the image of God one step farther and say that, while each individual is made in the image and likeness of God, only the totality of humanity can fully reflect the image of God. Herman Bavinck explains:

Not the man alone [Adam], nor the man and woman [Eve] together, but only the whole of humanity is the fully developed image of God, his children, his offspring. The image of God is much too rich for it to be fully realized in a single human being, however richly gifted that human being may be. It can only be somewhat unfolded in its depth and riches in a humanity counting billions of members.[1]

Bavinck reminds us that humanity is not merely a loose collection of bodies, a “heap of souls on a tract of land.” Humanity in its variety and expanse expressed as an organic whole reflects the height and breadth and depth of God. This variety extends to both people’s associations with each other and each person’s work. “Belonging to that humanity is also its development, its history, its ever-expanding dominion over the earth, its progress in science and art, its subjugation of all creatures.”[2] Our life and work and play are all connected to the idea of what it means to be image bearers.

None of this is meant to minimize the sinfulness of mankind. The doctrine of total depravity is a reminder that there is nothing inside of us by which we can be saved. It is, though, meant to be a reminder that total depravity doesn’t mean that someone is as bad as they could be. If we are mirrors, we have been broken beyond self-repair. But we still reflect, no matter how distorted, because that’s what mirrors do.

What does this have to do with evangelism? Before you can share the good news of Jesus Christ, you must know that your family member, neighbor, friend, or coworker is made in the image of God; he or she possesses inherent dignity. You must have an attitude that celebrates the way that his or her life is wrapped up in what it means for humanity to be made in God’s image. You must see the surpassing worth of this image bearer.

And when you do, you will understand all the more deeply why you need to share the gospel with him or her.

[1] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2003), 1:577.

[2] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:577.

Evangelism – A Practical View

The overall sweep and story of the Scriptures is of a God who graciously and generously gives of himself to his people. He draws all nations, tribes, and tongues to a redeemed fellowship with himself. The gospel is a global call to union in Christ. The Scriptures also detail that there is both an outward and inward call of the gospel. Outwardly, this message of repentance and faith is to be proclaimed universally and liberally to the world. Inwardly, the Holy Spirit will enliven and regenerate the hearts of the elect, so that the outward call will produce the fruit of the repentance. But practically speaking, what does this mean for the average church member? What are the practical out workings, the day-to-day reality, for regular folks? What does evangelism look like?

The Book of Acts provides us with some very practical and real-life instruction for how we are to be faithful in proclaiming the gospel. This book displays God’s plan of salvation for his people and God’s purposes in fulfilling his plan. God is sovereign in his election and providence. He will ordain scenarios to fulfill his purposes. His people will be in the right place at the right time to bring others to a saving knowledge of Christ. In his time, he will empower his people to take the good news of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem, all of Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). Acts 8:26-40 gives an excellent example of this theme.

As we have seen, the Scriptures from the beginning have pointed to the fact that God’s glory will be seen among the nations. Through either an inward draw or the outward push, the gospel will go out to all nations. Psalm 68 speaks of the global reign of God’s Anointed. Verse 31 points to the promise that all nations will come to know God as Savior and King. Specifically, it notes two nations. “Nobles shall come from Egypt; Cush [Ethiopia] shall hasten to stretch out her hands to God” (Ps 68:31). This promise is partially fulfilled in the scene between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8. This is the gospel going to the end of the earth. God ordained a gospel conversation so that this Ethiopian would hear the good news and be saved. We can learn a good deal about the role we are to practically play in God’s global call to the gospel.

God ordains for Philip to be in a particular time and place. He does this by sending an angel to guide Philip. And he leads him to an Ethiopian eunuch who had come to Jerusalem to worship but is now on his way back home. In our lives, we see something similar. God’s providence is at work through the myriad of choices and events that result in our being exactly where we are. It is no coincidence that you are where you are. It is no coincidence that you are in relationship with the people around you. God has you were you are supposed to be, surrounded by the people you are supposed to be surrounded with. Don’t underestimate this.

