Saturday, 18 March 2017

Statement of Faith--More than What We Believe, but also How We Live

I read many statements of faith produced by churches and individuals alike. I just came across a fresh statement of faith produced by a church. It was more than just a statement of what they believed, but also a list of implications that arise from their faith statements.

What a brilliant idea. I've adapted my own statement to fit the template, and you can see it here. I'm still revising it--leave feedback if you have suggestions, except that I'm not going to add anything about KJV-Onlyism.... ;)

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Big Theology on Narrow Shoulders: a Brief Outline of Arminian Baptist History

Here is the amazing thing about the Arminian Baptist theology espoused by Reformation Arminians like Robert Picirilli and his long time colleague Leroy Forlines.

Thomas Helwys???
Arminian Baptist theology is a Baptist theology with a long pedigree going back to the first Baptist congregation (Thomas Helwys) and Thomas Grantham--one of the best known Christian writers in 18th century England. (Arminian Baptists preceded Calvinist Baptists by a few decades.) It was imported into the colonies (Roger Williams and the first Baptist church are said to have begun as Arminian), but largely succumbed to a highly resurgent Calvinist strain of Baptists in the Philadelphia Baptist Association which aggressively preyed on disorganized Arminian Baptist churches in the south in colonial times (especially in South Carolina).

With the explosive growth of Southern Baptists after the Civil War, Arminian Baptist theology mixed with Calvinist Baptists theology to produce the Majoritarian Baptist position in SBC. Southern Baptists liked Arminian views on the extent of the atonement and election, but preferred Calvinist views on continuance in salvation (who wouldn't like a doctrine of once saved always saved?).

In 1907-1911, the Calvinistic Northern Baptists and the Free Baptists [= Freewill Baptists] in the north merged, having decided that their soteriology was compatible enough to cooperate as a unified denomination (1100 Free Baptist churches merged at that time, along with denominational infrastructures such as 7 colleges and a press). Free Will Baptists in the south were never really organized and mostly languished until their organization in 1935. 

Now, the very narrow ecclesiological swath of the modern FWB denomination preserves the much larger Arminian Baptist theology of Helwys and Grantham. That is to say, this venerable and very significant Arminian Baptist theology in its pure form is carried on the very small shoulders of a minor and mostly regional denomination of about 2200 churches. Its preservation and dissemination is largely the result of the efforts of two capable theologians, Leroy Forlines and Robert Picirilli, both octogenarians who are still very active. They were hardly known outside of their denominational context until the Calvinist resurgence of the 1990s when Arminians began desperately seeking good Arminian books to read.

But here is my point: despite the frail denominational structure that undergirds this Arminian Baptist theology, I have found the theology itself to be incredibly strong. I carried it with me through J.I. Packer's systematic courses at the graduate level, and tested it in the most rigorous exegetical courses of Fee and the Calvinist Bruce Waltke. I carried it with me to Cambridge where it was tested by my PhD supervisor and by Cambridge NT scholar Simon Gathercole. I may not have convinced those who were already committed Calvinists, but many of my peers felt that I satisfactorily presented a system that passed exegetical muster and the logical demands of a unified theological system. Forlines' overall view of Romans has survived even the New Pauline Perspective debate (indeed, he was making comments similar to E.P. Sanders for years prior to the publication of his 1987 commentary).

Click on Helwys for more info on Helwys.

For more on Reformation Arminianism click here.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Two More Points about Interim Ministry and Your Church's Health

