Thursday, July 29, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Run Away

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Run Away”
First Published: October 8, 2002

Here's a great Pastor's Perspective, written by our own Dr. Derek Thomas:

Running away from trouble is not necessarily cowardice; sometimes, in a moment of weakness, it is the courageous thing to do. Retreat in battle in order to regroup is a wise thing to do.
Running away from sin is always the right thing to do:
'Flee sexual immorality' (1 Cor. 6:18);
'Flee youthful lusts...' (2 Tim. 2:22);
'But you, O man of God, flee these things...' (1 Tim. 6:11; the 'things' Paul had in mind were 'foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition' (v.9), one of which was 'the love of money').

'Kill sin before it kills you,' was John Owen’s warning, adding: 'he that dares to dally with the occasions of sin,' wrote John Owen perceptively, 'will dare to sin.'
John Bunyan wrote a lengthy poem (16 verses in all!) called, Caution to Stir up to Watch against Sin. One of which goes like this:

Sin, rather than ‘twill out of action be,
Will pray to stay, though but a while with thee;
One night, one hour, one moment, will it cry,
Embrace me in thy bosom, else I die:
Time to repent [saith it] I will allow,
And help, if to repent thou know’st not how.
But if you give it entrance at the door
It will come in, and may go out no more.

Bunyan’s point? That sin is habit forming. Once you let it in to your life it is difficult to put it out again. It doesn’t matter what it is: pornography, greed, selfishness, a love of money… give way to them once, and it will be easier to give way to them a second time, and third time, and a fourth time.

That’s why it is necessary to develop a Christian mind when it comes to sin. Paul talks about the two mind-sets in Romans 8. There is what he calls, ‘the mind of the flesh’ and there is what he calls, ‘the mind of the Spirit’ (Rom. 8:6). There is a conformity to this world and there is what the apostle calls a ‘renewing of your mind’ (Rom. 12:2).

The way we think about sin affects the way we deal with sin. Recently, in a lecture on the doctrine of total depravity, I had occasion to mention the book once entitled, The Plague of Plagues, by the Puritan Ralph Venning. The publishers (Banner of Truth) have seen fit to reissue it under a new title: The Sinfulness of Sin. “Obviously, it’s not meant to be best seller!” quipped one of the students! And, sadly, he had a point. Who would purchase a book with such a title? Only those intent and serious in ridding themselves of sin!

J. C. Ryle, whose writings are still amongst the most accessible more than a century after they were written, gave prominence to the doctrine of human sinfulness and corruption, for which the blood of Christ and the grace of God are the only remedy. In the very opening sentence of his book, Holiness, he wrote: ‘He that wishes to attain right views about Christian holiness, must begin by examining the vast and solemn subject of sin.’

We need to have our minds changed, and changed about what sin is, and what sin does! It is interesting to note that the word most commonly used in the New Testament for 'repentance' is metanoeo, a word which literally means to change one's mind. We need to appreciate the Bible’s seven-fold description of sin as: rebellion against the ownership and rulership of God, transgression of the bounds that God has set, missing the mark God has told us to aim at, breaking the law which he has given, defiling ourselves and thereby making ourselves unfit (unclean) for his presence, embracing folly by shutting our ears to God’s wisdom, and incurring guilt before God’s judgment seat.

When sin is viewed this way, the best thing to do when we detect its presence is to run as fast as we can in the opposite direction!

Derek Thomas,
Minister of Teaching


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: A Father's Resolutions

The Pastor’s Perspective
“A Father’s Resolutions”

I ran across this excerpt from Cotton Mather’s “A Father's Resolutions” and was immediately convicted and edified. I share it with you all, especially the fathers of the congregation, to spur you on in love and good deeds towards your children, and to motivate you in your concern for their spiritual well-being. Mather resolved:

“1. At the birth of my children, I will resolve to do all that I can that they may be the Lord’s. I will now actually give them up by faith to God; entreating that each child may be a child of God the Father, a subject of God the Son, a temple of God the Spirit - and be rescued from the condition of a child of wrath, and be possessed and employed by the Lord as an everlasting instrument of His glory.

“2. As soon as my children are capable of minding my admonitions, I will often, often admonish them, saying, ‘Child, God has sent His son to die, to save sinners from death and hell. You must not sin against Him. You must every day cry to God that He would be your Father, and your Saviour, and your Leader. You must renounce the service of Satan, you must not follow the vanities of this world, you must lead a life of serious religion.’

“3. Let me daily pray for my children with constancy, with fervency, with agony. Yea, by name let me mention each one of them every day before the Lord. I will importunately beg for all suitable blessings to be bestowed upon them: that God would give them grace, and give them glory, and withhold no good thing from them; that God would smile on their education, and give His good angels the charge over them, and keep them from evil, that it may not grieve them; that when their father and mother shall forsake them, the Lord may take them up. With importunity I will plead that promise on their behalf: ‘The Heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit unto them that ask Him.’ Oh! happy children, if by asking I may obtain the Holy Spirit for them!

“4. I will early entertain the children with delightful stories out of the Bible. In the talk of the table, I will go through the Bible, when the olive-plants about my table are capable of being so watered. But I will always conclude the stories with some lessons of piety to be inferred from them.

