Pray for Someone

This morning at Oak Grove, I preached a “Mother’s Day sermon” on 2 Timothy 1:5;3:14-15. You can listen to it here if you’d like.

To set up the context of verse 5, we looked at the surrounding context as Paul begins his letter to Timothy. In verse 3 he writes,

“I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.”

I shared with my folks at church this morning that we should pray for one another. Paul at the end of his life not knowing if he’d ever see Timothy again tells him, I’m praying for you. I think we’d do well to tell our brothers and sisters that we love them, that we thank God for them, and that we’re praying for them (really actually praying for them). I’m not inclined to think we should dismiss thoughts of people when they come to our mind. I think those seemingly random moments when a particular person comes to mind is a great opportunity to pray for that person. The simple act of praying and shooting that person a text can be a difference maker in someone’s day. It glorifies God, reminds us of our dependence on him, and can be a huge encouragement to someone else.

There’s nothing incredibly profound or insightful here, just what I think to be a helpful reminder to pray for people and let them know you’re praying.

We Ought To Mourn: Southern Baptist Church Membership

In the month of November we spent a few weeks on several different texts dealing with church polity. I spent a Sunday on church membership from 1 Corinthians 12 and a Sunday on church discipline from 1 Corinthians 5. The two go hand in hand. We spent some time seeing the pastoral heart and theology of the Apostle Paul for the church at Corinth. As we worked our way through the example and need for church discipline in 1 Corinthians 5 we could find no immediate application for corrective church discipline in our midst. However as I began to think about the text and how it applied to us I began to think about our membership roll and the membership rolls of many SBC churches. The number of people on our roll far outnumbers the people present on any given Lord’s Day gathering. The number of Southern Baptist church members on our rolls far outnumbers those present on any given Lord’s Day corporate gathering. As I pondered this I thought of the words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians:

And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. – 1 Corinthians 5:2 ESV

The church at Corinth was boasting in their tolerance of a man in deep sexual immorality. As a Southern Baptist I can be really quick to point the finger at a whole slough of mainline denominations (even Baptist ones) that are boasting in their tolerance of sexual immorality in the church. Identifying those sins have their place, and rightfully so, but we’d be wise to examine ourselves. Southern Baptist may not boast in homosexual clergy, but we do boast in a sin closely tied to corrective church discipline.

We boast in our numbers and inflated rolls. We have spent so much time beseeching the masses to join our ranks that many of us have lost one of the distinctives that make us Baptist, we’ve lost regenerate church membership. The Lord Jesus died for His church. He takes the church seriously. We however have belittled what it means to be a member of the local church. We’ve allowed anyone who darkens our doors to walk our isles and join our congregations without ever considering that one must first be a member of the church universal before one can be a member of the church local. I fear we have long enjoyed the praise of the annual reports of our conventions and associations far more than glorifying our Father through faithfulness. We praise pastors at our conferences who have churches of 10,000 members and 6,000 in attendance. We’ve lost the sense of privilege, joy, and service that comes with being a member of the local church. We’ve reduced that for which Christ has died to a number on a sheet and we ought to mourn. We ought to mourn that we have strayed far from formative discipline and belittled membership that gives us such a wonderful glimpse of what communion with God and His people looks like throughout eternity.  We should repent of our pride and inflated numbers. We should ask for grace to be the churches Christ has called us to be. We ought to rejoice in the work of the cross that has bought the church and glory in the Father’s giving to us the church (1 Corinthians 12:18). Let us mourn. Let us repent. Let us glory in grace.

 

 

Using the “H” Word

I’m not sure how many times I’ve been called a heretic directly or indirectly by people I would consider believers. I do however know that calling someone a heretic is a serious accusation. I’ve been deemed heretical because I didn’t hold to the same millennial position as another brother. I believe in the second bodily coming of Christ just not the same time scale as others. I could go on with many other examples and I’m sure you can too. I’ve not always taken the accusation of heresy so seriously. I’ve been prone to label folks heretics who most certainly don’t fit the bill. Why? Because they didn’t dot all their ‘i’s’ and cross all their ‘t’s’ as I did. As I read Thomas Manton’s commentary on James last week he had a word to say about quickly assigning the title of heretic without serious consideration. 

