Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Now Thank We All Our God

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Living up to our Theology”
First Published: January 15, 2008

2008 is going to be a huge year for us at First Presbyterian Church. In our nation, we will elect a President. In our church, we will elect new elders and deacons. For the future life and ministry of our congregation, the latter will almost certainly more important than the former. I do not say this to minimize in any way the significance of our faithful participation in the public life of our city, state and nation. Not at all. Nor do I say it to detract from the significance of the office of the presidency – without challenge the single most influential governmental post in the history of the world. No, I say this because the officers of this church are so vital to our well-being and witness. Please begin praying now about whom you will nominate. Consider the qualifications of the office. And pray for God to raise spiritual leaders for the future in the present.

As we have worked through Philippians together, I’ve been struck again by the practicality of Christian doctrine, by the usefulness of Bible truth. If one thing rings loud and clear in the little letter of Philippians it is the down-to-earth, day-today, applicability of theology in the Christian life.

And that reminds me of one of my most favorite quotes. One of my professors, Donald Macleod, Principal of the Free Church of Scotland College, in his excellent little book The Humiliated and Exalted Lord is talking about the section in Philippians that we are presently studying (Philippians 2:5-11, the Christ Hymn). And he begins to reflect on how Paul employs this high-powered, mind-blowing teaching on the person and work of Christ for very simple, common, and practical purposes. Here is what he says:
“Paul uses [this] teaching precisely because of its relevance to the pastoral problems in the church at Philippi. That is enormously instructive, because it reminds us that theology does not exist in a vacuum. It exists in the interest of [pastoral ministry]. It exists in order to be applied to the day-to-day problems of the Christian church. Every doctrine has its application. All scripture is profitable and all the doctrine is profitable. Similarly all the application must be based on doctrine. In both the Philippians example-passage and the Corinthian example-passage, Paul is dealing with what are surely comparative trivia, the problem of vain glory in a Christian congregation and the problem of failure of Christian liberality. As a Pastor one meets with these difficulties daily. They are standing problems. Yet Paul as he wrestles with both of them has recourse to the most massive theology. It's not only that you have the emphasis on the unity between theology and practice but you have the emphasis on the applicability of the profoundest theology to the most mundane and most common-place problems. Who would ever imagine that the response to the glory of the incarnation might be to give to the collection for the poor? Who might imagine that the application of the glories of New Testament Christology might be to stop our quarreling and our divisiveness in the Christian [church]? That is what Paul is doing here. He is telling them: You have these practical problems; the answer is theological; remember your theology and place your behaviour in the light of that theology. Place your little problems in the light of the most massive theology. We ourselves in our Christian callings are to be conscious of this. We must never leave our doctrine hanging in the air, nor hesitate to enforce the most elementary Christian obligations with the most sublime doctrines”.

Ah, but to live up to our theology, there’s the rub.
Your friend,
Ligon Duncan

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