“5. I will single out some Scriptural sentences of the greatest importance; and some also that have special antidotes in them against the common errors and vices of children. They shall quickly get those golden sayings by heart, and be rewarded with silver or gold, or some good thing, when they do it. Such as, * Psalm 11:10- ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ * Matthew 16:26-‘What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’* I Timothy 1:15-‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.’ * Matthew 6:6-‘When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret.’ * Ephesians 4:25-‘Putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour.’ * Romans 12:17, 19-‘Recompense to no man evil for evil...Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves.’

“6. A Jewish treatise tells us that among the Jews, when a child began to speak, the father was bound to teach him Deuteronomy 33:4-‘Moses commanded us a law, even the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob.’ Oh! let me early make my child acquainted with the Law which our blessed Jesus has commanded us! 'Tis the best inheritance I can give them.

“7. I will cause my children to learn the Catechism. In catechizing them, I will break the answers into many lesser and proper questions; and by their answer to them, observe and quicken their understandings. I will bring every truth into some duty and practice, and expect them to confess it, and consent unto it, and resolve upon it. As we go on in our catechizing, they shall, when they are able, turn to the proofs and read them, and say to me what they prove and how. Then, I will take my times, to put nicer and harder questions to them; and improve the times of conversation with my family (which every man ordinarily has or may have) for conferences on matters of religion.

“8. Restless will I be till I may be able to say of my children, ‘Behold, they pray!’ I will therefore teach them to pray. But after they have learnt a form of prayer, I will press them to proceed unto points that are not in their form. I will charge them with all possible cogency to pray in secret; and often call upon them, ‘Child, I hope, you don't forget my charge to you, about secret prayer: your crime is very great if you do!’

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, July 26, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Both for Elders and Deacons

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Both for Elders and Deacons”
First Published: August 13, 2002

Last week, we began answering the question “why do we not have female church officers at First Presbyterian Church?” So far, we’ve said the following: the simple answer is “because that is what the Bible teaches.” The New Testament consistently teaches that the ministry of the word and rule in the church is to be exercised only by qualified male leadership (see, for example, 1 Timothy 2:8-15, 3:1-2, 12; 1 Corinthians 14:34-35; Acts 6:3). In 1 Timothy 2:11-14, Paul teaches that (1) Women are to receive instruction in a submissive manner in the public assembly. In other words, the headship of men, and the authority of the elders is never to be tested or challenged by Christian women in the public assembly, instead they are to receive teaching willingly, rather than give it. (2) Women are not to teach or exercise authority over men in the public assembly. Paul explicitly restricts the teaching and ruling ministry of the church to qualified and called men. (3) Paul says that he is not the primary author or inventor of this view or rule. In 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, he says that this is an Old Testament, that is, biblical principle (“just as the Law says”) and it is binding on the churches. In sum, Paul teaches that the Bible teaches that there are to be role distinctions between the sexes in the ministry activity of the Christian church.

Now some folks agree with what I’ve just said with regard to the office of elder, but believe that the office of deacon is open to women, (1) since it is not a ruling office but a serving office, and (2) since they can make a case for women deacons from Scripture (whereas there is no good case for women ministers/elders that can be made from Scripture). So, what do we say about this? What about the diaconate and what about the women mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:11? What about Phoebe?

Well, let’s look at 1 Timothy 3:11, where Paul says (in the context of talking about elders and deacons): “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.” What does verse 11 mean? To whom does it refer? Let me respond plainly and straightforwardly and then explain my rationale: it refers to “the women who assist the deacons.”

The context of this passage (see especially 1 Timothy 5) strongly suggests that this verse means that the women who assist the deacons in diaconal ministry must also possess godly character. It shows the involvement and qualifications of women in diaconal care in the local church. Interpreters have suggested five possible translations of the word “women” in verse 11 – (1) women deacons; (2) deaconesses, distinct but comparable with deacons; (3) female assistants to the deacons; (4) wives of deacons; or (5) wives of elders and deacons. In light of 1 Timothy 5, the third is the most likely rendering (though 4 and 5 remain possibilities too).

Those who argue for women deacons or deaconesses suggest that (1) deacon is a servant position therefore no authority is exercised and thus it is open to women without violation of 1 Timothy 2:11-14; (2) the passage above speaks of a separate class of women officers; (3) that Romans 16:1-2 provides an example of a female deacon/deaconess. In response to these three arguments, I would simply note that (1) those in charge of a ministry, including deacons, invariably rule in some manner; (2) that fact that Paul simply calls these female Christians “women” and does not title them (though he has already titled both elders and deacons is a strong argument that he is not speaking of a distinct office of deaconess); (3) Paul’s word for Phoebe in Romans 16:1, servant, diakanos, most frequently designates the standard role and character of a Christian in the New Testament, rather than an official title. No conclusive contextual argument supports its understanding as a title in Romans 16:1. John Murray says: “Phoebe is one of the women memorialized in the New Testament by their devoted service to the gospel whose honor is not to be tarnished by elevation to positions and functions inconsistent with the station they occupy in the economy of human relationships.” Furthermore, there are a number of compelling arguments against women serving as deacons that can be drawn from the New Testament. (1) In Acts 6, where deacons are first appointed, the Apostles explicitly say “select from among you seven men” – andros is used here specifically (meaning men) not the generic anthropos (meaning persons). Furthermore, Acts 6 specifically calls for men to minister to women – if ever there were a situation that called for women deacons it was here, and yet men are appointed. (2) Consider the evidence from 1 Tim. 3:11, if Paul wanted to institute women deacons, this verse was the perfect opportunity to use the term, but he doesn’t! (3) The general Pauline doctrine of male headship suggests that it is the qualified men of the congregation who are to lead both the shepherding and mercy ministry of the church.