The longer I serve in ministry, the more I am convinced of the validity and necessity of interim ministry. Contrary to popular opinion, interim ministry is not about keeping the pulpit filled or sustaining whatever ministerial momentum a church might have. Rather interim ministry is all about church health. Much more could be offered in this short blog article, but here’s a start.
In most cases, there is some shadowy unpleasantness about a pastor’s departure. Sometimes the departure is rancorous and outright painful for the congregation. A primary task of the interim minister is to help the church come to terms with its past, especially its recent past. A church may be justified in pressuring its former pastor to leave, but even in the best of circumstances, such actions—justified as they may be—creates baggage that needs unpacked and sorted.
The church that goes through a long period of serious conflict with its previous pastor is especially vulnerable to dysfunction. A recently divorced individual is likely to project dysfunctionality into the next relationship if there is no intervention between the previous marriage and the new relationship. A specially trained interim minister helps restore health into the church’s ministerial and decision-making culture so that church and newly called pastor can bond without the baggage of the previous conflict.
A congregation’s or a congregant’s general skepticism or lack of faith in church leaders can be restored when the interim minister is seen working well with leaders. The interim minister can compassionately hear a congregant’s complaints about the way the previous pastor was forced to resign, weigh the complaint, and address the issue with the church leadership as appropriate. This promotes not only good process, but also the restoration of trust between congregants and leaders. The interim minister is prone to encourage such trust.
The interim ministry can promote financial health in the church. In protracted conflict, congregants are less enthusiastic about attending services and prone to absenteeism. This adversely affects offering. A good interim minister makes alienated members feel safe about returning to church and fosters enthusiasm for worship attendance, and offerings are likely to stabilize.
A major problem with not calling an interim minister during a pastoral vacancy is that a church is prone to self-deception about its financial situation. It gets accustomed to having a financial windfall from paying minimal honorariums rather than full salaries. Calling an interim minister establishes that the church can sustain a called pastor’s salary. Besides, givers may get out of the habit of giving when a church reduces such expenditures.

Much more could be said. Churches that fail to utilize the interim minister very, very often make their next called pastor a de facto interim.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Timothy and Hard Ministry

His mother and grandmother gave young Timothy the best they could—good solid Bible teaching and training to walk in God’s paths. As an older teenager, his church family commended him to Paul as a missionary apprentice. Timothy rose to the occasion, and in Asia Minor and throughout much of the Empire we see his footsteps alongside Paul’s everywhere. Even as a young adult, Timothy earned the Pauline epithet, “my true son” and “I have no one else like him….” He represented Paul in many crises, even at Corinth. He was a witness to Paul’s sufferings and persecutions, and probably had his own share of them with Paul.
Timothy’s hardest assignment was at the church of Ephesus. Paul had heard of trouble brewing there, so he sent Timothy as his personal representative to fix the problems. Arriving there, Timothy had the authority of the Apostle Paul himself, but the church did not recognize Timothy’s authority. Instead, the fallen church leaders circumvented his authority and undermined his leadership in every way. These fallen church leaders even manipulated new converts to disrupt worship services to thwart Timothy’s leadership.
Paul excommunicated two of the ringleaders (Hymenaeus and Alexander), but they continued unabated. Timothy became heart-sick and traveled to meet up with Paul to report on the problem. Timothy’s great grief over the wayward church may be implied in 2 Tim 1:4, where Paul recalls Timothy’s “many tears.” Paul assured him of his prayers and, steeling Timothy’s resolve, he wrote, “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power….” Instead of relieving Timothy, Paul sent him back, saying, “stay there in Ephesus,” so that he could stop them from teaching false doctrine (1 Tim 1:3).
As experienced and mature as Timothy was, even he found ministry very difficult. Our church leaders often face the same kinds of conflict and grief. We can hardly bear such heavy burdens on our own. Because we wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil, ministry is hard, heavy, burdensome, with much discouragement. No one in church leadership goes long without shedding many tears.

Pray for your church leaders. The apostle wrote, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you (Heb 13: 17). Those words ring ever true for today's church.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Welcoming to Worship--How to Do It


This is my format for the Welcome to Sunday worship
  • ·         Doxological Greeting
  • ·         Welcome visitors
    • Fill out the Welcome Card
    • Don’t be shy—reach out to the members
    • Exhortation
    • Post-service Fellowship
  • ·         Who We Are
  • ·         What to Expect
  • ·         Short prayer for visitors