It may also be beneficial for us to realize that this story takes place in the desert. Philip was given a command by the Lord without an explanation of why. The purpose for his being in the desert was unknown to Philip. It is unlikely that Philip longed for that situation, but he was faithful to God’s leading, trusting that the Lord would fulfill his purposes through him. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that we do not prefer. Perhaps you find yourself in some situation that is unwanted. Perhaps you’re surrounded by people you assume would never be open to the gospel. But God will place you in the desert for a reason. Sometimes the door of divine opportunity opens in unlikely places. John Calvin explained that sometimes God will deal with us in this manner to prove our obedience. He will give us the command but keep the reason from us. We must, therefore, be content with the command alone. Even if the reason is not plainly expressed, all the commands of God contain a hidden promise, so that if we obey, all we do will turn out well. No matter what your current situation is, God is opening doors for gospel conversations with people around you.

The Lord instructs Philip to speak with this Ethiopian man. It so happens that the eunuch was reading from the book of Isaiah. And he had questions about it. Now this might seem remarkable to us. We might think, “No one has ever asked me what this passage from Isaiah means. If they did that, well, of course I’d be ready for a gospel conversation.” But the truth is that more often than not we are sitting at the traffic light after it has turned green. The cars behind are honking their horns. And we’re just waiting for some sign before we go. We should pay closer attention to the signs people give us. People are asking all sorts of questions, making all sorts of statements, that reveal their longing to know Jesus. We just need to pay attention.

The final practical point from Philip is seen in how he responds to his God-ordained circumstances. “Then Philip opened his mouth…” (Acts 8:35). What did he do? He simply opened his mouth. He saw the opportunity and he stepped out in faith by opening his mouth. Philip spoke about what the Bible says about Jesus. He led the Ethiopian to repentance of sin and faith in Christ. This might seem intimidating to you. But the key is to simply have the courage to open your mouth. The Holy Spirit does the work of regeneration. You’ll never persuade someone with your eloquence to believe in Jesus. But the Holy Spirit will use your semi-coherent ramblings to draw someone to faith. We give the outward call but the Spirit makes it effective by his inward call. We are simply to respond to our circumstances with obedience by opening out mouths.

 

Pastor Donny Friederichsen

 

Evangelism – A Systematic View

A friend once challenged me to read through the Bible with a highlighter. He said, “Everywhere you see something in the Bible about evangelism or sharing the gospel with the nations, highlight that.” Then he quipped, “If you do this, you’ll run out of highlighter before you run out of Bible.”

He’s right. The Bible is thoroughly focused on missionary and evangelistic endeavors. But this makes total sense because we know the Bible is fundamentally and primarily about God. It is about the glory of God being proclaimed through all of creation. It is about how sin has robbed God of that glory, but how God in his mercy is redeeming that which is lost so that sinners may be brought back into the glory of his holy presence. The Bible is fundamentally and primarily a book of God’s glory displayed in the Triune work of God giving God through God that we might be made sons of God. So, by definition, God’s grace in giving himself is an outward focused evangelistic event.

Theologians have described this outward expression of how God brings the blessing of God to sinners as “the calling.” Wilhelmus À Brakel defines the calling as, “a gracious work of God, whereby He invites the sinner by means of the gospel to exchange the state of sin and wrath for Christ, in order that through Him he may be reconciled to God and obtain godliness and salvation. By means of this calling He also, by the Holy Spirit, efficaciously translates His elect into this state.”[1] When the Bible speaks about evangelism, it is speaking of this calling.