All of this shows that our position on church officers is rooted in Scripture rather than dictated by unbiblical tradition or cultural patterns.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Biblical Authority

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Biblical Authority”
First Published: August 6, 2002

As we are in the midst of an officer election cycle, we often hear questions about why we do not have female church officers at First Presbyterian Church. Sometimes these questions are asked critically by friends at other churches who do ordain women to office. Sometimes, these questions are raised inquisitively by congregation members who simply want to know whether our practice is based on principle and Scripture, or simply on human tradition. I addressed this issue in a sermon on Romans 16:1-2, several weeks ago. But I revisit the matter again here.

Why do we have only qualified male church officers at First Presbyterian Church? The simple answer is: “because that is what the Bible teaches.” The New Testament consistently teaches that the ministry of the word and rule in the church is to be exercised only by qualified male leadership (see, for example, 1 Timothy 2:8-15, 3:1-2, 12; 1 Corinthians 14:34-35; Acts 6:3).

Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:11-14 “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” Paul makes two things crystal clear here: (1) Women are to receive instruction in a submissive manner in the public assembly (11) He says: “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness.” That means that the headship of men, and the authority of the elders is never to be tested or challenged by Christian women in the public assembly, instead they are to receive teaching submissively, rather than give it (as will be made clear by the next verse). (2) Women are not to teach or exercise authority over men in the public assembly (12-15). He makes it unmistakably clear: “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man . . . .” That is, according to Paul, women are neither to teach men in the public assembly or to hold authority over men in the church. Thus, Paul explicitly restricts the teaching and ruling ministry of the church to qualified and called men. Note that Paul’s proscription is functional, not official (that is, a matter of status or title)! That is, they are denied the function, not merely the title or office. Here is his rationale [13-15]: (1) Adam’s priority in creation [13], (2) The deception of woman in the fall: the results of the role reversal in the original sin [14], and (3) the well-being of women [15]. Paul establishes here that there are to be role distinctions in the ministry activity of the Christian church.

In 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, he says “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.” Note Paul’s reiteration of his main principle, even in a context in which women were exercising prophetic gifts! Note also that Paul says this is an OT, that is, biblical principle (“just as the Law says”) and it is binding on the churches. Paul’s language “keep silent” and “improper to speak” is not a universal gag order, rather it is a restriction against women engaging in authoritative didactic speech in the assembly of the Lord’s people. Women are not to preach/teach. Paul reiterates here that there are to be role distinctions in the ministry activity of the Christian church.

Those who argue against this interpretation of Paul say one of three things: (1) Paul does not mean what he seems to say here. He’s not giving a generally applicable rule but rather speaking to a specific situation in Ephesus that doesn’t apply anywhere else. But the whole context of 1 Timothy is apostolic rule for church life everywhere and in particular in 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul makes it clear this these directives are for the whole church! (2) Some will argue that Paul’s overall ethic is egalitarian, and that he contradicts himself in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians. But once we start interpreting Scripture by pitting Scripture versus Scripture or Paul versus Paul, we are left utterly to our own subjective opinions. (3) Some, boldly declare that Paul is just wrong on this issue. He was culturally bound and theologically confused, they say. But such a view is fundamentally incompatible with the inerrancy, inspiration and authority of Scripture. I’ll make some concluding remarks about this next week.

Your friend,
Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: The Deacon Described

The Pastor’s Perspective
“The Deacon Described”
First Published: July 30, 2002

We are now in the third of a series on deacons. Last week, we asked the question: What kind of deacons do we need? And we started our answer by saying, first, we need men who want to serve, men who want to concretely and tangibly show the love of Christ in the body. Paul does not say much by way of defining the work of the deacon, but the NT rounds out our picture of this office and one of the best examples is found in Acts 6:1-6 “Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. "Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. "But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.” Here, we have the origination of the office of deacon. The elders are to be ministers of the word and prayer. The deacons are to be ministers of tangible mercy and aid. Thus, the office of the deacon, is not that of an elder-in-training, nor of a candidate for the priesthood, but an office of service. So, you want to elect men to the diaconate who exude a desire to serve the flock in the ministry of mercy.

Second, we need men who are godly and self-controlled, qualified by their desire to serve, their embrace of the faith and their proven character (see 1 Timothy 3:8-10,12-13). The ‘Three Qualifications’ for deacons are: desire to serve, orthodoxy, moral character. Paul says: “Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. ... Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.”

Paul, once again, as with the elders, gives a list of moral qualifications for church office. Patrick Fairbairn says: “[These qualifications] are, as already stated, predominantly moral, and consist of attributes of character rather than gifts and endowments of mind. ...It is the characteristics which go to constitute the living, practical Christian, which together make the man of God, that in this delineation of pastoral equipments are alone brought prominently into view.”