Welcoming the congregation to worship affords good ministerial opportunities. First, it sets the tone for the worship service. This is well illustrated by the way that that radio talk show hosts or late night talk show hosts energize their audiences at the start of the program. The worst welcomes are the dull, lifeless, and unconsidered “Good morning” utterances, which are designed to elicit the obligatory response, “Good morning.” The congregation does so with equal dullness.
In contrast, our first words to the congregation should be inspirational and doxological, perhaps something like, “Blessed be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who has gathered us together in the name of his Son Jesus, who was crucified, buried, and risen from the dead in power and great glory.” The creative worship leader should prepare the welcome in advance, crafting a welcome that is appropriate for the People of God.
While worship leaders should formally welcome everyone, the emphasis should be on welcoming visitors. Visitors are often a bit unnerved by their unfamiliarity with a church. Worship leaders should speak words to reinforce visitors’ decision to attend and put their minds at ease. Be sure also to give a word of exhortation, encouraging visitors to grow spiritually or to get involved with the congregation, etc. Alert them to after worship fellowship opportunities.
Part of any welcoming is asserting to the visitors who the congregation is. Baptist theology teaches that the local congregation is nothing less than the People of God. The descriptor needs expansion. I suggest a four-point expansion, each reinforcing sermonic points. The first two points might recall
the previous week’s sermon, and the latter two might anticipate the sermon to be preached that day. Here is the “Who We Are” segment for one of my service in a sermon series on Philippians:

·         Who we are: First Baptist Church, the People of God
o   A people that has been granted the privilege of participating and sharing in the Gospel of Christ
o   A people that has been filled with a joy unspeakable, so that whether we are in chains for the sake of the gospel, or defending and confirming it, our joy overflows
o   A people united in Christ so that, despite the diversity of our backgrounds, perspectives, and cultures, we stand firm as one, contending for the gospel
o   A people confident that he who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete in until the day of Christ

The “Who We Are” segment not only introduces the congregation to the visitors, but it also casts a vision of the congregation’s identity, which is exhortational.
The Welcome should inform the congregation of anything unusual that has been planned. If it is a Communion service, make note of it; likewise, announce special speakers or musicians, etc. I often joke that we will not be handling snakes today.
The Welcome usually takes 3-4 minutes, and should be concluded with a very brief prayer for the visitors. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Better Congregational Singing in Baptist Churches

A must goal for any church ministry is to develop or maintain good congregational signing. It’s easy enough to kill good congregational singing. Here are a top ten list of do’s and don’ts to strengthen congregational singing.

  1. Appoint a competent song leader to formally conduct congregational singing. The leader’s gestures and beat pattern give guidance for singing. Subtle movements can indicate contrasts in volume and tempo. The melody and rhythm of unfamiliar songs can be visibly seen by the congregation. Starts and stops can be more precisely and more confidently followed. The congregation can see the song leader’s lips sync perfectly with the starts and stops of the music. Well trained organists think they can do all this, but there’s no substitute for the good song leader.
  2. Choose songs having a well-balanced ratio of familiar to new hymns. A good rule is not to sing more than one unfamiliar song in a service.
  3. Don’t wear out the same old songs. Singing a specific song once every two or three months is more than enough, especially when most churches already have an expansive hymnody known to most members.
  4. Sing songs that are written specifically for congregational singing. Songs written for a band may sound good on the radio, but may be very difficult to learn by those who don’t listen to Christian music on their radios.
  5. Old songs sung in new arrangements may bring freshness, variety, and interest to congregational singing. This would include key changes or transitions into a second musically related song, or interludes between verses. Creativity is usually a good thing.
  6. Key changes or other alterations to familiar hymns need to be visibly indicated by the song director. Don’t leave your congregational singers stick out by themselves when the instrumentalist shift gears unexpectedly. If you repeat something, or if singing is suspended during some transition, call attention to it visibly.
  7. The song service should reflect intelligent design. Don’t choose songs arbitrarily. The effective worship leader chooses the Sunday worship music to reinforce the worship theme and sermon for the service. Woven together, the music will tell something of a story. In addition to consideration of lyrics, songs should be arranged in an order that flows emotionally and musically. If two songs occur together, proper transitions should be considered so that a song with a joyful, celebrative atmosphere is not jammed into the next song which is altogether sober or even sad (imagine WHEN WE ALL GET TO HEAVEN paired with THE OLD RUGGED CROSS).
  8. New songs should be introduced in a compelling way. Song leaders should explain why a new song is worth learning. Perhaps the song can be introduced with a testimony of how the lyrics of the song were personally helpful in a time of crisis. If the origin of the song or something of its composer is known, divulging such information may make the song more meaningful.
  9. Once or twice a year, feature a hymn sing service, one that substitutes the sermon with song. Allow requests for a few favorite hymns to be made in part of the service. Churches that have a Sunday night service often feature the fifth Sunday evening song service.
  10. Hymn commentary notes can be included in the church bulletin.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Pastor Installation Services for Baptist Churches