There are two different aspects to this calling that should be discussed. There is an external and an internal call to the gospel. Both come from God. Both occur by means of God’s Word. Both are presented to human beings who are by nature sinners. But there are key differences. This distinction is not explicitly termed in Scripture, but is easily deduced. Herman Bavinck explains with five reasons. First, not all people respond the same way to the calling. All are sinners (Rom. 3:9-19; 5:12; 9:21; 11:32). All are dead in their trespasses (Eph. 2:1-3). They are darkened in their understanding (1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 4:18; 5:8). On their own they cannot do good (John 15:5; 2 Cor. 3:5). So, the different response among people requires there to be at least dual aspects to the calling. Otherwise, either all would be saved or none would. Second, simply the preaching of God’s Word is not enough. The Old Testament bears witness to the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration (Isa. 32:15; Jer. 31:33; 32:39; Ezek. 11:19; 36:26; Joel 2:28). As does the New Testament (John 15:26-27; Acts 2:1-4). Third, the work of redemption belongs to God. It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God (Rom. 9:16). It is a divine work, so the calling must not only be the Word but the Spirit. Fourth, what is wrought in the heart by the Spirit is too great to be explained as an intellectual convincing by the preaching of the Word. Fifth, Scripture speaks of the calling in a dual sense. It speaks of a calling and invitation in which there is no positive response (Isa. 65:12; Matt 22:3, 14; 23:37). The gospel is proclaimed and yet some people remain in their obstinacy, “to one a fragrance from death to death” (2 Cor. 2:16). But others hear and believe, “to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor 5:16).[2]

The explanation for the different responses to the call of God is that there is an external and an internal call. The external call happens by means of the Word. It is hearing the apostolic message concerning the Christ. It may result in a knowledge of God, even a true knowledge about God. But it does not necessarily result in saving faith. The internal call, however, is the work of the Holy Spirit who, in conjunction with and by means of the Word of God, operates upon the heart of man. His eyes are opened (Eph 1:18). His will is turned to Christ (Phil. 2:13). He is made alive (Eph 2:5-6). He is brought out of darkness and into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). It brings true knowledge of the apostolic message concerning the Christ together with personal trust in the same Christ. Both the external and internal are necessary for salvation.

God’s glory is displayed through his grace by giving himself for sinners. Because of this all Christians are to participate in the proclamation of this message. There is a universal offer of the grace of God. The external call is to be broadcast universally even if only some will respond with an internal call. The Scriptures are clear that the gospel is to be preached to all people. God will save those whom he will save. That is not our prerogative. It is to come to all people without distinction. We do not know whether one will respond in faith. We only know that the outcome is determined by God’s perfect will. But because we trust in God’s perfect will, we know that the preaching of the gospel will bear fruit. It will neither be ineffective nor useless. It will always accomplish its purpose (Isa. 55:11). And this purpose is not primary about man’s salvation but the glory of his name.

[1] Wilhelmus Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 4 Vols. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015), II.192.

[2] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Baker Academic, 2008), 4.43.

Evangelism – A Biblical Theological View

One of the consistent drumbeats of the Scriptures is that the Good News of Jesus Christ is to be proclaimed to the world. A heart to share the Gospel with others should flow out of a church committed to the Scriptures because the natural result of the work of the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures is a desire to share Christ with others. John Stott says:

It is the Bible that lays upon us the responsibility to evangelize the world, gives us a gospel to proclaim, tells us how to proclaim it, and promises us that it is God’s power for salvation to every believer. It is, moreover, an observable fact of history, both past and contemporary, that the degree of the church’s commitment to world evangelization is commensurate with the degree of its conviction about the authority of the Bible.

The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is a call to Christians to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the lost. As we prepare for our outreach through Life Explored, we hope to give a thoroughly biblical basis for why we share the Gospel.

The Great Commission (Matt. 26:19-20) is important for the call to proclaim the gospel to the nations. But it is but one passage that reflects the consistent message of whole of Scripture. The story of God presented in the Scriptures is that of a God committed to glorifying himself in the redemption of the lost through the mission of the church.