The qualifications given by Paul for deacons are such as are designed to engender a feeling of respect and confidence among the members of the church for the deacons. These character qualifications are both negative and positive. Positively, they are to be: (1) Men of dignity, grave, of serious deportment (not of personality but of character), men worthy of respect; (2) holding the mystery of the faith (belief and behavior) – they don’t have to teach, but the faith is their motivation in service; (3) husbands of one wife, maritally faithful and perhaps normally married men, this points to the high value placed on home life by the early Christians and (4) good managers of their children and households, shows the need for parental and leadership skills in the home. Negatively: they are (1) Not double-tongued, but rather straight-talking, absolutely trustworthy and consistent in speech; (2) Not addicted to wine, opposed to any level of consumption that results in the loss of self-control; (3) Not fond of sordid gain, resistant to temptations to misappropriate funds entrusted to their care. To put these negatives positively, they are to manifest self-control in three areas: speech, drink, and money.

Paul also says they should be tested (13) “These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.” This indicates the congregations involvement in their selection. So, you want to elect men to the diaconate who possess all three qualifications: desire for service, commitment to the truth and Christian character.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, July 19, 2010

Gleanings from The Pastor's Perspective:The Duties of Deacons

The Pastor’s Perspective
“The Duties of Deacons”
First Published: July 23, 2002

Last week, we began a series in this column, asking the question why do we need deacons and what kind of deacons do we need? (based on 1 Timothy 3:8-13 and some other important New Testament passages). So, let’s start with the first part of the question. Why do we need deacons?

Well, we need deacons in order that the church might really reflect the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The deacon is to be a living example of Christ’s love command. It is striking that Paul characterizes the work of deacons as “service.” In 1 Timothy 3:10 and 13 he says “let them serve as deacons . . . (10)” and then speaks of “those who have served well as deacons . . . (13)”. This fits perfectly with Jesus command in John 13 and the examples of life in the early church in Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37 and 6:1-7. According to Jesus, there is no such things as deedless love. Love is always made tangible in our and by our actions. Therefore the love he enjoins upon the church must be practical and tangible, even to the point of meeting physical needs.

The early church did this by voluntarily sharing resources to aid those in the church who were in need. Eventually, deacons were “invented” to aid the church in this intra-church mercy ministry (see Acts 6).

The Gospel ministry must be in word and deed, neither must be neglected, so it is for the church’s well-being to have both elders and deacons (see Acts 6:7). The deacons’ work is to complement to elders’ ministry of the word. The deacon is to lead in the local congregation’s ministry of mercy. His is an office of service and deed (10, 13).

So, you want men to serve as deacons who have a heart for visiting those in special need in the congregation and who have a heart for caring for them and assisting in their tangible needs. You want men who are ready to commit the time and the energy that this kind of responsibility entails. You want men who are ready and willing and sensitive enough to get involved in the messy details of people’s lives for the sake of the Gospel and Christian love.

Now let’s move to the second half of the question: What kind of deacons do we need? First, we need men who want to serve, men who want to concretely and tangibly show the love of Christ in the body. The office of deacon is emphatically and denominationally an office of service of the brethren. As we have already seen, Paul says “let them serve as deacons.” Though all offices in the NT church are ultimately offices of service, the work of the deacon is uniquely a ministry of service. Paul means “serve” here, not just in a generic sense (“he ‘served’ in office”) but really and specifically. The Deacon is not a man who is out for power or prestige. He’s a man who wants to serve. He wants to help. When the people of God are hurting he wants to aid them. When they are in need he wants to comfort and assist them. He wants to make the Christian claims of love tangible. Paul does not say much here by way of defining the work of the deacon, but the NT rounds out our picture of this office. Consider Romans 12:6-7 “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching.” This is a good summation of the work of deacons and elders, respectively. In 1 Corinthians 12:27-28 we read “Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.” Again we see the respective works of deacons and elders described. Paul sees these to offices as the norm in local churches, as can be seen from Philippians 1:1 “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.” More on this next week.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective:What is a Deacon Called to Be?

The Pastor’s Persepective
“What is a Deacon Called to Be?”
First Published: July 16, 2002

Now that the congregation has completed its election of fifteen new ruling elders, it is now time to turn our thoughts, prayers and attention to the election of new deacons. We will begin the process of electing deacons on Sunday, August 4, 2002. Several weeks ago I preached on the nature and function of the work of deacons, as well as on the character of those who serve in that office. It would be appropriate for us to pause and consider these matters again in the column over the next few weeks. Read it. Stick it in the back of your Bible, pull it out and pray over it as you study over the booklet of diaconal candidates and prepare to cast your vote.

The question we asked in the sermon back on June 16, 2002 (if you missed it you can purchase it or check it out at the tape library, or download the transcript from the website) was: why do we need deacons and what kind of deacons do we need? (based on 1 Timothy 3:8-13 and some other important New Testament passages).