It is not good to brand things with the name of error till we have proved them to be so. After he had disputed the matter with them, he saith, `Err not., (1.) Loose slings will do no good. To play about us with terms of heresy and error doth but prejudice men’s minds, and exulcerate them against our testimony. None but fools will be afraid of hot words. Discoveries do far better than invectives. Usually that is a peevish zeal that stayeth in generals. It is observable, Mat. xxiii., from ver. 13 to 33, our Saviour denounceth never a woe but he presently rendereth a reason for it. `Woe unto you, for ye shut the kingdom of heaven; and again, `Woe unto you, for ye devour widows, houses. You never knew a man gained by loose slings. The business is to make good the charge, to discover what is heresy and what is antichristianism, &c. (2.) This is an easy way to blemish the holy truths of God. How often do the Papists spread that livery upon us, heretics and schismatics. They `speak evil of things they do not know, Jude 10. When men are loath to descend to the trial of a way, they blemish it: Acts xxiv. 14, `After the way which they call heresy we worship the God of our fathers., Men condemn things suddenly and rashly, and so often truth is miscalled. If matters were dispatched by arguments rather than censures, we should have less differences. The most innocent truths may suffer under an odious imputation. The spouse had her veil taken from her, and represented to the world as a prostitute, Cant. iii. The Christians were called Genus hominum superstitionis malificae a wicked sort of men, and Christianity a witchery and superstition.

To call someone a heretic out of laziness is a horrible thing. Manton in his commentary admonishes his readers to take doctrine seriously that they won’t err in doctrine. Manton and myself would certainly want our readers to hold to good theology. But, if we are lazy we’ll be quick to dismiss good doctrine. I used to think that anyone who didn’t hold to dispensational theology was ravenously heretical. I’ve since moved away from dispensationalism, but find myself reading, sharing fellowship, and recommending many dispensational brothers. It was laziness and presumption that merited my accusation. As Manton said, “It is not good to brand things with the name of error till we have proved them to be so. After he had disputed the matter with them, he saith, `Err not.,  Loose slings will do no good.” 

We would be wise and loving to seriously consider our brothers and sisters as brothers and sisters when we accuse them of heresy. If we truly find them in heresy we would be loving and wise to bring correction. Giving a brother a damnable title shouldn’t be unwarranted. Manton and myself do recognize however that there is a time for pointing out heresy. Doing so isn’t easy work for the lazy:

Oh! then, that in this age we would practise this: Be less in passion and more in argument. That we would condemn things by reasoning rather than miscalling. That we were less in generals, and would deal more particularly. This is the way to `stablish men in the present truth., In morals, the word seldom doth good but when it is brought home to the very case. Thunder at a distance doth not move us so much as a clap in our own zenith; that maketh us startle. General invectives make but superficial impressions; show what is an error, and then call it so. Truly that was the way in ancient times. At first, indeed, for peace, sake, some have observed that the fathers declaimed generally against errors about the power of nature, not meddling with the persons or particular tenets of Pelagius and his disciples; but afterward they saw cause for being more particular. Loose discourses lose their profit. Blunt iron, that toucheth many points at once, doth not enter, but make a bruise; but a needle, that toucheth but one point, entereth to the quick. When we come to deal particularly with every man’s work, then the fire trieth it, 1 Cor. iii. 13. I do the rather urge this because usually ungrounded zeal stayeth in generals, and those that know least are most loose and invective in their discourses.

As Manton argues, ” Be less in passion and more in argument,” we would be wise to take heed. How often to loose and malicious words come form our mouths and fingertips at the brother with whom we disagree. When we seek to correct and expose it should be done through the lenses of scripture and a loving heart. When we deal with heresy it should be done unwavering upon the testimony of Scripture. An impassioned scripture-less fit filled with malice is no good medicine for the brother in error, and it proves no avail for correcting genuine heresy. 

I think we would be wise to remember the words of the Apostle Paul, And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26 ESV) Let us correct with gentleness. Let us not throw brothers under the bus. Let us contend for truth in the midst of heresy. Let us us reserve the “h” word for the heretics, and prayerfully contend with our brothers for the truth. 

Some Thoughts on Congregational Singing

I’ve been in pastoral ministry now for right at two years and I often reflect that time. I get asked lots of questions from friends who are in the ministry and friends who are training for the ministry and that too often has my reflecting on my time serving at Cheerful Hope. I most often get asked about preaching. I preached my first sermon when I was 14. When I think of ministry I think of the ministry of the preached word. When I was a candidate for the pastorate I thought about preaching, I was questioned about preaching, I had to preach a trial sermon. The word is central and has primacy in worship. We read the word as a call to worship on Sunday mornings and I preach verse by verse through a passage of scripture. But that isn’t the only place the word of God shows up in Lord’s Day worship. It also shows up in our singing. 