The God of the Old Testament is a missionary God. The Old Testament begins with the pre-existence and immanence of God. Before there was anything, there was God. And all things that exist come about by the power of his word. All of creation proclaims the glory of God (Ps. 19:1, Rom. 1:20). God is Triune. He exists in perfect fellowship among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He needs nothing and creates out of no deficit. He simply creates by his grace and for his glory. God creates man as the crowning glory of all creation (Gen. 1:26-31). In his image and with the ability to fellowship with him, God creates man. And he instructs man to fill the earth with more image-bearers. He is to populate and subdue the whole of creation. He is to cultivate and exercise dominion over all things. God’s original purpose and design for man was to fill the earth with worshipers of God.

The fall of man (Gen. 3) did not change this purpose, though it changed the path. Because of the alienation from and enmity with God caused by sin, man needed atonement and redemption. God in his infinite wisdom and grace promised a Redeemer (Gen. 3:15). The promise of atonement and redemption would come through God’s anointed. This Chosen One would come through the line of Abraham. “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing… in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3). This seminal promise of atonement and redemption is unfolded and expanded throughout the Old Testament. From Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to the people of Israel, the promise of a land, a seed, and a blessing continues. The promise is not snuffed out by their slavery in Egypt, instead a redeemer is raised up in Moses. And the global reach of the promise continues to grow.

The scattering and confusion of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11) is slowly undone by the centripetal force of God. The nations are drawn into the people of God. The nation of Israel was never just the ethnic people of Israel, but it always included the sojourner, the alien, the fatherless, and the slave. The promise of God had a gravitational pull that drew in the nations.

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many people shall come, and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths’ (Isa. 2:2-4, Micah 4:1, 2).

The house of the LORD will be made the highest of mountains, but notice what happens on this great peak; the nations flow up to it. Rivers and streams flow down mountains. They don’t flow up. They only flow up if there is something at the top with a tremendous force of attraction. The God of the Old Testament is a missionary God who draws the nations to himself.

The God of the New Testament is a missionary God. The Gospels display the transcendent God stepping into humanity to walk among us. The fullness of God comes to dwell in the fullness of man. The Christ of the Gospels is God on a mission to provide atonement and redemption for God’s people. The book of Acts displays the Holy Spirit coming to dwell among the Church. The Spirit descends upon the people and the curse of Babel is reversed at Pentecost (Acts 2). Suddenly, the centripetal force which drew the nations in toward God explodes outward. The movement of the gospel becomes centrifugal as the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ is broadcast outward into the world. The epistles of the New Testament display a church that exists to mature the faith in believers and to proclaim the faith to non-believers. The gospel is meant to be received, accepted, and then passed along. And the book of Revelation displays the climax of the missionary purpose. As man was given a mandate in creation to fill the earth with worshipers of God, that purpose is fulfilled in the new heavens and new earth as “a great multitude, that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, … crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev. 7:9, 10).

The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is a call to Christians to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. This is the redemptive focus of the Bible. If we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, then the Church needs to be about the mission of the Bible. A church that does not embrace the missionary and evangelistic call of God in the Scriptures is not a church. Let us heed the call and lift up our voice to proclaim that message.

Introducing Life Explored – a tool for evangelism

Fear. Fear of man, in particular, is the number one reason cited by Christians for why they do not evangelize. Some say that they are fearful because they do not know enough theology (though I’m inclined to believe that knowing a lot of theology can be a greater hindrance to effective evangelism). Others say that they are fearful of the reaction of their family, friends, neighbors, or coworkers when they talk about their faith. Whatever the specific cause of it, fear tends to paralyze us when we think about evangelism.

Lest you think that your pastors are immune to this fear, let me assure that I, too, experience this fear. Far too many times than I care to admit, I have let an opportunity to testify to the good news of Jesus Christ pass by. I fail to speak up when I know that the time is right to give glory to God.