In 1 Timothy, Paul is laying down a permanent pattern of ministry for the church and in the immediate context of 1 Timothy 3, Paul has been spelling out matters about the church’s prayer practice and relation to the world, as well as the respective roles of men and women in the church.
His instructions for the office of deacon are found here in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. But before we go there, let’s consider the background to the New Testament office of deacon. To get that background, we have to go back to the last days of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

It was the night that Jesus would be betrayed. His disciples were going to take the Passover meal together with him (they didn’t realize it would be for the last time). No servant was present to wash the feet of the disciples. Jesus and the disciples had come from Bethany to the Upper Room. Their feet would have been dirty and the host had failed to provide a slave to wash them in the customary manner before the meal. Now Luke tells us (Luke 22:24) that in this very context the disciples were arguing about which of them was the greatest! (possibly in connection with the order in which they would recline around the table). In their midst was one of such despicable character that he had already arranged to betray his master. And NONE of these men, not even Judas, would demean himself by stooping to perform this menial task reserved for slaves. In that setting, Jesus, the Lord of Glory, got up, set aside his garments, girded himself with the long linen cloth used to dry the feet after washing and began to wash the disciples feet. Later that same evening, he would give them a new command “Love one another as I have loved you.”

It is that command the Jesus gave deacons to the church to enflesh. That is, the deacon is to model, he is to be a living example of the self-giving tagible love of Christ to his people. John, who was there that night (and never forgot what he saw) said later (in 1 John 3:18) “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” The deacon is to love in deed and truth, and model for the congregation what it is to love in deed and truth, and to motivate the congregation to love in deed and truth. The deacon has a heart for this ministry. He wants to put flesh on the Christian responsibility to love one another in time of need. Over the next few weeks we’ll explore together this important work in the church.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Five Books for Unbelievers

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Five Books for Unbelievers”
First Published: July 9, 2002

A friend just asked me a very good question, “If you could get an unbeliever to read just one book (other than the Bible), what book would it be?” Now, I don’t think that there is just one right answer to that question. Indeed, knowing the person to whom the book is to be given will say a lot about what we choose to give. Nevertheless, in response, I suggested two books and then emailed a friend to see what he would say. I was confirmed in my two suggestions and got three more recommendations to boot. Here they are: John R. W. Stott’s Basic Christianity, C.S. Lewis’, Mere Christianity, John Piper’s The Pleasures of God, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and J.I. Packer’s Knowing God.

I pass these along to you as suggestions. Friends, you need to get into Gospel conversations with people, especially pagans, and then challenge them to think and read. Furthermore, I invite you to send to me your recommendations on books that you would give to seekers.

I just got a disturbing message from one of our excellent missionary church planters. It will give you a taste of the political climate in Sweden in which he and his colleagues are faithfully trying to minister the Gospel in fidelity to the Scriptures (and, unfortunately, it may also provide a foretaste of things to come here in the US). Sweden’s Parliament has just moved to criminalize opposition to homosexuality (this information comes from a correspondent named Bob Kellogg).

“The Swedish government is moving toward prohibiting Christians from voicing biblical positions on issues. The Swedish Parliament has moved to within one step of changing the nation's constitution to ban speech or materials opposing homosexuality and any other alternate lifestyles. If the amendment becomes reality, violators could be subject to prison sentences.

“Swedish lawmakers narrowly approved the constitutional amendment last week. Annalie Enochson, a Christian member of Parliament, said the homosexual lobby in Sweden is small but powerful. She noted the measure passed with only 56 percent of the vote.

“‘Usually, if you change the constitution it should be nearly everybody. I mean, it should be about 80 or 90 percent,’ Enochson said. ‘Fifty-six is very, very low.’

“The amendment must be voted on again after elections this September. If it passes again, it would become effective next January. Enochson said under the amendment, Christians could be arrested for speaking out in churches.

“‘That means people coming from (the homosexual) lobby group could sit in our churches having on the tape recorder and listen to somebody and say, “What you're saying now is against our constitution.”’

“She said anyone convicted of violating the constitutional amendment could spend six months to four years in jail. Enochson added pro-homosexual activists will soon be lobbying to make homosexual marriages and adoption legal in Sweden.

“Bob Knight, who heads the Culture and Family Institute at Concerned Women for America, predicted the United States will soon have similar laws. ‘The Swedish example should be a wake-up call to the rest of the world that the real intent is to criminalize Christianity,’ Knight said.”

I share this with you, not to scare you or to make you mad, but to warn. We need to be mindful of anti-Gospel cultural forces. We need to be lovingly, lawfully and Christianly engaging them. And, of course, we need to be urgent in our proclamation of the Gospel – thankful that we can still do so legally, for now.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, July 12, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Family Worship

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Family Worship”
Fist Published: July 2, 2002

A number of you have responded positively to the Sunday evening message on “the Family Altar” and so I offer something of a synopsis here. We said, to begin with, that our goal at First Presbyterian is for every family unit to become a discipleship group; for every husband and father to become an active, self-denying, spiritual leader in his home; for there to exist fifteen hundred family-based growth groups in our church family; and for family religion to be the fountain of healthy, robust, corporate worship, as well as worship in all of life.

I argued that There are significant things that we can do as Christian parents to promote the spiritual health and growth of our covenant children based on Deuteronomy 6:4-9 "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. "These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. "You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. "You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Though salvation is of God, and though the Spirit works when and how and with whom He wishes, Christian parents have covenantal responsibilities toward their children which God is pleased to use as means of those covenant children’s spiritual birth and growth. Among those means are the following:

1. Consider the spiritual condition and needs of your children. Do you care more for their bodies than their souls?

2. Use the covenant baptism of your children as an occasion to call them to faith.

3. Instruct your children in the great issues of salvation. Talk with them about the content of sermons. Ask them about Scriptures that they have memorized in SS. See how far they understand. Know their souls.