I felt the call to gospel ministry when I was a teenager and knew I was supposed to preach. I didn’t know where and to what capacity I was to preach, but I knew that was what I was supposed to do. The Lord granted me the occasion and affirmation to preach. But, one area I wouldn’t have ever seen myself was in the position of leading people in congregational singing. Yet, when I was at the College at Southeastern I was involved in a church plant and when the gentleman who was leading us in song left the church I fell under the conviction (along with another friend of mine) that we should learn to play guitar. I never really took of with guitar. I learned three chords (which is about all you need for a lot of church music) and one, maybe two songs. I also bought a djembe and loved playing it even if I lack rhythm one really needs. I always piddled a little bit with guitar and learned a couple chords here or there. I played one song once at another church and played djembe and sang some. But I never really used it until I found myself at Fruitland Baptist Bible College and a member of Christ Covenant Community Church. When our congregational leader wasn’t going to be there one Sunday I volunteered to lead. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with leading, singing, or playing. But the Lord and people who understood the purpose of singing were gracious.

I look back and see this as an act of providence preparing me for where I am now at Cheerful Hope. I find myself now leading our congregational singing every week. I’m certainly not the best guitarist or vocalist. I don’t have very good timing. But what I do have is: a biblical mandate for worship and how it is supposed to be conducted, a myriad of good biblical music, and a wonderful group of folks who are willing to sing. (I’d also add a great group of people who have been willing to learn.) 

When I think of congregational singing I think of the words of the Apostle Paul in Colossians 3:16-17, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” 

This text has shaped what I’ve tried to do in congregational singing. First off, the music we sing needs to be the word of Christ. Music that is biblical is honoring to God. Man-centered songs with bad theology (even subtle bad theology) teach us to be man-centered and heretical.

Music teaches. I don’t remember all the sermons I’ve heard in the 25 years I’ve been to church. They have certainly made an impact in my life for which I am grateful. But, even after not singing the hymns of my childhood until I heard them 10 years later in chapel at Southeastern, I remembered them. Music teaches, it sticks to us, and if it teaches and it sticks to us it needs to teach us well. As we sing we need to sing music that is sound doctrinally. We also should sing the scriptures themselves. I love singing from the Psalter, though I don’t have much experience doing so. 

Music teaches and admonishes, but who does the teaching and admonishing according to the text? Each other. When we sing we are confessing corporately and teaching each other the things that we sing. When I sing, “Jesus paid it all,” I’m admonishing everyone else in the room with the doctrines or justification and propitiation. Isn’t that beautiful? It is also dangerous, if we aren’t singing sound music, we’re admonishing one another with falsehood. Or if we are singing man-centered music we’re admonishing one another to be man-centered. That’s why it is important what we sing. 

It is also important how we sing. I’m willing to sound like the old man with ear plugs in his ears at the back of a sanctuary at a concert for a moment. To admonish one another and to teach one another we must be able to hear one another. I’ve been to events where we are as a congregation singing, yet even singing at the top of my lungs I couldn’t hear myself. I can’t admonish or teach my brother if my brother can’t hear me. We must use the instruments of worship that we use as instruments not objects of worship. Not only must our instruments not drown our voices, our voices must be loud enough to teach and admonish. I encourage everyone at church to sing loud. I’m persuaded that the best instruments we have in congregational worship are the ones God gave us. We need to hear one another as we sing corporately, it is corporate singing after all. 

I’ve also learned to play a lot of different songs in the past two years. I’ve not mastered playing them, but I’ve learned them. The folks at church have also learned them. Paul doesn’t prescribe one type of song alone. We sing a lot of different hymns at church, some in the old Broadman hymnal, and some that aren’t. We sing hymns written 700 years ago and hymns that have been written in the last 10 years. We sing Issac Watts and we sing Chris Tomlin. We sing Charles Wesley and we sing Charlie Hall.

We sing, and we sing together. That’s what I’ve learned about congregational singing. We sing as Paul says, with thankfulness in our hearts to God. Our singing and your singing should be songs of thanksgiving, they should be songs of praise, they should be songs that are sound, they should be songs of admonition, songs of teaching, songs of the Father, songs of the Son, and songs of the Spring. They should be songs that are sung and sung together for the edification of the saints and the glory of God. If we’re missing either of those things we need evaluate how and why we do the things that we do. 

“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”