The root of this fear is a lack of faith. When I fail to speak up, I am actually failing to believe that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). That is Paul’s summary statement after he levels three rhetorical questions at the reader. He says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Our family, friends, neighbors, or coworkers need to hear the gospel in order to call upon the name of the Lord. We need to have the faith to evangelize them in spite of our fear of man.

That we should evangelize is plain. How we evangelize is another matter altogether. There is a place for what some have called “confrontational” evangelism. After all, Paul himself reasoned (or argued with) those in the synagogues; he reasoned with the everyday people in the market places; he reasoned with the academics in Athens. This kind of evangelism is still done today with enduring effect, e.g. at the Boardwalk Chapel in Wildwood, NJ.

However, it is not the only method of evangelism. Moreover, it is arguably not the most effective. Some surveys have indicated that “relational” evangelism was the method used in more than 75% of conversions. This kind of evangelism focuses on leveraging personal relationships as the gospel is proclaimed to the world.

Within this kind of evangelism, there are many tools to help believers evangelize the lost in their midst. One of those tools is called Life Explored. This tool, which is produced by Christianity Explored Ministries, provides an occasion to present the gospel and to work through the questions of unbelievers. I have seen this tool used in other churches, and I have heard from more that it has been an effective tool in encouraging congregations to evangelize the lost around them.

What exactly is Life Explored? Before I answer that question, I want to give one important reminder. No tool or method of evangelism is a cause of conversion. God converts the heart of a sinner through his Word. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Tools and methods are analogous to what time we worship on the Lord’s Day. There is nothing special about 10:35 am. It is a circumstance, a tool, for accomplishing our chief end, glorying God and enjoying him on the Lord’s Day. Nevertheless, setting a time for worship, or settling on one tool or method for evangelism, helps us to keep in mind our goal. We have chosen to introduce Life Explored because we think it will be a helpful way to encourage you to evangelize.

With that said, we can now address what Life Explored actually is. It is an evangelism program based on a series of gatherings of believers and unbelievers for the sake of presenting the gospel message and engaging with the inevitable questions that arise. Church members invite a family member, friend, neighbor, coworker, etc. to a series of evenings during which a meal is shared, a short video is played, a time for discussion is given, and a final short video is played that presents the gospel. Life Explored is a tool, a means to stimulate discussion with the family member, friend, neighbor, or coworker whom you brought along.

Three things need to be highlighted from what has just been said. First, it is most effective in small groups in which honest discussion is encouraged. Second, it is most effective when a meal is shared before digging into the content of the videos. It is much easier to make relational connections with someone with whom you’ve just broken bread. Finally, Life Explored is far more effective if a believer personally invites—and attends with—an unbeliever. It is important to maintain at least an equal ratio between those who know the gospel and those who don’t. Too many believers in a group can stifle conversation.

Over the next couple months, these reflections will take up the topic of evangelism. Our aim is to prepare you to participate in our first Life Explored series by giving you theological and practical underpinnings for why it is important to evangelize. During this time, please pray earnestly about who God desires you to invite to Life Explored. Then invite them.

Report on the 46th General Assembly

Last week Dr. David Talcott, Rev. Chris Diebold, and I traveled to Atlanta for the 46th General Assembly of the PCA. This is our denomination’s annual gathering. Our Presbyterian structure calls for us to delegate much of the business of the church to committees. These committees then report back to the General Assembly, and the Assembly votes on their recommendations. Often, important decisions that will shape the trajectory of the church are finally decided on the floor of Assembly. I was thrilled that Covenant Presbyterian had three commissioners. This is incredibly important work for the greater church, and I am grateful that you would send us.