4. Correct and restrain your children from that which is prejudicial to their spiritual vitality. Display sweet but firm parental authority. Do not indulge them or allow them to trample you. They should “fear you with delight.” Challenge straying teenagers. Don’t be cute with them about their sin.

5. Challenge your children to embrace the covenant. Exhort them in the things of the Lord. See 1 Chronicles 28:9; 1 John 3:23. Plunder the Scriptures for charges and challenges, exhortations and spiritual commands for your children.

6. Be a disciple yourself. Love God. “You have to be a disciple to disciple.” See Psalm 34:1, 4, 11. Along with this, Be an example in your life, priorities and choices. Your children will see what is important to you. Is God important to you?, his worship?, the Lord’s Day?, the Bible?, the Christian life? Or is your life taken up with trivialities, secular labor, and the pursuit of pleasure or just escape from pain? Your children will see what is really important to you and it will either definitively contradict or confirm your words (and to a certain extent, my words) to them.

7. Pray for your children. For their salvation, for their spiritual growth, for their future spouses. Pray with them, as well as for them.

Then we suggested five simple and practical ways to promote family religion in your household.

1. Sit together at church. Go to church every week (even vacation), fifty-two weeks a year, year after year, and sit together. The family ought to be together in the worship of the Lord. Kids can get with their friends after the services, but in church, the family ought to be prime. The power of the ordinary means of grace should not be underestimated.

2. Work to have a Lord’s Day. Live as if Sunday is the Lord’s not yours. View it as the “market day of the soul.”

3. Attend evening worship. If we believe the whole day is the Lord’s day, then it ought to be framed with worship. I have never known a family that was faithful in Sunday evening attendance, that, when the great crises of life came, did not weather the storm and walk in faith and persevere.

4. Memorize the catechisms. It is a proven method. It is simple. It is content rich. It teaches the language of Zion. It increases memory ability and capacity for conceptual thinking.

5. Worship together as a family at home. Praise, pray and read the Bible together as a family at home. If you are looking for resources for family worship, take a look at Jerry Marcellino’s Rediscovering the Lost Treasure of Family Worship; Terry Johnson’s The Family Worship Book; and Cotton Mather’s A Family Well-Ordered.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Elders We Need (Part 3 of 3)

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Conclusion: The Elders We Need”
First Published: June 25, 2002

For the last two weeks in this column, we have been exploring the question: “What kind of elders do we need?” This coming Lord’s Day, we’ll be electing elders and so it is vital that we have a biblical answer to that question. We have already noted five things that we need in elders: (1) we need elders who want the work, not just the status of an elder; (2) we need elders who are godly men – because character, godliness, holiness is God’s great qualification for an elder; (3) we need elders who are able to teach, that is, who are able to convey God’s truth to disciples; (4) we need elders with godly homes and families, and who are aiming for godly homes and families, and (5) we need elders who are spiritually mature and not recent converts (they are “old” in the faith, though not necessarily chronologically).

Sixth, and finally, we need elders whose moral reputation is good with local non-Christians (and in our day and time, we could add, with other churches’ members as well). Paul makes it clear that elders are to be men of integrity, even and especially in this eyes of the non-church community, when he says: “And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:7). Paul expects elders to be respectable (see point 2) not only to those within the church, but also in the estimation of those without it. The officers of the church have a witness. It is either positive or negative. Paul demands that elders not be a reproach to Christ. An elder is a Christian man possessed of evident godly character (basic Christian character reflective of conversion, sanctification, spiritual growth and maturity (e.g., the Beatitudes) and the other character qualities required here by Paul. You want to elect elders who will enhance and not embarrass the church’s witness to the watching world.
We need to be in prayer for the elder-nominees and for the election itself. Pray that God would bless us with biblically-qualified elders who will shepherd the flock of God and love the bride of Christ. Pray for those who will not be elected, that they will be protected from discouragement.
For those who will be elected, we need to be praying now for God to increase his every grace in them. We must pray for their faith to be strengthened, for their fear of God to be profound, that the love of God and Christ would be rooted in them; and that the love of the world would be removed from them, that their consciences would always be tender, and that they may live a life of repentance, that God would work in them charity and brotherly love, the grace of self-denial, along with humility and meekness, that they would be given the grace of contentment and patience, and a holy indifference to all the things of sense and time.

We must pray for the grace of hope in them – a hope in God and Christ, and a hope of eternal life; for grace to preserve them from sin, and all appearances of it, and approaches towards it; for grace to enable them both to govern their tongues well, and to use them well, and for grace to direct and animate and strengthen and assist them in their duty: that they may be prudent and discreet, honest and sincere, active and diligent, resolute and courageous, pleasant and cheerful in their duty.

And that they may do their duty in every condition of life, every event of providence and every relation in which they stand. “Brethren, pray for us, ”Paul said. And so we should for our elders.