The Pastor Installation Service is a worship service that formalizes a pastor's call in the sight of God and many witnesses. It is in some respects like a wedding service; a minister gives an exhortational charge to the the congregation and to the pastor, and then the two parties exchange mutual vows. Elements are added to the ceremony to solemnify the occasion; celebrative elements are included, too. The service may range from less to more formal, from simple to complex.

Practically speaking, the installation service serves as a launching point for the pastor's new ministry. It conveys to the congregation and to those in the shadow of its ministry that an era is closing, and a new era is beginning. This can be important for churches dealing with conflict from a previous pastorate. The celebrative atmosphere and the required cooperation necessary to put on an installation service should energize the church membership so that they feel good about gathering together for worship in the coming services.

Here are some ideas.

  • Much advance promotional work is needed. The whole church membership should receive special invitations. This especially includes wayward or absentee members. An invitation list should be developed and expanded as widely as possible. The church may well take out advertizing in the local newspaper and radio stations. In some communities, flyers might be handed out door-to-door.
  • Baptists participate in processions as an act of worship, but not often. An installation service may invite a processional, since there are usually visiting ministers in attendance. I like to include children and youth into these acts of worship, and so I usually invite a child to lead the processional, carrying an appropriate size cross to represent Christ at the head of the processional. I might even add a child to carry in the altar Bible. 
  • Because of their tendency to erode distinctions between clergy and laity, Baptists are not typically fond of vestments. The installation service, however, might be a time when clerical robes might serve to solemnify the occasion; women don't normally wear bridal gowns and veils, but do so for the one special occasion.
  • Installation services call for all kinds of special music, and the church may well invite special musicians. Music tending toward the classical is especially appropriate for the processional, if there is a processional.
  • The installation service is a good time to emphasize the community relationships of the church with its affiliated and neighboring civic organizations. Leaders of these organizations may well be invited to bring short (2 minute) greetings and well-wishes to the congregation on behalf of their organizations. These would include representatives from the local church association, the state convention, other denominational representatives, local colleges and universities, and city and state such as the mayor or congressperson. Invited guests who cannot come may send written greetings and well-wishes which might be read to the congregation.
  • The new pastor should include people who have a deep connection with him or her into various parts of the service. In particular, the guest speaker to preach the installation sermon should be a significant mentor. Likewise, someone near and dear to the new pastor should render the installation prayer, and a vocalist who is a long friend to the new pastor might sing a meaningful song.
  • Participation in the installation, then, is determined by practicality and intimacy. That is, there is a dignitary class of participants (representatives from affiliated organizations and from the civic arena) and a class of participants who participate simply because they are dearly loved by the new pastor.
  • The installation service normally culminates in the installation prayer, which is usually done in the context of laying on of hands. Laying on of hands is an ancient biblical custom in which church leaders surround the individual and pray over him or her, with hand on the individual's head or shoulder. The person delegated to render the installation prayer should be someone who can pray with fervor and knows what it means to cry mightily to God.
  • The installation service usually involves food and fellowship afterward. New pastors may also help people get to know them by setting up a display of personal memorabilia which showcase the pastor's life, ministry, and various projects and achievements. In some cases, the pastor may wish to give a short presentation on a much loved project.