I arrived early to serve on the Overtures Committees (OC). Dr. Talcott served on it last year. The OC takes most of the Overtures submitted by presbyteries and debates them, perfects them, and then votes on how to advise the whole assembly to vote. It is understood that each commissioner should be aware of the issues, but those on the OC take extra time to research and study the pending Overtures, wrestle with relevant biblical texts, think through unintended consequences, and then advise the whole body. For most of the Overtures, this was very simple and straightforward. I had actually submitted an Overture to amend our Book of Church Order (BCO) chapter 35-11. It relates to how an elder is disqualified from sitting in judgment during a church trial. It was answered in the affirmative by the OC and sent to the Assembly.

There were two vigorously debated Overtures. Overture 24 sought to give full constitutional authority to the BCO’s chapter on marriage (BCO 59). This chapter falls in our Directory of Worship and is received as “pious advice” but not as binding on what a minister may or may not do. With the current cultural issues regarding same-sex marriage and the court cases regarding refusal of services to them, many in the denomination were worried about who’s next. Making the chapter constitutional would afford greater legal protection to our ministers. And it makes a clear stand in a world that has repeatedly been bullied into support of sexual anarchy. But not all of the language in BCO 59 was agreeable to everyone. And initially, the OC voted to answer in the negative, meaning the majority voted to not give the chapter full constitutional authority. But a Minority Report, of which I was a member, was filed. The Minority Report sought to find a resolution that would be simple, clear, and unifying. Once we presented our work, many who had voted against the Overture thought they could get behind this. There seemed to be a groundswell of support, so much so that the Assembly, instead of voting on the OC’s original recommendation, sent the OC back to work with this new framework. After another hour of debate, we emerged with a final Overture that was approved by the OC by a vote of 104-1. We concluded by singing the Doxology. There are real divisions in the PCA, and it was sweet to participate in a moment on genuine brotherhood and unity. The Minority Report’s goal of simple, clear, and unifying was met. The Assembly voted to approve this Overture by 764-12-7.

The other vigorously debated Overture in the OC was Overture 13 (Overture 26 was similar but only related to Covenant College). This was to revise the BCO and the Corporate Bylaws of the PCA to allow women to serve on the permanent committees of the denominations. There were a number of issues to deal with here, but the most significant to me was that it would allow unordained women and men the opportunity to sit on permanent committees. There is a considerable amount of authority wielded in these committees. Unordained men and women would only have to be members of a PCA church, while elders must be subscribed to our confessional standards and be examined in the knowledge of them and the Bible. It would open the door for men and women who don’t necessarily agree with Westminster to begin making important decisions for things like Covenant Seminary, RUF, and the like. It would also put women in positions of authority over men in the church, violating 1 Tim 2:12. The OC narrowing recommended that this be answered in the negative, and the Assembly followed by a vote of 727-449-18.

Overall, these were, in my opinion, great outcomes. We also saw the unanimous election of our first African-American Moderator, Dr. Irwyn Ince. Dr. Ince was one of the most capable Moderators we’ve had in the last few years. With a new shortened schedule, he deftly kept debate on topic and moving forward. We actually ended business early.

There was one other important item that was approved by the Assembly that will have a significant effect on our church. The Committee of Mission to North America and the Assembly approved an Overture to divide the Metropolitan New York Presbytery into two presbyteries. The new dividing line will be the Hudson River. North Jersey and two counties of New York will now be known as the West Hudson presbytery. We will convene in January 2019. This is a good move for our church, as it should make for a much more connectional and aligned presbytery.

If you have questions or want more details, Pastor Chris, Elder Talcott, or I would be happy to share more.

The Bible – Book by Book – John

Why are there four Gospels? There was a tradition in the early church of taking the four living creatures of Ezekiel 1:10 and Rev. 4:7 as symbols of the four Gospels. The “tetramorph” (lit. four forms) likely originated with Irenaeus in the 2nd century. Most commonly (though not uniformly), Matthew is connected with the man, Mark is the lion, Luke is the ox, and John is the eagle. Matthew is the man because he begins with the genealogy of Jesus. Mark is the lion, roaring in the desert with prophetic power, Luke is ox, because he shows Jesus as the temple sacrifice, and John is the eagle, soaring in the heavens as the divine Word. Ezekiel paints the picture of these four distinct creatures, and yet they were in many ways one creature. There was a diversity and unity in the four as they presented the glory of the one God. The diversity and unity of the Gospels is similar.