Your friend,
Ligon Duncan

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: The Elders We Need (Part two of Three)

Pastor’s Perspective
“The Elders We Need”
First Published: June 18, 2002

Last week in this column, we asked the question: “What kind of elders do we need?” And we said that this is a timely question, because of the imminent elder election, beginning on Sunday, June 30, 2002. We’ve already noted qualities to look for in potential elders: (1) they need to be men who want the work, not just the status of an elder, and (2) they need to be godly men – for character, godliness, holiness is God’s great qualification for an elder.

This week, we continue our review of the Bible’s qualifications for elders. A third thing is, we need elders who are able to teach, that is, who are able to convey God’s truth to disciples. The one gift qualification Paul lists, is that elders be able to teach He says in 1 Timothy 3:2 “An overseer, then, must be . . . able to teach.” Paul singles out but one responsibility: teaching. The elder must be able to teach. Titus 1:9 – “able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” He’s got to know Bible and doctrine well enough to explain and defend it. Isn’t it interesting, Paul does not require that they have first order leadership skills. He does not require that they come from a particular social or professional class. He does not require that they be men of prominence in the community. He requires that they be able to disciple. The only particular gift-abilities of an elder recorded by Paul are: (1) Able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17; Tit. 1:9) and (2) Keeps hold of the deep truths (Tit. 1:7). That is, he is orthodox in his theology in order to both teach and defend the truth. The elder is a man focused on (three things) teaching the Faith, living the faith and shepherding the flock. It makes sense that a class of men called to disciple the church and the nations, would need to be able to teach. This doesn’t mean that every elder must be great behind a podium, but every elder does need to be competent for and good at some form of teaching. You want to elect elders who not only want to teach, but who are able to teach the faith.

Fourth, we need elders with godly homes and families, and who are aiming for godly homes and families. Paul says of the elder in 1 Timothy 3:4-5 “He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?).” Here Paul focuses upon what we might call family headship character qualities. He has already addressed marital fidelity, and now he adds that the elder is to be a “good manager of his own family” and that he “has obedient children.” This means that their overall behavior is a general gage of his maturity, attitude, values and parenting. As far as Paul is concerned, godliness in the church begins in the home. Discipleship in the church begins in the home. You want to elect elders whose home life and values accredit his fitness as a shepherd and reflect his commitment to Christian discipleship.

Fifth, we need elders who are spiritually mature and not recent converts (they are “old” in the faith, though not necessarily chronologically). Paul teaches us that elders must be mature in the faith, in view of the unique pressures and temptations they face, when he says “and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil,” in 1 Timothy 3:6. Now absolute time-frame is specified, but the principle is self-evident. A neophyte is uniquely susceptible to pride and should not be elected to this work. This requirement of Paul shows that doctrine and spiritual maturity must go hand in hand in the leadership of the church. You want to elect elders to whom you can confidently submit to their spiritual oversight, and that means mature men.

Well, we still have one more point to cover. We’ll get to it next week!

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Monday, July 05, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Elders We Need (Part 1 of 3)

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Elders we Need”
First Published: June 11, 2002

During last Sunday morning’s message, we asked the question: “What kind of elders do we need?” This is a timely question, especially since we will be electing elders, beginning on Sunday, June 30, 2002. Here is the answer that we derived from God’s word to the important question “What kind of elders do we need?” Perhaps you will want to pray through this list as you consider how to vote.

First, we need elders who want the work, not just the status of an elder. Paul teaches in 1 Timothy 3:1 that the work of the eldership (which is pastoral work) is a wonderful work to which to aspire, he says “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.” Paul makes it abundantly clear here that an elder is fundamentally a pastor, a shepherd of souls! He calls him an overseer or bishop or shepherd. Paul is saying here that one who seeks the eldership, that is the pastoral office, desires to be engaged in what is emphatically a good thing. But note also that he that speaks of the eldership as a noble work or task, rather than a noble office. It is about service not status. So, you want to elect men who long to do the spiritual work of an elder, not just who aspire to the status. These will be men who love the Bible. They love Christ. They love the Gospel. They are men of prayer. They are enthusiastic about seeing people converted and helping Christians grow in grace, and they long to spiritually disciple the people of the congregation. They see the work of the elder as fundamentally the ministry of the Word and prayer, and they desire to devote themselves precisely to that.

Second, we need elders who are godly men. For character, godliness, holiness is God’s great qualification for an elder. In 1 Timothy 3:2-3, Paul says: “An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.” Such an important work requires corresponding life and character, says Paul here. So, the qualifications of this office are not found in social standing or even extraordinary talents or intelligence, but rather in godly character. Paul lays out eleven character qualities (positive and negative) for an elder. He is: (1) above reproach – that is, he is free from scandalous sins and offensive habits that would lay him open to serious public criticism; (2) the husband of one wife – that is, a man marked by the strictest marital fidelity, his marriage is biblical, monogamous, and sexually pure, and he is not unbiblically divorced; (3) temperate – that is, sober-minded, possessed of a wakeful, alert, vigilant habit of mind, opposed to all sorts of excess; (4) prudent – that is, he has mastery over his natural reactions, he is self-controlled (see Titus 1:8); (5) respectable – that is, he lives a life that bears up under public scrutiny, (6) hospitable – hospitality is required of all Christians (Romans 12:13) but elders are to take the lead; (7) not addicted to much wine – that is, free from any enslavement to or fixation with alcohol, drugs, or other addictive stimulants; (8) not pugnacious – that is, he is not a violent man or given to quarreling; he is not quick tempered; this goes along with being temperate; (9) gentle – that is, he is meek and humble and thus able to elicit a response of trust, respect and affection from congregation members. (10) peaceable – that is, he is not quarrelsome in his pattern of speaking (so as to be able to gently instruct – see 2 Timothy 2:24ff); and (11) free from the love of money – that is, he has a mastery over his material appetites, he is storing his treasure in heaven, he is not trying to serve two masters, he is not a money lover or pursuer of dishonest gain. You want to elect men who are godly and who are very evidently pursuing holiness in their own lives.