To understand why there are four, we need to understand something about the writing of Holy Scripture and the purpose of the Gospels. The Holy Spirit’s work of inspiration in the life of the individual authors of the Gospels is crucial to understanding why we have four accounts. And nature of gospels, as literature, help us understand the Gospels, as four authoritative accounts.

There is not a “zero-sum game” in the inspiration of Scripture. As the Holy Spirit inspires the human authors of the Gospels, their human-ness is not eradicated so that only the Holy Spirit comes through their pen. Instead, there is a sanctifying effect on the human-ness of the author, such that they are truly free and liberated from sin. They experience and express the realities of true fellowship with God, such that it is not an either/or (these are either the author’s or God’s words) but rather a both/and (these are both the author’s and God’s words) situation.[1] This is why the personality and the style of each author is not flattened into one homogenous account of the account of life and death of Jesus. Instead there are four accounts. Each one expressing what the Holy Spirit desires to express through the personality and style of the particular author, and each one expressing it in an equally true but differently nuanced way. The complete picture is no less truthful, right, pure, or inspired, even though each account provides a different facet of the story.

These four documents all detail something of the earthly life of Jesus Christ. Neither individually nor corporately do they constitute what would properly be called a biography. They make no attempt to be thorough or complete in their telling of the life of Jesus. They each spend much more time detailing the circumstances of his death than that of his life. And each of them tends to focus on a slightly different aspect of that life and death. This is done to address different audiences and different contexts. The Gospel of Matthew was written to a primarily Jewish audience. Mark was written to a mixed Jewish and Gentile audience in Rome. Luke was written to primarily Gentiles. And John was written a few decades later to supplement those accounts with a more theological picture of Jesus as the Son of God.

The Gospel of John was written decades after Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The apostle John put this Gospel to paper sometime between 80-90AD while he was residing in Ephesus. After a lifetime of reflection on the person and work of Jesus, John wrote, “so that you may believe the Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). He does not open with a birth narrative or nativity. Instead it opens at the dawn of time. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). This prologue to John presents Jesus as the eternal Logos, or Word, who presents to us the Father. By the Holy Spirit, Christ reveals the Father because he shares in the Father’s deity. He was present at creation. He fed Israel in the desert. He is the Great “I AM.” John is laying out the deep and timeless theological reality of Jesus, that we might believe.

If we understand the Gospel of John as being written later than the other three, then we’ll see the supplementary nature of the Gospel. This is why the nativity, the baptism, and the institution of the Lord’s Supper are not in it. Almost all of Jesus’ Galilean ministry is omitted. Instead of parables, John presents long dialogues between Jesus and others. John emphasizes the signs and wonders of Jesus. It is because John is assuming the reader is already familiar with these aspects of Jesus’ life because of the other Gospels. But it is clear that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are all writing about the same Jesus. They are four accounts that represent four different situations and contexts. They are four different authors. They are four different perspectives. But there is one subject to their gospel. There is one inspiring author in the Holy Spirit. And there is one goal for all four Gospels. They all agree that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who came in the flesh for the salvation of the world.[2]

 

[1] Swain, Trinity, Revelation, and Reading, 66–69.

[2] Machen and Cook, The New Testament, 220–21.

The Bible – Book by Book – Luke

Marcion was son of a bishop, born around 85AD. Through his study of the Hebrew scriptures, Marcion became convinced that the God of the Old Testament was incompatible with the Jesus of the New Testament. Around 144AD, he began to develop a theological system that incorporated two gods. There was a god of the Old Testament, the Demiurge, who created the material universe, but who was a legalistic and wrathful god. Another god, the one professed by Jesus, was altogether different. He was merciful and gracious, full of compassion and love. As a result of this, Marcion developed what could be considered an early canon of Scripture. Essentially, Marcion went to the New Testament with a knife and began removing everything he didn’t like. When he was finished, he was left with the Gospel of Luke (minus parts he didn’t like) and ten of Paul’s letters (also trimmed to fit his views). He had removed anything that favorable referenced the God of the Old Testament.

The Marcionite heresy continues to rear its ugly head. There is nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9), and old heresies just get rewarmed in a modern context. The mega-church pastor Andy Stanley recently preached that the Gospel needs to be “unhitched” from the Old Testament. He does this because he sees a fundamental difference between the “worldview and the values system depicted in the story of Ancient Israel” and the one depicted in the New Testament. Stanley is well-intentioned. His fear is that a mean, wrathful, and legalistic god of the Old Testament will scare away people from the merciful, gracious, and compassionate god of the New Testament. But his good intentions are just a re-hashing of Marcion’s errors.

What’s interesting about Marcion is that he has inadvertently been a great gift to the Church. What others intended for evil, God intended for good (Gen 50:20, Rom 8:28). In response to Marcion, the early Church had to clarify those areas where Marcion attempted to attack. The continuity between the Old and New Testaments was affirmed. The incarnation of Jesus Christ was explained. And the canon of the New Testament, which had been universally but unofficially received, was more formally acknowledged in order to refute Marcion’s canon. It is interesting to note that Marcion’s canon was clearly an attempt to cut away the pieces with which he disagreed. But for him to do that, there had to be an understood and received canon from which to cut. Marcion’s canon points to the fact that there already was an established, though somewhat unofficial, canon of the New Testament.

Out of the 2nd century response against Marcion came a prologue to Luke’s Gospel. This so called “Anti-Marcionite Prologue to the Gospel of Luke,” written around 160AD, helped to firmly establish the authorship of the anonymous Gospel. It says the physician Luke was the author of the Gospel and the book of Acts. It also points out that Luke wrote his Gospel to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ to the Gentile world. The reason Marcion liked the Gospel of Luke is that Luke presented Jesus to a non-Jewish audience. Luke was careful to couch the narrative of Jesus in its proper Jewish context, but it was not emphasized like in Matthew or Mark.

Luke tells us in his opening why he wrote his Gospel. “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative…it seemed good to me also…to write an orderly account for you…that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4). Luke was a physician and a historian. He took all the reliable accounts circulating at the time and he compiled them into an accurate and orderly account of Jesus’ life. As the fledgling Christian movement was growing, it was competing with a number of other religious and philosophical systems in the Greco-Roman world. Luke is presenting the best case that Christianity is not just for Jewish people, and why Christians are the true heirs of God’s Old Testament promises. For example, when Luke details the genealogy of Jesus, he traces it all the way back to Adam, whereas Matthew only goes back to Abraham. Luke also points out how Jesus commended Gentiles, like the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4:25-27), and the Roman centurion (Luke 7:1-10).

Luke makes some important and unique contributions. Luke provides for us a much more sweeping birth narrative of Jesus. Luke begins with the birth of John the Baptist and then moves to the much-loved nativity scene of Jesus. Luke also spends a great deal more time on the journey to Jerusalem than Matthew or Mark. What constitutes a mere chapter in them is extended to ten chapters (chs. 9-19). Included in this are some famous parables like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) and the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).

Luke was a physician. And he presents Jesus as the compassionate and merciful healer. But he is also a Savior who denounces injustice and hates evil. Jesus is the one who not only heals the sick and ill, but he saves the lost from their sins (Luke 19:10). “The seeking love of God, as it appears [in Luke], is not the good-natured complacence that is being mistaken for it today, but a wonderful, paradoxical, saving will, that led the Son of God finally to the cross.”[1]

[1] Machen and Cook, The New Testament, 208.