Well, I have four more points from 1 Timothy 3:1-7 to cover. We’ll continue them next week.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Friday, July 02, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: "Above All, Remember Your Creator"

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Above All, Remember Your Creator”
First Published: July 2, 2002

A few weeks ago, I saw this excellent article by Bill Smith, the Senior Minister of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama. It was written for graduates, and since many of ours are preparing to head off to school now, it is perhaps still timely.

“This is the time of year for graduation speeches. I have had the privilege of speaking to two graduating high school classes at Trinity Christian High School in Pittsburgh. I won't be giving a speech this year but I've been thinking about some things I might say if I were giving one. I might say:

1. Learn your manners now, if your mother did not teach them to you. Manners are not about stuffiness but about consideration and courtesy. We don't need our manners in every situation, but we should always have them available at our disposal. Be sure you know your table manners. Know how to address an envelope. Know how to behave at a funeral or wedding or job interview, or church. Know how to treat those older than you and those of the opposite sex. Manners will never hurt you, and they'll often help.

2. Learn how to dress. We are going through a time of increased informality in dress. I learned from a Tom Wolfe chapter that much of the "dress down" trend among adults began in the Silicon Valley where those highly intelligent and creative people saw no need for the conventions that characterized east coast businesses. But a part of growing up is knowing that certain types of dress appropriate for some occasions and places are not for others. Again, if your Mom and Dad did not teach you these things, learn them now. Know when to wear jeans or shorts, and when to wear casual sportswear, and when to wear "business casual," and when nothing less than a suit or dress will do. As with manners, dressing properly is a way of showing respect for other people, for occasions, and even for ourselves and our jobs.

Christians should have a concern not just for propriety but for modesty. By modesty I do not mean dressing in a manner deliberately out of style or prudish. Men can dress immodestly when they dress in an attention getting or shocking or extravagant ways. Women must be concerned for modesty in the sense of not dressing in sexually provocative ways. Some do this knowing full well what they are doing while others are naive. Here's a hint for young women: Ask your father and/or brother if what you wear would give him a problem if it were worn by another girl or woman.

3. Learn to write and speak the English language. As with manners and dress, you may violate the rules at times, but you should know at least that you are and better also why you are. When I use the word "ain't" and my spell check tells me that it is not correct, I already know that and I have decided that I want to use that word in that place for some affect. Continue to grow your vocabulary, not to show off, but to do a better job of making your point by using the best word. Get down the rules of standard grammar and punctuation. By all means, use the spell and grammar check, or, of all things, a dictionary or thesaurus (even in book form). And, yes, read books! Real books with covers and pages. Reading will not only help you with language, it will grow your mind and enlarge your world. Language is about communicating what is in one mind to other minds - clearly, accurately, as concisely as possible, and in as interesting a manner as one can. Language is at least as important as math.

4. Have confidence in the Western tradition. You will hear some "scholars" scoff at the relevance of the "old, dead, white guys" - at the things they thought and taught. You will hear about "new paradigms" of observing, thinking, and learning. Some will tell you that there is gender-specific or racial-specific "truth." Some will insist that multi-culturalism means more than understanding, appreciating and critiquing all cultures. They will insist that we must treat all cultures as equal and that we must jettison the whole concept of objective truth that we can seek and recognize when we find it.

But the Western tradition at its best is about studying and thinking and communicating in the confidence that "there is truth out there" to be discovered and passed on. It is about respecting (though not without criticism) the learning of the best and highest intellectual tradition. It is about thinking rationally and logically.

As Christians we know that the Western tradition has been influenced by the Christian faith (and that for good) more than any other cultural tradition. And Christianity is about a God who really is there, revealing Himself and communicating with us in the Bible in language we can understand. In the end all truth is God's truth for when we know the truth we know reality, to the extent possible for us as finite and now sinful creatures, as God does.

5. Above all else, "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth." Trust, love, and serve God, and develop habits of so doing. Do it now, not later. It will not be easier later when you have "had your fun and done your thing" and are now old. It will be incredibly more difficult. The only life worth living, the only life with deep joy, and only life you can look back on with some sense of satisfaction when you come to die, is a life lived with God and for God. Go to church, worship, read your Bible. pray, get and keep Christian friends. Marry a Christian. Bring up children for God. Find something worthwhile to do with your life and do it with all your heart for God. Know that nothing is so good as God's smile and nothing so bad as God's frown. If you have not entrusted your life to Christ as your Savior from sin and the Lord of your life, do it now, without delay. Nobody is ready to live until he's ready to die and nobody is ready to die until he has been reconciled to God in Christ.

Thanks for giving a few minutes of time to your Pastor, who, believe it or not, once too was young.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan